Archive for March, 2011

Dye-Free for Purim and Every Day: Sign the FDA Petition

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Did you know that the E.U. requires warning labels on foods with certain artificial food dyes? And that American brands have adapted their foods for sale in Europe? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched, then, to ask why they aren’t making the same changes to the products sold here, right? Well it turns out some companies are, though the incentive may be less goodwill and more fear of an anticipated crackdown after the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced hearings on the use of artificial dyes in food, taking place next week. Artificial food dyes have been linked to ADHD, cancer and allergies for quite some time, and one can only hope the FDA will fully consider the science behind those concerns.

hamantaschen purim cookies

Not long ago, the husband returned home from Target bearing rainbow-colored goldfish crackers. Before I could, ahem, react, he quickly pointed to the label: “Colors from Natural Ingredients!” I was still skeptical so I turned it over to see — in fact, they use annatto extract, beet juice concentrate, paprika, turmeric, huito juice concentrate and watermelon juice concentrate. And they are just as boldly colored as can be — so clearly, the question of can we replace artificial dyes with natural ones has already been answered.

The trouble with food dyes, as with so many additives, is that they are not just in the obvious junk foods but so many other foods you wouldn’t even expect to see colors. Plain white marshmallows? Artificially white. The potato rolls we buy because they don’t have HFCS? Yellow #5 and #6. (Maybe it’s crazy to ask why can’t potato rolls just be white? Aren’t potatoes white?)

I’m able to avoid some of the grocery store battles by shopping at the organic market as much as possible. But on a recent trip to the regular grocery, the dreaded meltdown occurred in the cereal bar aisle when the boy spotted Nemo, Cars and other full-colored “fruit” snacks conveniently located at his eye-level. Now we sometimes buy Annie’s brand fruit snacks, which I fully realize are still not much more than a dose of sugar, but at least they’re made of natural sugar and colors. Trying to explain to a hungry and tired 4-year-old why some fruit snacks are only special treats he gets at birthday parties was an unpopular argument, to say the least, but I pressed on and later let him choose some of those colored goldfish crackers for his after school snacks.

Before I had kids I didn’t appreciate the power of marketing to young kids, thinking surely parents just needed to learn to say no. I’ve since been educated in the magical powers of branding (thanks, PBS, for making sure my son recognizes McDonald’s golden arches). Sure Annie’s bunnies are cute, but why settle for bunnies if you can get snacks that look just like Dora?! Wouldn’t it be nice to have to say “no” just a little less often? The folks behind the movie “Fresh!” are running an online petition you can sign to urge the FDA to ban artificial dyes in food. Click here to sign the petition today. (Deadline is Wednesday, March 23.)

The Foodie Tot and I did some baking over the weekend, making hamantaschen for Purim. No dyes needed as hamantaschen get their jewel tones from jams — raspberry, blueberry and poppyseed, this time. Here’s a little clip, enjoy!

The Foodie Tot Makes Hamantaschen from Colleen Levine on Vimeo.

(And please see these other great posts on food dyes in children’s food:

Eat Your Greens on St. Patrick’s Day

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

The boy is having a St. Patrick’s Day party at Pre-K today, and of course everyone was asked to bring in something green. We were brainstorming ideas and the first thing that he came up with was peas. I have to say I was more than a little proud that he thought of naturally green things first, and vegetables at that — though it didn’t take long before he was asking for green cupcakes.

green veggies for st. patrick's day

We celebrated St. Patrick’s at home a little early with an “Irish” fondue party last weekend. I boiled potatoes, blanched broccoli and sliced raw green peppers. I was hoping that the cheese sauce would entice the boy to try the peppers, but no such luck. At any rate, if you’re struggling with green veggies in your house, sometimes a simple dip (hummus or homemade ranch) can make all the difference. And fondue — a warm, cheesy dip — is fun for the whole family.

