Posts tagged ‘parenting’

April 1, 2012

Keeping Our Kids Sweet Without All the Sweets!

On the heels of this evening’s story on 60 Minutes about the toxicity of sugar, I thought it would be fitting to reprint this story I recently wrote for my son’s elementary school magazine, due to be published later this week. I figure it’s worth sharing, especially if you do not maintain an absolutely sugar free household. Perhaps someday I will be there, but I’m not now. This article is dedicated to all the other parents out there who are straddling their desire to indulge in the earthly delights of sweets and also maintain the health of themselves and their families.

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One of our biggest daily challenges is to find new and interesting ways to feed our children in a healthy manner. I am lucky that my son loves all different kinds of foods, including vegetables, fruits, meats, cheese and fish. He actually counts broccoli as one of his favorites! Still, I often find myself staring at the refrigerator shelves, wondering what the heck I can conjure up for dinner.

These days, there are a lot of opinions as to what constitutes a healthy diet. Some people espouse a vegetarian or vegan approach, while others focus on fat intake. Some people swear by a high protein diet, while others stick more to lots of whole grains. While I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, I did work in the holistic health field for nearly twenty years, and I have tried to carry a spirit of moderation into my outlook on cooking and eating. Although I know that different diets work for different people, one thing I believe is central to good nutrition is the need to cut down on refined sugars.

It doesn’t take a medical degree to be able to recognize what happens to our kids when we sugar them up. We’ve all lived through enough birthday parties and holidays (especially the big candy fest, Halloween!) to have observed our kids running around like lunatics, only to collapse in tears of frustration hours later when they come down off their sugar high.

The thing we need to recognize is that candy, cake and cookies, while obvious sources of sugar, are not the only culprits. Breakfast cereals, sweetened yogurts and processed fruit snacks and drinks can also be responsible for negatively affecting our kids’ moods and energies… not to mention their ability to focus and be productive in school as well as in their hobbies or other leisure activities. Moreover, we are seeing increasing links between the national rise in sugar intake and corresponding levels of childhood obesity, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

Sadly, like many other substances, sugar is pretty addicting. Unless you want to deal with a major withdrawal reaction, I wouldn’t suggest suddenly banning sugar from your household in one day. (Do the words “cold turkey” mean anything to you?) I recommend a more gradual approach, without fanfare, to help your family, and their palates, slowly adjust to a new way of eating. I’m pretty sure you will find that over time, moods will improve and energy will balance out a little, and as a bonus, you will be helping yourself and your family to maintain a healthier weight and guard against preventable forms of diabetes, heart disease and other inflammatory conditions.

Wanna see if your children are addicted to sugar? Try this simple test. Take a quick look at your daily diet. If you are in the routine of serving something sweet at every single meal, with juice or soda to drink, and dessert to top it off, try eliminating one of those elements. Just one. If you find that your child begins crying and having a tantrum at the suggestion of not serving dessert one night, you might have a bit of a problem.

I realize it may seem pretty radical to eliminate sugar altogether. It takes a lot of concentrated effort. Some have done it, but of course it’s easier for those who have raised their children that way from birth, so their kids have never really had a chance to develop a sweet tooth. While I started out that way, by the age of three, it was no longer possible to keep all sugar away from my son, because there is just so much of it out in the world! Birthday parties and holiday gatherings were the first places he began to sample sugary goodies. It became hard to limit them completely after that, especially since I have a bit of a sweet tooth myself!

Still, I do find that we all do better when we limit the really sugary treats to these special occasions. It makes us all appreciate them more, and I really do perceive a difference in our collective energy. I will share some of the choices I’ve made that seem to have a positive effect. Maybe they will be helpful to you, as well!

1) No soda in the house. I just don’t buy it. We drink flavored seltzer, water, milk, and fresh apple cider or other juices.

2) Candy, ice cream and cookies. Once in a while, I crave some chocolate. I buy it. Same goes for cookies and ice cream. However, I don’t make them regular items on my shopping list, and I go for long stretches without having any in the house.

