Mother of invention

As media sources began brimming with articles about the rising rates of obesity in children and the rising rates of behavioral problems in children, Nancy, a stay at home mom and former social worker, was convinced that there had to be a connection. Her own kids were 10 and 14, so she set out to study her suspicions from her kitchen.

In Morgan Spurlock’s film Super Size Me, a portion of the film documents a school for adolescents with behavioral problems.

“This school had to have police officers in the building because the behavior was so bad,” Nancy said. “Then the school changed the food system to a system that was all natural, organic, and whole grain foods. As a result there was a complete turnaround in the behavior of the children at the school. The kids were calmer. They were learning. And the police were no longer involved.”

According to his case study, Nancy’s inklings had been correct. Food impacts more than one dimension of health. The systems of the body are all part of one body. If the body is starved from nutrients, it will fight back.

Hungry to learn more about this correlation, Nancy went to back to school to study holistic health and started implementing changes at home.

“We’ve always eaten pretty well at home, but my kids were more than happy to have junk food, sugary snacks and all of that,” said Nancy.

But as she started learning more about how a growing, changing body handles bad food, she started cutting out things like partially hydrogenated fats. This wasn’t easy.

“Partially hydrogenated fats are found in so many different foods,” she said. “It’s the ingredient that makes the food more shelf-stable, so we would find it in places that made no sense to me at all. Almost every baked good, every cookie, every cracker, every cake and basically anything and everything that is pre-packaged and put on a supermarket shelf had hydrogenated fats. This was not a good sign.”

Changing the way her kids consumed food took patience, innovation and a few sneaky tricks. Here’s what worked for Nancy:

1. Sneak vegetables into meals.

Insider tip: If Macaroni and cheese is a big favorite in your house, try cooking it from scratch and hiding zucchini in the cheese sauce! You can even peel off the skin first if your kids are vegetable detectives.

2. Keep experimenting.

Nancy said it takes almost 15 tries to get a new food into her kids, but she made that work to her advantage. “If they didn’t like it the first time, I still had 14 tries to go,” she said. “Not everything works. There have been spectacular failures and that’s fine. That’s the only way to learn.”

Let your imagination run wild! Nancy made Kale chips and to her surprise, her kids devoured the first batch in minutes… anything goes (especially if it’s salty and crunchy).

3. Get the junk out of the house!

The best way to stop eating junk food is to stop buying it. If it’s not in the house, it can’t be eaten. Nancy switched to healthier versions of her kids favorite junk foods, like organic mozzarella cheese sticks.

“I do understand they are kids,” she said. “They are going to be getting plenty of junk food when they’re not with me, but I’m not worried because they’re making a transformation in their thinking.”

4. Explain to your kids (or your husband!) why you are torturing them.

Kids respond much better to changes if you are honest with them. One of Nancy’s favorite examples of this is when she took a 12 ounce can of soda and asked her kids how much sugar they thought was in a single can.

“Then I showed them. After I poured 12 teaspoons of sugar into a glass bowl, they were amazed,” Nancy said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re going to go off to a party and not have soda. It means they’re aware that they are consuming that amount of sugar. They know it’s not just mom being nuts; it’s mom being concerned.”

5. Teach your kids to pay attention to their bodies.

Nutritional knowledge isn’t everything. What also matters is that you know about yourself. Some people can eat a pound of sugar and feel fine. Most people can’t. Have your kids try new things and note how their body responds to them.

“I think the kids have more energy. I think they feel better,” Nancy said. “My son was always bothered by eczema and allergies. Now the eczema is gone and his allergies are much better.”

6. Pick your battles.

The reality is people eat every day, all day. It’s a form of communication in a way. You have to find the right system for your family.

“When it comes to my kids, I don’t want to have to fight with them three times a day, every day,” said Nancy. “Despite all the times I shudder when I think about what they might be eating out there, it’s not something I want to fight with them about. We’re going to do it together. I decided it would be pleasant and it would be easy and, surprisingly, it’s worked out that way.”

The commitment to healthy eating that Nancy tries to instill on her kids has also brought them closer together, especially during the teen years. By starting the dialogue about nutrition, she opened up the lines of communication about other things, and her children came to respect that she is actually more knowledgeable than they are.

