Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween, Peanut Allergy Style

A recent commenter wondered how we handle Halloween around here. So I think I'll tell ya.

Halloween is tricky (pun intended!). Allow me to begin by stating that Halloween is my all-time favoritest holiday to celebrate. Yes, it's even more enjoyable to me than Christmas or Labor Day or Mother's Day. Who doesn't love a holiday where you get tons of free candy? AND get to dress up in a crazy outfit! And get to celebrate all things spoooooooky for even more fun! I never quite outgrew my Edgar Allan Poe phase.

Halloween is also a peanut allergy nightmare. I daresay it's a milk- and egg- and tree nut- and soy- and wheat- allergy nightmare, too. (Not so much the fish, I guess.) I was so stressed out that first Halloween after Ryan's diagnosis. But I was also very determined to find a way in which he could share in the excitement of Halloween and still be safe.

In a way, it was fortunate for all of us that he was so young, only 2.5. There were not any longstanding cherished traditions that needed rearranging. Obviously, one of us would be with him for trick-or-treating anyway. We decided quickly that the most important thing he needed to know was not to even touch the candy he was given. I remember going trick-or-treating as a child and eating some candy along the way. That's not an option for a food-allergic kid.

We actually taught him how to trick-or-treat--we practiced! He took his little Halloween pumpkin bag (oh, so cute!) and came up to me and said "Trick or Treat!" and I'd put in a small lego. Then he'd pretend to go around the room and come back to me and I'd put in another lego. As he walked around the room, we'd say: "Don't touch the candy!" He or I would pretend to reach in and touch it as a joke and we'd remind each other "Don't touch!" After a few rounds, he'd bring me his bag and I'd show him how I would go through the candy and say "Safe" or "Not safe." I'd give him back the safe "candy" and he'd pretend to eat it. We need to practice again this year--Ryan has the routine down, but Morgan is now 2.5 and doesn't know the rules.

I think the role-playing helped concretize the rules for him. (As a matter of fact, I recommend role-playing as a parenting strategy in general.) Every year we remind him of the rules and we've never had a problem with him trying to sample the candy on the go. At the end of the night, I actually don't sort through the candy he received though. I only did that the first year. Now what I do is a complete exchange: I take all of his candy and give it to our friends and replace it with safe candy. There's too much of an unknown (for my comfort zone, ymmv) with all the safe and non-safe candy jumbled up together in his Halloween bag. I worry about torn packages, residues--it's not worth it, ultimately. I also do a complete exchange of Morgan's candy. The silver lining in this is that I can control the amount of candy they get. Neither has noticed that the amount of safe candy is smaller than the candy they collected--yet.

The other thing we do is host a Halloween party at our house. We invite all of our friends with kids to come dressed up--grownups, too--and use our house as a Halloween home base. We always have lots of safe candy out for anyone to share (I recommend Tootsie Roll products and Vermont Nut Free Chocolates for anyone with peanut or nut allergies only). We have beer and finger food and sodas and usually play a Halloween movie--ooh--on the wall this year! The dads take the kids out and we moms hang out, throw candy at the neighborhood kids, ooh and aah at the toddlers who come to the house, and talk. I always have a lot of fun.

Having guests could pose another cross-contamination risk, but we have rules about how the candy is handled and everyone is very great about abiding by them. We ask our kid guests not to consume candy on the go or at our house. And we ask our parent guests to enforce the rule with their kids and monitor for infractions. Most of the kids who come over have always had Halloween at our house and they don't really know any differently. They know they can have whatever treats we have out, and they know they can eat their own candy at home. A bonus for helping us out--they get to take our non-safe extra loot with them. It's never been a problem, because all of the adults AND all of the kids know that Ryan could get sick and none of them wants that.

That's how we do Halloween here. I know that other families with food allergies do different things, so I'd love to hear more ideas.

Have a spooky and safe Halloween!


Monica said...

Unfortunately, I only get about 5 trick or treaters at my house. Booooo. However, I have tons of tootsie rolls, so it's good to know they're peanut safe.

Rational Jenn said...

We live in a fairly large neighborhood that's heavily populated with families. I'll try to do a count this year, but we see somewhere in the order of 80 or so kids--maybe more! It's crazy. My favorites are the little-y ones, all shy and not knowing what to do. Soooo cute.

Jenny said...

I feel your anxiety, Jenn! SnackSafely.com has a great article entitled "4 Halloween Strategies for Food Allergic Kids. We are following one of their suggestions and setting up a safe trick-or-treating group in my neighborhood. The site also has a long list of snacks that are peanut, tree nut, egg and sesame seed free that our group has committed to buying treats from.