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Making Halloween Safe & Fun for Kids with Food Allergies

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Making Halloween Safe & Fun for Kids with Food Allergies

Oct 30, 2023

Halloween is filled with spooky fun and sugary treats, but for kids with food allergies, it can be genuinely scary. Pediatrician Ellie Brownstein, MD, provides parents with strategies to ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday. From trick-or-treating to costume parties and public events, discover ways to navigate potential hazards. Plus, learn about the emerging teal pumpkin trend—a symbol for safe, allergy-friendly festivities.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: For kids, Halloween can be an exciting time of dressing up and having sweet treats. But for parents with children with food allergies, it may be a difficult season to navigate as we want our kids to enjoy the festivities, but we also want to keep them safe. Joining us today is board-certified pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Ellie Brownstein.

Now the first question I wanted to ask is, can kids with food allergies still have fun around Halloween?

Dr. Brownstein: Yes, kids can still have fun even if you have food allergies. You just need to plan for it.

Trick-or-Treating Strategies for Kids with Food Allergies

Interviewer: So what would you say maybe it's a parent's first Halloween with a kid with food allergies? Let's kind of go through some of the things that they should maybe be aware of so they can kind of navigate, and I'd like to start with the big marquee event of Halloween, which is trick-or-treating. What should these parents do when it's their first time doing this with their kid, and what should they be on the lookout for? What are some strategies they may have to make sure they can keep their kid safe and the kid can have some fun?

Dr. Brownstein: So if you take, for example, peanut allergy, you know your kid has a peanut allergy, the first question is how severe is your kid? Sometimes folks can do okay if they touch peanuts but don't eat them. Sometimes they can't be in the room where someone else is eating them. And so knowing how severe your kid is, is the first thing.

Assuming that they can be around some peanuts, go trick-or-treating, and have a good time. Remind them or be aware of what they're grabbing so that if they choose to eat something on the route, you know that it's peanut safe . . .

Interviewer: Sure.

Dr. Brownstein: . . . or peanut free. And then I would suggest that families have a stash of candy or treats that the child enjoys, and when you get home, trade them out. You know?

Interviewer: Oh, okay.

Dr. Brownstein: Like I'll take one of those. You can have one of these. Wheel and deal whatever. Make it fun even. And hopefully, there's more than one thing that you can pick and choose from so your kid can trade out the things that are not safe for them for things that they can enjoy.

If your kid is more allergic and really can't be around like things with peanuts, there are some folks who are allergic enough that if it's made in a plant where peanuts are manufactured or dealt with in other products, those kids could potentially get sick.

Interviewer: Oh, wow. Okay.

Dr. Brownstein: And if you're that severe, then you might have to do something different. And if you're going to a house where someone has peanut-containing treats, you might need to make different arrangements.

Managing Your Child's Allergies at Halloween Parties

Interviewer: And what kind of arrangements? Because my next question was about these kinds of parties. I mean, even as a kid, one of my favorite things was going to a friend's house and dressing up and bobbing for apples and all the classics. What about if a child is going over to one of their friends' houses and we know that maybe they have a very severe allergy? What can a parent do to make sure their kid is safe? Is it calling ahead? Is it bringing your own snacks? Like what are some strategies they could do for a Halloween party?

Dr. Brownstein: Probably a mix of both of those.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Brownstein: So I'm going to bet that if you're going to a friend's house that that friend is aware, that mom is calling and saying, "Hey, remember my kid has a peanut allergy. They cannot be in the same room where peanuts are."

Interviewer: Sure.

Dr. Brownstein: And so you're checking that out and planning for success. Or if it's not that severe and you can be around and there are peanuts in some of the stuff, then it's, okay, I'm going to send my kid or I'm going to give the adult a bag of treats that are safe for my kid so should they win an event, they get a treat. They have something that they can get.

Teal Pumpkins: Raising Awareness about Allergen-Free Treats

Interviewer: And what about say any public events? Maybe you go to corn mazes or any of these other kinds of things that happen around this time. Are there any considerations that parents should keep in the back of their minds or things that they should do to kind of strategize for their children's allergies?

Dr. Brownstein: The parent with a kid with food allergies almost has to stay one step ahead of them.

Interviewer: Sure.

Dr. Brownstein: It's like, "Where are we going? What are we doing? What's going to be there? What's likely to be available and what's likely to be something that my kid could partake in or couldn't partake in?"

One thing there is a campaign that's been out for a couple of years about teal pumpkins.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Brownstein: So some people will put them in their windows indicating that they have allergen-free treats for kids who have allergies. I've also seen people talking about the kids themselves carrying the teal pumpkins . . .

Interviewer: Oh.

Dr. Brownstein: . . . so that someone would know that, oh, this is a kid who has an allergy, and I need to put something in their pumpkin that does not contain peanuts. The complications are not everybody is aware of it. So someone might not know that your child carrying that is a sign that they need something that's allergen-free. And not everybody can avoid every allergen.

Interviewer: Sure.

Dr. Brownstein: Peanuts are the biggie. That's easy. Other nuts are also a problem. What about someone who's wheat or milk allergic?

Interviewer: Sure.

Dr. Brownstein: Just it's very hard to have something that can be good for everybody unless it's not edible, and then it's a different treat.

Interviewer: Right. And I guess I had not heard of the teal pumpkin before. So this is something where even if the person is not a parent of a child with allergies, they can make sure that they have extra like, I don't know, toys or non-allergy-containing treats for the kids?

Dr. Brownstein: Yes, that's the idea.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Brownstein: I will say I heard about it from a friend, going through the medical community.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Brownstein: So I think it would be wonderful if it was something everyone is aware of, that it would work wonderfully well I think. I think right now if you see it and you know about it, you can utilize that information. But it's not a totally safe option. You have to be, again, aware.

Ensuring a Safe and Enjoyable Halloween Night for Your Child

Interviewer: Sure. What advice would you give, maybe it's Halloween Eve, it's the night before, for parents who it's their first time ever dealing with something like this and they're about to go out with their kids? What kind of advice can you give them to make sure they know, hey, you're going to have an all right time, you going to be able to keep your kids safe?

Dr. Brownstein: Plan in advance as much as possible. These are parents who have probably been doing this since their kid was diagnosed with an allergy. But be prepared. Parents need to be aware and stay one step ahead of their kids. That way you can have a fun time, keep your kid healthy, and avoid visits to the ER you don't want and basically keep the evening fun, which is the goal.