I love fall. The first cool winds of autumn conjure memories of crunchy leaves, jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treaters and, of course, chocolate.
But Halloween can be a particularly frustrating time for children and parents who deal with food allergies. Between them, my children are allergic to milk, peanuts and tree nuts, so many treats are off-limits. They're not alone. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, about 3 million children have food allergies, many of them severe.
Fall is a season awash with chocolate treats but not with allergen-safe options. Complicating matters is the fact that while major U.S. candy manufacturers strive to be "careful" in segregating allergens, none guarantees that its chocolates are dairy- or nut-free.
All is not lost, however. A little ingenuity and research has ensured that my little goblin and ghoul never feel deprived on All Hallows' Eve.
When my son Ty was little, I made up safe treat bags with Dum-Dums, popcorn, Twizzlers and gum and took them to neighbor's homes the day of trick-or-treating. They'd hand the bags directly to Ty while the other kids got conventional treats. Ty felt special and thrilled that he could enjoy treats like everyone else.
Several moms wrote in to share strategies for dealing with unsafe candies.
Cathleen Lemoine is calling upon the "Good Witch" to visit her home on Halloween night. She has told 4-year-old Evan that they'll put all of the "bad" candy in a basket, and a good witch will come overnight to replace it with small toys and books. Bonus: "The Good Witch only visits kids with allergies," she says. Bingo! One. Happy. Kid.
Regina Caldwell has two children with food allergies. After trick-or-treating, she goes through her kids' stash and trades unsafe candies for small toys, books or other treats.
Margaret Stroud's three children follow a gluten-free diet. She's hoping to tap their inner capitalists by "buying" the candy from them. "They are very into earning money recently, and I'm tired of having so much candy around after Halloween!"
If chocolate is a must-have in your home, remember, a small but growing number of companies make nut- and dairy-free chocolates that are as delicious as their traditional counterparts.
Vermont Nut Free Chocolates offers everything from Halloween-themed and shaped chocolate lollipops, coins and toffee crunch bark to caramel pumpkins and chocolate-covered pretzels.
They do contain dairy, which means my milk-allergic daughter Talia can't have them. My husband, son and I sampled many of the selections recently and they are all delicious. Last day to order for Halloween delivery is Oct. 23.
Canadian Favourites in Windsor, Canada, offers a bevy of certified peanut-free candies. My son recently tried the Canadian versions of Hershey's and Nestlé snack bars, Mars and Aero bars, Smarties, Coffee Crisps and Kit Kats—everyone of them as tasty as their American-made counterparts. (Nestlé Canada produces its chocolates in a dedicated peanut-free facility. Hint, hint, U.S.)
Order by Oct. 23. Mention "Joyce Hicks Sent Me" in the comments field and Canadian Favourites will include two boxes of its peanut-free Quaker granola bars with your $50 (excluding shipping) order.
Amanda's Own Confections produces dairy-, peanut-, nut-, gluten- and egg-free chocolates. We sampled scarily delicious dark-chocolate "lollypops," acorns, chocolate rounds and pumpkins. Order by Oct. 22.
Boom Choco Boom bars by Enjoy Life have become the dairy-, peanut-, nut- and soy-free choice of chocolate for my 4-year-old daughter. The bars are made of rice milk and come in milk, dark and crispy rice chocolate flavors. The bars cost about $1.50 to $2 each, and various flavors can be found at Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Kroger and Harmony Farms in Raleigh. Find a coupon at their website: www.enjoylifefoods.com.
On a non-Halloween note, the FAAN Walk for Food Allergy 2010 is scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 23 at Bond Park in Cary.
Joyce Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org