Stress-free Dinners With Kids

I grew up in a “clean plate” house.  You were expected to eat everything on your plate, and you stayed at the table until you did.  My sister, a picky eater with a stubborn streak, spent many evenings sitting at the table by herself.  I remember battles over eating more than I remember pleasant conversation at dinner time

When I had my own children, I found myself falling into the patterns of my childhood – insisting my kids finish their meal to get dessert, dictating how many bites of something was “enough”, and the battle royale – getting my daughter to eat anything dairy.

When we visited the pediatrician for her two-year well check, I moaned about her refusal to consume milk, cheese, or yogurt.   He looked at me with kind eyes and told me not to worry – she was growing as she should and there was no reason to worry.  She did not show signs of allergy.  He said it was far more important that she have a good relationship with food and dinnertime, and that she would likely add these things back into her diet on her own time.  He recommended I relax.  

That night, I tried to relax at dinnertime. I really did. At that moment, I realized how rule-driven dinner at our house had become. No one was enjoying themselves, and I was super crabby by the end.  I felt hassled and like no one listened to me.

The next day, we made some major changes in our dinner routine.  I am not going to say that every meal is bliss, but most of them are pretty great these days.  Here are my tips:

1.  No “special” food.  My kids eat what the adults eat, in smaller portions, of course!  Making one menu for our family is not only much easier, but it teaches my kids to eat foods with a diverse palate.  I promise my kids that my husband and I do not care for gross food, and that the food we eat may not be their favorite, but it won’t taste terrible.

2.  Proper portions.  I make sure to keep in mind a proper portion when making my kids’ plates.  Protein servings should only be as big as the child’s palm, with produce taking up most of the rest of the plate.  I would rather my kids eat all of their meal and ask for more than get in the habit of wasting food.

3.  No more nagging.  My kids know that dinner is what’s presented, and they can choose whether to eat it or not.  I won’t nag.   I tell them to listen to their bodies – if they feel full, they should stop eating.  Over the last few years, this has prevented me from accidentally forcing a child to eat dinner, only to discover later that the child has a stomach bug (whew!). It also teaches my kids to listen to their bodies, which a lot of adults don’t know how to do when it comes to food!

4.  No snacks (sort of).  My kids get one snack when they get off the school bus. That’s it.  So, they are actually hungry for meals.  Kids are much, much more likely to try new things when they are truly hungry!

5.  Dessert.  My kids used to earn dessert by eating all their food.  This was a terrible idea – I was asking my kids to eat more than their bodies told them to, and rewarding that with treats!  Now, my kids earn dessert by being pleasant dinner company.  We encourage manners, chatting about our day, and sitting at the table properly.  (This includes not complaining about dinner.). They are free to eat, or not, and they receive dessert if they have been a pleasant and respectful companion during the meal.  The added bonus here is that my kids learn proper table behavior for when we go to restaurants!

If you are having trouble at dinnertime, you might give a few of these tips a try.  It certainly has reduced our dinnertime stress, and I actually enjoy dinner with my kids now!  


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Coffee and Morning Workouts

I am a morning exerciser, but definitely more of a “drag yourself out of bed and get moving” type.  My reward post-workout is a cup of hot coffee in the peace and quiet of my kitchen before everyone else gets up and moving.

However, I’ve read several articles lately touting the benefits of pre-workout caffeine.  Self magazine states that people who drink pre-workout caffeine reported easier workouts, as well as consuming less calories later in the day.  Shape magazine states that caffeine can increase fat-burning and alertness.  Shapes notes, however, that as your body acclimates to caffeine, you need increasing amounts of caffeine to maintain the benefit.

I’m considering switching my routine, though there are benefits to coffee post-workout, as well.  Cosmopolitan claims that caffeine can help reduce muscle soreness, and refuels muscles when paired with a carbohydrate.

Overall, it seems I may get more “bang for my buck” with coffee pre-workout.  Have you tried drinking a cup of coffee before you get your move on?  Do you think it impacts your performance?

Cowash Experiment Update #4

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I cut out shampoo on January 1.  My hair was dry, brittle and frizzy, and I’d heard that washing only once or twice a week, with conditioner only, was a great way to have shiny hair.  I have tried to update about every month or so.

The April reflection on this experiment is that it is no longer an experiment.  It is just the way I clean my hair.  My hair has never been so easy to care for.  After I swim with my kids on Saturdays, I come home and wash it with conditioner.  I give myself a blowout, which lasts all week long.  A while back I posted that I sometimes needed another wash mid-week, but that is no longer the case.  I can go the entire week without washing my hair.  The same is true of using dry shampoo.  I will still use dry shampoo for some volume from time to time, but I no longer need it to absorb oil.  I believe my scalp has adjusted and is only making a little bit of oil at a time, which keeps my hair from looking greasy.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s my hair on Friday, a full six days after washing it.

hair

It’s a little crazy from having been in a bun, but you can definitely see that it isn’t stringy, nor is it super greasy.  At the beginning of the week, the blowout keeps it pretty straight.  By the end of the week, sleeping in a bun has given it some serious beachy waves.  Here’s a front shot of it in a bun.  Same day, I promise.  I just changed my clothes.

bun

(Yes, the dress from yesterday’s post.)

