How to Clean Pesticides Off Your Produce with Citrus Oil and Science

You guys, I’m just going to say this up front: I LOOOOOOOOVE essential oils!!  I’m currently working on another post to tell you all about it.  🙂

When I first encountered the idea of essential oils about four years ago I was fairly skeptical about some of the claims.  Over the years I’ve done a lot of research, and I think I’ve weeded out the truths from the exaggerations.  Based on what I’ve learned and experienced, I believe that oils are a very smart way to invest in your family’s health.

One of my favorite true claims is that you can use citrus essential oils to clean pesticides and bacteria off of produce.

Aldi produce

Upon hearing this claim, the big question I had was HOW can citrus oil remove pesticides?  The answer is monoterpenes.  Specifically the monoterpene, d-limonene, which has the ability to dissolve petroleum oils among other things.  Pesticides are petroleum based.  Therefore, the d-limonene commonly found in citrus oils can remove pesticides from your produce.  Lemon and orange oils have particularly high concentrations of d-limonene, which is why they’re my favorite ones to use for cleaning produce.  If you’re interested, you can find more information in the World Health Organization’s fact sheet on d-limonene.

Now that you know the science behind how citrus essential oils remove pesticides, I’ll show you how to actually do it.

What you’ll need: citrus essential oils (lemon and orange are best), Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap, and water.

dr bronner's castile soap and essential oils for cleaning produce

First, close your drain and start filling your sink up with water.  Temperature doesn’t really matter as far as cleaning goes, but I prefer not to freeze or burn my fingers when reaching in to stir or remove the produce – so I shoot for room temperature.  🙂

I use 7-10 drops of citrus oil when filling up my half-sink depending on how much produce I’m washing; you could use 15-20 if you’re doing a full sink with a very large amount of produce.  Keep in mind, essential oils are very potent; a little goes a long way.

If you look closely you can see the drops of lemon oil floating on the surface in the areas I circled.

If you look closely you can see the drops of lemon oil floating in the areas I circled.

Add in about a teaspoon (or two for a full sink) of Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap.

The Castile soap suspends the essential oil in the water, so it is no longer just pooling on the water's surface.

The Castile soap suspends the essential oil throughout the water, so it is no longer just sitting on the water’s surface.

A quick word on why we need the soap.  Castile soap is a type of soap made of only vegetable oils, not animal fats (it originated in the Castile region of Spain, thus the name).  I prefer Castile soap because it is all natural, dye-free, and safe if ingested.  Yes, you could eat it.  It’s just water, a bunch of vegetable oils, vitamin E, and citric acid.  I feel good about washing the things I will be eating with something that would be okay to ingest, if I so chose to ingest it.  🙂

Back to science.  Basically, we need the Castile soap to act as the middle man between the citrus oil and water.  Remember in elementary school when we learned how oil is hydrophobic and hates water?  That’s where soap comes in.  Soap is a surfactant (fancy scientific term), which means it has both hydrophobic and hydrophilic ends.  The simplest way to think of it is soap likes to hold hands with both oils and water.  Oil and water refuse to hold hands.  The only way they can all stay together is with soap in the middle.  If you need to visualize it, here’s an embarrassing representation of oil, soap, and water holding hands that I made..


This is same principle behind how washing your hands with soap removes grease and dirt and germs.

So in the produce bath, the soap grabs onto the pooled up oils floating on the water’s surface, and suspends them throughout the sink to get all your produce thoroughly clean.  Without the soap, only the parts of your produce in direct contact with the water’s surface will get the benefits of contact with your essential oils – and that’s not good enough.

I like to add in the soap and oils while the sink is still filling, because it’s an easy way to get everything mixed together.

Once your sink is a little more than half full, you can turn off the water and start putting in produce.  I like to save the softer berries (raspberries and blackberries) as well as larger items (like melons and broccoli) for last.  Everything else goes in the sink together.

produce in lemon oil bathLet your produce soak for 10-15 minutes.  Give it a good stir about halfway through, so that anything floating at the top gets thoroughly cleaned.

Now it’s time to rinse!  The water you’re taking your produce out of is now full of soap, petroleum pesticides, dirt, and bacteria.  So always remember to put your produce under some clean running water to rinse away all that nasty stuff.

produce rinseI lay out a big beach towel on my counter, and leave all the clean produce there to air dry.  This is what our typical weekly produce haul from Aldi looks like…though not usually this neatly laid out.  😉

Aldi produce air drying

After I do the main load of produce, I soak the delicate and large items for about 10 minutes.  Putting melons and squashes in the produce bath may seem odd, but it gets rid of any Salmonella that may be lurking on the rind waiting to get in when you cut it open.  Here’s a link to a study that showed essential oils to be highly effective at removing Salmonella from industrial equipment.  Just be sure to get every side of the melons in the bath water.  And again, don’t forget to rinse!

Make sure the whole head of the broccoli and cauliflower

Make sure the whole head of the broccoli and cauliflower is immersed in the bath for at least 5 minutes.  This can be tricky because they want to float on their sides.

Wash delicates last to avoid squishing them.

Wash delicate produce, like raspberries, separately to avoid squishing them.

Yes, I even soak my bananas, because I have an irrational fear of banana spiders.... :)

Yes, I even soak my bananas, because I have an irrational fear of banana spiders hatching out of them…. I have confidence the oils will kill their eggs, and/or they’ll drown.  🙂

I think the before and after pictures of the sink water paints a pretty good picture of just how much junk is coming off in the produce bath.  It gets me every time.  Yuck…





There’s an added bonus.  Washing your produce like this automatically cleans your sink and drain!  Just let all that dirty water out and give it a little rinse with the faucet.  You’re left with a shiny, citrus-fresh basin.  Seriously, it smells so good!

essential oils for cleaning sink

Another interesting side effect of using citrus oils on your produce is that they make it really evident if something is rotting.  Take these strawberries, for instance.  I looked over all the strawberries before putting them in the bath that day, and didn’t see anything obviously wrong with any of them.  Yet, when I rinsed them off I noticed a good portion of them had rotten spots like this…

This one wasn't so bad.

This one wasn’t so bad.

The inside was still good.  Just a bad spot that needed to be cut off.

The inside was still good. I just cut off the bad spot.

This one didn't look too bad on the outside.

This one didn’t look too bad on the outside.

But the inside was clearly rotting.  Yikes!

But the inside was clearly rotting. Yikes!

Pre-citrus oil bath, I might have taken a big ol’ bite out of that strawberry.  Gross.  I’m not sure exactly why the oils make these rotten spots more obvious, but it’s pretty handy that they do.  Sometimes you just grab a bad bunch of fruit.

Alright penny pinchers, here’s what you’ve been waiting for: the price breakdown.

A 15ml bottle of Lemon Oil is $11 and a 15ml of Orange Oil is $8.50.

There are approximately 250 drops of oil in every 15ml bottle.

Lemon Oil cost calculation: $11/250 drops = .04 cents/drop.

Orange Oil cost calculation: $8.50/250 = .03 cents/drop.

If you wash in a half sink like I do, with 10 drops max that’s 30-40 cents.

I bought a big 32 ounce bottle of Dr. Bronner’s a couple years ago, and I still haven’t used it up (and I use it for more than just produce washing) – it’s $17.29 well spent.

There are 192 teaspoons in a 32 ounce bottle.  $17.29/192 teaspoons = .09 cents/teaspoon.

Rounding up, that’s 40 cents of oil + 10 cents of soap = 50 cents.

So max, this method costs you 50 cents per produce bath.  I usually only do one produce bath a week.  A pretty cheap way to get rid of pesticides!

A 15ml bottle usually lasts me a solid 4 or 5 months – and we wash a lot of produce at our mostly whole foods eating household!

Plus citrus oils are great for cleaning, easing morning sickness/indigestion/heartburn, liver cleanses, circulatory problems, acne, weight loss, and lots more.  Like I said at the beginning, essential oils are a versatile, worthwhile investment.  🙂

Happy cleaning!


A side note on buying essential oils:

I do not sell essential oils, because I’m not a fan of multilevel marketing (MLM) schemes.  I buy all my oils through Rocky Mountain Oils (who merged with Native American Nutritionals, so the oils are the same no matter which company you order from).  They sell 100% pure, therapeutic grade oils just like the big MLM companies (DoTerra and Young Living Oils); I’ve tried the MLM oils and I can tell you the quality/results seem exactly the same as Rocky Mountain Oils’ stuff.  I love that RMO gives full disclosure on where/how all their oils are sourced, and that they do third party testing on every batch for quality.  And I super love that they source a lot of their oils from local, small organic farmers around the world through fair trade practices.  Plus their prices aren’t marked up to compensate salespeople, so you get oils at a lower cost.  My oils have always arrived in perfect condition within two business days, and I’ve never had any problems reaching customer service right away if I’ve had questions.  Also, unlike some of the bigger companies, RMO seems to almost never have oils out of stock.  So you can get what you need when you need it.  Just had to throw my two cents out there.  😉

What Christians Should Think About Vaccines

I’m sorry if the title is misleading.  You see, I’m not going to tell you which side of the whole vaccine controversy I think is correct.  What I wanted to say is that I don’t think it matters who’s right and who’s wrong.  Not on a spiritual level.

