Tricky treating

It’s sweet to give non-food items on Halloween

I’m not sure how Halloween is going to look in the age of COVID-19, but you might still get some little ghouls and goblins knocking on your door near the end of October. If so, I’d like to make a suggestion that you have some non-food treats to offer in case the kids can’t have candy.

Halloween is supposed to be about fun. Let’s be sure it’s fun for everyone.

Food allergies 

Food allergies can be dangerous, even deadly. The one I always hear about is peanuts. The Mayo Clinic ( says peanut allergies are one of the most common causes of severe allergy attacks. Even a tiny amount can cause anaphylaxis, which is when the airway becomes constricted and the tongue or throat swells, sometimes to the point the person can’t breathe. People can die from food allergies.

Growing up, some of my siblings had what I call emergency room allergies – allergies that need immediate medical attention or the person can die – so I know how dangerous these allergies can be.

Even though peanuts are a common allergy, anyone can be allergic to just about any kind of food, depending on their body’s chemistry and reaction to that substance. If you don’t know what the ingredients are in any given food, it can be hard to say yes to something you’re offered.

Another problem is food sensitivities, like a gluten or lactose intolerance. Some people mistakenly refer to it as an allergy, but it’s not. An allergy is when your body reacts like that substance is the enemy and counter attacks. With a food sensitivity, the body doesn’t see that food as an enemy, it just can’t process it. (See “Food allergy vs. food intolerance: What’s the difference?” at for more information.) 

A food sensitivity usually results in intestinal problems like gas, pain and diarrhea. It may include other reactions like skin rashes or headaches. Some of these reactions are mild, others very severe. You don’t die from a food sensitivity, but some people’s reaction is so bad, they feel like they’re going to.

I know, I know; I started off talking about a fun subject – Halloween treats – and veered into body functions. But there’s a reason for that: I want you to understand that some kids just absolutely cannot grab any old candy. 

That’s why it’s important for you to have some non-edible options for them so Halloween is fun for everyone and nobody has to feel excluded.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of stuff you can offer kids instead of candy. 

Give ‘em a choice

Now, while this idea comes from a concern for kids who can’t eat certain foods, that doesn’t mean non-allergy kids can’t have some different treats, as well. There are kids who don’t like sweet foods; others who don’t like chocolate; and some who might think it’s cool to get something else instead of the same candy bar they already have six of in their bag.

And there are lots of parents who will thank you that their kid isn’t hauling home a suitcase full of candy.

Here’s the hard-and-fast rule: kids get candy or an item, but NOT both.

Here’s my list:

• Stickers

• Tattoos (non-permanent, of course)

• Glo sticks

• Pens/pencils (different colors)

• Pack of crayons

• Small games 

• Paint sets

• Bookmarkers

• Mini composition notebooks 

• “Stationery” pads or notepads

• Key chains with logo or character

• Mugs or cups with logo or character

• Inexpensive mini flashlights

• Small posters of superheroes or other characters (8 1/2 by 11 inch or smaller)

• Small colorful bags (zippered, decorated)

• Inexpensive small canvas bags they can take home and decorate.

• Coin purses

• Bouncy balls

• Molding dough

• Small monthly calendars

• Small bottles of water (with flavor packets.)

• Packets of seeds they can plant and watch grow

• Costume jewelry: rings, bracelets, necklaces. 

• Headbands (bought or handmade)

• Hair accessories

• Small toys

• Basic lip balm (no colors, no flavors).

Note: some of these items can be purchased in a pack of multiples. For instance, stickers usually come with four sheets to a pack; break apart the pack and offer one sheet at a time. 

These are just ideas. You can use any or all, come up with your own, or search the internet for more ideas. 

Teal pumpkin

If you decide to offer non-food items, put out a teal pumpkin on your doorstep or hang a paper teal pumpkin in your window. A teal pumpkin is the international symbol to let folks know you are offering non-food treats. 

The Teal Pumpkin Project was started by Becky Basalone in 2012 because her son has food allergies and the symbol now stretches across the United States and other countries. Basalone is the founder of FACET (Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee). 

Be prepared

You can go as far with this as you want. You can have a dozen or so non-food items on hand in case you get kids who need a non-food treat. You can offer every kid a choice of one or the other. Or you can go totally non-food. 

Check out discount and dollar stores, as well as places you can order in bulk. Collect small items in a bowl or bag as you go. Items with logos or pictures on them are really cool. Go for pictures with animals, characters like superheroes, or vehicles like cars or tractors. 

Ask at different places for stuff with logos and tell them you plan to give it out for Halloween treats. Get a handful of items from lots of places: your favorite businesses, civic organizations, churches, etc. Grab some items with your work logo on them (I promise your boss will forgive you), stash the toy from that kids’ meal you bought for yourself, save the freebies you get at events you attend or businesses you frequent. You get the idea.

This is a great way for businesses and other entities to get their name out there. (Hint, hint: SDSU, city and county offices, school districts, Brookings Health System, banks, car dealerships, etc.) Order some items that you can give away for Halloween treats by your employees and let your customers know they can ask for a few to hand out at their own houses.


You can make some really cool treats, like keychains, jewelry, lanyards, or duct tape flower pens, for instance. For instructions on a variety of items, search online for what you want to make. Here are some suggestions:

• for key chain ideas from macramé to metal.

• has duct tape beads, washer necklaces and paper clip angels.

• “The 20 Weirdest Things You Can Do With Duct Tape” at for bookmarkers, bags, office caddy, hammocks, chairs, and belts. 

• for crocheted ear savers: you wear them at the back of your head with your face mask to save your ears; nice and soft if you have to wear a mask for long periods of time. Some are simple, others more elaborate. There’s even a version you can pull your ponytail through.


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