It all started with a peanut allergy…
I was nine years old, trick-or-treating with my best friend Vicki and her brothers, proudly donning my homemade Pippi Longstocking costume. With each house we visited, my pumpkin bucket got heavier and delightfully unwieldy. Vicki and I plotted which candy we would devour first upon our return to her house.
But Vicki’s little brother Will was not enjoying himself. As the evening wore on, I noticed his “trick-or-treats” became a little less enthusiastic and a lot more grumbly.
I soon learned that Will had a peanut allergy, and nearly everything in his candy bucket was off-limits. His parents kept promising that they had a stash of peanut-free candy at home, but all Will saw was a whole lot of candy that he couldn’t have.
Fortunately times have changed, and this means an increased awareness about many types of dietary restrictions. But that doesn’t make holidays like Halloween, with its flashy seasonal packaging and pumpkin-shaped treats, any easier for kids who can’t partake.
More kids than ever deal with food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances. Parents, teachers and caregivers need to take a proactive approach. Take charge, and don’t let fun-sized candy rule your kids’ holiday, because nothing can dampen Halloween spirits like not being able to participate in the sugar fest.
If you’re the parent of a child with an allergy, sensitivity, or aversion (and even if you aren’t, chances are you know someone who is) here a few ways to celebrate this spook-tacular holiday without the stress – or the sugar rush.
Celebrate with Movie
Here’s some surprising news: just as Halloween doesn’t have to be a sugar-fest, it also doesn’t have to be horrifying. If you have little ones you’re keeping in, and you don’t want to be up all night alleviating ghoulish nightmares, consider cozying down with some not-too-scary Halloween classics.
For young children, Halloween flicks don’t get any better than It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Linus stars in this short, sweet movie, as he awaits the elusive “Great Pumpkin.” If that’s too elementary for your kids, try Hocus Pocus, starring Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker, or Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But be attuned to your audience: even though the latter is an animated Disney movie, it still packs kind of a spooky punch. And of course, the Harry Potter movies, though not technically about Halloween, do provide a good seasonal thrill. Try either Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets if you want to stick with one of the lighter choices.
Once you settle on your movies, set up your theater. Dim the lights, pile on the pillows and blankets, and serve your child’s favorite snack, apple juice, or a spooky looking punch with peeled grapes (um, eyeballs anyone?). Warning: this type of evening may induce some sofa snuggling.
Create a Pumpkin Parade
Who doesn’t love pumpkins? The way they look, taste, smell when baking – everything about them evokes autumn and coziness. So if you’re skipping the treats this Halloween, take your kids to a nearby pumpkin patch and have a blast. Many places have pumpkin painting or carving stations set up for little ones, and you just pay for the pumpkin. A lot of grocery stores get into the spirit too, letting you build scarecrows with pumpkin heads (you supply the old clothes), or hosting themed baking classes for kids.
Let your child choose a plethora of pumpkins to take home with you, and you can spend the evening carving jack-o-lanterns, roasting pumpkin seeds, or perfecting a pumpkin recipe for Thanksgiving.
If you’d rather not deal with carving and seeds, there are plenty of pumpkin crafts that are affordable and kid-friendly. You can easily make construction paper pumpkins to hang as lanterns, or paint paper plates to create pumpkin masks. Just Google “pumpkin crafts for kids” and you’ll have hundreds of fun and easy ideas at your fingertips.
Have a (Costume) Ball
Kids love to play pretend, and having a good costume is an essential part of that. Use Halloween as an excuse to go through your closets and create “costumes” for your child to keep in a dress-up bin (bonus: you can also create a pile of things to donate or pack away for summer). Be creative: graduation gowns can become wizard robes, flannel shirts and jeans can outfit the perfect cowboy, and silk scarves make great princess dresses!
If your child wants to invite friends to your place, enlist a relative or older sibling to dig through the closets and come up with some cute costumes that the kids can “model” for the grown-ups. You can even give prizes for categories like scariest, most creative, or silliest. Put on some music as they show off their duds, and have a ball!
Host a Harvest Feast
As a parent, the thought of trekking from house to house and collecting candy that will hype up my kids (until I eventually eat it all while they sleep), well, it’s just not that appealing. Chances are, there are other parents you know who feel the same, or whose kids have a dietary restriction that makes them dread Halloween.
As it turns out, this is a great excuse to host a potluck. Each guest brings something “safe” for his or her child, and you can even specify foods that are off limits in an email or invitation. This way no one has to stress about feeding their child before the party, and the grown-ups can actually relax and enjoy themselves. You can even give your get-together a “seasonal” theme by asking everyone to feature an autumn ingredient, like apples or squash.
Whatever your family decides to do for Halloween this year, remember that it doesn’t have to revolve around candy. There are so many ways to celebrate, and so many kids who want to get into the spirit and try something new. Happy Halloween!
Beth Fornauf is a freelance writer and mother of t
wo. Different members of her family suffer from peanut, tree nut, gluten and shellfish allergies. Beth enjoys finding creative recipes and activities to minimize the impact of these restrictions, while also raising awareness about them in the community.