Monday, August 8, 2016

The Importance of Promoting Healthy Eating in the Early Years

From the moment that your child is born, his or her relationship with food begins and, as a parent, it is important that we nurture this relationship and ensure that, when possible, it is a healthy one.  Living a healthy and well-nourished lifestyle is important for your child's physical and mental development, which is why it's so essential that children are encouraged to develop healthy eating habits and eat a healthy and balanced diet.

The consequences of not enjoying a healthy diet can be dire.  The obesity crisis means that more than two thirds of adults in this country are considered to be overweight and obese, and around one third of children between the ages of six and nineteen are either overweight or obese.   Healthy eating could not be more important.  So, how can you promote and encourage these healthy eating habits?  Here are just a few tips and ideas.


"Unwrapped Dum Dums Lollipops" by DDGuy

RETHINK DINNER TIME

Most children are notoriously fussy eaters, and many parents find it difficult to encourage their children to eat, and worry that they are not getting enough calories each day.  This is one of the main reasons parents succumb and allow their children to eat an excess of junk food, such as chicken nuggets and french fries.  One way around this is to take a different approach to dinner time.  When cooking your main evening meal, always make sure that you offer at least one item that the kid likes and will eat.  You should also only cook a limited amount of the starch dish.  Cook extras of the fruits and vegetables and other healthy components, in order to encourage second helpings.  Why not try our recipe for hidden vegetable pizza (below) which is a great way to introduce those extra veggies in a way that your kids will enjoy?

REDEFINE TREATS

Many parents reward their children with unhealthy food, positioning candy and chocolate as "treats."  This can be very damaging and can create a long term mentality of associating food with rewards.  Instead, consider rewarding children with non-edible treats, such as a trip to their local bounce house, a day out to the park, or even a small toy or gift.  If you do decide to reward them with food, introduce healthy treats such as fruit, or even fruit incorporated into cake (see our recipe for a healthy fruit tart, below).  If you do succumb and bring junk food such as sweets and candies into your home for your children, then choose the smallest possible package size.

TALK ABOUT FOOD

Finally, the most important aspect of instilling lifelong healthy eating is education.  It is important to make your children aware of the differences between healthy and unhealthy foods and the effects that they have on their bodies.  Because of children's susceptibility to eating disorders (regardless of their age, gender, or current weight) it is important not to focus too deeply on weight and on the concept of being obese or "fat."  Instead, position healthy foods as something that helps children to grow strong and healthy.  No food should be forbidden.  Banning things only makes children want them more.  Instead, encourage your children to make healthy choices as much as possible, but acknowledge that the occasional sugar craving is not something that should be ignored, and it's important to include a huge range of different foods (even less healthy ones) in your diet.

"Summer kids eat lunch" by U.S. Department of Agriculture

These small changes can really help to promote healthy eating.  By talking to your children and explaining why you are making these changes to their diet and the positive effects on their lives and their bodies, you are likely to find that your kids will get on board with the idea very quickly.

RECIPES

Hidden Vegetable Pizza

1 Cup fresh spinach
1 Cup mushrooms
1 whole green pepper
1 jar of spaghetti sauce or passatta
mozzarella cheese
1 premade pizza crust

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use a blender to blend together the spinach, mushrooms, pepper and spaghetti sauce.
Spread the sauce over the pizza crust.
Top with mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 10-15 minutes and then serve hot.

Healthy Fruit Tart

15 Medjool dates, pre-soaked
1 Cup cashew nuts
1 Cup Greek yogurt
Assorted sliced fresh fruit (depending on child's preference)

Use a blender to blend together the dates and cashew nuts into a dough.
Press dough evenly into a lightly greased pie tin.
Spread the yogurt over the top of the pie crust.
Decorate with the fruit, then slice and serve.



About the Author
Helen Watts is a freelance writer and mother.  She began writing professionally after becoming a mother and leaving a varied career as a nutritionist and dietician.  She is particularly passionate about healthy eating for children.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Giving Experiences (and an Experiment) for Father's Day

"Father's Kiss" by Shuana Hawkins

Father's Day is coming up this Sunday, and in my household, we have been brainstorming ways to show the many fathers in the family that they are appreciated and loved.  Psychologists say that the most satisfying gifts are experiences, not things.  Maybe take a family outing to the beach, or eat out or in from a favorite restaurant (Gari's Maki Madness for sushi lovers)?  Or, relieve Dad of his household chores so that he can spend more time doing something that he really enjoys?  Some family fun ideas include an art festivalfarm festival, a day sailing, and Stone Zoo or Franklin Zoo (fathers get free admission!).

