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“Wipe Me!” Is Not a Term of Endearment

My husband is up and out the door for work by 6:15a every morning.  The good news is, he is home for dinner most nights, so we have quality family time.  The not so good news is that my daughters wish he were home as much as I am, and tell me so when they wake up after he is gone.  Since they are only three and a half years old, I am offered a limited trio of morning greetings:

1. Prolonged whine.

2. “I want Daddy.”

3. “When is Daddy coming home?”

Most days, I am able to patiently answer questions.  (Daddy is on the train going to work.  Remember his office? We went to visit and you met his friends!)  Or I gently remind them that it hurts mommy’s feelings to be greeted with such disappointment.  (sometimes muttering something about the fact that I could still be in bed)

These comments aren’t reserved for wake up time, it’s just the time I find the most unnecessary.  That is, as much as anything a three-year-old does can seem unnecessary.  We just woke up.  Must we be at odds?  But, Daddy’s shadow follows me throughout the day.  In the middle of a playtime, as I prepare dinner, being tucked into bed on a night that he can’t make it home in time.  The harsh truth.  I’d rather have Daddy than you.

Surely, I know that they dish this kind of trash talk out to my husband as well.  And neither sentiment is entirely true.  But because I’m alone with them much more than him, I feel the backlash at a higher frequency.  I was chatting with a friend about this earlier in the week and she confessed the same scenarios at her house.  It only took us about 2 minutes of complaining to realize that at some point, recently, in both of our homes our daughter’s refused to want anything to do with us.  Nothing.  Zip.  Zilch.  Until it was time to wipe the poop from their behinds.

Literally screaming, “No! I want daddy!” to play with me, hold me, walk with me, sit by me.  But wait…time for the least desirable moment of the day?  Yep, there’s a mom for that.

Yes, I notice that my little ladies are getting bigger and starting to want mommy to help them with more private issues.  Yes, they call my name (and my name only) to comfort them when bumps and bruises are felt.  Yes, I’m needed for one more kiss goodnight before lights go out.  I’m comforted by and cherish all of this.

But, seriously?  “Wipe me!” is not a term of endearment.  No matter which way you look at it.  And why must I be the only one that has to look at it?

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Garlic Ginger Chicken Skewers with Cold Noodle Salad

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but a cheeseburger is probably my favorite food.  I know it’s not the healthiest or the most gourmet of foods, but I’m obsessed.  In fact, a good cheeseburger would probably be my choice for my last meal.  You can imagine how excited I must be when summer rolls around and the grills start firing up, but even I, a burger devotee, can get a little sick of them after the 4th of July cookouts.  So to prevent burger overload (and to spare my family who doesn’t necessarily share my extreme fondness for burgers), I decided to change it up a bit for dinner last night and put an Asian twist on things.  Goodbye burgers and pasta salad, hello garlic ginger chicken skewers and cold noodle salad.  Most importantly, MY PICKY EATER TOOK TWO BITES OF THIS SALAD!

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Visiting an Amusement Park This Summer? Read THIS to Keep Your Kids Safe.

257883-001My family is in the process of planning a short getaway for July 4th (America’s birthday and mine!) to the Jersey shore for a few days. In anticipation of this trip, I have been envisioning the fun we are all going to have with my nephews. Beach, pool, lobster rolls, fireworks, and my personal favorite, the boardwalk! My 3-year-old nephew is going to have a blast.

In thinking about boardwalk fun, I remembered a surprising segment I recently caught on “World News with Diane Sawyer”. The segment was about the first real study ever conducted on children and amusement ride safety, by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Turns out the real risk in amusement ride injury may not lay in the rollercoaster accidents we see in the news, but in the smaller rides. Seriously, how dangerous could they be?

