TORONTO—Neighbourhood kids flock to Farhad Khan’s house each Halloween for good reason: She owns a candy store.
But parents like to stop by, too, says the eastern Ontario entrepreneur, because she makes a point of packaging each bundle of sweets with a note explicitly detailing every ingredient.
As someone who grew up on a halal diet, Khan says she recalls the sting of watching her parents sift through her Halloween loot to toss anything that might have been made with pork gelatin.
Pork and its byproducts are among the forbidden items in the making of halal foods.
“And if anybody ever gave us anything handmade or homemade I’m pretty sure it would end up in the trash,” recalls Khan, who sells jellies made with beef gelatin and marshmallows made with fish gelatin.
Khan knows first-hand that the scariest thing about Halloween for many parents of kids with dietary restrictions or serious allergies can be the candy.
It’s enough to make some anxious adults just turn out the lights and pretend no one’s home. But have no fear, here are some tips for surviving the holiday:
TEAL IS THE NEW ORANGE
Consider putting out a teal-coloured pumpkin this year, which announces to all visitors that you have nut-free and non-candy items to offer kids with allergies or other restrictions that make it hard to find suitable treats.
The movement started in 2014 to create a safer and happier Halloween for everyone, even those who cannot have candy.
Food Allergy Canada suggests displaying a poster or sign to let visitors know you have options. The organization has free posters and flyers for download at their website.
If you’re handing out candy, look for mini treats that include an ingredient list on the individual candy’s wrapper. Parents should always read labels to make sure ingredients haven’t changed.
“And avoid things like bulk barns or bulk bins where there is no labelling and there is a lot of potential for cross-contamination,” says Food Allergy Canada spokeswoman Beatrice Povolo.
THINK OUTSIDE THE PUMPKIN
So what do you do if candy isn’t an option? Povolo says even the smallest trinket can be appreciated by a child who otherwise would be forced to surrender their haul.
Think inexpensive and small, like playing cards, yo-yos, or bouncy balls.
“Whether it’s little toys, stickers, pencils, just fun things that kids can also appreciate,” says Povolo.
Because of her company, S’more Treats, Khan has a healthy supply of halal, kosher, vegan, sugar-free, organic and gluten-free sweets. But at her house, she still stocks up on mini pots of modelling dough, just in case.
It’s hard to know what kids are allergic to these days, she says.
“I’ve seen a lot of people contact me for dye-free candies,” notes Khan, who also offers a line made with natural dye. “And it’s in everything… you’ve got to be very careful.”
CALL IN THE SWITCH WITCH
Even if your kid has no food issues, you might not want them to eat so much candy, even if it’s spread out over time.
So some families call in the Candy Fairy, Halloween Fairy, or the Great Pumpkin, but increasingly, the Switch Witch is gaining ground with plushies, books and mommy bloggers swearing by the burgeoning holiday tradition.
The idea is a mishmash of Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy lore: Kids get to indulge Halloween night, and before they go to bed they pick out an agreed-upon number of treats to save for the future. The rest gets packed up for the Switch Witch, a candy-loving creature that visits at night when children are sleeping.
The loot is placed at the foot of the bed, near the front door or next to a pumpkin for the witch to grab, and in exchange, she leaves a new toy, book or even money.
Not all little ones may be comfortable with the idea of a witch prowling around the house, so adjust the tale accordingly — some parents dispense with the ruse and offer to swap the sweets for a shopping date so the child can pick out what they like.
Food Allergy Canada suggests donating the candy to local food banks or seniors homes.
MIX IT UP
Candy-crazed kids may have only one thing on their minds, so try to shift the emphasis away from gorging and on to family-oriented experiences: an afternoon of crafts, a movie night, a special family dinner before trick-or-treating, or even a party.
Even though Khan runs a candy business, she tries to make sure Halloween is more than just about the sweet stuff.
She lives in the small town of Fraserville, Ont., near Peterborough, and says her family and neighbourhood pals enthusiastically embrace a range of fun stuff for the spooky season.
“Everybody kind of gets into the spirit — we make candy apples and we’ll make hot chocolate for the parents who are walking down with their kids,” says Khan, who has four kids between the ages of one and eight.
“It’s really to just to get out there and do something different and have fun dressing up. It’s the whole idea around Halloween.”