Our house is abuzz with Hallowe'en excitement these days. The boys each chose their costumes a few weeks ago (The Annoying Orange for Noah and a Green Bay Packers football player for Will) and this week the two of them are starting to plan their trick-or-treating strategy in earnest. I remember being a kid and how exciting Hallowe'en night was as we all pretended to be something other than ourselves for awhile and hoped we'd get lots of our favourite treats as we ran from door to door in our neighbourhood. I love watching the boys experience that same thrill every year.
Hallowe'en looks different in our house now, though, than it did several years ago. When you learn that your child has multiple food sensitivities, Hallowe'en becomes a bit of a nightmare at first for reasons other than the ghosts and goblins. The first year we knew Will couldn't eat dairy, gluten, eggs, and peanuts, I realized as the time for trick-or-treating approached that the vast majority of treats he collected would be off-limits for him to consume afterwards. I felt terrible for him (because how do you explain that to a five year old in a way that he will accept?), so to try and make his Hallowe'en special, I decided to put together a little surprise bag for him (containing a new book, a few of Will's favourite collectibles like hockey cards and Lego or Playmobil minifigures, and a couple of treats that he could
eat), so that he would have something fun to trade his candy bag for when he came back home from trick-or-treating. I worried that Will, who is completely consumed with "fairness", might not think this was a very good deal, but thankfully I was wrong. He loved his special surprise bag, and didn't even bat an eyelash when he handed over all of his chocolate bars and caramels and other Hallowe'en loot.
Having to deal with food sensitivities and Hallowe'en has caused our whole family to re-evaluate how we celebrate this fun night. Noah decided a couple of years ago that he, too, would trade his bag of candy for a surprise bag. I think he has realized that while the thought of all that candy is appealing at first, he really just doesn't need to eat a giant bag full of sugar. On Hallowe'en night now, both boys dump their loot on the kitchen table when they get home, oooh and ahhh over it all, choose a few of their favourite (and in Will's case, safe) treats to keep, and then give the rest of it to Matt and I in exchange for a few non-candy surprises. We donate all of the hard candy to the boys' school for the after Hallowe'en candy drive (the candy is sent to poor countries to offer to starving children as a means of encouraging their appetites, so that they will want to eat something more nourishing afterwards), and the other treats we send into Matt's office to share with co-workers. (I have heard recently that some hospitals may also accept Hallowe'en candy donations for children in their pediatric ward, so I plan to look into that option as well.)
While I am all for kids having treats in moderation for special occasions, I've become aware through our family's food experiences that some treats are better choices than others, and now I choose even the candy I hand out to other trick-or-treaters more carefully. We have found a few brands of candy that are free of the most common allergens and do not contain artificial flavours or dyes (which many children are sensitive to), so that is what we hand out to everyone who comes to our door. I also purchase dark chocolate bars for the boys at Hallowe'en, because they are a healthier treat choice than many of the other kinds of chocolate bars they get in their trick-or-treat bags (ones that contain hydrogenated oils, milk fats, corn syrup, and artificial flavours). These are some of our favourite better-for-you spooky sweets:
(Free of gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, corn syrup, and artificial colours and flavours, these lollipops come in a variety of fun and tasty flavours. They are often available in Canada at Winners and Homesense stores.)
YummyEarth gummy bears
(Like the lollipops, these gummy little guys are also free of gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, corn syrup, and artificial colours and flavours. I often find bags of the snack packs at Winners and Homesense, too.)
Florida's Natural nuggets
(These chewy fruit candies have fruit purees and fruit juices as their first ingredients, and they are also free of gluten, dairy, nuts, preservatives, and artificial flavours and colours. I bought a box of Hallowe'en sized packages at Costco in Canada. *Please note that the ingredients list on the ones I purchased is different from the one in the link posted here, so you will want to check the label on the package before buying if allergies are a concern.)
Camino dark chocolate
pieces and bars (*Note: Camino chocolate bars have "may contain traces of" warnings on the labels for things like wheat and dairy, and some of their flavours include nuts. Will is able to eat the little dark chocolate squares and the almond butter chocolate bar without issue, but read labels carefully if allergies are a concern.)
Endangered Species dark chocolate squares
(Specially packaged for Hallowe'en, these squares are certified gluten-free, vegan, and non-GMO. However, the label does indicate a "may contain" warning for nuts and milk.)
Eating less candy on Hallowe'en night and in the days that follow it has not at all dampened Noah and Will's enthusiasm for the holiday. For them, the fun of visiting neighbours after dark in creative costumes and enjoying a few special treats is all they really need. I don't think of Hallowe'en as a nightmare anymore; I'm glad that the changes we had to make have helped to teach our whole family that we can have fun even without excessive sugar.