5 surprising ways to build your family’s immune system

5 surprising ways to build your family’s immune system

Cold and flu season is supposed to be long gone by now, but this year it’s hanging on like winter in Narnia. In my house, anyway. One or another of us has been sick for so long that I’m not sure I remember what healthy feels like. One illness has followed another, blending together so smoothly that I don’t even know where the flu ended and the stomach virus began.

Now that it finally feels like spring — it is spring break, after all — getting healthy is even more appealing. Am I the only one who’d rather be sick when the weather’s bad? Lying on the couch all day doesn’t seem so bad when it’s gray and cold and rainy. But on days like today, when it’s sunny and 75 degrees, it’ll make you more stir crazy than the kids in The Cat in the Hat.

So I’ve been plotting how to get us back to health fast. These methods aren’t really quick-fix cures, but they’ll help. I hope. At least for next year.

1. Eat local vegetables. You know that vegetables build your immune system, right? — because they’re nutritious, and better nutrition means better health. But what you might not know is that to really get nutrition in, what you need is local food. The reason is that food starts losing nutrients as soon as it’s harvested. (Yes, fresh food in storage actually leaches nutrients. Crazy but true.) So if you want lots of nutrition, especially micro-nutrients that are especially important to improve your immunity, you need to eat food that was harvested recently. And that means local food.

And — bonus! — it’s April! Which means the Grant Park Farmers Market, my favorite source for local food, is opening in just 11 days. You’re welcome.

2. Go on vacation. Stress strains your body and makes you more likely to get sick. Vacation reduces stress, which makes you healthier. Unless you have young kids, in which case vacation actually increases stress. Unless you bring a babysitter with you, which is what I’m going to do (love you, Mom! It’s a win-win! She gets a free room at the beach; I get a free babysitter). Or if you go to one of those resorts that includes childcare (did you even know those existed? I just discovered them. Staying in one has now become one of my life goals). But if neither of those is feasible, a staycation might be less stressful. Take a week off work, play with your kids, and organize that closet that’s been driving you nuts. That’s another a win-win.

3. Get enough sleep. Of course, this is impossible when you have young kids. At least on a regular basis. But you can take steps to mitigate your lack of sleep. You can switch off nights with your partner (or a grandparent, or even a mom friend) so you each get good sleep at least half the time (I’ve talked about doing this with other breastfeeding moms and taking turns nursing each other’s babies all night). You can cosleep (which means better sleep for a lot of parents). You can night wean (which may or may not help, but it’s worth a try). And you can do whatever possible to make sure your baby gets enough sleep.

Or you can just wait for your kids to grow up. That works eventually.

4. Take probiotics. I won’t lie. Probiotics freak me out if I think about them too much. The idea of getting little creatures to colonize your digestive system on purpose is freaky and gross. (Although not as freaky as people who deliberately infect themselves with parasites, which supposedly can help with autoimmune disorders.) Just do it and don’t think about it, because it really is good for you. And yes, baby can take probiotics too.

5. Eat garlic. Garlic is a natural immune booster, along with echinacea, shitake mushrooms, and of course vitamin C. I actually hate garlic (Ironically, I blame an incident when I got sick immediately after eating some heavily seasoned vegetables. The immune boost did not help at all. And garlic does not taste good the second time around, at all), but (flavorless) garlic supplements are effective too. Babies can start eating spices (in moderation) around six months.

And, of course, it protects against vampires too.

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5 lazy weight loss techniques I bet you’ve never tried

Ah, the new year. Time for resolutions and all that. Which, for 97.52% of moms, means it’s time to lose weight.

I won’t lie: I’m on the bandwagon. Mind you, my baby only just turned a year old, and considering I didn’t even start losing pregnancy weight till my daughter turned two, I think I’m doing pretty good already. I’m only 10 pounds over what I weighed before I got pregnant the first time. But I would love to lose some those 10 pounds. Plus 20 more to get me back to my pre-second-pregnancy weight. Okay, so maybe I’m not doing that great.

And now that the holidays are over and the New Year is upon us, there’s no better time to step up, shape up, eat healthy, and melt the baby pounds away.

And I’ve got a plan. Five of them, actually. I bet you’ve never tried any of these. But one of them is bound to work. Maybe.

1. Not eating after dark. Back in November, I ran into a friend of mine at the farmer’s market. She had a baby around the same time I did — a few months after I did, actually, but who’s counting? — but she had already lost all the weight and then some. She looked stunning. After I overcame my jealousy of her perfect hourglass figure, I asked what she did to lose the pregnancy weight. And she told me she had simply stopped eating after dark. She’d done it for health reasons — something about how in hunter-gatherer societies, people wouldn’t be eating after dark, and our metabolisms aren’t adapted to digest when the sun is down, blah blah blah. I didn’t really listen to the explanation. But the premise is simple: you stop eating when the sun goes down. Eat dinner early (ish), and don’t eat again till breakfast. Easy, right?

I’ve been doing it (mostly) since November, and it’s had no effect. This could be because I’ve been balancing it out with all those Christmas cookies and peppermint mochas during the day. Now that Starbucks will soon take peppermint mochas off the menu till next year, maybe I can take a break and actually get some traction from this semi-diet.

Or not. We’ll see.

2. Joining the YMCA. Do you think I can lose weight just by joining? I’m convinced that I can. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t mean just walking around with my membership card. I fully attend to go to the Y. Often. Because they have childcare. Free childcare included in your membership. I’ll go almost every day.

I just don’t know how often I’ll actually work out. I’m not sure that’s the best use of my child-free time. Do you think sitting in the hot tub could help me lose weight? Will being more relaxed because I have a few hours to myself every day cause my metabolism to spike? What about showering by myself on a regular basis? That will at least make me more attractive, weight loss or not, right?

