It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Almond-Chocolate Macaroons

I don’t know where I got this recipe. It calls for toasted almonds, but I never toast them, and they turn out just fine.

Ingredients:

2 cups whole almonds
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup finely chopping semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Grease and flour cookie sheets.
3. Grind almonds with sugar and cinnamon in food processor till reasonably fine. (This is a matter of taste. I usually go until it’s 3/4 powder with the rest small chunks.)
4. Add egg, egg white, and almond extract. Process till mixture holds together.
5. Tip into bowl — it’ll be fairly stiff. Dough, not batter. Fold in the chocolate.
6. Roll into 2 cm balls and flatten each slightly.

Bake at 350 for 10 – 12 minutes. They’ll be crumbly when hot, and will firm up as they cool on a rack. Keep in sealed container.

January 31, 2013 Posted by | food | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cauliflower au Gratin

Simple and yummy! The kids all had several helpings.

Ingredients:
a head of cauliflower, chopped in bite-sized pieces. (Include the stems. Cauliflower stems are just as yummy as the florets! Unlike broccoli, you don’t even have to peel them.)

butter (about 3 tablespoons, and yes, you can use margerine)
flour (I add it a tablespoon at a time, up to about 4 of them)
milk (I start with a cup, and add more as I go, up to about 2 cups)

1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 – 1 cup grated cheese of your choice

Method:
1. Put cauliflower in largish pot, cover with water, bring to boil. (When it reaches a boil, turn to steady simmer.)
2. Meantime, preheat oven to 350F. Butter a medium-sized casserole dish.
3. Make white sauce:
– melt butter over medium heat
– slowly whisk in flour till you get a thick paste of butter and flour
– add milk gradually and steadily, whisking all the while
– raise heat to med-high, keep stirring. It will thicken quite quickly, within three minutes or so. Remove from heat. (It will keep thickening the whole time it’s on the heat, so if you want more sauce, keep on the heat and just add more milk. When you get the amount and consistency you want (about two cups), remove from heat.
4. Drain cauliflower, put in casserole dish
5. Pour white sauce over cauliflower, stir once or twice
6. Combine bread crumbs and cheese, and sprinkle over top.

Bake 10 minutes, till top is melted and a bit crunchy.

NOM.

January 30, 2013 Posted by | food | , , , , | 3 Comments

Snacking: When, Where … and why so much?

How often do your kids snack?

Increasingly, I am coming to the opinion the answer to that question is almost certainly “too often”.

Kids snack a lot these days. A lot. More than I did when I was a kid, I’m sure of that. Why? Are kids hungrier than before? Has the essential physiology of the human body changed so much in a generation or two? Of course not.

Kids eat all the time, and everywhere. In the stroller, in the car, before daycare or school and after it, before bed. We take snacks to soccer games and kindergym — so that kids who’ve burned off 200 calories running can quick! ingest 300 more!! We don’t even consider leaving the home without food. Has it struck anyone but me that this is a bit excessive?

Why do you give your kids snacks?

For all sorts of reasons, I’ll bet. I’ll further bet that many of those reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with hunger. We feed our kids to bribe them, to motivate them, to appease them, to distract, soothe, quiet, coax. That container of food in the diaper bag is our security blanket. If they get fractious, we can pop something in their mouths and fend off the meltdown for a few more minutes. I’m not saying we must never do that. I am suggesting, however, it should be the aberration, not the norm. We should have enough tricks in our parenting arsenal, including the firm look and equally firm “That is enough. We’ll be going home soon”, that we are not stuffing food into their ever-willing mouths five, six, ten times a day.

In fact, though our children, when requesting a snack, will declare themselves to be STARVING!!!, I’d go so far as to say that most North American children never really experience hunger. They may get peckish from time to time, sure. And most assuredly, they are conditioned to expect food at certain times (in the stroller, in the car), and that association has them wanting food. “Wanting food”, however, is far from the same thing as “being hungry”.

It would be a tremendous thing, so good for their long-term health, if we could teach our children the difference between those two things.


And what do you feed your kids, when they do snack?

Most toddlers get an astonishing amount of simple carbs in a day. Simple carbs are not bad in and of themselves. We need a certain percentage in our diet. But, variety! We also need variety! A day spent tanking up on Saltines, goldfish crackers and Cheerios, followed by a dinner based primarily on pasta, is not variety.

I believe that infants who are strictly milk-fed should be fed on demand. They know when they are hungry.