There have been some heated discussions and harsh statuses filling up my Facebook feed lately thanks to the Disneyland-Measles incident. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about people being able to voice their opinions.  I think that debates can be a really great thing.  Debates are structured arguments.  Each side has allocated time to speak, must stay on topic, and any interjections are heavily controlled. People can learn a lot from each other through a proper debate.  However, I see very few debates on Facebook.  What I see are people bickering.

What I find particularly interesting is that most of the trash talking is being done by Christians.  Non-Christians (at least in my Facebook world) have been a lot more cordial with each other.  As a Christian, I find that a bit alarming.  It’s almost as if each side believes God is backing them, which in turn makes anyone of a different mindset essentially unrighteous.  It sounds extreme when you write it out like that, but take a look at how people have been talking.  I think the depiction is fairly accurate.

Regardless of what branch of Christianity you belong to, I think we can all agree that one of the main things God and Jesus and the prophets and the apostles (i.e., all the big guns) have been getting at since the beginning of humanity is that we should LOVE each other.  We should especially love our enemies.  We should also especially love our brothers and sisters in Christ.  I don’t even think I need to list verses for you.  This is like Bible 101.

Let me reiterate: it is good to have opinions.  It is bad to care more about your opinions than about another human being.  Being right and/or convincing everyone else they’re wrong is not the end goal of life.  We are supposed to be striving to love everyone in all situations.  That is DIFFICULT.  We all fail.  We all know that.

It is easy to forget that the two sides of any debate are made up of human beings.  Even if we wholeheartedly disagree with those human beings’ opinions, they are no less human.  Even if we feel that those people’s decisions impose on our “freedoms” as Americans (or whatever nationality you are), they are still no less human.  We are no less obliged to try to love them.  If anything, we should be trying to love them more.

Let’s treat each other with respect.  Let’s seek to live peacefully.  Let’s ask and trust God to care for our families when we feel we cannot protect them from all the terrible things in this world.  Let’s choose love, no matter the earthly cost.

Early Elementary Homeschooling in 30 Minutes a Day

If I’ve learned anything from homeschooling, it’s that there’s no one “right” way to do it.  Every parent is different.  Every child is different.  Every child is different at different ages.  Every season of life as a family is different.  All these differences factor in to how your family approaches homeschooling at any given time.  Your overriding philosophies may not changes a whole lot, but how learning and teaching actually play out will probably evolve/adapt over time.

With that in mind, I still find it really helpful to read about how other families approach homeschooling.  So I wanted to share our current curriculum, methods, and philosophies with you.  And most importantly lay out how we do all our homeschooling in 30 minutes or less a day.

My oldest son is six, and is currently doing a first grade curriculum.  My second son is four, and is doing kindergarten work…though technically he is not old enough to be registered for kindergarten with the state.  But that’s the beauty of homeschooling: you can teach them when they’re ready.  My youngest son is 18 months and is still learning how to run without falling on his face.  Didn’t want to leave anyone out.  😉

Let’s start by laying out the four main philosophies my husband and I have landed on when it comes to education.

1) Early education is all about exposure.  We try to introduce the kids to a wide variety of subjects.  We don’t go into a lot of detail, unless the kids are particularly interested in the subject and ask for more information.  The theory is that the more ideas kids are exposed to early on, the easier it will be for them to deeply understand and make connections between those ideas when they are reexamined later on.

2) Learning to read well can be the foundation of any educational path.  If you can read, you can teach yourself anything.  Obviously we have no personal experience with homeschooling teens, but our plan is to essentially have the kids teach themselves.  We will be there to guide them, and provide assistance where necessary.  However, if they know the subject matter they need to learn for any given school year (there are local, state, and national standards that everyone is supposed to be meeting), we feel there is no reason why they can’t read about those subjects and teach themselves.  Knowing how to learn something on your own does not come naturally to everyone.  The more you practice it, the easier it will be.  This method teaches self-discipline, and ultimately gives the child confidence in their ability to achieve whatever they set their minds on achieving in life.  If you can teach yourself, you can learn to do just about anything.

3) Education should be worked into every day life.  We believe that education should be more than just worksheets and tests.  It’s one of the main reasons we decided to homeschool.  We feel that there is much for children to learn by just being invited in on every day adult activities.  As Albert Einstein wisely said, “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”  When I’m cooking, I sometimes ask the kids if they’d like to help.  We talk about what goes into a recipe, how those ingredients work together the way they do, and why sanitation is important – surface level chemistry and intro to cooking.  If my husband is working in the garden, he’ll invite the boys to join him.  They discuss how shovels are levers, how plants grow, what the earth is made of, the nutrients and energy our foods give us, how to calculate the number of plants that can fit in a given area, how to measure the distance between plants, etc. – plenty of science and math lessons there.  At the store the kids can practice estimating prices and adding up our cart total, or figuring out if they have enough money in their wallets to buy a certain item – shopping is a great forum for math.  🙂  Working lessons into these everyday things doesn’t take a lot of extra effort.  Learning seems practical and natural to children in these situations.  It teaches them to ask lots of questions.  They can even feel helpful while learning.  A lot of times when you bring kids in on your activities you end up learning new things together, which is always pretty sweet.  There’s value in letting our children see us continuing to learn too.

4) Let them play.  Especially when kids are young.  It still amazes me how much of our school lessons gets worked into my children’s imaginary play.  Recently, our science lesson on vacuums (outer space being a prime example) led to one of them asking about planets, which led to many meal-time discussions on space.  Now when they play everything is disappearing into black holes, and a lot of their Angry Birds have made trips to “the hot planet” (Mercury) or the rings on Saturn or even into the red storm on Jupiter.  Letting them play with those ideas reinforces the information we’ve covered.  Of course they don’t fully understand it.  They don’t need to.  The ideas have been put out there and are now swirling around in their heads.  It’s important that they have enough time to process all that information through play.  This is why our actual sit-down school time is 30 minutes or less every day.  The rest of the time I let them play and explore; that’s when a lot of real learning happens anyway.

Now for an overview of our methodologies and the resources we use for each year: preschool through 2nd grade.


For preschool we focus mainly on the alphabet and phonics – i.e., priming the kids for reading.  Sesame Street
is my favorite supplemental tool.  It’s free, it can easily be worked into a morning routine, and the kids learn effortlessly.  There are even old episodes on Amazon Prime and Netflix.  If you’re looking to cover a particular letter, there’s a Sesame Street Show Guide where you can search for “letter _x_” and it will bring up the episodes that cover that letter.  It couldn’t be easier.

Additionally, we used the book Teach Me Mommy by Jill Dunford.  You can buy a copy on Amazon for about $4 – I love cheap resources!  🙂  It covers a ton of subject matter, and includes lots of hands-on activity ideas.

Teach Me Mommy

We generally do one of those lessons a week, or spread the lesson out depending on how interested the child was with the subject.  I love this book because it provides such broad exposure to so many things, but each lesson can easily be stretched out to include more detail if your child is interested.

We also touch on numbers, shapes, and colors.  But only in as much as it comes up naturally during play.

I have also found Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (Netflix and PBS) and old Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood episodes (Amazon Prime) to be very helpful for teaching basic life skills, like how to share and how to calm down when you’re angry.  Really great lessons to start focusing on for any parent, homeschooling or not.  A semi-unfortunately side effect, for me at least, is that I end up singing those Daniel Tiger songs more than I care to admit. “When you have to go potty, STOP, and go right away….”  If you sang that in your head, you already know what I’m talking about. 😉


We use “kindergarten” rather loosely in our home.  Basically it’s the time when we begin teaching the child to read.  With our boys it’s been obvious when they are ready, because they just straight up asked us to teach them how to do it.  For both, it was around their 4th birthday.  This will vary for every child, and I think we as parents shouldn’t read too much into the timing of things.  It doesn’t mean your child is “behind” if they aren’t ready to read as soon as another person’s child.  Your child is focusing on learning other things.  My kids don’t ask to use coloring books or scissors much, and thus are pretty bad at coloring in the lines and cutting things out.  I’m tempted to feel that they’re behind in those skills sometimes.  Especially when I see other kids making perfectly colored pictures, and cutting and pasting projects together like champs.  In reality, my kids just aren’t focused on that.  Those skills will come with time.  They aren’t completely inept, and they have regular exposure to those activities.  They just don’t care a lot about doing that well right now. And that’s OK. I have seen this reading thing become an issue.  If you’ve spent the previous year or so focusing on phonics, sooner or later your kid is going to want to put the pieces together.

