Teal is the New Orange: How to Make Halloween Less Scary (and More Fun) for Kids with Food Allergies

Teal is the New Orange:

How to Make Halloween Less Scary (and More Fun) for Kids with Food Allergies

By Lindsey Geiss

 

Trick or Treat? For one in 13 children in the U.S. who have a food allergy, this can quite literally be a trick question. Potentially life-threatening food allergies challenge millions of families like mine, and Halloween presents additional obstacles for us with festivities centered around candy, food and crafts. This fun holiday can be scary and even deadly for these children. FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project is changing that by making Halloween more safe and inclusive for all. Since 2014, it’s been gaining momentum to help ensure every trick-or-treater comes home with something to enjoy.

If you’re a food allergy parent, you probably already take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project to some degree. You may know which of your neighbors have safe treats or, as usual, you make plans to bring your own. Maybe your child is still young enough to not fully understand what he or she is missing. Then, as he gets older you want him to participate like everyone else. This describes my family’s situation this year as my son turns three, so I’ve taken steps to raise awareness about food allergies and encourage neighbors and organizations in my community to turn our town teal this Halloween. I invite you to do the same. It’s up to us to set an example and educate others. If we do it right, I believe these efforts can carry into the holiday season.

My food allergy parent friends and I have had success with several of these grassroots efforts, and you can, too:

  • Letter writing – Reach out to your neighbors and teachers in advance of the holiday to alert and remind them of your child’s allergy or allergies and ask for assistance in making the experience a happy, safe and inclusive one. The sample letter included at the end of this post is based on one created by Vikki Meldrum, a fellow local food allergy supermom who achieved 100 percent Teal Pumpkin Project participation in her neighborhood over the last few years. Feel free to tailor and share it to meet your needs. Send it via email or mail depending on what local directories and information are available to you.
  • Displaying a teal pumpkin at your home and office – Show your home is safe for children with food allergies to knock on the door. Paint a pumpkin teal, buy one from a craft store/pharmacy or print one of FARE’s free signs. Place one at your work desk to start a conversation with colleagues or clients. In the same way pumpkin spice is everywhere and seems to multiply each year, let’s spread the teal love!
  • Social media sharing – A picture can be worth a thousand words. Share your allergy-friendly treat ideas or link to FARE’s safe treat infographic and social media posts (#TealPumpkinProject).
  • Teaming up – There is strength in numbers. Take your social media sharing a step further, and search for Facebook food allergy groups in your area. If you can’t find one, consider starting one. I created one for food allergy parents in Avon Lake and surrounding areas, which now includes parents in Rocky River, Westlake and beyond. We share links to helpful articles and events, new allergy-friendly foods, restaurant experiences, and even collaborate to petition stores for product stock requests, as we recently did for Halloween treats.
  • Coloring crafts – Bring these simple or advanced Teal Pumpkin Project coloring sheets to your next play group, PTA meeting, craft club, school, library or other place that welcomes children’s activities. Kids can color their own teal pumpkin Halloween picture while raising awareness. I’m bringing a stack to our next PTA craft club along with allergy-friendly treats and Teal Pumpkin Project flyers.
  • Leading by example and thanking supporters – Bring safe treats to your next school, church or family function. Safe Halloween practices can carry through Thanksgiving and the Christmas season, especially if those efforts are recognized and appreciated. Work with your child to write thank you notes for neighbors, teachers and other Teal Pumpkin Project supporters. This can encourage them to continue such efforts year-round and persuade others to follow suit.

More school districts, like Avon Lake City Schools, have already taken steps to make celebrations healthier and more inclusive by eliminating birthday cupcakes, for example. These ideas apply year-round to party favors, goody bags, rewards and celebratory treats. Kids With Food Allergies, a Division of the Allergy & Asthma Foundation of America, offers additional tips for home and school, including a Teal Classroom Kit.

Examples of safe Halloween treats include non-food and Top 8 Allergen-Free options:

  • Spooky jewelry like plastic spider rings and barbed wire bracelets
  • Stickers, notepads, pencils/crayons, erasers and bookmarks
  • Bubbles, glow sticks, noisemakers, balls, playing cards and other toys
  • Top 8 Allergen-Free Enjoy Life chocolates, YumEarth gummies and lollipops, Made Good Vanilla Crispy Squares, Wholesome Organic Lollipops and Surf Sweets Gummy Worms and Spooky Spiders

If you’re looking to attend an allergy-friendly Halloween event, NEOFAN, the Northeast Ohio Food Allergy Network, is partnering with Eton Chagrin Boulevard Shopping Center for its Bootique Trick-or-Treat event October 26 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. to support the Teal Pumpkin Project. Allergen-free treats and non-food items will be offered in addition to traditional candy. NEOFAN will be onsite to share food allergy resources and fun giveaways.

