Keep the Peace: phrases to protect your sensory kid

Have you ever done a ballet or tap recital? Synchronized swimming or skiing? Line dance? Waltz? You learn, train, practice, rehearse, perform: building muscle memory. Families are just like that!

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You might have moved away and changed your dance, maybe you took up modern jazz — but when you come home, the old gang is still doing the funky chicken. The old dance. Your muscle memory kicks in and you flap your elbows, shake your booty to the floor, and your hands “cluck” like you never stopped. But stick with me, and you don’t have to dance that old dance. Nor do you have to pull the rug out from under the other dancers.

Let’s rehearse some ways it could work for you, your kids, and your extended family. Then work your plan both ways – you are the hinge between your parents and your kids. Work your plan with both of them. Scripts are great for this.

twitter-128Scripts help us decide what’s important & how to speak up about it — respect our parents & protect our kids. <= Click To Tweet

Scripts help us keep relationships with our extended family.

Plan with or speak with your nuclear family, your partner, kids, lodgers, and pet-sitters about the holiday plan. It has taken me some time — and embarrassing momfits — to see that sometimes I should not try for the democratic process. Either I really have a plan or I don’t, but sometimes I (or Dad and I) need to be in charge of how we play it by ear with our families, or maybe I just don’t have the energy for the kids saying, “I vote we just stay home.” Sometimes they don’t get a vote.  And that’s ok.

Lately Thing 1 has been exemplary at checking in with himself and explaining how he feels – he doesn’t like to be surprised by my last-minute planning. Sigh. Teaching self-help skills means having to deal with it when the kids use those skills.

Think in advance – be prepared to compromise. Think about your top three foodie areas where you do NOT want to compromise around your kids’ food. Write them down. I’m a big fan of sleeping on it – go back to your top 3 list later, and then decide if they fit with your desires and travel plans – are you willing to do the work during a 3-day drive to ensure that the family eats leafy greens at every meal? Keep it realistic, reasonable, perhaps even easy.  Are you going to be mad at the extra work, or mad at missing your greens? Weigh that out.

snowman If you are having guests coming, ask if you need a backup food for their fussy or sensory kid, and withhold your judgment … they may show up doing a waltz, but you can still show off your jazz hands.

Your kids. It’s tempting to just buy chicken nuggets or prepared mac and cheese, and while that is one strategy that I use on occasion, I want to propose some ideas that taught our family to be better guests.

  1. Tell social stories about the trip – why you’re going, what to expect, how it might go, another way it might go, how they might feel and it’s okay to feel our feelings. Give them some scripts, too: “Mom, it’s too loud in here, can I sit in the car?” “Mom, I don’t think I can wait until dinner. I’m hangry. Can I have a healthy snack?”
  1. Strategize about where a kid can get some peace and quiet. In the car, bathroom, a big cardboard box, grandma’s porch, even under the bedcovers. Tell them how to excuse themselves, where to go, and what to do when they are overwhelmed — even if it’s at the dinner table.
  1. Teach them how to decline politely. Don’t hurt the cook’s feelings and don’t “yuk on someone else’s yum.”
  1. Discuss in advance that your family “new food” rules always apply (if they do. If they do not, clarify what the traveling rules will be), then expect them to stick to your one-bite rule, or smell or lick, or a bite for each year old they are. Tell them this before you go.
  1. Tell your kids that they can come to you if someone says something that makes them feel sad, mad or bad so that you can handle the situation for them — or if they are being pressured to eat something or to clean their plate or whatever else happens. Be sure they know that they can, and how to do so with respect, perhaps out of earshot or even by text message.
  1. Show your kid(s) three recipes and have them choose a healthy one that they will eat to make and bring – even if it’s not a potluck. Veggies-n-dip, fruit-n-yogurt, a side of snap peas, or a healthy yeast or sweet bread, all make great hostess gifts. Or consider a bowl of melon, pomegranate seeds, or berries.  Older kids might be trusted to peruse the cookbook, but set some parameters – a slice-and-bring dish? High fiber? Crockpot warmable? Bring a side, a vegetarian or gluten-free or allergy-free dish, offer to bring a side and bring 2, and even something just for your kid.
  1. 15349645_1354173004595977_3822187472669593966_n-1Involving them in making the dish is a great way to teach executive function. Have them decide, list the ingredients, shop for what you need, make the recipe, clean up, store the dish, and make a plan for warming and serving it when you get there. “Math it” out loud if you are doubling or halving the recipe. If you can include granny when you get there, all the better.
  1. Look away if you can. If the food is not a dangerous allergen, let them flounder just a little … if they’re hungry, they may stretch a little or a lot. Also, looking away changes the food dance. Your stepmom, mom, or dad become the food bearers, which changes the dynamic.
  1. At the same time, set them up for success. My pickiest eater would cross a line and just not be hungry any more – especially when he was smaller. So before grown-up dinners, parties, plane rides, and the like, we would snack him or full-on feed him. As he got bigger, around 5th grade, I started looking away more. He is usually well-mannered enough to at least try. Be sure to teach them the manners that they need to take care of themselves without offending.

