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..

0—–CITRUS OIL—–00—–CASTILE SOAP—–00—–WATER—–0

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…

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

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.  😉

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
Croissant
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
Milk
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).  😉

———————

**UPDATE**

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.

Fabulously Fast French Toast Casserole

Ahhh, cinnamon.  We all know it smells amazing.  But did you know it’s really good for your brain too? Just a whiff has been shown to boost your memory, attention span, and visual-motor speed.  I don’t know about you, but after a long day with the kids I could sure use some help in those departments.  Truthfully, with an infant in the house, some days I need help all day.  We’ll sprinkle it in our coffee grounds or on our oatmeal in the morning to help us wake up.

And that’s just the smell.  Now if you actually eat cinnamon you get even more health benefits.  It has amazing anti-viral and anti-microbial properties (traditional Chinese medicine has long claimed ingesting cinnamon is one of the best ways to ward off a cold).  It also helps control your blood sugar levels by making the stomach empty more slowly after meals. That means your blood sugar won’t spike so dramatically; in fact, some studies have shown it to be more effective than certain diabetic medications.

Pretty neat stuff, that cinnamon.  Hey, want a quick little recipe you can just pack full of as much cinnamon as you can stand?  I got one.  We’ve been eating it weekly around here this winter.  It’s easy to throw together for dinner, and it’s fantastic for feeding a crowd at breakfast when you have house guests.  (P.S. Kids devour it!)

Alright, let’s get cookin’ on this delicious, dye-free, cinnamon-filled French toast casserole.

Preheat your oven to 375, grab a 9″x13″ baking dish, and gather your ingredients: bread, milk, eggs, butter, berries, vanilla, salt, sugar, and cinnamon.

ingredients

You’ll need somewhere between a third to half a loaf of bread.  Any bread will do.  French toast was originally developed for using up stale bread, which you can usually get super cheap at grocery stores and bakeries. (Midwest friends, Jimmy John’s day old bread is only 50 cents a loaf! Yum!)  I usually use whole wheat sandwich bread, because it’s what we have on hand.

Tear up your bread into roughly square inch large pieces.  Put the bread into your greased baking dish.  You want it to be full to the brim, but not much higher than that since it will puff up a bit while baking.

bread

Next, whisk 6 eggs with 2 cups of milk until well blended.  Stir in a 1/3 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (you can adjust this amount depending on how strong a taste you want), 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

whisk

Pour your egg mixture over the bread.

pour

Now press the bread into the egg mixture (I use the side of a measuring cup or a spoon so my hands don’t get dirty).  You just want all the bread to be wet.

press

Let the bread soak in it’s little egg bath for at least 10 minutes.  While you’re waiting you can put on the topping.

Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of sugar and about two teaspoons of cinnamon evenly over the top of the casserole.

topping1

Then dot the whole thing with little pieces of butter.  If you use a spreadable butter for this (versus a stick of butter) it’s much easier.

topping2

Finally, shower on some berries.  Fresh or frozen.  Any kind you like.  They all work.  Or you can omit the berries.  Or use nuts instead.  Or use both berries and nuts.  Get crazy!

topping3

You can do all this the night before if you’re making it for breakfast.  Just make sure you let the dish sit out on the counter for at least half an hour, so it can warm up a bit before you throw it in the hot oven to bake.  Otherwise it may crack.

Once your oven is hot and your casserole has had adequate soaking time, pop it in the oven.  Let it cook for about 40 minutes.  It should puff up a couple inches above the brim of the dish, and the sides will be a nice golden brown when it’s done.

french toast casserole

golden edges

Serve it while it’s nice and hot.

french toast casserole 2

This dish smells SO good!  I’m salivating just thinking about it.  Plus, your house will smell wonderful and everyone in it will get a little brain boost to defeat that late afternoon drag.  Win-win-win.