While gifting an experience is a good idea, I'm also a big believer in pairing it with something tangible that can be unwrapped.  Luckily, my craft-loving preschooler has been excited about creating a present for Dad.  So, we took a trip to Michaels and after nosing around a bit, came home with a large, white, cotton tee-shirt and dimensional fabric paint to customize a Father's Day shirt.  Along with a stencil and sponge brush which we already had at home, these were our basic tools. The results of my little guy's first shirt-decorating experiment is below.

OUR PROCESS

First, we laid the shirt on a flat surface.  After placing the stencil where we wanted it (middle of the shirt), my son squeezed fabric paint onto the stencil.




Then, with a sponge brush, he spread the paint throughout the parts of the stencil that he wanted to use.




To switch paint color, we rinsed the sponge brush in a cup of water, and squeezed out excess water with paper towels. After rinsing and squeezing, the brush was ready to be used with another paint color.



The stencil was moved to another section of the shirt to continue decorating.




When the stenciling was finished, my son added "DAD" and signed his name on the shirt, next to a heart.





When the back of the shirt was dry, I turned the shirt over to add lettering for Fathers Day 2016 on the area under one shoulder. My son added his fingerprints in his favorite color everywhere else, adding his personal touch.




LESSONS LEARNED


  • Dimensional fabric paints, I discovered, are the same thing as "puffy paint."  It can be hard to squeeze even amounts while writing words, and the words end up . . well. . . puffy.  Next time, if a more polished look is the goal, we'll try flat paints, letter stencils, or markers.

  • Using a simple, single shape would probably result in a crisper, cleaner look than the graffiti stencil we used here.  For our second try, I may have my son paint a large sponge or cardboard cut-out that I provide (possibilities include a happy face, palm tree, or ocean waves) to simply press onto a clean shirt for the image transfer.

  • It helps to place a couple of brown paper grocery bags on the inside of the shirt to prevent paint soaking through to the other side.  In case you are wondering, yes, adding my son's fingerprints to the front side of the shirt was how we made a couple of unintentional dots of paint become part of an intentional design!


Even if the ultimate result is not really polished looking, I know my husband will enjoy this gift.  It's a wearable piece of art as well as a tangible reminder that he will have of the fleeting days of his son's early childhood.

Happy Father's Day!



About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom.  After serving as Parent Talk's Blog Coordinator, she looks forward to her new role as PT's Volunteer Chair for 2016-2017!



Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ready, Set, Play Outside!

It took a while, but finally it's here  -- perfect weather to visit area playgrounds.  Researchers have found that being outside is important for developing and keeping eyesight keen, so get ready for some outdoor time!

Parent Talk members can access a helpful list of local playgrounds on the PT websiteParent Talk Matters Blog has also posted recommendations worth a revisit:   It's Playground Time! and Local Playgrounds for the Littles.  These are mainly for offerings in Dedham, Dover, Needham, Natick, Newton, and Wellesley.

I'm adding info for a couple of my favorites to the list of recommendations.  Two are local in Westwood, and one is a little off the beaten path.

Playing in Westwood's Tot Lot is fun when dressed for cooler weather, too!

AGE 3 AND UNDER

Westwood Tot Lot
This quiet, small playground on Nahatan Street is ideal for the littlest ones.  Swings are tot-sized buckets, and the slides on two climbing structures are a few feet above ground.  There are toys scattered about that usually include shovels, trucks, and ride-on cars.  The lot is well shaded for hot days.  One con is limited parking.  A handful of spaces can be accessed by driving through the adjacent Westwood Council on Aging parking lot (where no playground parking is allowed), to the back side of the playground.  But I have used parking in the front of the adjacent EW Thurston Middle School when it's not too busy at the school.


AGE 3 AND OLDER

School Street Playground
This Westwood playground is great for a wide age range, and could be ideal for family outings with kids who are not very close in age.  It includes a climbing wall and a tall, rope-web climbing structure for the older kids (that could be challenging even for adults!).  For tots, there is small climbing structure with a slide and tot-sized swings.  For a wide range of ages, there are spinning tulip cups, see saw, tire swing, elevated roundabout, and 15 foot tall slides, among other things.  The caveat is that almost the entire playground  is open to the sun.  Plan to visit a few hours before or after the hottest part of the day, to avoid arriving when the play structures are too hot.


