Earth Day – the kid’s way.

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Earth Day is fast approaching and all month long we have seen people, businesses and organizations showing their support and efforts in different ways. Teaching our children about the responsibilities we have for our planet can be fun and educational at the same time. Here are a few fun ways to teach them about “reduce, reuse and recycle” in a kid-friendly way.

1) Growing plants in up-cycled containers. For a “how to” guide on how to make these fun and individual planters, click here>

2) Looking for a family friendly science experiment? Try this “Oil Spill Cleanup” scenario and launch a hands-on cleanup effort with your kids. Click here>

3) Do you have a builder and inventor at home? Build this wind powered car together – made from recycled materials – and see where their imagination takes them next. Click here>

4) And here is another vehicle powered by an “alternative energy source”. For this Rubber Band Racer, click here >

5) Take a closer look at Mother Earth by making one. If it’s for a party or to decorate a room, here is how you do it >

6) To appreciate nature we need to get outside. Have your kids collect things they find beautiful or interesting and then turn them into neat little treasures with these “nature prints” made from air dry clay. This and other fantastic ideas are featured in the book “The Garden Classroom” >

7) This has to be one of my favorites, because it combines crafts and science and results in a decorative masterpiece (sort of). Try it for yourself >

8) Paper-making is an ancient art and the perfect excuse to get your hands dirty. Here is how to do it > And for additional “earthiness” add flower or plant seeds to the paper and watch the creation grow. Wheat grass seeds are great, because they grow so fast, even an impatient toddler can stand the wait!

5 Tips for Mealtime with a Toddler

I feel like I’m constantly reading “tips” articles or whole books, dedicated to helping me to navigate the hectic, tiring, hilarious and fulfilling job of parenting a toddler. One of the areas that I’ve needed a lot of coaching, is mealtime.

My daughter Harper is a bit of a comedian. When we’re running low on time, it always seems like that’s when she decides that she’s going to do nothing but joke around at the table. At first, I found it difficult to keep her focused, but I’ve developed some skills in the toddler mealtime department- so below are my top 5 tips for feeding a toddler.

1) Offer Choices. I had heard this one before- mainly just in reference to vegetables (and it amazingly, DOES really work for vegetables! See the original article I read on babble here). But when I say offer choices, I mean from meal planning “Harper, do you want waffles with blueberries today or bananas and cheerios?” “Do you want chicken and broccoli or soup (anything even remotely liquid-y is “soup” at this point) to sitting at the table deciding what to eat first (or even which piece of chicken to eat).

I’ve noticed that by actively engaging with her, and making the meal about her choices, she’s more likely to eat than goof around. Of course, not every meal plan is based on Harper’s decisions (I’m not a short-order cook!) and that’s ok- even when the choices are small (like which fork to use today), it works!

Mealtime tips for toddler2) Allow them to experiment. Yes, as adults, we KNOW that broccoli dipped in ketchup MUST taste awful. But for a toddler who’s just learning about food, this combination seems perfectly reasonable, and potentially delicious. I had read somewhere that allowing your kids to be adventurous with their food early makes them more open to trying new things later- so when my daughter decided to dip her broccoli into her ketchup, I decided to let her go for it. To my surprise, she kept doing it… and finished her broccoli. So my new motto is, as long as its not dangerous- go ahead and try it!

3) Hold the milk. My daughter is obsessed with milk. I’m pretty sure she would drink a gallon a day if I let her, so its become increasingly important to only serve water with dinner. If I give her milk, she WILL drink it all before touching her food and she WILL request more because she’s used to having a beverage with her meal. Offering water allows her to focus on the food while still having something to wash down her ketchup-covered broccoli with.

4) Make Healthy Foods fun. We’ve embraced the smoothie bandwagon at our house. We’ve worked everything from kale to soy milk, to blueberries to spinach into our smoothies, and refer to them as ‘milkshakes’. Harper loves them.

Are we lying to her? No. There’s milk in there (soy milk). So they’re sort of “milkshakes”. But the point is, she’s enjoying a treat and we know that she’s getting the vitamins she needs. Its a win-win.

Along the same lines, but another great discovery: it really does help to refer to broccoli as “trees” and play a game where your kiddo pretends to be a dinosaur eating the “trees”. Whoever came up with that is brilliant!

5) The classics are still good. Does every meal time need to be well thought-out and restaurant-quality? No. Don’t put pressure on yourself to win Top Chef at every meal. Sometimes, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich really is the perfect lunch. And sometimes, grilled cheese and chicken soup is just what the doctor ordered. In my opinion, these old standards are necessities in the mealtime rotation- both for my sanity, as well as in the name of being a kid!

Got anything to add? What makes mealtimes work in your house? Do you have any great toddler-friendly recipes to share?

Travel Tuesday – 5 Tips for Traveling with Babies

Today is December 20th- and now that we’re in the “20’s” of December, that means that holiday travel is kicking into high-gear.

Traveling during the holidays is stressful for ANYONE– think of the lines, the cranky passengers, the potential weather delays making for even CRANKIER passengers.  Add baby (or babies) to that mix, and you’ve got a recipe for chaos–or at the very least, a very tricky parenting challenge.

