Friday, July 24, 2015

Limiting Pesticides in Summer Fruits and Vegetables

Now is the time to enjoy the fresh offerings of summer --  shining dark cherries, juicy peaches, buttered corn, sugary sweet melons, crisp bell peppers and lots and lots of berries, to name a few.  As parents, we want to make sure that our kids eat as healthily and nutritiously as possible.

For many years now, from my past life as a vegetarian to my current days as an omnivore, the vast majority of produce that I have brought into my home has been organic.  Although this preference has resulted in significantly higher costs than buying conventional produce, I believed that doing so would make me healthier, by limiting my pesticide and chemical intake.

Recently, I was surprised to learn that the USDA organic label does not, in fact, completely disallow the use of pesticides.  Instead, what typically sets organic produce apart from conventional produce is not whether pesticides are used, but how the pesticides are made. The USDA organic label allows the use of naturally derived pesticides. Conventionally grown produce is treated with synthetic pesticides.

Along with the small shock of this discovery, however, I was glad to find that my years of higher grocery bills were not completely for naught. Organic food has been found to be associated with:
  • Lower levels of pesticides than conventional produce.
  • Higher levels of antioxidants than conventionally grown produce.
  • Production methods that are thought to be more ecologically friendly than conventional food production.
I tend to think, though, that what may be most important in the end is that our families eat a balanced diet. This can be provided either by conventional or organic foods. 

The pesticides used in conventional produce generally should not exceed government safety thresholds. That said, I also think there is nothing wrong with parents wanting to give their families a diet at the lowest end of the spectrum for what the government considers acceptable pesticide ingestion.

So, what can be done by parents seeking to further limit their families’ exposure to pesticides? 
  • Consider growing your own fruits and vegetables.  
  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water and discard outer leaves and skins. Learn more here.
  • Be familiar with the "Dirty Dozen."
  • Eat food from different sources to limit exposure to any one pesticide.
  • Buy locally at Farmers' Markets.
At local farm stands, consumers can personally ask growers what production methods they use.  Asking, “How frequently is your produce sprayed with pesticides?”  and “What type of pesticide do you use?” can inform a purchase.  Local growers may also be more responsive in taking their consumers’ concerns directly into account when considering which production methods to use.

Aside from the issue of pesticides, families may simply be interested in helping to support local growers. Below are links to local farm stands and farmers’ markets.

Dedham Farmers Market (open Wednesdays)

Needham Farmers Market (open Sundays)

Newton Farmers Market (two locations – one open Tuesdays, one open Saturdays)

Powisset Farm Stand (open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays)

Volante Farms (open daily)

Wellesley Farmers Market (open Saturdays)

Westwood Farmers Market (open Tuesdays)

Lastly, for those who want to help bring the fresh fruits of summer to everyone’s table, there are volunteer opportunities.

One organization, Boston Area Gleaners, collects after-harvest leftovers from local farms to distribute to over 500 hunger-relief organizations in eastern Massachusetts. Gleaning is the ancient practice, dating at least as far back as Biblical times, of collecting the surplus left in farmers’ fields. This group invites volunteers aged 13 and up to help glean the fields of numerous eastern Massachusetts farms.

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

If you have comments or an experience to share related to this blog, please speak up!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Making Memories this Fourth of July

My childhood memories of July 4th paint the picture of a quintessential, small town-americana celebration. There was a three day fair with dizzying rides and mouth-watering fried dough, with 4 H blue ribbon competitions, mud runs and a demolition derby. All of this built up to the morning of the Fourth, when dozens of floats representing local businesses and decorated in tissue paper flowers, paraded down Main Street with the high school marching band, little girl baton twirlers, and local pageant winners en route. That evening, we would cook red hot dogs over an open fire at my grand parents' house and watch the fireworks cuddled up in blankets on their roof.
I can still remember the anticipation of the Fourth and loved the time we spent together as a family having fun, but I didn't realize then how much I would cherish the memory in retrospect. Now I want to try to create a similar tradition for my children around our wonderful country's big day. Thankfully, we live in a town that also takes pride in its Fourth of July festivities. Speaking of making memories, your child can even have the opportunity to ride their bike in Needham's Children's Parade!
In the past, Parent Talk has coordinated an effort to meet and decorate bikes to be used in the Children's Parade route, and we are bringing it back this year. What could be better in the eyes of a child than sprucing up their prized possession with red, white and blue flair and then getting to show it off while riding in the street?! All you need to do is bring the bike; Parent Talk is supplying the decorations. People are gathering at 8am on Saturday, July 4th at Greene's Field in Needham. This fun kick-off event is free and open to non-Parent Talk members as well, so be sure to spread the word!

