“Building a Pantry” Over Time

Cooking from home saves money and improves health but many people think it’s expensive to have a variety of food in a week. Initially it can be overwhelming if you’re starting at 0 and “building a pantry” as I call it (getting basic staples in your cupboards, fridge, and dry pantry to easily make most dishes and desserts). But if you know what you like to cook and eat the most, that can help guide you on building your pantry.

These are the top 21 things you’ll need no matter what cuisine you prepare. Remember that larger quantities are cheaper per ounce so buy refillable containers, if possible.

  • salt and pepper
  • spices (buy them as you need them based on recipes you’re making. I advise first getting basics like: oregano, basil, Italian, paprika, chili powder, ground mustard, parsley, cumin) (in the Ethnic aisle, there are common spices for a fraction of the cost of McCormick and other brand-name spices)
  • butter
  • milk and/or heavy cream (half and half)
  • cheeses that you use (American, grated real Parmesan and cheddar, etc)
  • canned diced tomatoes
  • stocks/broths (2 veggie, 8 chicken, 2 beef)
  • flour
  • sugar
  • brown sugar
  • vinegar
  • real ketchup
  • prepared mustard and/or dijon mustard
  • real maple syrup (keep in the fridge for longevity)
  • frozen meats (portioned for each intended use- I buy large sizes of ground beef from Costco then portion it into 1-pound quantities and then wrap it in foil, label it, and freeze it. Any meat can be frozen before its expiration date- chicken, turkey, beef, ground meats)
  • grains like: oatmeal, quinoa (has protein), barley, buckwheat, etc
  • sweet pickles (chopped up, they’re relish)
  • eggs
  • rice (jasmine and basmati are very fragrant and flavorful white varieties. brown and wild rice are great with a more nutty flavor)
  • nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew, etc)
  • canned vegetables (corn, beans, chickpeas, etc)

Staples for Cookware and Utensils:

  • spatula ($3-$10)
  • rubber scraper ($5-$10)
  • frying pan ($25-$50)
  • large skillet pan with lid (10″ or 12″) ($50)
  • stockpot with lid (can buy Farberware set on Ebay for $80 with 4-5 pots with lids)
  • large stockpot with lid ($25)
  • dutch oven/soup pot with lid ($40 or so off Ebay)
  • grater ($10)
  • chef’s knife ($10-$50)
  • cutting boards ($10-$15)
  • spoons, forks, knives
  • measuring cups and measuring spoons ($5-$10)
  • mixing bowls of multiple sizes ($10-$20)
  • whisk ($5-$10)
  • digital meat thermometer ($10)
  • rice cooker & steamer ($25-$40)

Once you have some basic supplies, try to make simple recipes that don’t require a lot of ingredients (like Italian dishes, meat & potatoes kind of meals, and soups). Every week or so, try and add more ingredients to your pantry and more spices to your collection. I would add 1-2 spices a paycheck and eventually built up my spice pantry.

I remember when I first moved out of my parents’ house that I spent probably $300 worth of groceries and staples ontop of about $800 worth of kitchen supplies (including food processor, blender, and KitchenAid Mixer) and it was overwhelming. But if you invest in good-quality supplies and ingredients, you’ll have the tools necessary to make meals for years. I am an experienced cook with many years experience, so having the right supplies is very desirable for me.

Over time I’ve added other things to my supplies like: a mandolin slicer, KitchenAid Mixer attachment: shredders and slicers, etc.

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“All Daycare Kids Do is Play !” : Why This is How They Learn

Many parents in the US are concerned with their children’s academic performance and look for a daycare environment that has “teaching” included in the curriculum. Children under age 5 learn best through “play” because they haven’t developed the literacy skills to learn through long lectures, reading, or through searching information online (haha). Children 0-5 are preliteracy age (meaning “not able to read”) and they learn best through hands-on activities.

In the toddler through pre-k years, children want to explore their environment and everything in it. From touching things, pushing them, carrying them around, throwing them, turning them around and upside-down, children this age LOVE to be moving. They crawl under things, over things, and try to make the most of their environment by getting into everything and seeing what everything is. All items in their world are brand-new to them and this novelty fuels their endless curiosity to find out what things are and how they work. They are true-blue kinesthetic learners.

