It’s Not All Mary Poppins

These things are relative…

I sit at the dining table, reading, and munching on some illicit almonds. Illicit, because almonds are not something the children can eat, meaning, I can’t share. Meaning, such eating had really best be done under cover of darkness. Far, far from the children.

However, the only child up at the moment is Gwynn. The littles are all sleeping. I made sure that Gwynn was utterly engrossed in her blocks over there in the living room before I quietly sat down here, in the dining room, so I’d say that I’m —

“What you eating, Mary?”

Damn. Busted.

There is no point in lying about it. She can see me chewing. She can hear me crunching. I wonder if the crunching is what drew her attention, in this quiet house? From the other room? Over the clink and clunk of her blocks? With her back to me??? (Seriously. How do they know?)

(More to the point: why do I ever think I can get away with it? After all these years, it borders on delusional.)

But I’m not sharing. First, she’s had her snack, before the littles started their nap. Second, almonds are not safe for a two-year-old. Technically, they shouldn’t be getting whole nuts until they’re four, because of the risk of choking. (In fact, when I was a young mother, my pediatrician said five was the magic number.) I did not wait that long with my own kids. I took into consideration their teeth: obviously, kids without molars don’t get little crunchy esophagus-blocking morsels. I took into consideration their eating styles. Kids who madly cram food in did not get nuts (I had at least one of those). Kids who take little bites and chew slowly (I had at least one of those!) got nuts. So I honestly don’t remember how old they were when they first got nuts, but I do know it wasn’t the five years old my doctor was suggesting.

However. That was my own kids. With other people’s kids, I am much more careful. Gwynn only turned two a couple of months ago. Not even close.

“I am eating almonds, sweetie.” I show her the nuts in my hand. “But you can’t have almonds, my dear, because you could choke on them. They are dangerous for you. You can’t have almonds until you are five years old.” I pause to let that sink in. She pauses, to see if I’m about to change my mind. “How old are you, Gwynnie?”

She grows still as she considers. Her brilliant, pale blue eyes widen, her face is framed by wisps of white-blond hair. She speaks in careful, sincere, measured tones. She knows she just has one shot at this, and she’d better make it good. Her voice rings with conviction and sincerity as she assure me,

“I am old, Mary!”

She didn’t get any nuts.

She did get a giant, laughter-filled hug before being sent on her way, though.



November 4, 2014 Posted by | food, Gwynn, health and safety, the things they say! | , | 7 Comments

Beauty is in the … mind of the beheld

“She gave me soap!” Her blue eyes, though dimmed with age, still manage to flare in indignation. “Does she think I’m dirty? Does she think I don’t wash?!?”

My elderly neighbour, Mrs. L., is in full battle-cry against her sister-in-law. Again. Being a well-brought-up woman, I don’t argue with my elders. I don’t know the sister-in-law, despite all the tales of offense and infamy I’ve heard. What Mrs. L. tells me won’t hurt this woman, since the much-scorned SIL lives in a different city.

The offense is clear, however: The scorned sister-in-law gave Mrs L soap for her birthday!!!!

I like Mrs L, I really do. She’s a feisty old thing, determined to live her life till the last breath as an independent woman. She still drives her car — only in brightest daylight, as her vision fades, and it won’t be long before he license is taken away, I’m sure. She lives in her own home. She has supportive family, who see that her fridge is properly stocked and that she gets to doctor’s appointments. And she has attentive neighbours, myself among them, who note whether she’s walking her little dog every day, and that her mail is not accumulating worrisomely.

But she’s also a cranky old biddy, only too willing to take offense, to see offense where there is none, to be OUTRAGED by something as simple as a gift of soap.

I listen and nod, listen and nod, until Mrs. L runs out of steam and totters back into her kitchen. Then I breathe a sigh of relief, shake off her negativity and willful self-absorption, and move on to my day.

I never argue with Mrs. L. She’s old, and, despite her brave front, she’s frail. The days that she can continue to live on her own are numbered. Though she’s in denial, I suspect much of her rage stems from this awareness. (Even if it doesn’t, even if she’s just a cantankerous old biddy, she’s old.) I am kind.