“I like to think that all of this knowledge has made me a better parent,” said Nancy. “Now I have the facts behind me, I have information I can use to show concrete examples. At the beginning of my schooling, they just were like, ‘Oh, great. What’s she going to try on us now?’ That’s gone away. Now we can talk. They may not like it if I bring some strange new food in, but they’re willing to talk about it, and that’s been great. We’re working together as a family and I feel closer to them.”

So, what’s Nancy’s best advice? Don’t start with taking things away from your kids.

You don’t have to make major changes. You don’t have to go and throw out every food. You start small and you just add things in. The easiest way to get kids to change their eating habits is to add new foods, offer them new choices. As you keep adding in the new foods eventually the old foods fall away, and you’re left with healthier, happier kids.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Supersize Me
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, rejected five times by the USC film school, won the best director award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival for this alarmingly personal investigation into the health hazards wreaked by our fast food nation. Under extensive medical supervision, Spurlock subjects himself to a steady diet of McDonald’s cuisine for 30 days just to see what happens.

Slow Food Nation
Slow Food Nation is a subsidiary non-profit of Slow Food USA and part of the international Slow Food movement. It was created to organize the first-ever American collaborative gathering to unite the growing sustainable food movement and introduce thousands of people to food that is good, clean and fair.

Local Harvest
The best organic food is what’s grown closest to you. Use the Local Harvest website to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.

Kidnetic
The cool site for kids and their parents to learn more about health, fitness and nutrition through fun games, recipes and articles.

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Homegrown revolution, so easy a baby could do it

You don’t have to retreat to a cabin in the forest to grow your own tomatoes and raise chickens, you can do it anywhere. People are growing cucumbers on windowsills in a Los Angeles and harvesting honey on the rooftops of New York City. A new way of participating in the food/life cycle is blushing on the horizon. We are living in the dawn of the ecotarian. People want to get back (don’t make me say it) to their roots (gotcha!).

A relatively new movement, urban homesteading takes “simple living” to the next level (sorry Martha) through incorporating small-scale agriculture, sustainable and permaculture gardening, and home food production and storage into every day life. By growing their own food and harnessing natural energy, city dwellers are reconnecting with their land while planting seeds for the future for our cities.

Over the past 4 years Michelle has transformed her tiny “cement jungle” of a patio into an urban homestead complete with compost piles, laundry lines, and edible produce. Pretty impressive for a girl who couldn’t keep a spider plant alive a mere four years ago.

“My grandfather lived during the depression, and that was reflected in the way we were brought up,” said Michelle. “He taught me about our relationship with the land. Waste not, want not. You didn’t move until the food was gone.”

Lover of a good challenge, Michelle couldn’t resist the chance to translate her grandfather’s wisdom into a townhouse in the middle of Florida. It all started with a little dollar bamboo plant she bought in college. After a series of botanical tragedies that tiny ikea wonder broke the one-year survival threshold–the not-so-green thumb would hold her back no longer! Michelle and her daughters carefully composed a 22’x16′ ecosystem one (recycled) container at a time.

“In our world, we are so distant from what is around us. Trees and life and love have been replaced with things: Wii and iPhones and name brand products of every sort. Our food comes to us via truck with no farther thought about where it has been and what it has seen prior to our grocery store shelves,” said Michelle. Shifting our lifestyles to reflect the cyclical processes of nature–thereby appreciating the things that sustain us–is just one more step in the right direction.

Izzy and Sol, Michelle’s girls, are not growing up in an off grid house with living walls and raise chickens, bunnies, goats and open a nursery (at least, not yet). They are growing up in a townhouse in the middle of town, within walking distance to the library, across the street from their preschool and with a cement backyard no bigger than your living room.

But, thanks to motherly wisdom (and a healthy dose of imagination), that backyard has taught them lessons that most people will never know in their lives… and it all starts with a seed.

“Seeds bloom, the animals come, caterpillars munch and butterflies emerge from cocoons, we have tea parties made from herbs we pick from pots on the wall and they help me gather things for dinner,” said Michelle. “The relationship they are building, the understanding of their place in this world beyond what is fed to them from the TV and magazines: this is almost as important of a lesson as the ability to be self sufficient, but even that pails in consideration of the over all lesson they learn: treat everything with respect, hurt none, and watch out for the little guy. You are the keepers of the world.”

