How to Embrace Gluten-Free Halloween

Ghouls, ghosts and gluten – Oh my! Talk to your child about safe and unsafe candy before you trick-or-treat.

By Annsley Klehr, Beyond Celiac volunteer

It’s that time of year again. The weather turns cooler; leaves rustle in the wind; eerie sounds emerge as darkness settles in. As a child, I looked forward to this time of year, because the change in weather brought about feelings of fall and heralded the approach of All Hallows Eve, otherwise known as Halloween.

All Hallows Eve is a Celtic holiday that celebrated the coming of winter, the end of a long harvest, and the cycle of life. It was a time where people believed the souls of the dead wandered restlessly before heading to the underworld. Villagers left out parts of their harvest in hope of pacifying these wandering souls. Though Christian Missionaries came to change the holiday, its historical significance remains – people dress up as living souls and go around to collect the harvest offering.

Ok, this is where history ends and the present day begin. The energy of the changing of seasons builds into mounting excitement as kids prepare to “harvest” and stockpile candy for the whole year. Yet for adults, Halloween can be a time of dread. The questions begin trickling in, then pick up steam like a freight train leaving the station:

  • How can I manage the amount of candy coming in?
  • How can I justly censor what my child eats?
  • How can I avoid the looming temper tantrum?
  • Am I a good parent if I take away some of the candy? All of the candy?
  • What do we do with all that candy?
  • There’s gluten everywhere; how do I keep my child from accidently eating something?
  • How do I keep my child feeling good and still allow him/her to enjoy the spirit of the holiday?

Last year, this just didn’t seem quite as big of a problem since my daughter was closer to 18 months and didn’t know what candy was. Ok, she was teething and wanted to put everything in her mouth, but she didn’t care if it was candy or a mini figurine.

We went trick-or-treating, but I brought food and snacks with us so she wouldn’t pop a wrapper in her mouth. She was excited to hold a bag and walk to each house, learn how to grab only one item from the basket, say thank you, and put it in hers. Each house took 10 minutes, so we only made it to six houses. Six houses, six pieces of candy, and 60 minutes passed. Perfect! Seemed pretty easy.

But one year later and one year older, it’s a different story. I have fears of my child belly flopping on the ground and going into a tantrum while the other goblins, fairies, and parents watch. How can I tell these trick-or-treaters I won’t let my daughter eat a bite of her candy?

This is not the Halloween I am looking forward to. My daughter is 2 ½ is still a bit too young for us to make a decision together. So, I decided to poll what the “normal” family does on Halloween. Here are just a few responses:

  • Family A: The kids hand their candy over to their parents and get 1 piece a day.
  • Family B: The kids sell their candy to their parents in exchange for money.
  • Family C: The kids pull out the candy they don’t want and keep the rest.
  • Family D: The kids hand all of their candy over to their parents in exchange for “safe” candy they picked out before Halloween.

Needless to say, I learned that there is no “normal.” Each family does what feels right. One mother told me her daughter has multiple fillings, so she can’t eat any chewy candy. The child knows to ask if it’s chewy and then declines the food. Another parent told me his child has peanut allergies and together they go through and remove all candy with nuts as ingredients. Another family educated their children on the importance of charity and decided to only carry UNICEF boxes, collecting money instead of candy.

Each and every child has different needs and, therefore, different ways of managing the situation. So, it should be no different for gluten.

A few take-home messages:

1. Celebrate the history of the holiday and focus on things other than candy leading up to Halloween – picking pumpkins, carving pumpkins, harvesting, designing/making a costume, etc.

2. Establish a plan way before heading out to trick-or-treat. This is even more effective when you and your child can establish a plan together.

3. Communicate the plan before trick-or-treating and explain why . Kids do better when they understand the reason. I always tell my daughter that X will make you very sick, and that seems to work.

4. Remind your child of the plan over and over again. The more days you talk about what’s going to happen and reiterate the plan, the better.

5. Pick out and purchase safe Halloween candy together.

6. Leave your house prepared. Always take acceptable snacks along while you trick-or-treat.

Good luck treat-or-treating this year, and enjoy the fresh air along with those wandering souls!

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