When our kids were ready to read, we helped them learn using the book The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons by Michael Levin and Charan Langton.  It’s basically the same as Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann and Phyllis Haddox, the lessons are just broken down differently.  You can get either book for somewhere between $11 and $20 on Amazon.  The Teach Your Child to Read books cover all the common phonetic sounds, using short stories and little matching games to keep the child’s attention. Most of the other homeschoolers I know have used these books for teaching reading skills with great success.  Although we have collectively noticed that about halfway through the book, kids start getting resistant.  For most kids it seems like the resistance comes when they are on the verge of reading really “clicking”.  Once our kids were over that hump, they breezed through the rest of the lessons.  Just wanted to throw that out there in case anyone else encounters the same problem.

Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Easy Lessons

We don’t focus on much more than reading during our kindergarten year.  For my kids, it has taken them the full year to go from not reading to reading proficiently with little parental assistance.  I think that is incredible progress in a year for a 4 or 5 year old.  Plus, our philosophy necessitates good reading skills as a base for all future homeschooling activities.  So even if they learn absolutely nothing else in this entire year (which is pretty far-fetched for the little sponges), they are still given the basic skill needed to teach themselves just about anything in the future.  We plugged away at the reading lessons as fast or as slow as the child maintained interest.  Some weeks the boys asked to read every day.  But there were also weeks where it felt like pulling teeth to get them to do the bare minimum (which I had designated in my mind as being one sentence for the entire week, just so they would still have some amount of practice).  I never wanted to force them to do too much if they weren’t genuinely interested, because the goal was to foster a love of reading, not to make it feel like a chore.

Another great thing about homeschooling is that the younger kids tend to tune in to what the older kids are learning, so I’ve found they don’t need a lot of supplementation.  However, when my oldest son wanted to learn more during his kindergarten year we purchased What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch and John Holdren.  It covers basic history, geography, art, music, math, science, literature, and so on.  There are lots of pictures, and the content is well laid out.  They actually have these What Your ______ Needs to Know books for every year of elementary school (K-6).  We have the first and second grade versions too, which I like just as much as the kindergarten one.  They are wonderful if you are looking for extra material on a rainy day, or if you just want to make sure you cover all your bases.  It’s a really well done series.

What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know

First Grade

For us, first grade is where things have gotten slightly more complex planning-wise.  If you don’t know me, I LOOOOOVE to plan.  It was super fun for me, in the nerdiest of ways, to plan out my son’s entire first grade school year.  I spent a month researching which books I wanted to use, bought them, and then spent many evenings deciding exactly how to spread out the lessons over 40 weeks.  I wrote everything out in my lovely House of Doolittle Teachers Planner.  I loved every second.  Organizing satisfies some kind of primal urge in my soul.  My husband thinks I’m nuts. 🙂

First Grade Planner

However, the result of my organizing madness is what will hopefully be a great resource for other homeschoolers who are less planning-minded.  Or at the very least, it might give you some ideas.  I fully intend to use the exact same year plan with each of my kids.

I will do a follow-up post which will include exactly how I spread the following materials out over the whole school year, in case anyone is interested in seeing it.  For now, I’ll just list the subjects and what resources we use to cover them.

Science: Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2 by Bernard Nebel.  This is hands-down my favorite homeschool book.  I, personally, have learned a lot from going over the material with my kids.  My parents are scientists.  I always felt like I had a good grasp on scientific concepts; always did well in my science classes.  But the way this book lays things out is so simple and logical that it gave me a much fuller understanding.  I’m trying really hard not to overstate anything, but this book really blew me away.

Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding

The only down-side is that, unlike the other books I chose, this book works best when the teacher reads through the lesson ahead of time.  I scheduled our science lessons on Mondays, because I knew at some point during the weekend I would have time to prepare.  It takes me 20 minutes max to read over the lesson, underline the parts I want to focus on, and gather any materials we may need for experiments/demonstrations. I also supplement a lot of the lessons with videos on YouTube (not hard to find some good explanatory clips on there), or Bill Nye The Science Guy videos from the library.  Not counting the prep time, doing the actual science lesson with your child will only take about 15-20 minutes.  Obviously, this time can be extended if the child takes an interest in something and wants to continue discussing it.  This happens a lot in our house, and we end up watching extra YouTube videos or repeating the experiments because the kids thought they were cool.

The broad breakdown of the subjects covered in the book are: the nature of matter, life science, physical science, and earth and space science.  It’s kind of insane to me that my 4 and 6-year-olds grasp concepts like particles, vacuums, energy, and chemical reactions.  This book is for K-2, and is the first in a series (there are two more volumes for grades 3-5 and 6-8, which look equally as good as the first).  We will go through the material during both the first and second grade years, so the kids get a really firm grasp of the subject matter before moving on.

History: The Story of the World: Volume 1: Ancient Times by Susan Wise Bauer.  You can also purchase the Activity Book, Audio CD, and/or the Test and Answer Key Book to go along with the main book.  Our library has these extras, and we’ve used them from time to time.  Overall I didn’t feel any of them were worth purchasing, but I have friends who have bought them for their kids and use them all the time.  If your library, or a friend, has a copy of the extras they are definitely worth looking into.  You have to decide what will work for your family.  What we use the most are the coloring pages in the back of the activity book.  I just photocopied them and have the boys color while I read the corresponding chapter.  It seems to really help them focus on what I’m reading.  But you could probably find similarly themed coloring pages online and print them off just as easily.

I love all the books that Susan Wise Bauer and her daughter, Jessie Wise, have written.  Using them requires little to no preparation, and the kids love the material.  They use the classical approach to educating, and their Well-Trained Mind website has a ton of great resources along with a nice explanation of what Classical Education entails.

The chapters in The Story of the World generally take 10 minutes to read.  We do a chapter a week.  When we’re done reading I try to review the key points with the kids, point out the places we were talking about on our world map (reminding them where we are in relation to that area), maybe watch a YouTube video that goes along with the lesson, and that’s pretty much it.

Story of the World: Volume 1

The book reads like a story.  I’ve been impressed by how much the kids have recalled from the lessons, even months later.  There are four volumes in the Story of the World series.  My plan is to go through one each year, and then in 5th grade to start over and do each of them again.  This first time through is for broad exposure to history and the gist of what happened in what order.  The idea being that they’ll be able to remember that much more detail about events when we go over it again in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades.  Maybe we’ll even do them again in high school.  These books are definitely a worthwhile investment, and can be used over and over with every kid.

Art: Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga.  We do one of these projects a week.  There are 110 lessons in the book.  I chose a random 40 to fill up our current school year.  I think this is a great book for an elementary school aged kid, possibly even junior high and high school.  You could just try to make the projects more detailed/challenging as the child gets older.  For the early elementary years we use this book as a way to expose the kids to all the different mediums and techniques, and to familiarize them with the names and works of famous artists.

Discovering Great Artists

Each project is based on a well-known artist’s work.  There is a short paragraph containing a mini-biography of the artist and an explanation of their type of artistry.  The kids seem to pay attention when I read it, but I’m not sure how of that that information actually sticks with them at this point.  The only artists my boys remember are the ones with Ninja Turtle counterparts.  However, we have all loved every single project we’ve done from the book.  They are very straight forward.  As long as you have the materials on hand, they require no prep work either.  These authors also have a handful of other neat kid art books that you can check out on Amazon or at your local library.

Math: Math in Minutes: Easy Activities for Children Ages 4-8 by Sharon MacDonald.  I wouldn’t say that I use this book as a math curriculum, so much as I use the activity ideas in it to go along with what I’m teaching.  I outlined our math plan for the year using local, state, and national standards lists.  IXL is a great online resource for finding your state’s math standards.  IXL also lists national math standards for each grade.

While Math in Minutes covers most of the standards, it’s not the type of book you can just work straight through.  It’s a collection of hands-on activities that can be used to help your child understand a concept better.

Math in Minutes

A lot of these activity ideas can be found by searching something like “first grade math” on Pinterest or Google.  Still, this book has great activities that my kids have enjoyed.  It’s at least worth flipping through if you can find it at your library.

Geography: Beginning Geography, K-2 by Evan-Moor.  This book is meant to be photocopied.  Every lesson is a worksheet or a coloring page.  I only copied some of the coloring pages.  For the rest of them, I felt it was sufficient to have my kids point at the right answers on the maps instead of drawing a line to them as the instructions called for.  I don’t like wasting paper.  Or dragging three kids to a copy store.  🙂

Beginning Geography

As nice as the book is, I don’t plan to reuse it during second grade.  The subject matter is very basic, and my son picked up on it really quickly.  It mainly covers how to read a map, the continents and oceans, all the basic landforms and bodies of water, and important geography vocabulary.  Our geography lessons last maybe 5 minutes.  He does learn a lot from the book, but it just doesn’t seem like he’ll need a refresher next year.  I like having the book on-hand, but again, you could probably find a lot of this same material online if you’d rather.