I will be back in my hometown of Houlton, Maine with my husband and our two and three year old. We plan to bring them to the same fair that I grew up loving. I'm not sure about the hot dogs over an open fire! Have a wonderful celebration however you choose to honor the day.

About the author:
Liza d'Hemecourt lives in Needham with her husband and their two children. She grew up in Northern Maine, attended Boston College and taught kindergarten and first grade before becoming a stay at home mother. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Recipes from Local Moms

We all have our strengths as parents and cooking is not one of mine. I want my children to have a varied and healthy diet but I find the process of meal planning to be daunting and more often than not, I make the same few meals over and over again, which is resulting in picky eaters! Moms who incorporate a rainbow of fresh ingredients and exotic sounding grains into their toddlers dinners never cease to amaze me, so I called upon a few of them to share some favorite summer recipes.
A typical meal at my house! source
These local ladies admit wholeheartedly that even though they present their little ones with impressive meals, it does not mean that they are gobbled up readily. We are still feeding the same species of notoriously discerning and stubborn small people. The difference is, these talented moms see cooking as a creative outlet and are not swayed by rejection; they consider even a mouthful of salmon and cous cous to be a triumph worth the effort! Even if you are already thriving in the kitchen while maintaining harmony among your children, these dishes will be fun to try. And if you are like me, serving frozen meatballs too often, these options will be inspiring, but may take courage to create!

Sally: Grilled Thai Curry Chicken Skewers with Coconut Peanut Sauce

A mutual friend made this dinner for Sally, then she made it for her own family the next week. It was a hit! She likes to serve it with roasted broccoli and coconut rice.

For the Chicken you will need:

2--1/2 to 3lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast pounded to 1/2 inch thickness and cut into chunks. Place them into the following marinade for at least four hours or overnight:

1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
  • Zest of one lime
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Place chicken on skewers and grill on medium high heat for about ten minutes, turning once.

For the coconut peanut sauce:
Whisk together the following ingredients, except lime juice, bring to a simmer and then cook over medium heat for about three minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the fresh lime juice. Top chicken with the sauce and use it as a cold salad dressing for any left overs!

1 (13-oz) can coconut milk (do not use low fat)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon red curry paste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, from 2 limes

A mother of two girls, ages 9 and 3, Sally is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College. She loves to cook and to bake with the girls. During a playdate, I remember asking her for the method to preparing amazing weeknight meals for her family while working. She said that she usually does breakfast for dinner on their busiest night and takeout on Fridays, but otherwise, finds her recipes for the week in advance, makes her shopping list and shops on the weekend with her 3 year old, who loves grocery shopping!
and usually goes to three different grocery stores with the girls to accomplish that list!

Shalini: Roasted Veggies Reinvented

She begins with an assortment of roasted vegetables and then uses them to make dinner over two nights: first as individual pot pies; second as a side dish with homemade pizza!

For the Roasted Vegetables:
Combine yellow carrots, pepitas, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes with sea salt, pepper and olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes covered with aluminum foil, and 10 minutes off. 

Meal #1 Individual Pot Pies
Shalini used Martha Stewart's recipe for pie crust, called Pate Brisee

Fill two oven-safe soup bowls with the roasted veggie filling below, and top with the Pate Brisee crust. Bake at 375 for twenty minutes. For her pre-schooler, Shalini cut the crust into dinosaur shapes and served them alongside the pie filling. 

For the Pie Filling:

  • Make the roux in a stock pot by warming 3 tablespoons of flour with 1 stick of salted butter, add any chopped mushroom and salt liberally
  • Add about 1/3 of the roasted vegetables 
  • Pour in 2 cups of vegetable stock, tossed in a sprig of rosemary, and let that boil down for about 15 minutes. Take the rosemary out! 
Meal #2 Roasted Veggie Side Dish with Homemade Pizza:

Shalini begins with homemade pizza crust, but you could also use a prepared crust or roll out fresh dough from the grocery store.  

