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Save the Neon Orange! Why Kraft’s Decision to Cut the Dye from Its Mac and Cheese is Just Wrong

Kraft mac and cheese

If it’s not neon orange, it’s just not good

When my five-year-old daughter was just a baby, I gave her a bite of macaroni and cheese. It was organic whole wheat shells and white cheddar cheese. It was gross. She wasn’t amused.

It was with an overwhelming sense of love and protection at the moment of her birth that I had vowed only to let the purest of foods pass her lips. She was my little blank slate and pure things like organic leek and sweet potato broth would paint her insides healthfully.

Meals like that really didn’t amuse her.

Then one day we were at a friend’s house for a playdate and they served Kraft mac and cheese. The spoon passed her lips and it was as if she heard the angels singing and the birds chirping for the first time. She knew what love was, and she knew that it was colored neon orange.

Since that day, if she had her druthers, she would live on a steady diet of Kraft mac and cheese, which she actually prefers with green peas mixed in (organic, of course). But since I’d rather she didn’t poop the color of a candy corn other than at Halloween time, she is limited to an average of one mac and cheese dinner per month.

That’s why I think it’s a darn shame that Kraft is removing the neon orange dye from some of its mac and cheese. According to CNN, Kraft is revamping some of its varieties of mac and cheese starting in 2014 to have more whole grains, less sodium and saturated fat, and instead of artificial dye to get the signature neon orange, it’ll be using spices. In other words, it’s taking all the fun and flavor  — and let’s be honest, love — out of it.

A Kraft spokeswoman told CNN that “parents have told us that they would like fun Mac & Cheese varieties with the same great taste, but with improved nutrition.”

Clearly I am not among the parents with whom they spoke.

If and when I want my daughter to eat healthfully, as I often do, there is no variety of mac and cheese to which I turn. Not the kind with hidden yams or ground-up spinach. Not the kind with more fiber and soy cheese. You can slap a mask on mac and cheese, but kids aren’t dumb. They know a sugar-coated turd when they see, or rather, taste one.

Yes, the dye that creates the signature color in Kraft’s mac and cheese is harmful. Yellow No. 5, which is the bad stuff, “has been linked to hyperactivity, asthma, some skin conditions and cancer, but larger scientific studies have proved inconclusive,” according to CNN. This is not to diminish what it is and what it can do and how awful all of things can be.

But for those of us who serve a gummy-like pasta meal with a powdery cheese made glue-like with butter and milk to our children knows, this is not something that will be consumed daily or even weekly. It’s a treat the same way that ice cream sundaes are. No parents with health in mind would serve it to their kid because of what’s in it. They serve it to their kids selectively because of what’s in it. And kids eat it up because of how it tastes and looks. It’s different and fun and bad, the way a good treat should be.

Part of the change might be due to the fact that a food blogger started a Change.org petition, which was been signed by nearly 350,000 people, asking Kraft to banish Yellow No. 5 because it “add[s] absolutely no nutritional value to the foods we are eating and are solely used for aesthetic purposes only.”

So, take it away and what is the nutritional value of Kraft mac and cheese, exactly?

It should also be noted that the blogger who started the petition doesn’t have kids.

“When I do have kids,” she told CNN, “I want to have a food system that I trust.”

Or she can just choose not to give her kids Kraft mac and cheese.

Fortunately, the original elbow-shaped Kraft mac and cheese will be untouched — it’s the special shaped varieties that will undergo a makeover.

To Kraft: Keep fighting the neon-orange fight. My older daughter and I be there with you as long as you do. Not often, but just enough.

Photo credit: iStockphoto

More from Meredith on Babble:

Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her regular column on the op-ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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