Sleep, nutrition and health

I recently finished reading NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, which I really enjoyed. Most parenting books I’ve read (quite a few!) say similar things, but I still usually learn a nugget or two with every book. NurtureShock is a good one, particularly the chapter about sleep.

Sleep and health

There seems to be a pervasive attitude that less sleep means you’re a hard worker, you’re successful, you’re tough, you can accomplish more; only lazy people sleep a lot. The way I see it, bragging about getting no sleep is kind of like bragging that you only eat fast food and candy. It’s nothing to be proud of! Of course there are times when it’s difficult to get enough sleep: when you have a newborn, you have exams or a big work project, you’re going on a big trip… but if these things continue indefinitely, you need to find a way to fix it or it can have a major impact on your health, directly and indirectly. And like all biological variables, the amount of sleep people need varies. Don’t compare yourself to others: know your own body and the amount of sleep you need. And this goes for your kids, too!

Sleep and nutrition

There is evidence to show that those who sleep less tend to eat more, and less healthy foods. Hormonal changes due to lack of sleep cause an increase in hunger. Plus, staying up later leaves more time to snack, at a time when it’s harder to resist because our defenses are lower. I always find it much easier to eat well in the morning! Another reason is that lack of sleep results in lower energy, and we try to make up for that by eating more.

Sleep in children and teenagers

For children and teenagers, sleep is even more important. The brain is still developing well into our twenties, and many neural connections are formed in childhood and adolescence. Proper sleep is necessary in order for memories to solidify. Poor sleep can affect ability to pay attention in class, behaviour, social skills, attitude, and short-term academic performance, as well as long-term memory and learning. It can also make children even more impulsive than they naturally are. In other words, a tired child is a grumpy, forgetful child who has trouble learning and makes poor choices. (Preventing grumpiness has always been my main motivator for getting my kids to bed on time and not over-scheduling them!)

In Bronson and Merryman’s chapter on sleep, they discussed a school board that had later start times to encourage better sleep habits in their students. The reason was that adolescents are biologically programmed to sleep later than younger children or adults, and waking them up earlier just makes them tired. Having later start times at schools had a positive effect on behaviour and academic performance.

Main reasons why you should make sleep a priority in your house

Tired kids and adults:

  • have less energy for physical activity (and we all know how important physical activity is for health!)
  • eat more;  often higher calorie and nutrient-poor foods
  • use more stimulants like coffee and energy drinks that contain caffeine and sugar: they can cause increased heart rates and feelings of anxiety
  • have trouble concentrating, leading to a vicious cycle of lower grades or poor work performance, reduced self-confidence, and not being motivated to try
  • have less patience, a more negative attitude, difficulty getting along with people, and lower self esteem
  • are more likely to eat for emotional reasons, making it more likely they will gain weight,  have health problems, body dissatisfaction and a perceived lack of self-control

So you can see how getting enough sleep can have a direct effect on our nutritional health. It is all connected!

References

American Academy of Sleep Medicine. AASM to School-Bound: Sleep is the Right Ingredient for Academic Success. (2007). Accessed on June 4th 2013 from http://www.aasmnet.org/articles.aspx?id=517>

Bronson P and Merryman A. (2009) NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children. Grand Central Publishing. New York.

Dahl RE. Sleep, Learning, and the Developing Brain: Early-to-Bed as a Healthy and Wise Choice for School-Aged Children. Sleep (2005) 28(12) 1498-1499.

National Sleep Foundation. Backgrounder: Later School Start Times. Accessed on June 4th 2013 from http://www.sleepfoundation.org/article/hot-topics/backgrounder-later-school-start-times

Posted in Book reviews, Child development, Child education, Emotional health, Feeding kids, Physical activity, Self care | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Black Bean Enchilada Night!