The researchers examined in detail, children who were injured on amusement rides (parks, fairs and festivals, local malls, stores, restaurants and arcades) and found that more than 4,000 children across America were injured each year on these rides. That’s more than 20 a day. After reviewing emergency records, they found that the #1 injury-causing ride was carousels (20.9% of cases). Pretty surprised to learn this. Roller coasters accounted for 10.1% of injuries and bumper cars 3.9%. The study went on to note that one third of children injured were 5 or younger and that the most common accident was falling. Hitting a body part or getting hit with something was also frequent cause for injury.
Emergency records spanning 20 years (1990-2010) were reviewed and it was found that over 90,000 children had been injured and treated, as a result of injuries suffered on these rides. Roughly 70% of these accidents occurred during the warm months of May to September. Wow, who knew?

I have always been afraid of rollercoasters and never thought about danger in children’s rides. I’m glad I caught the segment and made a little mental note in the back of my mind. I’ll be viewing rides a little differently this summer. I also won’t be pressuring my sister to “just let him ride it” once the eventual meltdown happens when he is told he cannot go on a particular ride. And although there is no reason to panic, it’s good to remember the findings of this study and take extra precaution.

Remind yourself this summer of some of the below tips, research recommended.
• Always follow all height, age, weight and health restrictions
• Follow special seating order and/or loading instructions
• Always use safety equipment (seat belts, safety bars)
• Make sure your child keeps their hands and feet inside the ride at all times
• Know your child- if they don’t listen and you don’t think they will follow the rules, keep them off
• Trust your instincts – if you are worried about the safety of the ride, choose one you think would be more appropriate
• Avoid “mall rides” – if they are over a hard, unpadded surface or if they don’t have a child restraint such as a seat belt

See you at the boardwalk!!

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Holler for Hydration – Why You and Your Family Need To Drink Up

hydrationForemost, HAPPY OFFICIAL SUMMER! (In my opinion, the best time of the year).  While my family feels like we have summer all the time in Florida, we’re taking a break and currently on vacation on Long Island, where I grew up.  Being back in a “normal” season environment, it’s refreshing to see how excited everyone is to be off from school, outside playing all the time, and enjoying the warmer temperatures and warmer days.  With this increase in activity and exposure to higher temperatures, it’s imperative that everyone remembers to drink, drink, drink to stay hydrated (and not soda or sugar-laden beverages).  While this is something we should worry about year-round, summertime is especially a great opportunity to kick-up the fluid intake a few notches.  Even with the trips that some families will be taking, we often forget at times to bring fluids with us on car trips or most importantly, on airplanes (that is, after you go through security; there’s nothing more fun or entertaining than trying to chug the entire contents of beverages you forgot to NOT bring with you through line…), as flying really dehydrates you.

With our bodies being made up of 70% water, it’s no surprise that we can live days (even weeks) without food, but only a few days maximum without fluids/water.  Every cell, tissue, and organ needs water to function properly.  The body uses water to maintain temperature, remove wastes, balance hormones and electrolytes, provide some minerals, and keep joints lubricated for proper movement.  Most importantly, the brain is made primarily of water, so for neurotransmitters to work properly, the body needs to be hydrated!  Without proper hydration, the body is more prone to bladder and kidney infections and disease (and even kidney stones).  It’s even more important for children to stay hydrated, as their bodies are smaller and require more frequent fluid intake.  Overheating is a huge concern in warmer weather, especially with a lack of fluids (since hydration helps regulate body temperature).  Thirsty Planet notes: “Children are at greater risk of dehydration than adults due to their lower body weight and smaller reserve of body fluids. Equally, while adults often have easy access to a supply of water, children tend to rely on their caregivers to provide drinks and often don’t recognize the early stages of thirst. Research suggests that just a 1% to 2% body weight loss can lead to significant reductions in concentration and mental performance. As a child’s body is around 60% water, it is important to keep them topped up with fluid during the day.” 

