Red Alert! School Valentine Parties Are Coming!
You may know that I’m a dye-sensitive mom to a kid who is allergic to food coloring. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that spreading awareness about food dye side effects, and natural alternatives, is my passion. And if you follow the DFD Twitter or FaceBook pages, you know that I am…“enthusiastic“…”persistent”…All those words we use to mask our children’s annoying behaviors like stubbornness and just being plain weird. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, apparently.
I know I said I was going to write more often about the inner workings of my dye-free mind. But since then, a triumvirate of mom blogging roadblocks has forced a slow-down: Our shared cold virus, my laptop’s untimely death, and my tech god husband’s 80+ hour workweek. So help me, these blips are NOT gonna stop me from blogging about the mother of all dyed holidays, the boon of Chinese food coloring factories, and the most paradoxical of celebrations for some parents. Like the child who instantly transitions from cherubic heartstring-tugging to maniacal malfeasance after gobbling red-dyed Peeps, I don’t have time for socially acceptable grieving periods. Sorry, Gateway, I got stuff to do. So, from a tiny scavenged keypad in a deep South red state, I trudge on.
Soooo…parties. The bane of dye-sensitive families. They’re coming. The kidlets are going to exchange tokens of friendship and eat a few treats. And then beg for more treats, while simultaneously climbing the walls (“Watch this! Mom! Help me climb this wall!..Mom!!!…MOM!!!!” - true story) For many families, even for days after the sugar wears off, the kids will still be seeing red (and so will the parents). And we can’t leave them in the IKEA playroom, at least not for more than 45 minutes at a time (not cool, Småland…not cool).
“Where is fancy bred – in the heart, or in the head?” ~ Willie Wonka
I get that we only have two parties a year for the kids now, after our school nixed the in-class birthday party treats. And I’m certainly not suggesting we cancel more fun just so my kid won’t feel like a lone freak. I know we can have a celebration that is both fun for the kids and not quite as unhealthy as traditional shindigs. I saw as much, first-hand, at our holiday gingerbread cookie decorating party – the kids were SO happy, and there were no meltdowns after consuming loads of dye-free cookie toppings.
We received the e-mail about The Event, which is scheduled for this Friday. It truly sneaked up on me, and I hadn’t given school celebrations much thought after the successful cookie decorating party. I wasn’t prepared, so I did what I always do for comfort – research. I jumped online for ideas on how to turn the Red 40 deluge into a Red Letter Day. TALK to me, Internet!
Not many resources out there…perhaps they’re scattered…or maybe there were no survivors left to write an e-book about it, who knows? And then…be still my beating heart! I found an article on NourishMD about how to host a “naturally red Valentine’s Day party“, which included a nifty Healthy Parties handout written for teachers.
OMG! A PDF! I <3 instructions…
After spending an inordinate amount of time pinning Valentine kid crafts on my too literally-named Pinterest pin boards, I set out to deftly communicate what I had learned. I’m not the best at one-on-one explanations, but I do okay in front of an audience, and I can compose an e-mail like nobody’s business (I just can’t remember to include links the first time). I shared my new-found knowledge with our teacher, and then sent it along to the party coordinators.
In my message, I explained that my daughter and I have a true reaction to artificial food coloring, and that I’m part of our nutrition committee. I crafted what I hoped would be a non-toe-stepping list of suggestions about dyes and sugar limits for kids. I tried not to sound panicky or overbearing.
I passed along the idea that the teacher could have the kids vote on naturally reddish foods they want to try. Then they can hold a taste testing party, and talk about what foods they like best, and which foods surprised them. How cool would that be? They could try something new, talk about where foods came from, and connect this great holiday with a healthy tradition. I also shared an idea I found for a smoothie making party. You give the kids all kinds of gorgeous red veggies and fruits and let them make up their own recipes. They get to use math, make predictions about taste, and learn about new foods. Not too bad…
I also suggested that parents do not provide party treats that contain problematic food dyes, and I listed them by name (Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6, Blue 1 and 2, Green 3, annatto, etc.). I copied a basic paragraph about why food coloring is baaaaad for kids, which I ripped from that NourishMD article:
A comprehensive 2004 meta-analysis of the medical literature concluded that artificial dyes affect children’s behavior, and two recent studies funded by the British government found that dyes adversely affect kids’ behavior. “The science shows that kids’ behavior improves when these artificial colorings are removed from their diets and worsens when they’re added to the their diets,” said Dr. David Schab, a psychiatrist at Columbia University Medical Center. “It’s hard to justify their continued use in foods—especially those foods heavily marketed to young children.”
I offered to donate healthier foods plus loads of organic lollies. And to top it off, I suggested that we supplement our school’s “Healthy Heroes” program with some DIY valentines from Nourish Interactive. (I liked the idea of turning the holiday into a way to learn about taking care of your heart. This holiday wasn’t always about candy, after all). I closed by inviting them to our Science Night next week to learn about food additives and labeling. Ginchy!
So I was just so pleased for having pulled all of that outta my virtual backside on short notice. I was ready for the groundswell of agreement. I just knew everyone would love my (stolen) healthy ideas!