Your parents.  You are the hinge between these two generations. You don’t want their judgment, but don’t give them yours either. A friend says “apathy is your personal savior.” And that’s a good phrase to remember when bringing toddlers to grandma’s house. Explain to them, “We’ll be out of our schedule, we’ll be on the road three days, no, this is not the way we live all the time, but I’m going to let them stay up late or eat junk (or or whatever it is) so I don’t spend our time together punishing them.

Everyone has someone who needs to be “always right.” I have those people; families are full of them! Haha. But you can protect yourself by actively believing that they just want to help, or make themselves feel better, or be loved – no need to bristle at them. I am not above taking All. The. Blame.   Then we can get on with dinner or building a fire or skiing or whatever it is we are doing.  I’m willing to do that.

  1. Some people have no skills for respecting boundaries, being kind, or self-regulation and many of those people have kids – you might even be a kid of someone like that. If you’re here reading this, chances are pretty good!  We’ve solved some of these issues by staying in a hotel in town, staying in a camper in the yard, scheduling a couple of short trips instead of a longer one – we may break up a week with grandma by spending a few nights with Pa, or Auntie, or with my old high school friends. When you are in their house, they may ask you to abide by their rules, and if that’s a conflict, offsite housing or offsite visits might work best if you’re not willing to go toe to toe on why junior does not have to clean his plate, even if s/he is at grandpa’s house.15673533_10155788423513916_1458279869_n
  1. In advance, tell your parents social stories about the trip – what they can expect, how it might go, or another way it might go. You can say something like “It’s just impossible to stay on schedule while traveling, so we’re going to just go with the flow in terms of planning the week, or sticking to time limits on the ipad or eating leafy greens at every meal.” And then repeat that in person when your kid throws a fit, or when you don’t bring down the hammer on some infraction – even if you would at home. My dad is a merciless tease, and before one trip I just came out and said “he wants to grow his hair and I just don’t care – it seems like harmless self expression. But he’s very sensitive to being teased, and I just don’t want you to hurt his feelings.” He might have rolled his eyes over the phone, but he did not tease my kid about his hair. Or his disdain for chewy meat!
  1. When they make suggestions about how to solve a parenting problem, nod, give a thoughtful look (this is usually called active listening – or just acting haha) and say something like:

Huh, I’ll have to do some research on that.

Oooh, I’ll look into it.

I’ll ask the pediatrician about that (or physical therapist, feeding consultant, teacher, school psychologist, occupational therapist…. defer to a higher authority than either you or your parents).

  1. Or you might shrug, give an apologetic look (even if you feel annoyed) and say something like: **We’ve consulted with the pediatrician and we are just going with this for now.

 

I love my elders, but they do drive me nuts. These tactics have helped me keep my relationships with them, keep them in relationship with my kids, and teach my kids both how to be respectful to their elders and also how I want to be treated when they are adults.

Good luck and happy holidays!

If you have a sticky situation or shocking success, drop it in the comments and I’ll chime in or cheer you on!

Parenting Picky Eaters: Tactics that Work!

I want to push us all to think about the family as a culture, not just mom’s responsibility.  And I’m starting with food.  Sign up for my free seminar:

stainedglassmama copyParenting Picky Eaters: Tactics that Work

One of my kids is a sensory averse white bread lover, the other is a seeker who snacks on raw onions! If I can feed these two, I can help you feed yours, too.

May 28, 8pm EST; 5pm Pacific
Click here for more details and to sign up!

If you’ve been reading along, you know: I’m frustrated with how much moms are on the hook for cultural problems, starting with kids’ diets.  Obesity, diabetes, test scores, long-term health, even behavior is linked to what moms are feeding their kids.  And yeah, moms.