To be honest, I feel that most humans on this planet are walking around dehydrated – we think we are taking in enough fluids during the day, but that is rarely the case either because:

  • ·         we are too busy and lose track
  • ·         we take in too many beverages with caffeine that actually work against hydration (caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it causes you to expel water from the body)
  • ·         we take in too much sodium in our diets (which causes the cells to retain water, thus making it unavailable for metabolic processes that the body needs to function….plus nasty bloating and a feeling of dehydration)
  • ·         we take in too many beverages with added sugars and/or chemicals such as artificial colorings, flavorings, and sweeteners  – which all make it hard for the body to just take in the “water” portion of the drink because it’s focused more on filtering/processing/metabolizing all of the additives (and adding to the junk that your body is desperately trying to flush out)

Often, we are not aware of how easy it is for our bodies to lose water:

  • You lose water each day when you go to the bathroom, sweat, and even when you breathe
  • You lose water even faster when the weather is hot, when you exercise, or if you have a fever
  • Vomiting and diarrhea can also lead to rapid fluid loss
  • ·         If you don’t replace the water you lose, you can become dehydrated

Many of the clients I have worked with have been extremely dehydrated, and not even know it.  This has led to:

  • chronic headaches
  • poor cognitive function – distraction and mental “fuzziness”
  • mood swings
  • dizziness
  • feeling of fatigue
  • unregulated blood pressure
  • slowed metabolism
  • decrease in energy levels

Easy tips to check for if you or your child is dehydrated:

  • Little or no urine, or urine that is darker      than usual
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Sleepiness or fatigue
  • Extreme thirst
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • No tears when crying

 

The first recommendation I make to my clients is to drink clean WATER, WATER, WATER (I am a firm believer in water… I really do not find the need to drink all of these fancy, overpriced beverages that don’t offer any benefit)….as frequently during the day as possible.  Within a few days, the feedback is remarkable – headaches are gone, bloating is gone, sleep is better, energy levels have skyrocketed, and just a sense of feeling “alive” is restored.  Now if that happens for adults, think what it can do for children… especially children who are active during the day!  Thirsty Planet conducted some studies with hydrating children with water throughout the school day and found the water intake increase:

  • Doubled      school children’s interest in learning
  • Significantly      increased cognition
  • Made      children feel calmer and more alert in the classroom

 

So How Much Water Should We Be Drinking A Day?

Believe it or not, there are slightly different recommendations for how many fluids we should be taking in a day based on age, size, and gender.  Some people are at higher risk of dehydration, including those who exercise, have certain medical conditions, are sick, or are not able to get enough fluids during the course of the day. Older adults are also at higher risk. As you age, your brain may be unable to sense dehydration and send the signals for thirst.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need to take in more fluids daily as well to compensate for the amount of fluids required by the body.  If you are concerned that you may not be drinking enough water, check your urine. If your urine is consistently colorless or light yellow, you are most likely staying well hydrated.

Check out this handy list below to keep track of how much everyone in your family should drink:

Age Daily Amount in Cups
Infants (0-6 months) (3 cups)
Infants (7-12 months) (3.5 cups)
Children (1-3 years of age) (5.5 cups)
Children (4-8 years of age) (6 cups)
Males  
9-13 years of age (10 cups)
14-18 years of age (13 cups)
Older than 19 years of age (15 cups)
Females  
9-13 years of age (8.5 cups)
14-18 years of age (9 cups)
Older than 19 years of age (11 cups)

Recommended Beverages to Stay Hydrated

I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I have to say it (and from experience myself, as I will be the first to admit that I used to drink these things….) – sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade, sweetened juices, sweetened iced teas, and sodas drive me crazy.  They are marketed to kids and parents as “healthy” in many cases, when all they consist of is a blend of sugars, artificial colors (which as you know, is a whole issue in itself), artificial flavorings, sometimes caffeine (my gosh…I could go on a rant about caffeine and kids….and it happens daily!), and chemicals.  All of these things lead to weight gain, sugar imbalances in the body, more cravings for sugar/sugar sensitivity, hyperactivity followed by energy crashes, cavities, and quite simply, a lack of nutrition.  While plain water may not seem exciting, here are a few tips to help keep healthier options available and of interest:

  • Coconut water provides lots of electrolytes. One cup has as much potassium as a banana.  You can even mix in some cut up fruits or ice cubes made with 100% juice (best is homemade).

