{Repost} Making, and Keeping, Traditions

This post originally appeared last year. While the organization mentioned has changed its name to Britepaths, the mission and need remain the same. Please consider donating this Giving Tuesday.

 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. This year I spent it at my sister’s house with her family, my mom, and lots of friends. We ate until we were stuffed, waited a while and ate some more. The next day there were plenty of leftovers for another Thanksgiving meal (“second Thanksgiving” is secretly my favorite dinner). We have our favorite foods and even our not-so-favorite (I’m thinking of you, pecan pie) which we can easily pass up because there’s a lot of other, tastier stuff to go around (ahh…cherry pie!).

What I love about Thanksgiving most of all is the tradition. Yes, traveling can be a hassle, especially with kids and all the gear they require. We eat too much and sleep too little. But it’s all worth it for the memories, the connections and the familiar scents from the kitchen.

But sometimes, “tradition” translates to “responsibility,” or worse, “burden.” I felt a smidgen of this when I was a young professional, living on my own for the first time. My entry-level job barely paid the rent, but the holiday season meant trips back home and presents to buy and extra tipping. For a while my holidays came with a little black cloud (let’s call it “credit card debt”) that I hoped a Christmas bonus that may or may not materialize would go directly to help make that cloud go away.

My holiday burden was nothing compared to a parent with kids depending on them. To this parent, the holidays mean trying to keep tradition alive even when it seems impossible. This is especially true for households already living from paycheck to paycheck, with income levels “too high” to be eligible for assistance. Many times these families were doing OK until circumstances led to a downward spiral, things like a job loss, divorce, injury or serious diagnosis. These families don’t necessarily need ongoing support, but they do need help to get back on their feet at minimum, and most certainly a little extra help around the holidays. And their kids…they need a sense of normalcy.

This year, my family started what I hope will be a new tradition. Through a local program called Our Daily Bread, families in Fairfax County are matched with a sponsor to provide essentials for a holiday dinner. As a dietitian, I can’t imagine not having a delicious meal at Thanksgiving, not to mention the aromas and togetherness and family time it can bring. That’s why we sponsored a family of six and provided them with provisions to cook their own Thanksgiving dinner. It was so easy: I was matched with a family, called the main contact, asked about food allergies and preferences, and arranged a drop-off. I knew I found a great match when I asked the mom if she wanted a pre-made meal, but she said no: she’d like the ingredients so she could make the Thanksgiving meal together with her kids.

Food insecurity isn’t a problem “out there” or in a city far, far away. It’s here. It’s everywhere. It may affect your child’s classmate. Or your favorite store clerk. It may be your coworker, who hides his debt behind a facade. A full 14 percent of households in the U.S. were food insecure last year. That’s 48.1 million people, 15.3 million of which are children.

Finding the courage to ask for help is tremendously hard. Having no one answer that call is heartbreaking. This Giving Tuesday, please find a way to make someone’s holidays a little brighter.

GivingTuesday_logo2013-final1-1024x85

The Easiest Recipe to get Kids in the Kitchen

August is Kids Eat Right Month, a time to help kids learn more about nutrition and to give them the tools and skills they need to make better choices. As a dietitian you’d think my kids are the poster children for Kids Eat Right…but they’re not!

My kids love their sweets, prefer dessert over dinner, and could live off of snack food. Dinnertime is a challenge, trying to get them to eat anything except pasta with grated cheese or cherry tomatoes (whole – never cut! I learned my lesson). As a mom I do everything I can to get them into the kitchen with me, to help with dinner or assemble salads. Usually I lose to the television or iPad.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a brilliant way to get kids interested in exploring the kitchen and creating something delicious. And it involves no cooking and nearly no supervision. I wish I could take credit for this discovery, but alas it was an activity done in their summer camp/daycare that piqued their interest.

The theme for the week was Western, and my son made “cowboy chow” (otherwise known as trail mix). He brought home a white paper bag with a mixture of cereal, pretzels, raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips and marshmallows. For the next few mornings the kids wanted to make their own trail mix breakfasts, complete with cereal, whole-grain goldfish crackers, raisins, peanuts, almonds – whatever we had in the pantry. They explored, tried different textures (including taking a chewy granola bar and crumbling it up), mixed salty and sweet…and were completely self-sufficient.