Language Arts: First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 1 by Jessie Wise, and Handwriting Without Tears by Jan Olsen.  I’ve been told I fall under the category of “Grammar Police” by many a friend.  That may be why I enjoy First Language Lessons so much – it is all about grammar.  Initially, I thought first grade seemed a bit soon to be starting grammar lessons.  Once we started doing them though, I could see how easy the concepts were for my son.  I wish it had been broken down so simply for me as a kid.

First Language Lessons: Volume 1

These lessons are very short, and feel kind of like reading through a play.  In my planner I have us covering three lessons each week, but they’re so quick that we usually do all three at once. And it still takes less than 20 minutes. Amazing!  I have already bought Level 2 for next year.  🙂

As I mentioned earlier, one area where my boys are lacking a little is in their fine motor skills.  I’m sure eventually I can persuade them to care about making their handwriting legible.  Handwriting Without Tears has certainly helped a lot in my quest.  I bought each of the boys the workbook for their grade level (they have printing for Pre-K through 2nd, and cursive for 3rd and 4th).  They are slowly but surely working their way through.

Handwriting Without Tears

I don’t really have HWT worked into our lesson plans.  Since sitting down and practicing letters is not their favorite thing to do, I shoot for having them do a couple pages a week as they seem up for it.  There is also a Handwriting Without Tears Teacher’s Guide for each level, but we have gotten along fine without one; the workbook pages are pretty self-explanatory.  I do have friends that like the Teacher’s Guides, so it’s something to check out if you are focusing more seriously on handwriting than we are.

Side note: If you’re curious about the cost of homeschooling, I spent $93.76 for all these books (all bought either new or in good used condition on Amazon).  Most of them will cover a lot more than one year of schooling, and all of them can/will be used again on all my kids.  Many school districts will reimburse you for the cost of your books.  Plus, when you’re done with them you can sell them.  In my opinion, it’s really not that much for a few years of good education.

Second Grade

Remember how I like to plan things?  Well, we haven’t hit second grade with our kids yet, but I already have the year mapped out.  🙂  Here’s what we’ll be using:

Science: Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding: A Science Curriculum for K-2 by Bernard Nebel.  Yep, some as first grade.  We’ll go into more detail this time around.

History: The Story of the World: Volume 2: The Middle Ages by Susan Wise Bauer.  Love it for all the same reasons I loved the first volume.

Art: Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga.  Since we only covered 40 of the 110 projects in first grade, we’re going to keep working our way through the book in second grade.

Math:  I have chosen to not use a book for this subject.  We’ll be using resources like IXL to determine what math concepts need to be covered, and supplementing those lessons with activities from sites like Pinterest.

Geography/Social Studies: Since geography basics were covered so well in first grade, this year we are going to focus on learning about each of the continents in detail.  We’ll use both online resources and books from the library to learn about the different cultures, languages, politics, wildlife, and terrain in each area.

Language Arts: First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 2 by Jessie Wise.  More excellent lessons in grammar.  Love it!


There it is.  Three whole years of schooling packed into a single blog post.  The individual lessons take less than 30 minutes a day.  Some days we don’t do anything.  Other times the kids feel ambitious (like when they want the rest of the week off for holidays or vacation), and we cram a week of lessons into a couple hours of school time in one day.  I know there are many approaches to homeschooling, and I’m sure ours will change a bit over time.  My main objective was to show that homeschooling does not have to be an all day affair, nor does it need to be part of a routine.  We do our schoolwork when it works for us, which changes every day, and we do as much or as little as we want at a time.  We still cover all the school-level requirements and then some.

What I love the most about this approach to homeschooling is that it frees us to do so many other things.  I’m not worried about missing our school time, because it’s really easy to make up a 10 minute lesson some other time during the week.  Personality-wise, I love that I have a plan and that my plan allows me to be flexible.  Not everyone will feel the same way.  But on the chance that we are kindred spirits, I hope this post has given you a good picture of how you can teach your child in just 30 minutes (or less!) a day.

Losing A Mind

Six months.  Wow.  Has it really been that long since I last posted anything?  I can’t even wrap my mind around how quickly the time has gone by.  My apologies to anyone who was waiting for me to post more about dye-free restaurants, etc.  I started many drafts, but never finished.  My life of late has been majorly sidetracked.  I’ve decided it’s worthwhile to write about it, as I’m sure there are others out there who find themselves in similar circumstances.  Perhaps this can be encouraging, or at least empathizing.

My mother has dementia.  In a few months she’ll be 58.  Her mental capabilities have been slowly, steadily declining over the last 12 years.  Over the last six years she has had more significant and obvious memory loss.  About three years ago I began noticing her struggling physically as well.  She can no longer open the car door or turn on a faucet. She can’t change her clothes on her own, and she can barely use a fork.  Either she doesn’t remember how, or her body is simply failing to complete the tasks her brain is telling it to do – I am not sure which.  It is endlessly frustrating for her, and it is heartbreaking to watch.

“Heartbreaking” doesn’t seem to quite encompass everything.  But I don’t know what other word to use to describe the immense discouragement and sadness and despair I have experienced.  Being unable to stop a once vibrant person from fading away does feel like it breaks something inside of you.  Maybe heartbreaking is the best way to describe it…

The heartbreak was served with an unexpected side of envy; maybe a touch of bitterness too.  Most of my friends are in the same life stage as I am: the house-full-of-littles stage.  There are days when just surviving the day with all of them is all you can accomplish.  I think any other mom can attest to that.  I’ve found it’s terribly painful for me when I hear about my friends’ moms helping them.  My kids will never have “Grandma Days”.  I will never have Mother-Daughter Fun Days.  I don’t get free babysitting, or have anyone bringing me chicken noodle soup and kleenex when I’m sick.  It’s challenging to not feel jealous, to not want what my friends have.  I’m not idealizing that they have a perfect relationship with their moms, I’m sure having your mom around a lot can come with its own difficulties.  I would just like to know what that’s like.  It seems nice.

In a lot of ways, these feelings I have about my mother are probably similar to what someone would feel if they were grieving for a parent who had passed away.  The more I have let myself feel those things and process through those emotions, the easier it has gotten to live with it.  Maybe I’ve finally hit the acceptance stage.  The mother I once had is no longer here.  That person has passed.  That’s reality.  It’s not the reality I want, but it is what it is.

Now back to my current reality…

I’ve known for a while now that she has needed more assistance.  However, family members are not always on the same page, and those can be some weird and uncomfortable waters to navigate.  Some people were/are in denial of just how bad her current situation is.  One of those people happens to be her husband, my stepfather.  This makes getting anything done (without going to court, which I’m still hoping to avoid) extremely difficult.  The last six months of my life have been spent trying to convince him she needs help.  And when he denies it, to offer my own help in lieu of professional help.

I am not able to help my mother as often or as extensively as I wish I could.  I have felt very guilty about that.  I have done as much as I can, while trying to maintain my own family as my top priority.  I have to regularly remind myself that I should not feel badly for putting my husband and our three children before her.  They are my primary obligation in life.  But little kids are pretty good at sucking up time and energy.  I find myself wishing she had reached this stage before we had babies, because then I might actually be useful.  As things are now, I feel like I’m just sticking a bandaids on a gaping wound; knowing it’s really not making a lasting difference, but thinking it’s better than nothing.

I used to have her over to my house a lot.  Since she couldn’t hold a job with her memory issues, she would just come hang out with me and the kids.  And when she stopped being able to drive herself, I would pick her up for the day.  Having her here became increasingly difficult to manage.  She gets paranoid and disoriented, and I started questioning whether it was good for the kids to be around her so much.  She would try to pick up the baby, not really remembering how, and nearly drop him.  She would grab one of the older boys as he was running by, squeeze his arm hard, and stutter through a scolding for running and yelling (i.e. being a normal little boy).  It was confusing and saddening for the kids.

She also started needing a lot of physical help with everyday things, like walking up stairs and using the bathroom.  It was tricky for me to help her with all those things and still watch the boys, particularly the one year old who loves getting into everything the second my back is turned. I started picking her up less and less, because the thought of having to watch her was overwhelming. I fell into a guilt spiral over that.  I was minorly depressed.  It all felt just too sad and hopeless.  I felt like a worthless daughter.

In an effort to assuage my guilt, I dug deeper into studying dementia.  I had started researching early onset dementia causes years ago.  There are a lot of intriguing ideas out there.  The one that stuck out to me the most was nutrition.  So many studies have shown a strong link between poor nutrition and dementia.  A lot of the chemicals in our food damage the thyroid and cause major hormone imbalances.  A malfunctioning thyroid alone can cause the same symptoms as dementia.  Combine that with low levels of vitamin B12 or iodine, or not getting enough good fats or not drinking enough water – well, that could just be a recipe for disaster.

