Dye Easter Eggs Naturally – A DIY Tutorial

Before you head to the store this weekend to buy your eggs and Easter egg dyeing kits, take a look at this fun and eco-friendly way to dye your eggs naturally with foods and spices like cabbage, blueberries, spinach, tumeric, chili powder and more! It’s a lot of fun for both the kiddos and adults (trust me). 😉 My kids and I can’t wait to do this again soon!

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So you want to dye your Easter eggs naturally – without harmful chemicals and artificial colors? While it takes longer than the commercial egg dye kits you buy at the store, dyeing your eggs with natural foods is better for you and your child(ren)’s health, produces much more interesting colors, is better for the environment, and is, quite arguably, more fun!

Why dye with natural colors instead of artificial?
According to Organic.org, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).” I wrote about the drawbacks of artificial colors a while back if you’d like to read more on the topic.

It is more time-consuming than using a store-bought conventional egg dye kit (and I highly recommend preparing the egg dye baths a few hours before you plan to dye the eggs with the kiddos), but it is healthier for your kids and the environment. “Dyeing eggs the natural way gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, teaching kids to use alternative project methods that are healthier for them and the environment.” I think it will be a lot of fun and a great family project.

You Will Need The Following to Get Started:

  • Hard boiled eggs (preferably white eggs since they take on the dyes better than brown eggs)
  • Ingredients to make your dyes, which I will discuss in more detail below. As a guideline, use up to 4 cups for vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart. Mash up fruits.
  • White vinegar (2 Tablespoons for every quart of water)
  • Several pots and bowls
  • Optional: stickers, rubber bands, and crayons for decorating the eggs and making interesting patterns
  • Egg cartons for drying the dyed eggs

Creating Your Colors:

Natural egg dyes can be made from a variety of ingredients. Here’s a list of what I’ve used in the past along with comments on the colors that resulted.

RED

  • 3 cans of beets in cranberry juice (instead of water) – produced a dark reddish hue

PINK

  • Frozen cherries – made a very light pink

RED-ORANGE

  • 3 tablespoons of chili powder produced a nice reddish-orange color

YELLOW

  • 3 Tablespoons of tumeric produced a great yellow

GREEN

  • A mix of canned blueberries and their juice and a few tablespoons of tumeric produced a gorgeous earthy green color

BLUE

  • 3/4 of a head of red cabbage (chopped) made a beautiful blue

GREY BLUE

  • 2 cans of blueberries and their juice made a grey-blueish color

GREY

  • Frozen cherries mixed with blueberries yielded a grey color (not the purple I was going for).

Egg Dyeing Instructions:
In the past I found a couple great web site with tips on “Natural Easter Egg Dyes” and Natural Dye from Organic.org. The natural dyes come from spices like paprika, tumeric and cumin; vegetables like spinach and red cabbage; fruit juices and even coffee. All of your dye ingredients can (and should) be composted after you are done.

On Organic.org, there is a boil method (which produces darker results) and a cold-dip method, which is suggested for children or if you plan to eat the eggs, which is the method we used last year.

The two methods for creating your egg dyes are:

Method 1—Hot
Place eggs in a single layer in a large, nonaluminum pan. Add the dyeing ingredient of your choice—it’s best not to mix until you are comfortable with experimenting. Cover the eggs and other dyeing “agent(s)” with one inch of water. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart to help the color adhere to the egg, and bring to a boil. Next, simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the desired shade is achieved. If you cook the eggs longer than 15 minutes, they will become rather tough.

Method 2—Cold
The cold method is the same as the hot method with the following exception. Once ingredients have simmered 20–30 minutes (depending on desired shade), lift or strain the ingredients out of the water and allow the water to cool to room temperature though you may wish to try keeping the ingredients in the colored water to give the egg more texture as the dye will become concentrated in areas where the vegetable touches the egg. Submerge the eggs until the desired color is achieved. You may keep the eggs in the solution overnight as long as it is refrigerated.

The longer the egg stays in the dye, hot or cold, the deeper the hue will be. Using vinegar will also help the color deepen.

Definitely feel free to experiment and try out other foods and spices. For me, that was a big part of what made it so much fun, trying out different things to see what colors would come from them. For example, the dye from the spinach, tumeric, blueberry mix looked orange or brown, but the eggs came out green! And the red cabbage dye was purpley-pink, but the eggs came out blue. It’s a fun science experiment that the whole family can get involved in. Happy egg coloring!

Cleaning Up:
Don’t forget to compost your food/spices dye mixtures when you are done.

Pictures!
The process of making the dyes:

The egg dyes on the stovetop Beets in cranberry juice
Red cabbage Tumeric

And the results:

Red and pink eggsYellow and orange eggs
Green eggsBlue eggs

Links to other people’s natural egg dyeing results:

If you dye your eggs naturally this year or have in the past and have blogged about it, leave me your link and I’ll add it to the list! 🙂

I’m all about recycling around here. This recycled post, “Dyeing Easter Eggs Naturally,” was originally written for my blog on 4/4/09, and continues to be a popular post year after year.