If you’re considering giving it a try, I would recommend it 100%.  I have gotten so many compliments on my hair, and the only thing I have done is do LESS to it.  I don’t use any of the old products I needed to keep it under control, just some hair serum to protect it pre-blowout.  After that:  nada.  I am saving big bucks here not buying shampoo and fancy hair products!  This method is a winner.

Reclaiming My Awesomeness

When I got dressed this morning,  I put on one of my favorite dresses.  I found it at Nordstrom Rack on sale at an amazing price, and I love the way it fits.  It looks stylish, but it is so soft it feels like a sweatshirt.  I found it in late fall, so today is the first day I wore it without tights or leggings underneath.  I paired it with robin egg blue J.Crew ballet flats, put my hair in a high messy bun, and went to work.

As I ended my work day, I went to the post office to mail a few letters.  On the way in, I approached a man who was walking in the other direction.  He looked at me and said, “Now THAT is a DRESS!  WAY to GO!”

Taken aback, I smiled at him and said, “Thanks,” and walked past.

For the next twenty minutes I couldn’t make up my mind how to feel.  Was he complimenting me?  Or was he being sleazy?   My mind raced.  The way he said it wasn’t creepy, so it was probably a compliment.  But what if the dress was too short?  What if he was saying it looked bad?  All my inner insecurities reared their ugly heads and I frantically called my best friend (who didn’t answer), one of my sisters (who also didn’t answer) and my other sister (who did answer).

After hearing the story, she said, “Of course he meant you rocked it!  If you looked terrible, he wouldn’t have said a word, or would have secretly taken a picture of you with his phone to make fun of!  Settle down!”  I didn’t believe her, so I took a snapshot and sent her a shot of what I was wearing, just to be sure.  Here is what I had on:

myoutfit

My sister couldn’t believe that I had been so paranoid about a simple, cute dress.  She laughed at my worries, and helped me to see how silly I’d been.

A bit more reflection, though, made me begin to wonder why I had been unable to take a compliment, as it most likely had been meant.  Why did I assume that when someone told me I looked great, I assumed they didn’t mean it?  Where is my self-esteem, and why did I doubt myself so severely?

I contrast my reaction to those of my kids, who 100% always think they look awesome.  My daughter usually dresses like this:

outfit

Let’s be clear here – this outfit is not an anomaly.  She believes that the brighter and fancier the outfit, the better.  She will add color and bling and ribbons to no end.  And pink – the more pink the better.  She never has a doubt that the clothes she puts on each day are 100% amazing.  Her confidence is rock solid.

When does that change?

I assume that when I was a child, I felt the same way about what I wore.  When did I get so insecure about my appearance?

It’s not good news when an actual compliment makes me lose my mind.  I have only one answer:  I lost my awesomeness!  This, of course, is completely unacceptable.  I am doing my best to raise a daughter who doesn’t let the world around her mold who she will be.  I want her to be strong, independent, and totally herself.  How can I teach her to do this when I don’t believe in myself the way I should?  My resolution is to try to reclaim my awesomeness over the next few weeks.  I am going to try to remember what it was like to be confident in my choices, and try my hardest to believe more in myself.  Also, I need to learn to take a compliment, apparently.

Breakfast On The Go

You all know how much I love my morning protein shake.  You all also know how much I hate cleaning the blender.  Sometimes, especially on Monday mornings, I just CAN’T.  My kids are up at the crack of dawn all weekend long, but when Monday morning rolls around I have to pry them out of bed.  Then, every little thing to get them ready for school is an ordeal.  People can’t find shoes.  They sneak back into bed when I am not paying attention.  Breakfast takes FOREVER.  By the time they get on the bus, I’m done.  DONE.

So, sometimes I need an easy breakfast option, even easier than a protein shake.  We had an easy, lazy Sunday yesterday due to all the rain, and so I got some serious kitchen work done.  I have been seeing these “breakfast cookies” at the store and was intrigued with the idea, but I wanted to find a real food option and make some at home.  I found a lot of options, but the recipe on Ambitious Kitchen, in particular, caught my eye.  I love that they are flour-free and full of Omega 3s.  Best part – they taste awesome!!!  The only thing I changed was the fruit – I used dried organic cranberries instead of cherries, simply because they are what I had on hand in my pantry.

CHIA CHOCOLATE CHIP OATMEAL BREAKFAST COOKIES (from the Ambitious Kitchen)
INGREDIENTS
  • 1 cup shelled walnuts
  • 1 cup raw unsalted almonds
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup gluten free rolled oats
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spread walnuts and almonds over baking sheet. Toast nuts in the oven for 8-10 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Keep heat in oven.
  2. Next, place toasted nuts in the food processor. Process until completely smooth and very creamy similar to peanut butter; this should take about 5 minutes.
  3. Add honey, vanilla, egg, baking soda, cinnamon and salt to processor and process again until well combined, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and fold in cherries, chocolate chips, chia seeds and oats. Use a small cookie scoop to drop cookies and roll into balls. Place on cookie sheet then slightly flatten with the palm of your hand. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until edges are slightly golden brown. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Makes 15 cookies. Store in an airtight container – cookies will keep well for 3-5 days.

