A few years ago, I watched as my colleague Beatrice and her young son Joey were interviewed by a television reporter about food allergies. It was Halloween and the feature was to air that evening, a perfect time to raise awareness about this growing issue for Canadian children, and about the precautionary measures that families must take to keep their kids safe.
Hoping to get some good visuals, the reporter asked Joey to sort through his loot from a Halloween party, dividing the candy into “safe” (no peanuts) and “unsafe” (with peanuts or a ‘may contain’ warning) piles. With the help of his mother, Joey adeptly separated his treats.
As the off-limits pile grew, the reporter looked at Joey sympathetically and asked: “How do you feel? It must be awful having a peanut allergy and not be able to have all of these things?”
To the surprise of all of us, Joey, then 5 years old, responded nonchalantly, “Why? It’s just candy.”
Joey was clearly pleased with the amount of treats he could have and proud of the cool pirate costume he’d worn to his class party that morning. I wanted to give Joey a big hug. What a great attitude he had.
Parents, as you venture outdoors this Halloween with your food allergic youngsters, take a cue from Joey. Stay focused on what your children can have and can do, rather than their limitations. While ghosts and goblins may spook young children, food allergies don’t have to be scary. Halloween is an excellent opportunity to educate your kids. With some careful planning and simple precautions the evening will be a treat for all:
Emphasize safe eating habits
At this time of year, a lot of food will make its way into the classroom. Reinforce the “no sharing food” rule and remind children not to take goodies from others, even well-meaning adults. Explain that people who do not have a food allergy may not know what to look for on a food label and could miss something.
Remind teachers and caregivers about food policies
Ask them not to give food to your children without your knowledge. It’s very difficult for a young child to say “no” to an adult in a position of authority. We know of one case where a teacher made a mistake and gave a child a baked good which was labeled “peanut-free,” forgetting that his allergy was to milk. (He had a reaction.) Ask teachers to remind other families about the school’s food policies, and to be on the lookout for unsafe foods that may slip into the classroom.
Have a plan for trick-or-treating
Remind your kids they must always carry an EpiPen or Allerject auto-injector, wear MedicAlert identification, and stick with an adult. Role playing can help for young children who may feel shy about declining treats with obvious allergens from neighbors. Make sure your children eat before going out. A full stomach will reduce the temptation to sample treats en route.
Next: Be on alert: Halloween labels can be different