 

  •  Homemade sports drinks can be made by mixing 50 percent juice (try to make sure it’s 100% juice or homemade juice) and 50 percent water with a pinch of salt. One pinch or 1/16 of a teaspoon of salt is all you need to replenish the salt a child normally loses during exertion. Kids over age 10 will need two pinches of salt.

 

  • If there is no dairy sensitivity, milk does the body good, especially after physical activity. Milk is hydrating and contains protein, natural sugar, potassium and vitamin D, all of which help refuel the body with nutrients.

 

  • Try seltzer/carbonated water. (My one piece of advice, though – try to avoid seltzer [or any beverage, for that matter] that comes in a can – cans are lined with BPA and you are ingesting that with each beverage)
  • If you don’t already own one, buy a water      filter and keep cool water stored in the fridge on an accessible shelf for      everyone to see.
  • If you already have sweetened beverages in      your home (don’t worry….you’re human… I’m not going to come find you…J) slowly decrease the amount of them that you bring into your home.      Gradual change will be more successful than cutting out completely one day.
  • Change up the way you drink water by adding      fun flavors such as:
    1. Fresh Cut Cucumbers
    2. Orange Slices
    3. Sliced strawberries
    4. Refreshing Mint
    5. Lemon or Lime Juice (don’t put too much in…       not only will it be sour, but too much acid over time can wear down the       enamel lining on teeth)
    6. Frozen grapes or blueberries

Make Hydrating Fun

If your family still isn’t sold on the hydration idea, try a few fun ideas to make the act of drinking more enjoyable:

  • Send your children to school, camp, and sports      activities with BPA-free water bottles to drink during lunch and during      the school day.
  • When I was a teacher, I asked for each student      to have their own water bottle for their desk, and we would take “sip      breaks” frequently through the day.       It was amazing to see how much better the kids responded to being      hydrated in class; I felt like they were new kids!
  • If traveling, have water bottles for everyone      in the car (or whatever you’re traveling in) handy; while bathroom breaks      may be inconvenient at times, it’s worth it for preserving hydration      levels!!
  • A good rule of thumb… have kids carry their      water bottles with them and to take a sip whenever they think of something      fun.
  • Have set times through the day when you can      make sure a fluid break is taken – watch to make sure fluids are taken in      during this time.
  • Have your child wear a watch or use a watch      with a timer, etc. to go off every half hour or so to remind them to      drink.  Maybe there is even an app      for an iPad or iPhone to track fluid intake to make it fun?
  • Decorate water bottles to make them unique to      your child.
  • Challenge everyone in the family to keep track      of how much they drink by keeping a chart on the fridge; maybe use a      sticker for each cup consumed, etc.       Think of a fun prize or treat for the winner (and frequency)
  • Take a pitcher or container and      determine how much it holds. For every cup of fluid that is consumed,      measure the same amount of fluid and add it to the pitcher. Continue the      experiment for a 24-hour period. Tally up your total and compare it to the      recommended levels: at least 6 cups of fluid for children and 8 cups of      fluid for adults.

Now go out and enjoy the summer (well, every day, really!) – hydrated!  Here are some helpful links to refer to as well:

https://mysuperfoods.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/megan-monday-do-you-know-whats-in-your-water/

http://www.thirsty-planet.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Hydration-for-Children-Factsheet.pdf

http://www.thirsty-planet.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/A-Thirsty-For-Knowledge.pdf

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Crispy Green Bean & Tomato Salad

Yesterday was one of those perfect summer days – not too hot, no humidity, and a gentle breeze.  We spent pretty much all day outside playing with bubbles, riding scooters, cutting paper with craft scissors (my kids’ obsession), and cleaning our front porch.  Cleaning a front porch may not sound exciting to you, but there was a hose involved.  Of course my boys wanted to help!

When we moved into this house a few weeks ago I was so happy to discover a few peony and hydrangea bushes in our backyard.  Peonies are my absolute favorite flowers, but unfortunately they didn’t produce much.  The hydrangea bushes, however, are in full bloom (something we discovered today).  My boys may have a future in flower arranging… quite the helpers!

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What better way to end this quintessential summer day than with a light, summery meal?

