The Teal Pumpkin Project helps protect kids with food allergies
Last year, Ashton Kutcher tweeted about the Teal Pumpkin Project for Halloween. The food allergy community lost its damn mind in the best way. Finally, someone with a loud chirp gave us some love and we all rejoiced. Thanks, AK. I cried real tears of gratitude.
For many families like mine, holidays are mine fields. My 3-year-old son, E, has devastating food allergies. When he was a baby, he was allergic to everything except my breast milk, produced on a heavily restricted elimination diet. As he's slowly grown out of being allergic to most foods and now only reacts to a dozen foods, we all breathe easier on a daily basis. But the holidays present untold stress and fear for E's dad and me.
We know one bite of licorice on Halloween will land him in the ER, vomiting violently to the point of shock. One nibble of a fun-sized Snickers will cause his gut to bleed for a week, and make him weak and lethargic. And as far as food allergies are concerned, we are LUCKY. None of his allergies are anaphylactic, and we can all suffer through the worst of the reactions without being worried he will die.
Other kids aren't so lucky.
When you are a child with a food allergy, the world is not safe. Eating out, eating food prepared by other people, and visiting public spaces where food is present all mean one thing for parents and children alike: Danger. Big, scary, food danger. The rest of the food allergy-free world doesn't get it. They aren't terrified when their toddler licks a handrail at the baseball stadium. Grossed out? Absolutely. Instantly fearful for their child's life? Not so much.
Food allergies also mean exclusion. Parties, gatherings, play dates, school, all of it. Food allergy kids can't eat what other kids eat, which means they learn to be advocates for themselves at a very young age. They also learn the sharp sting of being left out. It's real. It hurts. And when so many celebrations hinge upon food, it robs our children and families of normalcy.
The Teal Pumpkin Project was created to include children who are allergic to food, or who have food restrictions due to other health issues. Here's how you can participate this Halloween.
Print this out. Put it on your door.
1. Paint a pumpkin teal.
Don't get all crazy about it, just grab a bottle of whatever teal-ish paint you have and slap it on a pumpkin. This will let trick-or-treaters and their adults know you are providing a non-food treat especially for them.
2. Keep non-food treats in a separate container.
Cross-contamination is a thing. Some children, like my son, react to trace amounts of certain foods. Keep them safe by not exposing their treats to tricky foods.
3. Offer both treats and let children choose.
When so much focus is placed on making special allowances for our kids, letting them fly under the radar without having to ask for special treatment or be singled out for their allergies makes a world of difference. Play it cool, friends. Give options. Don't worry, the child and/or parent will know what’s safe without you pointing it out.
4. Be an advocate.
Maybe you do a block party or some other community event. Share the Teal Pumpkin Project with other organizers and participants and encourage them to offer non-food treats, too. Many food allergy parents are also happy to contribute non-food treats to the community pot in order to make the celebration safe and inclusive for their kiddos.
5. Don't ask about their allergies.
Here's why: It's really none of your business and it is a major source of daily pain and anxiety. You'd better believe every parent with a food allergy trick or-treater is on high alert and does not want to talk about it, especially in front of their kids who are trying to be normal kids for one night.
Here are some ideas for food-free treats to hand out in lieu of candy this year. Thank you for keeping our kids safe and making Halloween fun for everyone. And if you see Ashton Kutcher, be sure to give him a fist bump from this food allergy mama.