If the environment a child explores in is accessible to them and has toys, supplies, and materials that are child-safe, they learn that the world is a safe place and they feel comfortable in new settings. They learn that the world is ok and come to love it. Children learn the most when they are calm and content and having an open environment for them to explore. More learning happens in calm and safe surroundings.

Through movement (crawling, walking, running, climbing, etc) children strengthen their muscles and expel energy. They also learn what they are capable of doing and learn what they are not capable of doing (through possibly minor injuries). Outdoor play is especially beneficial to children because there are so many things to do and see and numerous learning experiences. Nature, to children, is magical. It provides a multitude of opportunities to see animals, poke in the dirt, play in the sand, run and lay down, to get dirty, to be totally engrossed in their play. They can also play mini sports or throw a ball into a child-size hoop, learning coordination skills.

Through drawing, coloring, painting, and other art projects, children learn fine motor skills that will help them in learning to hold silverware and eventually hold pens and pencils and aid in their penmanship skills. Art opens up the mind of children and allows them to express feelings, frustrations, and whatever their subconscious mind is thinking about. Through free art expression (versus having them complete a particular art project) children learn that what they create and think up is more important than a finished product; that the process itself is what’s important and learning techniques for placing objects, cutting paper using child-safe scissors, and rolling and patting clay help build the skills children need for future success in the sciences, math, and the arts.

Through movement, balance, and music, children learn about rhythm, sound, pitch, and pre-reading skills. Rhythm is necessary for children to be able to read because of the “stress” each syllable gets in certain words that makes it poetic and also how we can tell if someone is foreign (because they emphasize the wrong syllable). Children who have music and rhythm and balance are likely able to begin learning to read (if they can balance on 1 foot for 10 seconds). If children learn to read too early, they learn it in a certain area of the brain that will be erased once they are ACTUALLY ready and the information will be stored in a different part of the brain. This means that the child will have to RELEARN how to read if they are taught too early.

While it may look like playing to us adults, trust me when I say that it’s “work” for children. They “work” all day long just like we do, it’s just that they don’t have bills to pay and a boss to work for.

Learn How to Love Food That’s “Good For You” Without Sacrifice

To anyone who is trying to be healthier, one of the easiest things to do is to cook more from home and “brown bag it” (to work). Not only will it save you money, but it’ll save you calories, chemicals, salt, and mystery ingredients. Another thing you MUST do if you want to be/eat healthier is to try new foods. Nothing too exotic like frog’s legs or escargots, but rather new ethnic dishes, ingredients like lentils and kale, and trying out new combinations of things you never thought of (like pasta with vodka sauce and smoked salmon). Eating is a way to achieve nutrition, variety, and fun! Cooking should be an enjoyable thing and the way to make it that way is to cook things that you would want to eat out, but make them at home instead. That’s the simplest starting point.

You can search “copycat” [insert restaurant dish name here] and you’ll get a wildly accurate recreation of your favorite restaurant’s dish that you can make at home. Oftentimes, you can pay the restaurant fee plus a bit more and easily feed a family of 4 (more food for the same $). Since restaurants skimp on quality ingredients like using oil instead of butter or preserved produce, you can get better nutrition, healthier food, and even TASTIER food by making it yourself. Following a recipe is truly easy as pie and even something that seems so complicated as Homemade Yogurt or Chicken Parmesan is really quite simple to do, and almost effortless! No lie! I was shocked at how easy both of these were to make, but initially I thought “too much work!”.

Another thing you can try is to use AllRecipes.com and search for a recipe based on 2-3 ingredients you have on-hand that you’d like to use to cook a meal with. Like “red bell pepper, feta cheese, and quinoa” and it’ll populate recipes that have all those ingredients in them. From there you can see pictures, ratings, and the ingredients list required to make that dish. If you make an account with them (free) you can save recipes you’ve made or put them in your virtual recipe box to make later. It’s nifty and one of the main sites I use when cooking!