I’ll work out too. At some point I will feel silly admitting to the childcare workers that I’m just there to sit in the hot tub.

3. Sleeping more. Sleeping better really does help you lose weight, and I’m determined that Teddy is not going to keep me up all night every night for years like his big sister did. She didn’t sleep all night (by which I mean five hours straight) till she was 3.5. He is not allowed to do that. Sucks to be a younger sibling and all, but he doesn’t get the free pass that she had. He’s over a year old, so it’s time to cut back on night wakings. Mind you, I’m not going to do cry-it-out — there are plenty of ways to ease into better sleep without hours of crying. I’m pretty sure. More on that later. In any case, longer stretches of good sleep will happen, one way or another. It’s for everyone’s health.

4. Chasing a toddler. Don’t you hate those women who have two kids under two and their youngest is a newborn and they’re super skinny, and they say it’s because they were busy chasing the toddler so the weight just melted right off?

Me too.

The weight didn’t melt off for me, probably because my older kid is big enough that she didn’t need to be chased when my younger was a newborn. (Which was intentional, by the way. I planned them that far apart for precisely that reason. Who wants to chase a toddler when they’re nine months pregnant?) But now that my baby is a toddler, maybe I can catch this weight loss magic on the second wave. My toddler is fast. I must run and stop him before he eats something out of the trash can.

Or I could just sit here on the couch and send big sister to stop him. That’s much more fun.

Yeah, maybe this technique isn’t going to work out for me.

5. Weaning. Everybody talks about how breastfeeding burns calories, but the truth is it doesn’t burn that much. Not even when you’re breastfeeding multiple kids. And prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production, also stimulates hunger. So for some people (read: me), breastfeeding actually causes weight gain.

Will weaning help? Probably not, since I’m not going to wean the baby — er, toddler. Of course not. He’s only one, and I’ll nurse him at least till he’s two, probably quite a bit longer than that. No, I’m talking about big sister. She’s almost five. She’s done. I’m cutting her off. That’s all.

I highly doubt this will make any difference to my weight gain. But it will still be awesome.

I don’t know if any of these methods will actually move the numbers on the scale, but I’m pretty sure they’ll make me a bit healthier. At least they’ll make me feel healthier. Which has to count for something.

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is organic juice better if it’s not real juice?

is organic juice better if it’s not real juice?

Last week I was at the grocery store. In the juice aisle. I know, I know — juice isn’t that great for kids, but I started sending juice boxes in my daughter’s lunch as a special treat and now she kind of expects it and at least if she’s drinking juice then she’s not too dehydrated and don’t judge me, okay? I was in the juice aisle.

I was looking for organic juice. Of which there were several varieties. But I noticed something missing from the organic juice boxes — something that was prominent on many of the non-organic versions. This:

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So, of course I looked at the ingredients. And it turned out that none of the organic juice were actually juice. I mean, not entirely juice. They were all a mix of (organic) ingredients of dubious value. And all of them had added sugar.

Which left me with the puzzling dilemma: which juice is worse? Real juice with pesticides, or organic not-juice with added sugar?

It didn’t take me long to figure out the answer is — you guessed it — neither.

100% juice isn’t really juice.

Let’s start with the obvious: juice made from non-organic fruit has pesticides in it. Arsenic, fungicide, and other pesticides are often found in 100% juice, sometimes at levels that the FDA considers unsafe. Personally, I consider any level of poison in my kids’ food unsafe. I’m just sayin’. But that’s obvious, right? — that’s the main reason you want to buy organic in the first place.

But unfortunately, the problems with 100% juice don’t stop there. Just because the label says 100% juice doesn’t mean the drink is actually 100% juice. If you were juicing fruit yourself, you would peel the fruit (maybe, depending on what fruit you’re using), take the seeds out, and run everything else through a processor or juicer. You’d probably keep a lot of the fiber, and all the juice would be freshly squeezed straight from the fruit. That is 100% juice.

But shelf-stable juice is something else. First, they use big machines that do a much better job of getting out just the juice — which means there’s less fiber and more sugar even in the pure juice. Then, they have to pasteurize it by heating it, which kills any bacteria that would cause it to spoil, but also kills most of the enzymes and vitamins that make the juice healthy. Which leaves? Sugar. Flavor and sugar. That’s in 100% juice.

Also, in some cases, the juicing and pasteurization even removes a lot of the flavor, so they use the leftover parts of the fruit to make flavor packets and add that back in. It’s still considered 100% juice, because everything in it was made from the fruit, but the fruit has come a long way from its natural state.

Oh, and those vitamins that were lost in pasteurization? Don’t worry. They get added back in too. But the addition of vitamins and nutrients that aren’t naturally in the juice means they’re not balanced by other ingredients that help your body process them.

So 100% juice? Is hardly juice at all.

Organic juice isn’t much better.

Take out the bit about the pesticides (assuming, of course, that the label says “100% certified organic,” and not just “organic.” “Organic’ means it has some organic ingredients; “100% certified organic” means it has all organic ingredients.), and everything else I said about 100% juice holds true for organic juice. Except that instead of starting with the fruit, juice that isn’t “100% juice” starts instead with water and sugar. (Organic cane sugar, but does that really make much of a difference?) Then it adds all sorts of juice concentrates (think dehydrated juice) and flavors. And maybe some vitamins too. Leaving you with a sugary drink that isn’t that much different from fruit-flavored soda.

And with any kind of boxed juice, there’s one more insidious little problem I haven’t mentioned yet: the incredible amount of trash generated by a single-serving package.

What should my kids drink?

So what should I be sending in my kid’s lunchbox?

Obviously, the best solution is to buy a nice (preferably steel) water bottle and send water.

Since she’ll barely drink water, the next-best solution would be to make my own juice and send that in the nice steel water bottle.