This is the Dragon Boat at Alexander Kemp Playground.  "Figurehead" by Andrew Watson

Alexander Kemp Playground
If you have the chance to trek to Cambridge, the Alexander Kemp playground is well worth a visit for its unique offerings.  Highlights include a water pump with a series of descending trays, allowing for play with cascading water and pools.  It also has a roundabout and various types of pulleys and bucket apparatuses.  There is a real sandbox (not just wood chips, here!) of decent size, with a good mix of sun and shade.  A caveat is that water features are turned off when the weather gets cold, so be sure to visit before October rolls around.  Parking along the adjacent streets can be challenging and limited to residents, but is not impossible to find.

READY, SET, PLAY OUTSIDE!

Armed with all of these playground options, hopefully you can rest assured that you won't ever hear your kids complain about "visiting the same, old playground again!"


About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently, blog coordinator for Parent Talk.




Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fun and Games at Parent Talk's Spring Sale


"Family games" by Matthew Hurst


With my twins' birthday coming up, I asked my Facebook friends to recommend board games that would make good gifts.  The wealth of ideas shared was incredible.  Not only did I end up getting some great gifts (Monopoly Junior and Sequence Letters), but I now have an extensive list to keep an eye out for while I shop at Parent Talk's Used Clothing, Toy, and Equipment Sale, coming up this Saturday, May 7th.

Because there are more than enough games to go around at Parent Talk's biannual Sale, I'm sharing my list with you, too!  Below are the best games, separated into categories of the Classics, Newer Names, and Special Focus games.  

There's a reason that games are listed below as Classics.  They are the ones that are tried and true, and great options for the gamers in your life.   


"Little girl playing a board game" by simpleinsomia

Take a look under Newer Names if you are looking for some more options that you might not have played with when you were a kid.  Lots of great games have popped onto the scene since we were young.  I can't wait to look for them at the Sale and bring them home to the kids.  The eeBoo company makes wonderful games for toddlers and preschoolers.  You really can't wrong with any of them.  We have a matching game and a set of story cards from eeBoo, and the kids still play with them at ages 5 and 9.  

Special Focus games are those that have special appeal to a given age group.  For example,  Peaceable Kingdom makes some wonderful cooperative games for the preschool set.


TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS

At this age, my kids were happiest playing games that focused on pictures, color recognition and simple counting.  Busytown Eye Found It! is a favorite at our house. 
Classics
Candy Land
Chutes & Ladders
Cooties 
Don't Break the Ice
Don't Spill The Beans
Hungry Hungry Hippos

Newer Names
Think Fun's Roll & Play
Snail's Pace Race 
Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel!

Special Focus:  Cooperation
Busytown Eye Found It!
Race for the Treasure
Hoot Owl Hoot
Count Your Chickens 


PRE-KINDERGARTENERS

With new logic, math, problem solving, language and reading skills just around the corner, there are so many great board games to pick from for this age group.  There are also a number of card games that are great for this age, including Go Fish, Crazy Eights and Old Maid.  My kids have a set of these old favorites made by Melissa & Doug which has long been a crowd-pleaser.


"Sorry" by frankieleon
Classics
Monopoly Junior
Sorry!
Othello
Guess Who? 
Trouble 
Go Fish
Crazy Eights
Old Maid

Newer Names
Camp
Qwirkle
Blokus or Blokus Junior
Family Charades
Zingo!
Spot It!
Sequence

Spot It! is a compact card game that is easy to bring along to restaurants.  We also have Sequence Lettersand it's been great as the twins start to practice their letter recognition and pre-reading skills.

Special Focus: Logic and Problem Solving
Rush Hour
Camelot Jr.
Castle Logix 
Gobblet


KINDERGARTEN AND EARLY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (FROM GRADES K THROUGH 2) 

Kids at this age are becoming readers, mastering their math skills and refining their fine motor skills.  This independence also means many more options for board and table games.   At this age, we discovered the GameWright company which makes a number of card based games that are just so fun.  Current favorites in our house include Sleeping Queens, Rat-a-Tat Cat and Chomp

"Queens" by Tedx NJLibraries
  
Classics
Jenga
Uno
Connect 4
Apples to Apples or Apples to Apples Junior

Newer Names
Pickles to Penguins
Skip-Bo
Very Silly Sentences
Suspend
Scavenger Hunt

Special Focus: Modified Versions of Games for Older Ages
Sleeping Queens
Rat-a-Tat Cat
Chomp

These games are often based on the card games we played growing up, which make them fun for both kids and adults.  While these games are geared for older kids, we have found that it's easy enough to make small modifications to the game so that the little kids can play, too.