A frail, cranky old lady who, despite herself, sees the writing on the wall, is one thing.

I am less patient with the gazillions of healthy young things who do this sort of thing day after day. Today I came across this post.

I’ve been pregnant, three times. I meet a dozen or two pregnant women each year; on average, one of my clients becomes pregnant each year. When I taught prenatal classes, I saw hundreds of pregnant women in a year.

This sort of article wearies me. The woman who wrote it doesn’t like to be asked when she’s due, and doesn’t enjoy the ‘wow’ comment. Okay. So she doesn’t. But you know what? Lots of women do. What’s the poor hapless bystander to do? You say ‘wow’ to one woman, she’s offended. You don’t say it to the next, she’s disappointed.

When people make complaints of the sort this author makes, they are assuming that all people feel as they do. Therefore, what they need, is what everyone wants, what pleases them is what everyone should be doing. And that just ain’t so. Since all pregnant women don’t respond in the exact same way to their pregnancy and to comments on their pregnant body, then what she’s asking of people is that they be able to read her mind. Which is hardly fair or rational. This exasperates me.

I could have stopped here. There would have been a certain amount of undeniable satisfaction in writing an acerbic, biting, sarcastic post on the self-inflated precious snowflakeness in our society, the incessant demand that everyone UNDERSTAND me, and react EXACTLY how I want and need. How dare you step on my delicate toes?

But you know what? Once that moment of exasperation had passed, compassion arose, and I just couldn’t be so unkind. Because what this woman is really expressing is insecurity. She’s not being fair or rational, but her distress is genuine, and I feel compassion for her.

And I am here to say to the author of this post, and to all of you who empathized with it, “Oh, honey. The problem is not with those people, even if some of them are tactless. You’re pregnant? Congratulations! And I will tell you now, even though I haven’t seen you in the flesh, you’re gorgeous.”

How do I know that, sight unseen? Because pregnant women are. Gorgeous. Yes, you are. Each and every one of you. Despite how tired you feel, how bloated you feel. Despite the bags that may or may not be under your eyes. Despite varicose veins and linea nigra and flatulence and stretch marks and the aches and pains and general weariness… You.Are.Beautiful.

Know why? Because you are a miracle on legs, you are. And that baby inside you? Is another miracle.

Those people who want to know when you’re due? It’s because they want to celebrate with you! Or perhaps to commiserate, and on a day where you’re feeling nothing more than “will I ever, EVER get my body back?”, a little commiseration is always welcome. Isn’t it?

Those people who look at your belly and go, “Wow!”? They are thinking, “Wow. Isn’t it amazing what the female body can do?” Or they’re thinking, “Wow. I’m so glad that’s not me any more!” Or maybe, “Wow. I can hardly wait till I get to do that!” Or, “Wow! Who knew a tiny woman could stretch so far!!” Some of them may even be thinking, “Wow. Why, why, why won’t my body let me do that?”

What they are not thinking is “Good lord, what a whale!” Do you hear me? They.Are.Not.

If you take offense or cringe in shame, when you hear that ‘wow’… Do you know who’s thinking that ‘whale’ comment?

You are.

Nobody else. Just you.

When you are pregnant, you gain weight. You do. It’s a fact. A biological necessity. 25 – 40 pounds is perfectly, deliciously, healthy. You are not “fat”. In fact, this is the one time in your life when gaining 25 – 40 pounds is the right thing to do. (If you gain more than that, you are not ‘ugly’, but you are making it harder on yourself. Pregnancy will be harder. Labour will likely be harder. Chasing your wee one after s/he is born will be harder. So, for your own sake and comfort, please keep the gain to healthy limits. But ugly? You’re Not.) And shame? It’s so unwarranted as to be ridiculous. Truly, it is.

