Thursday, August 15, 2013

Homemade fingerpaints

When it's uncomfortably hot outside, I try to find indoor activities for Desmond. Preferably activities on the less-destructive end of the spectrum, for the good of our sweet little cherub, but also our apartment's security deposit.

Fingerpainting seems like it would violate this guidance, but the highchair with a washable tray is a beautiful thing. So I set about looking for homemade fingerpaint recipes-- turns out cornstarch is handy to have around for more than thickening up the perpetually runny curry. With the simple addition of both hot and cold water, it turns into a surprisingly satisfying goopy substance that kids will love messing around.


Given that this substance alone looks disturbingly similar to Desmond's favorite food in the entire world: (yoghurt), I wanted to add some colors and encourage his inner Picasso to shine. But most artificial food coloring creeps me out, and for good reason. Food manufacturers in the U.S. are more lax about adding artificial dyes made from synthetic chemicals to many of our foods, and some of them are beloved to our picky mini-eaters. 

Kraft macaroni and cheese, for instance, has come under fire for using Yellow Dyes 5 and 6, coloring that requires a warning label in other countries. While the studies on these yellows and some other dyes  (particularly Blue 1 and Red 40) are inconclusive, some research links these substances to heightened levels of carcinogens and potential behavioral problems such as hyperactivity. 

So the research is inconclusive, but what bothers me most is that Kraft still refuses to take these dyes out of production in the States. England's version doesn't use 5 or 6, and similar products like Annie's or Back to Nature use natural dyes like carrots or paprika. And, shocker, Annie's matches that gross fake yellow pasta look down to a tee. 

Natural dyes it was, then! I rifled through my fridge and spice cabinet and came up with some colorful additives: 

Raspberries. I always keep some frozen raspberries around for summer snacks or teething episodes, so I knew the reddish hue was one to be reckoned with. Added a bit of boiling water to help the color seep out, and voila! 

Spinach, a great green.

And, speaking of yellows, anyone who has ever come within 10 feet of turmeric knows its power.  After actually stirring this one up, I thought better of giving it to my little painting prodigy because I didn't want his tray permanently yellow. Yes, it's possible to remove turmeric stains (a Hindu wedding  ritual called the haldi ceremony taught me this, after only something like twenty of my relatives got to smear turmeric paste all over my face and hands the day before my wedding. Why? To, ironically, make the bride beautiful and to protect her from evil spirits, who are notoriously Type A about messes it turns out.), but I wasn't feeling up to the scrubbing challenge. Maybe I'll use it to enhance my next batch of mac 'n cheese.

So, all in all, got some nice colors out of some basic foods and spices. Desmond loved it, but a word to the wise: this activity is NOT rug or carpet friendly. 


Fingerpaint recipe
*adapted from 
  • 1 cup of corn starch
  • 1/2 cup of cold water
  • ~ 2- 2.5 cups of boiling water
  • some food colouring

Mix the corn starch with the cold water and stir together. Pour in the boiling water and stir between each cup. Keep stirring for a bit until it turns into the desired goopy-ness. Separate into jars and add coloring.


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