Navigating Halloween with food allergies

When you have food allergies, the food-centered holidays like Halloween can be a bit stressful.

Wilton resident Jenny Andjelkovic, who has three children with severe allergies to tree nuts, peanuts and kiwifruit, said she finds that people are generally “very accommodating — especially as the public becomes more and more educated about severe food allergies and, unfortunately, as more and more children are diagnosed.”

Still, she said, “there are quite a few challenges” she and her family face on Halloween, such as unclear food labels.

“Chocolate is the hardest thing to come by without nuts or without being processed in factories where nuts are present,” she said, “which my kids have to avoid because they are so sensitive.”

Andjelkovic said many people don’t realize that popular Halloween candies like Kit-Kats, Three Musketeers, Milky Way, Twix, and M&Ms are not safe for nut-allergic children, “even though they don’t have nuts in them.”

“I actually feel lucky in ways that our worst offender is nuts because it’s well-labeled on most products and we’re not trying to avoid more than two major allergens, which can be very complicated,” she said.

Andjelkovic said there are nine allergens that top the food allergen list — peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, wheat, milk, soy, eggs, fish, and sesame.

Avoiding these allergens, however, makes finding one candy that can work for everyone “a very big challenge,” she said.

“Surf Sweets is one of the only brands that avoids the top nine allergens,” said Andjelkovic, but there are “many others that address one or more allergens,” such as Vermont Nut Free, Enjoy Life, Skeeter Snacks, PASCHA Chocolates, No Whey Candies, and Free2B.

“If you are looking for safe baked goods for parties, Divvies, Izzy B and Swoon Bakery are all great local options,” said Andjelkovic.

Although her children are “becoming better advocates for themselves” as the years go by, Andjelkovic said, “they do find it more difficult on Halloween because they never want to appear rude or unappreciative.”

“They often come home to find they can’t eat 75% of the loot they get,” she said. “Sadly, this can take some of the fun out of it.”

Andjelkovic said her family always buys a big variety of non-nut candies because it’s “one of the most common and most severe of the food allergies.”

“Treats like Twizzlers, Blow Pops, Tootsie Rolls, Charleston Chew, York Peppermint Patties, Swedish Fish, or Sweet Tarts are all fine for my kids,” she said.

“We buy them for the trick-or-treaters, but we also buy them so that my own kids have options for swapping when they get home.”

Andjelkovic said she also keeps “fun, non-food items on hand” like coins, bouncy balls, glow sticks, or tattoos for children who have more complicated food allergies.

Another challenge children with food allergies face on Halloween is taking candy from a bowl “mixed with things that have nuts or other allergens,” said Andjelkovic.

“They often refuse that candy even though it is individually wrapped and likely safe,” she said.

To people who hand out candy on Halloween, Andjelkovic asks that they “try to keep the toys and safe candy in separate containers” and “offer a variety of things.”

“We know you can’t possibly worry about all allergens, but maybe keep a separate bowl of non-nut candy, at the very least, as an option and try to have non-dairy and non-egg options. It isn’t as hard as you think,” she said.

“Ask children if they have allergies and don’t put the candy directly into their bags for them, but let them look at the options and choose for themselves.”

Andjelkovic also suggests that people have “a few non-food treats on hand like Halloween-themed party favors for kids who can’t eat any of the candies.”