Okay, we could all wish some of them would be a little more tactful. Sure. But I will tell you with 100% sincerity, no one who says ‘Wow!’ when they see a pregnant tummy is thinking ‘Ew!’. (Okay, maybe 0.0001% of them do. You can pay as much attention to those people as you do to people who think the world is flat. They are the lunatic fringe and should impact your self-esteem as much as the flat-earthers impact your travel plans.) So, please believe me: people are excited, not repelled. Pregnancy may not bring out the tact in everyone, but it does bring out the joy. People love babies. People love pregnant woman.

If you feel shame — seriously: shame?!? — when someone comments on your size, the problem lies not with the commenter, but with you. Because you don’t believe, in your heart of hearts, that your growing, blossoming, lush body is beautiful.

I’m here to tell you, it is.

When I taught prenatal classes, I would often hear women complain that they didn’t feel ‘feminine’ any more. And I would tell them, “Can you think of a single time in your life when you are more womanly? What man on the planet can do what you’re doing now?” You may not look like the pencil-thin 14-year-old models in Vogue, but you are as female as they get, sister!

All of it. All the aches and pains and lumps and farts and burps… and … beautiful skin and thick hair, blossoming breasts and lush, luxurient curves. You are beautiful. Utterly beautiful.

If you believed that yourself, if you really, really believed that, then every time someone asked, “When are you due?”, you’d be thrilled to tell them. And every time someone looked at your voluptuous belly and said, “Wow!”, you’d caress it with your mother’s hands, and you’d say, “Yeah. Isn’t it great?!”

Because it is. It’s great. It’s a miracle. It’s beautiful.

You’re beautiful.


October 21, 2014 Posted by | controversy, health and safety, parents, pregnancy and delivery | , , | 6 Comments

Menu Monday

It’s been a while, so I’ll explain our eating patterns again. At Mary’s house, children between 12 and 20 or so months get a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack. Older children skip the morning snack. We eat morning snack at 9:30-ish, lunch at 11:30, and afternoon snack at about 3:00.

Lunch is a substantive meal, with three courses. The first course is always a vegetable of some sort. The main is a protein, more vegetables and, usually, a starch. Dessert is usually fruit.

Here’s this week’s menu!

First course: corn (niblets, not on the cob)
Main Course: Spinach Pie
Dessert: banana

First course: collard greens (braised for an hour in water with a sploosh of lemon juice)
Main Course: pasta with pinto beans, swiss chard and cheese
Dessert: grapes

First course: roasted cauliflower (with optional dip)
Main Course: chicken tikka masala, naan
Dessert: apple slices

First course: ratatouille
Main Course: mushroom-cheese quiche
Dessert: bananas

First course: guacamole
Main Course: fish tacos (The link is to my inspiring recipe, but we’ll be making ours with mashed avocados on the taco itself to act as glue for the filling of grilled, chunked (or crumbled) fish, swiss chard, and grated carrots)
Dessert: caramel apples (a decadent treat because we’re having our Halloween party this afternoon!)

As always, if there’s a recipe you’d like to see, just ask!

October 19, 2014 Posted by | food, health and safety | , | 3 Comments

Keep your distance! Really, *really* distance!

Liam sneezed on the floor today.

“Meh,” I hear you say. “He’s a toddler. They get colds. They don’t cover. So he sneezed on the floor.”

And you know? Normally that would be my reaction, too. I’d wipe it up with a tissue or a baby wipe and think nothing more of it. But this month? Oh my, oh my. This month…

As you know, we have two newbies here at Mary’s house. When I interviewed with the parents, I warned them, as I usually do: “When a child starts group care, whether that’s daycare at a year old, or grade 1 at six years old, they will get, on average, about one cold a month for the first year.” I think it was my aunt the chemist who gave me that figure, years ago, and it’s proven over the years to be about right. Certainly for the first six months.

It’s a nuisance, but nothing more. Since maternity leaves in Canada are a year long, you’re not looking at poor wee, 6-week-old babies with stuffed noses. These guys can manage sippy cups, they don’t suffocate in snot while trying to suck a bottle (or a breast). I certainly don’t make parents keep a child with a cold home, unless there’s a fever along with it, which would indicate something worse than a garden-variety snotfest, anyway.