Irish fondue

Recipe: Irish Fondue


  • 3/4 pound Landaff or Caerphilly cheese*
  • 1/4 pound Gruyere
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons Irish ale (like Harp)
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 clove garlic

Serve with: vegetables, raw or blanched, boiled potatoes, sliced apples or pears, and cubes of bread.

Instructions: Set up your fondue pot. If you have the kind with a glass pot that sits inside a larger metal pot, add boiling water to the larger pot and light the flame to keep it warm. (If you have an electric fondue pot, you can cook the cheese right in the pot. I don’t, so I started it on the stove.)

Cut your garlic clove in half and rub down the inside of a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Pour 1 cup beer into pan and heat over medium heat. Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk flour into 2 tablespoons beer to make a smooth slurry.

When beer is warm, add shredded cheese, whisking until melted. Slowly whisk in flour/beer slurry, then let cook, stirring frequently, for a couple minutes, until thickened.  Pour into the fondue pot (the inner glass pot, in my case) and set over the flame to keep warm. You’ll want to stir the cheese periodically as you eat to keep it from hardening on the bottom.

*About the cheese: Landaff is a wonderful cheese made in New Hampshire that you may be able to find in Whole Foods. It’s an American version of the traditional Irish Caerphilly. If you can’t find either of those cheeses, try a mild cheddar (Dubliner of course is always good for St. Patrick’s Day).

Tips for Fondue with Kids:

  • Obviously this recipe does have alcohol — most cooks off while cooking. I haven’t tried this yet, but I suspect you may be able to make this recipe with sparkling apple cider if you prefer.
  • It may be easier to spoon some fondue into a small bowl for dipping — to avoid messes and burnt tongues!
  • Ask your kids for suggestions of what to dip — the boy asked for peanuts, so I added a small bowl of them to the spread. (And no, I don’t believe he actually dipped them, he’s just been on a peanut kick lately.)

How to Host a Cupcake Playdate

Friday, March 4th, 2011

I mentioned last week that the boy was hosting a cupcake playdate to watch the season premiere of DC Cupcakes. (Oh yes, and if you watched the gorilla party episode really closely…in slow motion…you may have spotted the back of a blond head in the crowd — that was the foodie tot!) It was a lot of fun so I thought I’d share the details.

cupcake friendsStep 1: Cupcake Decor. I had the picture of the boy with the cupcake gorilla blown up and posted it on the front door to greet our guests. Then I made cardstock cupcakes with pictures of each of our guests and hung them from ribbons in the doorway leading to the dining room — at the kids’ eye level. They got such a kick out of seeing themselves on cupcakes.

I also made a cupcake stencil and painted cupcakes onto kid-sized aprons, then we set out fabric markers so the kids could decorate their own when they arrived. I love that one of the girls added a cherry on top.

cupcake kids apron

Step 2: Bake cupcakes a day in advance. I used very simple recipes from Martha Stewart, although it wasn’t my favorite vanilla recipe. (I’m not one to shy away from butter in my baked goods, but these were really greasy. Kept them moist, though.)

Recipes: Vanilla Cupcakes and Chocolate-Buttermilk Cupcakes

After baking, let cupcakes cool completely, then store in an airtight container.

Step 3: Mix up frostings, color (if desired), and divide into disposable pastry bags. Tie the bags shut with rubber bands, and place the bags in tall glasses to keep things neat. (If you make the frosting ahead of time, store in the fridge but remove about an hour before decorating time to allow it to come to room temperature.) Set sprinkles on a lazy Susan if you have one in the center of the table. (I just used my cake stand, and we passed them around.)

Recipes: Georgetown Cupcake’s cream cheese frosting (video) and Chocolate Buttercream. (I halved the chocolate frosting recipe and we still had way more than needed.)

decorating cupcakes

Step 4: Have savory, healthy snacks. I made plain, air-popped popcorn that we set out in little bags — this way the kids weren’t ravenous when they sat down to decorate the cupcakes, and all the sprinkles made it onto the cupcakes first instead of directly into little mouths.

