Trick or allergy-triggering treat?
For kids with special eating needs, Halloween can be a scary – here’s how to take away the fright
Halloween is the start of fall and winter holiday celebrations when dietary caution gives way to indulgence.
For many it’s a sweet season. But not if you have a child with severe food allergies, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease or other health-related food concerns.
Those candies, cookies and confections that are irresistible treats for others pose potential dangers for your child.
You could be anxious about your child’s safety and worried about his comfort level in food situations.
But take heart. There are ways to handle the goodies that tempt your child.
“Set the tone for the holiday. If you’re not nervous, your child won’t be,” says Angela Lemond, registered dietitian nutritionist, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Even so, “You don’t want to operate out of fear,” says Lemond, whose patients include children with food allergies or celiac disease.
You can ensure that your child will enjoy himself in a safe food environment, whether at school, at parties with friends or when trick or treating at a neighbor’s door, say health experts.
Discuss appropriate foods with your child, his teachers and any relatives and friends you’ll gather with. Visit support organizations online for helpful tips, stock up on “safe” treats and plan enjoyable activities that don’t revolve around food.
Set rules for your child, such as not eating candy until he brings it home and you can sort through it together, says Amber Carbajal, registered dietitian, clinical nutrition manager, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
This is especially important if your child has food allergies or celiac disease and must avoid gluten.
For children with diabetes, ration out candy so it can be balanced with insulin.
“Don’t let them [children with diabetes] go crazy with candy, but they can have some,” says Lemond, Plano, Texas.
Include your child’s school in your safety preparations.
“Talk to teachers. Find out what activities will take place. Check to see what kids are bringing and what teachers have planned,” Carbajal says.
If your child participates in after-school activities that include parties, give your child food to share, such as gluten-free cookies or non-allergenic hard candies. Organizations for people with specific dietary restrictions may have local chapters offering events during the holidays.
“You can find an event for a child with celiac disease. Your child can meet other children who are dealing with the same thing,” Lemond says.
Although children may feel left out when they can’t spontaneously eat like everyone else, you can help by planning activities with your child, Carbajal says.
“Be creative. Switch out candy for a toy or something else a child wants,” says the Wisconsin dietitian.
Just because your child can’t eat everything in his goodie bag is no reason to skip Halloween.
Getting into costume and having fun helps your child feel normal about these situations, Lemond says.
You can also bring the festivities to your house.
“Hosting a Halloween party is a great idea,” writes Veronica LaFemina, spokeswoman for Food Allergy Research & Education, Inc. (FARE) in an email interview.
“We think emphasizing fun over food is a great approach to celebrating Halloween. Playing games and handing out inexpensive toys and trinkets can be a great way to celebrate, “ LaFemina writes.
For information on managing food allergies and to find a support group in your area, visit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) at: http://www.foodallergy.org/
Amber Carbajal, registered dietitian at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, recommends http://community.kidswithfoodallergies.org/pages/community, the website for Kids With Food Allergies Foundation.
“It has good tips on how to not make holidays all about food,” says Amber Carbajal.
Families with children with celiac disease will find tips and events at the site:
For a list of gluten-free candy for Halloween visit: http://celiac.org/
Families with children with diabetes will find local support chapters through: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/parents-and-kids/
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