Failing that, the third best choice is to buy real juice (organic, unpasteurized, 100% juice) and put that in her water bottle.

All of which I am adding to my New Year’s Resolutions.

In the meantime, we may as well use up the Juicy Juice. Hope she enjoys it while it lasts.

Now excuse me while I eat a real orange.

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5 tips for picky eaters that every mom of a toddler can use

5 tips for picky eaters that every mom of a toddler can use

If your toddler will only eat macaroni & cheese, raisins, and occasionally ketchup, you’re not alone. Your toddler is perfectly normal. Every child goes through this stage — and for some, it lasts for years.

But unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any healthier. And like every mom of a toddler, you’re probably desperate to persuade your child to eat something that isn’t a carbohydrate. And occasionally something that’s green.

And sometimes, the only way to do that is to sneak it in. After a few years of dealing with a baby-who-loves-broccoli-turned-picky-eater, I’ve discovered many ways to motivate a kid to try new foods.

1. Smoothies. Okay, so I said this last time I made a list, but seriously? It deserves to be listed twice. It’s by far the easiest way to get toddlers to eat fruits and vegetables. You can put anything in a smoothie, and most toddlers will eat it. Add a little chocolate, and every toddler will eat it. And if you think kale doesn’t go with chocolate, you are obviously not a toddler.

2. Serve it off a different plate. Preferably your plate, because vegetables that are disgusting when served on a toddler plate magically transform into something delicious when eaten off your plate, especially if eaten while sitting in your lap and using your fork. Go figure. Failing that, try your favorite fancy china. Just supervise carefully.

3. Use smaller portions. It’s hard to appreciate how little a toddler really needs to eat (especially when your baby eats more than your big kid does). But they’re not growing as fast as they were when they were younger, and they’re still really small people. They don’t need a lot. Big portions can feel overwhelming to a toddler — and they can make you think your child ate even less than he really did since his plate is still full. Serve a tiny portion, and you’ll both feel less overwhelmed.

4. Eat fresh from the garden. My daughter will eat stuff straight from our garden that she would never eat otherwise. Like tomatoes. She won’t touch them from the store, but from the garden? She’ll gobble them up. She also eats lots of stevia from the garden, which is technically a leafy green if you eat it fresh, right? Work with me here.

5. Try dried fruits and vegetables. And freeze-dried. They are easily portable and they taste like candy.

Which brings me to my giveaway. You didn’t even realize this was a giveaway post, did you? I have some freeze-dried fruit to give away! These:

They’re Snack Healthy’s Crispy Fruit snacks, and I got some to eat and some to give away. My kids loved them — they’re delicious. The best thing about freeze-dried fruits is that they melt quickly in your mouth, so they’re safe for babies. But my preschooler ate most of them, which is just as well since she’s the picky eater. Like I said, they taste like candy. But they’re actually 100% pure fruit, with nothing added at all. I loved them too. The only issue I have with them is that the packs aren’t resealable — once they’re open, you have to eat them all.

Which, on second thought, is actually a good thing, because why would you save them for later when they’re so delicious?

Want to win? Just comment on this post! The winner will get three fruit packs: one banana, one pineapple, and one apple. Or, if you can’t wait, go to the Snack Healthy website to buy some now.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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frozen breast milk teethers

My baby has started solids, and I’m realizing now why it’s hard for some families to maintain breastfeeding for a year.

Both the AAP and the WHO recommend that breast milk or formula be the primary source of nutrition till age one, with solids serving only as a supplement. But some babies have different ideas. My older daughter had little (read: NO) interest in solids till she was much older (like, 14 months maybe?). But my baby is different. He loves solids. Not that he doesn’t still like breastfeeding, of course. But he loves solids.

Plus he’s teething, which means that sometimes he chews on my boob instead of nursing, which is more painful than giving birth and has seriously caused me to reconsider long-term breastfeeding at 3 am.

I’m not really worried about continuing to breastfeed Teddy, because I’ve been through this before and obviously I kept breastfeeding, and I have no doubt that I’ll do the same with him. But I have found myself giving him solids a lot more willingly than I did with Anastasia at this age. Baby-led weaning makes it so easy to feed solids — easier than breastfeeding, even, which for me is saying a lot — and it makes mealtimes much more pleasant, too. He’s still young enough that he doesn’t get a lot of actual nutrition from solids, because he’s still figuring out the hand-eye coordination skills to actually get food in his mouth, but I’m sure that pretty soon he’ll be able to eat as much as I put in front of him. And at some point, I might start to worry that he’s getting more nutrition from solids than I want him to, simply because he enjoys playing with them so much.

And if that ever happens, then I will definitely try this trick.

I heard about frozen breast milk teethers from a friend. It’s a great solution to all these problems, because it allows your baby to get nutrition from breast milk while also playing with his food. And he can teeth on it. It’s a win-win.

The trick is simply to freeze breast milk in small amounts — ice cube containers are perfect — and then put the breast milk cube in a mesh feeder. Then the baby can teeth on breast milk during dinner if he’s already had enough solids for the day. Obviously this is more work than just giving him the same food we’re eating, but it’s definitely something I’d like to incorporate into our menus occasionally. It would also be a good afternoon snack on a hot afternoon when Big Sister is having a homemade popsicle and baby wants one of his own.

Have you ever tried this? What did your baby think?

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which type of postpartum body do you have? (and tips for getting a healthy one)

which type of postpartum body do you have? (and tips for getting a healthy one)

Don’t you hate women who look gorgeous postpartum?

Okay, maybe hate is the wrong word. I don’t hate you. Really. I envy you. Actually, I might hate you. Especially if you claim that some simple activity, like running after your toddler, breastfeeding, or cleaning house “makes the weight melt right off.” First of all, if you’re running postpartum, even after a toddler, then you are in way better shape than I am. I am four months postpartum and I am not going to be doing any sort of running any time soon. Ditto for any housework that might get my heart rate up. And breastfeeding? Ha. Tandem nursing a preschooler and a baby while also pumping occasionally? Does not make me skinny. I think it makes me fat.

