Halloween is a much anticipated holiday for kids of all ages, but Halloween can seem really scary if you are the parent of a child with acid reflux. You and your child need to navigate through a sea of unfamiliar foods and figure out if there is an ingredient that will cause an allergic reaction or digestive discomfort if ingested. It can certainly take the excitement right out of the room if you are the one to play the “food police” and decide which candy is ok and which is not.
It seems like Halloween parties at school, church or community all revolve around food and goodie bags full of treats. You might feel a sense of dread when you see all of the foods that your child cannot eat. Further, you may feel anxious that your child will accidentally ingest the wrong food or be encouraged to eat a snack offered by a well meaning stranger with no knowledge of the consequences. Either way, you and your child feel left out and different. If you bring an alternate snack, your child will stand out in the crowd. On the other hand, if your child attempts to eat the wrong food, the consequences could be a stomach ache or a full allergic reaction requiring medical care. It is important to be your child’s voice and educate teachers and group leaders about your child’s food allergies and intolerances. If your child is old enough, include him/her in the plan for careful eating at a party (skip the snack, bring an alternative snack, etc). You might want to accompany your preschool child to all parties and events to ensure that he/she eats the proper foods and participates fully in the festivities.
So let’s say you have safely gotten through all of the parties and made it to Halloween night. Your little ghost or super hero has filled his/her little plastic pumpkin to the brim with candy. Now what?! I think most kids with reflux have some understanding about the cause and effect between eating foods that trigger reflux and the associated pain. Over time, they learn to eat carefully and avoid foods that caused problems in the past. When faced with Halloween, it might be hard to remember all of that. But let's be fair...don’t you need to loosen your belt after Thanksgiving dinner even though you vowed not to over eat this year?! So your child may over indulge and eat a fistful of candy bars before getting to the point of pain. Let your child bask in the richness of all of the candy. It is their pot of gold. In a day or two, your child may be ready to figure out a plan to enjoy the candy and lessen the pain. Some parents find that they can come up with a system such as: one piece of candy after school or one piece of candy after dinner every day. Your child will feel a sense of control over the timing and selection of the treat. Other kids like to make money and trade their candy for cash. In our house, the going rate was a nickel or a dime per item. The kids got to do some math calculations and even barter for higher payment. But what to do with all of the candy you have “purchased”? I would always stash the chocolate bars in the cabinet for emergency use. The rest of the candy went to work and disappeared in no time. In our house, we always save a bag of Halloween candy for making gingerbread houses, a Christmas tradition.
So, I hope your Halloween is loads of fun and full of careful eating. If your child is having a hard time digesting all of the holiday food, remember to keep on schedule with medication and healthy meals and start some holiday traditions that are not food oriented: pumpkin carving, decorating the house with scary decorations or watching a scary movie.
Let me know how you survived Halloween.