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Our 12 Favorite Websites for Kids Gifts!

Christmas Round Up1

Whether it’s a classmate’s birthday or list of loved ones on a Christmas list, there seem to be many people to buy for this time of year. We’ve distilled down our twelve favorite sites where we like to buy smart, fun toys for kids.

1. Fat Brain Toys – This site is usually one of my first stops to find toys that go beyond a few minutes of entertainment to those that spark creativity.  My favorite feature?  The “shop by age” tab in the upper left corner.

2. mighty girlA Mighty Girl – Sure, I’m biased because I have two daughters, but why do we stop there?  Boys would love the inspiring messages and historical adventure stories in the book section as well as the smart, hands-on offerings in the toy section.

3. Discovery Store – For young and old alike.  Chemistry Kits, Slime Kits and even 3-D puzzles.  For anyone captivated by the art of discovery.

discount school supplies4. Discount School Supplies – What house with kids doesn’t need more art supplies?  We are always coming up with a new art project and with this site, I’m never out of the most basic supplies.  At discounted prices!  Win!

5. Blue Orange Games – Innovative, high quality and award winning, Blue Orange strives to make easy to learn and fun to master games for the whole family.  We received this one as a gift and my daughters love it!

6. Magic Cabin – Some fun finds, including this fresh market foods play set and these awesome instruments!

7. Green Toys – 100% recycled material and FUN.  My daughters have the garbage truck and fire engine.  Three years later, they are still playing with them.

YOYO_logo_pref_lores8. YoYo.com – Fantastic selection and free 2-day delivery on orders over $35.

9. Plan Toys – “Safe. Smart. Sustainable.” We love everything about that message and how it delivers in their products.  Super cute too.

10. Chasing Fireflies – A great resource for personalized PJ’s.  Perfect for a surprise movie night!

11. Sarah & Abraham – Once you get on this website, you won’t be able to stop adding to your cart.  From adorable personalized placemats and dishes to stationary, you can pick the gender, eye color and hair color, resulting in a kid that looks just like the one you are buying for.

12. BeginAgain Toys – If you love beautifully crafted, wooden toys without batteries, this is the brand for you.  The toys are made from plant based materials and sustainably harvested wood by two dads who want to inspire creativity and adventure in children.  Really great stuff!

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I Finally Have an Advent Calendar That Means Something To Me

Traditionally, an advent calendar is used to mark the days leading up to Christmas.  Beginning December 1st and ending December 24th, they heighten awareness and anticipation of “the big day”.  As if either of those were needed.  As a kid, I remember wishing and hoping for a chocolate filled advent calendar every year.  Opening little doors to reveal little milk chocolate bells or snow flakes seemed to be the one thing standing in between me and a very Merry Christmas.  I know that we got one such calendar one year and inevitably spent most of the days fighting with my sister over whose turn it was to eat the treasure.  Perhaps that’s why I only remember receiving one.

As an adult, I’ve never had an advent calendar.  Surely I know how to get my hands on higher quality chocolate that what lies behind those tiny, paper doors.  But now that my daughters are 4, and understand more about what Christmas means, I find myself been thinking more and more about bringing one into the house.  But why?  To teach them the sequence of days?  (We’re often stuck on Monday, Tuesday, Sunday…)  To teach them how to take turns?  (Despite my failed attempt as a kid, I’m always looking for ways to teach my twins how to wait their turn)  But none of these felt right.  Not enough to pull me in.  I needed a reason.  Last week I found one.

Scrolling through Facebook I saw two posts.   The first was from This Lunch Rox.  What began as a project by the author and her husband to inspire their kids by the act of giving instead of always wanting more, ends in a beautiful collection of thoughtful, meaningful tasks that are sure to impact any person young or old.  The centerpiece of this project is “the giving jar,” where tiny paper scrolls are assembled and designated for each day of the week, waiting to instruct specific ways to give to others.  For example, writing a letter to a soldier, delivering a blanket to a shelter, or practicing a random act of kindness.  I could immediately envision my daughters racing to open the next day to see where their adventure would lead them.  Fortunately, some of the leg work was done for me, since the author, Jamie Schultz advises to plan ahead with several helpful steps:

1. Call ahead – find out what your local food pantry needs, if the shelter is collecting blankets, if your church is gathering toys.  When, where, how much.

2. Plan out the days of the week accordingly.  Choose the busiest day for your family to complete the easiest task on your list.  Don’t plan a trip to the humane society 30 minutes away if you don’t have that time to spare.

3. Sit down as a family in advance and discuss the plan.  Get the kids involved in shopping, prepping, packing.  Whatever is age appropriate.  If you make it a series of “run in and drop this off” events, they won’t learn as much.