Some of the best things a person can do in regard to food choices:

  • switch to real butter instead of margarine
  • use olive oil, coconut oil, or grapeseed oil (don’t use sunflower, canola, or vegetable oils)
  • use less salt when cooking and eating
  • eat whole-fat dairy products (It’s not fat in food that makes you fat. It’s excess calories and limited physical activity. Fat helps rebuild cells and gives a person a vibrant look to their skin, hair, and nails. Everything in moderation.)
  • check ingredient lists and avoid anything with the word “hydrogenated” in it (one of the UNHEALTHIEST things you can eat. Primarily peanut butters and other “solid”-esque foods have this).
  • make homemade salad dressing (most of them are a snap if you have a stocked basic pantry and fresh garlic, eggs, and onion on hand)
  • if you want dessert, have some… just take 1 though (all we really want is a taste anyway- we don’t need a large milkshake. get a small and relish the taste more)
  • try and get more pure water into your body (I have water delivered in 5-gallon jugs once a month and it’s instant cold water from the cooler, tastes great, is readily available, and way cheaper than buying individual bottled water)
  • split a plate at a restaurant with someone at your table or get a kids-size meal (at Tijuana Flatts, the kids meal for a quesadilla comes with: quesadilla, chips, a small drink, and applesauce or m&ms for $4. an adult-size quesadilla is $8 with some chips and no drink)
  • if you’re craving a certain type of food, then plan and make it at home! (I’ve successfully attempted a homemade alfredo sauce, thousand island dressing, and balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing. I’ve also made great vegan desserts and seemingly-difficult main dishes that are so savory and worth the effort.)
  • plan your meals for the week, who’s cooking them, and what ingredients you’ll need and make note of the quantity needed (if you need cream cheese, make a note on your list of how many ounces. That way when you get to the store you’ll know whether to buy the mini pack or the sumo pack. I’ve learned this trick the hard way…)
  • Try to incorporate 1 vegetarian dish and 1 seafood dish a week into your meals (not only will this help you save money, but it’ll expose you to new flavors and you’ll come to see that meatless food can be very satisfying! Also helps you get rid of pantry staples.)

What I eat now is drastically different from how I used to eat in high school. I ate mostly “kid food”. It was finally in college where I got exposed to vegetarian and vegan foods and I came to find out that I LOVED them! Our cafeteria had sections and one of them was a vegetarian section (I admittedly didn’t know that at the time) but so I would check out all the food available that mealtime and then decide what I wanted to have. Most times I would try the vegetarian stuff and I would like it about 70% of the time.

Being open-minded to new foods is probably one of the biggest roadblocks to eating healthier. We think we won’t like it, or it sounds too ethnic, or we couldn’t ever imagine eating lamb, veal, quinoa, or kale. But the funny thing is that every food was new to us at the beginning and yet we somehow managed to try stuff. Unless you’re repulsed by something (like for me: crawfish, lobster, and oysters) then you owe it to yourself to try it. Either make a 2-serving recipe of a dish you’re unsure about so if it’s trash, you haven’t wasted a lot of time or resources, and if it’s good, then you’ve got a new great recipe waiting to be made again.

Why “Natural Parenting” is What We All Should Be Doing

When I say “Natural Parenting”, I mean in all senses of the word: wholesome foods and drinks over processed ones, conversations and touch time interactions over electronic and gadget use, nature exploration over always staying indoors, and letting kids be kids! They are meant to explore, to get dirty, to fall down and maybe get hurt sometimes. Coddling and protecting them from everything is not only a detriment to their brains and how they learn, but it teaches them no responsibility or awareness of the world around them.

Now-a-days it seems that most parents are “helicopter parents” which means that they hover over their children every moment, ensuring their safety and well-being. While this doesn’t seem inherently bad, there IS such thing of “too much of a good thing”. These parents do everything for their kids, even things the kids are capable of doing for themselves (this makes it so they can’t learn life skills and so they expect others to do things for them). These parents pick their kids up immediately after a fall versus asking if they are ok or need help. They overprotect and cut up foods into little chunks even after they are old enough to be learning about chewing properly. They don’t teach manners or expect them because their energies are consumed with hovering. They don’t expect children to have chores and to help out around the house, which is necessary for not only life skill building, but also for confidence and for everyone in the family to pitch in effort. Children in these households are not given responsibilities, appropriate risks, or choices. Children need to learn how to make choices, even small ones like what shirt to wear (out of 2 choices) because it’ll help them make smart bigger choices (like drugs or sex) later in life.

