I will always remember the first year that Roy and I were together and my step-daughter, who was 5 years old at the time, brought to my attention that “our house has no Halloween spirit”. Ouch!! I was literally only 8 days into being married (and a step-mom), and so I learned very quickly what Halloween meant to kids 🙂 Apparently, since my own childhood, I had forgotten! Eight years later, I can assure you that each October going forward our front door has been crawling with Halloween spiders—and ghosts or mummies have hung from our front tree!
Quite simply, kids love Halloween: the costumes, the candy, the trick-or-treating, the scary movies, and the spookiness of the season. But for many parents of children with food allergies, Halloween is scary for a different reason. Most Halloween candy contains one or more common food allergens (gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, or nuts) which can make Halloween a disappointing—and dangerous—time for many children.
Even for parents whose children do not have food allergies, they may struggle to find the balance between letting their kids participate in Halloween, while not overdoing it on treats that contain a lot of sugar, as well as many processed and artificial ingredients.
Below are my tips for keeping Halloween fun, healthy, and safe for kids (Updated in October 2017).
Please note that I have included a lot of resources in this post, so be sure to click on all the links!
Focus on the “Spirit” of Halloween
Halloween has so much “spirit”. Take emphasis away from the candy by putting greater emphasis on fun activities such as picking out Halloween costumes, decorating the house for trick-or-treaters, and painting or carving pumpkins together. Plan age-appropriate activities with your kids such as watching Halloween movies, visiting haunted houses, or hosting a costume party or a sleepover.
Purchase Healthier and/or Allergy-Friendly Treats
Although they do cost more money, as a family we choose to buy Halloween treats with healthier, gluten and casein free ingredients. In the last several years we purchased an assortment of Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, Fruit Leathers and Lollipops.
This year we have decided to purchase candy that is free of all the top 8 allergens, since food allergies continue to be a growing concern among children.
The Natural Candy Store makes purchasing allergen-free treats VERY easy to navigate! You can use their “special diet advanced search” to check boxes for which of the top 8 allergens you would like to avoid and it will select treats for purchase in your criteria.
For example, by limiting our search to “top 8 allergens-free” we had over 100 options to choose from! Our 6 yr old chose the glee gum for our trick-or-treaters…and I’m sure she is hoping for leftovers 🙂
The first year I took my littlest one (who we have never fed any gluten) trick-or-treating, I learned through my research that the “mini” varieties made for Halloween often have different ingredients than the regular sized candies do. Furthermore, these “minis” are not packaged with nutrition ingredient labels, making deciphering what is in each treat all the more challenging. (If you too didn’t know this, here is a great post on the Label Reading “Tricks” to Make Sure Your Halloween “Treats” Are Safe.)
I’ve tried to compile the most up-to-date Allergy Lists available for this Halloween. As always, ingredients can change so be sure to double check food labels.
Allergen-Free Halloween Candy Quick List 2015: This list includes candies that do not contain gluten or the top 8 allergens (wheat, milk, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish or shellfish) as an ingredient.
Celiac.com’s Gluten Free Candy List* 2017: This list contains gluten free candy with a colored pumpkin “key” to indicate if it is also free of dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish or shellfish.
Gluten Free Candy List* -Updated October 2017: This list contains mainstream candies that are gluten free, and also notes which varieties are not. Additionally, manufacture websites are listed so you can double check ingredients.
Gluten and Casein Free Candy List*: This list includes candies and non-dairy ice creams that are BOTH gluten and casein free, since many people need to avoid these allergens together.
*I had two people send this resource to me, and it’s definitely worth sharing! A Nima Sensor is a small device used to test food for the presence of gluten contamination. Several varieties of Gluten Free Candy were tested and some came back with conflicting results. You can see read more about it here and view the report here.
Peanut and Tree Nut Free Candy List: This list contains candies that are peanut and tree-nut free. Since this is one of the most potentially life threatening food allergies, please double check manufacturers websites as well.
Vegan Candy List 2016: This list includes candies that are free of dairy and eggs—and even gelatin and other animal ingredients— that those who are vegan would avoid.
If you have come across another great Halloween Candy List that you think would be helpful, please help our readers by adding it to the comment section below.
Offer Non-Food Treats
The Teal Pumpkin Project’s mission is to “Raise awareness of food allergies and promote inclusion of all trick-or-treaters throughout the Halloween season.” Participants are asked to place a teal pumpkin in front of their home to indicate to passersby that they have non-food treats available for trick-or-treaters. Their goal is to make sure that all children will come home on Halloween night with something they can enjoy by asking participants to offer non-food treats, such as glow sticks or small toys, as an alternative (or in addition) to candy.
Our family participated in the Teal Pumpkin Project last year for the first time. We purchased Halloween notepads, erasers, and glow sticks in addition to allergen-free Halloween candy.
To get ideas for non-food treats you can look here. And if you chose to participate, you can add your home to the interactive map here, so trick-or-treaters know which houses are participating.
While I do not believe that even those who are needy or hungry should be filling up on big bags of candy, I do believe that a piece or two of candy will generally not harm anyone (food allergies aside, of course). The last few years, we asked our kids to choose their favorites from the mounds of candy they collected and then the rest of their candy was put into the food bags we delivered around Boulder and Denver for homeless people in 2015 & 2016. If each of the 40 bags of food got 1-2 pieces of candy, that’s somewhere between 40 and 80 pieces of Halloween candy that my kids said goodbye to!
Trade Candy for Toys
Over the years, some of my clients have employed the “Switch Witch” on Halloween. The Switch Witch is a good witch that visits your home on Halloween night, usually while the kids sleep, and takes (not steals—this has been discussed with the child in advance) all or a pre-determined amount of the child’s Halloween candy and leaves a desired toy or gift in its place.
You can even purchase a Switch Witch to use to talk with your kids about this decision prior to Halloween and then place her to “guard” their candy at night until the switch is complete.
Everything in Moderation, Including Moderation 😉
For health-conscious parents, the holidays may be a good time to relax a bit around food as well. While I do have parents in my practice that choose to never let their kids have birthday treats or Halloween candy, my personal philosophy (as a parent and nutrition counselor of 17 years) is that an occasional sweet treat generally won’t hurt most of us, food allergies aside. Now with that said, our family does not compromise on health-related restrictions, such as keeping two of our kids gluten and dairy free, on any holiday!