I don’t make enchiladas very often, and when I do it’s chicken enchiladas, with canned enchilada sauce. This time, I wanted to do a vegetarian version, and since I normally don’t have enchilada sauce in my cupboard, I made my own, using ingredients I already had. It was far easier than I thought it would be, and most of the ingredients were common ones.

Black Bean Enchiladas

The recipe has three steps, if you make your own sauce (if you use canned, that cuts out a whole step). It still didn’t take that long. The steps are:

1. Make the sauce.

2. Make the filling.

3. Fill and top the tortillas (and cook).

Both my kids liked the Enchiladas, which was a bonus because I thought they might end up eating toast and fruit that night. IJ asked for not one, but TWO more helpings. There are lots of veggies in the Enchiladas. The only issue was a lot of the black beans and corn ended up on the plate at the end and IJ announced that he was not a fan of black beans. It didn’t stop him from eating the meal, though! Next time I will cut back on the black beans, because my hubby also said he would prefer less of them.

Enchilada sauce (adapted from Tide and Thyme)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 cups crushed tomatoes (I used canned, but you can use fresh)
  • 1 cup chicken stock

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add onions and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, and cumin, and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and chicken stock, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool for 10-20 minutes, and puree with an immersion blender. Set aside to use in the Enchiladas. You can also refrigerate or freeze it to use later.

Enchilada Sauce

Black Bean Enchiladas (Adapted from Taste of Home)

  • Olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small yellow pepper, chopped (can also use green)
  • ½ cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup cooked black beans (I use ½ – ¾ cup dried black beans. Boil for 5 minutes and let soak for an hour, then drain and rinse. You can also use canned black beans).
  • ¾ cup frozen corn
  • 2 tbsp taco seasoning
  • 10 tortillas (whole wheat or regular)
  • ½ – 1 cup enchilada sauce
  • 1 cup grated Mexican blend cheese (or can use cheddar)

Make the filling:

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions, peppers, and mushrooms and stir-fry for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 more minute. Add black beans, corn, and taco seasoning, cook for 5 more minutes.

Black bean enchilada filling

Spoon ¼ – ½ cup of the black bean mixture into each tortilla, roll it up, and place it in a greased 9×13-inch baking dish. Repeat until all the tortillas are in the dish.

Spoon the enchilada sauce over the top of the tortillas, and spread it out evenly to cover all the tortillas.

Cover the tortillas and sauce with grated cheese.

Cook in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes.

Serve with sour cream and guacamole or plain avocados.

Enchiladas with sour cream

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Chicken Pad Thai

I feel like I’ve been making the same meals over and over, and I’m getting bored. And I want to broaden my kids’ tastes by introducing new foods. I have tons of recipe books, and there are so many online resources to try, but for some reason I have been stuck in a meal rut. So on Sunday, I picked a cookbook at random, perused it for ideas, and wrote down anything interesting. Since it was the weekend, I didn’t worry if a meal looked more time-consuming than usual. I was looking for recipes that looked tasty, with ingredients I had on hand or could easily find at the grocery store. I wrote down about 7-8 recipes that I intend to try over the next month or so: some of them simple, some a little more complicated.

Sunday’s evening meal was Chicken Pad Thai: the original recipe is from Better Baby Food, by Daina Kalnins RD CNSD and Joanne Saab, RD (which has lots of recipes for the whole family, despite the book’s name). I modified it a bit. My kids wanted to help, too, and I always like to encourage that.

I did all the chopping since I always tell the kids that using a knife is a grown-up’s job (age 8 is about the right time to start teaching children knife skills). Making the sauce was something they could handle so I let them spoon out ingredients, pour, and stir. Some of the ingredients were ones they were not used to, and they did not like the smell of the fish sauce. I let them taste the lime juice to show them how tart it was and they really puckered up! :) Then I let them watch a movie while I cooked the rest of the meal.