I’ve written before about the decline of the “typical American family.”  Statistically, there is no longer any one family structure that constitutes a third of American families; there is no typical category any more. And yet simultaneously, the barrier to healthy eating rests on women — studies show.  Somehow it seems that women can’t seem to get out of the kitchen.   Still!

If you have a picky eater, rent those kids a movie, pick up your favorite beverage, and join me as I share some of my best secrets to taking the stress off mealtimes.  You’ll get a free .pdf of three Edible Tools for Fussy Eaters immediately upon signup.

Let’s do this.  See you on the seminar!

 

Picky Eater at the Library Party

Academic library folk can party!  Every year we went to a swank restaurant owned by an Italian celebrity chef.  My former micropreemie, now toddling, came to work with me a couple of days a week and was also invited.

It was a pasta restaurant, his favorite! Yummy comfort foods — what’s not to love?

There was a much-anticipated $5 gift swap, wine, and small talk.  A little more wine.  Appetizers.  Then we picked from a special menu pulled together just for us — a trio of extremely lovely highbrow pastas. Gnocchi with duck; garganelli with Prosciutto, peas, and cream; ravioli with wild boar and rosemary.

Fudgey, creamy, or spicy.  Uh oh.

Luckily, I had backup.

I found our waiter and, with big smiles and nodding my head, made my request.  My cheeks felt flushed. Again.  I sat at the big round six-top with Peanut on my lap.

WillNotEatClick

Click here to receive three quick videos with tips for your picky eater.

I ate; he didn’t.

CLICK to tweet:  If you have a sensory or food-averse kid, you know — you cannot wait them out.   They’d rather not eat.  At the six-top, my coworkers noticed, looked worried, asked if he was feeling okay.  I was still smiling wide, nodding, and now sweating, too.  And still flushed.

If you have a picky kid, you’ve probably stuck food in your purse a time or a hundred.

Finally the waiter came out with my secret weapon — purse nuggets!  In those days purse nuggets were my constant companion; just throw them in frozen and by lunch they’re ready to heat up.

He’s still picky at 13, but it’s okay. In the decade since then, I’ve worked out a system and he’s come a long way.  He’s no longer underweight and I don’t fret about his diet.

Purse nuggets got us through some scary times, and I am grateful to the nugget inventors of the world.  But shifting to a deliberate family culture around food has changed everything.  He’s become curious and he even eats outside his comfort zone — and points it out, haha.

If you want tips for building food curiosity in your picky kid, click the link above to get 3 quick videos sent right to your inbox.  And stay tuned, I have a webinar coming up in May that will help you ditch those purse nuggets forever!

If you can’t wait another day, check out my Parenting Picky Eaters program.  And as always, follow along the antics in the fun house on Facebook.

Purse nuggets be gone!

Burning up: shame about my picky eater.

Her turquoise eyes were snapping!

She looked me right in the eye, inches from my face.

“Well then, what WILL he eat?”

My face burned.

My beloved stepmom is a locally renown cook; she’d been feeding my two man-nephews for ten years while they tried to eat the entire town out of house and home.  It’s her joy, her gift, and her bragging right.  She is a great cook.

“Chicken nuggets.”

She did not blink. Flinch. Or show any emotion.

I felt ashamed.  The burning increased.

If you have a picky eater, a sensory kid, or a food-averse child, you know that burning feeling.  We’ve lived it more than once, and you have, too.

I felt accused and worried that someone might think less of my wee child.

Food in general left me feeling like a failed mom and  even more protective of my picky eater out in the world — even as I negotiated my own frustration about that pickiness.

I was an older mom.  The generation before me had their answers: wait them out, don’t give in.  The generation after me had their answers: let them graze, give them multiple clean choices.  Neither paradigm felt right for us.  My kid had been intubated at birth; my kid had a couple of diagnoses; my kid was an awesome miracle.  My kid was picky.  And still is. But we have a working system around it.

WillNotEatClickClick here for three quick video tips on picky kids — delivered to your inbox.

A recent article in the Boston Globe did a great job pondering if picky eaters are made or born.  Kids, with too much power, with new diagnoses, with more serotonin receptors in their guts than their brains.  Parents, not wanting or affording to waste food, not wanting to struggle in the little time available to families, told by pediatricians as long as the kid eats, it’s ok.