Ready to get your kids in the garden? Here’s a few ideas to get your imagination juices flowing:

1. Plant edible flowers and herbs for curious mouths. Try mint, sunflowers, or pansies or visit kiddie garden for a more complete list of toddler friendly plants.

2. Encourage birds to come visit your garden and make a bird feeder (or birdie snack shack). You may even want to head to the library to reserach the specific details on your local birds, their favorite foods, and favorite styles of dining table.

3. Gather caterpillars and build a butterfly garden. Check out these twenty butterfly gardening tips to get you started.

4. Reserve rainwater in large containers to demonstrate between rain and plant growth. You may even want to make an extra rain water bucket for playing in.

5. Grow cuttings and seedlings indoors and transplant them into the garden. Watch Michelle’s instructables video for a quick and easy cutting propagator.

For updates from Michelle’s urban homestead visit her blog at we’re all mad here.com.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Michelle’s Instructables
Step-by-step directions for creating an easy to maintain small space garden

Avante Yard
75 tricks to get your kids outdoors

Homegrown Evolution
Kelly and Erik are the authors of The Urban Homestead coming out in June of 2008 from Process Media. They have researched and experimented with small scale urban agriculture since moving to their tiny bungalow in Los Angeles ten years ago.

Pick up some homesteading skills
Like how to make a self watering container

Potty training… A laughing matter

Want a recipe for potty training success?

Here goes: one sturdy toilet, an infinite amount of patience, and a good sense of humor. That’s exactly what Sheila used when training her two boys.

“Potty training was frustrating, but for us, it was also funny,” she said. “It’s so hard to teach them how to do it, but if you can make it light-hearted, the frustration will go away.”

Being able to laugh definitely helped keep the accidents from becoming exasperating, not just for Sheila but also for her two boys. She remembered how anxious her little brother would get when he was potty training and had an accident, and she didn’t want to make her boys feel the same tension.

“My parents never punished my brother or anything, but there was still the fear and the embarrassment,” Sheila said. “My kids, I guess they just don’t have that because we made it so much fun.”

Here are 4 techniques that Sheila and her fiance use to make potty training fun:

1. Introduce them to the toilet.

By using the potty in front of her sons when they were about 2 years old, Sheila and her fiancé were able to show her sons the purpose of the toilet. She also got them involved in its function by letting them flush afterward. “The fun part was always flushing because they liked the sound and they liked watching it go down,” she said. “They had fun with that.”

Dumping diaper messes into the potty also helped her boys understand that, oh, that’s where that stuff goes.

2. Give them a target.

Cereal’s not just for breakfast anymore. Throw a couple Cheerios or Fruit Loops into the toilet and give little boys a target. “It’s a little game so it’s fun, but at the same time it’s teaching them to pee in the water and not all along the side of the toilet,” Sheila said. “Very helpful, especially for boys.”

3. Track their progress.

Sheila made a progress chart and bought some stickers so that each time one of her boys went pee or poop successfully they could celebrate by decorating their chart.

“Praise was really important to my boys,” she said. “When they’d finish going, they’d say, ‘I want stickers.’ They loved the progress chart.”

4. Communicate your strategies with others.

Since Sheila and her fiancé were enrolled in school full time, her twin boys had to go to daycare or to their grandparents house sometimes during the course of potty training. She explained the strategies and reward systems they were using and also got some helpful tips from the daycare. “We were surprised to find that the daycare kind of potty trained them by taking them to the bathroom as often as possible,” she said. “They also said a lot of times they use washing hands as an excuse for them to go potty. The teachers reiterated what we were doing at home, and we reiterated what the teachers do at daycare.”

It’s very important to communicate with whoever is taking care of the children, whether it’s the parents or the grandparents or a babysitter or the child-care center. If it’s the same routine, then the kids will be more comfortable that way.

Potty training hasn’t just given Sheila’s twin sons a sense of accomplishment, but it’s also made her feel proud of her boys – even if she is sad that the independence means they’re growing up.

“It makes me feel like I’m doing it right, or at least I’m doing something right,” she said. “I’m really happy and really relieved that they’re potty trained, but at the same time they’re getting closer to growing up. They’re not babies anymore.”

For more help with potty training, check out these resources we’ve found, including one with a sticker chart just like Sheila’s.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Toddler Terror
About.com’s resident pediatrician teaches you the best ways to deal with your formerly-sweet bundle of joy.

