Halloween can pose some challenges for kids with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity – especially newly-diagnosed kids. Like many other holidays, it's almost completely focused on the food (although the costumes do run a close second). Some of the treats passed out that night will be gluten-free, but sadly, many will not be safe, especially for children who also avoid dairy.
Still, with some forethought and planning, it's possible for both children and adults with celiac disease to truly enjoy Halloween, along with a nice selection of gluten-free candy. Here are five tips that can help you prepare for a gluten-free Halloween.
1. Host Your Own Party
Many communities now discourage trick-or-treating, instead encouraging parents to organize Halloween parties for the children to attend. If this is the case for your community (and even if it isn't), try to host a Halloween party yourself.
If you're in charge, you get to control the candy, and you can provide only gluten-free Halloween food and candy for the attendees. Yes, this takes some planning and expense, which gets even more complicated if your child needs candy that's also dairy-free. But imagine the smile on your child's face when he asks "What can I eat here?" and you answer, "Everything!"
2. Supply Food for a School Party
Your child's school may hold a Halloween party – many do. In this case, volunteer to purchase the candy and snacks so that you can make certain most or all are gluten-free.
It's unfortunately unlikely that you'll be able to tell your child that everything at the party is safe, since other parents almost certainly will bring food. But if there's a nice assortment of gluten-free food and candy available (preferably gathered in one location), your child will be able to enjoy the party without feeling left out of all the candy-related fun.
3. Trade for Safe Candy
For most kids, the goal of trick-or-treating is to collect the biggest stash of candy possible. If your child can't eat three-quarters of that stash, she'll probably feel pretty sad.
But you can plan ahead to have plenty of gluten-free candy on hand to trade for gluten-containing treats.Don't just hand over the goods, either – make the trading a game, with specific (age-appropriate) rules.
For example, you could trade one Hershey's chocolate kiss (which is gluten-free) for every Hershey's mini bar (which is not gluten-free), but a full-sized Baby Ruth bar (which is gluten-free) might "cost" four Hershey's minis.
4. Offer Non-Candy Items
Not every treat needs to be food-related. Sometimes, kids get so much candy at Halloween that they're happy to find non-food items in their treat sack.
Rubber worms and small, stretchy "jelly" dinosaurs and other animals please many children, especially boys, while girls like stickers, temporary tattoos and even plastic flowers.
If you wander through your local dollar store, you'll get lots of inexpensive ideas for non-food Halloween treats, and your child might even agree in advance to give up all his gluten candy for something else he wants.
5. Focus on the Costume
Halloween lets kids' imaginations run wild, since they can dress up as (practically) anything they want. My daughter (who is gluten-free) starts focusing on her Halloween costume in July, and usually has developed pretty elaborate plans for it by the beginning of October.
If you encourage that aspect of the holiday and put lots of energy into the dress-up game (making your own Halloween costume can be a great family activity), you can help make Halloween all about the costume and relegate the candy – whether or not it's gluten-free – to a distant second place.