While trail mix isn’t my favorite breakfast to serve the kids, and it certainly isn’t the most healthful choice in our kitchen, the lesson here was less about nutrition and more about discovery and self-reliance. It’s my job as parent (and dietitian!) to stock better-for-you choices in my pantry, and then my kids have the freedom to take it upon themselves to experiment. That’s what cooking – and creating – is all about: the discovery and the delicious final result.

You can make your own trail mix (or cowboy chow, or princess power food – or whatever will get your kids excited) with pretty much anything in your pantry. Let your kids explore and choose a few bite-sized finger foods, throw them into a bowl and see what happens. Ask them if they want it a little sweeter, a little more salty, or maybe a bit more colorful. When you go shopping, explore the dried fruits aisle and see if there’s something new your kids might want to try (try to avoid pre-sweetened or fried fruits, and opt for naturally-sweetened or dehydrated versions instead).

The clincher for me was the following Saturday morning. My kids were darling enough to let my husband and I sleep in, and when I woke up there were two very proud children with a buffet-like spread laid out on the kitchen table. They made their own breakfast bar for the family to enjoy!

Kids buffet

 

Making, and Keeping, Traditions

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. This year I spent it at my sister’s house with her family, my mom, and lots of friends. We ate until we were stuffed, waited a while and ate some more. The next day there were plenty of leftovers for another Thanksgiving meal (“second Thanksgiving” is secretly my favorite dinner). We have our favorite foods and even our not-so-favorite (I’m thinking of you, pecan pie) which we can easily pass up because there’s a lot of other, tastier stuff to go around (ahh…cherry pie!).

What I love about Thanksgiving most of all is the tradition. Yes, traveling can be a hassle, especially with kids and all the gear they require. We eat too much and sleep too little. But it’s all worth it for the memories, the connections and the familiar scents from the kitchen.

But sometimes, “tradition” translates to “responsibility,” or worse, “burden.” I felt a smidgen of this when I was a young professional, living on my own for the first time. My entry-level job barely paid the rent, but the holiday season meant trips back home and presents to buy and extra tipping. For a while my holidays came with a little black cloud (let’s call it “credit card debt”) that I hoped a Christmas bonus that may or may not materialize would go directly to help make that cloud go away.

My holiday burden was nothing compared to a parent with kids depending on them. To this parent, the holidays mean trying to keep tradition alive even when it seems impossible. This is especially true for households already living from paycheck to paycheck, with income levels “too high” to be eligible for assistance. Many times these families were doing OK until circumstances led to a downward spiral, things like a job loss, divorce, injury or serious diagnosis. These families don’t necessarily need ongoing support, but they do need help to get back on their feet at minimum, and most certainly a little extra help around the holidays. And their kids…they need a sense of normalcy.

This year, my family started what I hope will be a new tradition. Through a local program called Our Daily Bread, families in Fairfax County are matched with a sponsor to provide essentials for a holiday dinner. As a dietitian, I can’t imagine not having a delicious meal at Thanksgiving, not to mention the aromas and togetherness and family time it can bring. That’s why we sponsored a family of six and provided them with provisions to cook their own Thanksgiving dinner. It was so easy: I was matched with a family, called the main contact, asked about food allergies and preferences, and arranged a drop-off. I knew I found a great match when I asked the mom if she wanted a pre-made meal, but she said no: she’d like the ingredients so she could make the Thanksgiving meal together with her kids.

Food insecurity isn’t a problem “out there” or in a city far, far away. It’s here. It’s everywhere. It may affect your child’s classmate. Or your favorite store clerk. It may be your coworker, who hides his debt behind a facade. A full 14 percent of households in the U.S. were food insecure last year. That’s 48.1 million people, 15.3 million of which are children.

Finding the courage to ask for help is tremendously hard. Having no one answer that call is heartbreaking. This Giving Tuesday, please find a way to make someone’s holidays a little brighter.

GivingTuesday_logo2013-final1-1024x85

Breastfeeding support on demand, through your phone. Yes, really!

Disclosure: I am part of the Pacify provider network but was not asked to nor will I be compensated for writing this post. I work with brands and companies I believe in, such as this one. All views and words are my very own.