But you know … I fed my kids on demand, and in those earliest weeks and months ‘demand’ varied from every hour some days to every three or four. However, when I was nursing, the term “cluster feeding” had not hit the popular psyche. Some days your baby had a “hungry day”, sure, but the idea that a child could nurse, relax, then feed again in twenty minutes, then again twenty minutes after the end of that feeding … and again, and again?

Well, okay, some days that might happen, but it wasn’t considered normal. It was an aberration that you tried to work out of their little systems. You’d take them for a ride in the stroller, give them a soother (after the first six weeks or so, when breast-feeding, if that was your choice, is well established), put them in a baby swing, swaddle them tight and put them down for a nap on that tummy you KNOW was full. By popularizing the term ‘cluster feed’, I fear that we’ve put yet another burden on young mothers, that they can never say, “Oh, no, you little fuss-budget. You are not hungry so soon!”

But for the most part, demand feeding in those first six to eight months, with a gradual weaning into solid in the second half of that first year.

And by a year, they should be eating everything you’re eating, pretty much. Cut in smaller pieces, steamed a little softer, sure, but everything you eat.

Once they were two years old, my own children got about one snack a day. You read that right. One. We’d have breakfast, we’d have lunch, we’d have an afternoon snack, we’d have dinner. Now, this is not to say that in the proud tradition of North American parenting, I didn’t keep an emergency stash of Cheerios in the diaper bag for those occasions I’d be stuck in the line at the bank as naptime approached. Sure I did. But they were truly used for emergencies. That half-cup container of Cheerios might need to be refilled every couple of months.

But somehow, when I started a daycare, I fell into the pattern of more. We snack at 10 in the morning, we have lunch at 11:45, we snack around 3 or 3:30, depending on when naps were over. So between breakfast and dinner, they’ve eaten three times, and their parents know this … and yet, they were having snacks in the car or stroller on the way home! This just blew me away. Why am I feeding afternoon snack, when they’re only going to eat again an hour later? And then they have dinner. Some of them get bedtime snacks, too. And of course, this is normal. My clients are not aberrations, they are just parenting as North Americans parent. It’s what we do.

And just try suggesting to parents (I’m talking societally here, not dissing my parents) that kids don’t need to snack so much. While mulling over this post, I stumbled across a thread in a parenting forum where a young mother asked if snacking in the car was strictly necessary. She didn’t want the mess, and surely it was reasonable to think that kids could wait a bit?

In the four pages of responses I scanned, I found only two people who supported this idea. Those two exceptions aside, Every.Single.Parent responding said things like “Kids eat constantly! Get used to it!” Some were more polite, some less so, but that was the overwhelming message.

But you know? I just don’t think constant snacking is necessary. I don’t even think it’s desirable. We are teaching our children that hunger is a bad, bad thing, to be avoided at all costs, by eating incessantly. We are teaching our children to eat for all sorts of non-hunger, non-nourishment reasons. If they never experience hunger, they will never know when they need to eat. They will be eating provoked by cues of association, not physical need.

What’s our big fear about being out of the house without food? I suspect it’s not so much that the children will be hungry, as it is that the children will misbehave and we won’t have our quick-and-easy distraction. Is the child addicted to the steady stream of food, or are we addicted to the small bit of security that container of Cheerios provides? Could it be we are afraid to be out in the big world with our toddler without our edible safety net?

But even if it is our child’s hunger …

What of it? Is it so very bad that a child should feel hunger? Hunger is what lets us know we’re ready to eat. Hunger does not mean I MUST EAT! INSTANTLY!!! Surely there’s something to be said for pleasurable anticipation of a good thing to come?

So, just because I feel the whole constant-snacking thing has gotten so out of whack, I’ve been running an experiment recently. I’m skipping morning snack (which was almost always fruit; once a week it was muffins), and tacking it to the end of lunch as ‘dessert’. I’ve been skipping afternoon snack altogether, because I know they’re all going to eat on the way home, anyway. So really, I’m having these kids eat the way I ate at their age. I’m going retro with food.

It’s stretching parental comfort zones to suggest that kids be allowed to get hungry, I know. So what do I do when the kids tell me they’re hungry? Which, being accustomed to a 10 a.m. snack, they do?

