Your Top 10 List Revisited....
Photo Credit: Ann Douglas, 2009.
Your Top 10 List Revisited....
Photo Credit: Ann Douglas, 2009.
Dream up some quick and easy summer suppers.
Jot your ideas down before your culinary brilliance is lost forever.
Then share your inspiration with a friend.
Here are some recipes and family food resources to get you started:
Photo Credit: Ann Douglas, 2009.
Keep Dinner Simple
All bets are off when it comes to feeding kids during the summer months: who knows what foods will be appealing on super-hot days and who will even be at the dinner-table at a time of year when schedules tend to get tossed out the window on a regular basis? Here are some suggestions that are high in kid-appeal and ways of taking the stress out of mealtimes during what should be a fun and low-stress time of year.
1. Keep it fresh.
Take advantage of the wide availability of farm-fresh produce while it's in season. Foods like blueberries aren't just delicious: they're also rich in nutrients and high in kid-appeal.
2. Get your kids in on the meal-planning act.
They’ll be less likely to gripe about what shows up on the dinner-table or go into great theatrics about how there’s “nothing to eat” in the house if they had a role to play in planning meals, drawing up the grocery list, or—better yet—helping you choose some fresher-than-fresh produce at the local farmer's market.
3. Stock up.
It can be hard to predict ahead of time how many extra kids will show up at your dinner-table during the summer months. And be sure to stock up on foods that can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere: cheese cubes, hard-boiled eggs, bagels, homemade muffins, and the like.
4. Get ahead of the game.
Do some food preparation ahead of time or look for items in the grocery store that can save you time on the food preparation front (e.g., salad in a bag, mini-carrots, etc.). Prepare foods as soon as possible after arriving home from the grocery store or the farmer's market. That way, your kids will have plenty of healthy foods to snack on when the munchies strike.
5. Plan meals that require minimal preparation and very little clean up.
Think grilled meat or fish or vegetarian protein; a baked potato; some fresh vegetables (grilled, raw, or made into a salad); and some fresh fruit. Hint: If you throw a few extra pieces of meat on the grill, you’ll end up with some tempting leftovers for meals and snacks the next day.
6. Go for quick and easy menus.
Look for websites and cookbooks that feature recipes that can be whipped up quickly and easily. (Ask other parents and your local bookseller to recommend their favorites.)
7. Beat the heat.
Aim for no-cook meals at this time of year or meals that avoid very little oven time preparation (to avoid heating up the kitchen).
8. Batch cook.
Make at least one extra meal on the weekends, either by cooking that meal all by itself and popping in the freezer, or by making “doubles” of one of your family’s weekend meals (e.g., a double batch of spaghetti sauce or lasagna) so that you can have leftovers during the week.
9. Have leftover night or make-your-own-dinner night at least once a week.
It’s a great way to clean out the refrigerator, give yourself a break from cooking, and allow your kids to make themselves something they’ll really enjoy. It’s a win-win situation all around.
10. Schedule family picnics on a regular basis.
Even if your kids try to convince you that they’re too old for picnics, encourage them to join in the fun anyway. Summer tends to whiz by in a flash: who wants to spend it being holed up in a kitchen?
Happy Birthday, Canada!
Best Summer Ever Series (63 Days, 63 Tips): Make This Summer Really Count for Yourself and Your Family: Over the next 63 days, I will be featuring a tip a day for parents who are hoping to make this summer really count for themselves and their families.
O, Canada! 7 Sensational Ways to Bring History to Life for Your Kids: Tips on making history come alive for your kids in fun and fabulous ways.
My 11-year-old son and I visited an indoor play centre with my sister and her two preschoolers yesterday. It was the first time I’d ever been to one of these places.
I guess I was hoping for something more than what was on offer -- a more enriched version of what I'd experienced with my kids at Ontario Early Years Centres (which, being publicly funded, are free). What I encountered was the opposite: a highly commercialized pay-to-play enterprise. And I had to pay $8 for my child to get in.
Instead of puppet theatres and dress-up centres; water tables and sandboxes; ride-on toys and construction sets; paint easels and craft tables; and other activities geared to kids of various ages (the images I carry with me from many happy days spent at Ontario Early Years Centres), the pay-to-play place featured toys and climbing equipment plus pay-more-as-you go extras: pay-to-play carnival games; a snack bar; a birthday party room and birthday cakes, and other amenities, tucked away behind closed doors, ready to be unlocked for the right price.
