If you plan to take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project this Halloween, good for you. Making non-food items available to trick or treaters is not just a thoughtful gesture of inclusion for kids whose allergies would otherwise prevent them from joining in the fun, but it's also just a great idea — period. Non-edibles don't spoil or cause tooth decay, and can provide a fun reminder of the special night long after the costume and face paints go back in the dress-up box.
On the other hand, as any parent whose kids are regulars on the birthday party circuit knows, a lot of the stuff you'll typically find in a goodie bag isn't all that good. The trick to better treating is avoiding cheap plastic doodads that eventually wind up in a landfill (talk about spooky!) in favor of small but thoughtful items that have actual play value.
One easy solution is to stop by the Teal Pumpkin's website, where a sampler box of 60 non-food treats such as stickers, bouncy balls, and jumping spiders, along with signage, a trick-or-treating bag, and pumpkin-carving stencils, goes for $38, shipping included.
But keen-eyed shoppers can probably find equally entertaining loot in the places they already shop, and at competitive prices. I picked up cool temporary tattoos ($2.99 for a pack of 25) and glo-stick bracelets at a big suburban supermarket. On my last visit, Target had loads of adhesive bandages with fun designs from Star Wars and Oh Joy ($2.82 for 20); and my local office supply store was selling a bucket of 110 brightly colored erasers and pencil grips for about $11.
Craft supply stores, dollar stores, and even big drugstores are also good hunting grounds for teal pumpkin treats.
8 Shopping Tips for Allergy-Friendly Halloween Treats
Ready to get shopping? Here are a few tips to bear in mind.
1. Don't overcompensate.
The average fun-sized Snickers is going to set you back about 10 cents or less, so don't feel you need to spend a lot more than that on treats for the teal set, especially if you plan to give every visitor the option of taking a non-food item.
When I started thinking about how to fill my alt-treat bowl, I set a mental limit of 50 cents per treat. And then I thought about how many times my doorbell rings each Halloween (and how many supersized bags of Kit Kats and Skittles I go through every year) and I revised that estimate down — way down.
2. Keep treats unisex (and age-agnostic).
If kids need to fish around until they find something they want, you may end up with a bottleneck as deliberations drag on. If you do decide to add some sparkly unicorn stickers or NFL-themed tattoos to the mix, be prepared for a few do-overs before a winner is selected. And, it should go without saying, stifle any urge to redirect a trick or treater to a choice that might seem more gender-appropriate. Kids know what they like; the treat bowl should be a no-judgment zone.
3. Buy in bulk, then break them up.
The best way to control costs is to buy items sold as sets and break them up. Just because stickers come on a sheet of 10 doesn't mean you have to give them out that way; simply cut those sheets up into smaller units. If you do it neatly no one will be the wiser.
Another trick? Buy a grown-up coloring book (there are tons of cool ones out there) and separate the pages into individual sheets, tying each into a scroll with a bit of ribbon. You can also divide sets of trading cards, Post-it pads, and markers. Remember, yours isn't the only house kids will be visiting; part of the fun is cataloguing your spoils and trading with friends who got four green markers when you have three purples.
4. Skip seasonal items.
A pumpkin pencil topper or bat window decal isn't much fun on November 1; opt instead for evergreen items that can be enjoyed year-round. If you really, really want to stick with the holiday theme, shop for seasonal items at the last minute – or better yet, stock up the day after Halloween for next year's trick or treating to get deeply marked-down items.
5. Get crafty.
You can turn some hemp cord and a $6 package of beads into several dozen Summer of Love friendship bracelets in about an hour, sending good vibrations out into the world for months to come for about a quarter apiece.
6. Offer an experience instead of an object.
Green living style guru Danny Seo, whose cookbook Naturally, Delicious is just out, has a novel suggestion: a selfie booth! Dress yourself (or the family pooch) in holiday finery and create the ultimate Halloween photo op for all those smart phone-toting parents. If you really want to take it over the top, invest in one of the new mini instant cameras, snap the shot yourself, and present visitors with a fridge-ready reminder of the day.
7. Remember: Safety first.
Remember that very small items can present choking hazards for 3-and-unders, and even non-edibles can contain allergens. I was excited to find a bargain-priced pack of mini Play-Doh tubs until I saw the warning "contains wheat" on the package, a no-go for kids with a gluten sensitivity. Likewise scented items like soaps and lotions can contain nut oils and should be avoided.
8. Lastly, avoid any appearance of self-righteousness.
As a kid I remember word spreading like wildfire of a household handing out travel toothbrushes and mini toothpastes. Message received: We avoided that address and the self-righteous gifters that lived there like the plague. Any child that opts for a non-edible treat has already made a good choice, no need to drive that point home with a "worthy" but disappointing goodie.
Your turn — we'd love to hear your best tips for filling your Halloween bowl with allergy-friendly (and kid-appealing) treats and goodies.
Find out more about the Teal Pumpkin Project: What Is the Teal Pumpkin Project?