I keep telling myself that my body is awesome, that I’ve grown two children, and that it takes at least nine months to gain the weight so you should expect nine months to lose it. (With my first pregnancy it took me three years to lose the weight, but whatever. Same diff.) Still, I can’t help but compare myself to other women with young babies. And I’ve noticed that most of them look better than I do. Which is okay, I swear. I can make up for it with my glowing personality. And my postpartum girdle.

I’ve also noticed that even though we all look a little flabby and weird postpartum, we have different types of flabby and weird. Here are some that I’ve noticed.

1. Flabby in the belly, skinny everywhere else. If this is you, people may think you’re still pregnant. Which probably drives you crazy, but it’s actually a compliment. Because pregnant women are gorgeous. And you look gorgeous. You have a little belly left — so what? At least your thighs aren’t rubbing together every time you take a step. You have defined arms and muscular legs. Give your body a little time, and the belly will probably melt away to nothing. Women with this postpartum body are usually muscular people who exercised a lot before pregnancy. If this is you, then your version of “fat” is skinnier than my version of skinny. So be happy. Don’t mind your belly. Appreciate your muscular arms.

2. Fluffy everywhere, but with curves. Another gorgeous option. Sure, you don’t look like an airbrushed model in a magazine. But you look motherly and womanly and beautiful. Really, you do. At least you have curves. This is a good thing. Moms with this body are usually small-boned women who are used to being super-skinny everywhere, so it may feel weird to have all those curves. But you should enjoy it. Curves are not a bad thing.

3. Round everywhere. That’s me. Round face, round body, round thighs, round everything. My husband has started calling my belly my “third (and biggest) boob,” which would be funny if it weren’t so true. Hey, it’s all good. Like I said, curves are not a bad thing. Even if they only curve out and never curve in. And at least I have an adorable round baby to show for it.

But no matter how wonderful your postpartum body is, chances are you’d like to change it a bit. Or at least get somewhere close to the weight you were pre-pregnancy. Or at least not stay at a weight exactly ten pounds below what you weighed the day you gave birth (which is apparently what my body would like to do). And despite the fact that I am far from an expert on this, I have at least done it once. So here are my tips on losing weight postpartum.

How to Get Your Pre-Pregnancy Body Back

First of all, you can’t. Especially if you were really skinny and had a flat stomach. You will never have a completely flat stomach again. Okay, maybe you will if you are a supermodel and hire a personal trainer, but for most of us, it’s just not possible. And even if it is flat, you will always have those stretch marks. But that’s okay. Trust me on this: after nine months of pregnancy belly, and however-many-months of postpartum belly, you can be happy with your body again. And it won’t take as much as you think. After my first pregnancy, I went on a diet for the first time in my life and lost all the baby weight — plus ten more pounds. I was extremely happy with my body. (Apparently my husband was too, because then he immediately got me pregnant again. Jerk.)

Anyway. Losing weight postpartum is a delicate issue, one that I hesitate to even talk about, because the fact that we’re so eager to do it diminishes the beautiful awesomeness of what our bodies have done during pregnancy and birth. However, I know that for me, staying at the weight where my body would like to settle postpartum is not really healthy. For some reason, my body wants to settle at about 30 pounds over what I consider my healthy weight. A weight that, according to the CDC, puts me squarely on the top end of the overweight category, just barely under obese. (I blame this on the fact that I’m so dang short. Short people are screwed in the BMI index.) But height aside, I don’t think it would be healthy for me to stay at my current weight — although it’s perfectly healthy for four months postpartum. So. I’d like to take a little less than three years to lose the weight this time (one year would be nice), and here’s how I plan to do it.

1. Eat real food. Or, as Michael Pollan says, Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. In other words, avoid processed food. Avoid the middle of the grocery store and do most of your shopping on the edges. The hard part about this is that when you’re taking care of a newborn, you really need lots of snacks that you can eat with one hand. But that doesn’t have to mean granola bars and crackers; real food options are plentiful. Vegetables with hummus and grapes are my current favorites.

2. Eat raw food. I used to always have a side of cooked (usually stir-fried or steamed) vegetables for dinner. Recently, I started serving raw vegetables with dip instead. It’s much healthier and much easier to prepare. Bonus? Anastasia is much more likely to eat it. My husband loves it too. Frequently, I’ll put it out as an afternoon snack for me and Anastasia and just leave it sitting on the table till dinnertime. Then it’s one less thing to worry about in the witching hour chaos that is dinnertime.

3. Limit desserts. If you’re good at this sort of thing and you can resist your sweet tooth in a way I never can, then you should skip dessert entirely. Or, you know, have a bowl of strawberries and call that dessert. I can’t do that. Sometimes I just really want ice cream. My solution? Only eat dessert on the weekends. It’s a lot easier for me to resist temptation on Tuesday if I know I can have chocolate ice cream and a mocha on Saturday. When I lost 30 pounds after Anastasia was born, I counted calories all week and then ate whatever I wanted on the weekends. It worked. At first I indulged a lot on the weekends, but over time my sweet tooth got less greedy, and I enjoyed healthy food more and more. But it was really helpful to have the mental break every weekend of not worrying about counting calories. It made for a diet I could stick to.

4. Eat protein. Protein is great when you’re trying to lose weight, because it fills you up. Diets that make you feel hungry are bad. Especially when you’re breastfeeding a newborn. Sometimes, it’s okay to be a little hungry in order to lose weight, but postpartum not one of those times. So eat protein. Red meat is actually really good too, because it has lots of iron, which breastfed babies (and breastfeeding moms) need. Chicken is a great source of protein with not too many calories. It’s especially good to eat protein for breakfast — that helps you feel more full all day. When I was serious about dieting after Anastasia, I started eating a hard-boiled egg for breakfast every morning. I’d boil them all on Monday and eat them throughout the week.

