The Year of the Teal Pumpkin

It was just a little over a year ago that one of my sons got sick. It was a teal-pumpkinnightmare scenario; we were traveling abroad in my husband’s home country, a place where we didn’t know the doctors, weren’t familiar with the hospitals and our then 6-month-old came down with what we thought at the time was a bad case of croup.  

The thing is, though, he didn’t really get better. We got him treatment, of course, but he just couldn’t really shake it. In fact, in the months that followed, he kept getting worse. My days and nights became filled with doctors, hospitals and urgent care. It didn’t seem to make sense. Besides the breathing problems, blisters formed all over his little body – perhaps chicken pox, a physician wondered? Maybe just a weird rash. If I heard “maybe teething” one more time, I’d scream.

We discovered he couldn’t eat any solid food; even thin, watered down baby food brought on choking and gasping for air. Scary symptom after symptom emerged with my little man spiraling out of control and we had no idea why. At that age it can be so many things, and of course they can’t tell you how they feel. It was terrifying. Visiting doctors became a full-time job. We kept pushing, day after day, doctor after doctor, with one specialty leading to more questions and another doctor. We started to put the picture together piece by piece.  

There are some nuances, but after six months or so we found the root – the main issue that turned our once serene and (dare I say) scarily easy baby into a child writhing in constant pain. Guys, it was the food. The food that both he and I, as a nursing mother, ate. He didn’t have the classic symptoms, but food sensitivities made our kid so sick. About six months after the food discovery, I found myself in a three hour meeting at the children’s hospital with a Celiac Disease diagnosis in hand, along with a giant binder of papers learning all about what the rest of my child’s life would be like.

One page of the binder jumped out at me: the page about Halloween. It detailed which treats are safe, which are definitely not, it talked about the danger of contamination from other candies and cautioned that different sizes of treats have different formulas and sometimes just mixing up “fun size” and “snack size” can make you sick for weeks. Ugh.

Think about all of the events in life that center around food; it’s not just Halloween. Every single holiday, birthdays, weddings, funerals, field trips, school lunches, vacations, snacks at soccer or VBS or every other thing. Even a simple night out at a restaurant. Food is where we gather; as families, as communities. When you can’t join in, sometimes you are really shut out. I see it already at this young age, how much harder it is for him to be able to participate in the simplest joys of childhood without becoming ill.

So this is where I do one of the hardest things we parents do, it seems. This is where I ask for help. For your help as moms, as parents. There is a simple thing that you can do so that my guy and the one in 13 children in the US today who have allergies or food related diseases can be a part of Halloween. It’s called the Teal Pumpkin Project. While you’re out buying candy, pick up some stickers, glow sticks, bracelets, little dinosaurs or another fun non food item. Put your candy in one bowl and the toys or non food treats in a totally separate bowl.

Then take one of those big pumpkins you have on your porch and paint it teal so families like mine will know you have a safe house or just print out one of these free signs about the Teal Pumpkin Project and post it on your door instead of doing all that pumpkin painting. This website even has a registry you can join so that families like mine can find the houses with safe treats.

You’ll see us out trick or treating, I’m sure; we’ll be the super grateful ones.  

Rachel was born the same year the word "foodie" was officially added to the English language, and boy, did that turn out to be appropriate. A reformed junk food junkie and couch potato, she successfully lost 100 pounds through healthy lifestyle changes, including cooking and eating fresh whole foods. Her cooking classes focus on delicious whole food recipes. She is the owner of the wellness business "This One Bite" and shares healthy recipes and kitchen adventures at Because that just left too much time on her hands (ha!), Rachel also operates a bakery business, Lucca Bakery, that can be found at farmers markets throughout the season. Rachel is a lifelong learner and has several degrees, certification from the Mayo Clinic and has studied cooking around the world including Le Cordon Bleu Paris. She loves to travel, and brings experiences from over 30 countries to her culinary creations. Luckily, she also has a tall, dark and handsome husband and a couple of adorable kids who never mind licking the bowl.