Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Allergy Free Trick Or Treating - Or Not.

While the wee ones love all parts of Halloween, there's a few small sticking points for us.  The candy is the big one, as Little Miss has a dairy allergy, and none of us eat HFCS, plus we avoid dyes and other nasties.  That limits the candy we end up eating each year, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

It's hard for the wee ones - especially Little Miss who usually ends up with just a few bags of pretzels - and I always have a stock of "trade" items on hand that are treats I know they can eat.  We're lucky, though.  A local organization put together an allergen free trick or treat for the special needs children in the area, knowing that so many are on restricted diets and can eat none of the candy they collect.

It's a brilliant idea, and I love that the neighborhood bands together to do this.  They even have tables at the ends of their driveways for the most part so the kids can trick or treat more easily instead of having to go all the way up to each of the houses.  One neighbor also creates an incredible haunted house for the kids to go through - altering the scary factor based on the requests of the kids going through in each wave.  This year, one person even rented a giant bouncy house so the kids could play once they finished trick or treating.


Here's where I start to feel ungrateful.  There were eight houses participating this year.  That isn't the issue.  My irritation - and I feel slightly justified in it because this was advertised as allergen free - is that this is what we collected from the eight houses:

Treats collected from the allergen free trick or treat that weren't allergen free

So the most common allergens are peanuts, wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts.  Many more children have issues with corn, even though it isn't in the major 8 - yet.  In fact, companies are now required to label when their products have any of the big four: nuts, wheat, dairy or soy.  Most of the special needs children are on the spectrum (including Mister Man), and many of those are on gluten free, dairy free diets.  More avoid HFCS and dyes, including many who are diagnosed with ADHD.

I appreciate that many of the houses decided to go "natural" for the allergen free trick or treating.  But they missed the boat.  Natural is not allergen free.

The Pop Chips contain dairy.  The Barbara's contains wheat and soy and is produced in a factory with milk, eggs, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios, cashews, walnuts, and coconut.  The breakfast cookies contain wheat, soy, eggs, and are produced in a factory with wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, eggs, and dairy.  The Back to Nature contains wheat, egg, milk, and soy.  The Sunkist "fruit flavored" snacks?  There's no ingredient listing on them, but I can tell you that fruit flavored snacks will contain HFCS and dyes.

So of the eight items we collected - oh, they also handed out prepopped popcorn in bags that contained dairy, wheat, and soy, I forgot that one - Little Miss can have one.  The big event that she's most excited about because she can actually eat the treats she collects was a bust because unfortunately people don't understand allergies.  She was inconsolable, and I don't blame her.  She was looking forward to this for weeks.

And I feel like a complete schmo for complaining, but... it's advertised as an allergen free trick or treat, and it wasn't anything of the kind.  And she's my neurotypical kid.  Try explaining to a more profoundly impacted child that the candy they can eat... they can't now.  It was so disappointing and so unnecessarily so.

The concept is brilliant.  And Surf Sweets has great allergen free candy.  So does Yummy Earth.  Indie Candy makes wonderful allergen free candy.  Strawberry Hill sells all kinds of allergen free candies.  There's even Glee Gum that is an allergy free alternative.  And that's just a small sampling of the companies I buy from regularly that I know are allergy free.  There's a ton more out there.  None of it was included in what the houses handed out this year, but it could have been if there was better education of what allergen free means.

I love the idea.  I love that the neighbors are willing to do this special event.  But creating the special event and then providing items that the children can't enjoy makes it worse than not having it at all.  Because they're kids.  And they don't get why they can't enjoy an event created for them.  Next year, we may not go because I don't want the wee ones to have this disappointment again - and I can't take on another project so it gets done right (so I say now; watch, I'll end up spearheading this in another eight months).

Because we have allergies in our house and because we know so many who have severe allergies, we always provide an alternative to traditional candy.  I wrote Monday about the book or treat option I'm having this year.  And I'm passing our Plants vs. Zombies trading cards.  And we have a small stash of "special" allergen free candy for those who request it.

What do you hand out for Halloween?  Do you have children with allergies?  How do you handle it if you do?

