Food Dyes and Kids

scrape. scrape. ca-thunk. ca-thunk. tap. tap. tap

Hear that? That’s me pulling out my soapbox and checking my microphone. Fair warning.

If you read the labels of your food, you’re probably aware of all the food dyes used. Yellow no 5, blue no 1, red no 3. They’re everywhere. They’re in breakfast cereals, candy, soda, crackers, and boxed macaroni and cheese.

What you may not be aware of it they are  linked to a variety of diseases including allergic reactions, hyperactivity that mimics ADHD in children, and cancer.

What you may also not be aware of is due to consumer demands they have been taken out of a lot of foods in Europe and replaced with natural food colors. They use things like beetroot and paprika to achieve the same colors.

So, the same products and companies that make food for the U.S. and add chemicals for color, make the exact same products for Europe without the chemicals.

I love this article, Toxics in Our Kids food, not only because it explains the issue, but because of the picture example in the middle of the article. It shows the US Nutrigrain bars with the color ingredients Red No 40, Yellow No 6, and Blue No 1. Next to it is the UK Nutrigrain bars with their colors, beetroot red, annatto, and paprika extract.

As a parent and a consumer, that makes me mad. If a product can, and is, being made with natural ingredients instead of chemicals, it should be everywhere.  It shouldn’t matter if it’s Europe, the U.S., or Kenya, the safest possible product should be offered everywhere. Big companies should just do what’s right every once in a while without having to be told to do so by the government.  I’m all for personal accountability, but not everyone can be an expert on everything. We should be able to grab something off the shelf and know it’s safe and not potentially harming our kids.  It’s common sense and, frankly, just common decency.

So, what can we do about it?

Read labels and avoid food dyes if at all possible

There are products out there that use natural food coloring. Buy those instead of the big brands. They taste the same. We can use our money to tell the big companies we don’t want chemicals in our food.

Let your voice be heard

Be vocal. Write letters, sign petitions, let the big companies know we want safe, chemical free food.

We can start with Kraft. Their macaroni and cheese contains Yellow No. 5, also known as Tartrazine. It is linked to hyperactivity. I was alerted by Healthy Child Healthy World that there is a petition to sign to tell Kraft to take that junk out of their products.

Sign the petition here.

Now, believe me, I get the boxed macaroni and cheese thing. It’s a lifesaver. My kids love it.  There are other brands out there that don’t use chemical colors. Try those. They also tend not to use much if any butter, so they’re lower in fat and cholesterol, too. Win. Win.

Or, you can make your own macaroni and cheese. I’ve started doing that. It’s not hard. Making the sauce takes about the same amount of time as boiling the water and cooking the noodles.  I’ll even throw a basic recipe in for you. This makes enough for my 3 girls if they’re not starving. You can double it easily and freeze the leftovers or send them for lunches, or make 1 1/2 if you’re kids tend to be hungry.

You will need:

Macaroni noodles, 1 cup. Rotini or small shells are also nice. Try whole wheat noodles. Bet you don’t taste the difference.

Butter, margarine, your choice, 2 TBSP

Flour, 2 TBSP

Milk, 1 cup

Cheese, your choice, 1 – 1 1/2 cups depending on how cheesy you like it. A mild cheddar is almost a must. I’ve also mixed in mozarella, swiss, parmesian, and gruyere. Play with it, find what you like.


Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles according to the package.

While the water gets going,

Melt the butter over low to medium low heat. A low flame is key so you don’t brown the butter or scald the milk.

Once melted, add the flour. Stir for a minute.

Slowly add the milk, stir to break up any clumps of flour to make a smooth sauce.

Add the cheese. Stir regularly as it melts.

Once melted, add the cooked noodles.

You can eat it like that, or if you have more time, put it into a buttered casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 45 min- 1 hour. It will get a nice crunchy top and still be cheesy goodness below.

See, super easy.

In my vast macaroni and cheese making experience, the slower the cheese melts and the better you are at stirring it so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan, the smoother the sauce is.

Do you avoid food dyes? Have you or your children had a reaction to a food dye?


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About Jessica Anne

8 Responses to “Food Dyes and Kids”

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  1. Kristin @ Peace, Love and Muesli
    Twitter: kristinglas

    I knew this. To me the only solution is avoiding premade goods as much as possible.
    If the processed food industry insists on the worst health choices at each step, I choose not to support them.

  2. Jayne @ Mimi to Tee & Bee
    Twitter: oneinpurpose

    I remember going to a food co-op eons ago and seeing White American cheese. I asked the person giving us a tour what the difference was, and they told me that the yellow has added dye. I was shocked. I bought the white but my youngest did NOT like it…simply because of the color. The white tastes so much fresher, IMO.

    Disclaimer: I realize some people are anti-American cheese but we still eat it.
    Jayne @ Mimi to Tee & Bee´s last post ..Twitter Question

    • Jessica Anne says:

      I think the white tastes better too. It’s so funny that kids are so sensitive to color. When I do buy boxed mac n cheese, I use Annie’s Organic. They add a natural color so kids don’t complain about not having orange mac n cheese.

  3. Moomser
    Twitter: moomser

    Just wanted to add my two cents… In italy there is very little dye in food to the point that when I do use it (generally for the kids’ birthday cakes, so it happens like twice a year!) everyone is amazed that you can make food blue and green and bright red….
    It still shocks me to see how colored food in the US is, though I never really noticed when I lived there!
    On a side note, Fanta, an orange soda kind of like Slam, is light orange in Italy cause there’s no food coloring in it, whereas in Brazil it’s bright neon orange, same soda, same taste just way more colorful, I wonder why they need to do that?

    Also, another side note, on your recipe you wrote butter or margarine, generally though margarine isn’t all that good for you, if you don’t have cholesterol issues butter is generally better, or olive oil.
    Sorry about the long-winded comment!!
    Moomser´s last post ..Virtual Coffee 6

    • Jessica Anne says:

      That’s exactly the thing, there’s no need for it, so why do they do it? It adds nothing. We don’t need our food to be florescent.

      I agree with you on the butter/margarine thing. I use butter, although I think I’ll try olive oil next time. I just put it in there for people who use margarine and aren’t used to making mac n cheese on their own. Baby steps. :)

  4. Susie B. Homemaker
    Twitter: susiebhomemaker

    I have to say I’ve never really worried about it til recently. Having kids has made me reconsider a lot of things… food, toys- you just want to give them the best possible start in life. I do remember going to a school with a girl (15 yrs. ago) who always told us eating things with dye Red 40 in it would give you cancer. I always laughed it off back then, but now I see she was right.
    Susie B. Homemaker´s last post ..Earth Day Block Cleanup Party!!

    • Jessica Anne says:

      Having kids really does change your perspective and make you really think about things and pay attention. Isn’t funny, all those people who kind of seemed like whack-a-doos back then maybe were onto something?