I was flipping through a recent issue of Bon Appetit and was inspired by a page dedicated to green beans.  We don’t eat them often, but I do enjoy them.  I just don’t usually get too creative with them.  Luckily I just had a bunch delivered to my house the other night, so what better time to start experimenting with them than now?  Granted, I didn’t come up with anything too crazy – although, is it a salad?  A slaw?  A side dish?  A main dish?  I think it could be whatever you want it to be.  Add some hardboiled eggs and kalamata olives and you’d have a hearty salad, or serve it alongside some chicken like I did.  Either way, it works! Read the rest of this entry »

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How Do You Do Your Grocery Shopping?

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I hate to admit it, but I’m kind of over food.  I’m over thinking about what we’re going to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a daily basis.  I’m over the colossal clean up in the kitchen and the dining room after every meal.  And mostly, I’m over shopping for food.  Hello, my name is Sarah, and I’m a serial grocery shopper. Read the rest of this entry »

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My Favorite Ideas for Outdoor Play

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Some of my favorite days with my kids are those where we play outside from morning ’til dusk, eat our meals outside, get soaking wet, then dry, then wet again, change clothes 10 times and finally come in for a much needed bath with mud under their fingernails and ice cream dripping on their cute little chins. Not only are the days filled with fun and laughter, but they also result in the easiest bedtimes we have ever experienced. According to an article in Psychology today, outdoor play strengthens motor skills, prevents obesity, supports creativity and promotes mental health and well being. It also provides an opportunity for parents to bond with their children, especially younger kids that require supervision while playing outdoors. While this seems obvious, our modern society makes it very easy for us stay indoors and hop from TV to IPAD.

Here are my favorite resources for outdoor play ideas:

1. Nature Rocks – this site not only provides great ideas, but breaks them up by age group and location, including making compost and measuring rain.

2. Let The Children Play  – great blog created by a teacher filled with outdoor play tips, I love the outdoor musical play ideas.

3. Happy Hooligans – this blog has really creative ideas for backyard play, I love the water wall and soup kitchen.

4. Casa Maria’s Creative Learning Zone – this mommy blogger has created one of the coolest backyard play spaces ever, nothing fancy, just fun workstations with everyday items to keep kids entertained.  I love it and I know my kids would too!

5. Lil Sugar – 41  adorable ideas for outdoor play including making sprayable chalk to painting with bubbles.

Hope this list gives you some inspiration for more outdoor fun!

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Grilling Gremlins – What to Watch Out For During This Summer BBQ Season

grillI hope all of the dads out there had a wonderful Fathers’ Day yesterday…..I have the fondest memories of the BEST barbeques with my family from Fathers’ Days in the past.  We would spend hours outside in the sunshine, pool, warm weather, and the best part – grilling all kinds of delicious foods.  That day seemed to kick off a season of beach visits where we were always grilling or having bonfires replete with s’mores and blackened marshmallows on a stick (yes, I was a sugar addict when younger and would even resort to eating torched forms of it).  There was something about barbeques and how awesome everything turned out; it was such a simple way to prepare food, too – just throw everything on the grill and your meal was pretty much taken care of table-side outdoors.  You could never replace how great cozying up to a bonfire was, either.  While I was that child who always found the bottle of flame starter and squirted it on any open fire I could locate just to observe the inferno that soon ensued, I don’t think I really gave much thought about what I was breathing in (nor did I care; I was too concerned with how awesome my pyromania skills were).  You definitely can’t deny the “BBQ stench” one has after finishing up grill duty or after you wrap up a night in front of the bonfire; you know what I’m taking about – that crisp, smoky-bones scent of charred goodness.  No matter where you stood to avoid the smoke from the grill, it always seemed to embed itself in your clothes, hair, and on your skin.  And if you used charcoal briquettes?  Oh man, that had an aroma all to itself – eau de chemicals and smoke.  Don’t get me wrong – I love sensory reminders of my favorite summer pastimes, but you may want to consider taking a few more precautions when busting out the grill this summer.  From scientific research supporting that cooking at too high of temperatures actually causes carcinogens to be released out of foods to the plethora of nasty air pollutants and chemicals that are released through the smoke, you may want to pay close attention to some careful steps you can take to make sure you and your family can still enjoy a great barbeque without all of the health risks.  (Did you actually think you could escape any fun pastime or common household action without me sabotaging it with my healthy-scientific-research!?  Heheh. C’mon…)

CHARRING IS SCARRING!