Updated: I have since found out that the treats that were provided by the neighbors for the special needs allergy free trick or treat was purchased by the special needs organization that arranged this.  So the people who put it together who are supposed to be smart about this and advertised it as allergy free were the ones who provided the treats that absolutely were not allergy free.  I've moved past disappointed to disgusted and very sad.  These are people who are supposed to know better!


Anonymous October 31, 2012 at 8:52 PM  

Boy can I relate! As a parent of a 9 year old and 6 year old both with special needs AND allergies, Halloween- which used to be one of my favorite holidays, has now turned into a nightmare. :( I'm thinking that if an allergen free trick or treat event can't provide allergen free items for the kids, they should at least provide alcohol for the parents who have to deal with the meltdowns from the disappointing children. ;)

Boy am I glad this holiday is over. Now I can start to worry about what Christmas will bring and how to avoid those pitfalls....

Lisa November 2, 2012 at 6:41 AM  

Who set that up? I think you need to talk to them.

And I think this is a matter of education. I luck out that my kids (knock on wood) don't have food allergies. However, just dealing with the kids in my kids' classrooms that have peanut allergies has been eye opening for me! Us non-allergy parents don't know!

I think its a matter of a parent like yourself doing some reeducation in your neighborhood.

tiarastantrums November 2, 2012 at 8:38 AM  

this is sad Michelle - at least they did try - most of my neighbors don't even answer their doors! I think a lot of the population does not understand allergies - UNLESS they actually have a child who has allergies!

Sarah November 2, 2012 at 9:58 AM  

It's so cool that there's an event like that, but what a disappointment! We're fortunate enough to not have any food allergies in our house so we're not as educated on it as some. My friend's daughter is allergic to corn & it's AMAZING the number of things she can't eat, and most of those were things I never would have realized had corn in them. She's not a big candy fan anyway, so she did a bit of trick-or-treating and traded everything with her parents for allergy-free candy & treats. I have to admit I'm not totally up on the allergy-free candies; we handed out regular candy, but I regretted it & I'd really like to do allergy-free next year.

Emily November 2, 2012 at 6:09 PM  

I think you hit the nail on the head: people think "natural" or "organic" is the same as allergen-free when of course it's not. You know we have food allergies in our house too. We have our kids keep a few pieces of candy but mostly they trade it in to the "switch witch" for a toy. JR got Legos and Zuzu got new earrings.

Not a Perfect Mom November 5, 2012 at 7:20 AM  

Blake just has a nut allergy, luckily having outgrown the egg, wheat, and soy, so it's pretty easy for us to sort through the stash...
And next year, maybe make up a little flier for the houses prior so they really understand, though that's not going to do much good right now for sure...
And with all the candy you don't eat, do you have a local dentist that buys it back? We get $1/lb for ours here, which the kids love!

Michelle November 6, 2012 at 10:17 AM  

M - I know you can relate. It's not easy... Yes, time to get ready for the next holiday, but I know you can do it!

Lisa - Ummm the local special needs organization. And I am going to have a chat with one of their board members. Especially now that I know they are the ones who purchased the treats. It wasn't my neighborhood but one in my town that agreed to hand out the candy. Regular trick or treat? I'm totally fine with that being a free for all. It's the special needs organization creating this and advertising this and then it being a total fail that is frustrating.

Teresa - Really? Our neighborhood is the place to be on Halloween. But this was the night before in another neighborhood where some of the neighbors were recruited to participate. And no... too many don't get allergies, though I'm grateful they don't need to!

Sarah - The concept behind the event is beyond cool. It's brilliant. And yes, corn is in everything. We avoid corn syrup where we can and always HFCS, so I know how much that is in everything, but corn itself is in even more.

Emily - YES. Natural is not allergy free. I know you struggle with allergies, and I think the idea of a switch witch is smart. Fortunately mine are good with me simply saying "nope, you can't have it, but wasn't it fun to get it?" ;)

Holly - Oh that's wonderful that he's outgrown the egg, wheat and soy! I'd do the flier except... they didn't buy the candy as it turns out. Gah, it was the speial needs organization! We do have dentists who buy it back. Our school also will take it and donate it to the local base. But shhh my husband has eaten most of it.

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