Door-to-door DANGER: Trick-or-treating can be tricky for children with food allergies
Little Niklas Youngberg will be dressing up as a pirate this Halloween.
He’ll be going door-to-door in his Sagle, Idaho, neighborhood, collecting treats just like any other kid.
But what Niklas, who turns 3 at the end of November, probably doesn’t know, is that his parents stopped at each one of those houses before him.
They gave treats to all of the neighbors that Niklas can eat without going into anaphylactic shock. The boy has severe allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, beef and pork.
“Our goal is to let him experience the same things, just like any other kid, because the food allergies are just a small part of his life,” his mom, Kathrin Youngberg, says.
Halloween, of course, is supposed to be a little scary. But for parents of kids with food allergies, it can be downright terrifying.
That’s one of the reasons Shauna Herman of Post Falls is throwing a Halloween party this year instead of letting her almost 4-year-old son, Rylee, go door-to-door.
“I just can’t imagine ever sending him out to trick-or-treat,” Herman says. “Never. Ever.”
Rylee suffers from six life-threatening food allergies and more than a half dozen others that “make him sick and break out,” Herman says.
“He eats a lot of rice and corn,” she says.
Herman says she didn’t know where to turn when her youngest son (she has two older boys, ages 12 and 14) was diagnosed as an infant. So she took on researching food allergies as if it were a full-time job and ended up founding the Northwest Food Allergy Alliance to help spread information to others. The 1-year-old group has about 15 participating families, she says.
Herman has planned a Halloween party for the group, and other affected families, that’s stocked with treats that are free of the eight top food allergens.
The kids will bob for apples and there will be Skittles, Smarties and gummy treats.
“It’s just a big old party and the kids will never know the difference,” says Herman, who also home-schools her kids. “Except now there’s going to be no ‘nos.’ ”
Over the years, Ann-Scott Ettinger has tried to take the emphasis off food at Halloween – no small task. But with a 14-year-old daughter who’s allergic to tree nuts and peanuts, it’s a necessity.
“One of the main things we tried to start out when she was pretty young was coming up with different things to do and taking the focus off of food,” says Ettinger, who lives in Spokane. “Have the focus be on activities or on dollar store or Oriental Trading Company little prizes, rather than candy.”
But as Kristen Ettinger got older, and all of her friends started trick-or-treating, her mom allowed her to go door-to-door. But all of the candy was sorted through once she got home.
One year, she traded all of her candy for a toy. Other years, her mom has ordered allergy-free treats.
This year, Kristen will be staying home, helping to hand out candy to the kids who come to her door.
“It’s a constant vigilance thing,” Ann-Scott Ettinger says.
And it’s made even more complicated because some of the snack-sized treats made for Halloween have different ingredients or processing methods than those sold the rest of the year, says Lynda Mitchell, president of the Pennsylvania-based non-profit group Kids With Food Allergies.
Plus, Mitchell says, “Many of these snack-size packs don’t have labels on them.”
If your child has a food allergy and you do decide on letting him or her go trick-or-treating, here’s some advice from Kids With Food Allergies:
“Always carry emergency medicine when going door-to-door.
“Don’t let young children touch or carry allergenic candy.
“Prepare a container filled with safe treats and swap them for those your child has collected.
“Bring wipes to wash hands in case your child has touched an allergen.
“Offer to trade collected candy for money or a toy.
“Older children can trade unsafe treats for safe treats with their friends.
“Take the focus off of candy and offer fun activities or small toys.