12 Must Try Dye-Free Summer Treats
My own childhood summers, as fun as they were, make this dye-free lady shudder now. I measured my days at the pool in bags of Hot Fries and cans of Coke (read: MSG; petroleum flavorings; petroleum preservatives like TBHQ, BHA, and BHT; and carcinogenic caramel coloring). As an adult, ice cream trucks totally skeeve me out. Those neon bright colors, the bad music, and the volume of said music during the worst possible moments make me want to chase the ice cream man outta town with a pool noodle.
All the petrol dyes, preservatives, MSG, and fake flavors of today’s “treats” turn my child into a screaming monster. I used to think I was doing so good back in the day, buying my child the rainbow fro-yo at TCBY. We still have slip-ups nowadays, even when we’re careful…last month my daughter bought a school popsicle at lunch without my permission – and her super argumentative behavior at pick-up time was my first clue.
Now the news of the possible carcinogenic properties of carrageenan, a common additive in “organic” foods (namely ice cream) has sent me back to square one for summer treats. And the possibility that my daughter is still truly allergic to milk, even though the symptoms have changed since she was a baby, has really frustrated me. As a result of my newfound awareness of iffy ingredients, I usually leave the stores without ice cream these days.
But I don’t want to deny my kid the summer treats that I enjoyed, at least not some of them (Sorry, Mr. Andy Capp and Coke!). And I like to indulge in sweet treats too – you don’t write 2300+ words about summer treats by being indifferent to summer treats.
We are living in an age when we can avoid chemical additives and add actual nutrients into our treats if we put a little time towards preparation…kinda like the age our grandparents lived in, only with Pinterest.
Here are a dozen natural treats that can help everyone keep their cool –
1. Natural popsicles – Bored with your same old desserts? Enter the stick. Anything is more fun to eat on a stick. Here is a link to more than 100 recipes to spruce up your popsicle routine, including cocktail versions for adults. Pace yourself with those grown-up pops of specialness, or you might make some unintended summer memories at the neighborhood block party.
Local paletas vendors are popping up all over, and we’ve enjoyed some interesting flavor combinations. However, just because a company says they use locally-sourced, natural ingredients, don’t assume they’re talking about all of their ingredients. Read those labels and ask lots of questions. I found this out the hard way after asking where the vanilla wafers were sourced in some local Banana Pudding pops. I was surprised to learn that they were using a grocery chain brand of vanilla cookies full of high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, propylene glycol, and added flavors. If customers knew this, it would put a damper on this company’s ability to keep selling their pops at Whole Foods, for sure. Hopefully, they’ve found a natural vanilla wafer to replace the additive-laden stuff.
Until then, I can always make my own with this banana pudding popsicle recipe, replacing the ‘Nilla Wafers with a natural cookie. Another great natural banana treat is the old-fashioned banana pop. Just cut bananas in half width-wise, put a stick into the end of each, spread on some peanut butter or chocolate, roll them in chopped nuts, cereal, granola or seeds, and freeze.
If you’re a mint-chocoholic like me and want to make something brightly colored for a special occasion, try spinach. Here is an intriguing mint chocolate fudge pop recipe…apparently you cannot detect any spinach-y taste.
2. Cool Fruits “freezers” – These are like the neon bright Freeze Pops we grew up with, only all natural. I found Cool Fruits at a health food store, and even at a Tuesday Morning discount home store between the sad discontinued “foods” and odd figurines. If you’ve got the time, there are recipes on the web for DIY freezer pops using a vacuum sealer machine. What makes these fantastic is that they’re completely portable and storable – no need for freezing until the day you’re ready to use them.
3. Homemade ice cream – Trying to find a major “all natural” ice cream brand without carrageenan, annatto, and other additives can be hard. The reason we avoided this seaweed-based additive initially was that it contains the same troublesome substance that is in MSG – to which I’m highly sensitive. But now with the carcinogen news, and this list of nasty stuff found in ice creams, it might seem like I have to give up ice cream for good. But what it really means is that I need to get off my lazy tukus and give my cheapo ice cream maker a second chance. (Or maybe just let my kid roll me some dessert with one of those nifty ice cream balls. Kill two birds with one stone!)