I started feeding my mother a special diet based on what I’d read.  Lots of avocados, eggs, almonds, greek yogurt, fruits and vegetables, vitamins, supplements, and as much water as I could get her to drink.  She got better.  Yes, you read that right.  She was getting better!  Keep in mind, I was only having her over 3-4 days a week.  But after the first week she was markedly better at communicating.  She had gotten to the point where she could only stutter out a few words at a time and gesture to get you to guess the rest.  It was as if she knew what she wanted to say, but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate.  By the end of that first week, she could speak a full sentence again.  After the second week she started reading random words around the house; she hadn’t been able to read anything for well over a year.  I was convinced nutrition was the key.

It was a simultaneously encouraging and depressing discovery for me.  I had finally found something that helped her, something that could potentially “cure” her as much as she could still be cured.  BUT I couldn’t feed her every meal or even have her come over every day.  The diet changes wouldn’t matter unless they could be enforced consistently.  I kept doing what I could, and she kept getting slightly better.

My husband and I finally had a mini-intervention with my stepfather, and at least halfway convinced him that she needed daily professional assistance.  Last month we were able to get my mother signed up for an adult day center.  She is a major extrovert, and LOVES that she gets to be around people all day.  No more sitting at home alone staring at the TV all day.  She also gets more consistent nutrition.  The food is not quite at the level of what I had been giving her, but it IS every day.

This was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.  I know this day center is not the full or final solution.  In spite of the ongoing saga, I’ve been given a little breathing room. I can take time to do some of the things I want to do, and not feel selfish.  Like writing here.  I enjoy this, and I have missed it.  Here’s to hoping it will not be another six months before I write again.  🙂

Dye-Free Cake Decorating

Star Wars Angry Birds birthday cake with naturally dyed frosting.

For our family, the most challenging times to eat dye-free are holidays and birthdays.  We’ve been conditioned to think brighter is better.  More colors = more fun.  I think that’s the main reason people think our kids are missing out on “the fun of childhood” when we turn down artificially colored things.

But here’s one of the great things about kids – if it’s sweet, they think it’s a treat.  🙂

I LOOOOOOVE birthdays.  And holidays.  And basically any occasion for which you could throw a party and celebrate something with loved ones.  Decorating, baking, organizing, friends, family.  All the things I love!  Naturally, I had to figure out a way to continue to incorporate some colors into our celebratory foods.  Especially the kids’ birthday cakes.

I want to share with you my tried and true natural food dyes for frosting, fondant, and batter.  They’ll work on any of them. Keep in mind the colors will not be as bright as artificial colors, but I’ve never heard a complaint about the shade of these natural dyes.

This is the basic vanilla buttercream frosting recipe that I always use.  It’s quick, easy, and you can even make flavor variations like orange, almond, and cinnamon if that’s how you like to roll.

If you haven’t yet tried making marshmallow fondant, I highly recommend it.  It’s really not that hard.  Stacy, my sweet friend and owner of The Welch Cupcakery, has a great Marshmallow Fondant Tutorial.  She graciously walked me through the process before she had the tutorial. Check out her blog, and learn from the master.  She has tons of great tips on cake making.  🙂

Marshmallow fondants colored with raspberries, carrots, turmeric, and chocolate.

Prepared marshmallow fondants chilling in the fridge.  I love things you can do ahead of time!

Used the fondant to make Star Wars Angry Birds cupcake toppers for my son's birthday party.  Not too shabby for winging it.  :)

Used the fondant to make Star Wars Angry Birds cupcake toppers for my son’s birthday party. (Please don’t judge my artistic skills too harshly. The kids thought they were cool…)

List of Natural Food Dyes

RED/PINK – Raspberries or Beets.  (I think beets can leave a bit of an odd aftertaste, but some people don’t notice it.  Probably depends on how much you’re using, but I prefer raspberries.  You won’t get a deep red using these natural colorants, but you’ll get a pinkish red if you use a lot.  Use a little and you’ll get a nice light pink color – perfect for princess cakes!)

How to: Raspberries – Put a handful of fresh or thawed raspberries in some cheesecloth and squeeze the juice out into a bowl.  If you don’t have cheese cloth, you can squish your berries up in a bowl and stir in a little hot water, or heat the berries in some water in a saucepan on the stove.  Try to filter out any chunks of berry before adding it to frosting or fondant.  Beets – Same as raspberries.

ORANGE – Carrot Juice.  (Usually found with all the other health juices, like Naked Juice, Bolthouse Farms, etc.  Since it only comes in larger bottles, and I don’t care to drink it straight, I usually freeze what’s left in ice cube trays and store it for next time.)

How to: Pour it straight into your frosting/fondant/batter a little at a time until you reach the desired color.  Too much juice may make buttercream frosting a little chunky.

YELLOW – Turmeric.  (Found with the spices.)

How to: Sprinkle a little turmeric directly into your frosting/fondant/batter.  A little goes a long ways.  Too much will give it a strange aftertaste, so err on the “light” side.

GREEN – Avocado, Matcha Tea Powder, or Green Health Juice.  (Matcha can be expensive and vary in color. Yours doesn’t have to be the most expensive, but just make sure you’re not buying a brown one.  Or, obviously, your food won’t turn green.  Personally, I dug the avocado frosting I made, but my husband wasn’t a huge fan.  My favorite thing to use is Green Juice, like Naked Juice’s Green Machine.)

How to: Avocado – Smash it up until it’s a very smooth consistency, then add it a little at a time to whatever you’re coloring. I used about half an avocado to color a batch of buttercream frosting that covered about two dozen cupcakes.  Matcha – Add the powder directly into your frosting/fondant/batter.  It tasted a little like tea, but nobody seemed to mind it.  Green Juice – Pour it straight into frosting/fondant/batter.  Too much juice may make buttercream frosting a little chunky.

BLUERed Cabbage.

How to: Boil sliced up red cabbage leaves in some water for about 15 minutes.  Strain out the leaves, then let it boil down (reduce) until it is a syrupy consistency.  It will be purple, and you can use it as is for purple dye.  To make it blue add in tiny pinches of baking soda until it turns blue.  I’ve heard if you put in too much baking soda it’ll turn green, but I haven’t tried this myself (plus too much baking soda seems like it might taste weird).  You don’t need much of this syrup to make a good blue.  The rest can be frozen in ice cube trays and used another time.

PURPLE – Blueberries or Red Cabbage.

How to: Blueberries – Same as raspberries/beets under RED. Red Cabbage – See approach used in BLUE.

BROWN – Chocolate Powder.

How to: Stir chocolate powder into your frosting/fondant/batter a little at a time until you reach your desired shade of brown.  Don’t be afraid to go dark….there’s no such thing as too much chocolate.  😉

WHITE – Add nothing.  Buttercream frosting is off-white, and marshmallow fondant is bright white.

BLACK AND GRAY – Activated Charcoal Powder. (Sounds gross, but doesn’t really taste like anything.  And it is totally safe to eat.)

How to: Break open a capsule of Activated Charcoal and pour it into your frosting/fondant/batter a little at a time until you get your desired shade.


India Tree makes some great dye-free sprinkles.

India Tree makes some great dye-free sprinkles.

If you are looking for an easy way to add color, or maybe just a little extra flair, to your cakes you should try these dye-free sprinkles from India Tree.  We’ve had ours for two years now and still have about half a jar of each left. They seem kind of pricy at first, but they’ll last you a long time.  Some dye-free luxuries are worth it.  We use them on cupcakes, cakes, ice cream, and even our homemade yogurt.  Sprinklesssssss!

Have fun playing with your natural food colors!

Safe Fast Food: Dye-Free Dining at Starbucks

As a former locally-owned coffee shop manager and barista, I use to be a Starbucks hater.  Until I had kids and they were the only coffee place on my side of town with a drive thru.  Desperate times…  😉

I’m thankful I finally gave them a try, because Starbucks actually has one of the most dye-free menus of all the fast food restaurants.  Plus, there are apparently more Starbucks than McDonald’s in America now – so you should be able to find a good dye-free option on just about any outing.  Woooo!

I love what they have to offer, but for some reason Starbucks has made it extra difficult to look up food ingredient information on their website.  They also don’t list any drink ingredients.  I even contacted the company asking for a list, but they claimed that they did not have a more concise listing than what was on the website.  *sigh*  So I spent quite a bit of time digging through their online menu and searching the internet to determine safe foods for our list.  Frustrating…but totally worth it!  So many yummy choices!

