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

Crusts
Original
Pan*
Thin
Stuffed
Sauces
Basil Pesto
Buffalo Sauce
Creamy Garlic*
Herb Tomato
Marinara
Olive Oil & Garlic
Original Pizza Sauce (“Red Sauce”)
Salsa
Sweet Chili Sauce
Cheeses
Feta
Mozzarella
Parmesan
Ricotta
(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.)
Toppings
Anchovies
Artichoke Hearts
Banana Peppers
Black Olives
Canadian Bacon
Chicken
Chili Pepper Flakes
Country Style Sausage
Crispy Bacon
Garlic
Green Chile
Green Olives
Green Onions
Green Peppers
Herb & Cheese Blend
Herb Chicken
Italian Sausage
Jalapeños
Mushrooms
Pomace Olive Oil
Onions
Pepperoni*
Pineapple
Salami*
Spinach
Sun Dried Tomatoes
Tomatoes
Zesty Herbs
Zucchini
Salads & Dressings (note: croutons are safe to eat)
Caesar
Chicken Caesar
Mediterranean
Balsamic Vinaigrette
Bleu Cheese Dressing
Country Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
1000 Island Dressing
Italian Dressing
Extras
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*
Cowboy*
Gourmet Chicken Garlic*
Gourmet Chicken Garlic deLITE*
Gourmet Classic Italian*
Gourmet Vegetarian*
Hawaiian
Herb Chicken Mediterranean deLITE*
Murphy’s Combo*
Papa’s Perfect*
Vegetarian*
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!

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Feeding the Kids: Easy Dye-Free Lunches

Other stay at home mamas will feel me on this one.  It’s 11:45 AM, you’re going about your morning doing all your usual mama stuff (folding laundry, wiping butts, splitting up fights, picking up toys, making appointments, feeding the baby, washing dishes, answering your 100th “why” question of the day, possibly even getting ready yourself).  Suddenly you’re bombarded with urgent cries of I’m hungry! When are we going to eat??

Yep, it’s lunch time.  How does it always sneak up on me like that?  I never have anything planned.  Shoot….  BUT, the beauty of going through all the work of creating a dye-free kitchen, is that anything I dig out and throw on a plate for the kids is going to be safe for them to eat.  Saves a lot of time and worry if you don’t want your kids to have food dyes.

If you’re new to dye-free living, hopefully this will give you some ideas.  You might notice that some of the things we eat for lunch overlap with my list of dye-free snack foods.  That’s because I’m literally just grabbing whatever we have on hand and putting it on a plate.  We have lots of snacky foods on hand.  🙂

Here’s a sample of what my kids have been eating the last couple weeks.

lunch

Turkey (Simply Nature uncured turkey from Aldi’s) and provolone with mayo, carrots and strawberries, Annie’s Chocolate Bunny Grahams, and almonds.

lunch

Turkey and salami (Hormel’s uncured hard salami), carrots, cherry tomatoes, a strawberry, ranch dressing (Marzetti organic ranch veggie dip from Hy-Vee – no MSG like most ranch), mixed nuts, and Simply Cheetos white cheddar puffs.  We also had some Greek yogurt on the side.  If you manage to arrange their food into a weird face or picture, even better.  My older boys are 5 and 3, and they think this is hilarious.  So if you want to impress your young ones…. 🙂

lunch

Hebrew National hot dog with ketchup (we use the Hunt’s brand without high fructose corn syrup), cherry tomatoes, a clementine, some pecans, and a handful of Parmesan Goldfish.  Again, we had Greek yogurt on the side as well.  (We go through a lot of yogurt!)

lunch

Turkey, Ritz crackers, almonds, carrots, blueberries, and some cottage cheese.

lunch

Peanut butter and jelly, salami (because they LOVE it and always ask for “just one piece!”), a clementine, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, and some Stauffer’s animal crackers.

lunch

Alright this lunch was from the weekend, which is why it’s a little (but not much) more time intensive than our other lunches.  🙂  Van de Kamp’s fish sticks, cantaloupe, mixed nuts, and a Nature Valley Oats N’ Dark Chocolate granola bar.

lunch

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (yes, again…it’s easy!), a mozzarella cheese stick, a clementine, and a bunch of mixed nuts.

