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Christmas Bean Cookies with Homemade and Natural Food Dyes

Posted Dec 16 2013 8:39am

Christmas time can be brutal for kids with sensitivities to artificial food dyes. I've never noticed any behavior changes in my own kids when they eat food dyes, so I often dismissed reports speculating food dyes might be to blame for behavior problems in other kids.  However, my opinion of them has changed drastically over the last few years (and especially the last few months)

Our Story:

My niece is 8 years old.   The girl has been hyperactive most of her little life.  She is super smart, and wanted desperately to behave well at school, but she literally couldn't keep her emotions under control or her hands to herself.  She would come home almost daily in Kindergarten and first grade with bad marks in her "behavior notebook".  When I suggested to my sister that some people have had success with eliminating food dyes from a child's diet, she told her daughter Maddie about it. Well, because Maddie wanted to be good in school so desperately, she was the one who decided to take on the challenge to the fullest.  And she has.  She now questions everyone and everything offered to her!  "Does this have artificial dyes?"  is her new slogan.

The result: Her behavior has literally taken a 180!  Her behavior notebook at school went from daily bad marks to good behavior marks (They call it "Ready to Learn") for 3 straight months in a row. This is quite significant, and literally something my sister would not have beleived if she didn't see it with her own eyes.  In fact,  there was one day when her husband, unknowingly gave her a marshmallow. You wouldn't think white marshmallow's had food dye, would you?  But they do! And the next day- Bad behavior marks at school (for the first time in 3 months)!  She was so upset by this, but it confirmed to them that they are doing the right thing!

Now, because I love Christmas decorated cookies, and because I love my niece, I wanted to make some that she could eat.  So, I purchased those natural food dyes I had seen advertised ( India Tree ) from Amazon.  Then, you all told me on Facebook that they might not be as bright as we were hoping.  That's when I decided to do a comparison- homemade food dye vs. store bought natural dyes.

The results:

I made some homemade red coloring by juicing 3 beets.  I did not pre-cook them, just placed the raw beets in a juicer, and saved the juice.

Then, to get the green color, I used spinach. I was a little nervous that both of these would have a taste to them, but was willing to take that chance.   The spinach (about 3 handfuls worth of baby spinach), gave me a teeny tiny bit of juice. Maybe only 1/8 of a cup. I left the juice out on the counter overnight, which I was glad I did, because by the next day, the spinach juice had evaporated a bit, leaving me with some concentrated green paste.  Perfect!

Then, I mixed the beets with our frosting. I could never get it red enough, just very pink.  However, the India Tree color gave me the exact same pink color. It wasn't any redder than my homemade beets.

Then I mixed the spinach. I LOVED the green color I got from my spinach!  It was perfect for our Christmas tree cookies.  The India Tree- Blah!  The more blue and yellow I added, the browner it got!  I had to check and recheck google to make sure that blue and yellow actually made green, because I was NOT getting any green out of it.  So sad.

Then, we made some cookies (recipe below).

We frosted all the cookies, and invited my niece Maddie over for cookies!  

Of course when she asked if the cookies were made with artificial dyes, I told her- NO!! These are safe for you. She was sooooo happy!

And, did she like them?  She loved them! All the kids did.  None of the kids tasted any beets or spinach, and I actually didn't tell them that's what was in them. (This is her brother Michael getting caught snatching a cookie) :)

So, what do I think about India Tree? Well, if I could get a green out of it, I'd be happier.  But for the price- $17, it's probably a no-go for us to ever buy them again.  If it's important for you to have some shelf stable colors to use in a pinch (If you want some pink for Valentines day), sure. But I thought it was just as easy to make our own, and much cheaper! And of course, there is always that problem with blue/green that doesn't exactly do what you want it to.

This is Maddie, who approved of the cookies!


Part 2- Bean Cookies

My sister in law sent over this recipe last summer, and I've been hanging onto it this long!! So sorry.

Written by Beth:  My mother-in-law’s sugar cookies are the best one around. But I wanted to find out if I could tweak it in a way that still gave me a great cookie, but cut out some of the saturated fat. I served my modified version at my daughter’s Barney-themed birthday party, and no one was the wiser.

The difference between my recipe and the original is half of the butter or coconut oil is replaced by white bean puree.  The important thing to maintain in a pastry like a sugar cookie is the texture. These are still soft and the frosting is to die for. My sister, when she’d frosted hers and taken a bite, said “Man, these are good!”

Everyone at my daughter’s party ate them up! Bean puree holds moisture well so that the cookie stays soft. Notice, too, that the frosting is half coconut oil (it gives the frosting a really great flavor) and half bean puree. Do you dare to try? Here’s how it works:

Once again, cooking my own beans

Pureeing the beans in my blender (if it’s too thick, I slowly add enough water for beans to mix to a paste)

Here’s the consistency you want – thick enough to stay on the spatula

Half of my beans are pureed, half of them are not. This is extra, so it’s ready for the freezer.

I mixed my dough the regular way, then rolled it out on a well-floured tea towel.

Mmm! These cookies are ready for the oven.

While the cookies are baking, I mix up the frosting ingredients.

And now these babies are ready to eat!

So, I'm curious now- have you had an experience with eliminating food dyes from your kids life? Please share your stories!

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