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Encouraging a dye-free classroom

Jennifer Chidester

If day-glow birthday treats and bright red punch make you nervous about sending your kids to school, with a little thoughtful planning you can help teachers and parents consider a dye-free classroom.

Artificial food coloring has been making headlines lately with studies suggesting links to hyperactivity, behavioral issues and health concerns. Considering that most artificial food coloring is derived from things like petroleum (as are gas, kerosene and asphalt), it’s no wonder parents are starting to take a second look at food labels.

Food marketed to kids is often laced with a rainbow of artificial colors — from Red 40 to Yellow 5 — with food dye consumption up fivefold since 1955. While you can approve everything your kids consume while they’re with you, you don’t often see what’s served in the classroom. If your family is trying to sustain a dye-free diet, here are a few ideas to help you get through the school year.

Document your concerns

Contact your school administrators for a food restriction form and fill it out, so they have your request on file. When you submit the form, you can always include an FYI link or a printout of an article or study that illustrates your concerns. Since sometimes forms don’t always make it from the administrators to the teachers, you can also bring a copy for the teacher with a hand-written note thanking them in advance for accommodating your request. Discuss your concerns with them and ask what you could do to make a dye-free diet more convenient to implement in the classroom.

Engage other parents

It’s not always easy asking other parents to comply with your restrictions, especially if it’s not a life-threatening food allergy, like peanuts sometimes are. Consider starting the school year with a note about your dye-free diet and ask parents if they’ll be so kind as to keep that in mind when they’re bringing in outside treats. Attach the note to a thank-you goodie bag filled with sample dye-free candy and snacks, along with a list of the brands and stores you frequent, in case they liked anything they tried. Throughout the year, reinforce the dye-free diet by being the example. Whether it’s Halloween, Valentine’s Day or your child’s birthday, take the opportunity to pass out healthy options or even sweet treats that are free of artificial dyes, so teachers, parents and other kids can see how many great-tasting alternatives are out there.

Bring in back-ups

Keep in mind that every parent may not subscribe to your concerns about artificial dyes. Plus, even the most well-meaning parent can be too busy to plan out alternatives, or miss the food coloring on a quick label read. Make sure you supply the teacher with back-ups that she can grab for your child if needed. Provide dye-free popsicles they can keep in the freezer, or stash organic lollipops and other snacks in your child’s backpack or cubby, so your child always has options to enjoy in place of whatever’s being served. Having options available will help keep your child included in the treat-time fun without making a fuss!

Read more about food and kids

Calming foods for hyperactive kids
How eating organic improves your child’s health
The difference between bad behavior and ADHD

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