I tell them what we’re having for lunch. Cheerfully. Which is, now that I think about it, exactly what my mother did: “You’re hungry? That’s great! Then you’ll really enjoy the yummy eggplant lasagna I made for lunch!” Or commiserate: “Yes, I’m getting hungry, too. Won’t that lasagna taste great??” The message being it’s okay to feel hunger. It’s okay to savour the next meal with cheerful anticipation. And then, before they get stuck and whiny, I move them on to the next activity.

The results?

– There has been no enormous uptick in bad behaviour. There has been no change in behaviour at all. This includes the two 17-month-olds, which I hadn’t necessarily expected.
– They are eating more at lunch.
– Jazz, our chronically picky eater, is eating. No fuss, just eating. Sometimes multiple helpings. (I am 110% convinced there would be far fewer picky eaters in North America if children were ever allowed to feel hungry.)
– They are not necessarily eating their ‘dessert’ (formerly their morning snack), because they are filling up on lunch.
– This may be a total coincidence, but the two younger ones have been napping longer.

I’m going to give it another couple of weeks, and then, if nothing changes, I’m calling it a success. Cool.

January 29, 2013 Posted by | controversy, food, health and safety, parenting | , | 29 Comments

Menu Monday

Monday: Meatloaf, salad, mashed potatoes

Tuesday: No-noodle vegetarian lasagna, garlic bread

Wednesday: Stuffed peppers, cauliflower au gratin

Thursday: No-crust veggie quiche, veggie fritters (Mine fritters based loosely on this recipe, but we’ll be using zucchini, carrots and onions. Veggie fritters are a great way to use up vegetables. I also bake, rather than fry, them, not so much for health reasons as that baking is so much tidier and less work!)

Friday: Cheese quesadillas, braised eggplant

January 28, 2013 Posted by | food | , , , | 1 Comment

Oof

It is not good to start a day tired.

January 24, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Cold. Cold, cold, cold

thermometerIt’s cold here this week. Nothing like you readers in the north experience, I know, but cold enough! (For you readers in the south who think I’m north? Noooooo. There’s whole lot of Canada north of Ottawa. Days like today I am very, very glad I don’t live there.)

I woke this morning, checked my handy little Weather Network icon in my toolbar, and saw -29. Ick. Clicked on the icon to get the fuller story, and discovered that with a brisk wind out of the NW, it’s going to feel like -37. (That is -20F and -35F for you 19th-century holdouts to my south.)

Oh. My. Lord.

I’m wearing jeans, a tank top, a turtleneck and a big sweater. That’s fine for in the house. But now? I have to walk the dogs.

I have to go outside.

So the regular old jeans are switched out for the distinctly un-glam and boxy flannel-lined jeans. Under which go long johns. I have a down-filled jacket, but it stops at the hips. For today, I am snitching my daughter’s down-filled parka, which comes to the knees AND has a fur-lined hood. The scarf, wrapped as close to my nose as my damned glasses will allow. A hat for inside the hood. Leather mittens. Not gloves. Gloves are for spring and fall, and mild, mild winter days. Gloves are not for -29, -37 with windchill.

‘Damned’ glasses because the scarf can channel your exhalations upward, where all that hot, moist air immediately condenses on the glass, and, in these temperatures, just as immediately freezes. So you don’t just have a moment’s fog on your glasses, you have FROST. Which you have to scrape off. Scraping off means taking off your mittens, and you really, really don’t want to do that.

Whee. fun.

The dogs get walked. Indie, being part husky, doesn’t even feel the cold. She looooves the snow! She romps, she frolics, she rolls in the stuff. Daisy proffers me a dainty paw to de-ice at intervals, but she has no complaints, either. But this is a strictly business walk, girls. Once they’ve pooped, we head home. No 45 minute romp in the dog park this morning, my sweets. We were home in twenty. Boom, done.

And will the daycare children be going out, today?

I think not.

Instead, we will bake something. Stinking cold weather demands baking, I always figure.
We will read, we will do puzzles, we will colour, we will play dollies and trucks and blocks.

But these are toddlers, and toddlers need to burn off steam. So we will play popcorn and sleeping bunnies. We will build an obstacle course and let them climb and clamber and squirm over and under furniture. We will turn on the music and dance, dance, dance. I will put each of them on my knee for one bouncy game after another.

And … I take a deep, deep breath … Mary will relieve them of the “We WALK in the house. WALK!” for at least an hour today.

An hour of running. With five house-bound toddlers.

Hold me.

January 23, 2013 Posted by | Canada, Ottawa | , , , | 7 Comments

Valentine’s approacheth

love monsterValentine’s Day is coming, a scant three or so weeks away. I have gathered the supplies I need to make six of these, and that was that, or so I thought.