(ALMOST) ALL AGES

Finally, I'm always on the hunt for games that can be played by my kids independently.  Now that they are aged 5, 5, and 9, there are a lot more options that fit this bill.  Our all-time favorites for independent play include Monopoly Junior and Hullabaloo.


"Alec - Mr. Money Bags" by aisletwentytwo

Monopoly Junior is a simplified version of the classic game, Monopoly.  It uses simple monetary denominations and all properties on a given side of the board are worth the same amount.  Our 9-year-old can easily explain the game and the younger ones picked it up after playing with guidance from us, along with their older brother.  Now, all three kids often choose to play it together. 

Cranium Hullabaloo is a take on another Hasbro game, Twister.  It comes with a talking console that calls out each of the "steps" in the game.  While the twins are the ones most likely to play this game on their own, their brother will often join in.  One of the twins, my daughter, will often play on her own, too.


About the Author
Wendy Todd lives in Needham with her husband, Aaron, and three kids aged 9, 5 and 5.  She previously served on the Parent Talk Board of Directors as both Playspace Chair and President.  She started volunteering for PT's biannual Sale in 2008 and has been a returning member on the Sale Committee for several years, now.  She plans to stay on the Sale Committee until her very last bargain is found! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Beyond Sibling Rivalry -- Upcoming PT Lecture

While siblings have a special opportunity to develop close, strong bonds with one another, this special relationship can just as easily go the other way.  Siblings can engage in serious competition to such an extent that getting along just doesn't seem possible.  As the younger of two sisters, I have experienced sibling rivalry from childhood through my adult years.

"And a little sibling rivalry" by Cathy T


Some sibling competition can be good thing.  When my sister received a National Merit scholarship in her senior year of high school, I knew there was no question that I had to do the same. My senior year mirrored her accomplishment.  Although our paths took a different chronological order, we also both went on to graduate from the same university, attend law school, become attorneys, become part-time working moms and stay-at-home moms.  Along with similar interests, our competitiveness played a part in propelling us down similar, ultimately fulfilling paths.

At other times, sibling rivalry is not so pretty.  My sister and I have outgrown our rough and tumble cat fights as young kids.  But as an adult, I find it very easy to be pulled into the internal dialogue in which I compare the accomplishments of my child with her child, my niece whom I adore.  Based on our sibling history, I am certain that my sister does the same!   Luckily, for our families, this competition has not surfaced in any visible way (I hope!).

"Sibling rivalry" by Richard Leeming

If only there were some strategies and tactics that parents could take so that sibling competition among their kids doesn't become unhealthy rivalry.  Parents want their kids to nurture good feelings about each other and build supportive relationships that will last throughout their lives.

Interested in learning more about the pros and pitfalls of sibling rivalry?  Attend Parent Talk's  upcoming lecture, "Beyond Sibling Rivalry," by Peter Goldenthal, Ph.D on Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. at the Charles River School in Dover.  The author of a book by the same name, Dr. Goldenthal is an expert on sibling relationships and child development.  Parent Talk members are invited to attend for free and non-members can purchase tickets for $20.  Register and get tickets at Eventbrite.com.

About the Author
Darlene W. Cancell is an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, and most recently, blog coordinator for Parent Talk.

Monday, April 18, 2016

PT Spring Sale: Six Reasons to Volunteer, Donate, Consign and Shop!

If you are pregnant or new to parenthood, the Parent Talk Sale on Saturday, May 7, 2016, is a must-not-miss event.  You can expect to see some high-end baby gear, clothing, and toys at bargain basement prices (literally...the Sale is held in a church basement!).  And all of it within a welcoming community of fellow moms and dads, eager to swap stories from the parenthood trenches or share resources ranging from pediatricians to preschools to summer camps.  It is so special that I have friends who travel from Connecticut and Western Massachusetts twice a year to volunteer and shop.  No joke.  There is simply nothing else like it.


A long line of shoppers waits to enter one of PT's bi-annual Sales.



If you are welcoming another baby to the fold, you also owe it to yourself and your growing family to check out the Sale.  Donate or consign some of that outgrown blue clothing and search for something new in pink!  Volunteer as a Sale staffer, share your hard-earned expertise with a friend, and learn something new from someone with older kids.  Simplify your life and pick up an extra set of everything (cheap!) for grandma's house, and never ever schlep another toy or pack-and-play there again.  Doesn't that sound amazing?!

I can't wait.  See you Saturday, May 7, 2016 at Christ Episcopal Church in Needham.  The General Sale runs from 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., followed by the $10 Clearance Bag Sale from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.  The Sale is open to the general public.  Membership in Parent Talk is not required to donate, consign, volunteer or shop. 