Carrots, julienned

My hubby and I both really enjoyed the Pad Thai. My kids turned up their noses at first and asked for bread and margarine (an old standby that I allow them to have at every meal, just in case they don’t like what we’re having and so that they can have enough food to fill up on and still be exposed to the new food, per Ellyn Satter’s advice.) There was also fruit on the table (apples, oranges, and grapes) as usual. They had some bread and margarine and some fruit, and after a while they both ate some Pad Thai. IJ ate a medium amount, and Miss M had some noodles and chicken (both covered in sauce) but left the carrots and red peppers. So I consider that a successful meal, overall. I am sure that eventually they will both enjoy it, too, and I intend to add it to my repertoire of “occasional meals” – not every week, since it takes a bit more time than I normally like.

Kids attempting Pad Thai

Chicken Pad Thai

Ingredients

20 ml (4 tsp) olive or canola oil, divided

200 g (7 oz) wide egg noodles or wide rice noodles (I used egg noodles)

150 ml (2/3 cup) chicken stock

75 ml (1/3 cup) ketchup

50 ml (1/4 cup) fish sauce

25 ml (2 tbsp) granulated sugar

25 ml (2 tbsp) cornstarch

25 ml (2 tbsp) lime juice

5 ml (1 tsp) hot pepper sauce (can use more or less to taste: 5 ml does not make it very spicy so if you like it hot, add more)

2 eggs, beaten

500 g (1 lb) chicken cut into strips (can use skinless, boneless chicken breasts, or chicken thighs with bone and skin taken off)

4 carrots, julienned

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

5 ml (1 tsp) ginger

500 ml (2 cups) bean sprouts

2 green onions, chopped

Directions

1. In a small bowl, mix together well: chicken stock, ketchup, fish sauce, sugar, cornstarch, lime juice, and hot pepper sauce. Set aside.

2. Cook egg noodles according to package directions. Set aside.

3. In a large non-stick skillet, heat half of the oil over medium-high heat. Add eggs and scramble for 2-3 minutes. Put on a plate and set aside.

4. Heat remaining oil in the skillet and stir-fry the chicken until browned. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

5. Add the red pepper, carrots, garlic and ginger, and stir-fry for about 5 minutes (until veggies are soft).

6. Add noodles to veggies and stir-fry for another 2 minutes.

7. Add cooked chicken and reserved sauce to skillet, and keep cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Ensure the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

8. Add eggs, bean sprouts and green onions to stir fry and cook for 1-2 more minutes (stirring regularly).

Chicken Pad Thai

 

References

Kalnins D & Saab J (2001). Better Baby Food: Your Essential Guide to Nutrition, Feeding and Cooking for all Babies and Toddlers. Toronto, Ontario. Robert Rose.

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Cooking with kids: how dough rises

Cooking with kids

I often cook with my kids, and they have taken an interest in the science behind it: why do things get softer when cooked? Why do foods change colour? Why do raw carrots taste different than cooked?… We make pizza every Friday and I told them about how dough rises because of the yeast.

How baking yeast works

The explanation for how yeast works to make dough rise can be simplified based on your child’s age. Basically, yeast uses the process of fermentation to “eat” the carbohydrates in the dough (from the flour) and then produce carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. The yeast releasing the gas is what causes the dough to rise. The alcohol completely evaporates during the baking process.

My kids love this idea! They picture the yeast as little tiny animals eating sugar and blowing bubbles, making the dough blow up like a balloon.

I explained this to them one time when we made pizza dough. I put it in a large bowl, covered the bowl with a warm, wet cloth, and put it in the cupboard away from drafts. I told them that in a couple of hours, we would take it out and it would look bigger.

Here is my daughter’s face after we did the big reveal and she saw how much the dough had risen (it had doubled in size):

 

WOW!

Yup, this is a good way to encourage them to cook and to have an interest in science.

