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Halloween teal basket full of non-food treats

Teal pumpkins signal non-food treats available for kids wth food allergies or food-related health conditions for a more inclusive Halloween.

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If you’re shopping for Halloween candy to give out at Trick or Treat or Trick or Trunk, don’t forget the non-food trinkets.

Traditional Halloween can be a bit of a bummer if you’re a kid with food allergies or dietary restrictions. That avalanche of candy at the end of October? Much of it can be off-limits.  

At the end of a fun night collecting treats, you might face a grim ritual of giving away a big portion of your loot to siblings or friends because you can’t ingest whatever potentially life-threatening allergen or allergens are in the candy. Bye bye, Almond Joy, Reese’s and Snickers. And you may worry about cross contamination.

“What it signals is you have non-food treats in addition to candy.”

Lisa Gable, chief executive, Food Allergy Research & Education

But a movement to include children with food allergies by offering separate candy alternatives is picking up momentum, complete with a map for families to locate allergy-friendly homes on trick-or-treat night — or to register as participants. 

The Teal Pumpkin Project aims to raise awareness and carve out safe, identifiable places for children to pick up trick-or-treat treasures that won’t trigger their allergies — things like glow sticks or glow bracelets, bouncy balls, bubbles, stickers and plastic vampire fangs.

It’s a nod to the 8% of U.S. children, or about two in every classroom, who have food allergies. Many are allergic to more than one food, with peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy and wheat among the most common triggers. Prevalence of food allergies in children has grown 50% between 1997 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

cheerful boy holding a teal bucket with toys and pencils in Halloween

A boy holds a teal pumpkin basket in front of a house that appears to offer both candy and inedible treats, part of the Teal Pumpkin Proejct.

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People can put a teal pumpkin outside their house or apartment building as a beacon. It can sit alongside an orange pumpkin or by itself. The only difference is its messaging, said Lisa Gable, chief executive of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), an advocacy organization and the largest private funder of food allergy research, based in McLean, Va.

“You can paint a pumpkin teal, you can buy a teal pumpkin,” she said. “What it signals is you have non-food treats in addition to candy.” 

Families sometimes hold teal pumpkin parties where children focus on arts and crafts instead of food, Gable said. Another option is to purchase a teal pumpkin at retailers such as Walmart, Target, Michael’s and Amazon.

FARE began promoting the Teal Pumpkin Project in 2014 after Becky Basalone, who had food allergies in her family and ran a local peer-support group in Tennessee, started the tradition of separating non-food items in a blue-green pumpkin a few years earlier.

FARE offers free resources on its web site for getting started – including ideas for non-food treats and frequently asked questions – and hosts a Teal Pumpkin Project Map where families can input their address or neighborhood to take part, or print to identify participating homes. 

“It’s a new and growing concept,” Gamble said. “It’s also a learning opportunity.”

Families with teal pumpkins on their stoops may find themselves fielding questions about food allergies, which affect 32 million Americans, she said. “It’s an educational moment to highlight why it’s important and the fact that it’s becoming a public-health crisis.” 

FARE calls itself the “cheerleaders” of the program, and invites other groups to get involved as well. 

“I would hope and anticipate that children with other diseases around food would find this an activity that makes them feel safe and included, too,” Gable said.

Tips for kids with diabetes

Children with diabetes, especially the younger ones who may enjoy non-food treats more than older kids, can make a game of finding houses with teal pumpkins to collect toys and goodies, suggested Jo Mandelson, a registered dietician at the American Diabetes Association.

Another tip, she said by email, is to wait until after trick or treating is done to consume candy so parents can suggest an appropriate portion and dosage of insulin, if needed.

For older kids with candy that might do them more harm than good, consider making them an offer of a toy or cash in exchange, Mandelson suggested.

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