Be A Pampers Parent
Get advice from Caroline and other parent experts at the Pampers Parenting Institute, where you can find information on your toddler, preschooler or infant.

The Potty Place
At Let’s Talk Potty Training, the experts at Pampers offer advice, videos from other potty training mommies and even printable toilet-time activities to share with your toddler.

7 tips for communicating with young children

Caroline is a child psychologist, but when she’s dealing with her own kids, sometimes all the knowledge she has goes out the window.

“When Isabel was first born and I was looking at her, my first thought was, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing,’” she said. “With kids, everyday is a new adventure. Every day brings new things. While my professional training has helped in those moments where I need to be patient, it’s still very different when it’s my own child.”

Because children’s brains are still developing, Caroline suggests keeping things as concrete as possible when communicating. Kids don’t pick up on subtlety and innuendo like adults do, so while a long sigh may be intended to let them know you are nearing your wit’s end, using your words will work a lot better to settle them down.

Keep these things in mind as you communicate with your children:

1. Keep things clear, concise and simple.

Sometimes, explaining and rationalizing all the reasons behind something is not helpful. Your kids don’t understand where you’re going with it, so you’re likely to lose them.

2. Have empathy for where they are.

Understand that certain things, like blowing out the candles or seeing mommy leave for work or the first day of preschool, are really big and important in their minds. Try to see life from their perspective.

3. Schedule time to catch up.

Create deadlines and intentions for things you want to accomplish with your children, just like the deadlines you have at work. Make time to find out if anything’s bothering your kids, and they’ll be more likely to approach you when they are upset.

4. Use distractions to your advantage.

The shorter and quicker you can communicate about a conflict and move on, the better. Give them something new to think about by saying, “No, you can’t do this. But let’s do this instead.”

5. Keep your messages consistent.

The more consistent you and your partner are together, the more that everyone will understand the expectations. If my husband and I are on the same page, then our kids are getting the same messages from both of us.

6. Pick your battles.

Decide what’s really important and what just isn’t. Because they are kids, some things are okay. If they want ice cream before dinner one time, it’s okay. But when it has to do with their safety or good behavior, for example, then it’s important to give it complete attention.

7. If you say ‘no,’ say it quickly and firmly.

“I’ve found that when I say no, but I feel guilty or don’t really mean it, my kids pick up on that,” Caroline said. Learn to say “no” and mean it. In our family, we have a saying: “No is no.” It’s almost like a song—and for my kids, the bottom line.

Being a professional psychologist has helped Caroline take a unique approach to parenting.

“It’s helped me look at life from my kids’ perspective,” she said. “It’s not always easy, but I feel like my husband and I are able to communicate with my kids, which makes me really happy.”

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Be A Pampers Parent
Get advice from Caroline and other parent experts at the Pampers Parenting Institute, where you can find information on your toddler, preschooler or infant.

The Twos and Threes
Parenting Toddlers gives you useful tips on everything from maximizing your baby’s safety to avoiding mommy burnout.

Toddler Terror
About.com’s resident pediatrician teaches you the best ways to deal with your formerly-sweet bundle of joy.

Mission Impossible
Give up on being mother of the year (they think you already are) and relish in your perfect flaws at Imperfect Parent.

Tips for keeping school clutter in check

Cindy is a professional designer and organizational genius. And above that, she knows how stressful trying to get kids to do their homework can be. But she has a theory, well not just a theory… she has put it to the test and it works!

The truth is… Kids like routines and they like organization. They thrive in structured environments. If you can provide that for them, you’ll be helping them be successful. Teaching kids how to be organized is really important because it teaches them a lot of good habits that they’ll use throughout their life.

(Plus, it just makes getting to school in the morning run a whole lot smoother if you don’t have to spend an hour looking for that test that they needed you to sign or the math homework they swear they did.)

1. Throw away things they don’t need.

It’s a good idea to go through your child’s backpack every day after school. It lets you see if there is any correspondence from the teacher or grades you should be aware of. Kids are not always going to remember, and they’re not always going to throw out the stuff they don’t need. By purging the junk, you’ll also be lightening their load, so take five minutes every night to clean out the backpack.

2. Set up a simple file system.

If they are always searching for their papers that they brought home from school, it takes away from homework time. A lot of time kids like to hold on their tests, or letters, or photos – it doesn’t have to be all school stuff – but they won’t have any place to put them. When you set up a simple file system for them, or even designate certain drawers for certain things, kids get in the habit of putting things away.