Finally, if you are inclined to support the Teal Pumpkin Project through a monetary contribution, FARE accepts donations online, as does NEOFAN. To be a part of NEOFAN and the support and resources it offers, complete this form to receive news and/or get more involved.

NEOFAN and my family wish everyone a safe and happy Halloween. May this be the beginning of a joyful and inclusive holiday season. Let’s #KeepItTeal into the new year!

About the author:

Lindsey Geiss is a public relations professional turned stay-at-home food allergy mom, writer and NEOFAN volunteer. She lives on the West side of Cleveland with her husband and two young children.

SAMPLE LETTER – Personalize and share this template note for neighbors before trick-or-treating.

Hi, Neighbors –

As Halloween approaches, we need to ask a favor.

Our [AGE]-year-old [SON/DAUGHTER], [NAME], has life threatening food allergies to things commonly found in candy ([ALLERGIES]). If [HE/SHE] comes into contact, through eating or even skin contact, with food containing any of these items, [HE/SHE] could have an anaphylactic response. As you can imagine, this makes celebrating Halloween difficult.

So, we wanted to ask if you plan to pass out candy for Halloween, could you please consider also picking up a small non-food item (stickers, crayons, etc.) and keep it away from the candy to limit contamination? We’d love for [NAME] to be able to participate in Halloween and appreciate help from the community to keep [HIM/HER] safe.

If you’re willing to provide a non-food treat, [FOR EMAIL: here is a teal pumpkin / FOR MAIL: enclosed is a teal pumpkin] you can display indicating your home is safe for us to bring [NAME] to your door. The Teal Pumpkin Project promotes non-food treats for kids like [NAME]. [FOR EMAIL: Here’s an article from USA Today on the Teal Pumpkin Project for background. / FOR MAIL: To learn more, Google “Teal Pumpkin Project” and you’ll find background and news articles on the program.]

To help make [NAME] easily identifiable, [NAME] will be dressed as [COSTUME], and we will identify [HIM/HER] as we come to the door. If we don’t see a teal pumpkin, we’ll go to the next house, no problem.

Please let me know if you have any questions or want to discuss. You can reach me at [EMAIL/PHONE].

Thank you for reading this and hopefully participating!
Kind Regards,

[FAMILY NAMES]

[ADDRESS]

Printable Template

 

Back-to-School Food Allergy Basics: A Parent Checklist By Lindsey Geiss

It’s back-to-school time, and while most parents work from a standard supply list, roughly two children in every classroom require additional steps to be safe and included as a result of food allergies. My son is one of them.

According to FARE, the Food Allergy Research & Education organization, food allergy affects up to 15 million Americans, including 1 in 13 children. I’m preparing to send my son to preschool. This will be our family’s first experience with food allergies in a real classroom setting. I’ve participated in organized “mommy and me” activities, but dropping him off at school and leaving him there for several hours scares me. It opens a whole new door of questions and concerns for me as a parent not even three years in to this food allergy journey.

After contemplating this crossroads, reading FARE news and other expert resources, as well as talking to other moms, I’ve come to two major realizations: There is a lot involved with preparing for school as a food allergy parent, and, whether I like it or not, I am now an advocate for food allergy awareness and education.

 Back-to-School Checklist for Food Allergy Parents

 While my daughter is entering her third and final year of preschool, my son’s experience is different. I’ll surely learn more along the way, but here is the ten-item food allergy back-to-school checklist I’m following to give my son a safe and happy start.