For the pizza topping:
  • Chop sweet, vidalia onions and combine with a balsamic reduction
  • Add mozzarella and basil 
For the Roasted Veggie Side Dish:
  • Add chopped cherry tomatoes and avocado to freshen up the roasted vegetables
Shalini is a lawyer, taking a break from her corporate bankruptcy practice to raise her four year old son and seven month old daughter. I noticed the beautiful meals she was making for her family from pictures posted on Facebook! Shalini says that her mother never really cooked and that she prefers to approach meal planning by working with whatever ingredients she has in the kitchen.

Maggie: Grilled Rainbow Veggie Skewers served with black bean salad and dip!

For the Rainbow Skewers:

Choose any assortment of vegetables that will give you ROY-G-BIV, cut them into chunks, stir them in a bowl with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill on skewers until tender!

For the White Bean Dip: 

In a food processor, coarsely chop the ingredients below, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Use this as a dip for the veggie skewers and you have an interactive dinner!

  • 1 15 oz. can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • salt
  • pepper

For the Black bean salad:

In large bowl, whisk avocado, cilantro and lime juice together until blended. Add beans, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, pepper, pumpkin seeds and toss until evenly coated.
  • 1 ripe avocado, mashed
  • 1/4 c chopped cilantro
  • 2 T lime juice
  • 2 15oz cans no salt added black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups shredded romain lettuce or spinach
  • 1 c grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 c corn kernels, fresh or thawed if frozen
  • 1 small red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 c toasted pumpkin seeds
Maggie is a dietician and has a three year old daughter and a one year old son. I first noticed her creativity with food when she started her own Facebook page called, Tomorrow's Lunch, featuring fun and nutritious options for her daughter to eat at preschool. Maggie had this to say about preparing healthy dinners for her family: "I think my kids are pretty good eaters, but even they won't eat a lot of most things. They'll try bits and pieces of what I make and I have to round out their meals with fresh, but plain, fruits and veggies, steamed broccoli, roasted cauliflower, pasta with pesto. My thought is as long as they keep trying bites of real, healthy adult food, eventually they'll want to eat more. But I realize, this is a frustrating process for parents."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Two Local Outdoor Gems for the Kids

We are approaching the long, lazy days of summer when schedules are less structured and we can trade time in front of the tv for precious moments running through sprinklers and chasing bugs. If you are looking for an outdoor adventure away from your backyard and local playgrounds, there are many options to choose among in our area. From shady trails through the woods to the neatly patterned rows of crops on a farm, there are exciting and interesting sites to behold that will nurture curiosity and force everyone to slow down and look closely at the wonders of summer while they last. Here is a snapshot of two beautiful spaces to visit with your little ones.

Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary

This wildlife sanctuary, which is part of the Mass Audubon Society, has over nine miles of trails. Broadmoor is located nearby at 280 Eliot Street in Natick and is the perfect place to burn off some energy outside where you can bring in some educational focus. By observing plants and wildlife that live in the different parts of the sanctuary, you'll be introducing your child to the concept of habitats. Some highlights of the area include beaver dams, nesting wood ducks and basking turtles! Walking through the forest can bring some much needed relief from the heat and you can talk about the different living things you see and compare them to the other parts of the trail such as the wetlands along the boardwalk. This is also a great way to practice skills like looking and listening while being very quiet and tip-toeing to have the best chance at spotting things like chipmunks and waterfowl. Nature walks also feed the imagination! I used to love pretending that fairies and gnomes were hiding among the moss and mushrooms on the forest floor only to come out and dance when no one was looking!

Finally, be sure to tie in a quick lesson on respecting our natural environment. In order to maintain the beauty of the trails at Broadmoor and to ensure the safety of all the living things that call it home, they ask that people refrain from running, that they eat only in designated picnic areas and carry out all trash. Visitors are encouraged to bring plenty of water and to wear practical clothing and footwear.

Natick Community Organic Farm

This farm is definitely unlike any I had visited in the Massachusetts area. To say that it is off the beaten path would be an understatement; in fact, the only thing you will find to follow when you get there is a beaten dirt path that leads to the spaces where their various animals are housed. There is no prominent information desk to greet you because your visit is free. Don't expect any posted information aside from signs warning you not put your fingers in the rabbit cages. The reason for this is not that they are inhospitable but that this is a working farm, which gives it a level of authenticity and uniqueness that is refreshing because it is stripped of any commercial efforts (though there is an area where you can purchase organic produce from their many gardens!)