Here are Starbucks’ dye-free foods:

Bakery Foods
Banana Nut Bread
Berry Croissant Blossom
Blueberry Scone
Blueberry Yogurt Muffin with Honey
Caramel Pecan Sticky Bun
Carrot Cake Muffin with Pecans
Cheese Danish
Cheesecake Brownie
Chocolate Cake Pop* (BHT)
Chocolate Chip Cookie
Chocolate Croissant
Classic Coffee Cake
Cranberry Orange Scone
Devil’s Food Doughnut
Everything with Cheese Bagel
Evolution Harvest Bars (all kinds listed online were dye-free)
Flourless Chewy Chocolate Cookie
Gluten-Free Marshmallow Dream Bar
Greek Honey Parfait
Greek Yogurt Raspberry Lemon Parfait
Ham & Cheese Savory Square
Iced Lemon Pound Cake
Michigan Cherry Oat Bar
Morning Bun
Multigrain Bagel
Oatmeal Cookie
Petite Vanilla Bean Scone
Plain Bagel
Pumpkin Bread
Reduced-Fat Berry Coffee Cake with Lemon Crumble
Salted Caramel Cake Pop* (BHT)
Sausage Croissant Roll
Seasonal Harvest Fruit Blend
Strawberry Blueberry Parfait
Tomato & Cheese Savory Square
Wheat Spinach Savory Square


Breakfast Foods
Classic Whole-Grain Oatmeal
Hearty Blueberry Oatmeal
Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon Breakfast Sandwich
Slow-Roasted Ham & Swiss Breakfast Sandwich
Spinach & Feta Breakfast Wrap


Lunch & Dinner Foods
Chicken & BLT Salad Sandwich
Chicken & Hummus Bistro Box
Chicken Santa Fe Panini
Ham & Swiss Panini
Hearty Veggie & Brown Rice Salad Bowl
Protein Bistro Box
Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella Panini
Turkey & Havarti Sandwich
Turkey Pesto Panini
Turkey Rustico Panini
Zesty Chicken & Black Bean Salad Bowl


As I said earlier, Starbucks doesn’t list their drinks’ ingredient information.  Here is their legal disclaimer about it: “Allergen information is currently unavailable online for our beverage selections.  If you have an allergen concern, please feel free to ask our baristas to check the ingredient labels or call 1-800-235-2883 for more information.  Please note: we cannot guarantee that any of our beverages are allergen free because we use shared equipment and handle allergens throughout the store.”

I was still able to scour the internet and figure out the ingredients for the majority of their drinks.  But it’s always best to double check.  In my experience, Starbucks’ baristas are very understanding and accommodating of my kids’ “food dye allergy”.  Don’t be afraid to ask about what’s in your drink! 🙂

Bottled Drinks
Starbucks Discoveries – Caramel Macchiato, Caffe Mocha, and Vanilla Latte
Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso
Starbucks Frappuccino – Caramel, Coffee, Mocha, and Vanilla
Starbucks Frappuccino Limited Editions – Mint Mocha
Starbucks Iced Coffee – Coffee + Milk, and Vanilla
Starbucks Refreshers Energy Drinks (Dye-Free, but these have Questionable ingredients – I wouldn’t buy them)
Tazo Teas – all are dye-free


Hot Beverages
Brewed Coffees
Caffe Americano (espresso + water)
Caffe Latte (espresso + milk)
Caffe Mocha (espresso + milk + chocolate sauce)
Cappuccino (espresso + milk)
Espresso Macchiato (espresso + steamed milk foam)
Espresso Shot (just espresso)
Steamed Apple Juice
Steamer (steamed milk, usually with a syrup)
Tazo Brewed Teas – all kinds are dye-free
Tazo Tea Latte – Awake, Chai, Chocolate Chai, and Green Tea
Teavana Brewed Teas – all kinds are dye-free
Teavana Tea Latte – Oprah Chai
White Chocolate Mocha (espresso + milk + white chocolate sauce)
White Hot Chocolate


Cold Drinks
Apple Juice
Fizzio Handcrafted Sodas – Golden Ginger Ale, and Lemon Ale
Frappuccino – Coffee, Double Chocolaty Chip, Espresso, Hazlenut, Java Chip, Tazo Chai, Tazo Green Tea, White Chocolate Creme, White Chocolate Mocha
Iced Caffe Americano
Iced Caffe Latte
Iced Caffe Mocha
Iced Coffee
Iced Tazo Teas – all are dye-free
Iced Tazo Tea Lattes – Awake, Chai, Chocolate Chai, and Green Tea
Iced Teavana Lattes – all are dye-free
Iced White Chocolate Mocha
Shaken Teavana Lemonades – all are dye-free
Smoothies – seem OK, but couldn’t find ingredient listings for these anywhere online (I would avoid them!)


For almost any drink at coffee shops you have the option to add in flavors.  Here’s a list of all the syrups that Starbucks allegedly uses that are dye-free.  If you add these, please make sure you have your barista double check the brand and ingredients.  Should be quick and easy for them to figure out. **Please note: all syrups and sauces contain the preservative potassium sorbate, which has been linked to some skin allergic reactions.**

Safe Syrups/Powders
Fontana Almond Syrup
Fontana Bittersweet Chocolate Mocha Sauce (not syrup)
Fontana Caramel Sauce (not syrup)
Fontana Coconut Syrup
Fontana Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mocha Sauce (not syrup)
Fontana White Chocolate Mocha Syrup (not syrup)
Starbucks Classic Syrup (basically just sugar water that mixes more easily with beverages than plain sugar)
Starbucks Mocha Powder
Starbucks Hazelnut Syrup
Starbucks Peppermint Syrup
Starbucks Toffee Nut Syrup


Starbucks in my go-to place for getting dye-free food on the road.  My kids’ favorite things to get are the oatmeal cookies and slow-roasted ham and swiss breakfast sandwich.  Personally, I love anything that involves coffee.  It’s a win for everybody!

Click here to find a Starbucks near you (if you there isn’t one on every other street corner in your town).  😉



I wanted to add that you should beware of buying the “skinny” version of Starbucks drinks.  At most coffee places, skinny just means you want skim milk instead of 2% or whole.  However, some of the skinny drinks listed on Starbucks’ menu use sugar-free syrups and powders too.  Anything with those low-calorie or sugar-free syrups contains the artificial sweetener sucralose (aka Splenda) instead of real sugar.  Sucralose is bad news.  I say skip the syrups all together if you’re that worried about calories.  It’s not worth the risks associated with ingesting sucralose.  Dr. Mercola has a good article on the potential harmful effects of sucralose.  Note that his article is from 2009.  There’s been even more evidence stacking up against sucralose over the past 5 years.  A simple Google search will prove it.  Moral of the story: If you ask for something “skinny”, make sure the barista knows you just mean skim milk.

Safe Fast Food: Dye-Free Dining at Papa Murphy’s Pizza

The first two restaurants in this series, McDonald’s and Arby’s, have been major letdowns as far as finding decent dye-free food when you’re in a hurry. For the third installment I wanted to review a restaurant with lots of safe choices that you can find in almost every state: Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N’ Bake Pizza.

Unfortunately, Papa Murphy’s isn’t the place to go if you’re looking for something you can eat in the car. But it’s a great option when you need a last minute meal or if you need to feed a large group….or when you just don’t feel like cooking.  🙂

Papa Murphy's Pizza

I’m going to set this review up a little differently. Since it’s a pizza place where you can potentially build your own pizza, I’m going to list all the different dye-free ingredients you can mix ‘n’ match. Then I’ll list Papa Murphy’s dye-free signature pizzas, as well as all the extra menu items like salads and desserts. You can also look up the Papa Murphy’s official ingredient list for yourself for more details.

As with all my lists, anything with a *asterisk* contains bad preservatives: TBHQ, BHT, or BHA.  For more information on why these preservatives should be avoided, please scroll to the bottom of my McDonald’s review.

Dye-Free Choices at Papa Murphy’s

Basil Pesto
Buffalo Sauce
Creamy Garlic*
Herb Tomato
Olive Oil & Garlic
Original Pizza Sauce (“Red Sauce”)
Sweet Chili Sauce
(I’d like to make a special note that what Papa Murphy’s calls their “Topping Cheese” contains annatto, an artificial color. However, they will gladly use mozzarella instead upon your request. I’ve never encountered any problems asking for this simple switch.)
Artichoke Hearts
Banana Peppers
Black Olives
Canadian Bacon
Chili Pepper Flakes
Country Style Sausage
Crispy Bacon
Green Chile
Green Olives
Green Onions
Green Peppers
Herb & Cheese Blend
Herb Chicken
Italian Sausage
Pomace Olive Oil
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Zesty Herbs
Salads & Dressings (note: croutons are safe to eat)
Chicken Caesar
Balsamic Vinaigrette
Bleu Cheese Dressing
Country Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
1000 Island Dressing
Italian Dressing
Cookie Dough
Signature Pizzas (FOr all of these, remember to ask for Mozzarella instead of “Topping Cheese” to make it dye-free.)
Big Murphy’s Stuffed*
Chicken Bacon Artichoke deLITE*
Chicken Bacon Ranch*
Chicken Bacon Stuffed*
Gourmet Chicken Garlic*
Gourmet Chicken Garlic deLITE*
Gourmet Classic Italian*
Gourmet Vegetarian*
Herb Chicken Mediterranean deLITE*
Murphy’s Combo*
Papa’s Perfect*
Veggie deLITE*


As you can see, most of their signature pizzas have those bad preservatives we try to avoid (mainly because they contain either Creamy Garlic Sauce or Pepperoni).   That said, we generally opt to build our own pizzas – and they are just as delicious!

