Candy and childhood go hand in hand, don’t you think? As a child, there’s something magical about venturing out for trick-or-treating or picking out a sweet from a candy dish. But when your child has a dairy sensitivity or allergy, you need to be especially careful to seek out dairy free candy that’s safe for them to eat.
Dairy products can hide in places you’d least expect…and candy is no different. If you’re planning your child’s school holiday party or going to a special event, you’ll need to do some research to find safe items.
Finding safe and tasty candy goodness doesn’t have to be hard, though! Follow these quick tips for scoping out your own candy choices, or take a gander at our recommended list of dairy free candy that has stood the test of time (just scroll down to find those).
Finding Safe Dairy Free Candy
When browsing the candy aisle at the store, it’s all about reading labels. See something that looks yummy? Turn over that package and read the fine print. Tools like SmartLabel, Allergence, and Allergen Inside are great resources for checking ingredients, as well. Here’s what you need to look for:
1. Watch out for dairy ingredients
So you probably know to check ingredient labels for milk if you or your family have to avoid dairy. Milk, butter, and dairy fats are often used to help achieve the desired brittleness, hardness, flavor and texture of candies. But did you know there are lots of other scientific names and labels for milk and milk-derived ingredients?
When reading the candy labels, you need to watch out for these words, too (keep in mind there may be other terms for milk-derived products to watch out for too – but these are most of the big ones):
- Artificial butter flavor
- Artificial cheese flavor
- Caseinate (including calcium caseinate, potassium caseinate, and any other version)
- Cheese (including cottage cheese, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, etc.)
- Dairy solids
- Half and half
- Lactate solids
- Milk (and any variation of milk like buttermilk, evaporated milk, milk solids, dry milk powder, etc.)
- Sour cream
2. Understand Food Labeling Laws
Food labeling laws can be very confusing, and chatter in online groups and blogs often makes people feel anxious. Myths of “hidden” dairy are constantly floating around the interwebs.
Here’s the truth – because milk is a top 8 food allergen, it *must* be declared on the label for any food regulated by the FDA. This can be in plain language (for example, milk or yogurt listed in the ingredients themselves) or in an allergen warning (i.e. “contains milk”).
Here are three of the most confusing parts of the labeling laws when it comes to candy products:
a) Natural Flavors
It is true that “natural flavors” on a food label can refer to dairy-derived ingredients. However if they are derived from dairy ingredients, by law that label must include an allergen statement that the product contains dairy/milk.
If a product lists “natural flavors” and does not have any allergen warning against dairy, it should be safe (provided the food is regulated by the FDA, as commercially produced candies are).
b) Non-Dairy Products
Another point to keep in mind when looking at candies: a food product can be legally marked non-dairy even if it contains milk-derived ingredients. Wait….what? Non-dairy labeling is confusing, so DO NOT assume a product is milk-free.
The FDA allows a non-dairy label for ingredients like sodium caseinate (see the list above) or the nebulous natural flavoring (even if derived from caseinate). This is common in whipped cream products, for example. Non-dairy doesn’t mean it’s safe for someone with a dairy sensitivity or allergy.
Again, though – thankfully, because milk is a top food allergen, somewhere in plain English the label should indicate MILK if any ingredients are milk-derived.
Bottom line: if the packaging screams “non-dairy,” you STILL have to read the ingredient list.
c) Locally-Made Products
If you’re buying candies made from a small local business – like perhaps a neighbor that makes chocolates in her home or a local bakery – keep in mind this can be risky. Cottage food laws and their enforcement vary widely from town to town, and food allergy labeling laws also exclude “food placed in a wrapper or container in response to a consumer’s order.”
Your best bet for completely safe dairy-free candy is likely to order from a commercial brand that’s known to be dairy free.
3) Be Aware of Cross Contamination Warnings
Depending on the level of dairy sensitivity or the presence of a milk protein allergy, you should also look for warnings about the facility where the candy was made. Cross-contact with other dairy ingredients on a production line could still cause serious discomfort or life-threatening allergic reactions.
Federal labeling law does NOT require food manufacturers to disclose whether an item “may contain milk” or was “made in a facility with milk.” These types of advisory statements are completely voluntary. However, if you do see a statement like this on candy, you should consider avoiding that product or follow the advice of your personal medical professional as to whether such an item would be safe or advisable for you or your family member to eat.