I took my two and three year old here for a visit and felt as though time slowed down. Since there are no paved roads and because the area is so far set back from the actual road, I let my children wander. It was such an unusual feeling to be able to let my guard down somewhere outside of my own backyard. I couldn't help think about how the uneven ground and musty animal smells were so good for their senses. We looked in the barn and found a stall swarmed with fluffy chicks, then followed the path to the rabbit kennels and up toward the chicken coop and then to the pastures where goats and kids were grazing. Our favorite part was watching two enormous pigs fighting over the food scraps in one trough. We peeked through greenhouse windows to see the bright green seedlings all lined up, waiting to be planted in the freshly prepared rows of the nearby fields. Just observing the habits of these animals in this very rustic environment made the twenty minute drive well worth it.

Our guide, Heather, was extremely knowledgable and patient!
Of course, my kids wanted to do more than look at all these farm animals, so I inquired about group tours and organized a field trip for our playgroup. For $7 a child, with a minimum of six children, they will assign a teacher to your group and give you a guided tour of the farm. Our focus was on learning about and petting baby animals and aside from the challenge to follow their no running and no screaming rules---it was a huge success!
This mama cow was due to have her baby any day!

About the Author
Liza d'Hemecourt is the blog coordinator for Parent Talk. She formerly taught kindergarten and first grade and now stays home full time with her two children. Liza and her family live in Needham.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Crafts to Re-Create Signs of Spring

Spring is well underway and now that we can finally get outside, the days are feeling shorter and my kids seem to be sleeping better! We've been enjoying talking about all the signs of spring as we see them appear. It's so much fun to discover all these changes in nature alongside my three year old. Of course, there has still been the occasional rainy day, or in our case sick day, when we have been mostly inside. Those days when you may be stuck inside are great opportunities to create abstract versions of what we see happening around us this season, like rainbows, blooming flowers and birds' nests.

Rainbow Baking Soda and Vinegar Experiment

I was inspired by this mom's blog
I love that this activity is multi-sensory and has lots of learning embedded in the process but is still easy to create using things that you likely have at home.

You will need: vinegar; baking soda; food coloring; syringes or eye droppers; a cookie sheet or cake pan; mixing bowl and spoon

The most  time intensive is dying the baking soda but you probably have an eager helper to join you in the process! Be sure to talk about ROY-G-BIV (each successive color of the rainbow.)

To dye the baking soda:
1. scoop 4 big spoonfuls of baking soda in the bowl
2. add 2-3 drops of food coloring
3. moisten with a teaspoon or two of water
4. mix (it will be clumpy but should not be wet)

Arrange the colored baking soda, side by side in your pan. Then fill a syringe or eye dropper with vinegar and let your little one squeeze it onto the baking soda to see the reaction! As a grand finale, pour your entire cup of vinegar over the top of the rainbow :)

Blooming Flowers with Re-used Water Bottles

These kind of paint-stamping activities are easy and have a cute effect. I also like the idea of using an item from our recycling bin to make artwork! With all the seltzer water I drink, we always have an empty bottle handy. To enhance the fine motor component, have your child dip the cap in yellow paint to make the center of each flower. This project would also be a nice gift for a grandparent or elderly neighbor.


Bird's Nest 

We have been so lucky at our house to have bird's visibly nesting two springs in a row! Last year, a Cardinal made her nest in the holly bush in the front of our house and this year we have five bright blue Robin's eggs in a boxwood in our backyard. I've always found it fascinating the way birds can make such beautiful, perfectly shaped nests from materials in their natural environment. Here is an activity for your little one to make his or her own work of art:

1. Take a brown paper lunch bag and cut about 4 inches off the top while the bag is still flat.
2. Then, depending on the age of your child, have him or her cut slits down toward the bottom of the bag (about 2 or 3 inches deep.)
3. Repeat this this with a second paper bag, then open the bags and place one inside the other.
4. Have your child scrunch or twist the fringed ends and voila!
5. To make eggs for the inside, either cut and paint a portion of a cardboard egg carton or take some extra plastic Easter eggs and cover them in masking tape or craft tape. My daughter loves sticking tape on anything!