By now you’re probably getting the general pattern of what I throw on a plate for the boys.  Nuts, fruit/vegetables, a sandwich or some meat, usually something from the dairy group as well for protein.  They may not be fully balanced meals, but I think overall they’re healthy.  My kids also have a mid-morning snack with fruits and nuts and proteins, so their lunches aren’t usually huge.

lunch

This was our Valentine’s Day lunch.  A heart shaped Nutella and raspberry jelly sandwich, heart shaped bananas, strawberries, mozzarella cheese stick, almonds, a Fit & Active fruit strip (from Aldi’s), and some Brookside dark chocolate candies.

I don’t have a picture of it, but my kids really like having scrambled eggs for lunch.  It doesn’t take too long to cook some up.  So if you’ve had PB&J a few days in a row, you can always give eggs a try.  🙂

I know it’s nothing revolutionary, but I see that as a good thing.  Just more proof that going dye-free doesn’t have to be complicated.  Anyone can do it.

Kid Approved Dye-Free Snacks

When we cut out food dyes, I wasn’t sure what the heck I was going to feed the kids.  Especially for snack time.  My boys are big snackers (as am I!), so it was kind of an important thing to figure out.  Obviously, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, eggs, and plain meats (i.e., not spiced/marinated/processed – otherwise not guaranteed to be color free) are going to be dye-free.  These foods probably make up the majority of what we eat these days. However, we do eat our share of convenience foods as well.

As much as I love to cook, the reality is I don’t have the time or the energy or the desire to make from-scratch food all the time.  I purposely choose not to.  I like knowing that I could, so I’ll try various from-scratch recipes from time to time.  I think self-sufficiency is important.  But I love that we live in an age where I don’t have to make everything if I don’t want to.  It’s one less thing to worry about doing every day; convenience foods save sooooo much time.  More power to you if you make all your food all the time.  I respect and admire that.  But I’m guessing that most of you out there are probably eating some amount of convenience foods. Unfortunately for you and me, a lot of those foods are going to have artificial colors and other junk in them.

While this isn’t by any means an exhaustive list of dye-free snack options, it’s a good place to start gathering ideas. If you have any favorites you’d like to share, please leave a comment so we can all benefit from the collective knowledge.

Please note that dye-free is not my only criteria for choosing snacks.  I won’t buy items with artificial preservatives (TBHQ/BHT/BHA), artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose), MSG, olestra, nitrates/nitrites, sulfites, or potassium bromate.  I try to avoid trans fats too; but it gets tricky because companies can legally label something “0 grams of trans fats” when, in fact, it only contains less than 0.5 grams.  That means it could have up to 0.49 grams of trans fats per serving, and that can quickly add up to surpass the suggested daily limit of 1-2 grams.  A general rule of thumb for avoiding trans fats is to steer clear of partially hydrogenated oils.  If you’re interested in why I won’t buy these things, I’ll link to some helpful articles at the bottom of this page.

FYI, this list is just based off what’s in my kitchen right now and what I can remember buying other times.  I’ll update it if I remember more or find new favorites.

Crackers and Granola Bars

Kashi Granola Bars

Nature Valley Granola Bars (Oats ‘N Dark Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Greek Yogurt Protein; haven’t checked other flavors)

Millville (Aldi’s)  Protein Chewy Bar (Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter; haven’t checked other flavors)

Buttery Round Crackers (Ritz brand and Savoritz brand [Aldi’s])

Stauffer’s ORIGINAL Animal Crackers (not the ones with frosting)

Honeymaid Angry Birds Graham Crackers (My boys are OBSESSED with Angry Birds, so these are fantastic!)

Teddy Grahams crackers (Honey and Chocolate Chip are safe; haven’t checked other flavors.)