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Thoughts on home schooling now that we’re doing it (well, sort of)

Oh, hello 2011. Yes, yes, I realize we are now more than half-way through the first month of this year and I haven’t written one blog post yet. I can’t say I have any good reasons other than perhaps because I’ve been obsessively watching the first season of Veronica Mars (via Netflix On Demand) vegging out just a bit and life happens. OK, I confess. I watched the first season finale of Veronica Mars two nights ago – WOW! Now that was a season finale! And now that I know who killed Lily Kane, I feel like I can take a breather for a few days and even write on my blog. Yay! 🙂 (The next time I disappear, it may be because I’m watching season two. Just sayin’.)

I could have sworn I wrote a blog post about deciding to start home schooling Ava this past fall, but wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find it. The way my brain works these days it’s hard to say if I wrote it and just can’t find it or if it’s one of those posts (among many) that I always had the best of intentions of writing and never did. I’m betting on the latter. (I did write “Is homeschooling right for us?” back in 2008, so that’s something, right? *wink*)

Anyway, yes, I am home schooling Ava this year for first grade. We started back in September. I’d seriously considered starting in kindergarten, but after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and trying to get that under control, the timing didn’t seem to be right so off to public school she went. Little did I know I would be dealing with a tragedy this past fall proving the timing to be off once again, but I’m still happy with my decision to home school and we are forging ahead.

Although I don’t feel that we’d yet found our home schooling groove, we were starting to work in that direction when my sister Carrie died in October. After Oct. 25, 2010, very little formal home schooling took place in our home for the next two months. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. If I wasn’t busy planning a memorial service or two or traveling, I was grieving and trying to hold it together just enough to keep the kids clothed and fed. Admittedly there were plenty of days we stayed in our PJs all day. Hell, that still happens on occasion now! Ava continued to go to the part-time school she attends one day a week and continued with the Lego engineering class she was already signed up for, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t know if I would say that we were unschooling during that time or just taking a break. Yeah, I think it’s safer to say we were taking a break.

Fast forward to the past few weeks and now that the holidays are over we finally have been getting back into our groove again. I feel more equipped to take trips to the library, sit down with Ava and work on different subjects, go on “field trips,” sign up for different classes, attend home schooling functions, etc. We’re still far from finding exactly what our groove is, but we’re working on it. I’m working on it.

Quite honestly, I don’t think we fall into a specific “type” of home schooling family. Eclectic seems to be the best way to describe my “technique” so far. And that’s OK. I like that we/I have the freedom to explore what works best for us and to learn as we go. I like that we were able to take a break when we needed it, even if others might feel it was detrimental to Ava. I don’t think it was.

It’s true she’s not reading chapter books yet, but that’s OK too. We’ve been regularly reading to Ava her entire life. With Jody and I reading to her before bed, we’ve been through the seven novel series of The Chronicles of Narnia and the nine book series of the Little House books — twice — among many, many other books. Does it matter to me if she starts reading really well on her own at age 5, 6, 7 or 8? Nope. It just matters to me that she enjoys books and reading, and she does so far.

With the help of library books and the Internet, I think we have most subjects covered except for math. She knows her numbers and basic addition and subtraction, so I don’t feel she’s “behind” per se (and I try not to think of it like that anyway), but I’m still trying to find a good way to teach/learn math and welcome your suggestions. I don’t feel the need to sit down and drill her with addition and subtraction flashcards on a daily basis, but I do want her to have a good foundation in math — it’s just the figuring out how to best accomplish that where I could use a little help. It could be a curriculum you like, a web site with math games, or anything else really. I’m flexible.

That’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to stay flexible when home schooling. I planned on using X, Y, and Z curricula and doing A, B, and C every day when we started out, only to decide those weren’t the best choices for us. Some days we use books. Some days we use the computer. Some days we do both. Some days we do neither. Some days we bake or explore nature or go to the library or do science experiments or dissect owl pellets or garden or do arts and crafts or play games or a number of other things or all of the above or none of the above. Some of the best learning experiences happen when we just go with the flow.

Oh, and if you are wondering what I’m doing with my 4-year-old with regard to school, he’s currently in a Waldorf-inspired preschool (though not the one Ava attended). I really like preschool for my kids and think it benefits them in a lot of ways. He will likely, however, start home schooling once he’s in kindergarten (which is still nearly 2 years away because of his late birthday). And he participates in some of the things Ava works on now so he’s really already home schooling. (Aren’t kids pretty much home schooling from the day they are born?)

I like that the world is our classroom and I like being with and learning alongside my kids. I don’t subscribe to a particular schooling philosophy. Instead, we do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and that is what works for us for now.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats

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Nothing says Merry Christmas quite like Lead Poisoning

When you think of the holiday season, what comes to mind?

Family? Friends? Christmas trees? Decorations? Presents? Candles? Food? Mistletoe?
How about lead, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other toxins?

In Danika Carter’s post All I want for Christmas is Lead-free Decorations, she points out that most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC (vinyl) and the many problems associated with PVC.

• It off gasses
• contains phthalates
• breaks down in heat and sun
• contains lead which becomes lead dust and spreads throughout your home
• Doesn’t biodegrade and is difficult to recycle

This is one of the reasons we are opting for a real tree this year (which we are finally going to get tomorrow – can’t wait!). 🙂

Danika also points out that reports have shown that “the cords on most holiday lights contain lead at higher levels that what is allowable for toys.” A Michigan-based group called The Ecology Center tested 68 light sets and found four out of five of those sets contained detectable levels of lead.