By this point, I was raring to go.  I had found the reason!  I wanted to participate and see what my daughters would do with this 24 day long adventure.  Then I saw the second inspirational post from Creative With Kids, that showed a great visual Advent Calendar that felt more like what I wanted to put together for my girls.  Perhaps to better show the progression of what we are about to do, or just to emphasize the sequence of days.

Off to work I went.  I used some of the print outs from This Lunch Rox, but improvised my own list of acts of giving based on what is available near my house and the locations in my town that I already know are actively looking for help.  I called one senior home in my town and asked, “is there anything you need this holiday season?”  The woman said, “oh yes, we are gathering food for our food drive!”  Amazing.  I was calling to see what they needed for themselves and found out there are gathering for other people.

Here are our 24 days of giving (in order)

1. Adopt-a-family through our church (buying gifts for two girls)

2. Write a letter to a soldier

3. Drop off gently used toys to Kidville (a great project for my daughters who just got a mountain of gifts for their birthday)

4. Donate a new toy to a toy drive at the bank

5. Deliver treats to our school staff

6. Deliver games and books to a local senior center

7. Donate money or supplies to the humane society (and try to stay and play with some puppies and kitties, of course!)

8. Donate change to a Salvation Army Kettle

9. Deliver treats or coffee to the fire station

10. Call grandparents to say HI!

11. Pay for 3 people behind us at Starbucks

12. Write a card for our teachers and thank them for all that they do

13. Deliver toys to the children’s hospital

14. Make a Christmas card for someone

15. Random act of kindness

16. Write a letter to a sibling and tell them what you love about them the most

17. Deliver treats or coffee to the police station

18. Donate a coat and mittens to a coat drive

19. Put food in our bird feeder

20. Deliver cookies to the post office

21. Donate food to our town shelter/food pantry

22. Deliver cookies to our neighbors

23. Drop off a blanket to a local crisis/homeless shelter

24. Deliver treats to someone who has to work today

I did not roll them in tiny, beautiful scrolls.  I simply wrote them out on pieces of paper, folded them in half and put a sticker with the date on the outside before clothespinning them to a white ribbon.  It will hang in our kitchen (I think) and once we are done with each day, we will turn it around to signify that it’s complete.  There are a few items on this list that I haven’t confirmed 100%.  If I get close to the date and don’t think it will happen, I will find a replacement.  I know there is no shortage of kind things we can do at a moments notice.

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I’d be lying if I said it just came together in 5 minutes.  I’d be foolish to tell you that you can easily throw this project together tonight, before you start making Thanksgiving dinner.  But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that just the preparation for this project has made me feel really great.  Which, I realize is not the point, but wow…hard to ignore.  Consider 24 days or 24 hours of giving this holiday season. Either way, the gift is really for your kids.  Imagine what they will learn!

 

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Thanks. Giving. A Perspective on Both from a Teacher and Nutrition & Health Coach

thankfulMegan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach.

I’m going to interrupt my normal health info barrage with a little segment to pay tribute to a holiday that I feel is sadly becoming a dying tradition in our country.  Stay tuned next week for the promised follow-up segment on my favorite products to use, part 2.

Ah, Thanksgiving…. The time of year that “kicks off” the holidays, but really seems to be turning more and more into the proverbial thick white starting line at the race for a hectic, materialistic and sales-driven period when people grow more and more harried and disconnected.  I think back to when I was a kid and Thanksgiving meant four things to me: some time off from school, an awesome day with all of our family and friends, the first time my mom would buy egg nog for the year (I am a legit egg-nog addict), and being able to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on T.V.  Of course we always focused on why we were off from work and school, gathered together, and so fortunate to have all that we had.  I even relished in the historical stories and activities in school about the native inhabitants of our great land and the “explorers” who “joined” them (yes, I am trying to be sarcastic with my quotation marks here…hah).  It seemed like our teachers really took great time and effort to emphasize this holiday and actually teach about the history behind it, why we should be “thankful” on Thanksgiving, and engage in activities that unified our classroom like a little family (and who can argue over how awesome those construction paper pilgrim hats and Native American feather headdresses are?!?).  Now, I feel classrooms hardly have time to even mention Thanksgiving, no or less focus on teaching about why it exists in America (and I am saying this as a former teacher who has been there, done that).  Rather, kids are counting the seconds until they bust out of school, all the while making lists about Black Friday sales they are going to dominate….and not even on “Black Friday” anymore, but on Thanksgiving day itself.  Making their organized lists, likes, and requests on smartphones fancier than mine, kids seem to lose the real nuggets of what makes this holiday season awesome – whether one celebrates or not.  This brings me to my point in writing this article in the first place: focusing on being grateful and generous in our lives daily.  These components of life actually contribute just as importantly as eating a healthy diet and practicing healthy lifestyle habits.  When I work with clients, focusing on gratitude and shifting one’s thought process to that of being grateful daily works wonders, but is often a major challenge, as we live in a society that drives us to see the deficit to “motivate” us to want more.

