I have been participating in the Teal Pumpkin project since 2015 in an effort to offer non-candy treats to children with food allergies.
Why Offer Non-Food or Non-Candy Treats?
Food allergies have sometimes prevented kids from enjoying Halloween. By offering non-candy or non-food treats, you will have items that appeal to all trick-or-treaters, and their parents will be grateful.
The Teal Pumpkin Project®, started by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), is a worldwide movement to make Halloween safer for kids. The program encourages participants to place a teal pumpkin outside their door so that trick-or-treaters know that there are non-food options available. Participants can also add their addresses to the interactive map, spread the word on social media, and download flyers (available in English, Spanish, and French).
According to FARE, 32 million Americans live with food allergies.
The Nine Most Common Food Allergies
- Tree nuts
By offering non-food treats, you can help kids and parents enjoy trick-or-treating without having to worry about potential food allergies.
Be aware that some people have latex allergies. While I do give out small tubs of Play-Doh, some people may be sensitive to this product.
Pre-Packaging can Save Time
I have been participating in the Teal Pumpkin project since 2015, and each year I become more savvy about not only what types of non food items to hand out but also how to package them.
For several years, I separated each non food item and grouped them into small bins. While it looked great (see photos at beginning and end of article), I didn't take into account the following:
- Young children are still learning how to grip and picks things up and some kids have dexterity challenges. Trying to separate a sheet of stickers from the pack or pick up one small toy can be difficult and time consuming.
- Some kids freeze up when given so many options. They can be indecisive.
- Some kids may not be able to understand you. If you ask them to pick 2-3 different items, they may grab a fistful of the same thing (could also be related to dexterity) or take one of everything.
I now create little bags in advance, filled with three items each. I use Wilton bags, which are the perfect size and typically opaque (if not, I wrap the items in tissue paper before placing in the bag), so the kids cannot see what they are getting. This saves time, especially when you have a large group of kids come to the door, and confusion, in case they cannot understand your instructions or are working on their fine motor skills.
I also create separate bags for very young children, with no small pieces that they could potentially swallow.
If you have any treat bags leftover, you can save them for next Halloween, as the contents typically are not perishable (and you will have fewer items to pre-package next year).
Treat Bags are Faster and Easier to Hand Out
27 Non-Food Halloween Treat Ideas
Below are the non candy and non food treats I have handed out, with feedback on how well they were received, which items were scooped up the quickest, and which ones remained at the end of the night.
- Glow sticks: I bought a container of glow bracelets and necklaces, and the bracelets were more popular. Make sure the kids grab a connector so that they can make and wear the bracelet right away. Almost all of the kids who came after the sun had set grabbed a glow stick.
- Fangs: I bought glow-in-the-dark and colored fangs, and the glow-in-the-dark variety were more popular with older kids, especially teen boys. I do not include these in treat bags for very young children, as they would likely not fit and/or could be a choking hazard.
- Spider rings: These are a hit with very young children. Parents can put the ring on the child's finger, and they typically stare at it transfixed.
- Bubbles: Another big hit with parents of very young children, who are often the ones collecting the candy/toys for the child. This was very popular with parents who were taking their child out for their first trick-or-treat experience on Halloween. Target sometimes has these leftover after Halloween, and I pick up a few boxes for the following year.
- Jig saw puzzles: Costco sold packs of small jig saw puzzles a few years ago, and these were favored by younger and older kids alike. I only had 24, and they were the first item I ran out of that year.
- Toy cars: I gave these out for a few years and then stopped, as I think they were made in China, and I was concerned that there might be lead in the paint (and young kids like to put toys in their mouths!) Each year I handed these out, I ran out about halfway through the night.
- Pencils: I was pleasantly surprised by how many school children picked up a pencil or two. While this is the item that I never run out of, I also do not receive any complaints, especially towards the end of Halloween night, when there are fewer options from which to choose. I also pick generic designs (can usually get 10 pencils for a dollar at Target), so that kids can use them year round.
- Erasers: These are hit-or-miss, depending on the design. Skull erasers tend to go fastest. I had so many little ones leftover one year that I placed a small eraser in each of the following year's treat bags.
- Yo-yo's: I found Halloween-themed yo-yo's one year, and kids in the 5-7 year age range gravitated towards them.
- Spinning tops: Same as the yo-yo's. I only found them one year, and after I ran out of yo-yo's, the 5-7 year old kids went for the spinning tops.