I believe picky eating is normal.  Extreme picky eating seems to be on its way to the new normal — for too many diverse reasons to simply choose one.  Having control over something in a quickly whirling world, so many delicious available choices, so many processed foods, so many sensory diagnoses, so many anxious parents, so much judgment.  There’s biology at play, as well as: family dynamics, working conditions, money, those serotonin receptors, time, wellness and its lack.  It is historically emerging.

I believe it doesn’t matter why.  Moms in the trenches need a plan and they need it now.  We can’t wait for researchers to figure out why picky eaters are on the rise.  I have a plan to share, and you can get a taste of it (ha!) by clicking the photo above for 3 free video tips of low-key ways to expose your kids to new foods.

My Parenting Picky Eaters program builds a family culture of curiosity around food.  It helps you track what your kid actually eats — it’s almost never as bad as it feels.  It’ll give you tricks for sneaking in the good food while you simultaneously expose your kids to new foods and ignite their curiosity about food. You’ll learn the four words that hijack dinner and add some new terms to the conversation.  Family traditions, teamwork, and a bonus book-and-movie list round things out.

As always, pop on over to Funnermother on Facebook to see what else we’re up to in the Fun house!

Sensitive, Picky Eaters? Listen in as I’m interviewed on this very topic!

Listen in tonight at 7 as I discuss with Donna Ashton my signature system for building food curiosity into your family culture.  Learn the four words that are derailing family dinners.

Donna is the founder of The Waldorf Connection, where parents can get support giving their children an education of art, music, and movement.  Donna is a champion of home-schooling ease and a mentor for family-first home-based businesses.
My talk is free, so just click here to jump on the call.

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To cheat or not to cheat… on your kids

Eat more veggies.

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Smiling veggies

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I haven’t been a fan of sneaking food into kids.  But.

New studies point more to clearly to the importance of healthfulness in kids’ early diets in predicting long-term health “What your child eats now will make an enormous difference to his adult health….Produce may ward off asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, metabolic syndrome, artery-clogging plaque” and more (Parents, June 2015, p. 66).

When my micropreemie was two and still underweight, my mom put a cotton ball on the ceiling fan and hit the switch.  Yes, one could see it as an early introduction to mindless eating, sneaking it in while he laughed hysterically.

vintage botanical print of spinach

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When he was about 5, I bought a cookbook of recipes for foods that had healthy ingredients secreted inside them.  Unnoticeable.  Don’t ask, don’t tell — toddler style.

Does that strategy “teach” kids to like or tolerate, say spinach?  A nursing student mom I know says yes, some other moms say no.  I opted for a little sneaking in while I worked on educating their palates.

But what if — what if we re-thought brownies let’s say.  What if brownies could just BE a dessert that had a healthy dose of spinach?  What if “spinach” came to be associated with spinach pie, greek pizza, salad with bacon, AND chocolate spinach cake, aka brownies?

What if we eliminate the stigma on healthy foods?  What if we just stop sneaking, but don’t stop making those same recipes? This is my goal.

Our chocolate chip cookies have mashed beans in them, and Thing 2 just doesn’t care any more.  “They taste good, that’s all I need” he says.  A few of my best dessert recipes are available on my Free Resources page… then head on over to Facebook and tell me how they turned out for you!

“I have an ice cream and you can’t have one”

ice cream print

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“I have an ice cream and you can’t have one” Eddie Murphy chanted in a singsong voice. Decked out in a red leather suit in 1987.

Oh, we laughed at the ice cream skit, how manic the kids get when they hear the ice cream truck coming, telling everyone on the block “ice cream man is coming, ice cream man is coming!” — and how they lorded it over the other kids when they got their ice cream.

blue milk poster

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Do you remember the next line in Eddie’s song? “I have an ice cream, and you can’t have one, coz you’re on welfare.”  Yes.

And we laughed — little kids marching out someone else’s parents’ distress and gloating over junk food.  Would we laugh now?  Probably not.

Because it seems like now, the adults are saying it, and it’s serious. “Is junk food child abuse?”

Google called up over a million articles when I asked, and lots of people are saying yes. And they’re not on crazy hippie web sites; they’re in the UK’s Daily Mail, Huffington Post, TED talks….

I have scowled to myself at the playground, haven’t you?  But, our judgement gets in the way of solutions.

compassion

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Poor folks need knowledge, in their language, to help them make good choices. They need access, in urban centers AND in sad rural wandering roads, to grocery stores. Here in Pittsburgh, folks take several buses to get to an affordable grocery store. Growing up in rural Maine, it was a long haul to one. Folks need the means by which to purchase foods, or foods need to be affordably priced or grown at home — or all three.  I’ve written before on how folks also need time to cook at home.