  1. Find the right school for your child, and understand their policies and procedures. We are fortunate to have multiple preschool programs in our area, so we shopped around and selected the one we have the most confidence in managing our son’s food allergies. We developed a comfort level with the school leadership and teachers after many meetings, tours and questions asked about everything from staff training and hand-washing practices (including the proper use of wipes rather than hand sanitizer) to requesting a letter from school leadership be sent to other parents outlining the food allergies and any accommodations necessary. We also plan to ease in to the experience with a half-day schedule two days per week. Regardless of choice, communication and coordination with school administrators, teachers and nurses is key.
  1. Fill out all the paperwork. Coordinate with your physician, allergist and school to complete the forms required for entrance, including a comprehensive food allergy management and prevention plan, which is typically either an Individualized Health Plan (IHP) or a 504 Plan. We completed medical history, enrollment and medication authorization forms in addition to the Emergency Care Plan, which outlines how caregivers should respond in an allergic emergency and provides contact information. Plan ahead as forms may require your doctor’s signatures. If your child is eating school meals, also prepare a special dietary meals accommodation form to ensure safe substitutions.
  1. Develop and review the emergency medical plan with the school. This includes school administration, nurses and teachers. If assistance is needed in daycare or preschool medical care plan development and training of school staff on treatment/medication administration, local resources may be available in your area. For instance, in Cuyahoga County Ohio, parents and childcare providers can call Starting Point or the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.
  1. Prepare medications. Visit your doctors for current prescriptions, fill them and ensure your epinephrine auto-injectors and other medications are labeled with your child’s name. We also made sure our medications will not expire during the school year, purchased an insulated carrying case for my son’s epinephrine and antihistamine medication, and inquired about how and where the medications will be stored at the school. If you plan to order a FRIO carrying case, for example, you may use the discount code NEOFAN for 10% off your purchase.
  1. Be clear on the school’s guidelines for outside the classroom, too. This includes how food allergies are managed in the lunchroom or cafeteria, on school buses and on field trips. Celebrations are another consideration. Suggest celebrating food-free, but have a list of safe treats to distribute to teachers or parents as needed, and keep some of your child’s favorites at-the-ready in your freezer, pantry or at the school for when those occasions arise.
  1. Think beyond food. Some crafts and lesson plans for math and science may include potential food allergens. Consult with teachers to ensure activities are safe for your child, and reference this list from KidsWithFoodAllergies.org. 
  1. Label everything… maybe even your child. Our preschool requires name labels on all belongings, and we ordered additional customizable waterproof food allergy alert labels for his lunch bag, food storage containers, water bottle and backpack. If you order Mabel’s Labels, support Northeast Ohio Food Allergy Network with the discount code NEOFAN10. There are also food allergy and medical bracelets or tags your child can wear, like those by AllerMates. 
  1. Train your child. As a former public relations professional, I’ve conducted many communications training sessions. If your child is old enough to communicate their food allergies, make sure they have “key messages” down pat, including when to say “no, thank you” and how to explain their specific food allergies, symptoms of any allergic reaction and response steps. My son is too young to be his own advocate or administer medication, but we are working to instill simple safety lessons, such as not sharing food or eating food items found on a table, floor, etc. I also want to create an open dialogue on friendships and bullying so my children feel comfortable raising any concerns to the appropriate adults.
  1. Pack your bags. We have a couple lunch bag options, not knowing which will work best for us. One unzips into its own placemat and is machine washable. The other can be wiped clean, just like my son’s backpack, which is stocked with wipes and a change of clothes. In addition to standard food storage containers, I may try a bento box style so my son’s food can be eaten directly from sections of a single container. I will find out what the school allows and also ask about the use of utensils from home versus the school.
  1. Plan a menu. Coordinate with the school to see what safe menu options may be offered, meet with the cafeteria staff where possible, and if you choose to pack your child’s food, prepare a menu of options for your ongoing reference.

 We Can Help Educate Schools and Other Families

 As we prepare ourselves as food allergy parents, we can share what we learn with others. I’ve found valuable educational tools and resources that can make school safe and inclusive for everyone. For instance, FARE offers free resources as well as merchandise and materials for purchase. With a $20 or $30 donation, FARE will send your preschool, elementary school, middle school or high school a packet of information posters, informative handouts and resources to the building of your choice.

If you know of a school in Northeast Ohio that could use training related to food allergy prevention and management, refer them to NEOFAN and Rainbow Babies & Children’s Food Allergy Community School Education and Training Program. This school outreach program involves a 60-minute expert presentation covering a range of important topics. Email info@neofan.org if your school is interested in participating.

Additional back to school food allergy resources include:

FARE – Food Allergy Research & Education

https://www.foodallergy.org/back-to-school-headquarters

Kids With Food Allergies, A Division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

http://www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/page/planning-for-school.aspx

CDC’s Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools

https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/foodallergies/pdf/13_243135_A_Food_Allergy_Web_508.pdf

About the author:

Lindsey Geiss is a public relations professional turned stay-at-home food allergy mom, writer and NEOFAN volunteer. She lives on the West side of Cleveland with her husband and two young children.

Maggiano’s at Beachwood Place

We eat at Maggiano’s all the time and they are great! The chef comes to the table to discuss the food options and takes the order of the individual(s) with the allergies. They are very accommodating and friendly. They always make my son very special and we enjoy eating there. We have had similar experiences in other Maggiano’s across the country. (Peanut, Egg, Dairy & Gluten).

