Don't get spooked by food allergies


Christine M. Palumbo, RD


While Halloween can be a fine holiday for children, the night can be a scary experience for the parents of children with food allergies. Allergies are on the rise-doubling over the last 10 years-according to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. About two million school-age children have a food allergy, and one child in 17 under the age of 3 is allergic.

If your child has a food allergy, you're already vigilant. But what do you do when your child wants to participate in that time-honored tradition of trick or treating?

Biggest threats

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the most common food allergens for infants and young children are cow's milk, hen's eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (walnut, Brazil nut and pecan), soybeans, fish/shellfish and wheat.

A leading expert in this area is Marion Groetch, the dietitian at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. She recommends that parents read labels before allowing children to enjoy their loot. "The same candy item in different sizes-full size or snack size-might contain different ingredients. Parents should remember to read all labels, even if their child has eaten the candy before." She warns that if a candy item does not have an ingredient label, it's not safe.

Groetch offers the following tips for parents to help them create safe ways to enjoy the Halloween holiday:

  • Host a Halloween party. Focus on the décor, costumes, games and prizes. Serve foods you know are safe for everyone to eat.
  • Create a neighborhood haunted house. Everyone will want to join the fun.
  • Keep it simple. Decorate your house, don a costume and let your children open the door for trick-or-treaters. They can enjoy handing out treats and munching on the safe candy you have purchased.

When trick-or-treating

  • Have your child eat a meal before you leave the house. This will help prevent the temptation to eat a piece of candy on the road before the labels have been read and the safety of the item has been fully evaluated.
  • Be prepared to allow your child to trade allergen-containing candy for safe choices or toys that you have purchased ahead of time. Consider donating the remaining collected candy to the local food pantry or office goody jar.
  • One clever parent in Groetch's neighborhood came around earlier on Halloween day and gave each house a special packet for her young son with multiple food allergies. Later in the day, when her son came trick-or-treating, there was a safe treat at each house for him to receive.
  • Young children love to help others; what better way than to trick-or-treat for a cause? Through th (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network), kids can register to trick-or-treat for food allergy research and education programs.
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