While most people don’t stick electrical cords in their mouths, they do touch them with their hands (and then touch food or their faces?) and all of the twisting and turning the cords while wrapping them around the tree or — in my house, the banister — can lead to lead dust in the air.

Lead is a potent poison that can affect individuals at any age. Children with developing bodies are especially vulnerable because their rapidly developing nervous systems are particularly sensitive to the effects of lead. Exposure to lead can have a wide range of effects on a child’s development and behavior. Even when exposed to small amounts of lead levels, children may appear inattentive, hyperactive and irritable. Children with greater lead levels may also have problems with learning and reading, delayed growth and hearing loss. At high levels, lead can cause permanent brain damage and even death.

To avoid possible lead contamination, it is advised that people either wear gloves when handling holiday lights or wash their hands afterward. I’m not sure what you can do about the possible lead dust in the air other than avoid strands of lights that contain lead in the first place. Or just don’t decorate at all. Yeah, bah humbug and all of that. 😛

Actually, Alicia from The Soft Landing had some tips for safer holiday lights. “As we discussed in a recent article, locating PVC-free and lead-free light strings proved impossible, so your best bet is to focused on tracking down RoHS compliant products. We found Environmental Lights to be an invaluable source of well-researched options and SAFbaby also confirmed that Ikea offers safer light strands as well.”

Also, word to the wise… Definitely don’t let your 6-month-old sit on the floor surrounded by lights (which she grabs with her hot little hands) so you can take some cute pictures. Uh, yeah, I totally did that when Ava was a baby. Crappy parent award right here! Holla! Ugh.

There is more information available from HealthyStuff.org about the Lead and Holiday Lights studies.

Are you concerned about lead exposure from your tree and/or lights? What changes might you try to make to avoid it?

I’m rethinking my decision to wrap our banister in lights and garland this year. Sure it looks pretty, but when my kids touch it nearly every time they come down the stairs, that ain’t cool, people. That ain’t cool. Maybe I’ll have them wear gloves in the house? Or not. 😛 Next year I think we will only have lights on the tree in the house. Any other lighted decorations will be outside only. At least that will minimize our exposure a bit. I’m also trying to have my kids wash their hands whenever they handle any lights and cords this year (which is so much better than throwing them into a pile of lights, don’t you think?). 😉 Live and learn and then learn some more.

While we’re on the subject of the holidays and learning, don’t forget that you can give your Facebook friends The Gift of Green this holiday season by checking out the One Million Acts of Green Facebook Application. The app allows you to pledge to complete an act of green and posts a cute e-card to your Facebook friend’s wall, perhaps inspiring them to complete an Act of Green too! No worries about lead with One Million Acts of Green. Just good clean, green fun. 🙂

Disclosure: Rockfish Interactive, in partnership with Cisco, is compensating me for my considerable time on this project. However, my ideas, words, and opinions are my own and are not influenced by this compensation. See what the other ambassadors have to say about One Million Acts of Green: Green and Clean MomGreen Your Décor and Condo Blues.

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Americans STILL Aren’t Eating Their Veggies

Last month, The New York Times reported that despite 20 years of “public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a comprehensive nationwide behavioral study of fruit and vegetable consumption. Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, it concluded. (And no, that does not include French fries.)

These results fell far short of health objectives set by the federal government a decade ago. The amount of vegetables Americans eat is less than half of what public health officials had hoped. Worse, it has barely budged since 2000.

The government recommends four and a half cups of fruits and vegetables (which equals nine servings) for people who eat 2,000 calories a day.

People know that vegetables are good for them and can improve health, but they are also seen as a lot of work and have a much quicker “expiration date” than processed foods. Even if you buy veggies with the best of intentions, if you don’t consume them fast enough, they are doomed to rot in your refrigerator. I think this is something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another. A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by White Wave Foods indicates that almost half of us leave our fruit in the refrigerator until it rots. I can only assume that even more vegetables suffer a similar fate.

At Mother Nature Network, Katherine Butler asks, “what is the price of not eating vegetables?”

Mostly, it means that Americans are lacking in vital nutrients. Antioxidants and fiber fill vegetables, as well as key nutrients such as potassium, beta-carotene, iron, folate, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Fiber can reduce cholesterol; potassium, found in foods like spinach, helps blood pressure. Vitamin C helps gums and teeth, while vitamin E fights against premature aging.

Apparently, orange veggies are something we should be focusing on too. According to The Ohio State University Extension blog:

Orange vegetables, like pumpkin, squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes contain nutrients and phytonutrients found in no other group of vegetables. That’s why experts recommend we eat at least 2 cups a week of orange vegetables. How many do you eat? If you’re not eating enough, now is the perfect time of year to start!  All types of winter squash — acorn, butternut, hubbard, etc. are in season and cheap.  Pumpkins and canned pumpkins are stocking the shelves. Carrots and sweet potatoes are found commonly throughout the year.