Making Food Challenges Less Challenging: One Allergy Mom’s Experience by Lindsey Geiss

NEOFAN is excited to announce a new partnership with Lindsey Geiss of the popular blogger collective She In The CLE . Lindsey, a public relations professional turned stay-at-home food allergy mom, writer and NEOFAN volunteer will be a regular contributor blogging on any number of topics relevant to the journey of being a food allergy family.  She lives on the West side of Cleveland with her husband and two young children.

 

Making Food Challenges Less Challenging: One Allergy Mom’s Experience

By Lindsey Geiss

May is Food Allergy Awareness Month. According to FARE, the Food Allergy Research & Education organization, food allergy is a severe medical condition affecting up to 15 million Americans, including 1 in 13 children.

My son is one of them. Two years ago, he was diagnosed with severe allergies to milk, eggs and peanuts – three of the FDA-defined top eight food allergens, which also include wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts.  We learned this when he was just four months old and I tried to supplement nursing with formula. Almost immediately, his skin swelled with hives, and he became very ill. Skin scratch tests and blood tests with the allergist confirmed these food allergies and the potential for an anaphylactic response.

Since then, we have been armed with an epinephrine auto-injector and completely eliminated these foods from his diet, meeting with a pediatric allergist who regularly orders bloodwork to check his progress. One of the first questions I asked the allergist was if my child is likely to outgrow his food allergies.

Will My Child Outgrow the Food Allergy?

Many children outgrow a food allergy. Research shows that 15 to 20 percent of children allergic to peanuts will outgrow their allergy, and 85 percent of children allergic to milk, soy or eggs will outgrow their food allergy within childhood or adolescence. Many factors seem to impact the likelihood of outgrowing a food allergy. For instance, FARE cites that children with a history of mild reactions, allergy to only one food, and eczema as the only symptom are more likely to outgrow a food allergy than children with more severe symptoms (i.e., trouble breathing, swelling and anaphylaxis) and multiple food allergies. Additionally, the earlier a child’s first reaction, the more likely that child is to outgrow the allergy.

Good news came when my son’s most recent blood tests indicated increased probability of tolerance for egg. His antibody titers reached a range acceptable to proceed with a medically supervised baked egg challenge, so our allergist ordered an oral food challenge to determine if he had outgrown his egg allergy.

What is an Oral Food Challenge?

According to FARE and University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, an oral food challenge is a highly accurate diagnostic test for food allergy conducted by an allergist in a controlled and monitored clinical setting. During the food challenge, the allergist feeds the food in measured doses, starting with very small amounts. After each dose, there is an observation period for any signs of reaction. This typically takes place over several hours. Larger doses are gradually given if there are no symptoms. If any signs of a reaction are shown, the food challenge is stopped. A successful food challenge confirms the child has outgrown the food allergy and the food can be safely reintroduced into the regular diet.

Tips for a Smooth Food Challenge Experience

My family is still relatively new to this food allergy journey. It’s been a lifestyle change and ongoing learning experience, but along the way I’ve discovered some methods that have helped manage my toddler’s needs and prepare for the road ahead.

The food challenge we completed recently went more smoothly than I could have imagined. Of course, each case is unique and protocols will vary, so you should consult with your child’s allergist or physician regarding food allergy testing. Here are some things we did before, during and afterwards to help make our food challenge experience less challenging.

1-3 Weeks Before

  • Practice making/eating the food without the suspect ingredient. After I received the muffin recipe from the allergist, I bought all of the ingredients and did a trial run to make sure: A) I could make the muffins (I’m not a baker), and B) my picky toddler would eat muffins (he hadn’t in the past). The recipe was clear and easy to follow. Since I had to use egg replacer until the food challenge, I tried batches with flaxseed eggs and store bought egg replacers to see which I preferred.
  • If permitted, adjust the recipe to your taste preference. To make the muffins more appealing to my son, I altered the recipe a bit with permission, of course, from the allergy nurse (whom I was on a first name basis with following all of my inquiries to her office). Much to my excitement, my son enjoyed a few bites of the banana nondairy chocolate chip applesauce muffins, and my family ate the rest.
  • Plan ahead for any lab visits. The allergist requested my son have another blood test to confirm we could proceed with the challenge. Since the allergist’s office had applied a numbing agent to my son’s arm before blood draws conducted at their facility, and this time we would be going to a different lab, I requested a prescription for a topical analgesic and ultimately purchased and applied an over-the-counter version myself (held in place by plastic wrap and medical tape). I had my husband who is stronger than I am hold my son while the lab technicians worked, and I distracted him with books, stickers and a snack afterwards. He didn’t even wince.
  • Stay well, but don’t use antihistamines. I did my best to keep my son well before the big day, giving him his usual vitamins and keeping him away from anyone sick (even more vigilantly than usual), since he had to be healthy to take part in the challenge. Although allergy season was getting into full swing, I did not administer any antihistamines a week beforehand, per the doctor’s instructions.