According to a University of Minnesota study that tracked the eating habits of more than 62,000 people over a nine-year period showed that regularly consuming meats cooked well-done or with char marks may increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by up to 60%.  According to Nutrition Action Healthletter (one of my favorite health publications), cooking meat at a high temperature causes chemicals called HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) to form (say that five times fast).  Sure, they sound innocent enough, right?  Well, these carcinogens can cause changes in the DNA that can lead to cancer (think of your genes as on/off switches….some genes that lead to health issues get turned “on” when toxins and/or unhealthy habits influence the body).  PAHs are in smoke from incomplete combustion, so if you can taste smoke on your food, expect it contains those chemicals. Most of the PAHs are associated with smoke or char, so you can scrape them off of your food and reduce your risk from them.  HCAs are not so easy to escape, as they are produced by a chemical reaction between meat and high or prolonged heat. You’ll find these chemicals in fried meat as well as barbeque. You can’t cut or scrape away this class of carcinogens.  Here are some easy tips to help this situation:

  • Choose leaner cuts of meats (which you should do anyway to cut back on the amount of fat and cholesterol) and trimming the fat before you grill (preferably several hours).  As fat and juices drip from the meat when cooking on the grill, flames can flare up and create more smoke (or if using one of the newer electric grills, the temps are still hot enough to burn the fat and juices to create smoke), which leads to carcinogen formation.
  • Avoid meats with preservatives or that have been processed (like traditional hot dogs and sausages).  The preservatives turn into nasty cancer-causing agents when heated.  Try “natural” forms instead that avoid nitrates, nitrites, and other preservatives.  There are many hitting the shelves – Aidelle’s is a great brand, in addition to Trader Joe’s brand.
  • Avoid the meat conundrum altogether and grill veggies and fruits instead!  HCAs and PAHs form in muscle tissue proteins of animal meat. 
  • Surprisingly enough (as this seems to contradict the “more fat and juices dripping from meat = more HCAs), but marinating meat can significantly reduce the amount of HCAs and PAHs because it forms a barrier between the meat and grill.  Marinate for at least 30 minutes beforehand and you could decrease the amount of HCAs between 50-80%!
  • Limit contact of food with fire on the grill.  Many people line the grill with aluminum foil and light coat the foil with a high-temp oil like grapeseed or refined coconut oil to help prevent sticking.  Doing so will help cut back on flare-ups and smoke.
  • I know this goes against standard grilling/cooking rules, but flipping the meat frequently can also reduce HCAs by 75 to 95 percent (this helps cut back on the amount of time the meat has to drip juices and fat).  So, just in case you failed at not charring your meat…just be sure to trim the charred parts away before eating.
  • Cut back on the amount of time meat is cooked on the grill.  You know those people – they let stuff sit on the grill for what seems like hours.  Granted, the food may look like it crawled out of a 5-alarm fire by the time someone eats it, but some people actually like food that has been grilled for…awhile.  Whether you’re one of those people or just a bad grill-master, limit the amount of time food cooks on the grill and be sure to cook the meat at the appropriate temperature…which in many cases is a lower temperature anyway (I used to think that cranking the dial all the way to “clean” or “ignite” would make everything cook quicker…hahah).  The less time the food stays on the grill, the less time it’s absorbing all of those HCAs.
  • Clean the grill when done! You should do this anyway.  Eww..who wants to eat food prepared on a grill with nasty char-chunk-nuggets that have been sitting there for days or weeks?  Besides, you’re cutting down on all of those charred HCAs and PAHs.