But this month.

First there was a cold. Of course there was. One cold  a month, no biggie. Entirely to be expected. Except … except this was The Cold that Ate Ottawa. This thing was virulent. There are 4 children in my daycare now, each with two parents, two with siblings. Every single child got this cold. Every single mother got this cold. All but two dads got this cold, and those who escaped were travelling for work at the time it swept through.

I got this cold.

I hardly ever catch anything from the tots any more. When you work 19 years with these small, adorable, cuddly little vermin-ridden petri dishes, you develop a killer immune system. If the children experienced the same symptoms I did, it went as follows: 2 or 3 days of a sniffly nose, but otherwise feeling fine. Day four: not feeling so fine. Tired. Lethargic. Energy bursts followed by absolutely none.

Day five: you think you were snuffly in day three? HA! I was blowing my nose, I am sure and without exaggeration, 4 times a minute for two days.  Also: cough. Particularly bad in the evening, but pretty much a 24-hour a day thing.

Day six: add to snotzapalooza, a headache.

Day 8 – 10: lose your voice. Now, this wasn’t so bad, since there was no sore throat accompanying it. But no volume, either. Lose your voice, headaches recede, nose-blowing only once every two minutes. Oh, and that cough? Every single inhalation in the evening of day 8 makes you want to cough. Gadz. (But given the nadir of the whole thing, at about day 7, we’ll call this an improvement.)

It was a solid two weeks before I felt well again. It was almost three before I could sing again. (I sing a lot. Really a lot. I honestly hadn’t realized how much I sing in a day until those days when I’d open my mouth and have nothing but air emerge. Or a frog’s croak. Or a witch’s cackle. Or all of the above. If I ever mocked a 12-year-old boy for the crackling voice, I hereby apologize. Lord, what a damnable NUISANCE it is. And also, I couldn’t sing, dammit!)

So. There was this cold. Which I worked through, of course. I’d caught it from the kids, and they ALL had it. I didn’t need to worry about infecting them now, did I?

And then there was the bowel excitement. Two of them got that. Lots and lots of loose, watery not-really-poop-but-should-be.


And then?

THEN we got hand, foot and mouth virus. (Which is not, I reminded my husband multiple times, hoof-and-mouth disease. Different virus, but mostly? Toddlers don’t have hooves, dear, remember? It only sounds like they do, some days…) One of them got a case so mild we only realized after the fact she’d been stricken (and now we know how it got in to the daycare!), to poor little Gwen, who had a high fewer, who slept about 4 hours a night for four night, and who had the blisters everywhere, including not just her hands, feet, and inside of her mouth, but the back of her throat, so badly she was afraid to swallow water. For a week the poor child subsisted on nothing but Jumbo Freezies.

By now, I was about ready to hang out the PLAGUE sign on my door.

I upped my sanitary precautions. Now, instead of disinfecting the toys on a casual, one-category-of-toys per week schedule, I was disinfecting them ALL. Every.Single.Day.


Think about that, for a moment.

It’s not really difficult, really, but it’s a damned nuisance. Every day. Several times a day, really, because ALL THE TOYS can’t be disinfected all at once. They are done in shifts. Eesh.

The ones that weren’t readily disinfectable, I put in bags in the back porch. I don’t know when they’ll be allowed back in. In April, after 6 months of an Ottawa deep-freeze to kill the rotten little fuc– er, bugs? (Probably. And I hope they SUFFER as they die.)

I am now wearing surgical gloves for all diaper changes, not just the poopy ones.

I have a spray bottle with 2 tablespoons bleach in a half-litre of water, with which I spritz down the table before we eat, the floor after I do a diaper change, and anything else that moves or threatens to move. (Not the children, though lord only knows they could probably use a good spritz right on their snotty wee faces.)

I am washing my hands a gajillion times a day.

So. Liam sneezes on the floor. After he’s done, I see a sparkling array of large (LARGE) droplet circles of sputum/mucous/saliva/gawdknowswhat glistening on the hardwood. I make an exclamation of disgust, drawing my son’s attention. My son, who is on his way to his studies at university. His bio-pharmacology studies.