5. Exercise in a way that works for you. You actually can lose a lot of weight without exercising (I didn’t do any intentional exercise to lose my 30 pounds after Anastasia was born), but it’s easier and healthier to do it with exercise. Some people love exercise, but if you’re one of those people, then you probably don’t need this post. If you’re like me and you hate exercise, then the key to exercising postpartum is to find a way that works for you. This may be joining a gym with great childcare, because then exercise becomes a break from the kids instead of a chore to accomplish. You will find yourself eager to go to the gym every day because it means you get to take a shower by yourself. Suddenly, you will love exercise! But if you can’t afford a gym, or you aren’t happy with the childcare, or your baby is miserable even though the childcare is awesome, then you need to find a different option. It could be as simple as walking to the playground every day with the baby in a carrier (which is what I do), or it could be a regular walking group with other moms, or a postpartum exercise class (preferably one where babies are allowed to come). You can also get mom and baby exercise videos that show you how to use your baby as a weight for exercise. (Just don’t try those with your toddler or preschooler around. Seriously. You do not want to do push-ups with a toddler sitting on your back.)

Most importantly, though, you should recognize the beauty of your postpartum body. Your body created life and sustained it for nine months. That’s worth a few flaws. Even permanent flaws. No matter if you lose the weight or not, no matter what you look like a year from now, or even ten years from now — you are gorgeous. You are a mother. And that is one of the most beautiful things in the world.

Hey! Don’t forget to enter this giveaway to win a free organic pizza! Which is not raw. Or unprocessed. But at least it’s organic. And easy to prepare. It can be your weekend indulgence meal. Only two more days to enter! 

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giveaway: Annie’s organic pizza

giveaway: Annie’s organic pizza

I have a confession to make.

I like pizza.

It’s not healthy, and it’s not (usually) organic. But it’s easy. And I like easy, because I am not good at cooking. Pizza is definitely not something I would want to eat every day. But on the weekends, or after a day when I spent too much time trying to clean my house, sometimes I cheat on dinner. And there’s no easier way to cheat on dinner than to throw a frozen pizza in the oven. Because then in twenty minutes of no work, you can have a meal that everyone in your family will eat.

So when I was invited to review Annie’s organic pizza by Green Moms Meet, I was excited. Because I love making healthier versions of not-so-healthy food. Healthier food where someone else did all the work for me? Even better.

I got a coupon for one pizza, but I bought a second pizza as well. At 11.5″, Annie’s pizza is bigger than the frozen pizzas I usually get (from Trader Joe’s), but it’s still not as big as, say Papa John’s. And, well, our family can eat a lot of pizza.

So I got a pepperoni pizza (my daughter’s favorite) and a spinach and mushroom pizza (the healthiest option). Here’s what I liked about them:

1. I could pronounce almost all the ingredients. Mind, I said almost. It’s hard to get packaged food with no weird ingredients–they generally need some preservatives. The crust has carrageenan (whatever that is) and xantham gum (which I can kind of pronounce, but it’s not something I keep in my kitchen). But vast majority of ingredients are things that I have in my kitchen, like wheat flour, palm oil, and familiar seasonings.

2. Everyone in my family liked it. I liked the spinach pizza best, which had a lot of spinach–and fresh tomatoes, too–and actually made me feel like I was eating vegetables. Anastasia, of course, liked the pepperoni. But she actually ate it, which is more than I can say for most dinners.

3. The crust was thick and soft. Generally we get thin-crust pizzas, which have less bread and more of whatever is on the pizza, but sometimes it’s nice to have a thick crust pizza. And for frozen pizza, these turn out well, with surprisingly soft crusts.

Would I consider this a super healthy dinner? No. But when it comes to cooking, I’m all about balancing healthy with easy stuff my kid will eat. This is a good compromise.

And–you can win one! I’m giving coupons for free Annie’s pizza to THREE readers. Just comment on this post to enter!

Disclaimer: I received this product for free from the sponsor of the Moms Meet program, May Media Group LLC, who received it directly from the manufacturer. As a Moms Meet blogger, I agreed to use this product and post my opinion on my blog. My opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of May Media Group LLC or the manufacturer of the product.

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Congratulations to April Sterba, Jessie C., and Rachel Q (commenters #1, 2, and 5), the winners of the giveaway! Winners were chosen using random numbers generated by Random.org.

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forget about pink slime: win a healthy, organic, free lunch!

forget about pink slime: win a healthy, organic, free lunch!

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a neighbor about preschool lunches. The topic came up because I had come home to get my daughter’s lunch and bring it back to school, because I’d forgotten it. Again. This happens to me all the time.

“You wouldn’t think bringing lunch to preschool would be such a big deal!” my neighbor laughed. She has a preschooler, too, so she understands.

But it really is. It’s a pain. First, I have to make lunch. No, wait. First I have to have enough groceries to make lunch. This means I have to remember to think about what foods my daughter is likely to eat for lunch while I’m grocery shopping. Which ought to be easy, but considering that you lose brain cells every time you give birth and progressively for every year you raise your children (I’m sure this is true. I read a study on it somewhere. Really), it’s a lot harder than it ought to be. I get distracted in the grocery store. I get caught up in the free samples of coffee and the two-dollar Trader Joe’s wine, and pretty soon I’m checking out of the store with lots of pasta and fruit but no bread for sandwiches. And then I go to make lunch and realize that I also forgot grapes. And cheese. And everything that she likes to eat other than the jello my husband bought as a special treat. So that’s what she gets for lunch.