Annie’s Bunny Grahams (any flavor is safe)

Annie’s Whole Wheat Bunny Crackers (all other flavors have annatto)

Parmesan Goldfish Crackers (all other flavors have annatto; parmesan is the green bag)

Market Pantry (Target) Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers

———-

candy

Candy

UNREAL candies (“unjunked” versions of M&M’s, Peanut M&M’s, Milky Ways, and Peanut Butter Cups)

True North Almond Pecan Cashew Clusters

Mott’s Medleys fruit snacks

Simply Nature (Aldi’s) fruit snacks

Fit & Active (Aldi’s) All Natural Fruit Strips

Simply Balanced (Target) Fruit Strips

YummyEarth Organic Lollipops

Chocolate chips (Plain chocolate chips and white chocolate chips have been safe in every brand I’ve checked; however, peanut butter and butterscotch usually have caramel coloring.)

Black Forest Gummy Worms (Hy-Vee carries them)

Caramels (Lovely Candy Co. brand, and Werther’s Originals)

Darrell Lea Liquorice (Target carries it)

Chocolate Bars and Candies (If it is just chocolate [no fillings, flavors, coating] it’s probably fine. We like organic dark chocolate bars in our house. So good! Dove originals, Brookside chocolates, and Hershey’s originals are all good.)

———-

Cookies

Vanilla wafers (Aldi’s Benton’s brand, and Nilla brand)

Oreos (the seasonal ones with colored frosting are not ok)

Pillsbury Simply refrigerated cookie dough – all flavors

Keebler Simply Made Cookies – all flavors

———-

chips

Chips

Clancey’s (Aldi’s) Sweet Potato Chips  (These are my favorite snack.  I’m eating them right nowThey’re incredible! Plus 14 chips count as a serving of vegetables…I doubt it’s the best kind of vegetable serving a person could have, but it justifies my addiction.)  🙂

Corn Tortilla Chips (All the brands I’ve seen have been safe, but watch for trans fats.)

Clancy’s (Aldi’s) Kettle Chips Mesquite Barbecue flavor

Cheetos Simply White Cheddar

Ruffles Simply Sea Salted Potato Chips

———-

Cereals – We lean towards eating cereals with lots of protein and good nutrition to actually fill you up.  All of these are less than $3/box; nothing crazy expensive here.  🙂

Cheerios (original and honey nut are safe, others have colors)

Kashi (anything I’ve ever seen by their brand is safe and super healthy)

Post Grape Nuts

Cascadian Farm Oats and Honey Granola

Archer Farms French Vanilla Almond Crunch Granola

Nature’s Path Coconut Chia Granola

Simply Nature (Aldi’s) Fruit Muesli, and Toasted Oats

Nature’s Best Blue Pom Wheatfuls

**BEWARE of TBHQ and BHT as preservatives in cereals.  It’s very common.  Also extremely annoying because even within a brand some cereals will have it and some won’t.  Always check!**

———-

Frozen Desserts

Blue Bunny All Natural Vanilla ice cream

Breyer’s All Natural (Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry flavors)

Belmont’s (Aldi’s) – any flavor

Simply Nature (Aldi’s) Popsicles

———-

other

Other

Nuts – any plain or salted nuts should be fine

Dried fruits (Generally safe, but keep an eye on the preservatives used.)

Hy-Vee brand Unsweetened Applesauce

Hy-Vee brand Marshmallows (Not sure about other generic brands, but the name brand Jet Puffed marshmallows have blue dye in them.)

Mozzarella Cheese Sticks (Hy-Vee brand, Kraft, and Happy Farms [Aldi’s] have all been fine)

Wholly Guacamole (We usually make our own guac, but this is nice when you don’t have time or if avocados are out of season/expensive.)

Salsa – most kinds are safe (This is my husband’s favorite snack.  Give him some chips and some Mad Butcher’s Salsa, and he is a happy man.)

Pretzels (Most plain, bagged pretzels should be safe.)

Popping Corn (not the bagged stuff, just the seeds that you pop on your stovetop at home)

Joy brand Waffle Bowls (fun for special desserts)

Yogurt (We make our own Greek Yogurt, but most brands will have some dye-free options.  I know Chobani, Dannon, and Yoplait do.  Yogurts branded towards kids probably will have artificial colors though.)