The son starts describing “Spill Containment Protocols”, as practiced in a Level One Bio-Safety lab. (I am beginning to wonder if we’re not up to Level Two, at least, but I defer to his lab expertise, of which he has a few years.)

And you know what?

I don’t laugh. I don’t take it as teasing.

At the end of this Month of Ick?

I listen.

Want to know what it is? Here. Just slip on these surgical gloves, grab this bottle of spray bleach-and-water, and take this roll of paper towels. I’l show you.


October 9, 2014 Posted by | eeewww, health and safety | , , , , | 4 Comments

Menu Monday

First course: salad
Main course: black bean enchilada bake
Dessert: gooey cranberry squares

First course: corn niblets
Main course: toad in the hole
Dessert: cantaloupe

First course: cooked carrot sticks
Main course: lentil soup and baking powder biscuits
Dessert: clementines

First course: winter vegetable salad
Main course: Cuban shredded beef on rice
Dessert: cantaloupe

First course: cauliflower au gratin
Main course: stuffed green peppers (vegetarian version)
Dessert: Timbits

As always, if there’s a recipe you’d like to have, just ask!

November 25, 2013 Posted by | food, health and safety | , , | 1 Comment

Menu Monday

First course: gazpacho
Main course: pizza (home-made, with the tots’ help!)
Dessert: muffins

First course: kale cups
Main course: pasta salad
Dessert: cantaloupe

First course: roasted beets
Main course: lentil-dill salad
Dessert: bananas

First course: salad
Main course: sloppy joes (Vegetarian child will get something that looks pretty much identical but is made with veggies and tofu.)
Dessert: peaches

First course: roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes
Main course: spinach pie
Dessert: gelato or Timbits. Depends on where our morning outing takes us!

July 29, 2013 Posted by | food, health and safety | , , | Leave a comment

Eating 101: They’re acing it!

We’ve been having a lot of fun with lunches these past three months or so. It started with my experiment — a huge success! — then was enriched by a book I read (more on that in another post), and has now become a highlight of my day.

A meal with five toddlers, a highlight? Yes, indeed.

Way back at the end of January, I re-jigged our food schedule. No more snacking at Mary’s! (Now, I’d have kept up the afternoon snack had the children not already been getting snacks on the way home from daycare. With them getting a snack from their parents already, there was no need for me to be giving them one as well.)

So we were eating less frequently. Lunch became a bigger deal. For starters, it now has three courses: a vegetable starter, the main course, and dessert. (Dessert being the snack they would have been given in the mornings.)

But, in keeping with the ideas in the book I’d been reading, I decided to make lunch more of an event in terms of attitude. So now, when we sit down to lunch, the children all in their chairs, I bring out the first course on a tray. I use pretty serving dishes.

They sit in eager expectation as each child’s food is served. The first portion is a ‘taster’, which they are required to eat. It varies in size depending on the age of the child, but that is the portion they are required to eat. The older children know to wait until everyone has been served before they begin to eat. The 20-month-olds, who don’t get the whole ‘wait for everyone’ thing, are given their bowls last.

We made a game of waiting, at first. I still do it sometimes. “No eating until Mary’s ready to eat, too! Is my bum in the chair?” And they’d all peer at my bum. I stand while I dish the food out. Then I’d begin to sit. Sloooowly. They’d wait, giggling, spoons at the ready. I’d slowly, slowly, slowly lower my butt (good for the thighs, this is!), and then, just before sitting would be accomplished … POP up with a jump! Giggle, giggle, giggle.

It made them pay attention, it got the point across. It was fun.

It was so much fun that they took the practice home. Jazz’s family was having a picnic on their living room floor one evening, and Jazz wouldn’t let anyone eat until she sat down. “Where’s my bum??” she asked. No one could eat till Jazz’s tiny butt was on the blanket. Which was kind of missing the point, really, since Jazz wasn’t serving the food. Still everyone had fun, and the point was made that we start eating together.

