FeaturesOct/Nov 2010 Issue

A BOO!-tiful Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Blast

Party fun without the scary allergy stuff


For the parents of food-allergic children, Halloween can be downright scary—and not because of witches, ghosts and goblins. Treats offered by well-meaning neighbors to cute-costumed kids can strike fear in the hearts of moms and dads. That’s because most popular candies contain peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat or other allergens that can make their children sick—and can even be life-threatening.

Navigating the Halloween landscape—and deciding how to handle the holiday’s festivities—is tricky, to say the least. Should you take to the streets with an extra-vigilant eye? Or is a party—where you can control what’s in the treats—a better plan? The answer depends on a few factors, including your child’s age and the nature and severity of his or her food allergies.

Little girl in Halloween Costume

“When my kids were small, we would trick-or-treat just on our block. I’d pass out safe candy beforehand to all the households and that’s what these neighbors would give my kids,” says Cybele Pascal, author of The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook and The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook. Pascal is the mother of two sons who showed symptoms of multiple food allergies, including dairy and soy, at a young age. “As they got older, a party was a better option. It’s a great idea because it takes the emphasis off trick-or-treating, which can be dangerous for severely allergic children.”

Steering clear of such a popular tradition might leave some parents wondering whether a super-safe party can also be super-fun. According to event planners Sabrina Hill and Joni Russell, it absolutely can.

“Focus on the fun and the food can just be whatever it is,” says Hill, who along with Russell, owns and operates Stratagem Events in Los Gatos, California. Co-authors of The Everything Baby Shower Book, the partners have put their heads together over the past 15 years to plan everything from casual summer pool parties to swanky corporate shindigs.

Each with three grown children, Hill and Russell have dealt firsthand with food allergies and sensitivities. Hill’s daughter is sensitive to nightshades, including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. “Pizza and French fries were definitely off the menu,” Hill recalls. Russell’s daughter is lactose intolerant. “She had major stomach issues. We had to be really careful about what she ate,” says Russell.

Fun, Not Food

When it comes to planning a successful party for a young crowd, taking the focus off the food and placing it on the activities is key.

“The thing that we’ve noticed about most kids’ parties is that kids don’t really care about what there is to eat,” Russell says. What they do like is something unexpected or outlandish—and Halloween is the perfect occasion for that.


It all starts with a creative invitation, say Hill and Russell, who suggest the idea of a plastic witch’s finger wearing a spider ring (available at party stores or online novelty retailers, such as orientaltrading.com or rebeccas.com). Encase the plastic finger atop a bit of cotton in a jewel box or package it in a cellophane bag with shredded paper. Then write the party details on a shipping tag tied to the box or bag with black ribbon.

“Kids can easily assemble these and then ‘hand deliver’ them,” jokes Russell.

The fact that the party will be allergy-friendly can be mentioned in the invitation but Russell suggests keeping it brief. “Just write, ‘Allergy-aware party’ or ‘All treats will be wheat-free’ or ‘peanut-free’ or whatever the allergies are that need to be accommodated,” she says.

Be upbeat, says Hill. “You don’t want to call attention to food sensitivities in any kind of negative way.”


Pascal suggests that party hosts offer other treats besides candy. A Yale University study published in 2003 in the Journal of Nutrition, Education and Behavior indicates she might be onto something. When 284 children, ages 3 to 14, were offered a choice between candy (including lollipops, fruit-flavored chews, and sweet-tart hard candies) and toys (including stretch pumpkin men, glow-in-the-dark insects and Halloween stickers and pencils), half the children chose the toys.

Costumes alone can be a big cause for celebration among kids, who “love, love, love to dress up and want be able to do things in their costumes,” says Hill. A costume parade is a big hit with younger children, while a costume contest—with prizes for each getup—holds appeal for older kids. Both age groups appreciate the opportunity to strike a pose in a photo booth or studio setup that captures them in their costumes. Photos can be printed out and sent home as favors or mailed later as a thank-you for attending.

Hill suggests that kids in this older age group might also enjoy “an elaborate and interactive spooky tale, told in the dark with only the narrator’s face illuminated by flashlight.” Audience participation, she adds, would require listeners to put their hands in bowls containing eyeballs (grapes or olives), worms (cold spaghetti) and other items suggestive of elements in the story. Again, food allergens would need to be considered and worked around. For example, choose pasta that’s gluten free and egg free.

“The idea is to create a sensory experience that has nothing to do with eating,” Hill says.

Party Fare.

At some point, the party guests are bound to get hungry. To extend the theme of the witch’s finger invitation, all party fare (allergen-friendly, of course) can be “finger foods—whatever you can eat that you would eat with your hands,” says Hill.

That’s where safe treats and snack items from reliable brands (see page 31) come in, along with some allergy-friendly recipes, like Red Velvet Cupcakes—the perfect hue for little vampires to sink their teeth into—and SunButter Cups—a safe alternative to peanut butter cups.

But even when the attention turns to food, Hill and Russell stress that it’s less about what you offer and more about how you present it.

With a few tricks up their sleeves, parents can pull off  a safe party that makes traditional candy collecting seem ho-hum.

“We’re big fans of creative delivery,” says Hill, who suggests filling ice-cube trays or mini-muffin tins (one tray per guest) with various tidbits to nibble, or making small witch hat-shaped cones out of black construction paper and filling them with treats.