As a travel-pro (and I make this claim only because I’ve flown almost 40,000 miles with my little girl, starting at 5 months of age -her first flight photo is above), I think I’m in a decent position to give some advice on how to get through those long airport and airplane hours. I’d love to hear tips from others as well- while I’m pretty good at traveling with one, I seriously suspect that traveling with multiple will be an entirely different story!

Tip 1- Book that extra seat.

Babies up to the age of 2 are allowed to fly on their parent’s lap on most airlines, but if at all possible think about booking a seat for your baby.  Not because the baby will actually sit in the seat, because in my experience, your kiddo will almost always end up on your lap, but to at least create what I call a “buffer zone” between you and another passenger.  If you’re traveling with another adult, the extra seat might not be necessary, but if you’re alone, a single-seat-sized space probably isn’t enough room for you, your baby, and your gear. Though– I’ve done it, with some luck and some cooperation of friendly row-mates, of course.

Tip 2- Pack light, but pack smart.

In the early days of traveling with my little one, I packed EVERYTHING I thought she could possibly need- including clothes for every single day we’d be away. But if you’re going somewhere that you’ll have access to a washer/dryer- don’t feel obligated to pack the whole dresser. Bring the essentials for about half the days that you’ll be at your destination and just plan on doing a load of laundry while there (and in my experience, if you’re visiting family, you’re going to get gifts of cute outfits upon arrival anyway!)

The on-the-plane necessities actually add up to quite a bit on their own anyway. In my experience, the following are must-haves:

  • a diaper wallet (lugging a giant diaper bag down that narrow airplane aisle and maneuvering it in those tiny bathrooms is just too difficult)
  • lots of liquids (one less thing to carry if you’re nursing)
  • snacks if the baby is on solid food
  • a changing pad
  • diapers
  • wipes
  • a change of clothes (for your baby, and a back-up shirt for you)
  • hand sanitizer
  • a nursing pillow (totally worth the space it takes up in the seat, because once you’re done nursing, baby can snooze on it and your arms get a rest)
  • a nursing cover
  • baby’s favorite book
  • a blankie (it gets cold on planes!)
  • an umbrella stroller if baby is big enough (this will get you all the way to the plane, and then you’re on your own) and, if all else fails-
  • your smartphone

Tip 3 – Nurse your baby on the way up and the way down to prevent the “ear pops”. Changes in altitude have been known to affect even adult ears, so there’s potential that those “pops” can make baby very uncomfortable.  If you nurse, or give your baby a bottle on the way up and down, the swallowing motion eases the pressure build-up and can make the altitude change less painful (for both  of you).

Tip 4Accept Help When it’s Offered. 75% of the travel that I did with my little one was travel alone. My vacation schedule was different than my husband’s, so I often flew back east on my own to see family while he stayed home and worked. This certainly complicated matters– and for those first couple trips, I tried to do it all by myself. Its not easy once you have to turn over that stroller at gate-check and you’re left with all your bags (purse, diaper bag, carry on) AND little one in your arms. Other passengers had offered to help and at first, my reply was always “oh thanks, I have it though”- after a couple trips, I was more than happy to let a nice co-passenger help me get our bags to where they needed to go, and when other passengers didn’t offer, the flight attendants were always happy to help (though, they often wanted to hold the baby, as opposed to the bags, but help is help!) Take the help when its offered and seek it out even if its not offered– it’s definitely worth it!

Tip 5- When all else fails, it really is ok (at least in my book!) to take the “easy way out”. Yes, I’m going to admit to you here that when I traveled with my toddler, when she was done coloring, when we’d read her books twenty times each, when she was bored and near melt-down, I pulled out my smartphone. Yes, I let her watch a movie. Sometimes, we let her play with baby flash cards on the phone. We had always said we’d stick to the American Academy of Pediatrics advice about no screen time before 2- but on the plane, while surrounded by strangers who just wanted some peace and quiet, and no possibility of escape, and with a solution at my fingertips, I took the easy road. And it worked.

Cooking with Kids!

My girls love blueberries and I had gone to Costco to get a five pound tray but we weren’t going through them fast enough….found this recipe. It is delicious! We had to make them into muffins because my daughter is obsessed with the princess liners :)

Blueberry Zucchini Bread – Courtesy of Parents Magazine (May ’11)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour (I used 2 cups all purpose)
¼ cup packed light-brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. coarse sea salt
½ tsp. baking powder
3 eggs
¾ cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly coat the bottom of 4 mini 5-inch loaf pans or 1 9-inch pan with cooking spray; set aside. (I used muffin tins that were lined with princess muffin foils)

In a large bowl combine flours, sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and baking powder; set aside. In another bowl, mix eggs, oil and vanilla extract. Add to flour mixture and stir until combined. Gently stir in zucchini and then blueberries.

Spoon batter into prepared pans. Bake about 40 minutes for mini pans or about 1 hour for 9-inch pan or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of each comes out clean. (I baked the muffins for about 20 minutes). Allow to cool in pan 10 minutes before removing. Serve warm or let cool completely before slicing. Each mini loaf makes 8 pieces, while the large loaf has 12. Freeze extra mini loaves for up to 3 months.

Nutrition per 2 mini slices 185 calories; 3g protein; 11g fat (1g sat. fat); 19g carbs; 1g fiber; 30mg calcium; 1mg iron; 154mg sodium