How teal pumpkins help kids with food allergies enjoy Halloween
A mother shares her story of navigating trick-or-treating with teal pumpkins for her 3-year-old Batman.
At the end of August, early September, I started to get anxious each time I went to the grocery store as I was greeted by large displays of pumpkins, Halloween costumes and mounds of candy that appeared on store shelves.
But it wasn’t the ghouls or goblins that frightened me. Rather, I’m scared of the one item at the center of what is Halloween for most children: candy, and food treats in general.
You see, much of that candy, could send my 3-year-old son, Julian, to the hospital and even be life-threatening. He is anaphylactic to peanuts and several tree nuts. That means one bite or even contact with his mouth or eye can cause a severe, and possibly life-threatening allergic reaction, sending him to the hospital. He is also allergic to eggs and milk, and while his reaction is less severe for those foods, they still remain an issue.
Before June 2015, (when we got our official peanut allergy diagnosis) I greeted Halloween with joy, excited to indulge on perhaps one too many candy corns or sneak one, OK maybe a few, peanut butter cups out of my older son’s candy stash. My older son is 9, so until a couple years ago, I never gave any thought to what was handed out at Halloween, or any celebration.
Last Halloween, when Julian was 2, we allowed him to collect all candy at every house. We swapped all the candy out with safe food items for him like fruit snacks and Oreo cookies. One of our neighbors even bought two boxes of fruits snacks just for Julian. But as he’s gotten older, telling him he can’t have candy because it makes him “sick,” as we call it, isn’t good enough for his 3-year-old ears. I want him to be able to participate. If he had a non-food option, like PAW Patrol stickers or a glow stick, he might acquiesce.
So this Halloween, our family is excited to see the Teal Pumpkin Project taking hold in Nashville and around the country. If you’re not familiar, the Teal Pumpkin Project was started by a mom who is a member of the Food Allergy Research and Education East Tennessee chapter. The idea is to raise awareness for food allergies, which affect one in 13 children under age 18, and also encourages people to hand out non-food items, such as glow sticks or stickers, to help children with food allergies feel included in Halloween trick-or-treating and festivities.
Many pumpkin patches are now selling teal pumpkins, and if you can’t find one, people are painting their own. On Halloween night, simply make sure your pumpkin is out on your porch. The Food Allergy Research and Education website also has a free printable flyer to post on your door explaining the Teal Pumpkin Project and to let parents like me know you’re participating. I know it will warm my heart to know Julian doesn’t have to be left out of the ghoulish fun.
And you can still hand out candy. Food Allergy Research and Education recommends that you keep two bowls separate and never mix food and non-food items to ensure there is no food cross-contamination, which could be just as life-threatening for some children.
Need ideas for what non-food items to hand out at Halloween?
Food Allergy Research and Education offers the following ideas. So will you join the Teal Pumpkin Project?
- Glow sticks, bracelets, or necklaces
- Pencils, pens, crayons, markers
- Halloween erasers or pencil toppers
- Mini Slinkies
- Whistles, kazoos or noisemakers
- Bouncy balls
- Finger puppets
- Spider rings
- Vampire fangs
- Mini notepads
- Playing cards
This post was written by Christina Echegaray, an information officer for Vanderbilt University Medical Center.