Simple Refrigerator Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

Growing up in Michigan, we had a patch of wild rhubarb growing in our fencerow.  We would go outside and sit in the tall, dry grass in early spring and break off a stalk and chew on it.  Even now, my mouth begins to water as I remember the sharp, sour taste of raw rhubarb!

My mother made all kinds of rhubarb desserts each spring, and it is a flavor that I crave this time of year.  I am always looking for more ways to incorporate it into my day, so this simple refrigerator jam from Thankful Expressions caught my eye this morning.

Simple Refrigerator Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

1 1/3 C strawberries
2/3 C rhubarb stalks

 2T raw honey
2T chia seeds

Process all ingredients in a blender and refrigerate overnight.  The jam will be ready to use in the morning!

Thoughts on parenting, "free range" or otherwise

Yesterday, a “free range” parenting family in Maryland was in the news, again.  This time, the police had been called because two children, ages 10 and 6, were walking home from a park alone and the caller was concerned about their welfare.  This incident has set off a firestorm online – some call these parents lazy and neglectful, while other support  the choice wholeheartedly.

First off, I hate the term “free range”.  Children are not chickens.  “Free range” chickens are allowed to wander around at will, scavenging for food.  I think everyone can agree that these children are not “free range”.  From the photos and accounts I’ve seen, these kids are cared for.  They have clothing.  Their parents feed them – they are not scavenging for food like animals. They have curfews and limits about when and where they are supposed to be.  The children at issue here are not “free range”, and it is ridiculous to use that term in this way.

Parenting is never cut and dry.  I understand that now, better than ever, now that I have two children who have grown into independent people.  The way I parented my son is not necessarily the right way to parent my daughter – they need very different things from me, since they are different people.  I asked my kids a long time ago to let go of what looks “fair”, and to instead trust me to be the very best parent I know how to be, for each of them, knowing that might look a little different from time to time.  This has been a huge relief for our family, as I no longer struggle to make everything “even”, and they don’t expect me to do so.  I provide the best parenting I can to each child, as they exist in that moment.

Along with this idea that I am parenting the child in front of me the best way I know how, comes an allowance of varying amounts of responsibility.  My daughter, who is six, is very careful and thoughtful.  I trust her to unload the dishwasher and put dishes away.  She also helps my husband sort our worm composter, because she has gentle fingers and the patience to “rescue” worms from the compost before we spread it into our soil.  Her patience makes her a wonderful assistant in the kitchen and pulling weeds in the garden.  However, she doesn’t always pay attention to her surroundings, so while she can play outside in our backyard alone, but I don’t allow her in our front yard without company.  When she rides her bike, I run beside her in the neighborhood because I’m not sure she would notice oncoming traffic.

My son, who is eight, is a ball of energy and not patient at all.  He is not the guy that you want sorting the worms or putting away delicate dishes.  However, he is our “camp director” and is wonderful at taking care of other children and making everyone feel included.  He is my assistant when I need a lot of action – gathering firewood, sweeping the floor, picking up lots of toys, or sorting books.  He is also very rule conscious, and knows the boundaries.  Because of this, he is allowed to ride his scooter ahead of us while we are out for walks, because I know he will carefully watch for cars.  He is allowed to play independently in the front yard without supervision.  He can dribble his basketball in the driveway without me watching him.  He is allowed to visit the neighbors’ house without me tagging along.

Ultimately, I know my kids.  I have been with them since the day they were born.  I know who they are, and many times, I know what they are going to do before they do it.  I give them liberty to try new things, and to be independent.  I know my neighborhood and the risks of the area.  I allow my children an amount of freedom that is appropriate for them.  I am PARENTING.

This family in Maryland – I don’t know them, but it appears they love their kids.  They know their kids.  They know their neighborhood.  This family has made parenting choices that they are comfortable with.  They may not be the choices that you and I would make, but we don’t know these kids and we don’t know this neighborhood.  The choices that they made – how can I judge, when I haven’t walked in their shoes?

What do I think? This feels like the “breastfeeding/bottlefeeding”, “daycare/stay at home”, “lots of kids/one kid” parenting fight all. over. again.  I think we can agree that most of us are making the best decisions we can for our kids.  The things we allow our kids to do are going to be different, because WE are different individuals, raising different kids, in different neighborhoods.  Can’t we all agree that we each parent our kids the best way we know how?  Along with that, parenting might look different for each of us, and that’s okay?

There’s no right or wrong answer in parenting, so long as the choices are made with love.  Sometimes, as parents, we make mistakes.  Things go wrong.  Children are sometimes hit by cars, kidnapped, or hurt.  But, those things happen to kids who are carefully watched, too.  Let’s save our outrage for real instances of child endangerment and abuse, instead of attacking a family who is doing what they think is best for their kids.