- Mini figurines: I picked up packs of action figures (military soldiers, animals, ninjas) in the dollar section of Target, but I haven't seen them the past few years. The ninjas were the least popular, and the unicorns were the most popular.
- Creepy fingers: I picked up a few packs from Target after Halloween and put one in each treat bag for the following Halloween.
- Stickers: I buy packs of Halloween-themed sticker sheets and now put them in treat bags. When I had them in bins, all children had a difficult time taking only one sheet. Parents who accompanied very young children often took a sheet of stickers and placed one on their hand, so that they could enjoy the sticker while they were out trick-or-treating.
- Temporary tattoos: These come in boxes, which can be difficult for young children to grab from a bin. I include these in treat bags, but not in the same ones that contain stickers, so that the kids have some variety.
- Mini notepads: Not surprisingly, the kids who selected pencils often picked a mini notepad too. I had Halloween-themed ones, but I think other designs would have been popular as well.
- Crayons: Costco sells packs of four crayons (red, yellow, blue, green) in the holiday/Halloween section. When creating a treat bag, this would be great to include along with the mini notepad.
- Markers: I found some super hero-themed markers at the dollar store and dropped one each into treat bags. In hindsight, perhaps parents may not have appreciated kids coming home with permanent markers. If you create separate treat bags for older kids, this might be a good option.
- Gemstone rings: These are hit-or-miss. The spider rings were much more popular.
- Bouncy balls: These are not typically the first item selected, but once I began to run out of items, kids started to select these. Not recommended for young children who could potentially choke on them.
- Playing cards: I found packs of small Old Maid decks, and these went surprisingly fast. There are variety packs available with Hearts, Old Maid, and Go Fish.
- Maze puzzles: I would have loved to have gotten these for Halloween, but along with the pencils, these were the items remaining towards the end of the night. I like to offer puzzles and games, to encourage thinking activities, so I still buy these year after year.
- Bookmarks: These were also hit-or-miss and not a huge crowd favorite.
- Play-Doh: Costco and Amazon sell packs of 50 small Play-Doh tubs for Halloween. I have been purchasing these Halloween packs of Play-Doh since 2015, and they are a crowd favorite with all age groups. If you let kids pick their colors, you will likely be left with lots of brown and white tubs. I now include them in opaque treat bags, so no one knows what color they will receive. Please keep in mind that some kids may have latex allergies, so I also keep a bin of treat bags without Play-Doh. Recently, Costco started selling tubs of slime, which will probably be an even bigger hit.
- Building blocks: I found packs in the dollar section of Target and divided these up in treat bags so that every child received 10 or so blocks. I did not include these in the treat bags for very young children, as they could be a choking hazard.
- Wind-up or pull-back toys: These go fast, so stock up if you can.
- Rubber snakes or spiders: I began including these in treat bags, so I'm not sure how well they are received. My cat loves to play with the rubber snakes and carries one around in her mouth as I make the treat bags (she gets to keep that one).
- Solar dancers: These are available at the dollar store. After Halloween, they are usually 25-75% off, so I typically stock up then for the following year.
Where to Buy Non-Food Treats
I buy from several different stores, including Target, Family Dollar, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Amazon. If you purchase after Halloween, you can get great discounts and stock up for the following year. However, the selection is typically limited, so if you want spider rings, glow-in-the-dark fangs, and other popular items, you will likely have to pay full price and purchase before Halloween (shop early, as these items can sell out).
Treat Bag Combinations
As mentioned above, I typically include three items and do not put a sheet of stickers and a box of temporary tattoos together. I have grouped the following:
- Play-Doh, spider ring, bubbles (I keep a separate basket of this combination for very young children)
- Creepy finger, fangs, temporary tattoos
- Crayons, mini notepads, stickers
If I have a lot of a particular item, such as bubbles, I will include one in each of the treat bags and then vary the other item(s) (i.e. miniature action figure, wind-up toy, yo-yo, spinning top, bouncy ball).
I keep the glow stick bracelets, pencils, and bookmarks separate and offer them in addition to the treat bags, if any child is interested.
In addition to non-food items, I do offer food and candy. I separate items out, in case anyone has a food allergy.
The most popular non-candy item for several years now has been Goldfish crackers, especially with parents of very young children, as this is one of the few food items they will allow their young child to eat. Packets of Mott's and Welch's fruit snacks are also well received.
And I do separate chocolates and foods with nuts from the other items and have those available, in case someone would like candy. Halloween lollipops were the least popular item served one year.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2019 Delia Egan Schaffner