References

Gisslen, W. (1995). Professional Cooking, 3rd Edition. New York, NY. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Posted in Baking, Child development, Child education, Cooking, Feeding kids, Preschoolers, School age | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A versatile dish: Sausage and Wild Rice Casserole

This casserole dish was originally my Mom’s recipe, and I remember it from when I was quite young. She still often makes it on special occasions or when they have guests. My sister made some changes to the recipe, and she now uses it for many different occasions. It is so versatile, it can be a side dish or a main course. It can be made in a large batch and frozen for quick meals for one, two, or a family. It can be a side dish at a large family gathering, and it can be taken to a fancy parties or potlucks.  It’s got a lot of important nutrients, like iron, fibre, and many vitamins. If you want, you can add more veggies to make it even healthier. Substitutions are easy with this recipe – just be creative, and use what you have in your fridge or any ingredient that you especially like if you think it would go nicely.

My sister visited us over the holidays in December, and this dish was her contribution to our main meal. I loved it, and the kids tried some too. They didn’t go for it as much as the adults did, but I have no doubt that they will eventually like it as much as I do.

Chicken dinner, with sausage and wild rice casserole next to the potatoes.

Sausage and Wild Rice Casserole

Ingredients

175 ml (3/4 cup) wild rice (washed and cooked)

500 g (2 cups) sausage meat

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped peeled apple

2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp salt (optional – I don’t add it)

1 tsp curry powder

½ tsp dried thyme

1 can (540 ml) tomatoes

Directions

1. To cook the wild rice: wash thoroughly and stir into 500 ml (2 cups) boiling water.  Boil 5 min.  Remove from heat and let stand 1 hour, in water, covered.  Drain and rinse.  Add 750 ml (3 cups) boiling water and cook 30 min.

2. In the meantime, brown sausage. Add onion, mushrooms, apple, mustard, salt, curry powder and thyme, and cook 3 – 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and add cooked wild rice and tomatoes.  Spoon into 2 L casserole dish. Cover and bake at 350°F for 1 hour.

 

Before baking

 

After baking

Try this dish when you go to a party: I bet you’ll have people asking for the recipe!

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Book review: Two Old Potatoes and Me

It’s been over a month since my last post, and I don’t even really have an excuse! So here goes, I’ll start back again with a kids book review. I just had to write this because it’s so cute, and it’s food-related. It’s a 10-year-old book, published in 2003, but I only recently got it out of the library to read to my kids.

Two Old Potatoes and Me, written by John Coy and illustrated by Carolyn Fisher.

This book is about a little girl and her Dad who decide to grow some potatoes by planting two old ones. According to the little girl, they were

“so old, they had sprouts growing out of their eyes.”

The book talks about digging and picking out rocks in order to plant the potatoes, and then cutting and planting them. It goes through what happens each month in the life of the growing spuds, starting in May and going right through to September. The little girl learns how to water the potato plants, pick out the potato beetles, weed, watch the growth, and wait. When the potatoes are ready, they dig them up, count them and eat them.  At the end of the book, the little girl and her dad eat mashed potatoes together, and there is a nice, simple recipe that kids can follow with some help from an adult (even if they are too young to read).

The pictures in this book are so cute and colourful. I love any book that teaches about food in a fun way, so this is definitely on my “thumbs up” list. My kids usually see potatoes at home and at the grocery store, but they’ve never seen them fresh out of the ground and I don’t think it occurred to them where they might come from. This book teaches about that in such a fun way. My kids had lots of questions – maybe we’ll even try to grow some in our own backyard this summer. I love hands-on activities so they can really appreciate where their food comes from. Last summer the chives we tried to grow ended up getting eaten by rabbits, so this year I’ll be more prepared and get some wire fence! Hey, I learn from my mistakes. :)

References

Coy, John and Fisher, C. (2003). Two Old Potatoes and Me. New York, New York. Alfred A Knopf.

Posted in Agriculture, Book reviews, Child development, Child education, Feeding kids, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

10 ways to stay healthy over the holidays

How do you plan to stay healthy over the holidays? Or DO you? Maybe you just plan to have fun and ignore health altogether, putting it off until after the holidays – hey, I’m not judging! If so, then I guess you don’t need to read this post. :) Actually, I do have some ways of staying healthy that are not just about eating well and exercising: read on!