About the author:

Liza d'Hemecourt is the blog coordinator for Parent Talk. She lives in Needham with her husband and her two and three year old son and daughter. Prior to motherhood, she taught kindergarten and first grade.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Preparing Your Child for Kindergarten With Donna DeMaria of Hillside School

You’ve all seen the poster: Everything I need to know, I learned in kindergarten! I learned a lot in kindergarten myself: how to make friends and how to invite them over, how pack my own lunch (and add extra treats), how to use crinkle scissors, and other critical life skills that have served me very well over the past few decades.
Of course we also know that there is a debate raging among parents and educators about just what we should EXPECT kids to learn in kindergarten: should they learn to read? Should they have homework? Begin a second language? What does my kid need to be able to do before she enters the classroom? 

So bring your questions with you and join us onWednesday, May 13th, at 7pm at the Hillside School’s gymnasium in Needham, for a frank and practical discussion with one of Needham’s own veteran kindergarten teachers. Mrs. DeMaria will provide both a high-level explanation as well as a more detailed review of what students will expereince in their kindergarten year, how that fits in with their school experience to follow, and what they should be able to do when they begin school.

To register to attend, please go to:

Post written by Shalini Broderick, Parent Talk Lecture Committee Board Member

Monday, April 27, 2015

Strategic Shopping at the Parent Talk Sale

So, the much anticipated Parent Talk sale is only a few days away, and you've probably been seeing many emails asking you to volunteer your time or donate your unwanted children's clothing and toys, BUT I am here to talk about what the sale can do for you. I know there are many members of the community who have yet to shop at one of the sales, but even if you have, perhaps you've never thought of how much easier it can make your life to strategically take advantage of the deals waiting to be had.
A bag of 'new' toys for the car makes for a happy ride! photo
Grab Bags to Ward off Meltdowns
Think about situations that may be challenging with your children: a long car ride; going to church; a sick day at home; a rainy day; eating in a restaurant---just to name a few that come to mind---now grab a gallon ziplock bag and a sharpie and write these situations as labels on each bag. Next, bring your bags with you to the sale and fill each one with toys, games or puzzles that your child has never seen! Resist the urge to use them when you get home and find a good place to keep them until that occasion arises. Voila! Meltdown and crisis averted for very short change!
Messy play? No problem with extra clothes at the ready. photo
An Outfit for Every Occasion (or accident)
Think of all the situations that arise when you need a different outfit for your child: spills; water table at a play date; didn't make it to the potty; impromptu night at grandma's; change of clothes for school or camp---not to mention how nice it is just to have extra play clothes so that you don't have to do laundry quite so often. I stopped carrying a diaper bag pretty early on and found myself in a few scenarios when I wished I had clean and dry clothing to change my preschooler and toddler into. I plan to make a list of these occasions and put these extra outfits together from the many well organized choices that await you on the clothing floor, downstairs at the sale. Then, put the outfits in bags and place them where they can be easily accessed (a permanently packed bag for the pool; emergency supplies in the car etc.)
Clothes that fit for little $$$ (photo)
Did you grow again?
It's also very savvy to think ahead to the next season, or even to the end of this current season and buy a few things that are one size larger. I never like to do this at retail prices because I'm afraid I'll get it wrong and returns are such a hassle, but at just a few dollars per article of clothing, you can't go wrong by planning wardrobes ahead when you shop the sale. My mother used to keep huge appliance boxes at the top of our attic stairs filled with hand-me-downs from our cousins and with each new season, we went up and tried them on to see what fit. Why not even buy a few sizes ahead if you see a coat in excellent condition? Just label it and pack it away for later. The $10 bag sale is an excellent time to stock up on clothes that will fit later.
You may find something unexpected! photo
Spruce up that bedroom
You may not think of the sale as the place to look for decorative items for your child's room, but the middle room (between the toys on the first floor and the downstairs clothing) often has unexpected treasures. I found a beautiful sterling silver frame of the Make Way for Ducklings statues, decorative shelves from Pottery Barn, precious book ends, and photo albums, to name a few. It's nice to peruse the sale often if you can shop early for the things you need and come back later to take a more relaxed approach and let yourself notice things you may have missed the first time.

We hope you can pop in for a little while on Saturday, May 2nd between 8:30 and 1:00 at Christ Episcopal Church, 1132 Highland Avenue in Needham (across from the library.) AND, if you'd like to shop early with your list, there is still time to sign up for a shift to volunteer for a two-hour shift, just click here.

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