Published on November 22, 2019

Holiday tricky time for kids with diabetes, food allergies

By Renee Beasley Jones, Messenger Inquirer

For kids with food allergies, dietary restrictions or Type I diabetes, Halloween trick-or-treating can put kids at risk for serious health issues. Candies made with peanuts, eggs, and wheat and dairy products may expose children to food allergens, and sweet treats elevate blood sugar levels. “There are ways to make (Halloween) fun even though they can’t eat all the candy they collect,” said Shelby Shelby, a registered dietitian with Owensboro Health.

Shelby Shelby

Shelby Shelby, LD, RDN

She suggested families may want to consider inviting the “Switch Witch” to visit Halloween night. Kids lay out all the candy they’ve collected, and the Switch Witch comes while they sleep — something like the tooth fair y — to exchange the candy for money, movie tickets, trips to the zoo, gift cards or toys.

Somer Wilhite, manager of marketing at OH, has kids ages 6 and 10. “We’ve already been trick-or-treating twice this week,” Wilhite said. She pays her kids $1 per 20 pieces of candy they hand over. Then, she gives away the treats. Nursing homes, hospitals and homeless shelters usually appreciate a little extra candy, she said.

Shelby participates in the Teal Pumpkin Project, a national effort to make Halloween safe and happy for all kids. Homeowners paint a pumpkin teal and put it on the front porch to indicate they give nonfood treats, such as boxes of crayons, bubbles, whistles, glow sticks and temporary tattoos. “The project gives the same experience to kids who can’t have candy. Having those options opens it up to all children to have fun,” Shelby said.

The Teal Pumpkin Project has a national map of participating homes. The map shows at least four homes in the Owensboro area will have teal pumpkins on their porches this Halloween. One is on Meadowhill Lane in Utica. Others are on Daviess Street, Carlsbad Lane and Diamond Drive.

When Shelby finds trick-or-treaters at her door, she asks if any of the goblins have allergies or other reasons for needing a nonfood treat. She has two bowls ready — one with candy and one with trinkets. She often finds kids with no dietary restrictions are just as interested in a toy because they’ve gathered so much candy already.

Shelby goes to a party store to buy bags of trinkets. In many ways, they are better to hand out to everyone — dietary restrictions or not, she said. Candy doesn’t keep year to year. Plastic trinkets do. The same is true for the kids. Candy gets gobbled quickly. Toys, crayons and other nonfood treats last much longer.

For families that deal with Type I diabetes, Shelby shared many tips for trick-or-treating. “Plan ahead first and foremost,” she said. “Sit down with your child and make a plan for Halloween night and school parties.”

The joint plan needs to be shared with anyone the child comes in contact with so friends and family can help support the plan. Children with diabetes should have a healthy dinner with protein before treat-or-treating because it can help buffer blood sugars.

Shelby recommends knowing the carbohydrate counts of common candies. Parents can find an online list at

Children with diabetes or food allergies should wear a medical ID bracelet when they trick-ortreat with friends. “Make a new tradition,” Shelby said. “Make lower carbohydrate Halloween treats and have a party at home rather than trick-or- treating.”

About Owensboro Health

Owensboro Health is a nonprofit health system with a mission to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities it serves in Kentucky and Indiana. The system includes Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, nationally recognized for design, architecture and engineering; Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital; Owensboro Health Twin Lakes Medical Center; the Owensboro Health Medical Group comprised of over 200 providers at more than 20 locations; three outpatient Healthplex facilities, a certified medical fitness facility, the Healthpark; a surgical weight loss center and program, and the Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center.

On average each year, we have 16,000 inpatient admissions, deliver 2,000 babies and provide the region’s only Level III NICU. Owensboro Health physicians perform nearly 24,000 surgical procedures, including nearly 200 open-heart surgeries. Our physicians and staff have 70,000 Emergency Department visits, more than a million outpatient visits annually. Visit our home page for more information.