Hill also likes using food in surprising ways—for example, serving snacks from a “bowl” created from a hollowed-out orange or a small pumpkin. If the presentation is clever, all the kids—allergic or not—will eat the food, she says. “They’re not going to care whether it’s gluten free, peanut free or anything else-free.”

Adds Russell: “Keep in mind that with kids, the ‘uglier’ the color of the food—particularly green and blue—the better.”

Have no fear. With a few tricks like these up their sleeves, parents with food-allergic kids can pull off a safe party that will make the traditional candy-collecting routine seem rather ho-hum.

And the accompanying sense of relief? Well, that’s the real treat.

A Kid-Favorite Candy

by: Cybele Pascal

Allergy-Friendly Chocolate SunButter Cups


These allergy-friendly candies are fun to prepare with your children. Make up a big batch before your party and store them in the refrigerator. Expect a few to disappear in the process!

1 (10-ounce) bag + ½ cup Enjoy Life Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips
¼ cup sunflower seed butter
- mini cupcake pan
12 mini muffin liners

1. Line a mini cupcake pan with 12 mini-muffin liners.

2. Melt chocolate chips in microwave at 30-second increments, stirring with a wooden spoon until just melted and smooth. Do not over-heat, as chocolate burns easily.

3. Spoon 1½ teaspoons melted chocolate into the bottom of each mini-muffin liner. Top with 1 teaspoon sunflower seed butter and then 1½ teaspoons chocolate.

4. Refrigerate until set.

Each cup contains 165 calories, 11g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 20mg sodium, 17g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 3g protein.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

No Gluten, No Dairy, No Eggs!

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free Red Velvet Cupcakes


These colorful cupcakes by Cybele Pascal are scrumptious. Top them with your favorite Halloween party favor (such as a plastic spider or bat ring), and you’ve got a perfect Halloween party treat.

1¼ cups + 2 tablespoons Basic Gluten-Free Flour Mix
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ + ⅛ teaspoon xanthan gum
¾ teaspoon double-acting baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup rice milk
¾ teaspoon cider vinegar
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons dairy-free, soy-free
    vegetable shortening
¾ cup granulated sugar
2¼ teaspoons Ener-G egg replacer mixed with 3 tablespoons rice milk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon red food coloring
1 recipe Velvet Frosting
- Orange food coloring

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with 12 liners.

2. Measure out flour mix by spooning flour into a dry measuring cup and leveling it off with the back of a knife. (Do not scoop the flour directly with the measuring cup or you’ll wind up with too much flour for the recipe). Whisk together the flour mix, cocoa powder, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3. Combine the rice milk and cider vinegar. Set aside.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the shortening, sugar, egg replacer and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the red food coloring and mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Sift in the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the rice milk mixture and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

5. Divide batter equally among muffin liners, smoothing down the surface with a frosting spatula or butter knife.

6. Bake cupcakes in the center of preheated oven for 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking time.

7. Let cool in the pan on a cooling rack about 5 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to cooling rack to cool completely before frosting.

8. Once the cupcakes have cooled completely, frost half with the white half of the Velvet Frosting. Then top the remaining cupcakes with the orange frosting. Top each with a Halloween party favor. Once frosting has set, store covered at room temperature. Extras can be frozen for eating later.

Velvet Frosting


½ cup dairy-free, soy-free vegetable shortening (like Spectrum)
- Pinch of salt
1½ cups confectioners’ sugar
1½ tablespoons rice milk
1½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the shortening and salt on medium speed for 1 minute.

2. Add the confectioners’ sugar in three batches, beating after each addition.

3. Add the rice milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until smooth, creamy and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

4. Remove half the frosting. Add a few drops of orange food coloring to remaining half of frosting until desired shade has been reached. Frost half the cupcakes with white, half with orange, or use orange for decorating on top of white.

Each cupcake with frosting contains 311 calories, 22g total fat, 7g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 7mg cholesterol, 266mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 1g protein.

Adapted with permission from The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook: How to Bake Without Gluten, Wheat, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, and Sesame. Copyright © 2009 by Cybele Pascal, Celestial Arts, an imprint of Ten Speed Press, a division of the Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA.

Basic Gluten-Free Flour Mix


4 cups super-fine brown rice flour
1⅓ cups potato starch (not potato flour)
⅔ cup tapioca flour/starch

1. To measure flour, use a large spoon to scoop flour into the measuring cup and level it off with the back of a knife. Do not use the measuring cup to scoop your flour when measuring. It will compact the flour and you will wind up with too much for the recipe.

2. Combine all ingredients in a gallon-size zipper-top bag. Shake until well blended. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

TIP Super-fine brown rice flour is available from Authentic Foods, authenticfoods.com. To make your own, process brown rice flour in a food processor or a clean coffee grinder or food processor until super-fine.

Reprinted with permission from The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook: How to Bake Without Gluten, Wheat, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, and Sesame. Copyright © 2009 by Cybele Pascal, Celestial Arts, an imprint of Ten Speed Press, a division of the Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA.

Writer Sonya Goodwin Hemmings lives inTempe, Arizona.


Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this post using the section below.

New to Gluten Free & More?
Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In