However, I was shopping on the weekend and found this! How adorable, and really, I think that makes a theme, don’t you? If I can get the local children’s bookstore to order in six copies for me, they’ll get those, too.

So it seems the tots are going to get not one, but TWO Valentine’s gifts this year. Lucky little so-and-so’s.

And ALSO, because for kids of daycare age Valentine’s Day is about family love, not romantic love, they also make cards to give to their parents.

Oh, and their grandparents, too. I am a big fan of grandparents, as they so routinely take in children who are too sick for daycare, but not sick enough for a parent to stay home with them. Or they keep a child home just to play. Or they pop around at a moment’s notice to collect a child whose parent is unavoidably delayed. I love grandparents.

I think all the cards for adults will be on a Monster Love theme. I’ll have to see what I can come up with. Oh, fun! I love holidays that give me a chance to come up with cute crafts that will be loved by all. :-D

January 22, 2013 Posted by | books, crafts, the cuteness! | , , , | 2 Comments

Menu Monday

Monday: Peanut butter sandwiches, cucumber slices

Tuesday: Vegetable soup, biscuits

Wednesday: Lentil-beet salad

Thursday: Egg-fried rice with many, many vegetables

Friday: Farmer’s omlette, braised kale

January 21, 2013 Posted by | food | , , , | Leave a comment

Power Struggles

I know I promised you a follow-up to the book I discovered, Beyond Time-Out, but I can’t! I’ve already lent it to a parent. Obviously, I need to buy my own copy. Or two.

However, the book did get me thinking about a few things, and I’m going to muse on one of them today.

“Oh, I never get into a power struggle with my child. You just can’t win those!”

Have you heard this? I have, quite routinely. The parent who says it is generally quite pleased with herself. She (less commonly he) seems to view it as a point of pride. A rueful one, perhaps, but a point of pride nonetheless. It’s a thread in the parenting ether out there, a parenting meme: Avoid power struggles. They’re costly, they’re exhausting, and, more to the point you just. can’t. win. Why dive into the stress and the mess when you know it’ll only result in humiliation and frustration?

I agree with a lot of that. Avoid unnecessary power struggles, of course. Don’t foolishly set yourself up for one, because they are indeed costly and exhausting, emotionally and physically.

But.

“You just can’t win?”

Are you nuts?

You have to win. In the first three or four years of life, establishing your role as authority in the child’s life is one of your primary parenting job. You do that all sorts of ways: by caring for their physical needs, by being emotionally available and supportive, by loving them to itty-bitty bits.

And by winning power struggles.

I think the resistance to the idea of winning these struggles has three sources.

1. Many people don’t like the idea of “power” in a family context. It smacks of authoritarianism, of oppression. They read “win” and “power”, and they think “power tripping” and “bullying”.

2. When in a power struggle, your toddler will, along with the raging, almost certainly cry. A loving parent hates to see their child cry, and many loving parents respond to the tears by backing away from the conflict. They may even feel guilty at having provoked the tears, and never want to do that again! What kind of a parent, they wonder, is willing to trample roughshod over their child’s feelings just because some toys need to be picked up?

3. Many people have tried to tackle their toddler … and have lost. Ignominiously. They have skittered from the fray, tail between their legs, uncomfortably and humiliatingly aware that not only are the toys still not picked up, but they have been bested by someone who comes up to their belt buckle and who still says “yeyyow” instead of “yellow”. (And is probably pointing to something orange when s/he says it.) Who wants to repeat that experience?

Given these points, why do I insist that you must win power struggles?

The short-term answer: Family harmony.

It’s your job as the parent to be the authority in your family. If you let your child think you’re afraid of power struggles, they will set them up. You won’t have to worry about seeking out a power struggle — they’ll be thrown at you. What’s the end result of a parent who can’t or won’t see a power struggle through and prevail? Chaos. And conflict. Continuing, unrelenting conflict.

The long-term answer: Your child’s happiness.

Toddlers like to vie for power. They want to be in control … but they aren’t developmentally ready for it. They have no idea how to wield power constructively. They are impulsive, short-sighted, impetuous, selfish. They will choose to do things that are just not good for themselves. You cannot trust a child to know what is in her or her own best interests.

A person who has never learned to share power, to defer to others is not going to get along well in life. They will likely be ostracized by their peers, because who wants to be friends with a person who always must have things their way? They will likely experience more conflict, as their peers push back with more vigour than their parents ever did.

