Here’s my simple guide to a food-allergy-safe Halloween gathering! (Look at the bottom of the page for trick-or-treat advice.)
1. Give careful consideration as to whether or not food is even a vital ingredient to your activity. Even if you do decide to have edible goodies, consider whether or not you can get by with just a couple of things. (The fewer the varieties and types of foods, the less the risk of a problem.) Another idea: rather than going potluck, consider pooling funds to cater a less risky main dish (grilled chicken strips, a spiral-sliced ham, or a tray of deli cold cuts) that is safe for everyone.
2. Brief everyone well on which food products may cause problems for anyone your group. General safe bets can be found here, but you must always check the ingredients list and food allergy warning on each package against the specific food allergies in your group.
3. Educate everyone on the dangers of cross-contamination that can happen in an ordinary kitchen as well as an industrial facility. The best planning can be all for naught if someone does a sloppy job of cleaning up the peanut butter mess on her kitchen from lunch before breaking out the mixing bowl. Even a tiny bit of nut residue can spell disaster for a highly food allergic person. (Note that peanut allergy may worsen over time and lead to anaphylaxis from even a piece of nut.)
4. Remember that healthy items like clean, whole fruits and veggies are among the safest options. This is beneficial to everyone’s bodies, not just the food allergic revelers! Think fresh apples and pears at Halloween. Or a simple bean dip and some corn chips at a fiesta. Or hummus and carrots and celery on the Fourth of July. (Again, tailor these suggestions to fit.)
5. If you use a prepared mix for cupcakes, cake or cookies, consider bringing the ingredient list or a quick snapshot of it on your smartphone as a courtesy in case there is any confusion. (And if you forget to do this, don’t fault a cautious parent for foregoing your delicious dessert. Safety first.)
6. For goodie bags, go with stickers, simple toys, coloring books and other non-food items so that everyone can have the same thing. Remember: less sugar is good for everyone! The same goes for what you give away at your door!
7. Be pleasant and upbeat about the decision your group has made to prepare safe food mindfully. One of the hardest parts of growing up with a food allergy is the stigma that can come with it. Families with food allergies must accommodate the world around them daily. The gift of thoughtful, sensitive friends and family who willing adapt their behaviors at holiday times is priceless. You are doing a beautiful, gracious, and loving thing when you create a safe holiday environment. Thank you!
Postscript: What to Give Trick or Treaters
Someone asked me privately what we give at our door. This year it’s a mix of pre-packaged Rice Crispy treats, pretzel bags, Whoppers, York Peppermint Patties and simple toys and stickers. We always make a point of asking trick or treaters if anyone has a food allergy (after all, pretzels aren’t good for wheat allergic individuals). By showing that there is an array of name-brand options to us, we hope to demonstrate that food allergic families are “different” but not weird. We enjoy many of the same foods as other people.