I started to doubt my ability to sound non-toe-steppy. I re-read my message, dissecting it for errors and snooty sounding misgivings. Oh crap, I’ve lost them, I thought. I now have no chance whatsoever of “spreading awareness”! I had unintentionally sent up a Red Flag of Annoyance.
I consulted the internet again. Only this time, I was seeking counsel under the tutelage of Google’s weird sidebar-inhabiting cousin, Horoscope. Horoscope basically told me, “hey you can’t please everyone all the time, and not everyone is going to like you, so follow your own path and…go shopping for laptops… whatever.” Thanks a lot, Horoscope, so glad I hooked up with you again after all these years.
I measure the amount of time that passed thereafter in Backyardigans episodes. My daughter was home sick for a bit, so pairings of unsolved mysteries with sassy dance routines were on repeat for what seemed like weeks. Our teacher, who probably has to navigate loads of neurotic e-mail from all of us well-informed parents (or, just from me), responded a few days later saying that she liked the taste testing idea. Yesssss! Baby steps…but I couldn’t allow myself to get too…enthusiastic…(!!!).
There was still no word from the parents who were coordinating the party, at least not to me. Then one day I went to class to go over the audio-visual equipment for our Science Night, and the teacher mentioned that our Party Peeps were asking if no treats would be allowed now. I felt weird that I had maybe given the wrong impression with my eagerness. I explained that while of course I believe petroleum dyes are bad for everyone (not just allergic people), we could manage with our own Trade Deal with our daughter, to exchange dyed treats for dye-free ones at home.
Our teacher came up with another brilliant solution – she decided that the kids would save Valentine treats until they got home and their parents could dole out the goods as they see fit. Perfect fit…My child would be protected from having an allergic episode, and every family gets to make their own choices. I sent a follow-up note to the party coordinators, saying I was sorry for the confusion, and that we would of course manage any treats that are off limits to our daughter. I thanked them for volunteering to run the party, and once again offered them a load of organic lollipops if needed (See? I’m not the No Fun Mom…I know how to party, Mr. Horoscope!).
After a day or so, I got a response from one of the very nice party parents. She very graciously explained that they hadn’t worked out the details yet, but they planned to have a balance of foods available, and would focus more on activities than on eats. Classy.
So…all I can do now is breathe, hope that my kid knows better than to eat artificially colored sweets, and brace myself for the possibility of a lost weekend with either Jekyll or Hyde climbing into the carseat at pick up time. Maybe I’ll give her a peek at what dye-free goodies await her if she will just turn down offers of dyed candies at the party? “If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.” – Benjamin Franklin.
“Bribery saves lives.” – Mom.
And hey, I’ve still got Science Night as an appropriate outlet for all that enthusiasm. I’ve already got the cutesy Valentine freebies finished.
As for our own little celebration, I did better than I had expected with shopping for our first dye-free Valentine’s Day. I found some good alternatives at Whole Foods this week – Brightly colored natural cupcakes (how do they DO that?), boxed chocolate assortments, naturally colored jellybeans, red licorice, cotton candy, choccy hearts, cupcake necklaces, stuffed animals, scented girly soaps, and this very persuasive chocolate frog. —>
I was nearly busted taking pictures in Whole Foods, but it’s for the Greater Good. I’m there so often that I feel like I will soon be on a first name basis with that suspicious young dude who startled me with his resounding, “May I HELP you with something, ma’am?!!” Dude was just doin’ his job, I understand. I solemnly swear that I am not a spy for Trader Joe’s. Honestly, the two don’t really compare anyways, because Trader Joe’s didn’t really have any Valentine goodies to speak of. And I’ve pretty much accepted Whole Foods’s promise ring since they donated a huge box of organic treats for our Science Night. I’m not sayin’ I’ll never talk to that Joe again. But I can only really count on him for some Peppermint Joe-Joe’s around the holidays. And my husband likes his IPA, which makes it a little awkward.
Speaking of shopping, I’ve created a “StoreBot Shopping Spies” pin board in the DFD Pinterest page. If you want access to start uploading your shopping pics of ridiculous “foods” from your smartphone Pinterest app, send me your e-mail address to admin[at]diefooddye[dot]com. If you’re looking for allergy-friendly holiday treats, order from Natural Candy Store by today (February 6th) to get standard shipping anywhere in the US arriving by February 14th. And of course Indie Candy has some beautiful dye-free Valentine treats as well.
If you’re looking for direction, don’t ask your horoscope – I think he secretly works for Apple. Better to consult Feingold for more advice on celebrations. But it’s nice to pretend for a bit that 2012 is indeed “my year”, and that I’m actually gonna get anything done after some slacker planet pulls itself together and finally moves the heck outta my job “house” already.
I’m going back to pinning Ryan Gosling images to my “People I Admire” pin board now…Nothing unhealthy about a little eye candy. Ladies, am I right?
Please share your ideas for helping your dye-sensitive child celebrate this most colorful of holidays, in a comment below! And please share any great naturally dye-free confectionery recipes you find online. Here’s one you should take a peek at – It’s a pretty recipe for naturally-colored pink butter cream frosting from HealthNut Foodie! And check out these recipes from Dollar Stretcher on how to make your own natural food coloring.
I hope all of your days with dear ones are filled with love, little joys, peace, and laughter.