We do. It makes my 7 year old bonkers. Literally, nuts. She can't control herself, gets out-of-control silly & loud, and then feels awful (physically and emotionally) later. While she doesn't always like having to say no to treats that contain Red 40 - she is now very aware of the fact that it's not good for her. She tries very hard to make good choices, and fortunately for the most part, it's not too hard to find a substitution (for example at gymnastics when they get a popsicle, she knows to choose a lemon or lime or orange - instead of red, blue or purple).
However, it's the time of year when Valentine's Day classroom parties are being planned. It's not even February yet, and we've already had tearful discussions about how everyone else will be able to eat red treats - and she will not. She's feeling left out of the festivities, isolated, and the holiday hasn't even happened yet!
I've talked to her teacher about why we avoid red 40 dye. It's a stepping stone to making MANY more healthy choices - eventually leading up to ALL food dyes, but for now I'm focusing on red 40 just to make it more manageable. Her teacher seems to "get it" but that doesn't mean I can convince the entire classroom of parents to not bring in anything un-naturally red for this holiday event (let alone for the rest of the school year!).
So my daughter and I have been talking about how she will handle the classroom party. I've set a rule that allows her to choose, from all the red/pink goodies that are not naturally that color (this is important...we'll revisit this in a minute), ONE treat. She will be allowed to have one red or pink item. Meaning, one frosting topped puffy sugar cookie (you know the ones I mean, they show up everywhere) or one cupcake with swirls of red icing, or one whatever of her choosing.
Alternatively, as long as it's not red or pink or some other color that clearly was made using red dye - she can go for it. Generally, we teach moderation when it comes to sweets and treats, but heck...I'm not a monster! She already is limited with her allergy to cow milk, so for this particular holiday I'm willing to let the moderation rule be a little flexible. And, for our contribution to the party, we've signed up for a "healthy snack" and will be bringing Target brand Market Pantry strawberry fruit pull-apart leather. No added sugar, no dyes, no HFCS - all natural, and it's RED! Perfect.
Alright, back to the part about naturally red. We had some confusion early on when we eliminated Red 40 from the line-up of acceptable things. I think it was hard for her to understand that some things are naturally red, and some are not. Shoot...strawberries are red, so in a 7-year old mind (even in a 40-year old mind) why would they add red dye to something that already has strawberries in it?!? I supposed that's a whole other blog post - perhaps written by someone who knows more - but I can see why she would be confused. We made a list on the way to school of some naturally red things to eat that would be safe. She came up with some great ones, and maybe you'll want to investigate more for your classroom party too!
- fresh strawberries
- fresh cherries
- fresh raspberries
- red apples
- dried versions of the above (or freeze dried) plus dried cranberries
- no sugar/dye added fruit leathers in the above flavors - I love the Market Pantry versions, affordable and fun
- Yummy Earth lollipops
- chocolate (dairy free in her case) even though it's not red...hey, it's CHOCOLATE!
- ...and many organic brands of gummy candies also use natural colors from black carrot juice or beet juice to make things red...google it and you'll find some options
If you've had any luck avoiding red dye at school and at home with great tasting alternative, please share! Happy Valentine's Day!