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Food for ThoughtOct/Nov 2009 Issue

Trick and Treats - Allergy-Friendly Candy

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. While my sweet tooth is as strong as the next person’s, for me Halloween has always been as much about the costumes as the candy. My most memorable childhood ensembles were hand-sewn variations of Raggedy Ann, Cinderella and the wicked witch.

After I grew up but before I had my own children, I used to sew elaborate costumes for my niece and nephews. I’m still haunted by the recollection of working until the wee hours of Halloween morning, finishing up the see-through eyes on Casper the Friendly Ghost.

As much as I enjoy the trappings, I almost decided to opt out of Halloween altogether when my oldest son, Kellen, was diagnosed with a lengthy list of food allergies. At the time, he was 15 months old, big enough to wear the pumpkin costume (featuring an appliquéd jack-o-lantern face and stem-topped cap) I’d made for his first trek around the neighborhood. Agonizing over whether it was safe—or even kind—to permit him to collect candy that contained so many of his allergens (dairy, eggs, gluten and nuts) really had me spooked. It might be better, I reasoned, to forego the fun completely than to force him to give up the goodies after he’d gathered them, especially when he wasn’t old enough to understand why.

Fortunately, I got the idea to bake some homemade treats that wouldn’t trigger Kellen’s typical nightmarish symptoms (hives, wheezing, vomiting...or worse). The trick was doing it behind the scenes.

For several nights leading up to Halloween, I’d wait until Kellen was asleep before baking and icing allergy-free sugar cookies in the shape of ghosts and pumpkins and then packaging them in individual Ziploc bags.

On Halloween night, my sister and her older children took Kellen around the neighborhood. Meanwhile, I walked a few doors ahead and handed out a sugar cookie at each house, explaining that Kellen was allergic to most candy, asking them to give him the sugar cookie instead, and describing his costume and the group he was with.

That first year, I’m sure the neighbors thought I was a little over-the-top but most were sympathetic and supportive. It was particularly rewarding in the following years when those same neighbors not only remembered Kellen but often provided alternative treats for him—pencils, stickers, plastic toys, coins—in addition to the sugar cookies I continued to supply. 

Last year, because we had temporarily moved out of our home during a major remodeling project, we broke with tradition. Kellen, then 8 and dressed in a store-bought (horrors!) Indiana Jones costume, made the rounds with his cousins in their neighborhood. He figured that he probably wouldn’t be able to eat much of what he collected but he was pleasantly surprised when an end-of-the-evening trading session—in which he swapped all of his chocolate for safe favorites like Lifesavers, lollipops and Laffy Taffy—yielded him a sizable haul.

Kellen, now 9, recently confided that he had caught onto my trickery after a few years but that he had gladly played along because he enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow trick-or-treaters, even if their loot looked a little different than his.

This year, he’s decided he’d like to do the same thing as last year—but only if I promise to still slip him a few pumpkin and ghost sugar cookies on the side. My reply? It’ll be a real treat. LW

Sonya Goodwin Hemmings lives in Tempe, Arizona.

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