So that trigger response of “what are they feeding these/those kids?” is a sign.  A sign that compassion and social action are called for. What to do? Go to a town meeting about public transit and make sure poor neighborhoods have access to grocery stores, vote in local elections about zoning laws, support your local WIC program (Women, Infants, Children – a nutrition program started by president Carter targeting at-risk kids), donate to a food bank.  Or start by exercising your compassion — on the playground. In the grocery checkout behind someone with food stamps. Or when you see kids of different sizes.

For more talk on food and kids, join in on Funnermother on Facebook.  We can make a change.

Rice served thrice: batch cooking for easy meals

blue pottery rice bowls

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We are very busy, poor meal planners, and have kids that suddenly don’t like dishes they used to like.

You may not be surprised by this Funnermother fact. 🙂

So our cook once, eat thrice technique allows us to focus but not actually be tied to a menu that might not work at the last minute.

brown rice soap

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Honestly I’d rather order takeout every night, like on that sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. 🙂

But it is too expensive, and not as healthy.

Last week’s blog post, Winner, winner, chicken dinner, walked you through several days of yes, chicken dinners.

brown rice drawing

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This week I’m giving you a sneak peek into some of the ways we use rice.  Rice has come under scrutiny because it absorbs arsenic; at the end of this post you’ll find reputable resources for making the healthiest choices you can about rice by your purchasing decisions and by rinsing it.

We have not stopped eating rice, though we never did eat it every day or even every week.

I cook a double or triple batch on the stove top, and use it over three days or three meals.

brown rice cookery

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First, I serve it as a starchy dinner side dish with fish or chicken and maybe a dash of tamari or sliced cooked mushrooms stirred in.  You could also toss in toasted pine nuts — though Thing 1 is happiest with plain rice.

The second time we see it, I toast several servings of rice in a frying pan and add ginger and soy, scrambled egg, frozen peas and either shrimp or minced meat. Ta-daaa!  Fried rice that I sometimes will supplement with takeout dumplings or store-bought frozen eggrolls.

rice

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For our third use, I may serve it as a side with a cheese omelet topped with salsa, with refried beans inside or as a second side.  With fresh chives or green onions sprinkled all around, usually by Thing 2.

There you have it.  Dinner, lunch, breakfast — diverse flavors and easy meals with  batch cooking!

Rice and arsenic in the press:

In January 2015, Consumer Reports wrote: “White basmati rice from California, India, and Pakistan, and sushi rice from the U.S. on average has half of the inorganic-arsenic amount of most other types of rice…. white rices from California have 38 percent less inorganic arsenic than white rices from other parts of the country.

Brown rice has 80 percent more inorganic arsenic on average than white rice of the same type. Arsenic accumulates in the grain’s outer layers, which are removed to make white rice. Brown has more nutrients, though, so you shouldn’t switch entirely to white. Brown basmati from California, India, or Pakistan is the best choice; it has about a third less inorganic arsenic than other brown rices.  Rice that’s grown organically takes up arsenic the same way conventional rice does, so don’t rely on organic to have less arsenic.

Grains lower in arsenic

The gluten-free grains amaranth, buckwheat, millet, and polenta or grits had negligible levels of inorganic arsenic. Bulgur, barley, and farro, which contain gluten, also have very little arsenic. Quinoa (also gluten-free), had average inorganic arsenic levels comparable to those of other alternative grains. But some samples had quite a bit more. Though they were still much lower than any of the rices, those spikes illustrate the importance of varying the types of grains you eat.

Cooking to lower arsenic levels

You may be able to cut your exposure to inorganic arsenic in any type of rice by rinsing raw rice thoroughly before cooking, using a ratio of 6 cups water to 1 cup rice, and draining the excess water afterward. That is a traditional method of cooking rice in Asia. The modern technique of cooking rice in water that is entirely absorbed by the grains has been promoted because it allows rice to retain more of its vitamins and other nutrients. But even though you may sacrifice some of rice’s nutritional value, research has shown that rinsing and using more water removes about 30 percent of the rice’s inorganic arsenic content.”

A February 2015 article from the Cleveland Clinic corroborates these preferences and methods for reducing arsenic in rice.

Livestrong hosts a 2013 article listing other potential problems with brown rice, such as fungal growth on leftovers.