Sadly, loving but misguided parental efforts to avoid tears and conflict … results in long-term conflict and dissatisfaction for the child — who is, one day, going to be an adult. Unless they can learn those life lessons elsewhere — from more rough-and-ready peers, from some good teachers, from other family members — they will not be happy people.

If it’s so bad for them, why do they do it?

- they don’t know it’s bad for them. No point in asking the child why. They don’t know! If you step back a pace, it doesn’t take long to see that no toddler has the cognitive and emotional maturity to know why they do what they do.
- it is developmentally normal for a toddler to be testing the boundaries. Who are you? Who are they? Are they a separate person from you? YES! And how do they express their autonomy? PUSHING BACK! SAYING NO! RESISTANCE! DEFIANCE! Wheeee… However, just because something is developmentally normal does not mean that a parent does nothing to shape and direct that stage. Besides, the purpose of this stage is to establish their autonomy and your role as a strong resource. If you’re not strong, they are undermined. Ironically, what they need at this stage is the exact opposite of what they want.

A further irony here is that if a parent consistently backs down from power struggles in order to avoid tears, they only ensure ever more of them. You must see them through.

What is “seeing it through”?
- it does not mean humiliating or brow-beating your child
- it does not mean frightening your child
- it does not mean pleading, coaxing, negotiating
- it does means ignoring the protests and calmly but firmly seeing that the request is accomplished
- it is often entirely possible to do this with a light touch; I regularly use humour

What is gained by consistently seeing power struggles through to the end?
- the conflict ends
- the child is calm
- the damned toys get picked up
- there will be fewer and fewer power struggles
- you can say something once, calmly and cheerfully, and with only occasional exceptions, that’s what happens
- your child feels secure, knowing they can rely on you to be their safe harbour when their emotions get the best of them
– your child trusts you

Okay. So let’s say you’ve all bought in to this idea. Power struggles are inevitable. The parent must see them through. They are not to be avoided at all costs. And you will never, ever again say, “Oh, I never get into power struggles with my child!” as if this is a parental accomplishment instead of a) an impossibility and b) a mistake.

You’ve bought into all that. Now you’re saying, “Okay, but how? How do you respond? What happens next?”

That’ll be for the next post in this series, when I get my hands back on that book! This might not happen until next week, but we’ll get there!

January 17, 2013 Posted by | books, parenting, power struggle | , , | 4 Comments

A discovery!

I am occasionally asked by a parent to recommend a parenting book. Given that this is what I do for a living, I should have a tidy list at my fingertips, right? Yes, I should. A well-thought-out list with headings and categories, with good representation of varying approaches and parenting styles. I absolutely should.

Embarrassing as it is to admit — and it is!! — I don’t.

It’s not that I’ve never read a parenting book. Once upon a time I read them compulsively. Probably dozens of them. I read them not so much because I felt at a loss as a parent, though of course I learned tips and tricks, picked up some good ideas, but because I found them interesting. Parenting books were fun and stimulating. Interesting, as I said.

But, you know? When you’ve been doing the job for 27 years, the books become … jest a smidge less rivetting. I have seen trends and fads come and go, heard one expert after another suggest this and that approach in one book after another. Some I largely agree with, some have taught me some good stuff; others cause me to alternately laugh at the sweet naivety or shudder at the self-absorbed brats that dreadful approach will set loose upon the world. After dozens of books read, over a couple dozen years, most of them blur together, and so, when asked, I go all deer-in-the-headlights and am absolutely no use to the questioner at all. Embarrassing.

I really should do something about that.

A couple of weeks ago, when a client asked me to recommend a book, I decided I would do something about that. I culled my own shelves and found a few of my favourites, and then, thinking I should probably have something a little more current in my Recommended Reading list, I trotted over to the library. Pulled a few likely suspects off the shelves, took a couple home.

And I discovered …

I’ve written a book!

Okay. Not really. But if I had, this would pretty much be it. Probably the only book you’d agree with 100% is one you wrote yourself, so, yes, there are a few points at which I diverge from the author, but they’re peripheral points, not detracting from the authors’ main points, method, and philosophy.

So, yay! I now have a book I can recommend to parents who ask. Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm, by Beth A. Grosshans, with Janet H. Burton.

I will tell you more tomorrow.

January 16, 2013 Posted by | books, parenting, parents | , | 5 Comments

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 290 other followers