When I go to family gatherings and parties I don’t always eat the way I do at home, and I also don’t go for daily walks or go to the gym. I generally pay the price for it by just feeling a little off. I don’t worry about weight gain that much, but I don’t like feeling sluggish and yucky. This year, I am not flying anywhere to see my family or my in-laws, so we will be in our own home for Christmas and we won’t have a lot of gatherings to go to. We’ll be able to stay more in a routine than we would if we were travelling. But still, it’s Christmas: we will have visitors and we will be out of our school and work routines. So here are a few ways I intend to keep healthy over the holidays:

1. Go for a walk or go to the gym every day. When there are visitors, I’ll invite them to go walking in the neighbourhood or in the park. Or else we can go do something active outside, at least for 20-30 minutes – it’s better than nothing!

2. Have a regular breakfast every day.

3. Take the kids out for walks or to play in the snow, if there is any. There is no snow at the moment, but that could change any time!

4. Freeze any baking unless I need it right away for visitors or to take to a party – the more obstacles I put in my own way, the less likely I will be to dive in and eat them all.

5. Plan my meals each week, as usual.

6. Be the geek that brings a fruit tray or a veggie platter to a social gathering, instead of cookies.

7. Get enough sleep: if I have late nights or early mornings, I hope to make up for it by getting to bed earlier the next night. (I would take naps, but I am not good at that!)

8. Manage my stress by focusing on the fun and enjoyment, and not the worries of the season. Who cares if my house is a little messy?! No-one is judging me for it, and if they are, that’s their problem! (And I mean that in a nice way).

9. Try to enjoy the season the way the kids do – they are sooooo excited and I remember that uncomplicated feeling. I’m going to take a lesson from them and just enjoy it.

10. Be thankful for everything that I have.

However you plan to spend the holidays, and whichever holidays you celebrate, I hope they are happy and healthy!

Image courtesy of Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted in Emotional health, Physical health, Self care | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Boys can have body image issues, too

I listened to a really interesting discussion a couple of weeks ago about boys and body image, on the CBC radio program “Q” with Jian Ghomeshi. The discussion panel included Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, who has done a lot of research on nutrition, adolescents, and body image, and  recently co-authored a new study on this topic; and Michael Atkinson, a professor of Kinesiology at the University of Toronto.

The discussion turned to why so many boys use products such as protein powders and steroids to enhance muscles and help in bodybuilding. The consumption of these products has little to do with health, and much more to do with image and vanity.

One of my favourite quotes from Neumark-Sztainer during the program was (emphasis is my own)

“We want people to engage in healthy behaviours. We want them to feel good about themselves as they are even if that deviates from the cultural ideal”

I have written before about how to make sure your kids have the best chance of growing up with a healthy body image. I didn’t specifically talk about boys, and as a matter of fact, most information out there is about girls (which is one of the reasons for the discussion on Q. )Boys are at risk, too, and parents and educators need to be aware of it and spot the signs.

Girls and boys generally differ in how they want their bodies to look, and in the image they would like to portray to others. Girls often just want to be thin, whereas many boys want to be muscular.

The main problem with wanting to alter physical appearance, apart from the emotional issues that go along with it, is when kids do harmful things in order to achieve their goal.  Skipping meals, taking laxatives, over-exercising, taking up smoking, taking steroids, over-using protein powders and other supplements in order to “bulk up” or slim down: these all have the potential to lead to serious health problems.

Some information about anabolic steroids and protein supplements

There is some evidence that anabolic steroids can lead to serious damage to the liver and the heart, increased anger and aggression, and most scary of all to a teen boy, erectile dysfunction or impotence.