The foods that most parents are feeding their kids are atrocious. If you look at the ingredient list on a package of food, you’d be appalled to see of how many ingredients are in some things. In my opinion, I don’t think any list over 5 or so items should be purchased because it’s a chemical concoction, not real food. The company uses chemicals to make the stuff taste LIKE the food it should be. Gross! But even more important is avoiding things like aspartame, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), etc. Go for more natural things- an apple vs apple juice, potatoes vs potato chips, yogurt with live cultures vs yogurt that has none (might as well be pudding, if not). For example, look at the long list of ingredients in pre-made cookies, like Chips Ahoy or Oreos. Not only is the ingredient list long, but there is HFCS and hydrogenated oils in it. Hydrogenated oil is made when they take regular liquid oil and put a ton of pressure on it and it changes from a liquid to a solid and then it’s added to things like peanut butter. It’s a preservative and helps the peanut butter to remain solid (versus natural peanut butter which is “oily” at the top, and which needs to be stirred in).

Natural Parents don’t believe in spanking. They know that it doesn’t teach desired behavior and in fact, it usually makes a situation worse because the child is scared and hurt because you slapped or spanked them. It shows a lack of self-control on the parent’s part and ignorance for what discipline/guidance is all about. The goal of raising children is to teach them the rules of society, how to function well in it, how to have manners, and how to treat others. A child respects a spanking parent out of FEAR instead of LOVE and the relationship between parent and child is tarnished from the first spanking/slapping onward. A child will not confide in a parent that does this and they will avoid that parent whenever possible.

Natural Parents also generally don’t believe in time outs. Or if they do, it’s used as a safe place for the child to calm down, regain their composure, and let out some steam. It’s not a place of isolation as punishment, but as a place of isolation for calmness and comfort and for them to relax without distraction. It should be a comfortable place with books, music, stuffed animals, maybe some scented lotion, an eye mask, a stress ball, etc. The goal is to help the child calm down in a positive way and then they re-join the group when they are back to temper level 0.

Natural Parents believe in being “unplugged”. Being unplugged means tuning into the people and environment around you. It means being fully present and aware and engaging in life. Electronics are taking over our lives in a bad way and we’re losing sight of conversations, family time, relying on others, and taking part in family rituals. While true that some electronic toys and/or TV shows have educational value, the truth of the matter is that our kids want their parents’ ATTENTION more than anything else. To be seen, heard, recognized, etc is all they want. To have someone right beside them experiencing life as they are. To show you their proud moments and their discoveries. To play with them. To comfort them if they get hurt, regardless of their age or gender or if it’s something they should “really” be crying over, because it doesn’t matter. They are upset and need comforting.

Natural Parents believe in holistic medicine and alternative remedies, and are wary of vaccines. The fact that there is a vaccine injury compensation program (where they pay money for a child’s damages from vaccines) is almost enough information for me to steer clear! With the rise of autism, immediate behavior and mood regression, sickness brought on from vaccines, irritability and difficulty sleeping 2-3 days after a vaccine, and even the DEATH of children and young adults shortly after a dose is just scary stuff. To say that vaccines are SAFE without fail is a very big blanket statement and large claim to make- sounds a lot like what the tobacco companies claimed years before we all found out how hazardous to health cigarettes are. Natural Parents seek out natural remedies whenever possible, but they know that mainstream medicine has its place and will use it when medically necessary, but not before. That is how it was intended, truthfully.

Overall, I believe that, “As we know better, we do better” and that applies to every discipline out there, but ESPECIALLY to child-rearing, health, and wellness. I challenge every person to keep reading, keep learning, keep improving. Be better tomorrow than you were yesterday. Change takes time and is a gradual process, but just make sure you’re changing for the better by being more aware of the truth in matters, not the propaganda portrayed by mainstream media.

Parents- You Need to Have Alone Time and Solo Interests!

