Thinking outside the candy bowl

Parents commonly worry about kids overloading on unhealthy sweets at Halloween, and for families dealing with food allergies and sensitivities, the cause for alarm expands exponentially.

Marty Barnes, an Austin-area mom, has an 8-year-old daughter named Casey who has quadriplegia cerebral palsy, which means that she cannot swallow and gets all of her nutrition through a tube.

Barnes gets and gives support to other parents of children with complex medical conditions and developmental disabilities through a group called Mommies of Miracles, and she and her peers encourage families participating in the annual trick-or-treating traditions to consider offering some candy-free options for that bowl by the front door.

Beyond the medical conditions and food allergies, some kids are limited by things like orthodontic work. (That’s what has happened in my family: My kids are both in braces and can’t handle sticky things like caramels, nougats, marshmallows and gums, and no hard things like nuts, toffees and pretzels.)

So, what are some better choices? At my house, we only stock candy my kids can have — plain chocolate bars, plain or peanut butter M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, etc. We’ll also offer nonfood items like glow sticks, stickers, bubbles, temporary tattoos, erasers, fake teeth, pencils or small toys.

Kids who can eat all kinds of candy might actually want those treats instead. Plus, the good thing about nonfood items, says Barnes, is if you have leftovers, you can save them for next year.

Mommies of Miracles has a program on its website ( that helps you print out a sign to post on your door that says “Nonfood Treats Available Here.” You can also print out a sticker that says “Nonfood Items Only Please” for your child to wear, so you don’t have to spend the whole evening explaining why your child can’t take the candy.

For Halloween enthusiasts who want everyone to have fun, it’s easy to register your house in the Mommies of Miracles’ database to indicate that you have nonfood treats available, then trick-or-treaters can go there to research where local nonfood treats are. (In my ZIP code, I only found two, and one in a nearby ZIP code, but if I had a kid who truly couldn’t have candy, that still might be worth the drive.)

You also could go trick-or-treating and then see whether any local orthodontists or dentists will buy back your candy. I went to www.hall and found four in my ZIP code. Often the doctors pay per pound and then ship the candy, along with toothbrushes, to troops overseas. You’re getting paid for your hard work, plus doing a good deed.

That might be sweeter than candy.