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Family Matters: What’s in your Kid’s Lunch?


Kids Lunch

What do you pack in a kid’s lunch box when they will not eat a sandwich? That’s right; my 12-year-old daughter, Grace, does not eat sandwiches. Not only will she not eat sandwiches but she also does not eat cheese, peanut butter, bread, pasta, nuts and very few vegetables. It gets really tough to make her lunch every day for school!

The best way to influence your child’s lunchtime habits, of course, is to pack it yourself. How do you pack a healthier lunch and end up with something they’ll actually eat and not toss in the trash so that they’re ready for an afternoon of learning, playing and growing? Get started here:

Get kids involved in planning: If your children go along when you do the grocery shopping, let them select some or all of their lunch components. (This works best, obviously, if you narrow down their choices first to just a few choices, so you don’t spend all day in the store.) If they don’t accompany you, ask for their requests before you head to the store. Again, this works best if you have a list of good choices to start from.

Get the proper packaging: Since kids don’t have access to microwaves or refrigerators, a small investment in thermal containers and cold packs is worth it. It will allow much more creativity in lunch packing – soups, pastas, cool desserts – and more importantly, it will keep cold and hot foods safe and appetizing to eat.

Pack ahead: Mornings are a rush job in most households. If you only have two minutes to throw lunch together, it’s far too easy to rely on leftover pizza and a bag of chips. Instead, pack the night before right after dinner and before you’ve cleaned up the kitchen. Make it a family project; older kids can make their own lunches while you load the dishwasher, or younger ones can help pull out lunch components with your supervision.

Make simple substitutions and phase them in gradually: You don’t have to make drastic changes, at least not right away. A few small substitutions will get you on the way to healthier lunches fast. For instance, substitute yogurt-covered raisins, trail mix or plain dried fruit for candy. Use mustard or fat-free mayo instead of full-fat mayonnaise or sandwich spread. Send pretzels or carrots with ranch dressing instead of chips and lean turkey instead of fatty pepperoni or bologna on a sandwich.

Experiment a little: We all tend to end up in a lunch rut. Get away from the sandwich-chips-fruit combo. Why not hummus and pita chips, bean dips and baked tortilla chips, or even a container of edamame? Make that sandwich on pita bread, a whole-wheat bagel or a tortilla. Try a Greek yogurt cup instead of pudding.

Allow the occasional surprise treat: Nobody can be perfect all the time, so it’s fun for kids to discover the occasional unexpected treat. A fun-size candy bar, a small bag of chips, a cookie – anything that’s school-approved should be included at least once in a while to mix things up and remind kids that moderation is the goal.

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Family Matters: Pets and Storms


Pets and StormsWe recently adopted a beautiful dog, a two-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Redbone Coonhoud mix that we named Astro. He’s huge with long, lanky legs like a newborn colt. Weighing in at 85 pounds, we call him the “Big Red Love Machine.”

I found out this week, however, that when 85 pounds of dog become terrified during a thunderstorm, it’s not a pretty sight. To his credit, Astro found my closet, an interior space with no windows or exposure to the outside of the house. He lay inside, shaking like a brittle leaf in a gusty wind, until the storm passed. Even then, he wouldn’t venture outside to use the restroom until the very last drop of rain had seeped off the porch roof into the grass below.

Storm anxiety for pets is a very real phenomenon that can be trigged by lightning, thunder, rain and even changes in barometric pressure, experts say.

Calming, soothing and stroking your dog can help, but you can take a more proactive approach to storm anxiety.

Practice getting your dog to settle on command. Use a special “inside” leash on the dog and practice having your dog lie at your feet while praising the calm behavior.

You can also try distracting your pup by offering his favorite toy, playing fetch, petting it and giving him treats (as long as he remains calm and you don’t upset his stomach. One or two is plenty.)

Let him have a safe place during the storm. For Astro, it was my closet. A bathroom, pantry or under a bed will work, too. Let your pooch pick out the spot he likes, within reason, and let him stay there during the storm if he wants to.

Snug garments, like the trademarked ThunderShirt, can soothe a pet by giving them close, tight, comforting sensory input they need to feel secure in the uncertainty of a storm.

If you want, you can also play recordings of storms when it’s NOT storming to try to desensitize your pet to those noises, as well.



Family Matters: Eating Habbits


CarrotsParents often wonder how much their little ones should be eating.