I’m not sure there’s a solution for getting adult Americans to consume more vegetables. They know they are healthy, but they still don’t eat them. Even with convenient options like prepackaged servings of broccoli and bagged salads available, they aren’t biting (pun intended). Until Americans make eating vegetables a priority, it’s not going to happen. After all, you can’t force feed them. Maybe we could hide vegetables in french fries? Hmm. Probably not. Although that is a technique some people use to get children to eat their veggies (remember Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious?), though not everyone agrees with it.

Organic Authority points out the important of fruits and vegetables for children. “A diet high in fruits and vegetables is important for optimal child growth, maintaining a healthy weight, and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers—all of which currently contribute to healthcare costs in the United States,” says William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

Lisa Johnson mentions that some high schools have added baby carrot vending machines next to the typical junk food machines and wonders if the packaging (designed to look similar to a potato chip bag) will entice kids to buy them. Lisa says, “I have to say I think it’s a good idea. It might seem a little condescending to some but we are visual creatures and we react positively to colorful items that grab our attention while glossing over the ho-hum stuff. Shouldn’t we just capitalize on human nature to achieve a greater good?”

The Huffington Post reports “The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced what it called a major new initiative, giving $2 million to food behavior scientists to find ways to use psychology to improve kids’ use of the federal school lunch program and fight childhood obesity.” Some schools are employing psychology tricks in hopes of getting teens to make healthier lunch choices in the cafeteria. Cornell researches have dubbed these little tricks a success: “Keep ice cream in freezers without glass display tops so the treats are out of sight. Move salad bars next to the checkout registers, where students linger to pay, giving them more time to ponder a salad. And start a quick line for make-your-own subs and wraps, as Corning East High School in upstate New York did.”

Perhaps the veggie avoidance can be traced back to infancy. I wrote in 2007 about a study that showed breast-fed babies are more likely to like fruits and vegetables (if their mother ate them while breastfeeding) than their formula-fed counterparts.

Senior author of the study Julie A. Mennella, PhD said, “The best predictor of how much fruits and vegetables children eat is whether they like the tastes of these foods. If we can get babies to learn to like these tastes, we can get them off to an early start of healthy eating. … It’s a beautiful system. Flavors from the mother’s diet are transmitted through amniotic fluid and mother’s milk. So, a baby learns to like a food’s taste when the mother eats that food on a regular basis.”

However, regardless of whether your baby is breast-fed or formula fed, the article points out the importance of offering your baby “plenty of opportunities to taste fruits and vegetables as s/he makes the transition to solid foods by giving repeated feeding exposures to these healthy foods.”

What’s the answer to get Americans to eat their veggies? I vote for focusing on the children. Perhaps if Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution continues, not only will children start eating healthier, but their new habits may rub off on their parents too.

Photo via Masahiro Ihara on Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Green Your Halloween with National Costume Swap Day – Oct. 9

I have fond memories from Halloween when I was a kid. My crafty mom made a point of sewing costumes for me and my siblings, often creating a theme for all three of us. One year we were Princess Lea, Darth Vader and an Ewok. Another year my brother was Superman and I was Batgirl. Our little sis was a clown. Not exactly sure how that tied in to our super hero theme. Oh yeah, it was a costume my mom made years prior that both me and my brother had outgrown. 😉 I’m not giving you grief for reusing costumes, Mom. Really, I’m not. 🙂 I actually love it and would totally do it myself! Actually, I am this year. 😉

As a kid, I loved having costumes that were unique and now that I’m older I appreciate even more that they were made with love and care and have lasted through the years. My kids might be able to enjoy wearing them too!

These days, as Halloween-themed stores pop up across the city in buildings that usually lie vacant, you can buy just about any disposable costume imaginable. But instead of shelling out the cash for something you or your child is likely to wear for one night, why not participate in a costume swap? National Costume Swap Day — “a country-wide event encouraging local kids and families to trade Halloween get-ups instead of buying new ones to reduce waste” — takes place this year on Saturday, Oct. 9. The event is being promoted by KIWI Magazine, Green Halloween and Swap.com.

According to Green Halloween, if just half of the children who celebrate Halloween swapped costumes instead of choosing new ones, annual landfill waste would be reduced by 6,250 tons, which is equivalent to the weight of 2,500 midsize cars!

To find a swap near you, register a swap or get information about how to host a swap, visit Green Halloween’s Costume Swap page.

Kellie Brown, who organized the online Colorado Costume Swap, said, “While many are trying to cut costs and pick up a second hand costume, others just want to avoid making new purchases. Motivation aside, gently used costumes are the way to go for a green Halloween.”

On Inhabitots, Julie Knapp points out the benefits of costume swaps.

Swapping costumes means that fewer costumes need to be produced by manufacturers each year. In turn, fewer resources are needed to make those costumes, less packaging is required, fewer costumes need to be transported from other countries or to your local store, and less waste will be produced since many consumers trash their Halloween costumes once the fun is over.

Cool Mom Picks asks, Halloween costume swaps – Frugal or just plain smart? Personally, I vote for both. CMP points out that even if there isn’t a costume swap in your ‘hood, you have options to participate online instead.