In the for-profit world, the bottom line has a way of trumping service and common sense. The single staff member working the customer service desk had to juggle phone calls (birthday party and cake bookings) with meeting the needs of parents-and-kids. She did her best, but it isn't easy trying to be the receptionist, order desk clerk, cashier, and customer service rep all at the same time. What got lost, as a result, were the elements that make for a truly child- and parent-centred experience. What was on offer was a spacious room with toys. That’s all.
Parents tell me that they frequently seek out privately-operated play facilities because their local Ontario Early Years Centre is too crowded or it only operates part-time hours or its not as convenient to their home. And, of course, Ontario Early Years Centres only address the 0-6 age range. There aren't publicly funded drop-in centres for kids ages 6-12. That means that what’s available at any given time is very much determined by where you live, the time of year (summer camp and March Break camp season vs. after-school or weekend programming), and your ability to pay. (These types of programs are typically offered on a user-pay system.)
This makes me wonder why we parents have been so willing to reach into our own pockets to pay for access to indoor play spaces? Why aren’t we asking governments to create neighborhood playgrounds (both indoor and outdoor) and parenting centres (perhaps in unneeded schools or schools with excess space) staffed by early childhood education professionals (the people who know how to create the best environments for children to learn and grow)?
So here's what I'm thinking.
Given what we’ve learned about the key determinants of health and what leads to lifetime success and well-being, it doesn’t make sense for governments to default to the private sector when it comes to meeting the needs of children. Issues of universal access vs. ability to pay inevitability arise. If it’s in the public’s interest for children to have safe places to play, shouldn’t the public invest in those spaces and ensure that the programs that they deliver incorporate the best evidence about children and learning (to say nothing of parent support)?
Besides, at a time when taxpayer dollars are being reinvested in all kinds of different projects, don’t you think it’s time we asked ourselves and our governments what brick or mortar project could possibly warrant greater investment than the next generation of citizens? If we fail to invest in our human infrastructure, all the other infrastructure investment won’t matter at all.
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RESEARCH NEWS: The Public Health Agency of Canada has just released new findings about Canadian women's experiences of pregnancy, labour, birth, and postpartum. “What Mothers Say: The Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey” and “Mothers' Voices —What women say about pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood" are available at www.publichealth.gc.ca/mes.
This is what moms are talking about on and offline this morning: a story about a York Region pool owner who refused to allow a mother to breastfeed her baby on the steps leading in to the pool and who attempted to re-direct that mom to the change area or the spectator area instead.
The fact that the pool owner hired security guards to protect her
facility against the mothers and babies who came out to protest her
decision a few days later -- security guards in shields, no less, is even more
The moms of Toronto -- and Ontario -- and Canada -- and beyond -- are not impressed.
Word travels quickly in mom circles, particularly when
a sensitive issue like breastfeeding issue like breastfeeding is
involved. And with the power of the Internet to help spread the word
instantaneously, one mom's bad experience can be shared with all of her
friends the moment she arrives home (or the moment she retrieves her
Blackberry out of her baby's change bag in the change room). The result
is every business' worst nightmare: a few ripples of mom dissent that
unexpectedly erupt into a mother tsunami of outrage.
What's making moms particularly angry this time around is that this battle has been waged and won many times over. To have to fight it again in 2008 is ridiculous and insulting. No mom deserves to be treated with such disrespect when she's meeting her baby's basic biological need for food. And any business owner in the business of serving young families had better catch on to the fact that being baby-friendly is job one. If you don't have that in place, you don't have a business. Case dismissed.
This is the second part of a two-part series on kids and sports.
In my previous post, I talked about a really important study ("Kids and Sports") published by Statistics Canada back in June. That study talked about which kids are most likely to participate in organized and informal sports in Canada -- and which kids are most likely to be left out of the game.
In this follow-up post, I want to talk about why there's so much more to this issue than initially meets the eye.
It would be easy to assume that this issue is simply about helping kids to stay fit. If that were the case, you might argue that there are plenty of other ways for kids to get fit than by participating in the local soccer league or shooting some hoops after dinner with a group of neighbourhood kids. Kids could jump rope or work out to an exercise video. In other words, you'd be focusing on ways of getting kids' bodies in motion.
