Have A Colorful Easter Without Artificial Food Dye
So many parents of dye-sensitive kids are approaching Easter with that same dread we felt near Valentine’s Day… It’s coming. You can’t just act like it’s not happening. Kids have certain expectations when it comes to this holiday, learned from friends or grocery store aisles…first and foremost – to get an awesome stash from the Easter Bunny. Eddie Izzard’s stand up routine about chocolate eggs comes to mind:
“Kids eat chocolate eggs because the color of the chocolate and the color of the wood on the cross…Well? you tell me! It’s got nothing to do with it, has it? People are going, “Remember kids, Jesus died for your sins.”
Kids: “Yeah, I know, it’s great.”
Adults: “No, it’s bad.”
Kids: “It’s bad. It’s terrible. Whatever you want. Just keep giving me these eggs.””
Store shelves are full of cheap chocolate and brightly dyed jellybeans, but no Wonka “Egg-dicator”-ish gadgets to help us sort it all out. Have no fear – there are plenty of natural, and in my opinion, better tasting sweeties to be had nowadays. Trader Joe’s carries naturally colored and flavored jellybeans, gumdrops, malted milk eggs, chocolate peanut butter eggs, and chocolate bunnies. Whole Foods has a huge assortment of chocolates, jellybeans, eggs, and toys. And online stores like Natural Candy Store and Indie Candy have natural gumballs, gummy candies, lollipops, everything else a dye-sensitive kid could possibly want…but nary a Peep to be found (an acceptable risk, in my assessment). If only there were a real-life naturally colored Wonka factory…replacing technicolor lollies with gorgeous berry-colored ones…and a waterfall chocolate mixer, free of synthetic “vanillin” (byproduct of the paper and wood pulp industry, used in lesser quality chocolate…yum).
If your child participates in a community egg hunt, work out a Trade Deal, where they trade in their standard dyed candy for safe sweets that you’ve chosen. For your own egg hunt, try dyeing eggs with natural vegetable colorants – recipes can be found here, here, here and here. Or if you’re short on time, buy natural dyeing kits here and here. And if you’re baking up something but want more than plain white frosting, try making your own food coloring (recipe pages are here and here), or buy some ready-made natural food coloring like India Tree, Seelect, or Chefmaster. And as allergic as Pollenpocalypse 2012 has made me, I still like the idea of decorating cupcakes and cakes with fresh blossoms. Just remove them before the little ones can eat them…
The Easter Bunny could also leave small toys and trinkets instead of only edible sweets. There are loads of non-food ideas for busy parents on Pinterest, but do please set yourself an egg timer…that place can be an addictive time suck. One DFD reader posted up her non-food Easter treat Amazon list on the DFD Facebook page. Some ideas might include seed packets and gardening tools, books…or tickets to fun experiences like childrens’ museums, the zoo, or a movie.
Aside from opportunities to learn about traditions and family, this holiday can be an opportunity for parents to provide one heck of a teachable moment about food and nourishment. Easter seems like a great time to talk to kids about how treats affect the way they feel. As my mother-in-law says, we need to empower kids to be ambassadors of healthy eating. It’s not enough to tell them why food coloring is bad for them. We have to encourage our kids to ask questions and speak up for themselves when food is offered.
We’ve discussed the difficulty in attaining family “buy-in” on the DFD Facebook page a lot lately. So many parents are struggling to get the message across to relatives, teachers, and caregivers that their children cannot handle food coloring. We pack safe lunches and snacks, file letters and research attachments with the school nurse, and we explain to teachers that this is a serious problem for the kids. But our kids are still inadvertently given food coloring by either well-meaning or unconvinced people in their lives.
I am heartened when I hear stories about school districts “getting it”…like the way Minnesota has ditched all food dyes in school lunches. One DFD reader reported that her son’s preschool teachers are doing a study on how food coloring affects students’ behavior. Our own school is trying to engage a wider audience on the importance of nutrition. A couple of weeks ago, our school hosted a chef who incorporated our school garden vegetables in easy recipes. Next week we are having a Garden Fair geared towards parents, students, and teachers. The idea is to help people start their own garden and learn about the foods we eat. I totally believe that in order to change what’s offered to us in the stores, we not only have to vote with our purchases, but we need all kids to develop a taste for healthy eating – so they can bring those new preferences back home to whomever does the shopping.
And if all else fails, wear a t-shirt. As summer camps and trips to grandma’ s house approach, I am thinking about all those snacktime opportunities for an accidental exposure. Soooo…I’m happy to soon offer some cute and very much to-the-point t-shirts! Please go vote for your favorite design on the DFD Facebook page right now. I will initially offer one design in adult and kid sizes, and maybe more designs in time. (My daughter is hoping that I’ll include a dolphin in the design, as she is a firm believer that they would react to food dye too…hmmmm, we’ll see.)
And while you’re visiting the Facebook page, post a picture of your dye-free Easter stash. Happy Easter!