Here are a few ways you can still enjoy ice cream, even with health concerns –
Make your own! Here is a simple vanilla ice cream recipe: Ingredients – 3 egg yolks, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1 Tb real vanilla extract, 1 TB arrowroot powder/flour, 3 cups heavy cream or cream alternative. Beat egg yolks and blend in remaining ingredients. Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
With the red velvet ice cream craze this year, I was having a hard time finding one without too many additives. But I am eyeing this vegan red velvet cake ice cream recipe from Chef Chloe that I’m eager to try. And her salted caramel pretzel ice cream, wow. I’d personally have to sub honey or something else for the agave because it puts me into a fructose coma.
I also want to try this blueberry coconut milk ice cream recipe: Ingredients – 3 cups whole fat coconut milk, 3-4 Tb raw honey, and 2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries. Blend the three ingredients together until smooth. Push the mixture through a fine mesh seive or cheesecloth. Pour into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator for one hour or overnight. After chilling, place mixture into an ice cream maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
I recently heard of an amazing “one ingredient ice cream” that would fit many diets…you just cut up and freeze chunks of banana, then blitz them in the blender…instant ice cream. You could probably add just about anything you want to change this up a bit – cocoa, honey, vanilla extract, strawberries, peanut butter, cream, or cinnamon.
If you can’t make ice cream at home, and assuming your family has no allergies to eggs, milk, or MSG, then you could probably do worse than the following two store-bought treats…Haagen Dazs “Five” ice cream…it has just five ingredients. It comes in vanilla, milk chocolate, lemon, and coffee bean flavors. And the Haagen Dazs individual 3.6 oz. mini ice cream cups with built in spoons in the lid look like a fun treat for the kiddies. I also found some Japanese style mochi at Trader Joe’s in four flavors – two of which we could personally eat.
If you’ve found a great all-natural soda to plop ice cream into for a nice float, please do share in a comment below! I love Zevia’s cream soda but I can’t be sure if their caramel color is organic, or the more ubiquitous “ammonia caramel”.
4. Natural Sno Cones – I can’t bring myself to buy those otherworldly Flav-Or-Ice syrups with no mention of added colors on their ingredient label (major no-no). Even if I couldn’t read, I’d know these just ain’t right. I am seeing more natural sno cone recipes online such as this rainbow one and this raspberry-peach one. The possibilities for your Snoopy sno cone machine are endless. I heard tell of one mom in Texas who opened up her own natural sno cone business in a travel trailer. Talk about cool.
5. Homemade smoothies – This one’s easy…you can seriously put most any fresh ingredients into a smoothie. I hide all kinds of healthy stuff in them like veggies, liquid chlorella, herbs, and extra protein from nut butters. This shamrock shake knock-off is really a dressed up green smoothie, using all natural ingredients.
6. Ice cream sandwiches – Awesome summer party treat. Here is a dairy-free ice cream sandwich that I really want to try from the Go Dairy Free web site, without the dyed star sprinkles (India Tree sells a dye-free version of sprinkles). Or you can just make or buy your favorite cookies, cut the desired shape of ice cream slab (half an inch thick) out of a half-gallon carton, sandwich it all together, wrap in foil, and freeze for a couple of hours. How about a summery combo of vanilla ice cream or fruit sorbets inside either lemon or coconut cookies?
7. Lemonade – This summertime staple is best made from scratch. Just heat and dissolve one cup of sugar into one cup of water, pour it into a pitcher, stir in one cup of lemon juice, and then dilute with 3-4 cups of cold water. You could even gussy it up with some raspberry, strawberry, or beet juice color. The yellow dyes in restaurant “lemonades” make my daughter freak out. When we go out to eat, we always bring a little packet of TrueLemon (found in Kroger), Hanson’s (in Whole Foods or online), Flavrz (Whole Foods or online), Flavor Sticks (Trader Joe’s), or Stevita (found online) to mix into a cup of water. One parent told me that she brings Emergen-C Kids vitamin drink packets to recreate a fizzy drink for her child.
