Thursday, October 9, 2008

On Halloween and Label Reading

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      With Halloween fast approaching many parents, and kids for that matter, are worried about having a gluten-free ghoul-fest. The good news is that there are many ways to find out what you can have this holiday. There are a cornucopia of lists about gluten-free candy, some are even season specific and post information about those candy hearts at Valentine's Day or the Peeps Ghosts at Halloween time. Good stuff, really.
      Here are a couple to help you start things out: This link from will help you get a good foot hold on the basics of gluten-free candy. It's not my favorite list being outdated by nearly 8 years in some places, but the information is still relevant for the most part. Celiac Central also has a great list of gluten-free Halloween treats that was updated just last year.

      Both of these are great resources, but I still feel like they leave you feeling as empty as bad rice bread. The problem that I see many people running into is that there is usually more than one ingredient or allergen they are looking for on a label. This leads to three lists loaded in your browser, clicking between tabs trying to cross compare lists and still getting that headache you were trying to avoid.
I am on the bandwagon that proper prior planning is key to any successful situation, but ther
e are some real life solutions to this holiday that just might work out better than what you have planned.

1. Let the kid do it.
      Kids know what candies they can have from experience given they are old enough to have that experience and many houses let you grab what candies you want out of a bowl or similar set up making it easy to pick and choose what you want. With this, however, comes the lesson of don't be ugly about it (that goes for parents, too!). It is sad to point this out, but let your kids know that some people will not understand their request to different candy for a food allergy and that is okay. In cases like that, take what they give you and sort it out later.
A food allergy button from CafePress and a couple rehearsed sentences for your kid explaining their situation should help out nicely.

2. Sort it out.

      Someone is bound to make homemade cookies for the monsters out that night and you will more than likely end up with a house that only has cookies. So you can do one of two things, walk away empty handed or take it and sort it out later. Some might consider this stingy or greedy, but part of the fun of Halloween that we all remember was how full you could get your pillow case. If there are foods you steer away from sort them out when you get home and donate them. There are county foster homes, homeless shelters for women and children, nursing homes, hospitals, rehab centers, soldiers overseas and the struggling family on your street. Do not forget about others on this day that might not have the opportunity to get any candy at all.

3. Exchange it.
      Talk with your allergy support groups or friends to see about hosting a candy exchange. This is a great way to hold a fun and safe after trick or treating get together and the parents or kids without food allergies will be more than happy to participate in all the glutenous fun that some cannot.

4. Learn to read labels.
      Talk about taking your life in your hands! Reading labels is the key to having a successful diet fr
ee of accidental ingestion of your allergen. Do not deal with companies that cannot or will not give you a straight answer. Read, reread and pass it off to someone else to double check and make it a habit! If you rely on someone else to compile all the safe foods you can eat, you will miss out on so much. Lists are only so helpful and then you have to wonder about that candy bar that did not make the list. Did they forget about it? Is it unsafe? Does the company even have an allergen statement? Learn to read a label correctly avoiding things like natural flavoring (natural what?), seasonings and other vague ingredients and teach your children to do the same. They might not know what it all means, but they can and should be able to recognize the shape and spelling of some 'unsafe' words.

      Halloween will probably be one of the lower-stress holidays of the year without too much family to deal with. There is not much cooking or baking to be done this time of year, except for a school party or bakesale. No large meals to prepare for and no family members telling you the mashed potatoes they just dumped an entire family-sized can of cream of chicken into is vegetarian. Take a few minutes to enjoy this joy-filled holiday with your family and remember how much fun this time of year can really be for everyone!

      Don't blink, Thanksgiving is only seven weeks away!

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