———-

Links to information on other bad food additives:

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a very helpful list describing all food additives.

Australia’s Northern Allergy Center also has a full list of food additives and any harmful effects.

A BusinessWeek article from 1996 shows that the dangers of food additives have been known or questioned for quite some time.

Hungry For Change has a succinct list of their top 10 food additives to avoid.

Quick Dye-Free Egg Bake

I think the majority of recipes I’ll end up sharing with you require 15 minutes or less of actual hands-on work. With three kids, that’s how I roll. Mostly because I don’t have time to roll any other way.

This egg bake took me less than 10 minutes to put together. There are three basic elements: hash browns, eggs, and cheese. Everything else can be manipulated to your liking. You can season the hash browns spicy or salty, add diced vegetables or meats, and even add a crumble on top (I like using Grape Nuts cereal because they’re super healthy and give a satisfying crunch). You can do whatever you want/like/have time for/have in your fridge.
The version I’m posting is what I made for dinner last night. This dish is also great for breakfast, and it can be made the night before. Just refrigerate it overnight, then let it sit on the counter for about 40 minutes (so the dish can warm up) before you pop it in the oven. It’s also easy to double and feed a crowd. I’d say each batch would feed 6 adults (more if you have extra side dishes). This version happens to be vegetarian as well.

These are my big boys, J and Z, enjoying some bacon and a banana while they wait for me to dish out the egg bake. They decided to eat the main dish by mashing it up and putting ketchup all over it. Then they pretended to be zombies eating bloody brains. Yep. Never a dull moment… I’ll have to remember to make this for Halloween.
———————-
Quick Dye-Free Egg Bake
1 lb hash browns (any style cut)
6 eggs
1/2c milk
1/2c sour cream
1c (8oz) mozzarella cheese
1/2c frozen corn
1/3 c Grape Nuts cereal
Seasoning salt
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Italian seasoning
Salt
Pepper

1. Preheat convection oven to 375° (400° for standard oven).
2.Thaw hash browns in a glass bowl in the microwave for 4 minutes on 80% power.
3. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, milk, and sir cream together in a medium bowl. Season to taste with garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
4. Grease a 2 quart baking dish.
5. Spread hash browns over bottom of baking dish. Sprinkle to taste with seasoning salt.
6. Throw down a layer of frozen corn, then pour your egg mixture over all of it.
7. Sprinkle with cheese and Grape Nuts.
8. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown on sides and bottom.

Note: The milk and sour cream can be replaced with 3/4 c of water. It will not be as rich or moist. It will turn out light and fluffy, and it’ll save you some calories. Just depends what you’re going for. You could also leave off the cheese if you need it to be dairy free.

Transitioning to Dye-Free Foods

So you’ve read Sorry, My Kids Can’t Have Food Dyes or other artificial color related articles.  You’re convinced that you should cut out, or at least cut back on, food dyes.  Now what?

I think the transition process looks different for everyone.  I’m very decisive.  Once a decision has been made, it’s as good as done.  I’m all in.  I cut out dyes in a day and never looked back.  Other people’s transitions are probably going to be a bit slower than mine.  That’s probably healthier from a psychological standpoint anyway.  I tend to be a little OCD; a blessing and a curse.  But onward and upward…  🙂

First, know what you’re trying to avoid when you look at the ingredients list on your food.  The following is a list of the terms you’re looking for and some common household foods that have them (for detailed research information on these please read Food Dyes: Rainbow of Risks).

  • Blue 1 – “brilliant blue”
  • Blue 2 – “indigotine”
  • Citrus Red 2 – only allowed for use to color orange peels
  • Green 3 – “fast green”
  • Orange B – only allowed for use in coloring hot dog and sausage casings
  • Red 3 – “erythrosine”
  • Red 40 – “allura red”
  • Yellow 5 – “tartrazine”
  • Yellow 6 – “sunset yellow”
  • Caramel Coloring
  • Annatto

Caramel coloring and annatto can sometimes be found on products claiming to be “all natural” or free of artificial colors.  They are derived from plants, so technically they are natural.  However, they have been linked to some pretty bad stuff like cancer and severe allergic reactions.

