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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Easy Homemade Greek Yogurt

I love Greek yogurt. I mean, looooooove it, love it. The only thing I don’t love about it is shelling out a dollar or more for each delicious little container at the store.

I used to justify the cost because it’s a healthy snack. (But, let’s be real. It was mostly because it’s so creamy and delicious, and the closest thing to ice cream that you can have for breakfast in front of the kids.)
My husband isn’t as much of a yogurt fanatic and started hinting that maybe I should consider dropping, or greatly reducing, my semi-expensive yogurt habit. *sigh* What’s a girl to do? Turn to the internet for help, of course. 🙂
I found a bunch of different recipes and methods for making yogurt. Through trial and error I came up with one that is extremely easy with very little hands-on time (which is ideal for me, because with three littles running around I can’t be wasting a lot of time in the kitchen).
All you need is milk (I usually do a gallon at a time, but any amount will work), a pot, some mason jars with lids, a heating pad, and a towel. Optionally, you can use a funnel and strainer if you like your yogurt really smooth like I do. The first time you make it you will need to have a little bit of plain Greek yogurt as well. But after that just save a some of the yogurt from the previous batch to use in the next one.
The best part about this recipe is how much money you save. A gallon of whole milk costs around $4 and makes about 144 ounces of yogurt. Generally, an individual container of Greek yogurt is 6 ounces and costs at least $1 – you’d need to buy 24 of these to get up to 144 ounces. That’s at least $24. Which means: Buying your Greek yogurt at the store is at least 6 times as expensive as making your own!
I promise that making your own is painless! Give it a shot and put that $20 savings towards something better than yogurt, like a babysitter for date night.

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I’ve learned the key is using plain old pasteurized whole milk. The ultra pasteurized milk doesn’t work very well; mine always ended up being runny. If you want a thick Greek yogurt like you’d buy at the store, then make sure you don’t get ultra-pasteurized. And make sure it’s whole milk. So creamy!
I like to make a gallon at a time. It lasts up to several weeks in the fridge, and coincidentally that’s about how long it takes us to use it up too.
Whatever amount of milk you decide to use, the next step is pouring it into a pot.

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Now turn your burner to medium heat and walk away. Chase your kids around or, if you’re lucky, kick up your heels and relax for 20-25 minutes.
Check on your milk about 20 minutes later, it should be boiling. Ideally you want to get to it before it’s a roaring boil, but if you get busy and forget about it (guilty!) all is not lost. It just takes longer to cool down if you overdo it.

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Turn off the heat and take it off the burner.
I like to give it a good stir at this point, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot a little. There is usually a skin of burned milk on the bottom of the pot that you want to take out at some point. If I’m careful I can usually manage to get it all out in a few long pieces with my spatula.

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Fish out all the large pieces of milk skin and throw them away.

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Leave your milk to cool for about an hour. No need to check on it or stir it. You can if you want to, but it’s not necessary.
After an hour or so check the temperature.

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If you have a food thermometer you want the milk to be somewhere in the range of 110°-118°F. I shoot for close to 114°, because the next step is adding in yogurt. This will cool it down a little, and you don’t want it to go below 110° or the live cultures in your yogurt won’t multiply. You also don’t want the milk too hot or you’ll just be killing the cultures. If you don’t have a food thermometer, you can check with your finger. It should feel hot, but not hot enough to burn you…and hotter than just warm (technical, I know). Be careful not to burn yourself!
If your milk is too cool when you check it, just turn the burner back on low for a couple minutes, stirring to distribute the heat, until it’s where you want it. This is great if you forget about your yogurt project while you’re entertaining kiddos or cleaning the house (again, guilty!).

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**Important notes: 1. Make sure your starter yogurt says it has live cultures, or none of this will work. 2. To complete these next few steps you’ll need about 15 minutes of uninterrupted time. I try to make it so this step falls during nap time.
When your milk is at the right temperature, stir roughly a tablespoon of plain Greek yogurt into about a cup of the milk.

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I use a fork to whisk it, because it seems to dissolve better that way. You don’t want to over-whisk it and kill the cultures. Mix until it’s mostly dissolved.

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Pour your yogurt milk back into the large pot. Stir slowly with your spatula for a minute to distribute the yogurt cultures throughout the milk.

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If you haven’t already, get your jars and lids out.

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Set up your funnel and strainer on the jar, if you’re using them, and start scooping milk into your jars with a ladle or measuring cup. Things can get a little drippy, that’s why I put a towel over the crack between the oven and the counter – one of the most annoying places to have to clean.

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This is why I use a strainer. Catches any gunk you missed with your spatula before.

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I use the pint sized Mason jars for my yogurt. I fill them up to the neck and it makes about 9 jars worth.

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Put your jars on the heating pad. I put mine on the medium heat setting, but I’ve tried it on low and high as well. They all work. You just want to keep them nice and toasty without making them too hot – the cultures like to reproduce (which is what turns your milk into yogurt) around 110°F.

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Now put a big towel on top of your jars to help hold in the heat.
Congratulations! The “hard” part of yogurt making is done. Now leave your yogurt to cook on the heating pad anywhere from 7-11 hours. The longer you leave it the thicker it will be. It also gets a little tangier as time goes on, so decide how you like it and let it cook accordingly. I leave mine for about 9 hours. You may want to check your heating pad occasionally; most of them have automatic shut-offs. After a couple hours I turn mine back on. Once I left it to cook overnight and it still cooked up fine even though I didn’t restart the pad. The yogurt is forgiving, so there’s room to experiment. 🙂
When your yogurt is done cooking put it in the fridge.
That’s it! Yay!

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When it cools down, mix in some honey or jam or granola or fresh fruit – whatever your heart desires. Now go enjoy your delicious, inexpensive, protein packed, good-for-your-body Greek yogurt! You can even share with your family if you’re so inclined. 🙂

My favorite way to eat Greek yogurt - fresh fruit and a little honey. Mmmmm!

My favorite way to eat Greek yogurt – fresh fruit and a little honey. Mmmmm!

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Homemade Greek Yogurt

1 gal. whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)

1 Tbs plain Greek yogurt (with live cultures)

1. Heat gallon of milk in a large pot to around 180 degrees, or until just boiling (about 20-25 minutes).  Turn off burner and remove from heat.

2. Let milk cool to approximately 114 degrees.

3. Mix 1 Tbs of plain Greek yogurt with 1 c of the cooled milk.  Whisk gently with a fork until yogurt is mostly dissolved.

4. Pour yogurt milk back into the large pot and stir softly for a minute to distribute the live cultures.

5. Line up 9 pint sized Mason jars and lids.  Place a small funnel in the first jar with a strainer on top of the funnel.  Using a ladle or measuring cup, begin scooping milk from the pot into the jars.  Fill to the neck of the jar, then fasten the lid.

6.  Place the full jars on a heating pad set to medium heat.  Cover with a large towel to insulate.

7. Cook yogurt on the heating pad anywhere from 7-11 hours, depending on the consistency desired.

8. When the yogurt has cooked, place all the jars in the fridge.  Will keep for about 3 weeks.