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How to avoid artificial dyes at birthday parties and celebrations (recipes, products, and tips I use!)

My daughter went to two different birthday parties on the same weekend, and while I love kids parties and my daughter being invited to celebrate with her friends, there was something that made me VERY SAD. 

Both of the birthday cakes were covered in brightly colored icing that was dyed with artificial colors. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Almost every bakery makes their cakes with a lot of artificial colors and other horrible ingredients. Have you seen the ingredients in those cakes at Walmart? 

This is a typical supermarket cake ingredient list – seven artificial colors in one cake… (Not to mention the horrible additives, I didn’t highlight this time)

This list of ingredients is insane. While almost every ingredient in that cake is awful, I’m putting the focus here on artificial colors.

I don’t eat artificial colors or allow them in my daughter’s diet at all. I have ZERO tolerance for artificial dyes. This may sound extreme – but there are so many reasons why we shouldn’t be eating them, especially children.

Artificial colors…

  • Can disrupt the immune system. Research has found that “The molecules of synthetic colorants are small, and the immune system finds it difficult to defend the body against them. They can also bond to food or body proteins and, thus, are able to act in stealth mode to circumvent and disrupt the immune system.” (source
  • Are man-made in a lab with chemicals derived from petroleum (a crude oil product, which also happens to be used in gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and tar).
  • Require a warning label in other countries outside the US.
  • Have been banned in countries like Norway and Austria (and hardly ever used in the UK and the rest of Europe).
  • Are contaminated with known carcinogens (a.k.a. an agent directly involved in causing cancer).
  • Cause an increase in hyperactivity in children.
  • Have a negative impact on children’s ability to learn.
  • Have been linked to long-term health problems such as asthma, skin rashes, and migraines.
  • Add absolutely no nutritional value to the foods we are eating and are solely used for aesthetic purposes only. (sources)

Quite honestly, I thought my friends and family already knew this information, but as my daughter attends more parties (and is now in school) I’m still seeing artificial colors EVERYWHERE. That’s when I realized I needed to write about this pronto!  

These are my tips & shopping strategies for avoiding artificial colors at parties and celebrations…

Now, I know that parties are just an occasional thing, so why should you even worry about it?

Even if you aren’t attending many parties right now because of the pandemic, almost everyone is still buying and baking cakes for their family. And, it’s not just parties. Children are being bombarded with artificial colors at every turn!

Products specifically targeted to kids are full of them. They’re in drinks, cereals, snacks, and even school lunches. Artificial colors are in just about every holiday candy out there from Halloween, to Christmas, to Valentine’s Day, to Easter. And, then you’ve got the summertime backyard parties with brightly dyed popsicles.

Even though parties and celebrations aren’t a daily occurrence, I’m not okay with poisoning my daughter’s body with artificial colors made from petroleum and linked to so many health risks. I don’t know about you, but I want my child to have the best. That is why I will not compromise. Not at one party, and not ever.  

As parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our children about their food. I have been teaching Harley about dyes and how to spot them. She’s starting to learn that if a treat is covered in brightly colored icing, that it is probably artificially colored and not good to eat. I’ll suggest that she choose a white or chocolate option instead (if available) or to scrape off the colorful icing. 

Of course, I don’t want her to feel left out or miss out on enjoying treats. That’s why I’ve educated her about artificial dyes, and we agree to take off the icing at the very least.

I’ve also learned how to make colorful treats without artificial colors at home. And it’s my dream that someday everyone will do this! It may sound like a miracle, but it’s such an easy change to make! Natural colors are so inexpensive and readily available now, there is no reason to keep using the artificial stuff. 

Ways to make colorful treats for parties WITHOUT artificial colors:

1. Natural Food Dyes

These may contain additives and generally are not organic, which isn’t ideal, however they are a zillion times better than artificial colors and very inexpensive. Here are the best brands I’ve found: 

2. Freeze-Dried Fruit, Vegetable & Spice Powders 

You can buy powders made out of 100% freeze-dried produce to dye your cakes and cookies. You can also buy freeze-dried fruit to make your own powder, such as strawberries, which is what I use for the Strawberry Cake recipe in my cookbook Food Babe Kitchen. This way your colors are also nutritious! 