Two scary facts: 1) The FDA does not regulate these at all because they are “natural”, 2) Caramel coloring is the most commonly used food dye in the world (probably because it’s in things like cola, vanilla ice cream, and candy bars).  Consumer Reports has a really good report on the dangers of caramel coloring; it’s short and very enlightening.

As for annatto, it’s been shown to effect blood sugar levels, is not recommended while pregnant or breastfeeding, causes allergic reactions, and can cause the same behavioral problems as the artificial food dyes. Annatto is used to make things orange – I see it a lot in cheddar cheese, crackers, and fruit snacks. This one tricked us for a while, because it’s the only one on the labels that doesn’t look like a color name.  Watch out for it.

Sometimes labels won’t even tell you which colors are in the food.  They just say “colors added”.  Buyer beware.

cherry

Now that you know exactly what to look for, go through your fridge and cupboards.  You may be surprised about some of the places you’ll find colors.  Marshmallows, soy sauce, maraschino cherries, and pickles always stick out as some of the weirder ones to me.  You can do this all at once or as you have time.

Keep a running list of all the items you find with colors in them. These are the things you’ll want to replace with a dye-free alternative.  Sometimes it’s as easy as switching to a different brand or flavor of that item.  Occasionally there isn’t a great alternative in the store.  With these items you have four choices:  1) do nothing, 2) reduce your intake of that item, 3) live without it, or 4) learn how to make it from scratch yourself.

pickles

Take your list to the store.  Depending on how much time you have and how many items you are looking to replace, you may want to split your list up and make more than one trip.  It takes time to read labels, and you’ve usually got at least five different brands to look at with each product.  So be realistic and don’t stress out trying to find everything all at once.  I’m working on another post about our favorite dye-free store-bought foods.  Until then, here are a few brands that are generally safe and should be easy for everyone to find (but always double check the ingredient list): Target’s Simply Balanced line, Pillsbury’s Simply line, Aldi’s Clancy’s and Belmont lines, Kashi, Nature Valley, UNREAL Candy, and YummyEarth (I haven’t seen it in stores, but Amazon has it).

If you have any specific items you’re worried about finding an alternative for, please leave a comment.  I’d love to try to help!  Good luck as you begin your journey into dye-free living!  🙂

Sorry, My Kids Can’t Have Food Dyes

“Sorry, my kids can’t have food dyes.”  I find myself saying this a lot lately.  A lot more than I ever thought I would when we went dye-free a little over two years ago.  Who knew artificial colors were in so many things?

Our journey began a couple years back when a friend’s simple Facebook post bewildered me.  It was something along the lines of, “3 days dye-free and my son is a completely different kid!”  Dye free?  What did that mean?  I couldn’t even wager an educated guess.  I perused the comments and quickly gathered that her five-year-old son had been struggling with some major behavior issues.  Things had gotten so bad that she was on the verge of putting him on medication for ADHD, because they just didn’t know what else to do to help him.  A friend of hers had suggested eliminating food dyes as they had been linked to hyperactivity in children.  Apparently it worked.  I was skeptical, but really curious.  I dug in.

A simple Google search of “food dyes bad” proved there was indeed a big controversy about the use of artificial dyes in food and hygiene products.  It shocked me a little.  I like to think that I keep up on the news, especially with regards to healthy living.  How had I never even heard about this?  After a lot of reading and researching, it seemed there was ample evidence that at the very least artificial colors weren’t healthy.  At worst, they were messing with your brain, causing allergic reactions, and increasing your risk of cancer.  That was enough for me to say we didn’t need these in our life anymore.  How hard could it be to ditch the colors?  I mean, we’d already made a lot of changes to eat healthier.  This would just be one more little step in the right direction.