Then, I have to remember to make her lunch. I never, ever have the time or energy to do this the night before, so I have to do it in the morning. While also pottying the baby, getting dressed, getting the baby dressed, getting my daughter dressed, helping my husband find his keys, and brushing everyone’s hair. (Okay, just my daughter’s and mine. Neither my husband nor the baby have any hair. Fortunately.)

I can’t even count the number of times my daughter has been late to preschool just because I was making her lunch. See the picture at the top of this post? That’s what my kitchen looks like when I’m trying to make lunch. It’s not pretty.

Finally, I have to remember to bring her lunch. For some reason, this is the hardest part. It’s like once I’ve made the lunch, I feel like it’s done. So at least half the time, I leave it sitting there on the counter. We get to school and I realize she has no lunch. Then I have to drive back home, get the baby out of the car without waking him, go inside and get the lunch, get the baby back in the car without waking him, drive back to school, get the baby out of the car without waking him, bring the lunch inside, get back in the car without waking the baby, and drive home. At which point the baby is pretty much definitely awake and cranky because he didn’t finish his nap.

All of which is to say, I love the fact that my daughter likes staying at preschool for lunch, but I really hate packing her lunch.

I can’t imagine doing this for the next twelve years. But in a lot of schools, the alternative to packing lunch is pink slime. Gross.

The good news? Here in Atlanta, we now have another option.

Even better news? You can win a whole week of said better option.

The day after I was complaining to my neighbor about packing preschool lunches, I got an email from Katy Winthrop of Bees Knees Organics asking if I’d be interested in writing about her business on my blog. When she told me what she does, I knew that this giveaway was meant to be. Because she had the answer to the problem I’d been complaining about just the day before.

Seriously, Katy’s business is brilliant. She delivers lunches to your kid’s school. This includes not just preschools but elementary schools too. And the lunches she makes aren’t just organic. They’re made from scratch, locally-sourced, and designed to be fun and kid-friendly as well as healthy. In a word, these lunches are amazing.

Here’s Katy selecting broccoli at the farmer’s market. And yes, she can really get your kid to eat broccoli.

Katy gave me and my daughter a week of lunches so I could try them and write about them for this giveaway. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. My daughter is a picky eater, and she’s very attached to routine. Her routine involves peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for lunch, and even though that’s her favorite food, she rarely eats much of it (if any of it) at school. Generally by the time I pick her up at 2:00, she’s kind of an emotional mess because she hasn’t eaten anything. But she eats her sandwich in the car, and by the time we get home five minutes later, she’s back to her normal self. So I was worried that even though she picked out what meals she wanted, she still wouldn’t eat them when it came down to it.

But apparently a lot of Katy’s clients are picky eaters. (What? Preschoolers? Picky eaters? Who knew?) I will admit, Anastasia didn’t like all of the food. But on Monday when I picked her up, I noticed a big difference. She wasn’t melting down. She was calm and relaxed. And this never happens at the end of the day. I peeked in her lunchbox to see if I could figure out why. As I expected, there was a lot of food left. But then I saw what was missing: she had eaten the turkey. She’d eaten protein! No wonder she was in a better mood.

And she didn’t want to eat more in the car. Even though she didn’t eat all the lunch, she wasn’t hungry when I picked her up. That’s a first.

Over the course of the week, Anastasia and I had a chance to try a lot of Katy’s meals. Although she didn’t love everything, there were several items she couldn’t get enough of. Admittedly, most of her favorite items were desserts, but when “dessert” is a bowl of fresh organic berries, or banana bread sweetened with honey, I’m actually pretty happy with her subsisting on dessert. And I loved just about everything. Especially the berry parfait. And the apple slices with yogurt. And the strawberry lime cups. And the banana bread. Wait, I guess I mostly loved the desserts too. Oh, but I was also amazed by the tomato and melon salad (and I usually hate melons, but they are amazing with tomatoes! Who knew?). And the hummus and veggie dip (that is really good hummus). And the mango cobbler. Oh, and did I mention the turkey pesto? That made me want to make my own pesto. Either that or buy Katy’s by the jar.

And it’s all made from scratch! Here are chickpeas, ready to be made into hummus:

So by then end of last week, I was just about ready to sign up for lunches every day. But Katy has since made her service even better (yes, she did that within the past week). She revamped her menu system (you can see it here), so now you get to put together all the items for your child’s lunch every day. So if you have a kid (like mine) who wants to eat the exact same sandwich every day, no problem. You can pick the same items every day. You can also encourage your child to try new foods. You have total control over the whole menu.

In addition, Katy has just switched to using biodegradable sacks when she packs the lunches. She’s also switched all of the containers within the lunch to be either edible or biodegradable (so the hummus, for example, comes in a mini bread bowl). The schools return the biodegradable containers, and Katy composts them in her worm farm. She’s working on developing worm farms for the schools where the kids can compost the sacks themselves–eliminating waste and letting the kids see the loop of earth to table to earth. My daughter’s school would love this.

But even if these lunches weren’t so earth-friendly and healthy, I would still think they were brilliant. Because they’re so incredibly flexible. Right now Bees Knees delivers to a selection of preschools, but if you want your school added, all you have to do is sign up. Register through the site, and then call to get your school on the list, and you’re done. Once your school is added to the route (or if your school is already on the route), you can order meals anytime–up to 5 pm the evening before. So if you couldn’t make it to the grocery store today because it was raining and your baby was napping in bed and you just couldn’t face the thought of going out–no problem. Get online with your preschooler, order lunch for tomorrow. Done. Or, if you think this whole idea is so awesome that you decide to never bother with packing lunch again, you can go online right now and order meals up to six weeks in advance. Again–done. Finally, Katy will feed you as well if you want. Yes, you read that right–some parents order lunches for themselves. Your lunch is delivered to your child’s school along with the kids’ lunches, and you pick it up and take it to work when you drop your child off. Oh, and of course Katy will also take care of any allergies your child has: the whole kitchen is nut-free, and she offers gluten-free options and customized allergen-free menus. Read more about Bees Knees Organics here.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Would you believe that this whole service only costs $4.75 per meal? Not to sound like an infomercial or anything, but I’m still kind of in shock that Katy can offer this so inexpensively. If you just can’t wait to sign up, do it here.

