Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nutrition 101 - Part Three: Dyes

One of the things we avoid around here are all synthetic food dyes...well not ALL the time but the huge majority of the time anyway. What's wrong with synthetic food dyes? Did you know they are made from petroleum (look at the last question in the article)? Yep, one barrel of oil goes to the refinery to produce gasoline for your car and the next to an FDA approved factory to make all those pretty dyes that color your M&M's and just about everything else we eat. I don't know if it happens exactly like that but that's how it works in my mind! Did you know they can cause significant reactions in children with ADD/ADHD and other medical issues (allergies, migraines...)? Heck, the official FDA site only says there is a "reasonable certainty of no harm". I don't like "reasonable certainty" when it comes to the food that is entering my boys' bodies. How about you? And just for good measure, here is one more article from Web MD that talks about food dyes.

What are other options? You have to be a little creative but we've found tons of fun alternatives so my kids never feel they are missing out. Here is a link that shows you how to make homemade grenadine. Beware before clicking that link; know that you are going to an amazing cupcake blog. Proceed with caution! :) I keep this delicious syrup in my fridge at all times and we use it for ton of things listed below. I have used the same recipe using POM tangerine juice as well. One thing I do change in the recipe is I sweeten the syrup with agave nectar instead of sugar (We also avoid refined sugar as much as possible.). It does not thicken like a traditional syrup but it is every bit as yummy and much healthier!

We use this syrup for snow cones (We actually bought our snow cone maker at Wal-Mart for $15 at the start of the summer but this will give you an idea.) on hot summer evenings. We also make homemade cherry "Sprite" which is simply a mix of seltzer water, a little white grape juice concentrate and a spoonful of the grenadine. Yum! Thatcher actually prefers a little of this syrup on his pancakes some mornings rather than the pure maple the rest of us adore.

Instead of popsicles that cost too much and are full of dyes and refined sugar we use an inexpensive popsicle maker I picked up for super cheap. We fill the cups with different diluted juices and my kids love it!

Also, you can make yummy jello with your child's favorite fruit juice and plain gelatin. The gelatin is less than $1 a box and you can use the juice you have at home. The recipe for Knox Blocks (the same idea as Jello Jigglers) is right on the back of the box and will take you five minutes to prepare. Again I use the agave nectar to sweeten rather than sugar if needed at all. Plain Jello has not one good thing in it; it's full of dyes and chemicals and artificial flavors. Ick! Try this instead. We cut ours out using cookie cutters in fun shapes to celebrate whatever season we are in for some extra fun, too!

These yummy Sundrop candies are great substitutes for M&M's and my kids love a few of them sprinkled in a bowl of freshly popped popcorn! My kids also love jelly beans or gummies we buy at our local health food store made with only natural dyes, too. The same company that make the gummies also makes a great candy sprinkle that is artificial dye free, too. My boys love these sprinkled on the occasional homemade ice cream, sugar cookie or cupcake.

For a special drink on the go my boys love 100% fruit juice boxes (avoiding ones with preseratives...and yes labels can and do say 100% juice but have yucky stuff added in) or Vitamin Water.

In the realm of breakfast cereal we stick with Cheerios, an organic version of Rice Krispies from Erewhon (to avoid the BHT in many breakfast cereals) or cereals from the Envirokidz line. No Froot Loops here! :) You would be surprised what cereals have dyes in them. At one time Life cereal had dye (Can't say if it still does because I haven't checked in over a year.). Why??? Life is a brown cereal; why dyes are needed is beyond me!

One last thought...the more you buy that is organic the more you are able to avoid artificial dyes. This is true for everything from breakfast cereal to granola bars to lunch treats. I know what my store carries and stock up on these items when they go on sale about once every three or four months. I don't pay full price for anything! :)

If you have your own favorites, please leave a comment. Or better yet write a blog post and link it here so we can all see what other great ideas are out there!


Darcy @ LWM3B said...

Okay, I'm taking notes. I have so much to learn and a long way to go. Can you talk about kid faves like - chicken nuggets, PBJ sandwhiches, grilled cheese and such, one day? Have you found alternatives for these kid-friendly (read, staples). Lunch seems to be the time when I realize my kids eat crapola.

Oh and bagels? *sigh*

Between you and Kate (can I call her Kate even though I only watch her on tv on her show Jon & Kate + 8?), I swear I'm feeding my children poison.

You are an amzing mom, and if I make any changes around here I will credit you completely for motivating me!

Stef said...

Great ideas here! I love that you use the grenadine for snow cones. I bet that's awesome! Thanks for the link and your kind words.

Renay said...

There should be a rule ~ No blog surfing on an empty stomach. Yum! Your ideas sound too good. I have to admit it has been much harder to eat healthier down here in Samoa. So many healthier items are not available or they are expensive if you can actually find them. I will have to work harder in searching online places that will ship that cool stuff down here. Thanks for the post! Renay

Mandy said...

thanks for sharing your tips. we use agave nectar for sweetener also. how much do you use for the grenadine recipe? i read a great tip somewhere (maybe even here :)) about introducing healthier options to kids: take the bad version out of their diet for a while and then introduce the healthier version. they are more likely to turn their nose up at a whole wheat muffin if they have just been eating Hostess brand with all of the sweeteners. i also don't hide good ingredients from my kids. they seem to like eating foods better when they help make it.

i enjoy reading both your nutrition posts and school posts. Thanks!

Carrie Thompson said...

Hey did you get the email about Whole Foods doing coupons, you print them on line??? Just thought I would pass it on in case!

I love the aquava sweetner, I use it in my herbal tea all the time!

argsmommy said...

Thank you for the great suggestions. My kids (and husband)would love to eat jello again.

I recently bought some natural food coloring at Whole Foods, but haven't tried it yet.

If I have success with it I will write a post about it. : )


Lisawa said...

Wow! Great post Jennefer... will you be our nutritionalist? *Ü*

I had to giggle when Darcy mentioned "Kate" form John and Kate plus 8... love that show... just watched a few episodes last night....she also uses organic and cooks form scratch....

Its such a hard thing to learn... cause old habits die hard in a rush.... still trying though... your post was extremely informative and helpful...

big hugs!


Carrie said...

Enjoyed reading your post and thought I might be able to help add a few more tips.

You can often purchase healthier organic food through a local food coop group. You can check out this site to learn more and locate a group near you. Depending on the group's combined volume, you can save up to 17% on the majority of food items sold in local healthfood stores. Often times their regular prices can be cheaper than the store before the group discount is even applied. They also offer special monthly savings on different foods with even higher discounts.

I also wanted to mention that I would encourage using all natural or organic (my personal preference) fruit juice with no added sugar. A lot, if not all of the conventional frozen juices I have found contain high fructose corn syrup which is just as bad as refined sugar.


Jennefer said...


I totally agree about the juice thing. There is an usually high amount of pesticides in many non-organic juices and high fructose corn syrup - YUCK!!! I will post on that soon! :)

Thanks for the tips about food co-ops. I really need to look into that as food prices continue to rise!

Jennefer said...


I will post a typical weekly menu with links to alternatives for lots of those things soon! Thanks for the idea!!!


Jennefer said...


I use about 1/2 a cup of agave nectar to every 1 cup of sugar. I read that somewhere but then in another place I read to use 1/3 a cup of agave nectar to 1 cup of sugar. Try it and see what you think. The way I make it is pretty sweet so less may be better.

I forgot to say that one of my favorite ways to make the snow cones is to use cranberry juice and drizzle the grenadine on top since it is so sweet!


Homeschooling6 said...

Thanks for sharing your ideas.


Anonymous said...

Thank you! I wasn't aware of all this...