4) Remember Different Versions of the Same Candy ≠ Same Ingredients
Lastly, keep in mind that different sizes or versions of the same type of candy can have different ingredients or cross-contact warnings! Crazy right? Those bat-shaped Halloween gummies may have a cross-contact warning for milk when the regular fruit-shaped gummies are perfectly fine.
Be warned: food companies often use other processing and packaging facilities for holiday-themed or specially-packaged versions of their treats. Read. That. Label.
Tried and True Dairy Free Candy Favorites
Looking for a quick and dirty list? We know…your child just told you about that party coming up in two days, and you’ve got to send three bags of candy to school. Here’s a time-saving list you can take to the store. We’ve broken it down by categories to make it super simple:
*Disclaimer: This list is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. At the time of publication, I believe these candies do not include dairy ingredients. I’ve also tried to note other possible allergens in this list. However, food manufacturers can change their formulas and manufacturing processes at any time, or it is possible I may have missed an ingredient. You should always double-check the labels prior to consuming.
- Dum Dums
- Ring Pops
- Saf-T Pops
- YumEarth pops
Hard Candies / Sugar Candies
- Everlasting Gobstoppers (contain egg)
- Fun Dip
- Jolly Rancher hard candies (contains soy lecithin)
- Junior Mints – but in original size only
- Now & Later candies (may contain egg)
- Pixy Stix
- Red Bird soft mint sugar candies
- Runts (may contain egg)
- Smarties candy rolls
- Spangler candy canes
- Spree hard candies
- Sweet Tarts
Chewy Candies / Gum
- Airheads (contain soy oil)
- Albanese Assorted Fruit Gummi Bears
- Black Forest Gummy Bears
- Spangler Circus Peanuts (no worries, these peanut-shaped marshmallow treats have nothing to do with peanuts!)
- Dubble Bubble bubble gum
- Haribo Goldbears (may contain wheat/gluten)
- Jelly Belly jelly beans
- Jujyfruits (may contain egg and soy)
- Laffy Taffy
- LifeSavers Gummies
- Razzles gum
- Sour Patch Kids
- Spree chewy candies (contain egg)
- Starburst Candies
- Starburst jelly beans
- Swedish Fish
- Twizzlers (contains wheat and soy)
- Trolli Sour Gummy Candies
- YumEarth candy corn (contains egg)
- YumEarth Gummies (no milk but some flavors may be packaged/processed in a facility where milk is present)
There are many, many chocolate brands out there, some of which may be local or regional to only your area. Unfortunately, the large majority of commercial chocolate does contain dairy. With chocolates, you really have to look at the ingredients and label warnings.
For example, you’ll want to avoid Hershey’s chocolate products – even dark! – as most of their items use milk chocolate and include dairy ingredients. If dairy is not an ingredient, there is a high possibility of cross-contact with dairy. As an aside, many of their candies also have a risk for peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soy, as well.
All that said, some chocolate brands are distributed fairly widely and are known for providing dairy-free chocolatey-yumminess! They are:
- Enjoy Life chocolate – Top 8 allergen-free – This company packages mini chocolate bars in three varieties and snack packs of chocolate chips in seasonally themed packages, in addition to their normal-sized chocolate bars.
- Free2Be Sun Cups – Top 8 allergen-free – These cups look and taste like traditional Reese’s peanut butter cups, but are made with sunflower butter and dairy-free chocolate. All three flavors are super-delicious!
- No Whey! Chocolate – Top 8 allergen-free – No Whey! Foods makes all kinds of traditional chocolate treats, like Choco No Nos (similar to M&Ms), Pea NOT Cups (similar to Reese’s peanut butter cups), and No Whey! Bars (similar to Three Musketeers candy bars), plus many others! They are a little more pricey and less widely distributed, but worth checking out!
- Amanda’s Own Confections – Top 14 allergen-free – This awesome candy company uses dedicated equipment so cross-contact is not a concern, and they have a full line of specialty chocolates for practically every occasion and holiday. Unfortunately, only a handful of states carry these products in stores, but you can order anything online.
One last chocolate tip:
As you’re exploring labels, keep in mind there’s one weird ingredient for chocolates that’s helpful to note: cocoa butter. It’s NOT a traditional butter made with dairy! Cocoa butter is a vegetable fat extracted from the cocoa bean, so it’s perfectly okay for someone who has to avoid dairy.