Better yet: you can win a whole week of these lunches. Right now Katy is only delivering inside the perimeter, but you don’t have to be at a school that’s currently participating–anywhere inside the city is fine. (Soon she’ll be delivering to the suburbs as well, so watch for updates if you’re OTP!) But for now, if your child’s school is anywhere ITP and you want to win these lunches, enter below!

 

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sneaky healthy food for a picky eater

sneaky healthy food for a picky eater

Like many preschoolers, my daughter is a picky eater. For some reason I always thought that my excellent feeding choices when she was a baby would result in a child who loved healthy food. And preferably exotic food. I imagined that because her first foods were steamed broccoli and free-range chicken, she’d be enjoying organic falafel and fresh acai berries at age three. And because, you know, I always eat so healthy (ha!), so of course she would do the same.

But somewhere along the way, she discovered Cheerios and peanut butter, and it all kind of went downhill from there. Of course it’s whole-grain Cheerios and organic peanut butter. But still.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m just not a very good cook. Maybe if I could make truly high-quality exotic food, she’d enjoy it. If you suspect that may be your problem as well, I have a giveaway coming up this Friday (my first blog giveaway! Hooray!) that is perfect for you. (It involves really delicious free organic lunches. So you really need to come back here on Friday.) But in the meantime, here are a few ideas that even bad cooks like me can incorporate into their home menus.

1. Sauces. I always, always always put greens in my sauces. Usually this means spaghetti sauce with mixed greens cooked in. My daughter has recently become more savvy in her rejection of green food and has started to pick the greens out of her sauce. But hey, at least I’m trying. I figure if I put healthy food in front of her, it’s not my fault if she doesn’t eat it.

2. Smoothies. Same principle, but even more sneaky. I had just started making green smoothies last summer when my blender broke (which was totally my fault, by the way. Pure user error). The real trick to disguising the taste of greens in a smoothie, according to my midwife, is pineapple. She’s right. Any green smoothie that incorporates pineapple is going to taste delicious. Well, unless you add ketchup or something. In which case you are an even worse cook than I am.

3. Homemade popsicles. These are essentially smoothies frozen and saved for later. But I usually don’t make green popsicles. I make them with strawberries and yoghurt so they have protein and fruit. Bonus? I give them to my daughter for breakfast. She thinks I’m the greatest mom in the world when I give her popsicles for breakfast. I can say no to everything she asks after that and she’ll probably still be happy. Or if she’s not, I just give her another popsicle.

4. Repeat offerings. I am not a fan of the whole short-order-cook thing when my kids don’t like meals I make, because cooking, in my opinion, is a pain enough as it is, so it’s rare that I will even consider making something different because my daughter doesn’t like the main meal. So generally, I tend to cook things for everybody that I know she’ll eat. However. Occasionally (very occasionally, these days) I want to try something new. Usually she doesn’t like it. I have gotten to the point where I don’t really care. And if my husband and I really like it, then I will make it again. Generally after she’s seen something four or five times, she’ll decide she likes it. Or else she’ll be hungry enough that she’ll eat it anyway.

5. Make healthy food visible. Whenever I have playgroup at my house, I put out a bunch of snacks. Mostly healthy snacks like vegetable dips and fruit. My daughter always surprises me by how much she’ll eat of good stuff when it’s out and visible like that. Preschooler see, preschooler eat. Or something like that. Along the same lines…

6. Get unhealthy food out of the house. Or at least hide it in the top back of the pantry where your kids can’t see it. If they can see the potato chips, they will want them. Added bonus? You won’t be able to eat the unhealthy food either.

7. Dips. Dipping is good. Kids love to dip stuff. Dips make everything taste like the dip, so once you have a dip your kid likes, you can get them to eat almost anything. “Do you want some broccoli?” “No.” “Do you want broccoli dipped in chocolate?” “YES!” Okay, maybe that’s not the best idea. (Even though it was dark, organic, fair trade chocolate. I swear.) But you get what I mean.

8. Chips. No, not potato chips; I mean healthy chips. You can make almost anything into chips. Like kale and beets and sweet potatoes. I have not mastered this art (okay, I haven’t actually tried it yet), but I’ve heard good things. And my daughter does like chips, generally. As long as they have tons of salt and fat. And maybe some dip.

9. Community. This can be a hard one to remember, or to accomplish, anyway, especially when my husband doesn’t get home till 6:15 and my daughter really needs to eat at 5:30 and bedtime is 7:00 and Teddy wants to cluster nurse from 5:00 on. But. When we all sit down to eat together, my daughter eats more. She tries new foods much more readily. The family meal really is worth it. Even though it can seem almost impossible to sit down for that long in the evening. Which brings me to my final tip:

10. Atmosphere. My daughter is big on atmosphere. Specifically, candles. She loves having candles at dinner. I don’t know why. But she will eat just about anything by candlelight.

Readers with picky eaters: have you tried any of these tips? What else has worked for you?

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pumping breast milk

pumping breast milk

I’ve been breastfeeding for four years, and last night was the first time I ever used a breast pump.

Which just goes to show you that you really don’t need to know how much you’re producing to have a successful breastfeeding relationship.