3. Give them a place to study.

If a child has a place to do their homework, they’ll be more likely to focus when they’re in that environment. Make sure they have a desk or a table to work at. Make sure it’s a quiet space where they can concentrate. And make sure they have appropriate task lighting.

4. Stick to the necessities.

Shopping for school supplies is an important ritual, for the parent and for the child. Some schools will give you a list of things to buy, but other times you do it on your own. It’s important to sit down with your child before you go shopping and make a list even if the school provides one for you. Go over what you’ve got that you can use from last year, and what are the new things that you’re going to get. A little planning will go a long way.

See Cindy in action on her website Details, Etc. and check out these other resources for more ideas!

Crafty—But Clean
At Family Fun, you can find tons of family craft projects that double as storage and organizing pieces, like a pocket wall organizer made from plain curtains!

Keep It off the Floor!
At the Lillian Vernon online home store, you can buy cute yet functional organizing accessories for the kids’ room.

Regain Your Sanity With NAPO
Contact the National Association of Professional Organizers to find a specialist who’ll help you get your life back in order!

Thinking inside the Box
Tap into every professional organizers’ handy bag of tricks by taking a tour of the Container Store.

Clearing the clutter helped me enjoy my family again

Before Mary got rescued by a professional organizer, she was a self-proclaimed “stuffer.”
“I stuffed everything in closets and then shut the door,” she recalls. “Then every time I had to go to that closet to put something away, I would have feelings of anxiety. It was overwhelming, especially after having kids, because we had just accumulated so much stuff. While my kids were playing, I was always trying to organize, in my ineffective, disorganized way.”

After seeing a TV program about organizing, Mary tried to get organized on her own, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that she needed to have a system that worked for her. So, Mary decided to get a professional organizer to help her get started.

“Deborah, my organizer taught me tips that I had never even thought of,” Mary says. “What she did was go to a closet or cupboard and empty everything out first. This way, we were getting a fresh start, which makes things easier.”

As part of Mary’s new organizing effort, she and Deborah tackled her daughters’ closets, where Mary kept all the stuff was that she thought she needed to save. Deborah asked her questions like, “Do you really need this?” or “Has your daughter worn this in the last six months?” Now, Mary asks herself those questions, and she’s able to get rid of stuff she doesn’t need every six months

“I want my girls to grow up with a sense of organization. It feels so good to give them good habits that I didn’t have at their age,” Mary says. “For example, one of the tools that my older daughter Sophia uses is giving everything important a home. She knows that you don’t have to throw everything in the closet and close the door when company comes over if you stay organized on a daily basis. Sophia’s only six, but she cares about what the house looks like when her friends come over.”

Mary does things to make organizing exciting for her girls. They work together to give toys a new home; for instance, their dollhouse was in the corner before and the girls had a puppet theater that they didn’t use. So, they got rid of the puppet theater and moved the dollhouse to be the center feature of the room, where it’s become a whole new toy for the girls. They also set up stations with bins for dolls, for art, and for books, and the kids love it.

“Getting organized has improved my life by giving me more freedom and time to enjoy my family,” Mary says. “I feel like what I’ve learned is such a gift. My household has become so peaceful, and I’m definitely inspired to keep it up. Now, every six months I go back and reassess everything so that I never have to start from scratch again.”

If you’re wanting an organizational overhaul, take a look at these sites to get some ideas of how to start.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Keep It off the Floor!
At the Lillian Vernon online home store, you can buy cute yet functional organizing accessories for the kids’ room.

Crafty—But Clean
At Family Fun, you can find tons of family craft projects that double as storage and organizing pieces, like a pocket wall organizer made from plain curtains!

Regain Your Sanity With NAPO
Contact the National Association of Professional Organizers to find a specialist who’ll help you get your life back in order!

Neat or Not?
HGTV organizing guide will help you control your clutter, once and for all.

Thinking inside the Box
Tap into every professional organizers’ handy bag of tricks by taking a tour of the Container Store.

Meet the Organizing Junkie
Laura, a mom to three, can barely contain her excitement for organizing, and we’re all the better because of it! Get menu ideas, decluttering insights, and photographic evidence that organizing really works in her blog.