Additional Tips for Dairy Free Holidays and Parties
Every holiday has its special challenges when it comes to candy, treats, and dietary restrictions. Here are a few general tips that will help you navigate all the parties and fun and remain safely dairy-free!
Teach your child or family member to self-advocate
Make sure your child knows that he or she should ask whether something contains dairy (or any other ingredient you’re avoiding) before eating anything. Adults around your children may be aware of a food sensitivity or allergy, but especially at a busy party or event, adults can overlook or forget that! Your child should understand how important it is to check first before eating any food.
If you know what types of food will be offered at an event, be sure your child knows exactly what items or candies he or she can have. Rehearse ahead of time and ask them again before the party. Ask questions like:
- What are you sensitive/allergic to?
- What do you do when there is something you want to eat but you’re not sure if it’s okay?
- What candy brands are okay for you to eat?
- What candy will be there that you absolutely cannot have?
Also when it comes to school events: if your child has a severe food allergy, it’s wise to have a 504 plan for food allergies in place at school. This will at least provide awareness for the teacher(s) and a base level of accommodations for them at school parties and events.
Encourage non-food treats
Another great tip is to plan for and encourage non-food treats at holiday gatherings! Birthday gatherings, Halloween, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Independence Day…all of these celebrations center heavily around food. Non-stop food. Rather than giving sugary candy as treats and rewards at events, give fun miniature toys, trinkets, or other items instead. What a nice change of pace to have non-food treats for your guests!
- If you’re helping with a party at your child’s school, encourage non-food treats as prizes for games and activities.
- For holidays like Easter or Christmas, fill those baskets and stockings with non-food surprises either instead of or in addition to the standard candy options.
Another bonus: using non-food treats is more inclusive of all people and situations. After all, many people deal with dietary restrictions, some for health and safety reasons (food allergies, intolerances, diabetes, celiac, etc.) and some for religious and personal reasons (kosher, halal, vegan, etc.). Non-food treats honor the needs of all party guests.
People are becoming more and more conscious of dietary restrictions; you might be surprised at how open friends and family might be to offering non-food goodies at holiday events.
Look for the teal pumpkin on Halloween
Have you seen those teal pumpkins people display for Halloween? Those aren’t just trendy decorations: the teal pumpkin indicates that the household is passing out non-food treats! Very few kids wouldn’t love to get some stickers, miniature bubbles, or cute erasers as part of their Halloween stash.
Avoid any food you’re unsure about
Can’t find an ingredient label on the candy you’ve just been given? If you have a smartphone or device handy, take a second to look up the manufacturer and ingredients. Using apps like those mentioned earlier can give you a quick idea of whether a treat is dairy-free or not.
And don’t forget: be careful with homemade candies. There may not be any milk ingredients in Cousin Betty’s chocolate-covered pretzels, but she may have been careless about letting the stirring spoon touch spilled milk on the countertop. If cross-contact is a concern for your family, remember that not everyone prepares homemade goodies with the same attention to food safety as you do.
BYOT (Bring Your Own Treats)
Another simple solution for holiday gatherings? Ask ahead of time what candies or treats will be offered. Many times, hosts want to do their best to accommodate dietary restrictions. They want their guests to feel welcome and have a good time! If the gathering can’t accommodate your dairy-free needs, though, at least you’ll know what to make ahead of time so you can join in the fun.
Even if you don’t know ahead of time what candies or treats will be served, it’s never a bad idea to have some of your own goodies on hand. Toss a bag of safe candies in your purse or throw a Tupperware container of your favorite safe treat in the car. If there are safe foods available for you at the event, great! If not, you and your family won’t be left standing there empty-handed.
Keep any necessary medications or information handy
Finally, when attending holiday parties and events, bring along any medications or treatments should someone unknowingly eat dairy. If a food allergy is involved, never go anywhere without an epi-pen or auto-injector! If your child is sensitive or intolerant, be prepared with any comfort items that could help alleviate the symptoms or discomfort.
It’s always a good idea to be prepared, and you’ll have the peace of mind knowing you’re covered, no matter the situation!
Dairy-free candy? No problem! Now get out there, enjoy those treats, and bring on that sugar high!