As a new parent, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day living that comes with a baby or young child. Sometimes we’re so tired from our kid(s) wearing us down that the thought of doing something for ourselves is put on the back burner and long forgotten! But the thing is that our kids can’t be happy and fulfilled if we, as parents, are run-down, depressed, or unhappy. Even if it’s a few days a week for a few hours, be sure to take time for yourself to do things you enjoy. Anything from reading to yoga to checking your emails uninterrupted, try your best to “get away” for a bit and to recharge.

I remember that for the longest time with my baby that I would want to be with him all the time. I wanted to see him, interact with him, take care of him, and I didn’t really trust many other people with his livelihood and safety. (It was shocking to me how overprotective and possessive I was with him, considering I planned on working and dropping him off at daycare every day… how things change once they arrive!) But over time it led me to neglect myself and my own needs and interests. I’ve always loved cooking, karaoke, yoga, reading, intramural sports, etc and since I hadn’t done those things in months and was essentially stuck and trapped in the house, I was getting depressed and unhappy with my life. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. My mommy instincts had taken over my brain and I didn’t think of myself for one second of the day, which is quite unhealthy!

Then when the baby started to get a bit older, I came to have more time for myself in the day, like when he napped, was playing, or just content to be able to move around the living room. This allowed me some free time to do things that I wanted or needed to do. And no, grocery shopping isn’t a “fun and desirable activity” for me, it’s a necessity! Haha. But as I came to do more things for me, I became happier. I began reading more, mostly about childhood development and parenting, and I’ve learned so much from these books! My library is so extensive.

I started to become more interested in social endeavors and wanted to start going to the YMCA again, to get back in shape and lose the weight I gained post-baby when my body was healing for 3 weeks postpartum and then it snowballed afterwards. I’m already feeling so much better, healthier, and eating less in terms of quantity. I’m cooking more, making smarter choices, and being more in tune with what my body needs. My plan is to try and do yoga again 2-4 times a week ontop of long daily walks with the bub (my son) and the pup (Cocker Spaniel) to ensure everyone gets some outdoor time and that i’m not totally lazy on my “days off” from the gym.

Whatever your niche is (or even if you’ve yet to find it!), try to do it as much as you can. Explore new places, activities, and meet new people. Or start small and just explore an area on your own, talking to shopkeepers and making small comments to strangers as you pass them by while walking. Take your dog to a dog park (if you don’t fear fleas, possible bullying, and disease…. yikes!) and mingle with other dog owners. Join a playgroup or meetup for other kids the same age as your child(ren). Get out of the house! Take it from me, who was cooped up for 6 months day and night, you need that Vitamin D from the sunshine and fresh air to rejuvenate yourself!

Things a Parent With a New Baby Needs You to Understand

Before I was a mom, I didn’t understand the scope, commitment, and amount of time it takes to care for a baby. Holy moly! I had a close friend who had her first child a few years ago and we would go out in public and spend time together, with her son in tow. Even though she was my close friend, there were things I still didn’t understand about what it means to be a mommy and how you can love your child so much and want to see them all the time. I was just in a different life stage!

Fast-forward to the first few weeks being home with my newly born son, Valen, and I could see why new mommies were so tired for like a month! The feedings, the crying, the sleepless nights, the stress, the hunger and thirst, dying for a chance to take a shower, longing for a nap to recharge… everything that was “normal” in life got flipped on its head and I was having a hard time adjusting to not being as productive as I would’ve liked. Not only that, but I was told to “rest” which meant “lay down or sit constantly” and so I was going a bit stir-crazy!

I really wanted a hot meal, someone to cook for me while I was home alone all day with the baby. At night, there would sometimes be hot meals but the thing I wanted most was for a friend to say, “Hey, can I bring you some food and keep you company?” to which I would’ve screamed, “YESSS!”. Not the kind of friend that needs “entertaining” but the kind of friend that enjoys just hanging out with you. That’s what I wanted, more than anything at that time!