3) Fresh fruits. I like to make sure there is always some kind of fresh fruit in the house. Our favorites include mangoes, apples, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, oranges and cantaloupe. Whenever possible, I buy at a farmer’s market or choose organic. Personally, I believe locally grown is more important, and most of the local farms are pretty chemical free anyway.

4) Vegetables. I experiment with vegetables all the time. I chop them up small into my spaghetti sauce. I bake them, steam them, stir fry them… I get my son involved in helping me buy and prepare them. They say when it comes to veggies and fruit, you should eat the rainbow – every different color offers different vitamins and other nutrients. We try to mix up the selection every time we go shopping.

5) Shopping and cooking together. The more we share these activities, the more excited my son gets about eating well. Of course it helps that I love to cook, so I’m pretty sure that my enthusiasm has rubbed off on him. However, even if you don’t love spending a Sunday afternoon puttering around in the kitchen, you can still find some easy recipes on the internet that are sure to please the whole family. Things like soups, stews and pasta dishes are fun and easy, not to mention delicious and good for you!

6) Concentrating on the savory instead of the sweet. I get very excited about the prospect of a big tray of lasagna, or a yummy roasted chicken, or some new vegetable dish. The more we focus on the main meal and savory snacks like cheese, pickles, olives, veggies and dips, the less attention we pay to dessert and sweets in general. I think shifting the focus is the first step towards lessening the feelings of deprivation associated with cutting down on sweets.

Some of you may feel that I am preaching to the converted. Fantastic. You don’t need my advice, you’re already there! Some of you may think I am being judgmental or implying that it’s really easy to make these changes. Hardly. It’s a constant balancing act, and I don’t always do as well as I’d like. Luckily, I’ve started to develop headaches whenever I eat too much sugar… and since it’s very hard to eat just a little, I’ve been tending towards not eating it at all, just so I don’t end up feeling crappy.

The more we support each other by serving healthy foods to our kids and their friends when they come over, experimenting with non-sugar options for parties and other gatherings, and sharing recipes with one another, the better we all do as a community. I really believe this is one of the best gifts of having children – the opportunity to do things better for them than we have done for ourselves. And when it comes to sharing healthy meals with them, it’s something that benefits us all!

For more information, here is a great online resource: http://family2table.blogspot.com/ – a wonderful blog focusing on fresh meats & fish, dairy, vegetables, fruits and grains as the mainstay of a healthy, family centered diet by Chef and Mom, Emily Duff.

Photo courtesy of  rick

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November 29, 2011

Five tips to not starting your day like an insane, lunatic parent

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I like to write about the arts and culture as well as more personal essays about life and love and loss and yes… parenting.
Because after all, I am a mom.
Here’s a little ditty I recently penned for my son’s elementary school magazine. Fortunately, I didn’t give them the copyright, so I can share it with you, too.
BRINGING CALM TO OUR STRESSFUL, BUSY LIVES
Are your days too short and your lists too long?
Do you have trouble keeping your focus?
Do your kids push your buttons?

Are mornings particularly stressful?

Welcome to parenting! If you’re like me, and you work a full time job, or if you have more than one child, or you are simply attempting to do at least one more thing besides being a mom or dad every day, then you know what if feels like to be a circus performer… that is, to be a juggler.

The idea of “multi-tasking,” as they like to call it nowadays, is not new. People have been managing multiple priorities for generations. In fact, modern living is much easier than in the olden days, what with technological advancements like the washing machine and the water pump. (Seriously, can you see yourself down at the well at dawn, or scrubbing clothes on rocks down by the creek?)

