Traditions That Make Your Kid Blue – Avoiding Food Coloring All Year

There are so many occasions that beckon us to bond and celebrate with colorful food.  Food and fellowship have been connected since the first time a Neanderthal shared his bison hocks with his cute neighbor two caves down.  Thankfully, these days we have lots of healthy options to help us avoid mammoth saddlebags, feral freakouts, and caveman crash.

There are times when my child acts like a Neanderthal, I have to admit – especially after she has eaten something with food coloring (see our story in Why I’m Over This Rainbow).  And it’s everywhere – the eerily blue bank drive-through lollipop, the pediatrician’s dum-dum stash, the dentist office treasure chest (really?), the fruit salad and ice cream bars in school lunches (more on school lunches soon).


We just have to read food labels, ask questions, and bring replacements everywhere we go.  It’s hardest to address when either 1) you don’t know about it – like when our old school ironically gave out candy rewards to kids who were quiet at pick-up time (thanks!) – or 2) when it’s at a special gathering such as birthday parties and holiday feasts.  Luckily our current school does not use food for rewards, they do not have in-class birthday parties, and they ask each parent to provide their own child’s daily snacks.

No celebration in class?  Party pooper, you say?  Trust me, they celebrate…just without cupcakes, allergic reactions, and meltdowns.  And we don’t want to deny our kid any opportunity to bond with her community.  At the school’s ice cream social, we brought a quart of dye-free ice cream, Smarties (the ones that look like M&Ms), and dye-free “Sprinklz”.  Our child was served just like everyone else, she LOVED it, and we left the remainder of the quart for other kids to choose.  This is also a way to inform the PTA of this little-known subject.  Ours was very receptive and helpful.

Friends’ birthday parties mean cake, goody bags, colorful drinks, and more cake.  I honestly don’t know how we’ll handle the next friend’s birthday party, as I’ve yet to concoct that magic elixir that erases The Crazies (will keep you posted on that one – might need to administer it to myself first, as a test, in a sterile brown paper bag.).  We bring Trader Joe’s organic lollies and dye-free fruit gummies to friends’ parties, which seem to go FAST.  Our child had a blast at a recent Halloween party and didn’t feel deprived.  For our own party, we’ll either have a cake and quarts of gelato made at Whole Foods bakery, or we’ll get a sample of their natural food dye to make our own (just ask, they may give you enough to make gorgeous frosting in a tiny covered cup). Other dye-free options are India Tree dyes, Chefmaster Natural Food Coloring, Chocolate Craft, Seelect, Maggie’s Naturals, and a few Wilton’s “decorator icings”.


Luckily we live in a big city with tons of food options for every need.  Here in “The City Of Festivals,” we seek out vendors such as King Of Pops (mostly organic handmade popsicles) and natural bakeries.  When we travel to major vacation destinations like Disney World, we bring snacks from home (heretofore untried treats make a special surprise), and dye-free flavor packets for our reusable water bottles.  And we avoid those brightly decorated candy shops near the front entrance like the plague.  Honestly, if you just try to avoid sugary snacks then you’re probably automatically reducing your petroleum food coloring intake, and that’s a good thing.

What about holiday feasts?  How do you avoid feeling like the Grinch when your dye-sensitive kid wants to partake in that traditional “roast beast feast”?  Nasty chemicals have infiltrated our culture to such an extent, that they can be found in every facet of our holiday merry-making:  Mashed potato mixes, gravies, stuffing mixes, sauces, breads, imitation vanilla extract, canned peas, chips, croutons, crackers, dips, sausages, salad dressings, soups, desserts, candy, beer, liquors, soda, coffee creamers, fruit juices, and tea.  Try to buy “pure” vanilla extract, for example, because its evil twin, “imitation” vanilla extract has a chemical related to propylene glycol –  more commonly known as antifreeze (at least your cake won’t overheat, freeze up, or rust!).

My friend Heather recently purged her spice cabinet, and shared some surprising results.  Heather wrote,

“Making chili!  Reached for the “chili powder” and had two choices.  One is made of spices, the other is made of chemicals.  Grrrrr.  One says chili powder and HAS NO CHILI POWDER.  I was surprised I even had that in my cabinet.  And the worst part is that at some point, I used it.  Blech.  Purged my spice cabinet and threw out some creole seasoning, some BBQ stuff, and a thing mysteriously labeled ‘spice blend’ that was made of sugar, corn, preservatives, salt and coloring.  Luckily I hadn’t even opened that one (probably a gift).  I don’t have a MSG problem, so I’m not used to having to read lables on my freakin’ spices!!  On a positive note, the bulk pumpkin pie spice I bought for 65 cents was really made of spices! ”



It may seem daunting, but health food stores are making it easier than ever to provide an all natural feast for your family.  Whole Foods has a more affordable store brand called “365”, and coupons on their web site.  You can also find coupons for more common healthy foods at, if you don’t have a specialty store nearby.  Many cities and states also offer double value on food stamp programs for anything purchased at farmer’s markets.  Join a local CSA for some great deals on locally-grown vegetables and fruits.  Bookmark my “Badditives” shopping list on your smart phone, or print it out and write notes about products you consider acceptable.

Oh, and after all that partyin’, you’ll need some relief.  I recently threw out my bottle of petroleum dyed TUMS, and was left wondering what to do next.  It turns out that there are some ways to combat an icky stomach naturally, without food coloring side effects.  Expectant mothers swear by all natural papaya extract.  Grannies swear by apple cider vinegar with water, and baking soda with water.  If you have more natural home remedies to share, please leave them in a comment!