A couple tips and tricks for my fellow busy mamas:

I try to get the egg mixture made and the bread torn up during nap time.  Just keep the egg part in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the rest.  Saves some time.  You can even go ahead and make the whole thing during nap time and put it in the fridge until later.  As I said before, just remember to let your dish warm back up a little before you put it in the oven.

My favorite side for this dish (okay, for anything) is bacon.  What’s handy is I realized that if you bake your bacon on a foil lined baking sheet at 375, it is done in roughly the same amount of time as this casserole.  It was meant to be.  To cut out the nitrates in bacon, get an uncured kind.  I buy Farmland All Natural Uncured Bacon (Hy-Vee) and Simply Nature Applewood Smoked Uncured Bacon (Aldi’s).  Both are great….but is there really such a thing as bad bacon?

bacon

If you’re feeling especially nice and/or fancy, adding a little whipped cream is always a crowd pleaser around here.  I’d say I was doing it for the kids, but I’d be lying.  I’m pretty sure we want it more than they do!  🙂

french toast casserole whipped cream

Bobby Flay Would Never Hire Me: How to Cook an Omelet

Think your eggs are adequate?  Bobby Flay would probably tell you to think again.  In fact, he’s said that he won’t hire anyone at his restaurants who can’t make a good omelet.  That’s how basic and essential a cooking skill he thinks it is.  I felt so ignorant.  Here I was thinking I was a decent cook.  I had no idea just how poorly I was making my breakfast until I saw him make an omelet.  Holy cow!  Talk about a game changer!

This life lesson came about one afternoon when all three of my boys were miraculously napping at the same time.  I put on a random episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown (I love cooking shows!) while I sat down to eat some lunch.  Initially, when I saw it was about omelets, I thought it was going to be lame.  But then I saw him make an omelet. That’s not how I made my omelets…  His looked incredible.  It couldn’t be that easy.  Since I had some free time, I gave it a shot.  AMAZING RESULTS!  I was hooked.

So I just had to share it with you.  In case you too are longing for a better breakfast.  A special thanks to Bobby Flay (who will likely NEVER see this) for the life changing lesson in cooking!

Let’s get to it.  Turn your burner on to medium-low heat.  Grab a pan and grease it.  I use butter because, yum, it’s butter.

butter

Crack open some eggs.  Lately I’ve been doing three, but I’m nursing a baby so I’m extra HUNGRY.  🙂

crack eggs

Whisk up those eggs so the yolks and whites are fairly well blended.  (You can also do this in a bowl and then pour it in the pan if you want an even fluffier omelet, but I don’t like making extra dishes.  I don’t even use a whisk, that’s how much I hate getting extra things dirty.)

whisk

Let it set a bit until the very bottom starts turning white.  While you’re waiting, it’s a good time to sprinkle on some salt and pepper if you’re into seasoning.

wait

Don’t let it get too firm.  The next step is to scrape the cooked eggs and mix them around with the uncooked parts.  Almost the way you would if you were going for scrambled eggs.  What you’re wanting to do is push up the firmer parts and redistribute the uncooked parts onto the bare pan to cook.

scramble

Let the eggs cook until they aren’t very jiggly anymore (yep, super technical terminology here).  Then slip your spatula around the edges to loosen it.

cook

Now flip it.  Bobby likes to do a fancy throw in the air to flip his omelets, but for the rest of us a regular old spatula flip will do the trick.

flip

Let it cook another minute or two until the eggs are cooked through.  You can lift and check the underside if you aren’t sure on the timing.  While you’re letting it cook, throw on your fillings.  I used bell peppers, mushrooms, and mozzarella in this guy.

filling

When the eggs are cooked and your cheese is melted, gently fold it in half.

fold

Slide your omelet onto a plate.

plate it

Now dig in!  Cut up some fruit, grab a handful of nuts, steal some of your kids’ Bunny Grahams, and you’ve got yourself a beautiful meal.  And a tasty, healthy, filling one at that!  🙂

breakfast

If your eggs already looked like this, you’re awesome (and light years ahead of me in life skills).  But if your eggs look less appealing than this, I challenge you to try it the Bobby Flay way.  I promise you won’t regret it.