I consider myself lucky. My first child was delivered at a baby-friendly hospital which truly lived up to its distinction. There was breastfeeding support as soon as my daughter was born, and I wasn’t discharged until I had at least one visit from the lactation consultants.

Also available to me were weekly breastfeeding support groups at the hospital, as well as unlimited calls to the lactation consultant support line. I’d leave a message and get a return call within about 2 hours, or the next business day if it was late in the day. I used that line a lot, as I was a nervous first-time mom with a smallish little baby girl – the honor roll student in me did not understand how 30 percent(ile) could be considered “good” or “normal”,  but so goes the growth chart system! Thanks in no small part to the support of the lactation consultants, as well as to my support system at home and of like-minded mamas, I was able to reach my goal of breastfeeding for one year. (OK, 13 months. It’s that honor roll/overachiever in me!)

That’s why when I first heard about Pacify, I knew I wanted to get involved. Pacify is a new company, an app on your mobile phone that connects subscribers (usually moms) with health professionals. For a monthly fee you can have unlimited, on-demand access to nurses, lactation consultants and dietitians to answer questions when you need it, not to mention the support and reassurance from a qualified health professional quite literally right there in front of you (most calls are done via video chat). While a goal of Pacify may be to increase confidence in a mom’s ability to breastfeed which may also increase duration, Pacify providers like me may also help with non-breastfeeding-related questions like when to introduce solids and how to overcome picky eating in a toddler.

Like it or not, we are an on-demand culture: we want to binge-watch television shows, get questions answered by Google, and hate waiting for a call back or when business hours roll around. When it’s the middle of the night and baby is crying but won’t latch, mom wants help from a professional and needs it now. Thankfully, services like Pacify are now there.

D.C. area readers: Tomorrow you can meet Pacify directly! Visit the Pacify booth at the Big City Moms Biggest Baby Shower tomorrow, September 30, from 6:00-9:30 p.m. at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center. You can get $15 off (that’s one free month) with a special code. No obligation – just try it out. Makes a great baby shower present, too!!

Everyone else: If you’re interested in trying Pacify and you’re in the D.C. area, Maryland, Virginia or California, leave a note for me in the comments and I’ll email you the code. Pacify is quickly expanding into other states, so stay tuned.

I Love School Lunch (and So Do My Kids)

A version of this post originally appeared on Stone Soup, a blog written by registered dietitian contributors. 

For the past several weeks, my social media feeds have been flooded with tips, tricks and gorgeous pictures of nutritious and appealing lunches for kids. It seems like kids across the country will be plunking down properly insulated and portion-perfect bento boxes of adorable cookie cutter-cut sandwiches and sides of fruit in caterpillar-shaped cuteness served with a carton of organic milk.

Not my kid.

In our house, we nudge our school-age child toward buying a hot school lunch. If you haven’t been to a school lunch cafeteria in while, I urge you to visit with your child someday. You might be surprised. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required for the first time in more than 15 years that school lunch standards conform to the latest dietary guidelines. This meant using only whole grain ingredients, serving more fresh fruits and vegetables, providing lowfat or nonfat milk only, reducing sodium and setting calorie limits, among other changes.

The foods served at my child’s school may look like normal kid fare, but they are made with better-for-you ingredients. Chicken nuggets and buns are made with whole grains, hot dogs are actually turkey dogs, and pizza is made with a whole wheat crust and lowfat cheese. All vegetables served on the side (and a child must take a vegetable) are either fresh or reduced-sodium if canned. There isn’t dessert served except on special occasions. Yes, not everything on her tray gets eaten and may end up in the trash, however more often than not the packed lunches I give her come home with untouched food as well. With lunchtime crunched into a 20-minute timespan, that barely gives enough time to get lunch, sit at a table, have some unstructured time to connect with friends, and, oh yeah – eat!

Another thing I like about having my child eat school lunch is that it allows positive peer pressure to work. If other kids at her table are eating the same thing and her good friend is gobbling up the pea-and-carrot cup with gusto, that may inspire her to give it a try. Exposure and modeling are powerful teaching tools, especially when it comes to trying new foods. It works great at my son’s preschool, where kids and their teachers are all served the same lunch and snacks. They even have paella on the menu, which apparently my son has gotten to like.