We all know that serving sizes are becoming larger and larger, contributing to childhood and adult obesity. However, toddlers don’t need super-sized portions. 

The average 1-2 year old needs the following:

Milk/Dairy Servings: 16-20 ounces of milk per day. Whole milk, soy or rice milk are recommended. Other equivalents: 1/2-3/4 ounce of cheese = 4 ounces of milk. 1/4 cup of yogurt = 2 ounces of milk.

Fruit and Veggie Servings: 5 or more per day. Serving size: 1-2 tablespoons. Pureed, mashed or cubed.

Grain Servings: 3-4 per day. Serving sizes: 1/2 slice of bread, 1/4 cup of cooked cereal, 1/4 cup of dry cereal. 1/4 cup of pasta, 2-3 saltine crackers or 1/2 tortilla.

Non-dairy Protein (meat, fish, beans, eggs) Servings: 2 per day. Serving sizes: 1/2 egg, 2-3 tablespoons beans (i.e. black, pinto, edamame, etc.), 1 tablespoon peanut butter or 1 ounce of fish, lean beef, pork or chicken. 



Family Matters: Baby Proofing


Crawling BabyBaby is definitely on the move, whether he’s rolling, scooting, crawling, cruising or taking steps. If you haven’t already, now is the time to baby-proof your home.

About 2.3 million children are accidentally injured every year and more than 2,500 are killed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s why it’s so important to carefully child-proof your home.

Making your residence safe for a curious explorer involves more than just blocking electrical outlets or putting a baby gate at the top of the stairs. Furniture will need to be anchored and locks will need be put on cabinets, among other things.

One of the best ways to see what might entice your baby is to get down on his level. Get down on your hands and knees, and see how things look from down there. Survey what is within reach, what looks tempting and where baby could go if he could roll, crawl or scoot.

This will help you figure out which cupboards, drawers and other spaces your child might get into. As he starts walking and climbing, you’ll have to reevaluate again, looking higher each time.

In recent years, the process of baby-proofing has really come a long way. There are now eco-friendly and non-toxic products on the market that won’t damage your furniture but will still keep your baby safe.



Family Matters: Beach Ball


Beach BallWhen my boys were born, I think my husband and I experienced something a lot of couples go through. I wanted to cuddle the fragile baby tenderly, and their dad wanted to toss them in the air and make them laugh until they spit up.

The truth is that babies need a little of both (I still don’t advocate tossing them in the air but I digress). Babies 0-6 months old need different kinds of stimulation. Most flourish with close-body cuddling and more kinetic activities, such as swinging, rocking or even being rolled back and forth on a beach ball.

Yep, a beach ball. I found this activity when searching for something “more physical” my husband could do with our little ones.

When baby is old enough to hold his head up, get a beach ball or exercise ball and deflate it slightly so it has some give to it. Place baby tummy-down on the ball. While supporting him (could be holding his legs or torso, depending on the age and stability of the baby), roll the ball slightly back and forth. This is almost sure to produce giggles!

This strengthens his neck, shoulders, torso and helps promote muscle tone and balance. You can talk or sing at the same time to make it more fun. You can even try rolling him back and forth in front of a mirror so he’s more inclined to look up.

You don’t have to do this for long: stop when baby has had enough.



Family Matters: Summer Saving Ideas


Summer Saving Ideas

During the summer months with teenage kids at home, our electric and grocery bills greatly increase. So, during this time especially, we try as a family to make good use of resources and find ways to cut back and save. A few ideas:

  • Plan meals the kids can cook for supper. This keeps parents from picking up fast food on the way home. 
  • Use your slow cooker. Go through the freezer and find meat you have not had time to prepare. Put the meat in the slow cooker when you leave for work, and when you arrive home, the main dish will be ready. Just open a few cans of vegetables or make a salad. 
  • Freeze leftover vegetables from meals and use them to make a stew, soup or pot pie one night.  Do not throw out any leftovers. Use for another meal or make something else later.
  • Refrigerate leftover breakfast foods like eggs, sausage or biscuits to be eaten the next day.
  • If you want fast food, find a cheap burger deal and make fries and drinks at home.
  • Rent a new release and watch at home as a family instead of going to the movie theater.
  • Cook a pot of pinto beans and cornbread one day, and then add beef and chili seasoning to leftovers and have chili for another meal. 
  • Teach the family to be mindful:
    • Don’t pour more milk than you need for cereal. If you do, drink it.
    • Don’t forget to tie the bread package so it does not dry out.
    • Don’t forget to close the chip package so they do not get stale.
    • Watch TV with lights off, especially during the day. 
    • Wash full loads of clothes, not just an outfit or two. This may just be a girl thing!
    • Hang clothes on a clothes line outside to dry, and then toss them in the dryer for a few minutes to soften them up.
    • Push the thermostat up when you leave for work. Anything cooler than outside, the kids will be fine.