I started going through our cupboards and the fridge.  Yikes!  Cereals, gravy, crackers, cookies, gummies, Jell-O, puddings, macaroni, soy sauce, salad dressings, ice cream, yogurt, cherries, pickles, juices, marshmallows, cheeses, rice mixes, cake mixes, soup mixes, the kids’ vitamins, and on and on and on.  I started to panic a little when I saw the big pile of food on the table that we could no longer have.  What can we have??  I took a break from the food and started sorting through things in the bathroom.  Nearly every lotion, shampoo, soap, conditioner, mouthwash, toothpaste, perfume, and deodorant we owned had artificial colors in it.  Now I was beginning to feel a bit overwhelmed.  Is it really worth throwing out all this stuff?  What if there aren’t any alternatives?  Will I have to make everything from scratch now?  Do I have time for that??  Maybe I shouldn’t have started down this rabbit hole…

Cue my white knight.  Though I’m sure he wasn’t *thrilled* to come home to a kitchen table full of food and soaps and an anxious wife, my husband graciously listened to my explanation.  He said it sounded like cutting out dyes was worth a try, if what I had read was true.  He wanted to research it more himself while I went to the store to try to find dye-free replacements for everything we were tossing.  I sat in the car for a few minutes, because I wasn’t even sure where to start.  I decided to go to Wal-Mart.  Partly because it was the closest place that had both food and hygiene products, and partly because I figured if they had alternatives than maybe this wouldn’t be so hard (or expensive) after all.

Thankfully, my Wal-Mart trip was an encouraging one.  One of the only items I have yet to find a dye-free replacement for is instant pudding.  Gosh, I miss that stuff.  But it’s not that hard to make it from scratch or just go without.  All in all, a small price to pay for dye-free living.  I made a lot of discoveries on that first shopping trip, and on my follow-up trips to different grocery stores.  I also spent a good amount of time scouring popular restaurants’ websites for ingredient lists so I’d know what to order when we ate out.  More on all that later.

The journey was not over yet.  There was still one more surprise.

Our oldest son, J, was almost three when we cut out artificial colors.   I thought he was a typical nearly three-year-old, riding your standard preschool emotional roller coaster.  I wouldn’t even have categorized him as that emotional; he seemed pretty sensible for a three-year-old.  But, man, when he lost it, he LOST it.  I thought that’s just what kids did.  I didn’t like it, but I chalked it up to a case of the terrible twos.  Within a week of eliminating food dyes, we noticed that J was much more in control of his emotions.  Could he have been effected by it the same way my friend’s son had been effected?

As with any theory, we had to test it to try to eliminate our bias.  We let him eat some food that contained what our family now calls “yucky colors”.  The next day, J was all over the place emotionally.  Freaking out for absolutely no reason, and there was no reasoning with him.  It broke my heart.  Trying to hold him, comfort him.  He just bawled, screamed, pounded the floor, clenched his fists and gritted his teeth so tightly his body shook, and at one point I found him crouched behind the sofa holding his head and crying. God only knows what set him off.  But once it started, there was no stopping it.  The next day he was pretty out of it.  The day after that, he was back to being logical and relaxed.  J still throws fits from time to time, as kids will, but he is easy to calm down and responds to rationale.

J’s behavior pattern has repeated every single time he’s had food dyes.  The day after: nutso.  Two days out: space cadet.  Third day: back to normal.  Occasionally, J will still accidentally have food dyes at a friend or relative’s house.  We can always tell when he’s out of control the next day.  Then we wrack our brains trying to determine what could have caused this episode – most recently it was peanut butter Cheerios that a friend shared with him over the holidays.

We see the signs clearly now.  But that doesn’t mean other people (mostly well-meaning family members) believe that J’s reaction to artificial colors is real.  I empathize with them.  Ten years ago if I’d had friends who said their kids couldn’t eat the awesome caramel brownies I made them because of food dyes, I’d probably be annoyed too.  Or, at the very least, I’d have thought they were paranoid.  I’ve been told my kids are missing out because they can’t have the brightly colored treats that the other kids are having.  That’s not a fun conversation to have.  It’s also not fun to ask family members repeatedly to please stop offering your kids certain candies while they roll their eyes at what is perceived to be your overprotective parenting.

I get it.  I really do.  We are not easy to have over for meals if you do not already know what foods have artificial colors.  You may even put some effort into preparing what seems like safe food, and you feel hurt or disappointed when we still have to refuse parts of the meal for the kids because, oops, there’s dye in that.  You didn’t know.  It sucks.  It sucks for all of us.  We want to be good guests, but we also want to protect our kids.  We are still figuring out how to tactfully navigate these social situations.  The other day, a friend of mine mentioned that her cousins are allergic to Red #40; they get horrible rashes all over their bodies.  Maybe it sounds bad, but my gut reaction (in my head) was, “I wish my kids got a rash!”  I don’t actually wish my kids would get a rash, but it would certainly make it easier for people to believe that our son has a bad reaction to food dyes.  When it’s just a behavior, it’s really hard to convince anyone.

At this point, I’ve mostly given up on trying to convince people that food dyes are dangerous.  Instead, I try to convince them to read about it for themselves.  There are plenty of reputable sources with articles on food dyes; they’re not hard to come by.  Like I said before, it’s crazy easy to Google it.  There’s a lot of information out there.  These are some articles I’d recommend as a starting point:

Forbes – Living in Color: The Potential Dangers of Artificial Food Dyes

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI): Food Dyes: Rainbow of Risks

Dr. Mercola – Are You Or Your Family Eating Toxic Food Dyes?

Dr. Oz – Food Dyes: Are They Safe?

The Huffington Post – Halloween Warning: Watch Out for Neurotoxic Artificial Food Dyes in M&M’s Candies

Fox News – Foods Americans Eat That are Banned Around the World

Okay, now for a confession: I still occasionally partake of dye-filled treats, like my beloved Dr. Pepper.  Sometimes I crave it.  Darn you, Dr. Pepper.  You’re my weak spot. Generally, it’s not challenging for me to avoid food dyes.  We don’t have any in the house and I’m a stay-at-home mom of three small boys – we don’t get out much…  99% of my time is spent at home with zero artificial colors.  So do I just go crazy on food dyes in that remaining 1% of the time?  No.  Do I sometimes grab a Milky Way and a Dr. Pepper (formerly hailed by me as “the snack of champions” in my college days) when I’m running errands without the kids?  Yep.  Sometimes you’ve just got to live your life, even if that means you’re kind of eating poison.  And I really believe I’m kind of eating poison, but it sure hits the spot from time to time.

I know it’s horrible logic, but I justify my indulgences by calling to consideration that my brain is probably already pretty messed up from all those neon colored Gushers, Fruit Roll-Ups, and Kool-Aid I had back in the 80s and 90s.  Seriously, I had a lot.  I’ve always had a major sweet tooth and a high metabolism.  Nothing holding me back from going crazy on those beautifully colored candies.

I guess what I’m trying to say is it doesn’t necessarily have to be an all or nothing deal with food dyes.  There is so much wisdom in the old saying, “Everything in moderation.”  Even with J, we try so hard to help him avoid eating food dyes for his benefit (he’ll be the first one to tell you he hates the way those yucky colors make him feel).  But if we’re at his friend’s birthday party and all the other kids are eating a delicious-looking cake with bright blue and red frosting, we’re not going to stop him from eating it.  We leave the decision to him.  It’s his life.  He can choose to live it how he wants.  He’s old enough to weigh the consequences. We all have to learn to own our decisions.

Don’t feel too bad for J.  Yes, it’s not easy to avoid food dyes all the time, especially around the holidays or at parties.  But our kids still get lots of delicious treats, like chocolate, lollipops, gummies, cookies, pudding, gelatin, ice cream, popsicles, and much more. Actually, lots of companies are starting to offer dye-free versions of their popular products.  And there are many brands that never used dyes anyway.  It really isn’t too troublesome to find safe alternatives to your favorite foods.  I’ve also learned that it’s not difficult to make dye-free meals and treats myself from scratch.  Sure it takes a little extra time and planning, but I love cooking so that’s actually been kind of fun for me.  I’ll share some of my favorite easy, dye-free recipes in a future post.

After all is said and done, I’m so happy we decided to take the plunge and cut out artificial colors.  If you’re considering going dye-free, just know that the learning curve is not as steep as it may seem.  And, in my opinion, it is well worth your efforts!