For most families, Halloween is a fun, carefree time. Little superheroes and video game characters roam the streets for a few hours, knocking on doors and holding out plastic pumpkins in hopes they’ll be filled with unhealthy, teeth-rotting, delicious candy.

But for the parents of a child with food allergies, Halloween can be frightening. It’s not just because of the bats and skeletons and scary movies, either. My son Samuel has a severe peanut allergy, and I greet every Halloween with an apprehension similar to what Professor Lupin felt on the eve of a full moon.

My wife and I discovered the true seriousness of our son’s peanut allergy when he was about three years old. As we left Walmart one afternoon, he ran his hand along the outside of the machine that distributes peanuts for a quarter and immediately broke out in hives. We knew from the doctors and the testing that his allergy was severe, but this really brought the information home.

Even with the allergies, we felt it was important that our son experience the fun of Halloween. The first year, we simply sorted through his candy until we’d gotten rid of anything that contained peanuts or came from a facility which manufactured peanut products. After the Walmart incident, though, we were aware that there might be a chance for cross-contamination, even with the wrappers on. The following year my wife took him to the neighbors’ house, where they helped hand out candy. He actually had a lot of fun, but we wanted him to be able to get out there like the other kids.

We decided to pack our own small bags of candy for Sam and deliver them to the people in our neighborhood before the kids started trick-or-treating. That way, they would have something safe to give Sam that evening. The bags are filled with toys and peanut-free (what we call Sam-safe) candy. Honestly, the peanut-free candy isn’t very good. No Snickers or M&M’s. But it’s not really about the candy, it’s about taking part in the fun, like most other kids.

We never told Sam about the homemade bags. Everyone was so good about it, and the neighbors all made it a point to treat him like every other kid. Best of all, there are now some neighbors who buy their own peanut-free Halloween candy and keep it aside just for Sam.

It’s nice when people appreciate the difficulties that come with raising a child with food allergies and try their best to help out. In the past couple of years I’ve noticed green lights outside a few houses, which means they have peanut-free candy. I always feel very grateful to these people, and when the opportunity presents itself I tell them so.

My son doesn’t attend a peanut-free school. But we’ve taught him what he can and cannot eat from an early age, and he’s very good about it. Halloween is the same. If he hasn’t seen a certain candy before, he’ll ask us before eating it. Makes our job a lot easier.

Our son is 11 now and not as excited about Halloween as he once was. The trick-or-treating will soon be coming to an end, and that’s okay with me. But we’ll always hand out peanut-free candy and toys on Halloween, in the hopes that we might help other kids stay safe.

Gary Sprague

Gary Sprague lives in Maine with his wife and two sons. He is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in several print and online publications, including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Grown and Flown, Mamalode, Mommyish, and Your Teen. He expects this will continue because his sons give him lots of material to work with. You can read more about Gary and his life at