Sometimes it feels as if childhood is one long parade of baked goods starting with teething biscuits and ending with college graduation cake. Along the way, there are rainy day cookies, banana breads, birthday parties, and school bake sales.
Here’s how parents can make sure too much sugar remains the most undesirable item in all of this warm and gooey deliciousness.
1. DIY it. Even if you’re a truly unskilled baker, try doing it at home. The results may not look pretty, but chances are they will taste divine. When you do it yourself, you’re in control of the ingredients and can avoid the preservatives and artificial dyes found in many cookies, cakes, and pastries.
2. Choose Organic Ingredients. Always go with organic ingredients if you can. This means avoiding pesticide residue, genetically modified ingredients, antibiotics, hormones, and more in that butter, those eggs, and even the sugar. You can also experiment with reducing the sugar called for in various recipes, or substituting apple sauce, maple syrup, and more.
3. Opt for All-Natural Cake Decorations. Cookies do not need brightly colored chocolate candies. Cakes don’t have to have bright blue icing. Try decorating with fruit instead of candy. Berries are beautiful and tasty. Or place a stick with a balloon on it in the middle of a cake—no high fructose corn syrup there! If you do want icing that is not white, try a natural food dye bought online or at a health food market. The color is derived from plants, and unlike its synthetic counterpart it has not been linked to behavioral issues in children. If you’re feeling really virtuous, make your own from fruits and vegetables known to dye (think beets).
4. Invest in Safer Bakeware. There is a fair amount of attention paid to the safety of baking ingredients, but comparatively little to baking materials. If you’ve ditched your nonstick pans to reduce your family’s exposure to the toxic chemicals that can be found in them, do the same with your baking sheets, pie dishes, and bread pans. (And if you haven’t switched your cookware, get on it!) Swap in bakeware made of cast iron (breads, muffins), glass (pies, cookies), lead-free ceramic, stainless steel (the best sheet pan for just about anything), and cook-safe clay.
5. Stock Up on Disposable Liners. To grease a pan, use grease! If you want to use a disposable liner, seek out “eco” unbleached parchment paper liners. These tend to have no nonstick chemical treatments. (There are cupcake/muffin liners made out of this, too. Stock up.)
6. Consider Reusable Liners. For reusable liners, there is silicone. This relatively new solution has taken the baking world by storm, but silicone bakeware may leach small amounts of a family of questionable chemicals known as siloxanes, especially in the presence of heat and fats. Test silicone by pinching and twisting before purchase; pure silicon won’t change color, but fillers, a potential source of contamination, will cause white to show through. See white? Leave it on the store shelf.
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