Jello is not really my thing.
I’m a crunchy texture kind of girl. Jello is all smooth and slidey and it doesn’t taste anything like ice cream, which is totally my thing.
According to my 4-year old daughter, however, Jello is the bee’s knees, and she asked me to buy some after a St. Patrick’s Day party at school last year when she had bright green Jello in the shape of a shamrock.
I can see how a kid might think that’s cool.
It took me half a nanosecond to decide that I would never buy Jell-O and make it for my kids, because:
SUGAR, GELATIN, ADIPIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE AND SODIUM CITRATE (CONTROL ACIDITY), FUMARIC ACID (FOR TARTNESS), YELLOW 5, BLUE 1, BHA (PRESERVATIVE).”
You can see how a parent might not think that’s cool.
(Above facts are based on the lime flavor, which most closely resembles what my daughter is looking for. It also contains 19g of sugar per serving).
So 9 or so months later, she came home from another school party and told me she had Jello again, this time red, and could I please buy some?
I hate saying “no” to a food and banning it entirely. It feels like deprivation and fosters an “off-limits” mentality that I don't want to perpetuate, especially raising girls. I have a history of complicated eating-related demons and the last thing I want to do is draw attention to foods that are “not allowed” for fear of inciting the monster that might be lurking somewhere in her gene pool.
So I never just tell her “no.” I explain it, as best as I can to a 4 ½ year old. “I don’t really like Jell-O because it has lots and lots of sugar in it, and chemicals that aren’t good for your body.”
One sentence rule.
Sometimes she’s ok with that. But I felt bad, so I offered:
“Why don’t we make some though? I think I can find a recipe and we can make our own! What color should we make?”
“We can make it?? Yes! Can we do it today?”
So that’s how I ended up making Jello.
I have to say one good thing about that slimey gelatinous jiggle: it contains GELATIN.
Gelatin is actually a pretty amazing substance that has a host of benefits for the body. Gelatin is related to all things gut-health in the nutrition world these days, and you can find avid supporters of this protein everywhere, everywhere, and everywhere. (Seriously, read at least one of those articles). Among other things, gelatin helps improve:
So, fabulous. Keep the gelatin, swap out the refined sugar, eliminate the chemicals, and you’ve got yourself a happy 4-year old and her Mommy.
For the base liquid, you can use either coconut water or freshly squeezed orange juice. This coconut water is my favorite because it's the highest quality and it actually has a pink hue because it doesn't have any preservatives:
Freshly squeezed orange juice is really just a whole bunch of concentrated sugar and not really a “health food,” contrary to popular belief. Eating an orange in its entirety is much preferred because it includes the fiber that helps slow down the absorption of sugar so your blood sugar doesn’t spike and your liver and pancreas don’t freak. But I mean, pick your battles.
I used coconut water because I wasn’t picking my battles and I wanted a more electrolyte-filled base for the jello, which was admittedly not a smart idea because my 4-year old does not really like coconut water. So unless you and your kids like coconut water, I would recommend using the orange juice.
You also need gelatin (I like Vital Proteins green-lid or Great Lakes Gelatin) and honey for sweetening. (I used 1T of honey and it was not enough).
The other thing you need is a silicone ice cube tray to make it easy to pop these babies out when they are done chilling. I did NOT use mine because I had a Christmas-themed mold and thought it would be cute, but later realized it was not made of silicone and therefore was an absolute disaster. (This is why I have one picture of a lonely Jello snowman instead of a whole gathering of Santas, stars, and reindeer. My kitchen looked like a Jello massacre. Which I turned into snow. Yes, that is supposed to be snow).
The verdict? My daughter thought these were great for about 5 bites and then said they tasted like coconut water and she didn't want anymore.
I tell you this because:
- I want to be honest in this forum.
- I think using orange juice would have made all the difference.
- I want to emphasize the importance of trying new things, even if the mission falls flat.
With regard to #3, I almost didn't write this blog because I made a bunch of mistakes and I wanted to do it all over again with the right silicone mold and orange juice and better pictures and a more positive end result. I still may do that, at some point. But I tried, I made something new, I had fun with my daughter, and I know how to modify it for next time.
I certainly don't do everything perfectly and I like to be open about that. But I've learned that things don't have to be perfect to be useful. Try, modify, try again. For like everything.
Are you with me?
Here’s the recipe:
P.S. I admit that no chemicals means no vibrant, fun, kid-friendly colors. You will never make Jello that looks as bright red as Dye #452 or whatever. But you can improvise. My daughter wanted “plain,” but next time I think I will use some berry juice to jazz it up. Beet juice would definitely work for red, and turmeric for orange, and a whole food powder supplement for green, if you have those on hand (and a small amount won’t change the flavor). There are also some organic natural “dyes” on the market that would also do the trick. Or, you could pop little blueberries in there and make polka dots.
Whatever jiggles your Jello.