So an interesting thing happened the other day. My eight-year-old daughter, who’s pretty much been raised without artificial food dyes–except for the occasional birthday cupcake or Halloween candy–was given a party bag that contained a single-serve packet of Kool Aid. Now, I grew up on Kool Aid, having spent summers with my grandparents in Nebraska, where fruit punch was considered juice. Remember that commercial where the kids yell, “Hey Kool Aid!” and a giant walking pitcher crashes through the wall? I lived for it. There was nothing better than gulping down a big glass of Kool Aid after riding my bike for hours in ninety-percent humidity. But after learning about the links between artificial food dyes and health problems like cancer, I couldn’t bring myself to give it to her. So what did I do?
I handed my daughter what looked to me like a glass of poison, and to her looked like freedom: Kool Aid. First, let me explain. My daughter knows from organic, she understands healthy. We don’t have sugary drinks or sodas in our house, but our rule when eating out is that they fall into the same category as dessert.
So after her healthy dinner of tofu, brown rice and broccoli–it truly is one of her favorite meals–when I asked her what she’d like for dessert and her eyes lit up, I was prepared to give her whatever she wanted. Tofutti cutie. Chocolate chip cookie. Anything, within reason.
“So what do you want for dessert?” I asked her.
“This!” she yelled, shoving the Kool Aid into my hands.
“Sweetie, you don’t want that,” I said, flippping over the packet. “It’s full of things that aren’t good for you. Look, Red 40 and Blue 1. You know that stuff is bad.”
“But I want it!”
“I know you do, baby, but it’s poison.”
“I don’t care,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “I want it!”
“I can’t do that, sweetie. That’s my job as a mom, to protect you from stuff like that,” I told her as I threw the packet into the trash. “I can’t feed you poison.”
I won’t go into the details of the fit that came next, but it involved lots of tears and crying, and “just this once” complaints. And I caved. I feel like a total pushover, but I did. Maybe it was the summers in Nebraska or maybe I was just plain worn out, but the next thing I knew I’d plucked the packet from the trash and sprinkled some red grains into her water.
Then I handed my daughter what looked to me like a glass of poison, and to her looked like freedom.
She took a long drink, filling her mouth with the red fluid–and promptly spit it out in the sink.
“That tastes horrible, Mommy!” she said, making a face. “That doesn’t even taste real! It’s too sweet!”
I was so shocked I couldn’t even laugh.
Score one for mom. And zero for Kool Aid.