The other thing I really wanted was a big, fat NAP! Some days I’d sleep when the baby did, but other days I’d think, “Now’s my chance to catch up on the dishes” and get to it. By the time I’d clean, organize, cook, etc the bub would be stirring from his nap and off I’d go into baby-busy mode. The first 2-3 weeks were a blur of tiredness, soreness, boredom, isolation, hunger, thirst, and a sense of being “the only one going through this”. I wish I had more of a support network- that my immediate and extended families would’ve been more helpful and thoughtful during that time. I wish they checked in with me more and offered to come by to give me a break, bring food, get some groceries for us, or just stopped by for a few hours to relieve me of the boredom and exhausting fatigue that all new parents come to know well. There were a few people who really helped us a lot and others that seemed too busy to even text or call. That was definitely a shocker!

Going anywhere was a big ordeal- all the things to pack and bring with for even a simple outing! Baby, car seat, diaper bag, stroller, bottles, formula or breast milk, spoons, baby food, bibs, pack n play (for extended visits), high chair (when 3-4 months old), etc. Long gone were the days where I just threw my purse in the front seat and I was off. Now it takes 30 minutes getting ready to be sure I have everything, make sure the bub is fed and changed, and that I know where I’m going on the errands and what I’m doing. The abridged version of this paragraph is: go visit the new parents at THEIR house, not in public, and bring some food (and a change of clothes!) haha!

Looking back, I wish I had more “me” time- where I could just relax and do whatever I wanted for even 30 minutes a day- something enjoyable that made me happy and that I liked. There was just no time for that.

Being a parent is so rewarding and amazing, but the “negatives” are hardly ever spoken of: postpartum depression, weight gain (from sitting around all day being exhausted after giving birth and breastfeeding all day!), anxiety, hyperawareness (especially when driving!), severe sleep loss, isolation, hunger and thirst, feeling alone, not having a support network, having friends or family who don’t understand how much work it is to take a baby somewhere, etc. If you know anyone who is a new parent, offer to come over for a few hours to see the new baby. But know that what you can do that will be the MOST help is food and holding the baby for them for a while. Or letting that tired mama sleep!

Accepeting Your Child and Their Interests

Recently, an acquaintance was asking me what I would do if my son liked something that I didn’t. Like football, the military, being a nomad, etc and I told her that I would accept him for who he was and that whatever he likes is fine by me so long as it’s not illegal or has anything to do with being a bad person. She was pleasantly surprised since I guess her parents were not this way with her. She said that she felt forced to like or do certain things because her parents wanted her to- she felt that she couldn’t be herself with them and this ultimately affected her happiness and sense of well-being. Yikes!

It’s understandable that as parents, we want the best for our kids. We want them to be healthy, happy, well-adjusted, smart, good people, and sometimes a parent’s unfulfilled “I wish I did that as a kid” may get pressured onto their young ones. Parents may want their kids to be in dance, play an instrument, be involved with outdoorsy activities, or other wishes. But the thing that never really gets said is this: while all those things are lovely, if you child isn’t interested in them, don’t push it! Sure, have your child try piano lessons for a few months and tell her that she can get good and play easily if she practices and have her give it a good go. But if after a few months it’s a dud, let it go and move onto the next activity to try.

Nothing is worse than a parent who feels “disappointed” in their child, who didn’t like a certain activity that a parent wanted them to like. It’s nothing against you, it’s all about discovering who your child is as a person and embracing it and helping them flourish and blossom into the best person they can be! It’s good to delve into many activities: the arts, cooking, martial arts, swimming, sports, instruments, dance, camps, etc and see which ones your child likes.

Whenever you find a niche that your child fits well in, get them entirely involved in it. If your son likes dancing, wants to learn an instrument, or wants to help in the kitchen, let him do those things and encourage him! If your daughter wants to do sports, martial arts, math or space camp, or wood shop, let her! Don’t discourage your child based on gender-biased activities, either. Boys may become fathers one day and girls will become independent one day so the earlier you can eliminate these “gender lines” the better! Get your child involved in everything.

When I was younger, some of my favorite things were: rocks and minerals, horses, animal figurines/stuffed animals, sports (soccer and basketball), dance, playing outdoors, riding my bike, playing with animals, and playing in the snow. My mom bought me books on rocks and minerals, on horses, and one year gave me a Rock Tumbler as a gift. I used that thing SO much and it was so much fun to polish my own rocks! I was a happy kid because I felt like my mom knew me as a person and gave me gifts specific to my interests, which made me feel loved and understood. That’s a basic, primal need of all humans!