CMP favoritethredUP has even developed a way to participate in this swap online: Put together a box of outgrown clothes to swap and include a Halloween costume in that box. Label it as a “Halloween Box” and then offer it to their members. Then, search their database for a costume for your child.

Over at Confessions of a Psychotic Housewife, Storm points out this swap doesn’t have to be just for people who celebrate Halloween. “Even if you don’t celebrate Halloween, it’s a great chance to fill up your child(ren)’s dress-up box, or to get costumes for plays and Church functions.”

Whatever your motivation is — being frugal and saving some green, wanting to keep stuff out of the landfills and being green, or just wanting to stock up on dress-up clothes for the kids — this costume swap is a great option. Visit Green Halloween’s Costume Swap for more information. Happy swapping!

Related posts:

Photo via Crunchy Domestic Goddess. (Yep, that’s me up there! Batgirl to the rescue!)

Soon-to-be cross-posted on BlogHer

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Moving Forward

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving” — Albert Einstein

After 10 years of living in this house – the first house we bought together – Jody, the kids and I are packing up and moving on to our next home.

I’ve had a few recurring complaints about this house – namely that the kitchen is too small (I’ve nicknamed it “tiny kitchen”) – but I am so grateful for the time we’ve spent and the memories we’ve made here.

This is the first house Jody and I lived in when we moved to Colorado. Its the house we came home to after we got married. This is the house to which we brought Ava home from the hospital. Its the house where Ava had so many firsts – first steps, first words – and where she’s grown into an amazing 6-year-old. This is the house where Julian was born in our bedroom, at the foot of our bed. Its the house where Julian had so many firsts as well including taking his first breath. He’s now a vivacious 3.5-year-old. This is the house where we have memories of watching baby birds learn how to fly, finding snakes, growing a small garden, playing, and swinging on the tire swing all in the backyard. This is the house where Jody and I have begun to learn more about ourselves (through therapy, etc.) and what we need to do to improve our quality of life – that we can become better, healthier people.

This has been a house of laughter and tears, victories and learning experiences, frustrations and uncertainty, but most of all, love.

We’ve visited with the sellers of our new house a few times over the past week and as they reflected on their house and the memories they created there with their family over the past 17 years, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic with them and even got a little teary-eyed at the closing this week. They told us they feel good about selling to us. That we remind them a lot of themselves – moving into the house with young kids as they did many years ago. I think they see the sparkle in our eyes as we look at the house and begin to envision our family in it. They know that the swing-set they put in in the backyard, that has sat dormant for the past several years as their children grew too old for it, is going to get a new lease on life. They know that I’m excited to get settled into the large (to me) kitchen they remodeled. They know that I can’t wait to get my fruits and vegetable plants in the ground in the garden they used to cultivate. They know Jody has hopes of building a wood-shop in the backyard someday. They know that we are excited to move in and make it our home and create our own memories at that house, just as they have theirs.

I feel very good about this move.

We are at a point in our lives where moving forward and making a change like this – relocating to a new home – feels symbolic of the path on which we already are.

I don’t expect moving to change our lives dramatically, but I feel like this move signifies us moving forward with our lives and choosing to try to break the patterns of our pasts. We are forging ahead. I know there will still be rough patches and issues – who doesn’t have issues? – but as we learn to react to things differently and develop healthy habits, I feel like moving away from this old house is a good thing. Its like we’re leaving the past behind and opening the doors of new possibilities and adventures.

I’m ready to start the next chapter in our lives. Moving forward.

“Home is where our story begins.” — Author Unknown

Photo credit: Granny’s Basement

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If Parents Don’t Protect Their Kids from Harmful Chemicals, Who Will?

Being a parent today seems to require a hyper-vigilance to make sure your child is protected from unhealthy — sometimes even toxic chemicals — in their toys, clothing, eating utensils, furniture, household items, and more. Between lead-based paint, PVC and phthalates in toys, bisphenol A (BPA) in water bottles, flame retardant in pajamas and recently cadmium — a carcinogen — in McDonald’s Shrek glasses, there’s a lot to keep moms and dads on their toes.

The question becomes: What is the best way to keep your child safe? How can a parent know that something they (or a friend or relative) buy for their little one isn’t going to cause them harm? Even if you make your own toys, buy them handmade by an artisan or buy supplies for your children to make their own simple toys, how can you know that the materials are all safe?

The fact is there is not enough being done in the United States to protect anyone, but especially children, from harmful chemicals.

According to the CNN article Toxic chemicals finding their way into the womb, “The EWG [Environmental Working Group] study found an average of 232 chemicals in the cord blood of 10 babies born late last year.”

They are chemicals found in a wide array of common household products — a list that is as long as it is familiar — shampoos and conditioners, cosmetics, plastics, shower curtains, mattresses, electronics like computers and cell phones, among others.

“For 80 percent of the common chemicals in everyday use in this country we know almost nothing about whether or not they can damage the brains of children, the immune system, the reproductive system, and the other developing organs,” said Dr. Phil Landrigan, a pediatrician and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “It’s really a terrible mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.”

Environmental attorney and mother Patti Goldman believes, “When it comes to protecting our kids from toxic chemicals, parents need a system that meets us halfway. We need to shift the burden from families to the companies who are manufacturing and distributing the chemicals used in these products.”