Daniel’s mother was thrilled to report to me that Daniel had instituted the practice with his grandparents, her in-laws. Daniel’s mother was accustomed to a meal beginning only when everyone had been served, but at her in-laws’ place, everyone begins as soon as the foot hits their plate, and so, by the time the last person gets their food, the first person is done! “That’s not even friendly!” she wailed.

But now, see, with their adored grandson declaring, “No! We don’t eat till Nana sits down!!”, the family is now eating together, and mom is delighted.

Gee. Now I’m providing family counselling along with the meals!

We sit down together, and then I pour water into each of their cups. For a festive touch, my water is in a wine glass. We tap our glasses around the table. “Cheers!” The children love this. LOVE.IT. I never forget this, for if it looks like I’m about to, a chorus of small voices pipe up. “Mary! We didn’t do ‘cheers!'” That can never be!

I love this. Toddlers earnestly clinking cups and sippy-cups around the table is freakin’ adorable, people! Little Rosie, who always sits on my left, is a highly enthusiastic cheers-er, and I’ve learned to keep a solid grip on my wine glass when her cup rockets towards mine.


So we ‘do cheers’, and then we hold our cups up, salute the others around the table, and chorus together, “Have a good lu-unch!”

And then, and only then, do we commence to eating.

Each child is given an initial ‘taster helping’. The older children (2.5 and up) are expected to actually ingest this. They don’t have to like it, but they do have to chew and swallow. It will be small: anywhere from one bite to four or so. The younger children don’t even have to ingest it. They’ll get one mouthful of whatever it is, and as long as it goes in the mouth, that’s sufficient, even if it comes straight back out. Sometimes, for the very youngest, it’s sufficient that they play with it a bit.

The expectation, you see, is that they probably won’t like a lot of things the first try. Or the second. So when a child says “I don’t like this”, I don’t apologize and remove it from her plate and hunt around for an alternate. I simply say, “That’s because you haven’t tried it enough yet.” I’ve explained how at first your tummy and tongue might see a new food and go, “YUK!” But then, you’ll try it again, and they’ll say, “Well, maayyybeeee.” And after a few more tries, your tummy and tongue say, “YUM! I LOVE this stuff!!!” All this illustrated with dramatic facial expressions, from disgust to utter delight.

Because tummies and tongues, they can be a bit slow on the uptake. But they get there!! We can now point out to examples of this: Jazz likes kiwi now; baby Josh now eats beets. The first time Josh encountered a beet, he wouldn’t even look at it. Seriously. Closed his eyes and turned his head away. Sometime over a couple of months, through frequent exposure and familiarization, he began to try it, and now? Now he eats them without any hesitation at all. Two and three helpings.

They’ve seen this happen. They believe it will happen for them.

“I don’t like this” is no longer an end-point. It is merely an expected passage on the journey to loving it.

Not that is not to say all is completely sunshine and roses. Only yesterday Jazz, the pickiest of the crew, had an almighty hard time swallowing her taster portion of salad. Seems she has a terrible time with arugula. Poor kid sat chewing and chewing and chewing and chewing, but just couldn’t make herself swallow. But you know? Because was genuinely trying, I had sympathy. Arugula is pretty peppery stuff, and a lot of toddlers have texture issues with leafy greens. But the taster isn’t optional. If you don’t finish that, your meal stops there. At four, Jazz is expected to stay at the table and keep us cheerful company, but meals proceed in sequence. Don’t finish part A, no moving to part B. But she persisted, and some sips of water, along with the potential reward of some dried cranberries (also in the salad), eventually sufficed to git ‘er down.

“I did it!” she said, with shining eyes, cramming those cranberries in.

“So you did, sweetie. It was hard work, but you did it.”

“And soon my tummy and my tongue will learn to like agooroola!”

That? Is pretty damned sweet.