3. Naturally-Colored Sprinkles or Candies

You can take a plain white cake and make it look amazing with colorful decorations. 

4. Fresh Fruit

You can blend pureed berries (fresh or cooked) into cakes and frosting very easily to make them more colorful, or use chopped fruit as decoration. Since there is water in the fruit, you may need to slightly decrease the amount of liquid in your recipe.

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Pineapple
  • Cherries

I have an incredible dye-free Strawberry Cake recipe in my new cookbook, Food Babe Kitchen.

I was so happy with how this Strawberry Cake from scratch turned out for Harley’s 3rd birthday. I was able to make it this gorgeous shade of pink by using REAL STRAWBERRIES. Unlike those gross cake mixes by Betty Crocker and Pillsbury full of artificial red dye, artificial flavors, and tons of synthetic additives. NOT ONE REAL STRAWBERRY is used to make them. Pillsbury uses “Artificial Strawberry Flavor Bits” to make their cake. 😳 So, I had to create my own version! It was DELICIOUS. I hope you make this cake for your next birthday party or celebration, because it was a real hit!

Get the recipe in Food Babe Kitchen: Order here

My cookbook also includes the recipe for the organic birthday cake I made for Harley’s 1st birthday that is sweetened with applesauce, bananas, and a tad of maple syrup! It’s perfect for one-year olds and young children. It turned out so delicious, I plan to make it time and time again for birthdays and other celebrations.

Don’t want to do it all yourself? Take these shortcuts…

Look for a bakery in your town that will bake without artificial colors. Here in Charlotte, there’s a bakery called Jewell Treats that bakes cupcakes and cakes with natural colors. Also pinkturtlecookies will make their famous sugar cookies with natural dyes if you ask. If you can’t find a natural bakery in your area or if a bakery wants to charge you extra to use natural colors, you can purchase the colors yourself and ask the bakery to use them. I’ve done this multiple times and it works like a charm. I’ve also purchased organic sugar cookies and frosted them myself. Since the frosting is typically the biggest culprit, you can do this with cakes and cupcakes too (simply ask the bakery to use no dyes).

Another option is to use organic cake and cookie mixes to make it easier and to save you time. Homemade tastes best and you can totally control the ingredients you use, but if you don’t want to bake from scratch you can buy mixes and make them colorful and festive with any of the options in this post. Here are some of the best mixes I’ve found…

Dye-Free Cake Mix, Cookie Mix, and Frosting:




And, here’s a reminder as to why you want to avoid conventional cake mixes and frostings… 

Almost every popular cake mix and frosting on the market has artificial colors added to it – even some chocolate versions. You’ll find artificial colors in Dunkin Hines Classic Yellow, Pillsbury Devil’s Food, Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow, Pillsbury Moist Supreme Lemon, Betty Crocker Super Moist Red Velvet, and many more. Even vanilla frosting (which is white) has artificial yellow dye in it! This is why you want to choose a certified organic brand, which won’t contain artificial ingredients. 

Get my Strawberry Cake recipe made with real strawberries in Food Babe Kitchen

I hope this gives you TONS of options so that you aren’t tempted into skimping and buying cakes and cookies full of artificial dyes. Our kids deserve the best, don’t they? If you agree, please share this post with your friends and family and let them know how we can all have safe dye-free parties together.

Happy Baking! 



P.S. If you want my yummy dye-free Strawberry Cake recipe, it’s in my new cookbook! There are a few signed copies of Food Babe Kitchen still available this week at Barnes & Noble (schedule a curbside pickup online) and other retailers here


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6 responses to “How to avoid artificial dyes at birthday parties and celebrations (recipes, products, and tips I use!)

    1. I’d love to know, too. When my son was little he had some food sensitivities, and I used to keep a batch of “clean” homemade cupcakes in my freezer. He would take one to the party and eat it when everyone else had the birthday cake. Sometimes I even brought along some dairy-free “ice cream”.

  1. I have ADHD and autism. When I was a kid, I ate a lot of processed food, including a lot of stuff with artificial dyes. Whenever I ate them, I’d totally lose control of my emotions and have horrific mental breakdowns. I wish I had stopped eating artificial dyes before I did.

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