As a child I indulged in Halloween candy each year and often for weeks to come as we emptied the house of our huge bags of goodies. For the refluxers in our home this tradition has to be tempered with a lot more caution. Many of the treats I loved as a child, like chocolates and sour candies, can cause acid reflux sufferers a severe amount of pain. In fact, I have found many of the things I enjoyed as a child now cause my own reflux to flare up
What is a parent or adult sufferer to do?
Make sure not to forget medications. The hustle and bustle that happens with the addition of extra parties, though fun, can often cause us to forget something as basic as taking our medication. It is especially important to remember your child’s medication since many are unable to articulate the early heartburn warning signs like an adult can.
Do not go to the party hungry! If you know you are going somewhere that will have foods that could trigger a reflux flare for yourself or your child, eat before you leave. A small reflux friendly meal before the party can help curb overindulging once you arrive.
Prepare yourself and your child. There will be foods at the party that they will be unable to eat. Older children respond better when they are given a “heads up”. Let them know that you will have to look through the candy before they eat it and that you will provide them some treats that will not hurt their stomach. You may also need to give a limit on the amount of treats, even reflux friendly ones, they can eat.
Bring treats you or your child CAN eat. There is nothing worse than being the “odd man out” when you are a child. If you know of a few candy items or treats that don’t bother your child’s acid reflux bring those along. When everyone else is munching down bags of chocolate you and your child can snack on the items that you brought from home.
Take time to go through the candy carefully. Melissa Barbagallo Davis gave me a wonderful tip that her sister uses for her 6 year old daughter, “Bryn doesn’t have reflux, but she has severe food allergies. My sister takes her trick or treating as usual. When they return home, Bryn empties her bag onto the carpet, and my sister separates all the “safe” and “unsafe” treats into two piles. For every piece of unsafe candy, my sister trades her a piece of safe food that she has stocked up on. For example, she’ll give Bryn a mini package of Skittles in exchange for a Snickers. Bryn gets to enjoy all of the fun of trick or treating, and my sister gets to enjoy not stressing about a reaction”. I have also known of parents who will “buy” the candy from their kids to get it out of the house.
Avoid going right to bed when you get home. A long night of trick-or-treating can wear both parent and child out! Heading straight to bed sounds like a great idea but can trigger painful issues for those with acid reflux. It is important to remain upright after eating. I have found that waiting two hours after eating is best for my own reflux and waiting at least an hour for my children seems to work for them.
Provide your children with fun Halloween activities that are not food related. Having a pumpkin carving party or doing a Halloween craft can be a lot of fun and a much healthier alternative to chomping on candy! Physical activities, like a mini-pumpkin hunt or a Fall walk, can help to burn off the occasional treat. If you take the time now to teach your children to have a healthy relationship with food it will pay off for years to come.
Happy Halloween Everyone!
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.