Here’s hoping your holidays are “bright”, but in the good kinda way.

Fah-Who For-es, my friends.


Do you have any dye-free recipes to share for special occasions? E-mail me at admin[at]diefooddye[dot]com and I’ll post them up on the site with your name!

You may also like:

One Moveable Feast: Serve Up Organic Meals Without Blowing Your Budget

How We Navigated The School Thanksgiving Luncheon Without Food Additives

Random Musings for November 17th – Shopping A La ‘Cart Voyeur’

When Eliminating Sugar Is Not Enough – Tina’s Synthetic Food Coloring Story

11 Responses to “Traditions That Make Your Kid Blue – Avoiding Food Coloring All Year”
  1. Candace says:

    I’m super-excited about this blog!! My son is 5 years old and is also sensitive to food dyes and additives! I’m looking forward to reading your posts and to joining you in the fight to get food dyes out of our food.

    Candace McCallister

    • Indie Mama says:

      Hi Candace! Thanks for the note! It is so nice to “meet” others who understand what this is like. Please check back often or subscribe on the home page for e-mail or feed reader. This holiday season is our first through this dye-sensitivity lense, so I’m sure there will be lots to write about.

  2. Steph says:

    I just found your blog through SortaCrunchy and I’m super excited! We figured out our daughter had a dye sensitivity in 2008 so we’re very familiar with a lot of what I’ve read here so far. I can’t wait to read more. Thanks for writing a geat blog!

    • Indie Mama says:

      Hi Steph! I am big fan of Megan’s, and have trusted her opinion since our girls were babes. I am honored that someone who likes her work would follow mine. I would love to hear your perspective and advice on this topic and I’m collecting personal stories to post on this site. I hope you and Candace (see comments) will consider sharing your journey with me and all those other parents out there who are desperate for answers and support. Keep checking back, or subscribe on the main page via e-mail or feed reader. I’m also on Twitter – @DieFoodDye – and FaceBook under “Die Food Dye”. 🙂

  3. Uly says:

    “On a positive note, the bulk pumpkin pie spice I bought for 65 cents was really made of spices!”

    That seems to be the way. The cheap brand of vanilla extract at my supermarket is extract. The McCormick? Extract and HFCS, and it costs 33% more!

    As far as spice mixes go, the best thing is to not buy them at all. Buy whole spices, buy a coffee grinder just for this purpose, and prepare your own curry powder, your own chili powder, your own pumpkin pie spice (nutmeg is one of the few things it’s worth to buy pre-ground if you use a lot of it – grating it takes time!), your own… whatever. It tastes better because it’s fresh ground (so not stale), and you can tailor it to your own tastes. Plus, once you’re in the habit of doing this, you’ll find yourself making more exotic mixes you would not find in your local store – berbere, for example, makes the best devilled eggs you’ll ever have!

    • Indie Mama says:

      You have inspired me, this weekend I bought fresh cilantro, washed and dried it, then ground it up into a lovely green, fine seasoning. Placed it into a tiny lidded prep bowl. I was always needing cilantro, but never a gigantic bunch at once, so the leftover would just waste away in my fridge drawer, which I nicknamed “The Rotter.” 😉 Think I will start saving those nifty spice bottles whenever I run out of something, and make my own mixes now. Have a great Thanksgiving! Thanks for the info!

  4. kendall says:

    As far as spices go, a great one is Penzey’s. You can buy online, sign up for the newsletter that comes in the mail and it’s a cute little magazine with recipes, plus like once a quarter it usually has a coupon in it for a free spice! Also, I like to use pure Mexican vanilla, which sometimes you can even find at a Mexican grocery store. It doesn’t have caramel color or alcohol in it that way, but it’s also super strong and sweet so a little goes a long way.

  5. Lindsey says:

    Ironically, there is Blue dye in some MARSHMALLOWS!!! I guess to make them appear more white!!! Check your labels my friends 🙂

  6. Jill says:

    Thank you so much for this amazing website! After a family trip to Perkins and seeing the after affects of my 4 year old son once he ate “rainbow sprinkled pancakes” my eyes were opened to a different child! He has had many times of sudden anger, being wild and physical, yelling, hitting, biting and I always went back and forth as to question– is it just his age or is something off? After this latest incident I knew it had to be linked because he ate the leftovers 2 other times throughout the day with the same effects! I am excited to eliminate articficial food dies and have informed his preschool teacher and our friends and family! His teacher suggested I can bring in a few special items to leave in the fridge when a classmate brings in a birthday treat… I am lost? Trader joes and whole foods are not in my area. Are there any bakery items (I will even make it from a box) or ice cream alternatives you could recommend? Thank you!!! Jill

    • Indie Mama says:

      Hi! You can order dye-free cake mixes online, check, but you can also buy liquid natural food coloring and ask a local baker to make your cake with dyes you provide. But I just make cupcakes at home and leave several in the teacher lounge freezer for days when there are class parties. Some online sites that sell natural dyes are Chocolate Craft, India Tree, Maggie’s Naturals, Seelect, and Color Garden. I also left a big ziploc bag of safe treats with the teacher in case she or her substitute teachers handed out candy rewards in class. For ice cream, several companies now have simpler products, even Haagen-Daz has one with only five ingredients. Some Edy’s are dye-free, not all though.

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