The potentially good news is that new legislation called the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 was recently introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on April 15. This new act amends the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act and would “require manufacturers to prove the safety of chemicals before they are marketed. Of particular concern are carcinogens, to which the public remains dangerously exposed and uninformed.”

“America’s system for regulating industrial chemicals is broken,” said Senator Lautenberg. “Parents are afraid because hundreds of untested chemicals are found in their children’s bodies. EPA does not have the tools to act on dangerous chemicals and the chemical industry has asked for stronger laws so that their customers are assured their products are safe. My ‘Safe Chemicals Act’ will breathe new life into a long-dead statute by empowering EPA to get tough on toxic chemicals. Chemical safety reform is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is a common-sense issue and I look forward to building bipartisan support for this measure.”

In the meantime, what is a parent to do?

  • You can start by checking out the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Toy Hazard Recalls list to see if any of your children’s toys have been recalled.
  • Vote with your dollars. Buy toys from manufacturers or artisans you feel you can trust.
  • Stay current on what’s going on in the movement to protect children from harmful chemicals by reading Healthy Child Healthy World
  • Check the Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Database to find out what personal care products – shampoo, soap, lotion, sunscreen, toothpaste, diaper cream, etc. – are safest for children
  • Watch the EWG’s video “10 Americans
  • Visit Safer Chemicals Healthier Families – A nationwide effort to pass smart federal policies that protect us from toxic chemicals.
  • Take Action! by reading about the Safe Chemicals Act and send emails to your representatives and senators, email Congress, and don’t forget to tell your friends about the act and ask them to take action as well!

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Chocolate Toddler Formula – What’s Wrong With This Picture?

When I first saw a link to Food Politics’ blog about chocolate toddler formula I thought it was a joke. Yes, I’d heard that formula companies make formula for toddlers as well as infants, but chocolate-flavored?? Seriously?! Yes, seriously. Mead-Johnson’s new Enfagrow Premium Chocolate Toddler Formula with “natural and artificial flavors” is on the market for toddlers age 12 to 36 months. Apparently it’s not enough that we load our elementary school-aged kids full of sugar in the form of chocolate milk. What we really need to do is get them hooked on sugar while they’re young – really young – like 12 months old. I wonder what Jamie Oliver would have to say about this?

Enfamil describes the NEW Enfagrow™ PREMIUM™ Chocolate as follows:

A delicious new flavor for toddlers 12 months and older – with prebiotics for digestive health!

As your child grows from an infant to a toddler, he’s probably becoming pickier about what he eats. Now more than ever, ensuring that he gets complete nutrition can be a challenge.

That’s why we created new Enfagrow PREMIUM Chocolate with Triple Health Guard™. With more nutrition than milk, Omega-3 DHA, prebiotics, and a great tasting chocolate flavor he’ll love, you can help be sure he’s getting the nutrition he still needs even after he outgrows infant formula.

The chocolate formula sells for $19.99 (for 18 servings) at Safeway in Colorado, but is currently on sale for $16.99. (What a steal!) Yes, I went into the store to check it out for myself (and snap some pictures of the nutrition information). I was tempted to buy a can for the sake of research, but I just couldn’t justify giving Enfamil my money, not even in the name of investigative journalism. For the record, they also make a vanilla flavored formula in case your toddler isn’t into chocolate.

Marion Nestle lists the main ingredients in her post Chocolate toddler formula?

Here’s the list of ingredients for everything present at a level of 2% or more:

  • Whole milk
  • Nonfat milk
  • Sugar
  • Cocoa
  • Galactooligosaccharides (prebiotic fiber)
  • High oleic sunflower oil
  • Maltodextrin

Nestle also states that, “Mead-Johnson representatives explained that Enfagrow is not meant as an infant formula. It is meant as a dietary supplement for toddlers aged 12 to 36 months.” Yet, as she points out, it’s called “FORMULA” and it has a Nutrition Facts label, not a Supplement Facts label. Hmmm.

Green Mom in the Burbs had this to say: “Gross. I mean, this is just…gross. No, not the KFC Double Down, though that’s pretty disgusting too… I’m talking about this: Chocolate formula for toddlers. Gross. And I thought trying to get chocolate and strawberry flavored milk out of school cafeterias was important. This is just…wow. I’m not sure even Jamie Oliver can save us.”

Cate Nelson from Eco Childs Play calls Enfagrow Chocolate Toddler Formula the “Gag Me Product of the Week” and said, “There are serious problems with this product. First off, why do toddlers, even those who are no longer breastfed, need an infant formula? Is “baby” not getting proper nutrition? And if so, how in the world is a chocolate-flavored formula going to solve this problem?”

Kiera Butler who writes at Mother Jones explains a bit about toddler formula. “So what is toddler formula, anyway? Nutritionally, the unflavored version is pretty similar to whole milk, except with more calcium and phosphorous. There seems to be a consensus that after age one, kids don’t really need formula at all, as long as they have a healthy solid-foods diet and are getting plenty of calcium.”

Danielle, who blogs at Momotics said she was shocked by some of the comments she read on CafeMom about the chocolate toddler formula. One comment read, “What’s the big deal? Kids extended breastfeed.” Danielle responded, “AHHH! There is NO comparison between a chocolate formula for toddlers and a mothers breast milk. They aren’t even on the same page, or in the same book!”

She also wants to know “why are we going to encourage our children into unhealthy eating habits by providing them with a tasty chocolatey treat? In a country with obesity rates in our children growing, it seems like simple and unknowing choices like this as children could lead our kids into serious risky eating habits as adults.”

Danielle adds, “I think the biggest realization this all brought me to today is that Jamie Oliver is right, there is such a huge issue with food, eating, nutrition, and our parents today that we need to seriously take a look at in our country. There is a problem, and the comments that the parents on CafeMom brought to the table did nothing but prove that parents are grossly un- and undereducated on what we should and should not be giving our children.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting points out that because of breastfeeding, her babies got all sorts of great flavors through her breastmilk without having to actually eat artificial flavoring.

JennyLou is concerned about the potential health problems as well. “Our obesity rates continue to climb. More kids are now obese than ever before. Kids don’t know what vegetables are. Kids won’t eat vegetables. Kids are drinking juice, soda, etc. out of baby bottles and then sippy cups. And now, enter chocolate formula. What a recipe for disaster.”

Christina who blogs at A Mommy Story wonders about the possible caffeine levels in the cocoa used in the formula.

All in all, I have to say this product scares the heck out of me. I understand that some children need extra calories and may even live on a entirely liquid diet and there could potentially be a need for this (though I’m guessing there are healthier alternatives), but having a product like this available to the masses seems like a bad, bad idea. Our kids already have the deck stacked against them when it comes to nutrition in this country, why make it any worse?

Nestle ended her post saying, “Next: let’s genetically modify moms to produce chocolate breast milk!” And Abbie, who blogs at Farmer’s Daughter responded, “I’m snacking on some chocolate right now and nursing my son. Funny coincidence. That’s as close as he’s going to get to chocolate milk for a long time.” Rightfully so.

Edited on 6/9/10 to add: FOX News reports Controversial Chocolate-Flavored Baby Formula Ends Production

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Dyeing Easter eggs naturally – a tutorial

Easter is right around the corner and since I’ve been totally immersed in house prep/selling stuff for the past month and I haven’t had time to do much blogging, I’m going to recycle this egg dyeing post from last year. Hope you give it a try! 🙂

Originally posted: 4/4/09

So you want to dye your Easter eggs naturally – without chemicals and artificial colors? While it takes longer than the commercial egg dye kits you buy at the store, dyeing your eggs with natural foods is better for you and your child(ren)’s health, produces much more interesting colors and is, quite arguably, more fun!

Why dye with natural colors instead of artificial?
According to Organic.org, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).” I wrote about the drawbacks of artificial colors a while back if you’d like to read more on the topic.

It is more time-consuming than using a store-bought conventional egg dye kit (and I highly recommend preparing the egg dye baths a few hours before you plan to dye the eggs with the kiddos), but it is healthier for your kids and the environment. “Dyeing eggs the natural way gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, teaching kids to use alternative project methods that are healthier for them and the environment.” I think it will be a lot of fun and a great family project.

To get started you will need:

  • Hard boiled eggs (preferably white eggs since they take on the dyes better than brown eggs)
  • Ingredients to make your dyes, which I will discuss in more detail below – As a guideline, use up to 4 cups for vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart. Mash up fruits.
  • White vinegar (2 Tablespoons for every quart of water)
  • Several pots and bowls
  • Optional: stickers, rubber bands, and crayons for decorating the eggs and making interesting patterns
  • Egg cartons for drying the dyed eggs

Natural egg dyes can be made from a variety of ingredients. Here’s a list of what I used last year along with comments on the colors that resulted.

RED

  • 3 cans of beets in cranberry juice (instead of water) – produced a dark reddish hue

PINK

  • Frozen cherries – made a very light pink

RED-ORANGE

  • 3 tablespoons of chili powder produced a nice reddish-orange color

YELLOW

  • 3 Tablespoons of tumeric produced a great yellow

GREEN

  • A mix of spinach leaves, canned blueberries and their juice and a few tablespoons of tumeric produced a gorgeous earthy green color – I think it would work without the spinach leaves, but I happened to have some that were wilting so I threw them in.

BLUE

  • 3/4 of a head of red cabbage (chopped) made a beautiful blue

GREY BLUE

  • 2 cans of blueberries and their juice made a grey-blueish color

GREY

  • Frozen cherries mixed with blueberries yielded a grey color (not the purple I was going for).

Instructions:
Last year I found a couple great web site with tips on “Natural Easter Egg Dyes” and Natural Dye from Organic.org. The natural dyes come from spices like paprika, tumeric and cumin; vegetables like spinach and red cabbage; fruit juices and even coffee. All of your dye ingredients can (and should) be composted after you are done.

On Organic.org, there is a boil method (which produces darker results) and a cold-dip method, which is suggested for children or if you plan to eat the eggs, which is the method we used last year.

The two methods are:

Method 1—Hot
Place eggs in a single layer in a large, nonaluminum pan. Add the dyeing ingredient of your choice—it’s best not to mix until you are comfortable with experimenting. Cover the eggs and other dyeing “agent(s)” with one inch of water. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart to help the color adhere to the egg, and bring to a boil. Next, simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the desired shade is achieved. If you cook the eggs longer than 15 minutes, they will become rather tough.

Method 2—Cold
The cold method is the same as the hot method with the following exception. Once ingredients have simmered 20–30 minutes (depending on desired shade), lift or strain the ingredients out of the water and allow the water to cool to room temperature though you may wish to try keeping the ingredients in the colored water to give the egg more texture as the dye will become concentrated in areas where the vegetable touches the egg. Submerge the eggs until the desired color is achieved. You may keep the eggs in the solution overnight as long as it is refrigerated.

The longer the egg stays in the dye, hot or cold, the deeper the hue will be. Using vinegar will also help the color deepen.

Definitely feel free to experiment and try out other foods and spices. For me, that was a big part of what made it so much fun, trying out different things to see what colors would come from them. For example, the dye from the spinach, tumeric, blueberry mix looked orange or brown, but the eggs came out green! And the red cabbage dye was purpley-pink, but the eggs came out blue. It was like a fun science experiment that the whole family could get involved in. Happy egg coloring! 🙂

Pictures:
The process of making the dyes:

The egg dyes on the stovetop Beets in cranberry juice
Red cabbage Tumeric

And the results:

Red and pink eggsYellow and orange eggs
Green eggsBlue eggs

Links to other people’s natural egg dyeing results:

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Can Your Child Identify a Tomato? Teaching Kids About Food

I recently watched a preview from Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution where first grade children were unable to identify fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, etc. While I didn’t find it shocking, I thought it was quite sad. It drives the point home that as a society we are, as Oliver points out in his TED talk (which is absolutely worth 20 minutes of your time), very disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Sure, kids eat french fries and ketchup, but do they know they come from potatoes and tomatoes? He also points out that the current generation of children may be the first in two centuries to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. Of course after that I had to quiz my five-year-old Ava (to make sure I wasn’t being overly critical) and she knew what everything was except the beet (which we don’t eat because I think they taste like dirt).


Photo credit: Jacki-dee

Ava’s kindergarten class is currently doing a section about food. My daughter already knows a fair bit about what she eats since she’s been gardening with me since before she could walk. We also have friends who have chickens and we frequently visit the farmers’ market. I don’t know what specifically her class is being taught about food, but I imagine it’s pretty light and upbeat (i.e. no information about factory farming, genetically modified organisms, etc.). That’s OK with me though. I feel like you can only give five-year-olds so much information. They have plenty of time to learn more about the current farming practices in the United States when they get older. I have been impressed that they made butter in school by shaking a jar full of cream and will be making applesauce as well, and are even hatching baby chickens in an incubator in the classroom. They also took a field trip to a supermarket. A trip to a community garden would have been nicer, but there’s not much to see at a garden in Colorado in early March. Regardless, I’m glad that her school is teaching young children about food and hope that others around the country are as well.

Earlier this week I finally sat down to watch Food, Inc. for the very first time. My kids, ages three and five, who were not yet in bed sat down too, ready to watch along side me. I had a conversation with myself in my head for a minute. Should I let them watch it? I haven’t yet seen it so I have no idea what to expect. But it’s about food and where food comes from, and that’s educational, right? I decided to turn it on and keep the remote in my hand in case anything looked like it might get too gory or inappropriate for them.

Ava watched it quite intently and asked me several questions. Julian, my 3-year-old, watched bits and pieces while he wasn’t busy playing. Actually, one of the things he started playing (after watching a scene where a factory chicken farmer collects dead chickens was “throw the dead chickens (stuffed animals) into a bucket.” It was rather fascinating to see him reenact that scene.

At one point, I stopped the movie to gauge Ava’s reaction and ask her how watching it made her feel. She replied, “Sad and happy. Sad because people have to eat the chickens. Happy because I’m learning.” That reinforced my decision to let her watch it. I was very happy to hear that learning made her happy.

We ended up watching only half of the movie together before it was time for the kids to go to bed and they missed some of the more gruesome scenes like the lame cows, pig slaughterhouse and the scene of the traditional farmer and his workers killing and processing chickens (which really wasn’t that bad). After seeing it all now though, I think they would have been OK with watching it.

Food, Inc. is rated PG “for some thematic material and disturbing images” and that seems very fair. I wouldn’t let children watch it on their own, but I think if they watch with a parent it’s a great learning opportunity for all parties involved.

This spring we will start getting chickens (to eat) from a local farmer and I think a field trip of sorts to visit the farm and the chickens is in order. We’re also hoping to get chickens or maybe ducks of our own for eggs once we move and have more land. The more I can expose my children to where their food comes from, the better. We’re not perfect. We go out to eat and even eat *gasp* fast food and junk food from time to time, but my kids know what a tomato is, they see me cooking and gardening and help me with those things. All of that, I believe, will help establish healthy patterns that will last a lifetime and will hopefully keep them from becoming a statistic.

Related posts:

Soon-to-be cross-posted on BlogHer

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