With the cost of living and food prices rising, we need to all look for ways to save. Some things don’t appear to be big, but in the end, it all adds up. Teach your children to be good stewards of time and money, a great lesson in responsibility. Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the opportunities we have to work together as a family!    

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Family Matters: Running Buddies


Running Buddies“Mom, will you go running with me?” These were the words I had been waiting to hear from my 16-year-old son Luke! I had been asking him for some time if he wanted to go running with me, but his answer was always “no.”

I’ve been running for almost a year now, and one thing I know for sure is that I enjoy running with a buddy any day over running by myself. When running with a buddy, you can talk and fellowship to take your mind off actually running. Most importantly, you have someone else to help hold you accountable for reaching your goals.

Of course, I said YES to Luke asking me to run. This was the day I had been waiting for. I could just see us running together, Mom and son talking, laughing and bonding. We got on our running gear and headed to the running path. Once at the path, Luke said “Are you ready?” Before I could even say “yes,” he was gone, leaving me eating his dust! This was not what I had envisioned; this is not what I had planned for. We were supposed to be running together and bonding. He should know I hate running by myself!

We met back up at the high school football field where he wanted to work out with me next. Oh, I knew where this was going—he would be leaving me in the dust again. To my surprise, we ran bleachers together, pulled the weight sled together, did lunges together and even did some sprints together. We had a great workout together. Luke loves physical activity and enjoys someone either watching him or participating with him. Without Luke really knowing it, this is how he likes to bond with others.

After our workout, we lay in the middle of the football field. I lay there exhausted while he told me of all his athletic dreams he hoped to achieve. Now, this was my kind of mother and son bonding time. That day was another day that I decided to seize the moment with my son. It mattered not that we didn’t actually run “together” or the fact that he made me run bleachers. The point is we were together doing something we both enjoyed.

After our long talk, it was time to run back home. I’m sure you can guess that he beat me back home!



Family Matters: Lost Dog


Lost DogI’ve mentioned before that I lost my three dogs about two years ago. More accurately, my neighbor opened the fence gate and let them out. They were never to be seen or heard from again.

Now, there are so many pages on Facebook to help reconnect you with your lost pets. We have one managed locally that has had so much impact; it has helped pet owners in the United Kingdom find their lost dogs.

The fact of the matter is that when a pet gets out and is picked up by animal control, it goes to a city or county shelter, depending on where it’s found. The shelters are all overcrowded, through no fault of their own. If a pet isn’t claimed, it may or may not be adoptable, depending on the breed of dog and the shelter’s policies. Locally, shelters consider pit bulls, pit mixes, German shepherds, Rottweilers and their mixes to be “not adoptable.”

The vast majority of government-run shelters then euthanize those animals, plus the ones who are sick or have been in the shelter too long. So, check out Facebook. Look for pages for “lost and found pets” in your area and share those status updates. You’ll help reunite a pet and its owner, or you might find out you want to give a “furever” home.



Family Matters: Just Dance


Dancing BabyIn this day and age of YouTube, you’ll want to be ready when your toddler is about 17 months old and starts to dance to music.

Who doesn’t love a good dancing baby video? In fact, do you remember the one from a few years ago with the little one dancing in the diaper? It made the rounds of social media, often more manipulated than it looked originally.

Put on some music and dance with baby. He’ll love it and its good exercise for you, too.



Family Matters: Cruising


CruisingI remember when my older son started pulling up on things. I was so excited he was standing, holding onto things and pulling himself up.

What was I thinking?

Because after he did that, he started cruising. You know, “walking” around holding onto objects? More often than not, he’d trip over his own feet and tumble after a few sideways shuffles holding onto the couch, but he’d just get right back up and keep going.

Around 9 months old, a baby will start to cruise. Make sure his environment is safe and there’s nothing he can reach or fall on that would be harmful.



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