But I think that modern technology now offers us so many choices, that it makes it hard to concentrate our energies in one direction at a time. And our kids are feeling it too. Between input from television, the internet, video games, and DVD’s, they are on sensory overload. And that doesn’t even include the good old fashioned influence of things like books, music, arts & crafts, sports, games, playing outside and just plain old conversation.In order to maintain our own sanity, and simultaneously help our kids successfully navigate through their own world of personal development, school responsibilities and extra-curricular activities, it helps if we can maintain some measure of calm and focus through all of the seeming chaos of modern day life. If you’ve seen me running down the block into the schoolyard with my son on some mornings, you know that I haven’t gotten this down to a complete science yet… Although I do attempt to start our days with a sense of order, some mornings are better than others.

Here are a couple of tips for beginning the days that I find helpful. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, and I don’t imagine that any of us will be on top of every item on it, every single day. However, I think they are good reminders of what’s possible, and hopefully may come in handy if you glance at them once in a while…

1) Be realistic. The morning is only so long, and you only have so much energy. You’re probably not going to be up early enough to get extra loads of laundry done AND pay all your bills AND do the leftover dishes and still have time to get your kid up and ready for school. Perhaps you wouldn’t even consider trying to get extra things done in the morning. Good for you. Concentrate on getting your kids out the door.

2) Be calm. Seriously. If you want your children to have a calm day, show them how it’s done. This one may take some extra doing, especially if you have developed some habitual morning conflicts with one another. But this one is worth it, particularly if you’re in a bad rut. You might need to take an extra five minutes before your children wake up to do a little deep breathing, or some light meditation. Don’t dismiss this one out of hand. You’d be surprised how much it helps to just slow down your thoughts and clear your mind, even for only a few minutes. It’s like hitting a reset button. Remind yourself just how much you love your children and try to keep the little annoyances in perspective.

3) Have some fun. I like to sing a song to my son when I first wake him up. It’s one I’ve been singing to him since he was a baby. Sometimes if he is particularly sleepy, I tickle him awake. I talk in funny voices. We crack jokes about silly things that happened the night before. It helps to lighten things up…

4) Stick to a routine. This may be the most important tip of all. For kids, routines provide a sense of order, structure and safety. For adults, they help us make sure we haven’t forgotten anything important. If you have to, make a checklist, and look at it every single day. It helps to prepare things the night before. Make sure all the homework is packed into the knapsack. Prepare a lunch. Set out the clothes. Whatever you can do to streamline the activity of your morning, do it. Involve your kids – they love to contribute to something that feels like a project or a challenge, and it helps them to feel responsible for their own behavior. Note: there will be the inevitable unexpected glitches, like a bowl of cereal spilled all over clean clothes, or a favorite barrette that just can’t be found. Build in a little extra time for mishaps. If everything goes smoothly, then consider it a bonus. Woo hoo!

5) Forgive yourself for not doing it right. You will have bad days. Your child will have bad days. You will lose your temper. He or she will start crying. It happens. Don’t beat yourself up. Go easy on your child. There’s a lot of pressure to perform at our peak levels all the time. Sometimes things just don’t go right for any of us. Try and remember that we all want the same thing, and we are, in fact, on the same team. If something goes wrong, you and your child can comfort and reassure one another and move on. There is always another opportunity to do better next time.

One final note. In the evenings, when we are ending our days, it helps to make some quiet time with our children to just talk, read or even be together in the same space doing separate activities with one another. I felt the value of this one acutely during the recent snowstorm when we lost our electricity (fortunately, only for one day). Without the ability to watch anything on TV (in our case, Netflix) or turn on the computer, we were left with the option of just hanging out with one another. We were able to use our gas oven and stove to bake and cook and warm up the kitchen. While I prepared homemade soup by candlelight, my son sat on the floor near me playing with his Pokemon cards. It was one of the most peaceful and intimate evenings we shared together in a long time.

Of course we don’t need a natural calamity to make us enjoy some quiet time with one another. It’s truly gratifying, and reminds us of why we became parents in the first place! Even if your life is so busy that you only get that opportunity once or twice a week, do what you can to make it happen! The chaos will be there waiting for you, and the juggling will continue, so you might as well take a “time out” once in a while. You’ll all be glad you did!

Photo courtesy of Denise Carbonell