BARBEQUE BLUNDERS

OK, so now that we have tips on cutting back your exposure to HCAs and PAHs covered, let’s focus on the barbeque/fire pit itself and the health dangers associated with that (especially for children).  Aside from the common-sense cautions you should take when children are around fire and heat, keeping your child out of the line of smoke and fire is safe and smart.  This may be met with some resistance from those darlings who just love to get close enough before something melts in their hand (or those who love to drop something on the grill or fire to see what would happen…..and I’m not speaking from personal experience or anything…ah hem…).

Barbeques add a bunch of nasty, microscopic pollutants into the immediate air everyone breathes around them.  This is even more dangerous for children, whose lungs and airways are much smaller and sensitive to such irritants.  Have a child with asthma or allergies?  Best bet is to keep them far away from barbeques.  Also, be sure to close your doors and windows to the house if the barbeque is nearby, as you do not want these fumes and smoke making their way into your home.

A 2003 study by scientists from Rice University found that microscopic bits of polyunsaturated fatty acids released into the atmosphere from cooking meat on backyard barbecues were helping to pollute the air in Houston. Both briquettes and lump charcoal create air pollution. Lump charcoal, made from charred wood to add flavor, also contributes to deforestation and adds to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Charcoal briquettes do have the benefit of being made partly from sawdust (a good use of waste wood), but popular brands may also contain coal dust, starch, sodium nitrate, limestone and borax, not to mention the slew of chemicals added to help them ignite.  (Would you let your child breathe in fumes from a bottle of flame starter chemicals?  Well, these same chemicals are what are embedded in charcoal briquettes and then released when ignited…..so you don’t want to be breathing them in or getting the smoke on your skin, hair, or clothes, either – the particles leave deposits on whatever they touch).

In Canada, charcoal is now a restricted product under the Hazardous Products Act.  According to the Canadian Department of Justice, charcoal briquettes in bags that are advertised, imported or sold in Canada must display a label warning of the potential hazards of the product. No such requirements presently exist in the United States.  Consumers can avoid exposure to these potentially harmful additives by sticking with so-called natural charcoal brands. Noram de Mexico’s Sierra Madre 100 percent oak hardwood charcoal contains no coal, oil, limestone, starch, sawdust or petroleum products and is certified by the Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program as sustainably harvested. The product is available at select Sam’s Clubs across the United States. Other manufacturers of all natural charcoal include Greenlink and Lazzari, both of which can be found at natural food outlets across North America.

Other things to be cautious of are the different types of wood used if making a bonfire or adding to your barbeque grill to “enhance flavor” or to use as a “smoker”.  First off, all pregnant women should avoid anything cooked from wood fires or these wood chips added to grills; in addition, steer clear of the smoke.  In terms of the wood being used for fires, you do not know what chemicals came in contact with that wood, and then are being released when burned.  Many times, wood is treated with chemicals, and you may not even know.  Additionally, different types of wood give off certain natural chemicals when burned.  The wood chips used in barbeques even come with warnings on the bag to not be used by pregnant women, as the smoke given off can cause birth defects (awesome!).

We always enjoyed barbequing, and my husband really likes to cook fish on the grill (we have a gas grill)…which is healthier than dousing the fish in butter or oil to cook (you can also bake much of anything you grill…not like that’s fun or practical for a get-together in your backyard, but you get what I mean…).  As with all of my articles, I am not trying to make anyone feel bad if you have eaten charred meat or had a few flub-dubs with the grill.  Just keep a mindful eye out for your health and your family’s health here on out when busting out the BBQ.  Here’s to a happy and healthy summer season filled with awesome memories…..even ones with careful barbeques!

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Health & Nutrition Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us

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Mini Taco Cups

I’ve mentioned before that I love anything having to do with tacos and burritos. In fact, I think I could eat them every night for dinner. This rainy, dreary day needed some cheering up, so what did we do? We had taco night!

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The Importance Of Giving Back

by Guest Blogger, Anita

CASA photo

Ever since I could remember, I have always loved children. They were always drawn to me and I felt like I could (and did) just spend hours playing with them. The fact is … I love to play!! Kids are just funny – the things that come out of their mouths, the fashion in which they say it … so silly.