The Day Before

  • Prepare the food, and pack your bags. I made the official batch of six muffins the evening before the appointment and gathered mix-ins like applesauce and sunflower butter, in case we needed to get creative to encourage my son to eat them. I also packed our own utensils, plates and sippy cups to make the experience more familiar in a new environment. Since we had to wake up very early (these are typically scheduled first thing in the day), I laid out our clothes and packed our bags the night before. This included my son’s favorite travel-friendly toys, puzzles and an extra outfit (in case he got sick or messy), in addition to the usual diaper essentials, wipes and medications.
  • Keep your routine consistent, but get a good night’s rest. I gave my son an evening bath and bedtime snack as usual. We started the routine a little earlier than normal but didn’t want to throw off his typical schedule. Since he would be fasting the next morning, we wanted him well fed the night before.
  • Discuss plans for the next day. My son is too young to have a conversation about the experience, but some children, particularly older ones, may benefit from a discussion. My husband and I, however, mapped out the office location and talked about our plans.

 

The Day Of

  • Out of sight, out of mind. My son is a big breakfast eater and wants to eat when we do. Eat your breakfast where your child can’t see you, since he or she will be fasting. I put our food away before my son came into the kitchen. Even then, we quickly shuttled him past the fridge and into the car. I went so far as to use new travel cooler bags so he didn’t recognize them as his usual “snack packs.” During the car ride, we distracted him with toys and books to keep his mind off his hunger.
  • Keep things positive. I was nervous but tried to keep things light and fun. Since my son is only two, it was best to tell him we were “taking a fun car ride” and “going to go play with some new toys.”
  • Pack the challenge food and other food for afterwards. Don’t forget to bring the suspect food for the challenge as well as any coffee, water and snacks for yourself and a meal for your child for when the challenge is over.
  • Make things easy on yourself. Don’t try to do too much. We blocked the entire day for this event, not knowing exactly how long it would take or how my son would feel afterwards. My parents watched my four-year-old daughter, and we valet-parked the car at the medical facility, so we could easily walk in as a family.
  • Try to relax. You’re in a safe place. The challenge itself turned out to be harder on me (and my nerves) than on my son. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when he took that first bite. I closely watched his face and inspected his skin throughout the process. It was comforting to have the doctor stop in often to check on progress and advise on how much more to give him and when. The constant presence of the nurse also put me at ease.
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint. We were at the allergist’s office a total of four hours, including initial waiting time before the challenge began. We were put in a special room dedicated to such testing that included toys, a television, comfy chairs, a sink and separate restroom. The doctor started by introducing a quarter of the muffin. My son took his first bites right away, but we had to be patient while he “grazed” throughout the morning, alternating between eating and playing. The sunflower butter-coated muffin and mashed muffin smoothie made for a winning combination.

After the Challenge

  • Have other food ready. After eating one and a half muffins, my son was pretty full. However, he munched on snacks during the final hour of observation after the last dose was eaten. By then he was tired of muffins and looking for something else.
  • If all goes well, celebrate. Our experience went so smoothly, and our son napped on the way home, so we treated ourselves to lunch. He was still full and disinterested in eating more, so he occupied himself with the crayons and other activities while my husband and I ate. I even gave my son a toy surprise when we got home, because he was so cooperative.
  • If the challenge is stopped, don’t get discouraged. Results vary. I hope your food challenge goes as well as our first one did, but if it doesn’t, don’t worry. If reactions are shown, most are mild. Severe reactions are uncommon. If the food allergy is confirmed, the doctor will discuss avoidance techniques and prescribe medications as appropriate. Ask questions and plan for any next steps.
  • Follow your doctor’s orders. We were advised by the allergist to continue feeding my son baked egg and hope to conduct a challenge for peanuts in the near future. Always consult with your child’s physician regarding food allergies and use your own judgement on food safety.

Additional information on oral food challenges and food allergy resources can be found at the following links:

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital

http://www.uhhospitals.org/rainbow/services/allergy-immunology/food-challenge-clinic

FARE, Food Allergy Research & Education

https://www.foodallergy.org/diagnosis-and-testing/oral-food-challenge

About the author:

Lindsey Geiss  is a public relations professional turned stay-at-home food allergy mom, writer and NEOFAN volunteer. She lives on the West side of Cleveland with her husband and two young children.

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