My son can't eat most Halloween candy, so I'm putting out a teal pumpkin for him and the millions of other kids with food allergies

My son can't eat most Halloween candy, so I'm putting out a teal pumpkin for him and the millions of other kids with food allergies
A teal pumpkin means non-food treats for Halloween trick-or-treaters with food allergies.EvgeniiAnd/Shutterstock
  • The Teal Pumpkin Project is an initiative to make kids with food allergies feel safe and included on Halloween.
  • The premise is simple: A teal pumpkin signifies you'll have non-food trick-or-treat options available for kids who need them.
  • Even on this unusual pandemic Halloween, there are ways to incorporate non-food items into your celebration
  • 8% of US children live with at least one food allergy.

Ever since my 2.5-year-old son was diagnosed with severe food allergies, I've thought a lot about how I'll make sure he feels included in group settings growing up. Will I be able to find dairy-free pizza to send along to birthday parties? Will he be able to enjoy birthday cupcakes with classmates?

He's still young, but I already see a big hurdle ahead: Halloween. For a kid with nut and dairy allergies, most fun-size candy bars are off-limits to him. How do you explain to a kid who's excited about dressing up as a policeman, or Woody from 'Toy Story,' that he can go door to door collecting candy — but he can't eat any of it?

A food allergy diagnosis has impacted many aspects of our lives

Like many of the 32 million people with food allergies in the US, Mason's are life-threatening if not properly treated. He had his first anaphylactic reaction — to sesame — at 8 months after trying a bite of hummus; within minutes, he vomited, broke out in hives, and started to have trouble breathing. We had an EpiPen on hand and were later told by the emergency room doctor that the quick administration of epinephrine saved his life.
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Since then, we've learned he is also allergic to eggs, dairy, mustard, and some tree nuts and fish. Even one small bite could send him into anaphylaxis.

As a food-allergy mom, I'm learning to deal with our new reality on a few fronts. There are the social issues, like making sure my son doesn't feel left out when he goes places where he can't eat the same foods as other kids — although many of these stressors have been put on hold by the pandemic.

There's also my own anxiety about keeping him safe; learning to read food labels, cook allergen-free meals, and ask the right questions at restaurants. (While packaged foods sold in the US are required to label for the top eight allergens, sesame — the ninth most common — does not yet require explicit labeling. That means I spend a lot of time reaching out to manufacturers about their ingredients and cross-contamination risks.)
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My son can't eat most Halloween candy, so I'm putting out a teal pumpkin for him and the millions of other kids with food allergies
Some families will hold teal pumpkin-painting parties to prep for an inclusive Halloween.FARE

That's why I was thrilled to learn about the Teal Pumpkin Project, an initiative to make kids with food allergies feel included on Halloween.

A teal pumpkin by your door or in your window indicates you support kids with food allergies

The premise is simple. Put out a teal pumpkin to indicate that you'll have non-food treats available for kids who need them. They don't need to be fancy or expensive. Stickers, glow sticks, and crayons all make for great trick-or-treat options. Of course, Halloween will be different for everyone this year due to the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control CDC) is advising against high-risk activities like traditional trick-or-treating and indoor costume parties. But you can still incorporate non-food options into lower-risk activities, like scavenger hunts or "one way" trick-or-treating — leaving goodie bags of candy spaced out around your yard or driveway.
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Food allergies are a fast-growing issue for both kids and adults. A recent study found that 8% of American children under age 18 — or one in 13 — have at least one food allergy. That's 5.6 million kids — one or two in every US classroom. Between 1997 and 2011, the prevalence of food allergies in children increased by 50%, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

So I hope you'll join me in putting out a teal pumpkin this Halloween to put parents at ease, and to allow all kids to feel included.

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