May 14, 2013 Posted by | food, health and safety | , , , | 6 Comments

Menu Monday

I’m off on Monday! 🙂

First course: gazpacho
Main course: chili (beans, no meat), biscuits
Dessert: muffins

First course: Moroccan salad
Main course: Lentil-rice cakes
Dessert: fruit salad

First course: broccoli-cheese soup
Main course: soy loaf with tomato sauce
Dessert: muffins

First course: Southwest bean salad
Main course: enchilada bake
Dessert: bananas and walnuts

April 1, 2013 Posted by | food, health and safety | , , | Leave a comment

Food, food, food

I love food.

I like cooking. I like eating. I love just about everything about food. I love the smells that fill my home as I cook, making it warm and welcoming. I love the bright colours of fruits and vegetables. I love the textures. (Well, except for the ones I hate, but texture! Important to food!) It appeals to all the senses, even as it nourishes, fuels, satiates and fills.

In my world, food is a Good Thing.

Which is why I am so dismayed to see food horribly, horribly abused in our culture. And I’m not talking here about poor quality food and edible non-food items, though I don’t think much of them.

I’m talking now about how we use food, and particularly how we use it with our children. I’ve spoken before about my experiment — now ranked as a success — in reducing the amount of snacking amongst the daycare kids. A few people had questions, based on some ubiquitous parenting wisdom. Toddlers have tiny tummies. They need to refuel more often, don’t they? And what about blood sugar? Don’t you get behavioural issues if they blood sugar dips?

My immediate answer is “I haven’t seen any of these problems in the 5 weeks we’ve been doing this.” However, much as I love the stuff, I am not a food expert, so I consulted with a couple of dietitians I know. Their response: 1. Yes, we do feed children too frequently. 2. If feeding schedules are consistent, children can learn to gauge how much to eat based on their awareness of the next food opportunity. 3. Toddlers have tiny tummies, but they also have tiny bodies. Their food needs are proportional, though you’ll likely need to make occasional temporary adjustments for growth spurts. 4. They weren’t aware off the top of their heads about studies suggesting snacking prevented behavioural outbursts due to low blood sugar. One of them did a quick search through a database and informed me that the studies which do address this issue focus on children with diabetes, not children with normal blood sugar regulation.

If breakfast includes a decent protein source, I was told, they can usually get to lunch. If breakfast is cereal and milk, toast and jam, a piece of fruit? There’s probably not enough protein in the splash of milk in their cereal to hold them, and the rest is pretty much all carbs. Quick energy, but not lasting energy. Kids who have a high-carb, low-protein breakfast will crash before lunch. So. Put peanut butter on that toast. Fry up an egg. Put ground almonds on the cereal. Give them firm tofu cut into fingers to dip in some yogurt. Give them an ounce of cheese. That punch of protein can make all the difference.

So that’s the input from the professionals.

But mostly? Everywhere I go, I see, snacking is used as a distractor and a bribe. A child is teetering on the brink of an outburst, getting to the point where they’re going to need some firm and focussed parental attention to move them past the rising likelihood of bad behaviour … and we hand them a container of Cheerios. “His blood sugar’s crashing,” we say.

And I wonder. Is it?

There are many things that affect a toddler’s behaviour. Sleep is a huge one. Get enough sleep into them, and their behaviour is exponentially better. Boredom. If they’re bored, they get fractious. Impatience. They hate having to wait for anything, at any time. Illness. Teething. Physical discomfort — they’re too hot, too cold, itchy. Their age. The fact that they’re two just means a certain baselines contrariness. And yes, sometimes hunger. Their behaviour does deteriorate when they’re hungry. But they are not hungry nearly as often as we feed them.

Feeding is used to distract.
To appease.
To divert.
To comfort.
To reward.
To praise.
To soothe.

I would argue that it is used for those things more often than it is used to actually nourish a body or satiate a hunger.

He’s cranky?
Feed him.
She’s doesn’t want to wait in line at the bank?
Feed her.
The siblings are squabbling?
Feed them.
You want to talk on the phone for five more minutes?
Feed them.

What are you using food for in those instances? It’s a sedative. A quick fix for an inconvenient situation. There are other fixes: a special toy that’s only used for these occasions. Crayons. Little cars. Sticker books. Sing a song. Play a clapping game. Or simply a level glance and a firm, “I know you’re bored, but you can wait quietly for another five minutes.”