For serious athletes, consuming up to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is generally not harmful. For less active individuals, 1-1.5 g/kg is a more normal amount. The human body uses this protein for muscle-building and cell repair. Anyone consuming higher amounts turns the extra protein into fat. Generally in first world countries, we have no problem getting enough protein through our diets. Therefore, expensive protein powders are often a waste except in very active individuals.

Emphasize health over size

If you are concerned about your teen or pre-teen boy, of if you want to prevent poor body image and the unhealthy behaviours that can accompany it, try opening up the lines of communication.

  • Talk to boys about what is important to them: fitting in with friends, doing well at sports, succeeding academically, and looking good to girls, for example. Talk about how these things can all be achieved by eating healthy, being active, getting enough sleep, and managing stress.
  • Discuss the reasons for wanting to be muscular: find out what it is boys hope to gain by being more muscular (making it on the football team, being more attractive…)
  • Boys may not want to discuss their feelings about their bodies with a parent, so try asking what their friends are doing. Ask if any of their friends take steroids, over-exercise, or do anything else that may be harmful.  Be sure to keep the discussion non-judgmental.
  • Open up a discussion about what’s going on with celebrities and athletes who use steroids or other unhealthy ways of achieving more muscle. Talk about celebrities or people you may know who have had problems due to these unhealthy behaviours. Ask your teen what he thinks of these things. Even if he’s unwilling to talk about his own feelings, he may be interested.
  • If you think there’s a problem, discuss it with your doctor or a mental health professional who is experienced in body image issues.

References

Campbell B et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. (2007). 4(8) Accessed on Dec 9th 2012 from http://www.jissn.com/content/4/1/8

Eisenberg ME, Wall M & Neumark-Sztainer D. Muscle-enhancing Behaviors Among Adolescent Girls and Boys. Pediatrics (2012) 130(6) 1019-1026.

Image courtesy of imagery majestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagery majestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted in Body image, Child education, Eating disorders, Emotional health, School age, Self care, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meal planning for cheapskates; Split pea and ham soup

Meal planning to create leftovers

I love to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. It saves time and money. So when I plan my meals for the week, I try to plan at least one large meal that will provide many uses for the leftovers. Slow cooker ham is one of those meals: the ham itself is tender and tasty, it can be served warm with potatoes or rice or pasta or bread, along with veggies or salad. It can also be served cold in sandwiches or salad. There are so many uses for this versatile meat, and it’s so easy to make. And my kids usually like it, too!

Honey-mustard slow cooker ham

Last week I made a very tasty honey mustard ham using my slow cooker and a large ham. We had lots of leftovers! We also had a ham bone that was perfect for making soups. I love soup in chilly weather, especially hearty soups with lots of veggies. It doesn’t take that much work to make a huge amount, and then I have some for the next few days as well as some to freeze for later. Another benefit: the flavour often gets better after a few days.

Making soup out of the ham bone

 

Split pea and ham soup

I made a split pea and ham soup with the ham bone. The recipe called for savory, salt and pepper and ground cloves but I didn’t use any of those since there was plenty of flavour from the ham bone, veggie broth, onions, garlic and veggies. I also used yellow split peas instead of green, and I did not make the garnish. If you want to dress it up, the garnish makes it look fancier.

The kids don’t always go for this soup, but I am hopeful they will one day like it. They’ve seen hubby and I eating and enjoying it so I’m sure they are picking up on that and in their own good time, they will eat and enjoy it, too.

This soup is so full of veggies, as well as meat. It’s a little high in sodium due to the salty ham and the veggie broth, but still lower sodium than many store-bought soups. I don’t add salt to it but I do use regular veggie broth. If you want to cut down on the sodium, you can use low-sodium broth.