Papa Murphy's Ordering

Five reasons you should get yourself a Papa Murphy’s Pizza tonight:

1. Mom gets a night off cooking.  (Yay!)

2. Everyone eats without complaining. (Double yay!!)

3. You can try new topping combos, so everyone gets something they like.

4. Papa Murphy’s always has coupons and specials (as if $10 pizzas weren’t already a fantastic deal).

5. You don’t have to worry about anyone having meltdowns the next day because you ate out!!!

Convinced?  You can find your local Papa Murphy’s here.  We highly recommend it!

Safe Fast Food: Dye-Free Dining at Arby’s

The second restaurant in our “Safe Fast Food Series” is Arby’s, aka my favorite restaurant in college.  Who am I kidding?  I craved their delicious roast beef long after college!

Arby’s was the first restaurant I looked at when we went dye-free.  I remember literally breathing a sigh of relief when I saw that my cherished Classic Roast Beef Sandwich, while admittedly not super healthy, was free of artificial colors. But that was three years ago….

I’m sad to report that my favorite sandwich is no longer dye-free.  Guys, I don’t think you understand, I’m genuinely sad about it.  It was my fall-back fast food meal.  I’m so bummed that I’m going to write them a letter.  I don’t have high hopes it’ll change anything, but a girl’s gotta try!

I used to think this was the BEST DEAL EVERRRR!

I used to think this was the BEST DEAL EVERRRR!

I’m not sure why Arby’s changed over the past few years.  There are a lot more food dyes now, specifically in their breads. And for a sandwich place, that means most foods are off limits.  😦

That said, there are still some pretty good TBHQ/BHT/artificial color free options.

Our Top 5 Picks:

1. Grand Turkey Club

2. Roast Beef Mighty Minis

3. French Dip (just don’t dip it in the artificially colored, chemical-laden Au Jus)

4. Roast Turkey Chopped Farmhouse Salad (leave off the cheese, which has annatto)

5. Ham, Egg, and Cheese on Sourdough or Croissant or Biscuit or Wrap


There may be even more choices if you can get them to switch out the bread on your sandwich.  Here’s a list of the breads that DON’T have dyes: Whole Grain Wrap, Sub Roll, Sourdough Breakfast Bread, Mini Bun, Croissant, Breakfast Biscuit, Flour Tortilla*, and King’s Hawaiian Buns*.  The last two have asterisks because they contain BHT.  I’d like to make a special note that the King’s Hawaiian rolls you buy at the grocery store do not have BHT in them, just these ones specially made for Arby’s.  Honestly, I feel a little disappointed in King’s Hawaiian, but I’ll probably forgive them because they’re just SOOOO delicious!


Here is the full list of dye-free Arby’s Food (* contains TBHQ or BHT):

French Dip (don’t eat the Au Jus!)
Grand Turkey Club
King’s Hawaiian Roast Beef Sandwich*
King’s Hawaiian Roast Beef Max Sandwich*
Prime-Cut Chicken Tenders*
Roast Beef Mighty Minis
Arby’s Sauce
Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing
Buffalo Dipping Sauce
Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
Horsey Sauce
Marinara Sauce
Ranch Dipping Sauce
Spicy Three Pepper Sauce*
Apple Slices
Curly Fries*
Homestyle Fries*
Jalapeño Bites*
Potato Cakes*
Apple Turnover
Cherry Turnover
Chocolate Chunk Cookie*
Chicken Biscuit*
Ham, Egg, and Cheese on Sourdough or Croissant or Biscuit or Wrap
French Toast Sticks*
Bottled Water
Caprisun Juice
Chocolate Milk
Orange Juice
Sierra Mist


And finally, the list of food you can get if you leave off ONE thing:

Roast Turkey Ranch and Bacon Wrap (no cheese)
Roast Turkey and Swiss Wrap (no mustard)
Crispy Chicken Chopped Farmhouse Salad* (no cheese)
Roast Turkey Chopped Farmhouse Salad (no cheese)
Chopped Side Salad (no cheese)
King’s Hawaiian Roast Beef and Swiss* (no mustard)
King’s Hawaiian Roast Beef and Swiss Max* (no mustard)
Bacon, Egg, and Cheese on Sourdough or Croissant or Biscuit or Wrap (no cheese)


Overall review: Arby’s isn’t as great as it used to be, but still provides a few meaty meals that haven’t been fried in terrible preservatives. For that reason I would recommend eating at Arby’s over McDonald’s.

Ending with this because it made me chuckle.  :)

Holy Roast Beef, Batman!

Safe Fast Food: Dye-Free Dining at McDonald’s

One of the first things I did upon going dye-free was scour fast food restaurant ingredient lists online.  We probably eat out with the kids once a week; usually as a treat for being cooperative at the store on grocery day.  Even if you don’t do fast food regularly, it’s always helpful to know what you could safely consume if you had to eat there.

This is the first in a series of posts I’m going to do on all the major fast food restaurants.  I figured McDonald’s was the best place to start, because it’s EVERYWHERE.

I want to preface this post by saying that we do not eat at McDonald’s any more.  Ever.  Almost all of their meats and fried foods contain BHA or are prepared in oils with TBHQ – both are horrible preservatives (this is why their food doesn’t decompose).  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I won’t even get into dough conditioners or all the other nasty preservatives they use.  Of all the fast food places I’ve looked at, they are by far the worst.

All this said, if we were stuck in the middle of nowhere with absolutely no other food options, here is a list of all the dye-free things we could potentially eat at McDonald’s.

Our Top 5 Picks:

1. Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait.

2. Side Salad with one of these Newman’s Own dressings: Creamy Southwest, Balsamic Vinaigrette, or Ranch.

3. Fruit Smoothie: Blueberry Pomegranate, Strawberry Banana, or Mango Pineapple.

4. Coffee: regular ol’ hot coffee, a plain iced coffee, or a plain latte.

5. Hotcakes with strawberry preserves, grape jam, or honey.

Pretty underwhelming, right?  Well, there’s not much to choose from if you’re avoiding everything with bad preservatives.  Honestly, if it was me, I’d grab an iced coffee and tide the kids over with a parfait or a smoothie and book it to the next gas station for some healthier food.

Here’s the full list of dye-free foods (* contains BHT or TBHQ):

  • Quarter Pounder Bacon Habanero Ranch*
  • Hamburger*
  • Grilled Onion Cheddar*
  • Premium Chicken Classic Sandwich (Crispy or Grilled)*
  • Premium Chicken Club Sandwich (Crispy or Grilled)*
  • Premium Chicken Ranch BLT Sandwich (Crispy or Grilled)*
  • McChicken*
  • Buffalo Ranch McChicken*
  • Bacon Buffalo Ranch McChicken*
  • Bacon Cheddar McChicken*
  • Southern Style Crispy Chicken Sandwich*
  • Bacon Clubhouse Chicken Sandwich (Crispy or Grilled)*
  •  Premium Chicken Classic Sandwich (Crispy or Grilled)*
  • Premium Chicken Club Sandwich (Crispy or Grilled)*
  • Premium Chicken Ranch BLT Sandwich (Crispy or Grilled)*
  • Premium McWrap Chicken Sweet Chili (Crispy or Grilled)*
  • Chicken Selects Premium Breast Strips*
  • Chicken McNuggets*
  • Spicy Chicken McBites*
  • Mighty Wings*
Breakfast Foods:
  • Sausage Biscuit*
  • Sausage Biscuit with Egg*
  • Sausage Biscuit with Egg Whites*
  • Sausage McMuffin with Egg Whites*
  • Southern Style Chicken Biscuit*
  • Big Breakfast*
  • Big Breakfast with Hotcakes (no syrup)*
  • Big Breakfast with Egg Whites*
  • Big Breakfast with Hotcakes and Egg Whites (no syrup)*
  • Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Bagel with Egg Whites
  • Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit with Egg Whites
  • Hotcakes (no syrup)
  • Hotcakes and Sausage (no syrup)*
  • Cinnamon melts
  • Hash Brown*
Snacks, SIDes, and Condiments:
  • Fruit ‘n Yogurt Parfait
  • French Fries*
  • Apple Slices
  • Side Salad
  • Newman’s Own Creamy Southwest Dressing
  • Newman’s Own Low Fat Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • Newman’s Own Ranch Dressing
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Honey
  • Grape Jam
  • Strawberry Preserves
  • Whipped Margarine
Drinks and Desserts:
  • Milk
  • Chocolate Milk
  • Apple Juice
  • Orange Juice
  • Dasani Water
  • Sprite
  • Iced Tea
  • Sweet Tea
  • Coffee
  • Iced Coffee (regular, no syrups)
  • Latte (regular, no syrups)
  • Non-Fat Latte (regular, no syrups)
  • Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie
  • Strawberry Banana Smoothie
  • Mango Pineapple Smoothie
  • Vanilla Ice Cream (in a cup, not a cone)
  • McFlurry with OREO Cookies
  • McFlurry with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup

If it’s not in that list, it has artificial colors.  I went through every line of their 34 page ingredient listing thoroughly.  If you’d like to check it out the specifics for yourself, here’s the McDonald’s Ingredient List PDF.

