A Happy, Healthy Family


How to Host a Dye-Free Birthday Party

Let's talk about the Bacchanalia that is a child's birthday party. The usual menu might include juice boxes, soft drinks, cake or cupcakes (either homemade or from the grocery store or bakery, but all with colorful icing), colorfully-iced cookies, chips, and candy. There may be an entree, like pizza or chicken nuggets, and there will probably be goody bags, which often contain candy. If you're lucky, there will be some fruits and vegetables thrown into the mix somewhere.

Now, I'm not here to bring doom and gloom to birthday parties everywhere, and I do believe in birthday cake and making the party a special day, but here's an idea: What if we tried to plan a party menu that wasn't full of artificial food dyes?

I've done it many times, and I can tell you that it's possible and that kids really won't miss all the dye.

So here's how you do it:

This is the biggie. I have seen and eaten some absolutely gorgeous cakes and cupcakes, and I believe 100% that cake decorating is an art. However, I will say that I would rather have a white, flavored icing than a colorful one that tastes just like plain vanilla and dye (Can't you always taste the dye?? I can!). The same goes for the cake itself.

Making cake is so easy, and with the right tools, you can easily ice cupcakes yourself as well. An added bonus is that a homemade cake is going to be significantly cheaper than one from a grocery store or bakery.

A yellow smash cake with vanilla buttercream icing. This was my first attempt ever doing "fancy" icing, and it wasn't perfect, but who cares??

That's not a yellow cake mix! Cake will be yellow if you use whole eggs; if you want a white cake, you'll use just egg whites.

You can make many delicious cakes like chocolate, lemon, orange, strawberry, carrot, or spice without using any food colorings at all, and then you can ice the cake or cupcakes with icing that will be white but will have tons of FLAVOR--lemon, cream cheese, orange, strawberry, cinnamon, chocolate. Be creative, and find a recipe!

I always turn to my old red-and-white checked Better Homes and Gardens cookbook, the first I ever had, when I need to make something classic like a cake. If you're not a baker and are feeling intimidated, cakes are really pretty simple. Here are a few tried-and-true recipes to get you started:
     yellow cake, with orange and lemon variations
     white cake, with a coconut variation
     chocolate cake
     basic buttercream icing (if you want to do fancy icing, you will probably need to double this)
     chocolate buttercream icing
     cream cheese icing
     tips on decorating cupcakes

"But what about the color? What about the THEME?" you may ask. Go to a store like Hobby Lobby, Michael's, Party City, Amazon, or even Etsy and find cupcake liners or toppers that go with your theme. I promise, the kids will not miss the colored icing, and when they inevitably get it all over themselves, it is much easier to clean white icing off of faces and clothes than it is to get red dye stains off of everything.
A construction party! I found the themed cupcake liners and toppers at Hobby Lobby for just a few dollars. This was lemon cake and lemon buttercream icing.

This was an art party, so the decorations were very colorful. My daughter chose white cake with vanilla buttercream icing.

Chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream icing. Now, I can't find the ingredients for those icing toppers online, and I suspect they may have had some dye (this was a few years ago before I really started to buckle down on dyes), but I want you to see an example of chocolate cupcakes. You could easily do without the icing toppers or use paper toppers instead; most kids didn't eat the icing toppers anyway. And these cupcakes were absolutely decadent and so much better than store-bought!

"But what about the message written on the cake?" Many times, children are too young to read the message anyway, but if you feel the need to have a birthday message somewhere, make a sign or have one made for you! The cake doesn't need to bear a message to convey the same sentiment.

Instead of juice boxes and sodas filled with dye, what about plain water with colorful cups or paper straws? If you feel like you have to have a colored drink, make homemade lemonade (not from concentrate, powder, etc.) or serve water with citrus slices in it for color. Again, the kids will not miss the juice, and if they spill water everywhere, at least they're not all sticky.

Water and lemonade; what else do you need?

You don't have to serve absolute junk at parties. Try sliced vegetables like carrots, celery, bell peppers, or cucumbers with hummus or nut butter for dipping. Cheese slices and fruit salad with grapes, watermelon, and berries are always a hit, too. I hosted one party where the kids couldn't get enough of the grapes! You can always include portable snacks like applesauce pouches, cheese sticks, raisin boxes, pita chips, or pretzels. These work really well if you'll be away from home, like at a playground. If you are serving ice cream, look for brands and flavors that don't have dye.

Favor Bags
This one is simple--just don't include food. Stickers, bubbles, pencils, erasers, sidewalk chalk, or items tying into your theme are always popular with little guests.

Make the Theme with Decor, Not Junk Food
I have seen so many pictures of parties where parents went all-out to make the food tie into the party theme, giving cutesy names to snacks and serving junk food because it looked like an object in a movie or TV show (and I admire their creativity, because I can never think of those sorts of food names!). But here's the thing: little kids can't read the signs you write explaining what each food is, nor do they understand the concept, and bigger kids may understand but probably don't care. So all of that effort is for the parents, really, and most of the parents probably don't care, either. So if you want to do a theme, do it with your balloons, table coverings, plates and napkins, signs, table toppers, or your child's party outfit. Or if having cute food names is really important to you, go for it and show your creativity, but you don't need to buy junk food just to make your theme work.

A Note about Sugar
Obviously, many of the ideas I've mentioned have a lot of sugar (cake, lemonade, applesauce, raisins, and ice cream). I believe in birthday parties and realize that I have to make some concessions about healthy eating on those days. To that end, I would rather the kids get a little extra sugar, which is at least a natural ingredient, than tons of artificial food coloring on that one special day a year. I will say, however, that, every single time, I have noticed a birthday party "hangover" in my kids later in the day or the day after the party, which is probably due to too much junk. If that's not a case for healthy eating on all other days, what is??

So are you up to the challenge of creating a dye-free kids' party, or have you already hosted one? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

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