If your child likes a same sex partner for a boyfriend/girlfriend, likes to do a-typical things based on their gender, wants to go to “smart camps” or “jock camps”, etc, please let them be themselves! Nothing can change a person’s interests- they only get suppressed and then the person becomes depressed, unhappy, and misunderstood. Learn to love your child for who they ARE versus who you’d like them to BE. Learn to sit back and let your child’s personality shine and observe them to see what they enjoy doing. Expand on those interests with them. Teach them new skills that will help them develop themselves as individuals and that will benefit them long-term in life. Cooking isn’t a skill that only women need- guys need to feed themselves, too! Nurturing is a skill boys need to learn as well as girls because if they have pets, get married one day, or have kids, these life skills will serve them well- and in friendships too!

Don’t limit yourself or your child to certain interests. Try everything thoroughly and see if there are any new activities you like- you may be surprised!

Why “Smart” or “IQ-Boosting” Toys Don’t Add to Intelligence or Curiosity

Even though I’m a first-time parent, there are many things that seem like common sense to me, but because of mainstream media and advertisements as well as American parents’ desire for their children to be “the best”, “the smartest”, or do “such and such first”, there’s been a shift in the toys built and purchased for kids these days.

The toys that seem to be “all the rage” are those that make noise when buttons are pushed, play songs or music, high-tech language-learning DVDs, Baby Einstein DVDs, Leap Frog books and toys, toys that “talk” to the child and say their name, ad infinitum. There are a few problems with toys like these. I’ll give the reasons why and then I’ll mention some great open-ended toys for children instead of close-ended toys like the ones that seem to be so popular today.

High-tech toys don’t inspire creativity
Since they mainly only do 1 or 2 things, they are very limited when it comes to the “scope” in which they can be used during play. A young child will find “new” ways to play with such toys, such as banging, smacking, throwing, stuffing, etc but these can be damaging to a high-tech toy which may not have been made durable enough to withstand this type of play!

Children get bored FAST with high-tech toys
This kind of cycles back again to the “not many uses” because if there are really only a few options of what can be done with a toy, it’s sensical that boredom will always be looming around the corner with these toys. Most parents report that their child will spend 5-10 minutes with a toy like this and that’s it… sometimes for good, depending on the toy.

High-tech toys are PRICY
Out of curiosity, while at Target one day I stopped by the toy section to scope out the pricing on some of the more elaborate toys for kids. The cheapest ones were $20 and some of them were even $50 for a toy for a toddler. That may only get briefly used. And that will get stuffed into the garage eventually…

Toys that think for the child do JUST that
Toys that are interactive, respond to a button being pushed, etc do all the “thinking” and the child becomes a spectator instead of an active participant in the learning process. With close-ended toys like these, a child isn’t coming up with new and innovative ways to interact with the toy- they may just get bored with it!

“Smart” toys prey on parents’ insecurity about their child’s academic future
What better way to create a “need” and an industry than to create a problem and then magically have a solution? Designers of such toys, DVDs, and interactive games know that parents want the best for their children and that they would do (or buy!) just about anything to achieve that goal. They say in the advertisements “prepare your child for school!” and while it’s a noble gesture, these types of toys are not necessary for a child to have. In fact, open-ended toys, being read and talked to, and spending quality time together as a family is more likely to yield higher IQ and general intelligence than some “smart” toy.

Open-ended toys
Any toy that can have multiple uses is great for young kids, hence why blocks, stuffing/packing toys, stacking toys, bead runs, and containers are some of the most fun toys for babies near 1 year old. They love pots, pans, kitchen tools (like a whisk), containers (Tupperware or washed food storage tubs), baby rings, etc. because there are SO many things you can do with these items! It’s truly endless! My son loves the wooden cube blocks I got as a first birthday present from my parents. It’s very endearing to see him playing with them.

How to Be Honest With Your Child About Feelings

Many new parents believe that they should always be happy or pleasant with their children, even if the parent is feeling anything BUT happy. But this can lead to problems down the road with emotional intelligence, recognizing feelings, and learning how to properly handle negative feelings.