A friend of mine recently wrote a series of posts on her blog describing her experience of breastfeeding her two children. (The link is to part one of five, and you should read them all–they are beautiful! The last two always make me cry.) The ending of her breastfeeding story is amazing and wonderful and lovely, and it perfectly parallels the beginning of my own breastfeeding story:

The hospitals prefer that you log feeding times and wet diapers, but I felt no pressure or guilt for handing in a blank sheet of paper, and I was just more confident that we were doing just fine. Baby Abey left the hospital weighing a pound more than he did at birth, too! He was an EATER, and even though my milk had not officially come in, I suppose I was making more colostrum than before. I don’t know. I didn’t measure it. I didn’t pump it and give it to him with a syringe like I did in the hospital with Aubrey. I just put boob to mouth and let chips fall, and I am not sure if I ever put him down. 

But the beginning of her story shocked me. She was told to log feeding times, and for months she kept a careful journal of when she fed her daughter, for how long, and on which side. When she pumped, she logged how much she pumped–and she drew frowning faces in the journal when she wasn’t satisfied with her production.

Reading that part of her story, I was torn between tears and anger. I find it awful–unthinkable, even–that a mother would feel such attention and worry is required for successful breastfeeding. I do realize there are times when that kind of care is necessary, but it shouldn’t be the standard, because it’s only necessary when something is going wrong. For a normal, healthy mother and baby, that kind of worry can actually create breastfeeding problems that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. Measuring, timing, and stressing about production can cause you to not produce enough milk when you would have otherwise–especially if you’re feeding baby on a schedule and waiting to put baby on the breast.

Which is why, for most mothers-baby pairs, the recipe for successful breastfeeding is exactly what my friend did with her second baby: “I just put boob to mouth and let the chips fall, and I am not sure if I ever put him down.”

But, of course, that isn’t possible for a lot of moms. Many have to go back to work, with little or no maternity leave, and even if your employer is supportive of breastfeeding, keeping your supply up while working is incredibly difficult and stressful.

Which is why most moms I know do not enjoy pumping.

I, however, am approaching pumping from an entirely different situation. I don’t need to build up a stash of milk in my freezer. Unless something unexpected happens to me, I will never have to use pumped milk to feed my baby. I plan to be with him whenever he needs to eat for the first six months of his life, until he can eat solid food and can wait a little while for me to come back and feed him. I have a lot of great baby carriers, so I really don’t have to ever set him down. I want to pump for other people–so I can donate, hopefully to a milk bank, and definitely to a couple of friends who have asked for it.

But I still came to pumping with the perspective that breastfeeding is easy and pumping is hard. I expected it to be complicated, difficult, and uncomfortable. And when I started to put together the breast pump a friend had lent me, that impression was solidified:

 

What the heck is all that stuff? Why are there so many pieces? And why do some of them not seem to go with anything (see that mesh bag on the right? It had all sorts of random parts in it), and why are many of them not pictured in the instruction manual (which makes the whole thing look incredibly simple)?

I mean, the only thing in there that makes sense to me on sight is the power cord. And the bottle with the nipple on it, of course.

This strange piece had me particularly scared:

Don’t even try to tell me that doesn’t look like a medieval torture device.

Fortunately, I didn’t actually need all those pieces–my friend who lent me the pump kindly threw in a handful of bottles and assorted bottle parts, not all of which matched. (The fact that I didn’t realize that is just further evidence of how little I know about this particular arena of baby gear.) But a phone call to my friend cleared up that confusion. Then I just had to be careful not to mix up these: 

(which are part of the pump)

with these:

(which are not part of the pump),

and the technical part of pumping turned out to be not so complicated.

Still, after all that confusion, I was ready to hate pumping. I wanted to do it for the sake of the babies I can donate to, because it’s a good thing to do, but I didn’t expect to like it.

And so I was surprised at how I felt when I finished.

True, I only got three ounces of milk. Which didn’t look like much when I finished my twenty-minute session. But I googled it, and apparently three ounces is average for a single feeding. And when I realized that, suddenly the tiny bit of liquid in my refrigerator looked different. It didn’t look like a shot glass of liquid that I could drink in an instant. Suddenly, it looked like freedom.

Because even though Teddy usually nurses more like every 90 minutes during the day (at least), I think he could go two or three hours without getting hungry (or even upset, as long as somebody rocked him to sleep). If I needed to do something without him, those three ounces in my fridge would probably give me another two or three hours of time before he needed me.

Now, I’m not planning on running off for the weekend or anything. But the thought of occasionally being able to go somewhere without my baby–before he’s a year old–suddenly sounds attractive. Not yet, mind. Because I love being with him, and he’s so portable right now anyway and he sleeps all the time in the carrier. But. Maybe in a month or so, it would be nice to go see a movie with Matt without worrying that he’ll wake up and cry. It would be nice to take Anastasia out for a few hours and be able to focus completely on her. It would be really, really nice to go see The Hunger Games in March.

It’s weird, because I never felt this way when Anastasia was little. I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from her for an instant–even in another room. But she needed me so desperately, and cried so hopelessly if I ever even tried to let someone else hold her, that I couldn’t feel any other way. I couldn’t imagine being away from her and her being happy. But Teddy is so different–he can be happy with other people. He can be happy with Daddy, or even with Anastasia for a little while. It doesn’t feel like he needs me so desperately.

And I’m okay with that.

I still plan to pump for other babies, not for him. But I’ll keep a few ounces in my own freezer. Because I may want them at some point.

Actually, I’m pretty sure I’ll want them on March 23. Because The Hunger Games will be a lot more fun without a baby on my chest. I’m sure I could go with him–I took Anastasia to movies all the time when she was a newborn, and she always slept through them–but if he’ll sleep through it at home while I go, well, I’ll take it.

And I’m starting to wonder if pumping occasionally might not be even easier than just keeping my baby with me all the time.

And you know what? I’m okay with that.

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