Did I do any of those food-inappropriate things when my children were little? Of course I did. I did it without even thinking about it. In fact, packing that well-stocked diaper bag with the Cheerios and the apple slices made me feel not just prepared, but competent — a better parent! That, however, was 20 years ago. I’ve been tending toddlers for a long, long time, and have had more time to think about these things than most people ever get (or want to!). These days, I don’t pack snacks at all. Water bottles, yes (and for the littles, milk bottles). Snacks? No. With five children.

Now, when you go out, and you pack snacks, I’m not suggesting you kill yourself with guilt over it. No one achieves parental perfection every moment of every day, and somehow, children all over the globe live to grow into healthy, happy, functional adults despite having suffered fallible parents. Popping food into your kid for some reason other than nutrition every so often is not going to damage them. Once in a while, no harm done.

But. As a daily event? Even several times a day? It sets the child up for a bad relationship with food. Where food isn’t enjoyed for its wonderful satiating quality. It isn’t enjoyed because it looks, smells, and tastes sooooo good, even as it nourishes and fills. No. Food is consumed, mindlessly, because I’m bored, sad, tired, discouraged… or happy, content, proud of myself. Food becomes associated with activities that don’t need to have anything to do with eating: watching television, reading, sitting in the car, travelling, walking…

Food becomes quite detached from its primary purpose: nourishment. We need to stop doing this. We need to stop using food as a drug, and start savouring it as food.

Feed your children less often.
Enjoy your food more.

February 27, 2013 Posted by | controversy, food, health and safety, parenting | , , | 9 Comments


Everyone knows that a good way to get children to try new food is to involve them in its preparation. We know that. We don’t necessarily do that.

But you know? It’s winter. If the temperatures are at least -15C (without a wind), we go outside. But as you can imagine, at -15, the tots don’t last neeeearly as long as they do at +15C. And in January and February in Ottawa, we get more than a few days a whole lot colder than -15. So. A lot more indoor hours to fill, and, I know you may find this hard to believe, but even crafty Mary gets tired of crafts!!!

Why not, I thought, fill some of those hours with food preparation? I have a weekly menu. I know what’s on the list for that day and the next. This could be fun!

Very often, even when we do involve kids, they’re baking, not cooking. They’re making cookies and muffins and cakes. All fine for teaching a certain set of kitchen skills, but nothing to do with familiarizing them with foods they might not otherwise choose to eat. What kid needs to be coaxed to eat cookies? (And if they do, why on earth would you?? If you’re coaxing your child to eat cookies, stoppit right now!)

Now, I’ve done real cooking with the children before, but sporadically and infrequently. It’s time, I decided, to get systematic about this!

So as of this week, in the hour between arrival and our outing, I thought we’d hit the kitchen. On Monday, we made muffins, of course. Yes, I know it’s baking, not cooking, but Muffin Monday is a tradition, thanks to Hannah! No messing with tradition!

Tuesday: They helped make the green bean dish, because apart from chopping the onions, it’s simple, simple, simple.
Wednesday: Baked apples! They can drop the goodies down the core of the apple. Also, because Thursday’s tofu needs to marinate, they’ll help me mix the marinade and put the slices of tofu in the pan.
Thursday: They can help make the cheese sauce for the cauliflower. (Shall I send them home knowing the word ‘roux‘, just to show off??)
Friday: Veggie frittata cups. They can choose one veggie each, I’ll chop them all up, they’ll spoon the veggies into the muffin cups and pour the egg mix over top, I’ll put it in the oven. Teamwork!

I like it. What are the advantages? It…
– keeps us busy
– fills in time we can’t be outside
– it’s companionable
– familiarizes the tots with their food
– making it more likely that they’ll eat their food
– gives them kitchen competence
– and builds a sense of teamwork…

all in a happy atmosphere of relaxed camaraderie.

And if they’re really, really good? I’ll let them do the dishes, too.


February 20, 2013 Posted by | food, health and safety | , , , , | 6 Comments