Here is my recipe, adapted from Canadian Living:

Split Pea and Ham Soup

  • Olive oil;  2 tbsp
  • Onion;  1 whole, chopped
  • Ham bone;  from a large ham (should still have some meat on it)
  • Garlic;  2 cloves, minced
  • Vegetable broth;  8-10 cups
  • Dried split yellow peas;  2 cups
  • Carrots;  2 cups, chopped
  • Celery;  2 cups, chopped
  • Bay leaves;  2

Directions

  1. Heat oil on medium heat in a large pot and then add onions. Cook onions until translucent (about 5 minutes).
  2. Add ham bone, vegetable broth, garlic, split peas, carrots, celery, and bay leaves
  3. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil.
  4. As soon as the soup boils, turn down heat to low and simmer, covered, about 2 hours.
  5. Take out ham bone and bay leaves.
  6. Cut any remaining ham from bone, put it back in soup.
  7. Discard bone and bay leaves.

Mmm yummy! Great as a side dish or as the main course. I serve it with some kind of bread or crackers.

Posted in Cooking, Family meals, Feeding kids, Menu planning, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Is daycare bad for your child’s health? and 8 ways you can help

Recently I read an article discussing a study that found how children in daycare may be more likely to be overweight than kids who stay at home with parents during the toddler and preschool years. Definitely more research is needed and I don’t want to alarm parents whose kids are in daycare. (Also, full disclosure: I have not read the original study as I do not have access to it). Regardless how well-grounded this study is, I believe this phenomenon depends on many factors, including:

  • The type of daycare (a private home or a large center)
  • The meal and snack structure offered at the daycare
  • The opportunities for physical activity available to kids at the daycare
  • The daycare’s individual policies
  • How many hours the kids spend in daycare per week
  • How busy the parents are
  • The structure of meals and snacks at home and at the daycare
  • How often the parents feed their families fast food and frozen dinners
  • How much the parents exercise themselves
  • How often the parents take their kids out to play
  • The genetic background of the child
  • How much total screen time the kids get

And I’m sure there are many other factors that I missed. In other words, I wouldn’t blame daycare on its own.

8 things you can do to promote good health if your child is in daycare

1. Plan your meals for the week. This takes a small amount of time but it is worth it because it can save you time in the long run, and it makes meals much healthier. It can save you from having to scrounge for food when you get home in the evenings, hungry and tired. See my previous post for more ideas on meal planning.

2. Take the time every few days, or every day, to cut up some raw veggies or fruits and set them out at meal and snack time.

3. Plan some physical activity into your week. If you and your kids have a day off together, make a point to do something active. If you have some time before or after work on a workday, try going for a walk with your kids, or doing some active “horseplay” at home. Even a few minutes is better than nothing!

Silly dancing in the kitchen

4. When you have time for recreation, make it something active.

5. Enroll your kids in soccer, swimming, or dance, or something else that keeps them active and occupied. Make sure it is something that suits their personality and skills. If they are a little hesitant, you could try practicing with them so they can become more skilled and confident.

6. Ask your daycare to provide some opportunities for physical activity every day. Even if the daycare is in a home and there is not much room to play, kids can still be active by learning how to hop on one foot, do jumping jacks, do some silly dancing to music, or going up and down stairs. Larger centers can provide room to run, ride trikes, and play active games. Stay involved and find out every day what activities your child has done, and for how long.

7. Find out what the meal and snack structure is like at your child’s daycare. There are some government regulations for food, but this depends on where you live and the type of daycare. Ask questions so that you know what food your child is eating, and how often. Check out my previous post on regulations for food in daycares in Ontario.

8. If you send food with your child, make it nutritious. Make sure you always provide sources of protein and grain, as well as fruits and veggies, particularly if your child will be at daycare all day. Check out these previous posts for snack ideas and for lunch ideas.

A note about weight

I can’t help but add this note: weight should not be the major focus. Concentrate on the types of foods your child eats, as well as the timing of meals and snacks, and the amount of physical activity she gets. Those things are important for everyone, regardless of weight.

Image courtesy of Stoonn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted in Child development, Child education, Child growth, Feeding kids, Menu planning, Physical activity, Preschoolers, School nutrition, Snacks | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment