Sunday, July 7, 2013

Piece-of-Cake Devil's Food Pancakes

Not only is this momma Not Granola, I'm no Betty Crocker, either. I like easy recipes that taste great. I don't raise my own chickens, I don't grow my own vegetables, I don't butcher my own cattle. I just don't. Sorry to disappoint.

One of the problems that we've been having around here is repetition. Jericho finds things he likes, and we wear them out in a hurry. Breakfast foods have been something of a struggle for us. Jericho can't have most boxed cereals or Pop-Tarts when we're short on time in the morning. I like to make things a head of time and microwave them for a quick breakfast (add "not a morning person" to the list of my shortcomings). After making a huge batch of breakfast burritos recently, he was worn out on those. Today, I got prepared to make a batch of pancakes and remembered that when he stared this diet, we'd already worn those out. I searched the cupboards for anything that I might be able to use to spruce up his normal breakfast...

Enter our latest creation - Devil's Food Pancakes. The easiest, most sinfully delicious recipe you've had... pretty much ever.

- 2 cups dry pancake mix (I use Krusteaz)
- 1 1/2 cup Devil's Food dry cake mix
- 2 cups water (this makes cakey pancakes, add more water for thinner pancakes)

Blend and cook on the griddle.

Is this the healthiest thing your kid is gonna eat all day? Nope. But it has comparatively less sugar than regular pancakes with syrup. Regular syrup has 29 grams of sugar in 1/4 of a cup. I don't know about you, but my kids use way more than 1/4 of a cup on their pancakes. The cake mix, in comparison, has 19 grams of sugar in 1/3 cup of mix. A box of cake mix has 12 servings, with 19 grams of sugar per serving, that's 228 grams of sugar in the box, I made 30 pancakes so that's 7.6 grams in each pancake (give or take). Way less sugar than regular pancakes drenched in syrup! And, obviously, dye free.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Proof is in the (dye free) Pudding

When it was first noticed that Jericho was having some trouble in school, his teacher and principal suggested we consider placing him in their CICO (check in check out) program. Children in this program check in with various teachers to measure their progress at various times throughout the day. The total amount of points a child can receive in a day is 60, and each child has an individual goal. Jericho's goal was set at 48 points each day, or 80% of his total possible points. Each day a score sheet comes home to tell you what kind of day your child had. At the end of the month, a graph comes home showing you their progress for the previous month.

Recently I asked for all of the graphs up to this point.

Below are December and January:


In December, Jericho's point average was right at 80%. December was our meeting with his teacher when we realized how poorly he was doing in Kindergarten. At the beginning of the second semester was when we really started working with Jericho around the clock on both his academics and his behavior.

In January, his average rose to 87%.

In February was when we started Jericho's diet, making March the first full month Jericho was dye free.

In March, Jericho's average rose to 88%. In April, it was up to 92%.

It's also worth noting that each time in these 2 months that Jericho was below his average (indicated by the bold black line), he had a dye exposure.

These results alone would be enough for this Not Granola momma and even her not granola hubby to believe in what we've been working so hard on for the past several months.

Within the last 2 weeks, we've also been informed that Jericho has graduated from Title II reading. His recent assessment scores indicate that he no longer qualifies for the extra help he's been receiving up to this point.

Being dye free hasn't made our child smarter by any means. It's given him the tools to succeed. Being dye free has given him the ability to focus on his learning, instead of controlling his body. We always knew that he was smart, that wasn't the problem. The problem was that he couldn't control himself long enough to learn anything that was being presented to him.

In a few weeks Jericho will be done with Kindergarten. A few months ago we thought he would need to repeat the year. His hard work is paying off. This Not Granola momma is so proud of her dye free boy.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Your Allergy is Super Annoying.

As a former Girl Scout leader for several years, I can tell you that a kid with an allergy is... super annoying. I know, I know - that's terrible, but really. Between our group of girls one year, we had to plan around a dairy intolerance, a nut allergy and a gluten allergy. Not to mention that one kid that hates everything. By my last year of leading Scouts, we had done away with snack time. I never thought that my kid would be one of "them".

The problem with a dye sensitivity (I shy away from calling it an "allergy"), is that dye is in things you wouldn't even think of. Did you know that Pillsbury crescent rolls contain both red and yellow dyes? Or that nearly all toothpaste contains dye? These are things I didn't even think of when we started this diet.  (Shout out to Tom's of Maine for their dye-free strawberry toothpaste, which Jericho LOVES! We bought ours at Target, or visit to check out this and all of their all-natural care products!)

When there are birthday parties at school, my kid can't have a cupcake, piece of birthday cake, most ice cream or any candy that's handed out. This is torturous for a Kindergartner. Don't think that each time there's a party at school, it doesn't cross my mind to send a personal email to each and every parent asking them to send a dye free snack. The problem with doing that is that my kid lives in a colorful world. I can't possibly ask everyone he encounters throughout his life to accommodate him. I have to teach him what he can and can't eat and hope he makes the best decision he can. Jericho can barely read, but has learned to read a nutrition label.

One of the questions that I've been asked several times is how Jericho copes with his new diet. When I started this diet, it honestly didn't even cross my mind that I was going to have to explain to a 6 year old that he couldn't eat most of what he loved. As I packed Jericho's first lunch for this new adventure, I carefully explained to him that he wasn't to eat anything that I didn't send him to eat. He agreed at first, then asked why. This was not a question I was prepared for. I started by asking Jericho if he was aware of the fact that sometimes his body "made poor choices". I explained to him that when his brain told his body to sit still and his body wanted to move anyway, that was his body making a poor choice. He understood and agreed. I then explained to him that I thought that maybe something he was eating was telling his body to make poor choices. This made sense to him.

I spoke with Jericho's teacher who knew not to feed him anything that wasn't sent from home. His teacher keeps a small refrigerator in her room and was gracious enough to allow me to send some tubes of Simply Go-Gurt and string cheese to keep for him for snack time. She also offered to only bring in dye free items when she brought treats in for the class. I was really impressed with how well both Jericho and his teacher took to his new diet. His first few days started without a hitch, and while I felt that his behavior was starting to improve, I knew it was probably wishful thinking and that it would take some time to get the dyes cleaned from his system. I didn't realize how much his diet was affecting him until the third day of his diet - Valentine's Day.

As I mentioned before, Jericho's teacher and I had a pretty good plan for his classroom party. She would allow the kids to pass their treats out, and before he could open his box, she would replace his candy with other goodies I had provided for him. All was well until we got home that evening. Jericho was playing with a friend next door who, as I'm sure had been advised by his well-meaning mother time and time again, kindly offered to share a snack with Jericho. Jericho took his friend up on his offer. A short time later, Jericho came inside very upset and explained to me that he had some of the candy his friend had offered him... a handful of jelly beans. While I was disappointed that we had a set back so soon, I did look at this as a way to see if this had any affect on Jericho's behavior. The night carried on and everything seemed normal for a while. A few hours later I was sitting at the kitchen table and looked up to see him running down the hall to his sister's room. This was not an abnormal sight, but when I watched him for a moment, I realized that he wasn't running anywhere in particular. He was running, full speed, from one end of the hall to the other. And did so about 20 times before I finally asked him to stop. This was the first time I really noticed how different he had been in the last few days. Jericho noticed, too. I asked him why he was running back and forth and he had no idea. The following day, we talked about it again. This was a good example for me to use as to why I thought the dyes were bad for him.

It takes, I'd guess, about 2-4 days to get the dyes out of his system each time he's exposed. I can tell by Jericho's behavior if he's been exposed even without knowing for sure. The hardest thing for me to explain to people is that he can't have "just a little" of anything. Not one piece of candy, not one bite of cake - nothing. My friend who told me about her son's red dye sensitivity (shout out to fellow blogger momma Ariena Krieger of One Krieger Chick told me a story about how he was given one SweetTart and was out of control for days. I assumed this was a slight exaggeration. It was not.

If this were one of my Girl Scouts, I would have given myself the mental eye-roll when you explained to me that your kid couldn't have dye. Lucky for our family, we have been surrounded with a support system all full of people who have been extremely supportive of this undertaking. His sister has even learned to look at labels when I'm not around to make sure that he isn't having something he can't. I'm amazed and humbled each time someone asks about his diet or checks with me before giving him a treat.

...Because I know that a kid with an allergy (or sensitivity) is super annoying.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I used to enjoy a good shopping trip.

I started my son's new diet on a whim and really without a clue of what I was doing or getting myself into. Fortunately, it's really not as bad as you might think. And from personal experience, I promise you that it's definitely been worth it.

If you're thinking of doing this, too, here is what you're looking for:
When you read your food label, if it lists a specific color (usually a color and number), that's bad. Pick up a box of regular sugared cereal from your cupboard. If you look usually towards the bottom of the ingredients, any regular cereal should list something similar to one of the following: red 40, blue 2, yellow 6, etc. These are exactly what we are trying to stay away from with this diet.

I knew immediately upon learning this information that the first stop on my journey had to start with my kitchen. We are notoriously bad eaters around here. In my previous post when I noted that we have 14 boxes of cereal, that was not an exaggeration. I counted them. They are all, of course, chalk full of dyes. How else would they get them to be so pretty and appealing? Also taking up regular space on our shelves were the following items: strawberry Pop-Tarts (red 40), boxed macaroni and cheese (yellow 5, yellow 6), Doritos (red 40, yellow 6), Go-Gurt, Gatorade and a variety of sodas (which can all have a variety of dyes based on the flavors you choose). These things were all going to have to go.

I ended my last blog post by telling you about how my usually quick shopping trip seemed endless on my first excursion. Not only was I shopping in a way I'd never shopped before (reading LABELS??), but finding what I needed was so much harder than I imagined. I headed to our local Hy-Vee store - they are notorious for their healthy foods section. I felt armed with the knowledge that I had and was ready to conquer this store and get my son on the right track. I quickly perused the healthy food section as my first stop and nearly died of sticker shock, so back to the main part of the store I went. Now, I know that they say, "Stay on the outside perimeter of the store," but that's just not gonna happen for this Not Granola momma. My kids eat convenience foods... a lot, and I wasn't ready to go cold-turkey on that. My first quest was Pop-Tarts. Jericho LOVES him some strawberry Pop-Tarts. They have a lot of different kinds of Pop-Tarts, FYI. Probably roughly a million. But that's just an estimate. What they don't have is any kind of all-natural version. Bummer. Back to the health food section. I managed to find an organic kind of toaster pastry (I check - no dyes, YAY!). They are, however, nearly $5 for a box of 6 pastries. Ouch. One box in the cart, and onward we march.

My next quest was Herculean of sorts.  Did I mention that it was the week of Valentine's Day? It was the NIGHT BEFORE Valentine's Day, to be exact. Divine time to start a new diet, mom. Jericho's teacher had agreed to help me out with the treats he received with his Valentines. She agreed that she would take his candy from his box, and switch it out for healthy (or at least dye-free) alternatives that I would send. Hy-Vee has an entire candy aisle. An entire aisle devoted to candy. There is 1 non-chocolate item in it that is dye-free. (Plain chocolate is usually safe.) Seriously. One thing. I flipped over and read every bag and box in that store. I seriously thought I was going to cry. Finally we ran across Mamba Gummies. They look good and aren't expensive, so I throw a couple of bags in the cart. Meltdown averted. I head back to the health food section to check for more candy. I look and I look and I look... and suddenly I realize to my amazement that "dye-free" isn't really a category. They make sugar free, gluten free, lactose free, no artificial preservatives - you name a dietary restriction and Hy-Vee has food for it. Except this one. I ask a manager. He stares bewildered at what I can only assume is the horn that has apparently grown out of my head. He is absolutely no help and really has no idea what I'm talking about. I show him a label and explain it to him. Still nothing. Oh my gosh. This isn't a thing. This isn't something that there's a special section for. Crapola. I have to do this all by myself. There is no easy button. Jericho is now asleep in the cart. One box of $30 toaster pastries and some gummy candy are all I have checked off of my list. I'm determined to get through this, even if I only get enough food for one day. I press on...

I get through it, alright, but that shopping trip took nearly two hours. So that it doesn't take you as long, here are a couple of key things that I found:

Mamba Gummies:

Yes, they're still candy. I know. I've taken the stance that I want my son to succeed at this diet, so I'm going to make it as great as I can. He is still a 6 year-old after all. And what kid doesn't love candy?

This was a tricky one for me. My kids love them and technically you'd think they'd be a fairly healthy snack, but they are full of dyes. I was ECSTATIC when I recently discovered:

You see that label? Go ahead... take a gander. No high-fructose corn syrup. No artificial colors or flavors. You just get RIGHT out of town. We buy these in bulk when they're on sale now. Kids say they taste the same, P.S.
Fruit Snacks:
Yeah. I know. Still not great. But out of convenience for... me, I've created what I call the "healthy snack locations" at my house. There's a drawer in the fridge that has the Go-Gurts and fruit in it and a bin in the bottom of the pantry that has grab-and-go snacks in it (fruit snacks, snack-sized portions of crackers, etc). I like this because the kids know what is off limits when they're snacking. Nothing too junky or big before dinner. Motts and Ocean Spray both make fruit snacks with all-natural coloring, and they're both awesome.
Now, remember earlier when we talked about how we love our Doritos? Well, no luck there, but I did find...

WHAAAAAAAAAT??? These are delicious, FYI. No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

I know it's just a couple of things, but I hope this helps to get you started if you're thinking about joining me. Next time, I hope to be able to share with you some of Jericho's successes on the diet... and some setbacks (like he even had a chance on Valentine's Day?).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

But every 6 year old boy is hyper... Right?

I am a modern mom. I work full time. My children go to public school. We watch cable. I have 14 boxes of cereal in my pantry right now. My children can tell you exactly what's in a Happy Meal. I am not, what you might call, "granola".

When we began to look for a solution to our son's behavioral issues, we were the last people who you would think would use any type of alternative medicine.

Let me back up.

My daughter is 10 and, in most respects, quite a dream child. She was a great baby who slept through the night almost immediately. She was very independent from a young age, always very content to play by herself and making her own breakfast daily at the age of 5. She is a straight-A student and very obedient.

My son, on the other hand...
From birth Jericho was quite a handful. He was a beautiful baby with a contagious laugh, but was very sensitive. He cried constantly. He slept rarely. As a toddler, he could not sit still for more than thirty seconds, was incapable of independent play and was nearly impossible to please. During one ill-fated trip to a shoe store, Jericho knocked down an entire display of shoes. I came home sobbing, vowing to never leave the house alone with him again. And I didn't for roughly a year.

Jericho grew older and slowly began to calm down, at least by "Jericho" standards. At 4, he started preschool. Jericho did fairly well in preschool and made friends very easily. Toward the end of his preschool career, his teacher noted that if he was going to start Kindergarten in the fall, he would need some work with some things over the summer - writing, cutting... small things. He's a boy, he's left handed, and he probably had a shorter span in preschool than a lot of other kids. I wasn't concerned.

The following fall, Jericho started Kindergarten with, I must say, an amazing teacher. Nearly immediately, she suggested Jericho join an after school club to work on his writing and manual dexterity. We agreed and he began working with someone once a week. Later in the fall, we had parent-teacher conferences. During his conference, his teacher noted that he was behind on his letters and reading. Again, we agreed to let him work with a special teacher on this subject. Towards the middle of the second quarter (around Thanksgiving), I sent an email to Jericho's teacher asking her how he was progressing. She replied with an email asking for another conference. I was a little surprised, but agreed. During our second conference, his teacher again tells us that he's not progressing as is needed for this point during the year. A lot of numbers and measurements and teaching terminology is thrown around and in the midst of it all I asked, "But he's ok, right? He's a little behind but he'll be fine and he can still go to 1st grade next year, right?" His teacher does not have an answer. She can't tell me that she'll be ready to send him on next year. She tells me instead that she can't make that determination right now. I am floored. He's smart. I know he is. I see it everyday. I can't process through my brain that he is failing Kindergarten. I immediately feel that I have failed as a mother.

Almost instantly, I start working with him around the clock. Flash cards, dry erase boards, reading exercises. We do it all. I know that we're working a lot and after a couple of months, I check in with his teacher again to see how he's doing. Another conference is called. My husband can't make it so I go alone, expecting to get a great report, or at worst a lot of what we've already been told before. During this conference, she's more serious, I can see it on her immediately. She has an entire folder to go over. She brings out test scores, which I've seen. She brings out examples of his daily work, which I've seen. At this point, I think she knows she's not getting through to me. She then begins to explain to me that earlier in the week, she had another teacher come and sit in on their classroom during their carpet reading time. She explains to me how she handed this teacher a piece of notebook paper and instructed this teacher to make a list of every time Jericho got off task, moved around, or basically did anything but listen to the story that was being read. She hands me the paper. It lists things like "10:01 - Jericho lays down on the carpet", "10:03 - Jericho spins in circles on the floor", "10:04 - Jericho interrupts the teacher reading to tell her there's a marker on the floor", and on and on and on. She observed Jericho for 15 minutes. The page is full. A complete page of paper - full. In 15 minutes. Suddenly, I realized what she was trying to tell me. It's not that Jericho isn't smart, it's that he isn't physically capable of sitting down long enough to learn. Then I ask the dreaded question: "Does my son have ADHD?" She points out quickly to me that she isn't a doctor and can't diagnose him, but hands me a piece of paper that she has very carefully typed out listing his behaviors. It will be useful if we decide to see his pediatrician, she says.

I drive home and tell my husband everything that has just happened. I'm hysterical. We talk about it and decide we'll make an appointment for Jericho. That Saturday, I get online and Google "treatments for ADHD". I spend hours - I read and I read and I read until all of the words get blurry and I can't read any more. In all of the articles that I read, a very small number of them had any useful information about medicating a child for ADHD. I'm reading a lot about clean eating and food additives and the increase in the number of cases of diagnosed ADHD through the decades... and it sounds a little crazy and new-age and hippy granola tree hugger... but it really makes a lot of sense. I stumble across an article for dye sensitivities. I don't even know what this is. What does that mean "dye"? What is it in? Then I read something that hits me: Most prescriptions for hyperactivity contain dye. If your child is acting out due to a dye sensitivity, you could be doing more harm than good by medicating them. Never one to shy away from a prescription, I'm suddenly terrified to medicate my son.  I tell my husband what I've found. He rolls his eyes at me, an expected reaction. Then I decide that I'll sleep on it. Maybe all the glare from the laptop screen has fried my brain.

That same day I did all of my research, I made my son one of his favorite breakfast foods - green pancakes. Regular pancake mix with loads of green food coloring. I also let him have colorful candy as a treat that day - he was a very good boy and this was his reward. The next day (Sunday, the day after all of my crazy Internet findings) we're sitting in church and I look over at my son, who is spinning in a circle in his seat. I tell him to stop. He stops, but starts swinging his arms. I tell him to stop. He stops but then starts kicking his legs. Again, I tell him to stop, very firmly. He gets the picture now. I look over again and he's fighting to sit still, and he has his one foot just kicking like there's no tomorrow. I tap my husband and point to our son. "He physically can't sit still", I tell him. Another eye roll. Also expected. We get home from church and I tell him I'm doing this dye-free diet I found online. I promise him that if he'll get on board and we do this for one month, I'll take our to the doctor at that point if we don't see any difference. He agrees.

I still don't know what I'm doing at this point and I'm not really sure what I just signed myself up for. Again, I head to Google to get started (very official, I know). I find a website for something called the Feingold Diet. It's a clean eating diet - no dyes, no preservatives, no artificial sweetners. It sounds great. I know immediatley, though, that I won't stick to this. It's too much too soon. Then I find out that a friend of mine went through this with her son and found out that he's red dye sensitive. I call her for advice. She gives me some great tips about things to steer clear from. There's dye in toothpaste? Sure enough, right there on the label.

To the grocery store we head, reading every label along the way. It takes forever to get through a usually quick trip to the store. When we get home, I email his teacher and tell her what we're trying. She is supportive and enthusiastic about it. Crap. Now we actually have to do this.