What isn't obvious at first is that being involved in organized sports like soccer or taking swimming lessons allows kids to acquire important skills that are as much about learning about life as they are about learning to play a particular sport. Playing sports allows kids to channel their energy, competitive, and aggressiveness in constructive ways; to develop teamwork and leadership skills; and, starting from when they are very young, to develop important school readiness skills (skills that can help to ease their transition to school). Kids who participate in organized sports and lessons in physical activities score more highly in such school readiness measures as receptive vocabulary, communication skills, number knowledge, and copying and symbol use. What's more, kids who participated in unorganized sports at least once a week score more highly in cooperative play than other children.
Studies examining school readiness have demonstrated that children from lower income households often lack some of the skills that are associated with readiness for school. All but one of the skills that children from lower-income households tend to be lacking (as compared to children from more affluent households) can be gained through participation in organized sports (receptive vocabulary, communication skill, number knowledge, copying and symbol use) or unorganized sports ( cooperative play). There isn't any research to demonstrate that the other skill that children from lower-income households tend to be lacking (attention) can be gained through participation in sports.
There are also significant health consequences to be considered. Researchers at Simon Fraser University conducted an eight-year longitudinal study of Canadian children, focusing on the relationship between early neighbourhood environment and children's body-mass index percentiles. They found that young children living in the lowest income neighbourhoods face an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese between childhood and early adolescence as compared to children living in more affluent neighbourhoods. The researchers concluded that reduced food choices and poorer opportunities for physical activities were responsible for the unhealthier outcomes. They recommended that "policies to prevent neighbourhood disparities in overweight...focus on young children."
There are other compelling reasons for dealing with the childhood obesity problem, too. Researchers at Queen's University found that children who are overweight or obese are more likely to be the targets and the perpetrators of bullying than other children whose weight falls within the normal range. If we are aware of factors that put a particular group of children at risk of becoming overweight or obese (and therefore at greater risk of being bullied or becoming bullies), wouldn't it be socially irresponsible of us to choose to do nothing?
There's no denying it. Sports is serious stuff. It's about giving every child a fair shot at growing up healthy and strong and ready to learn. When some kids are denied access to the types of opportunities that they need in order to develop in healthy ways, everyone pays the price later on. So knowing what we know now, we have some questions to ask of ourselves: what kind of world do we want for our kids? A winner-takes-all society, where some kids aren't even allowed in the game—or a level playing field, where every kid is invited to play?
Remember, we're playing for keeps.
Know a mom-to-be who hasn't been able to stomach anything more exotic than bananas or oatmeal in weeks (a total turnaround for someone who was always the diva of all things hot and spicy and who used to live for the morning coffee that she now finds totally repulsive)?
Blame it on early pregnancy hormones – the very same hormones that are famous (or infamous) for triggering morning sickness in newly pregnant women.
In most cases, these none-too-pleasant pregnancy side effects start to ease off by the start of the second trimester, but, as with anything else pregnancy-related, there are no guarantees as to the exact timing. Every pregnancy is unique.
You'll want to treat your friend to dinner at her favorite Thai restaurant as soon as her stomach is up to it. Not only will she be in the mood to celebrate her expanding culinary repertoire: what she dines on during pregnancy helps to educate her baby's palate. (The scent and taste of the foods she consumes during pregnancy make their way into the amniotic fluid.)
Being exposed to the taste and smell of a variety of different foods prenatally (or via breast milk during the early weeks and months after the birth) helps to ease a baby's subsequent transition to solid foods. He won't be put off by breast milk with a few spicy overtones (the exact flavor of breast milk on tap being determined in part by the breastfeeding mom's recent dietary choices) or by table foods with a bit of kick to them because the tastes and scents of the spices in the foods eaten by his family will already be familiar to him.
Of course, some babies are extra sensitive to any change in environment or routine, regardless of how much prenatal taste-testing they may have done. If you were blessed with an extra-sensitive baby, realize that you may not want to go too wild and crazy when it comes to offering the breast milk flavor du jour. Nothing tastes better to these super-sensitive little ones than the sweet taste of familiarity, after all.
Do you have any adventures in baby feeding to pass along? Maybe your baby loves or hates certain tastes or textures of foods. What words of wisdom can you offer to other parents, based on what you've learned from your baby? (One of the moms that I interviewed for my book Mealtime Solution for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler swears that her baby was bored to tears with his blander-than-bland baby food fare, so he decided to take matters into his own hands, literally. He grabbed a fist full of spicy food off her plate and savored every bite. She took that as a hint that he wanted her to spice up his diet, effective immediately.)