Friday, July 16, 2010

A Color-Free World

One of the items on my Life List is to remove toxins from our food and home. It's all part of the whole ball-o-wax that is our household food evolution that I've been meaning to write about for ages now, but always find completely overwhelming and don't know where to begin.

Rob and I like to reminisce fondly about the 'good old days' when we'd come home from work and veg in front of the tv - eventually one of us would get hungry enough to make something for dinner - and it was usually a frozen pizza.

Then we had kids.

At some point, most likely when babies start eating what we're eating, most of us parents realize that our kids are going to eat as healthy (or unhealthy) as we do ourselves. At least we did...and so we began making an effort to eat at the table (instead of in front of the tv), and to add some fruits and veggies to our meals as well.

Somewhere along the way, possibly when I first noticed 'dye-free' infant and children's acetaminophen, I began to realize just how much junk is COLORED! for the purpose of marketing it to children. Did our parents feel this way about Jell-o? When I think of brightly colored foods from my childhood, besides candy, Jell-o is what first comes to mind...followed by Kool-aid, Freeze-pops, and possibly some other hyphenated names...but the number of products that are now COLORED! is almost too many to count, and trying to avoid COLORED! items gets more difficult as kids grow older and become more aware. As a result of E3's peanut allergy I read labels more now than I ever have, and the artificial COLORS! are almost always listed at the end of the ingredient list - just before the allergens.

However, just as more manufacturers seem to be slowly changing over to a peanut-free existence, I'm finding more and more products that are COLOR!-free. Here are a few of our favorites.

Okay, this one probably never had food coloring in it. However, when I'm making the fan-favorite Gooey Butter Cookies which calls for a yellow cake mix, a white cake mix fills the bill nicely.

This was always our go-to kid drink to wash down popcorn on movie nights, and it still is in a big jug like this. Unfortunately, their portable option comes in a box and that's not so cool when one gets to upper adolescence.

This flavor is now known as "Fruit Diva" in our house...ever since I called it that after seeing a bag where the straw obscured the last letter.

Capri-Sun came through this summer with their 100% juice line, and bags of juice are still okay in the 'cool' least it's not a box. Sheesh! Everyone knows boxes are for babies...unless you're in your own home where none of your friends will see you, of course.

I can't say enough about this next brand - they've been HUGE in making this transition so much easier. I've found their products at my local Target, but I've also ordered some from Amazon. As a bonus, they seem to be a pretty green company.

The sour cream & onion bunnies are particularly tasty and sort of remind me of those recipes for flavored oyster crackers.

Try to contain your jealousy over my shelf paper.

These were our first taste of the Annie's Homegrown brand and have been trumpeted by my children as THE VERY BEST fruit snacks EVER!

Right? Because the "Blue Box" is here to stay, Annie's homegrown came out with their own blue box that contains pasta in a very similar shape. I'm here to tell you that their shell pasta is quite tasty as well, whether you get the aged cheddar or the white cheddar.

Are you as surprised as I was to learn that the instant chocolate pudding that comes in a box has red and blue food coloring? Same goes for chocolate cake mix. I don't remember if I checked boxed brownie mixes. I found these Better Bowls! at and while they haven't really made it easier for me to make a COLOR!-free chocolate pudding pie, mixing them for after-dinner dessert was entertaining for all involved. The bonus on these is that each bowl is sturdy and comes with a plastic lid that my Mother-in-law has recycled for individual servings of home-made ice cream.

Gummy would normally not be my first choice of vitamin format. Gummy-style candy is not so great for dental health, what with the gumminess gettin' all up in your...uh, gums, and causing decay. However, the other chewable types all have COLORS! and FLAVORS!...and the youngest two E's definitely still need chewables. Last year, E1's doctor recommended she take added calcium, and the chocolate-lover that she is jumped at the chance to try the chocolate flavored chewables...and try is all she did because those things are kind of nasty. During cold and flu season last year we added a daily Vitamin C as well.

My most recent discovery though, is the one that has brought my kids the most delight. Because they've always asked for these, and I always replied that they have too much junk in them. They're my 'crowning achievement' in COLOR!-free food:

Please note, you have to make sure it's the "Simply" Go-Gurt because they still have the other COLORED! varieties in the stores. As a matter of fact, I can only find these in one grocery store near me - the one where I occasionally go for specialty or unique things.

I think what bugs me the most about all this...effort I put into choosing our food, is what seems to be a rampant unnecessary use of artificial COLORS! and FLAVORS! Clearly these foods can be made with alternatives, so why aren't they? Why is it special that they're made with natural flavors and colors? Am I wrong in thinking that given the choice of Yellow #5 and #6 or natural Annato Extract for making crackers that gets-on-everything orange color, most people would go with the natural product instead of food coloring? If something is fruit flavored, is it really that much of a hardship or stretch to flavor and color it with fruit juice?

So if manufacturers know how to do it, and know it's probably better (although they won't admit it because Lawsuits, yo!), why aren't they doing it across the board? Why can't they just say it's easier to make that way and so they're changing their formula? Why isn't "Simply" Go-Gurt the only Go-Gurt?

If they know better, they should DO better.

The issue of artificial COLORS! and FLAVORS! has always bothered me, but just as our family's diet has evolved, so have my feelings towards unnecessary additives in our food. Over the years I have moved towards detergents and personal care products that were fragrance-free and COLOR!-free...but until recently I've felt trapped between what my kids WANT, and what I WANT FOR THEM. It's one of the issues that bothered me most when reading Robyn O'Brien's The Unhealthy Truth- that the same companies that are creating COLORED! and FLAVORED! items for our food supply in the U.S. are creating alternatives for other countries because those artificial COLORS! are banned in those countries. That's right. They're making COLOR!-free stuff for other countries but not for us.

It makes me angry. Angry that they're not doing it in the U.S., and angry that the difference is not common knowledge in the U.S. so we can demand changes, and...angry that most people here in the U.S. probably don't care either way.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I will have some of these for your visit.


Glenda said...

Thank you for sharing your label-reading-and-looking-for-alternatives hard work. I have some of these on my list for my next grocery shopping trip.

===Angry that they're not doing it in the U.S., and angry that the difference is not common knowledge in the U.S. so we can demand changes, and...angry that most people here in the U.S. probably don't care either way.===

The fact that other countries don't allow some of the colorings in food that we do was a total surprise to me when I first read this book.

When you consider how much information overload happens in the media on a regular basis, I can understand why the average joe might tune out one more piece of information about how potentially harmful favorite kids' foods might be. To have someone else do the legwork and share that information like you have, that definitely makes that "one more piece of information" easier to digest and put into practice. I'll definitely be sharing the post on FB.