So parents, when you get tired of making broccoli tree and celery boat dioramas, packed lovingly but returned home as if an avalanche hit the scene, put some money in your kids’ school lunch account and send them off with a kiss and the knowledge that they’re getting a healthy lunch…served lovingly by someone else!

Disclosure: none. All opinions are my own.

A Family Who Eats Together…

When our first child was born, my husband and I made a pact: we would always try to have dinner together, as a family. We knew so many young families who served two dinners: one for the kids, and one later for the parents after the kids had gone to bed. Being early-to-bed/early-to-rise people, dinner at 8pm or later just would not work in our house.

It wasn’t always easy. Those early weeks with our first child often had one of us eating while the other bopped around, trying to sooth the colicky child crying in the sling or baby bjorn. As our family grew and the kids got older, eating together was pretty easy. Highchairs were soon replaced with booster chairs which gave way to everyone sitting in the same type of seat. And dinnertime was always promptly at 6pm. It just was (and still is)…no questions.

As our children get older I worry about activities starting to encroach on our dinnertime. But for now I will hold onto the time we have for as long as I can.

September is National Family Meals Month, a time to commit to eating one more meal together as a family. It’s not just about nutrition – though there’s evidence that suggests home-cooked meals are healthier. Eating together as a family is a time to reconnect, to talk about the day, to do some subtle homework help, and to model good eating behaviors. Regular family meals may also help boost performance in school and help kids stay off drugs.

The dinner hour can be stressful, especially if family members had a hard day or the meal served isn’t a favorite. But here are some tips to make family mealtime enjoyable for everyone:

  • Take turns choosing the meal. This could mean macaroni and cheese one night and chicken curry another night. But giving everyone equal say in the meal decisions can help generate excitement.
  • Get kids to help in the kitchen. Even the youngest children can play with measuring cups or arrange vegetables on a tray. As they get older you can have them do simple tasks like measuring and mixing, and later graduating to boiling water or carefully slicing ingredients. Getting them involved gives them a sense of pride on the outcome.
  • Always serve something that each person would like with the meal. Not everyone in my house gets excited about Sloppy Joe’s night, but everyone will at least eat the bun and the carrot sticks. You never know when that bun may one day include a spoonful of Sloppy Joe meat.
  • Don’t force eating. According to Ellyn Satter, the expert on child feeding, it’s the parents’ job to choose what, where, and when to eat. It’s the child’s job to choose if and how much to eat. Maybe the Sloppy Joe meat will go untouched 9 times out of 10. But maybe, after a while, the child might be motivated to try it. Or maybe one day he’ll like it and the next day it makes him turn his nose. Either way, be patient and don’t badger.
  • Focus on the table. Even better, focus on the people at the table. Leave electronics turned off or in another room. Playing soft music is OK, but having the TV on as background noise is not. This is the time to truly connect with one another, without any outside distractions.
  • Have reasonable expectations. Not every dinnertime is going to lead to earth-shattering conversations or behavior breakthroughs. Some days having conversations may be like pulling teeth (anyone with teenagers know what I’m talking about???). It’s OK if dinner is 15 minutes one night when most nights it’s about 30 minutes. Just being together is what counts.

As I’m writing this, I just remembered: Growing up, there were three of us kids and a single mom. Eating meals together didn’t always happen – that is, until my mom instituted “Ritual.” Ritual was one night every week that we committed to eating together at home, all four of us (or three, when my older sister went away to college). The day of the week changed with the school years and around different activities, but it was usually a Monday or Tuesday. It was also a night that we ordered in dinner, so no one had to cook and everyone got to choose what they wanted. I don’t remember much about Ritual or whether it solved any major school-age crises for me. But here I am, a few decades older, and I’m still recalling sitting around that kitchen table, unpacking the takeout and eating together.

Disclosure: I learned about the Food Marketing Institute’s National Family Meals Month (#FamilyMealsMonth) and its campaign to #RaiseYourMitt to commit to one more family meal per week. I was not asked to write about this initiative nor was I compensated to do so. I just honestly believe in family mealtime and the bounty of benefits if can provide.