Here’s the episode I watched via Amazon Instant Video: Bobby Flay Throwdown: Omelets.

If you want to see the master at work, here’s a YouTube video of Bobby making an omelet.  He does it a little differently and at a higher heat than he did in the throwdown, but both ways work.

Go make yourself some eggs!

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

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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

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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.

How Probiotics Fixed My Colicky Baby

I’m writing this for all the other mamas (and papas) out there with screaming babies.  The ones who are going crazy from sleep deprivation and frayed nerves.  The ones who stay up all night comforting a wailing baby to no avail.  The ones wander the grocery stores at night like zombies because they still hear the echoes of screams in their heads. The ones whose arms feel like they’re going to fall off and whose backs ache from sleeping in crazy positions with the baby, because it was the only way.  The ones who cry desperately with their crying child.

Maybe this is you right now.  Maybe this will be you in four months or in four years when you have a new child in your life.  This was me three years ago with our second son, Z.  I’m pretty convinced that those nine sleepless, stressful, cry-filled months permanently damaged my brain.  I’m not really even sure how, but it definitely feels like things don’t work quite as well as they used to upstairs.  The experience also left me with some PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).  Whenever I’d hear him crying, even though the colicky phase was over, my heart would sink and race at the same time.  Initially, it was even hard to shake that feeling with our third child!  If you know the feeling, you have my deepest sympathy.

It’s a terrible thing to endure.  I used to joke that it would be an effective form of torture.  But seriously, I think it might be.  That’s why I’d like to share what finally fixed Z; to help end the torture of colic.  The answer was so simple: probiotics.  I still find it hard not to resent the doctors who told us it was a phase we had to wait out, and that Z was just a “difficult” baby.  I wish someone had suggested probiotics to us sooner, so I could have those lost months of my life back.  But what’s done is done. Hopefully what I learned through this experience can help other parents and their babies.

This is our story:

Z didn’t have classic colic; i.e., inconsolable crying 3 hours a day, 3 times a week, from when baby is 3 weeks to 3 months old.  He screamed and cried almost all day, every day….for NINE months.  He rarely slept for more than 40 minutes at a time.  This made him overtired, so he’d only be awake and semi-happy for about half an hour before he’d start crying again.  It was a viscous cycle. Nobody knew what to “label” his condition; I’m still not sure.  His pediatrician called it colic for lack of a better word. So we stuck with that.

At first we thought Z was just fussier than most babies.  After a couple weeks of very little sleep and lots of scream-crying, we thought he might be sick.  I had noticed some white stuff inside his mouth and wasn’t sure what it was.  I called the doctor’s office.  I described the problem to the nurse, who told me it was probably thrush (a type of yeast infection) and had the doctor send a prescription to our pharmacy.  We were desperate to help him feel better, so we gave him the medicine.  Looking back, giving a young baby such harsh drugs, especially without a proper diagnosis, was a colossal mistake.  I genuinely regret it.

Whenever you take antibiotics it kills all the bacteria in your system; it doesn’t distinguish between good and bad.  Our bodies need those good bacteria!  (Side note: Ladies, if you’ve ever taken antibiotics and then immediately gotten a yeast infection, this is why.  It messes with your natural balance.)  Eating yogurt with active cultures or taking probiotics replenishes the good bacteria your digestive tract needs to function properly.  There are a plethora of studies out there demonstrating the many, varied health benefits of probiotics: helping with diarrhea/Chron’s/IBS, improving digestive function, enhancing your immune system, etc.  We take them daily any time we feel sick.  The Harvard Medical School’s article on the health benefits of probiotics has more information, as does the probiotics page on National Institutes of Health (NIH) website.