8. Gel desserts – We have a box mix in the pantry of a dye-free Jello (gel/jel?) type dessert that I found at Whole Foods. I like this because not only is it dye-free (uses beet juice for color), but it’s gelatin-free and vegan. I don’t follow a vegan diet, but knowing where my wobbly pile of fun from childhood comes from, kinda kills the buzz for me. Here’s an easy recipe to make your own vegan gel dessert: Ingredients – 20 cups juice blend (not from concentrate or powder), 4 to 6 Tb. corn starch or agar-agar flakes/powder (depending on how firm you want it). Heat the juice blend in a pan until hot, add the cornstarch or agar-agar and stir until blended. When it thickens to a jelly-like consistency, pour it into a serving dish. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours or until firm. And here’s another easy gel recipe: Boil up 1/4 cup agar-agar flakes with 1 quart of fruit juice for five minutes, then pour into dishes and chill.
9. Homemade sorbet – For me, sorbet used to be ice cream’s unpopular cousin. Why the heck would I want that stuff if I could have chunks of rainbow chewing gum in my ice cream? (True story, had it for the first time at the New Orleans World Fair, and it simultaneously blew my mind and made me want to heave). What’s awesome about sorbet now? Well, it’s a simple mixture of fruit, water, sugar…and alcohol for grown folks!
I personally want to try this watermelon sorbet and Pink Lady apple sorbet:
Watermelon Sorbet: Ingredients – 1¼ cups sugar, 1¼ cups water, 6-7 cups seedless watermelon chunks, 3 Tb lime juice. Heat and dissolve the sugar in the water, then place in a bowl to cool. Puree the watermelon and lime juice in a blender, then press the mixture through a fine sieve. Combine watermelon mixture with the cooled sugar syrup. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour. Process the mixture in an ice cream maker for about 30 minutes. Serve right away for soft serve consistency, or freeze for two hours for firmer sorbet.
Pink Lady Apple Sorbet: Ingredients – 11/2 lbs Pink Lady apples (unpeeled, cored, and quartered), the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 cup water, 11/2 cups finely granulated sugar, and some brandy or cognac (optional). You can even add natural food coloring for a little extra something (use beet, strawberry, or raspberry juice…or a prepared dye from Chocolate Craft, Seelect, Maggie’s Naturals, some India Tree dyes, or some ChefMaster natural dyes). Bring the apples, lemon juice, water, and sugar to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer. Cook the apples until they’re soft (20 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool. Puree the mixture in the blender and strain it through a fine sieve. Stir in the brandy or cognac, if using. Refrigerate the mixture until cold. Place the mixture in your ice cream maker and churn for 30 minutes. Cover and freeze for 4 hours or more.
10. Whole Foods gelato – One of the only ways to get my kid to be halfway normal on a super-boring grocery trip is to promise her a gelato from Whole Foods if she doesn’t tear up the bulk bins. I love the ginger snap cookie, snicker doodle, strawberry shortcake, and all of the fruit and berry variations. We personally have to do this in moderation because 1) she likes to entertain crowds with whatever she can grab from shelves and ice bins, and 2) their gelato is milk-based. She was dangerously allergic to milk as a baby but nowadays I suspect her reactions are more behavioral.
11. Homemade slushies – The easiest of all – take a strong flavored juice like pineapple or Trader Joe’s pomegranate limeade, and blend it with ice. I only just recently noticed that Whole Foods sells natural slushies at their gelato bar. After almost three years. I blame the monkey for my lack of attention to our surroundings during shopping trips.
12. Bonus for parents – After those endless days of summer break, treat yourself. Last summer, I really, really enjoyed regular sorbet with sparkling prosecco poured over the top. Refreshing and not too heavy. It will also make you tolerate all children a little better (until you become the annoying kid). This summer I plan to try adding tequila and triple sec to my daughter’s new favorite – Trader Joe’s Pomegranate Limeade juice – after she goes to bed, of course (although…). I’m hoping for Sonic limeade-like results.
Here is a real lime margarita recipe from Food To Dye For, sans green dyes from mixers. (I wonder how all of these would do on a stick? And what kind of special license would one need to serve these from her own all natural ice cream truck? Along with actual kid-friendly treats too, of course.) Not sure I could get away with “Mommy’s pops” or “Dad’s Hopsicles” that are off-limits to my perceptive kid.
Please post your favorite summer treat recipes in a comment…