As a kid I hated condiments.  I quickly learned that at fast food places you can usually omit ONE thing and they’ll still get your order right most of the time.  With that in mind, here’s a list of all the items you could make dye-free by leaving off one thing (and in parenthesis what that thing is):

  • Quarter Pounder with Cheese (no cheese)*
  • Quarter Pounder Bacon & Cheese (no cheese)*
  • Quarter Pounder Deluxe (no cheese)*
  • Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (no cheese)*
  • Double Cheeseburger, aka McDouble (no cheese)*
  • Bacon McDouble (no cheese)*
  • Daily Double (no cheese)*
  • BBQ Ranch Burger (no BBQ Ranch Sauce)*
  • Bacon Clubhouse Chicken Sandwich – Crispy or Grilled (no Big Mac Sauce)*
  • Fillet-O-Fish (no cheese)*
  • McRib (no McRib sauce)*
  • Premium McWrap Southwest Chicken – Crispy or Grilled (no cheese)*
  • Premium McWrap Chicken and Bacon – Crispy or Grilled (no cheese)*
  • Premium McWrap Chicken & Ranch – Crispy or Grilled (no cheese)*
  • Ranch Snack Wrap – Crispy or Grilled (no cheese)*
  • Premium Bacon Ranch Salad with Chicken – Crispy or Grilled (no cheese)*
  • Premium Southwest Salad with Chicken – Crispy or Grilled (no cheese)*
Breakfast Foods:
  • Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Biscuit (no cheese)
  • Steak & Egg Biscuit (no cheese)
  • Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Bagel (no cheese)
  • Steak, Egg, & Cheese Bagel (no cheese)
  • Sausage Burrito (no cheese)*
  • Caramel Frappe (no caramel drizzle)


This burger was cooked in TBHQ.  That's why it doesn't decompose.

Burgers cooked in TBHQ laced oils don’t decompose normally.

Everything with an asterisk (*) in the lists contains BHT or TBHQ.  If you scroll back through the list you’ll notice that the majority of foods listed have an asterisk.  TBHQ has been linked to ADHD, asthma, dermatitis, rhinitis, DNA damage, cancer, and messing with women’s estrogen levels.  BHT is shown to have negative effects on the liver and is linked to many of the same issues as TBHQ: cancer, allergies, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and biochemical or cellular level changes. For more on why avoiding these preservatives is important, check out these articles:

BHT: The Harmful Food Additive in Your Everyday Diet

TBHQ: Why This Preservative Should Be Avoided


I’m working on putting together PDFs for each of the fast food restaurants with lists of all their dye-free foods.  Then you’ll be able to print them out, make a little book, and keep it in your car or purse as a reference when you’re eating out.  Should be awesome if I can motivate myself to finish it off at night when the kids go to bed!  Easier said than done.  😉

But soon it will exist!  And when it does, it’ll be so special it’ll have its own post.  So keep following for updates!

Quick and Comforting: Crème Brûlée

Comfort foods.  We all have them.  And as long as it’s done in moderation, I am all about them.  I mean God gave us tastes buds for a reason.  If food’s sole purpose was nourishment, why make so many different tastes and aromas and textures?  Because He wanted us to ENJOY it!

Food can be an almost spiritual experience.  Our favorites can make even our worst days feel instantly better.  If I’m having a rough morning and you bring me a mocha or some cheesecake, we’re pretty much going to be BFFs for life.  That’s how food works for me. Let’s get real, that’s how food works for most of us.

comfort food quote

That’s why I’m going to share this ridiculously easy recipe for crème brûlée.  This along with bread pudding and homemade salsa are my husband’s favorite comfort foods.  If I know he’s having a bad day, I try to make sure he’s at least got a delicious dessert to look forward to after the kids go to bed.  One secret to a happy marriage: know your partner’s comfort foods.  Nothing builds relationships like the giving of tasty foods.  Okay, maybe there are a few other important things that help build relationships, but treat giving should definitely be on that list!  🙂

I wish I had known 20 years ago how quick and simple crème brûlée is to make.  Mind you the whole process takes a few hours, but the parts that involve you actually doing stuff  is only about 15 minutes all together.  I think we all have 15 minutes to devote to creating this indulgence.  Totally worth it, I promise!

Most of the store-bought crème brûlée mixes I’ve seen have caramel coloring in them (plus a lot of extra junk that is completely unnecessary).  It’s also not a whole lot faster.  So this is a dye-free version you can safely enjoy with the kids. If you feel like sharing with your kids…I’ll be honest, we usually don’t. We might be terrible parents.  Jury’s still out.

Anyway, sharing or not, all you need are these four ingredients: heavy cream, vanilla, egg yolks, and sugar.

creme brulee ingredients

This recipe is for two (because, like I said, it’s usually just for us), but can be easily doubled or tripled if you like.  Crème brûlée is an awesome dish to whip up for dinner guests.  It keeps well in the fridge for up to 4 days (just save the caramelizing step for when you’re ready to serve it).  So make it ahead of time and then impress the heck out of your friends with dessert.  They’ll love you for it.  You’ll love you for it.  Everybody wins.  Yay!  Now, on to the recipe.

First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Bring a pint of heavy cream and a teaspoon of vanilla to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat.  When it has just started bubbling (usually takes 6-7 minutes), remove it from the heat and allow it to cool down for around 10 minutes.  For the record, I do other things like dishes, dealing with kids, etc during these in-between waiting times.  It makes it feel like a quicker recipe when you’re not just standing at the stove waiting for stuff to happen.

simmer cream and vanilla creme brulee

While the cream is cooling, whisk together 3 egg yolks and 1/3 cup of sugar.  If you want to flavor your crème brûlée (with orange, lavender, lemon, cinnamon and so on) add what you want to this mixture now.  One of my favorite variations is chocolate; just mix in a half tablespoon of chocolate powder.

whisk yolks and sugar creme brulee

If you’re still waiting for your cream to cool, you can go ahead and prepare the ramekins and water bath.  Lightly grease a couple ramekins with coconut or olive oil (6 to 8 oz ramekins work well for two servings).  Place them in a glass baking dish, then fill the dish about half way up with hot water.  If you get it too full, it will be difficult not to spill as you move it in and out of the oven.  You want the water to be at least a third of the way up the side of the ramekins, like mine pictured below.

water bath creme brulee

Next, mix your cream and egg mixtures together, stirring until well blended.

mix cream and eggs creme brulee

Pour this mix into your prepared ramekins, and put the whole water bath in the oven.

water bath creme brulee

Bake it for about 40 minutes.  You want it to be set, but still a little jiggly in the middle.  When it’s done, take the water bath out of the oven.  Let the whole thing cool to room temperature (about an hour) before you remove the ramekins.  They look like this when they’re done.

cooked creme brulee

If you like your crème brûlée warm, then serve them now.  If you want it to really set up and chill properly, then cover the ramekins with saran wrap and stick them in the fridge for at least two hours (or overnight if you’re making it ahead of time).

That’s all there is to it if you want it plain (and yeah, sometimes we do, because we just can’t wait!).  But, after all, crème brûlée means “burned cream” – and it’s just not the same without that caramelized sugar to top it off.  Now, you can get all fancy and buy a mini blow torch or a tiny branding iron to do this part, or you can do it the not-cool way (like me) using the broiler in your oven.

Cover the surface of your crème brûlée with sugar.

sugar caramelize creme brulee

Stick it in the oven about six to eight inches away from the broiler.  It doesn’t take long for the sugar to caramelize, only two or three minutes.

broiler caramelize creme brulee

Keep a close eye on them, and turn the dishes if necessary so they caramelize evenly.  I doubt that truly “burned cream” tastes very good; so take them out when they start to look burned, don’t leave them in long enough to actually be burned.

caramelized sugar creme brulee

**Important note** If you had your ramekins in the fridge, let them warm up on the counter for at least 30 minutes before you put them under a broiler or they may crack.

comfort food creme brulee

There it is.  You worked hard for it (well, hard for like 15 minutes, right?).  Dig in!  You deserve it.  🙂