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.)

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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

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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!**

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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

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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.)

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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.

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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!  🙂

Super Fast Dye-Free Stromboli

I wanted to share my favorite “oops it’s 5:00, what am I going to make for dinner??” recipe. If you can manage 5 minutes of free time, you can make this meal. It’s dye-free and my kids LOVE it. For those who aren’t familiar with stromboli it’s basically a pizza roll with sauce on the side.
One of these babies feeds my family (me, hubs, 5 year old, and 3 year old) and usually leaves me some leftovers to enjoy for lunch the next day. It can easily be doubled or tripled or quadrupled if you are trying to feed a larger crowd.
Also, it’s fairly cheap. I’ll spare you the math breakdown, but the way I make it (with organic veggies, uncured meat, and cheese; aka “the expensive way”) it costs about $6. That’s $1.50 per person in our home. You can definitely make this much cheaper by using different ingredients or produce from your garden. Way less money (and healthier) than ordering a pizza when you’re in a pinch at dinner time. 🙂
Here we go:
First, get out all your ingredients.

Four basic ingredients: refrigerated french bread, cheese, meat, and marinara.

All you need to make a basic, bare bones stromboli are these four ingredients: Pillsbury Simply Rustic French Bread (you can usually find it near the cookie dough and crescent rolls at your grocery store), meat, cheese, and marinara sauce.
I love Hormel’s Natural Choice Uncured Hard Salami, because there are no nitrates. For information on why nitrates are bad for you read this: http://www.livestrong.com/article/283850-why-is-sodium-nitrate-bad-for-you.
I have also started only buying tomato products packaged in glass containers. This is a good article explaining why it’s best to avoid canned tomatoes: http://shine.yahoo.com/healthy-living/the-7-foods-experts-wont-eat-547963.html.
Finally, in order to keep this meal dye-free, make sure you only have white cheese. Mozzarella or an Italian blend works great. Any cheeses that are orange have been colored with annatto, which causes a lot of food allergies and has been linked to the same behavioral problems as other artificial colors. You need to keep a watchful eye for annatto, because technically it is a “natural” color since it is derived from plants. Things that claim to not have artificial colors or be all-natural may still contain annatto.
In addition to these basics you can add veggies and spices, really whatever you want. We’ve made a Hawaiian version with ham and pineapple – my husband’s favorite. You can even make it vegetarian if you take out the meat.
Alright, you get it, it’s a versatile recipe. Moving on.
Pop open your French bread and lay it on a greased cookie sheet.

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Lay out your refrigerated Pillsbury Rustic French Bread.

Put your fingers in the middle of the roll and gently pull it apart. You want to flatten it out. Keep working it until it covers most of the tray. Try not to pull to hard and make holes in the dough. Tip: The dough is easier to work with if you let it warm up on the counter for 20 minutes or so before you start.

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Pull the roll towards the sides of the cookie sheet to flatten it.

Now to start assembling. You can do this in any order you like. This is how I do it. Meats first.

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Put down some of Hormel’s Uncured Hard Salami.

Next some chopped veggies. I used bell peppers and cherry tomatoes this time.

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Add some chopped bell peppers and tomatoes.

Then the cheese. I only used about half the bag (roughly 1 cup).

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Sprinkle on some cheese. For dye-free don’t use any orange cheese with annatto.

Now the fancy part. Start rolling!

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Roll it up!

You want to roll long side to long side. Be gentle! You don’t want any holes in your dough. Keep rolling!

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Be careful not to make any holes the dough.

This can get tricky if you’ve overloaded your stromboli with toppings; just something to keep in mind.
Once you get it all rolled up, start pinching the edge to the rest of the roll to make a seam.

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Seal up the edge and lay it seam down.

When it’s all sealed off carefully lift the whole thing and place it seam side down on the cookie sheet.
Then pinch together the ends and tuck them under the roll.

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Fold under the ends.

Your stromboli should look like this.

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Pop your stromboli in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Throw it in your preheated oven at 350° for 20-25 minutes, until it is a light brown like this one.

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Ready to eat!

This one leaked a little bit, which is fine, it just means I didn’t get the seam sealed as tightly as I should have in that spot. It’ll taste the same, so don’t worry.
Now slice it up, and serve it with the marinara on the side for dipping.

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I try to add in a little more nutrition with some easy sides, like this cantaloupe I already had cut up and a handful of mixed nuts.
That’s it. A delicious 30 minute dye-free meal your kids (and you) will devour. And it only took you about 5 minutes to throw together. Win!

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Super Fast Dye-Free Stromboli

1 can refrigerated Pillsbury Simple Rustic French Bread

Marinara sauce

8 oz mozzarella or Italian blend cheese

Toppings (meat, veggies, etc.)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Spread out refrigerated bread dough on a greased cookie sheet.

3. Pile on cheese and toppings.

4. Roll up the dough from long side to long side, being careful not to rip holes in the dough.

5. Pinch the edge to form a seam.  Lay the stromboli seam side down on the sheet.

6. Tuck the ends under the roll to seal them.

7. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until light brown.

8. Cut up.  Serve hot with marinara sauce on the side for dipping.