A few years ago, while in between freelance jobs, I found myself with some extra time and decided to join an organization as a volunteer to explore some of my other interests. After some online research, I decided to volunteer with an organization that helped children in some way and came across CASA, a national organization that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children. CASA advocates are appointed by judges to make sure the children’s needs get met and they don’t get lost in the “system”. We were to be the “eyes and ears” of the judges and report back to them on how they  were doing by maintaining relationships with them and the adults in their lives (teachers, counselors, family members, etc.). After 30 hours of classroom training with the very caring staff, our class was sworn in by a judge (a pretty cool experience) and off we were to make a difference in a child’s life.

When you hear horrific stories on the news of child abuse or some other atrocity, what do you think about those people? You know … THE VICTIMS. In my mind (and probably unconsciously), I’ve always separated the “normal” population that grow up living fairly “normal” lives and the “victims”, the people in our society who unfairly get struck by tragedy and have to go through horrible things… the kind we don’t really feel like talking about or dealing with … too sad.  What I learned after working on some of these cases, was that these children were no different from you or me, no different from the regular kids in our “normal” lives. Yes, they had terrible things happen to them (which I in no way would ever want to diminish) but what had happened to them was not who they were and should never define them. The essence of who they are and what they are all about is much deeper than this incident(s) that occurred.

My friends often ask me questions about my volunteer work, expressing interest but say they are too afraid to join, fearing their hearts could not handle such sadness. Yes, it is sad to hear about some of the things that happen. Yes, I get a little nervous leading up to my first meeting with the child, and then we meet … and … ALL ELSE GOES OUT THE WINDOW. They are just regular kids who like to do the same type of stuff as all other kids. No different. You would never guess what some of them have gone thru, and truth be told, I usually forget (or bearly think about it). Plus, wouldn’t it be another tragedy to judge this child by what has happened to them or to only see “the tragedy” when you look at them? They are so much more than that!

As a child advocate, you do just that … advocate for them. Sometimes I make calls during lunch or send emails to a school counselor to see how they are doing. Did my child score low on some type of testing that shows they should be in a different type of classroom setting? Are they getting switched? Why hasn’t that happened yet for them? When is the last time they went for a physical? School is almost over, can she do a summer camp? Is DYFS (Division of Youth & Family Services) picking them up so they don’t miss appointments with the mother and precious bonding time? These are all issues you look into and then report back to the judge, who takes your recommendations with high regard. It’s work that can be done here and there, on your own schedule, and is very flexible.

I recently got assigned a new case and didn’t know if I was up for it. Pretty sad. My supervisor thought I would be a great match for a young girl and she was right. I love her! She is one of the sweetest young ladies I have ever met. A couple of Saturdays ago we spent the day together, which included tree planting with friends, followed by a fabulous lunch and pedicures/manicures at the salon. At the end of the day, I asked her if she had fun, to which she responded, “This was the best day of my life!” I picked my heart up from the floor and said “Cool”. How rewarding is that? I had an awesome day and loved spending time with her. We are going to Barnes & Nobles for our next outing. Turns out she loves to read … me too!  Done. B&N it is.

And that is my CASA/volunteering story … a story about helping someone out that can use the help (especially our little ones), a story about not judging people because of what they have gone thru (as horrible as it may be), a story about a girl (me) getting much more back from volunteering than she is giving.  I was delighted to recently learn that MySuperFoods was helping out CASA as well. Small world! When I mentioned this story to Katie, she told me they had donated 240 snack pouches to the Summit Tot Trot last Saturday, who was there raising money for CASA. They couldn’t have picked a better organization to support, I thought. If any of you find yourself in a position to be able to volunteer here (or somewhere else), go for it! Find a cause that matches your interests, great things can and do come out of volunteering. And in a world where my 16 mth nephew already manipulates my sister’s touch screen cell phone with his finger, what better way to teach our kids about what matters most in life – the nonmaterial. Perhaps now, more than ever, our society needs it. Volunteering is a great way to help children learn about giving back, learn valuable skills while “on the job” and gives children the opportunity to remember what they have to be thankful for. As for me, I’m thankful I’ve had this experience.

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