To always be pleasant around a child is a noteworthy goal, but it is not something that can hold up in the long-run. Everyone has unpleasant feelings from time to time (like anger, jealousy, resentment, etc) and by not showing your child that you feel this way at any given point may lead them to hide their own negative feelings, believe that you never get mad (which is actually a bad thing, cause we’re all human), or that having negative feelings makes them a bad person. None of which are true! But children blame themselves for problems that happen in their lives because they don’t have the complex thinking to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them! This is normal behavior for a child!

As a parent, it’s a good idea to be as “real” with your child as possible. Talk in your real voice, use words that you usually use with your child, part take in activities that you usually enjoy, and share what you’re thinking out-loud with your child. This helps them learn what goes through your head to arrive at a conclusion (which is a great way to develop critical thinking skills).

If your child topples over and bumps her head, say lovingly, “Owie, that hurt! You bumped your head.” Children can instantly calm down once their feelings have been validated and they know that someone understands them. This helps build emotional intelligence which will help a child be able to identify which feeling they are experiencing. If you child seems frustrated because the formula in his bottle is plugged at the bottle’s nipple, say “I know, you’re frustrated. Mommy fix it.” If your child is upset that he has to go to bed, say, “I know you’re tired, honey. I know you don’t want to, but we need to go night-night.”

If you, as a parent, are feeling overwhelmed or angry toward your child, know that it is ok to feel these things. It is NOT ok, however, to take your frustration out on your child by hitting, spanking, neglecting their needs, etc. Understand that NO parent keeps their composure all the time, but also understand that blowing up, causing a scene, and striking your child out of anger are not appropriate responses. If you’re upset, it’s good to let your child see it in your face and in your tone of voice. If you hide your feelings or gloss over them, your child will not learn the skills needed to handle their emotions properly and may “blow up” instead of expressing negative feelings on a regular basis, where the regular basis is the much more desirable option.

Ways You Can Get Your Child Involved With Their Health – Right Now!

Nutrition is an elusive topic because there’s so much misinformation about what we should be eating. Advertisements for food trick consumers into believing propaganda and mainstream media messages about what’s healthy and what’s not. Just watch kids’ shows and you’ll be bombarded with tons of food marketing to kids (who don’t see these as commercials- they think it’s part of the show!).

There are some very simple and straightforward ways that you can get children, even infants, involved with their health- one of the biggest components of which, is what they eat. When preparing pick-up food for an older infant (6-12 months) and you are serving them soft fruits and veggies, it’s a good idea to cut up the food in front of them, say the name of the food, and then serve it on their high chair. If they seem hesitant to try some, grab a piece excitedly and eat it yourself, being sure you make exaggerated happy faces and remarks to encourage your child to follow suit.

For toddlers that are walking (or even if you decide to keep them contained in the cart still), you can ask them to help you pick out a certain number of (fruit or veggie). “Can you help me pick out 3 avocados?” or “Let’s go get 2 tomatoes.” or “Can you please go grab a bunch of bananas for me?” If you’d like to take this even further, teach them how to pick a good one- say, “See how red this tomato is versus that yellow one? That means it’s more ripe and ready to eat.” or “We gently squeeze the avocado on its top and bottom to see if it’s a little soft, which means it’s ripe and ready to eat.” or “When bananas are green, they’re not ready yet. We want to eat bananas today so we want yellow ones or ones that are getting brown spots.” Education about food, colors, names of the food, and how to tell when it’s ripe. Kids love hearing “what’s inside your brain” AKA “what you know about the world but they don’t”.

A toddler can help with mealtime such as: putting napkins and silverware at each setting, washing fruits and veggies, putting unbreakable plates and cups on the table (or just theirs), putting dessert yogurt or fruit on the table, and other similar, non-dangerous tasks. Toddlers can even learn to scrape their plate and put it on the kitchen counter.

School-age children can do even more than this. They can: set the table with breakable cups and plates, do a load of dishes, prep/cut some fruits and veggies (with a butter knife), put a pitcher of water on the table, help bus the serving dishes afterwards, help do some of the meal prep (if you’d like).