 If you need a few more reasons to squeeze the Sale into your calendar, here are six:

1.  HIGH END BRAND NAME CONSIGNMENTS

The Sale has established a reputation for high quality.  You can often find brands like Hanna Andersson, Mini Boden, Crew Cuts and more.  Think Kate Spade diaper bags, Kelty backpacks, and Bugaboo strollers.  Even if you are just cleaning out a pile of Carter's jammies, you can feel good about making the donation.  Or, turn a tidy profit when you place your consignment cast-offs in the company of brand name merchandise.

Shoppers among the many racks of clothing.

2.  DO WELL AND DO GOOD!

Parent Talk is a 501 c3 non-profit organization, so your donations to the Sale are fully tax deductible.  Half of all that you earn on consignments also directly supports Parent Talk programs that benefit hundreds of Metro-West families.  Any unsold donations or consignments are scooped up by other regional charities that help needy or homeless families, such as Circle of Hope, Cradles to Crayons, and the Department of Children and Families.  Email donations@parenttalk.info for donation drop-off information and sellerskit@parenttalk.info for information on consigning.

3.  REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE!

Donate your well-loved toys and clothes to the Parent Talk Sale, not the landfill.  Shopping for recycled treasures at the Sale is much more fun and eco-friendly than shopping at your local big box store or online.

Example of a "jackpot" item from a past Sale -- small Trek mountain bike.

4.  TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL

Parents can shop with their children to teach them elementary math while making purchases and how to best manage their moneyKids enjoy a freedom of choice not possible at more expensive stores. 

5.  VOLUNTEERING HAS ITS PRIVILEGES

If you serve on the Parent Talk Sale Committee and/or sign up for a 2-hour volunteer shift, you can shop from Sale items a whole day early, and under less crowded conditions.  Friday is a private shopping day for volunteers and some of the most desirable items are sold then, before the Sale even opens to the general public. 

6.  IT'S IN THE BAG!

The very last hour of the Sale is exciting.  For just $10, shoppers can fill a bag with as much merchandise as they can carry.  Even if you shop all day at Friday's private sale for volunteers, you will want to come back to bag the best bargains on Saturday.

The Parent Talk Sale is the Olympics of sales.  But you can't get to the PT Sale from your computer or your iPhone.  You have to show up to share the good gossip (maybe even get a warm hug!) and grab the deals of the century.


About the Author
Catherine Memory is a freelance writer and publicist, and a former Parent Talk Board member.










Monday, April 4, 2016

Parent Talk Photo Album: College Throwback

Fun abounded for those who attended Saturday's College Throwback night, this year's spring fundraiser for Parent Talk.  With a program that included food and drinks, DJ, NCAA basketball, a wish tree (wish list of items for PT's Playspace and community partners), raffle, and silent auction, what was not to like?  The dress code at the Biltmore Bar & Grille in Newton was college casual.  PT members rummaged through the back of drawers and closets to proudly don the names of their almae matres for one more night.  See pictures below!


Hey, that's pretty funny!


Line-up of items for sale in the silent auction.


 Just chilling at the bar.


We're starting our own College Conference.


Give me a P. . . P! Give me a T. . . T! Go, Parent Talk!


The PT crowd.


A great team starts here:  PT's President Megan Bourque (left), VP Ellie Beasley (center), and Executive Director Susan Kagan (right).


PT's wish list and a popular college past-time come together to dress up the Donation Tree.


This is better than guys' night out!


Members of PT's 2015-2016 Board and Event Co-Chairs.


Couples hang out.


Taking advantage of a chance to catch up.


Taking a break from watching the Syracuse v. North Carolina game.


Playgroup friends are the best!


A memorable experience to share with a friend.

Over 50 local businesses donated to Parent Talk through College Throwback 2016!  Parent Talk would like to thank these businesses and all of the silent auction donors and bidders, along with all of the Red Cup Raffle donors and winners.  The response to our wish list was gratifying.  Many items were donated to the Parent Talk Playspace and to other local charities.  Parent Talk thanks Ginger and Julia from the Biltmore Bar & Grille which was the perfect location for College Throwback.  The chicken and waffles were a hit!  And for their unwavering support of Parent Talk, including attending College Throwback, we would like to thank Needham Bank's Eric Morse and Michelle DiSimone. 
Parent Talk members can likewise support local businesses in our community.  Plan to shop at Needham Cash Mob on April 30th!  Spend at least $10 with local retailers.   The event starts at 10:00 a.m.   Shop anytime throughout the day!










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