Dressing up as a beloved character or a spooky creature and hitting the streets with a plastic jack-o-lantern bucket on Halloween is a childhood tradition. The fun and excitement start as you and your child search for the perfect costume. It builds as you get closer to the day she’ll pull that costume on and head out for trick-or-treat. Unless, of course, your child has food allergies. For the food-allergic child, the scary parts of Halloween have less to do with spooky music and animatronic ghost and goblin decorations, and more to do with candy bars and other sweet treats.
Enter the Teal Pumpkin Project. The brain child of Tennessee mom, Becky Basalone, the Teal Pumpkin Project has been giving allergic children safe Halloween options since 2012. The founder of Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee and a food allergy mom, Becky painted her first teal pumpkin as part of her Trunk or Treat décor at an allergy-friendly event that first year. Two years later, she was approached by FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) with an offer to help get the word out nationwide.
What is it?
The idea is quite simple: You make Halloween a little less scary by offering a safe, food-free alternative to children with food allergies, and others for whom candy is not an option. These inexpensive non-food treats can be in addition to, or in place of, what you’d normally hand out. Just remember, if you’re offering both food and non-food treats, keep the items in two separate bowls to mitigate the risk of cross contamination.
How will people know I have an allergy-friendly option?
That’s where the pumpkin comes in. Paint a pumpkin teal, the color associated with food allergy awareness, and put it on display where trick-or-treaters will see it. You’ll also find a growing array of teal pumpkin décor in stores ranging from your favorite craft stops to big box stores like Target and Walmart. Don’t forget to also add your address to FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project map.
Why should I consider doing this?
For children with food allergies, Halloween presents a minefield of life-threatening challenges. From treats that are laden with their allergens to normally ‘safe’ options that come with cross contamination warnings on their fun-sized, Halloween-friendly packaging, food-allergic children often find very little that’s safe to eat in their trick-or-treat buckets. Participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project allows these children to dress up and have fun without fear, just like their non-allergic peers.
So, any non-food item is good?
Almost. Keep in mind that some non-edible items contain food allergens. For example, many brands of play dough contain wheat as a primary ingredient. This would not be safe for children with wheat allergies or for those with celiac disease. If you’re looking to provide allergen-friendly options for children with food allergies, products like this would be good to avoid.
Okay, I’m in. What are some things I can give out?
You actually have a wide range of choices, especially as awareness of the Teal Pumpkin Project grows! Stores that normally stock those extra-large Halloween-themed bags of sugary treats are also filling their shelves with inexpensive non-food options. Some ideas include:
- Glow sticks
- Spider rings
- Vampire fangs
- Small toys
- Pencils and mini-notebooks
- Temporary tattoos
- Finger puppets
- Craft kits
- Plastic or other novelty bracelets
Spread the word
The Teal Pumpkin Project has taken its place as an annual tradition due in large part to word of mouth. As folks got wind of what Becky Basalone was up to in Tennessee, teal colored pumpkins stated to pop up in other cities, other states, and even other countries. Help keep the momentum going. Take a picture of your teal pumpkin and your stash of allergy-friendly treats, then post it to social media using the hashtag #tealpumpkinproject.