Back to colic.  My guess is that Z had an underdeveloped intestinal tract.  Not uncommon in infants, particularly in those born earlier.  All of my boys came out naturally 3 weeks early; that’s just what my body does.  His early-ish birth may have predisposed him to some fussiness, but after he took the medicine for thrush (which destroyed any good bacteria he did have in his gut) Z’s fussy behavior quickly turned into completely inconsolable shrieking and wailing.  Giving him that medicine is probably one of my biggest regrets.

Months went by with Z only getting worse.  I did anything and everything I could to try to get him some sleep.  I remember one of the best ways to do that was to lay down with him, his head propped up on my shoulder and facing me.  He would scream and cry and thrash for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.  But if I held him close and shushed in his ear, he would eventually fall asleep (or I’d give up).  My arm would always fall asleep, and my shoulders to this day still haven’t fully recovered.

I did it because I’m a firm believer in the importance of sleep for good brain development.  My favorite book on kid sleep is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth.  He has a section of the book devoted to colicky children and ways to help them.  There’s even a plan for sleep training those kids once the colicky phase ends when baby is about three to four months old.  Z didn’t fall into this camp.  We tried to train him thinking maybe the phase was ending, but it was torture for all of us.  He seemed like he was suffering.  So we gave up and just did what we needed to do to survive.

When Z was about nine months old, a doula friend of ours asked if we’d ever tried giving him probiotics.  (P.S. Doulas are amazing! I hope to be one when my kids are older and my time is more flexible.  Look into hiring a doula if you’re pregnant.)  We didn’t know much about probiotics, so we read a bunch of articles and research and couldn’t find any negatives.  We figured it might help and wouldn’t hurt, so why not?  Within a few DAYS of giving Z probiotics, he was like a new child.  He started taking naps and he wasn’t fussy all the time.  The endless hours of crying and screaming rapidly tapered off.  The next week we tried sleep training again.  He was sleeping 11-12 hours straight at night (no feedings!) and was napping for a total of five hours during the day.  It felt like a MIRACLE!  I can’t even begin to describe how incredible it felt to sleep for eight glorious, uninterrupted hours again.  It was life changing!

With our third son, L,  I wasn’t taking any chances.  I started giving him probiotics the day he was born.  I also ate a lot of Greek yogurt with active cultures, because I read that the probiotics in it could pass through breast milk to the baby.  Every little bit helps.  So far, L has been the healthiest baby we’ve ever produced.  🙂

pill

The most common question I’ve been asked about all this is how to administer the probiotics.  All you have to do is twist open one of the capsules to get at the probiotic powder.  Then carefully pour about 1/3 of it onto the baby’s tongue right before they nurse (save the rest for later). The milk will quickly wash it all down.  I’ve also heard of other women putting the powder directly on their nipples and then having baby nurse, or mixing the powder in with expressed milk and giving it to the baby in a bottle.  Whatever way you choose.  Just be sure to check the probiotics to see if they need to be refrigerated once they’ve been opened.  Some do and some don’t.

Also, it seems that recent research is suggesting probiotics are much less effective on formula-fed babies.  NPR’s article about probiotics being used to treat colic gives more details if you’re interested.  Something to keep in mind if you’re not breastfeeding or not planning to breastfeed.  For whatever reason, this treatment may not work for your child.

I encourage everyone to give their babies/children/selves probiotics.  While I don’t think it’s a cure-all, it’s certainly not going to hurt to try it.  It won’t even cost much; about $10-$15 per box, or as I like to say, less than a co-pay.  🙂  It’s well worth the potential health benefits in my opinion.  You can find probiotics in every grocery and big box store, they’re usually kept near the diarrhea and gas medicines.  If it’s hard to get to the store with your colicky baby (which I totally empathize with), you can buy probiotics on Amazon and have it sent to your front door.  I know you’re probably skeptical, just like we were, but please read the research for yourself and don’t be afraid to try it.  It might spare you a screaming baby.