I should have posted this weeks ago in preparation for Halloween, but didn’t have a chance to write it until now. The good news is that it doesn’t just apply to Halloween, but to all holidays, to any eating occasion, really — for a food allergy family.
Today is Halloween. Spooky, right? What’s REALLY scary it is navigating holidays with food allergies. As I set out the candy in hopes of trick-or-treaters coming my way tonight (we shall see . . . it’s pouring rain right now!) — I re-read food ingredient labels and was reminded of how complex navigating a food allergy can be.
Chances are you know someone with a food allergy. In our house, it’s nuts. (Ha, I just re-read that. My son is allergic to nuts. But, yes, in this house full of silly boys, the house is pretty nuts, too). Our allergy here: a severe, anaphylactic, yes-my-kid-could-die-from-this reaction to nuts. Not all nuts, just three of them that we know so far. But we’re cautious, and we keep him away from all nuts just in case. If you know someone with food allergies, you are likely aware of the complexities and I’m sure very kind and willing to accommodate when possible. But to be honest, before being a nut allergy parent, I didn’t quite fully understand the complexity or the severity. So here are some tips:
DON’T ASSUME THAT JUST BECAUSE SOMETHING DOESN’T HAVE NUTS IN IT, THAT IT’S OK FOR SOMEONE WITH A NUT ALLERGY:
I’ve had very nice friends and neighbors say to me, “I want to make sure I have something he can eat — is this brand of (insert food name here) OK?” And while I’d love to say, “Yes!” or “Unfortunately, no!” — it’s rarely that simple. I always thank the person for their thoughtfulness, but to answer confidently, I truly need to read the ingredient label. WHY? Because . . .it’s complicated!
Take this example:
Full-size Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar: Totally fine for my kid.
Halloween-size Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar: He cannot eat.
Thanks to detailed food labels, it is clearly stated that the Halloween-size bars are made not only in a facility that contains nuts, but on the same exact production line as Hershey’s with Almonds . . . so, NO-GO.
So, you see, it’s not as simple as me saying, “yes, Hershey’s milk chocolate is fine.” Because some of it is, and some of it isn’t.
DON’T ASSUME THAT WHAT YOU BOUGHT LAST TIME IS ALSO FINE THIS TIME:
Manufacturers can change recipes. Or production facilities. Or production processes. My son used to enjoy Quaker Chewy Granola Bars — Chocolate Chip . . . and then they changed their package to say “May contain nuts.” So . . . NO-GO.
Whether they actually changed their production process and the granola bars are now at risk of cross-contamination with nuts, or whether the company is being cautious and doing a bit of a “CYA” move just in case, as a nut allergy mom, I appreciate it.
RECOGNIZE THAT NOT ALL FOOD ALLERGIES ARE THE SAME:
I’m not just saying a nut allergy vs. a dairy allergy vs. celiac disease. I mean, even within nut allergies, some kids can eat stuff that was processed in a facility that also processes nuts, and some can’t. Severity of the allergy can differ greatly. So be patient while we read our food labels — there’s a lot to see in very fine print (honestly, I think it’s what led me to needing reading magnifiers. Clearly, it’s not just my age…). May contain . . . Contains . . . Made on the same equipment as . . . Made in a facility that also processes . . . They all mean something different.
OFFER SOMETHING OTHER THAN FOOD:
Have you heard of the Teal Pumpkin Project? It’s a great reminder that Halloween doesn’t have to be all about the candy. We offer bubbles and stickers and other fun non-food options for kids with allergies. You don’t have to, of course, but it’s an easy idea to remember not just for Halloween, but also for birthday party goody bags, stocking stuffers, and other get-togethers.
BE CAREFUL and BE KIND:
While these are all hopefully helpful tips for those of you who know and interact with food allergy kids, the ultimate responsibility — in my opinion — of course lies with the caregivers of the allergic child. So, food allergy parents, REMEMBER to read all labels when your child gets home from trick-or-treating or is at a party. For Halloween, I always have extra candy at home that I know is safe for my child, in case he comes home with a bunch of stuff he can’t eat. (bonus — I can eat it. In moderation, and far away from my child, of course). At parties, I call the pizza place the pizza comes from to make sure pine nuts aren’t in the sauce . . . or the bakery where the cake comes from because there is often risk of cross-contamination there. Depending on the age of your allergic child, be the nosy onlooker, the one asking “Do you still have the package for that? I need to read the ingredient label.” Ask the questions, and be willing to say NO to your child eating something, even if those around you insist there are no nuts (or whatever the allergen is).
And for those around you, remember to be kind! We’re not asking you to change everything for us, but rather to help us be informed. Don’t get frustrated by our questions. Just put yourself in our shoes, and we thank you for your understanding.
How do you navigate holidays with food allergies?
Happy Halloween and Happy Holiday season!