Step 5: Decorate! I bought cupcake boxes at the craft store that each held four. We gave each kid two of each flavor, and set them loose with frostings and sprinkles. After they decorated them, they each picked one to eat and we sent the rest home with them for their parents and siblings.

Step 6: Let them eat (cup)cakes!

let them eat cupcakes

Step 7: Ensure an unseasonably warm and sunny day, so that sugar-loaded kids can play soccer/Clone Wars tag in the back yard before getting sent home. (I realize this may be out of your control, but it worked well for us.)


A note about food colors: Some of my family-friendly food blogging friends have recently written about artificial food dyes and their impact on childrens’ behavior. We try to avoid foods with artificial ingredients, but occasionally use artificial colors on special treats. If you prefer to avoid them altogether, look for India Tree natural colors, available at natural food stores. Their colored sugars are a nice alternative to sprinkles.

First Bites {Real Food for Babies}

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Here’s a little known fact: this blog’s original name was “Puree Gourmet.” That’s right, way back in the primitive days of food blogging (spring of 2007, to be precise), blogs that focused on feeding families were hard to find. The only site I was aware of at the time for baby food help was Wholesome Baby Food. (Which is still one of the most comprehensive resources out there, in my opinion.) Needless to say the baby food focus didn’t really pan out — the puree phase comes and goes so quickly that by the time I had a few spare moments to blog, the boy was well on his way to toddler foods. That’s not to say early foods aren’t important — there’s a window of opportunity around the 6-month mark where babies are naturally curious. I believe it’s important to introduce as fresh and varied tastes as possible before baby is old enough to talk back — er, assert her independence. Some foods my son loved at first he hasn’t touched in ages (avocado), while others are still favorites (bananas & tofu). You’ll never know what your child will grow to love if you don’t offer it, right?

foodie bebe eats squash

The foodie bebe began her own adventures with solid foods at the start of the year (at 6 months). There is so much more information out there now; new books, new guidelines, and a brand new campaign to encourage parents to skip white rice baby cereal (launched by the esteemed Dr. Greene.)WhiteOut: Let every child’s first grain be a whole grain I was highly skeptical of baby cereal with my son, but he did have a little before moving on to sweet potatoes. I eventually cooked real oatmeal, barley and brown rice and pureed them with fruits and vegetables for a more wholesome meal. With the new baby, we skipped the plain rice cereal and started on squash. After a couple vegetables and fruits, I started offering a little organic brown rice cereal mixed with fruits — often applesauce or bananas — so that she gets the iron from the cereal. I still believe that it’s better to feed babies and older children alike iron-rich foods, rather than iron-fortified cereals.

What are iron-rich foods suitable for baby? Starting out, there’s sweet potatoes, spinach, prunes and beets. I actually bought an organic baby food that was spinach, apples and rutabaga — not a combination I would’ve thought of on my own, but the baby loved it. As you move into proteins, egg yolks, salmon, shellfish and of course red meat are the best sources of iron, as are whole grains. The baby’s first animal-protein was (wild Alaskan) salmon — mashed with butternut squash. Vitamin C aids in the absorption of iron, so pair fruits like mango, papaya, kiwi and strawberries with iron-containing foods.

foodie bebe's first foods

So far, the foodie bebe has worked her way through all the “starter” foods, with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables: squash, sweet potatoes, avocado, banana, apples, pears, apricot, prunes, cauliflower, spinach, peas, green beans, blueberries, mango, carrots, parsnips, beets, yogurt, salmon, beef, turkey and tofu. We’re just starting on little bitty finger foods, and I’m working on introducing more variety into her purees. Stay tuned for some of our favorite “stage two” baby food recipes.

Any one have questions about feeding babies? What were your little ones’ first foods?

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Please consult with your pediatrician before beginning solids.*