Some of my greatest teaching memories that I am most thankful for are the ones from the Thanksgiving activities I would prepare throughout the month of November.  As
teachers, we are always looking for ways to integrate different content, curriculum goals, learning styles…you name it – into everything that we teach on a daily basis so that concepts are applied and over-arching.  Many of these things you can do at home with your children, and I guarantee you’ll love it, in addition to teaching your kids some pretty valuable lessons.  In my classroom, we would have instruction breaking down math and measurement into Thanksgiving recipes that kids would develop and write out step-by-step (and also incorporating learning about healthy ingredients!); everyone would write a daily “Thanks”/gratitude journal entry; we would practice community-building activities with each other, and by the end of the month, it was amazing the shift I saw in behavior.

The last year I taught (2010-2011) was one of the most memorable “Thanksgiving” times I think I will ever have.  I was teaching 5th grade in a very diverse (and often challenging) classroom with children who came from every situation imaginable – very stable homes to three separate students who were living in a group foster home.  “Congruity” is definitely not the word to describe this group – and it was perfect, for that is what made the experience so much more meaningful.  I had some kids who still believed in Santa and other kids who knew how to break into and steal a car at a moment’s notice.  How the heck could I pull off something that these kids would really come together for and learn a great deal from?  So, I just came out and said, “You’re all in charge of planning a Thanksgiving dinner for the entire second grade and I am just here to observe and help buy what you need.”  Seeking the usual teacher-directed list of what to do next, the students looked at me like I was crazy, and I just stood there and said, “No…it’s all up to you.  You are hosting every second-grader in the school for a family-style Thanksgiving meal here in our classroom.”  More blank stares.  I explained to them that they would have to decorate, prepare and cook everything (we had a classroom on campus equipped with stoves and cooking equipment), and run the show.  Some students came up with comments like, “Well, my mom does all of the cooking, so I have no idea what to do.”  Another student said, “I have never been able to celebrate Thanksgiving because we are too poor.”  Placing all faith and trust in my kids, I explained to them that they had to think about everything they would want to make this experience feel like a family affair –whatever that meant to them – and special ways they could express what they are thankful and grateful for.  Within a few minutes and piles of crayons, markers, rolls of art paper, and pencils tossed on the floor, these kids went to work (still in shock over the independence I instilled in them, of course) planning their meal.  It took them a solid three to four days to come up with lists of recipes, directions, décor plans, invitations for the second-graders, etc.  I was honestly shocked at how these kids pulled everything together…cooperatively…and I think it was because they were given a task that embraced their independence and varying backgrounds.  We used math to convert recipes for a large crowd; language arts skills came in full-force for the invitations, menus, lists of directions, and decorations.  I went out and bought whatever ingredients these kids needed, with the help from some other teachers, and some kids really got the “gratitude” concept and pilfered through their cabinets at home to see what they could donate.  It was amazing to capture the expressions on some of the kids’ faces as they listened to each other and the different stories they shared about their holiday experiences.  These kids connected and learned more about each other during this time than any playground hoopla that could have occurred all year.  When some students explained that their families didn’t have anything extra for the holidays, it really hit home to the other kids who were lucky to experience such luxuries at their home…and this is when really understanding what gratitude was about came to light.

Celebration day.  These students got to work mid-day and never skipped a beat – I was seriously in awe over how they all pulled together, divvied tasks, delegated, led, shared, and experienced.  Desks came together to form a giant table down the entire classroom.  Paper shopping bags were recycled to make a table cloth; decorations were made with care by several students and strewn about the room; teams of kids paired off with their cooking tasks to prepare everything from pie to mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey slices, vegetables, and snacks.  I just stood back, watched, observed, and called out time checks like they were all contestants on Top Chef.  The time came for all of the second-graders to come for their feast and they were escorted into the room, welcomed, and embraced like family by each one of my students.  The kicker for me was the student who got in the most trouble day-in-and-out, was in and out of foster homes, and normally least-engaged in the classroom was the one who seemed to step-up most.  He even led the welcome speech and his version of a Thanksgiving blessing – it blew me away to hear this kid who literally came from and had nothing explain what it meant to be grateful and thankful.  Every eye in the room was on him as he spoke, and I could tell that he felt like he had just won the lottery.  To say this was a humbling experience is an understatement.  I felt like I was looking at a giant family of a ton of kids who just pushed differences aside to sit down, appreciate, and really take care and interest in one another.  This one meal was probably the first family meal some kids ever had in their life.  During the meal, each student was asked to go around and share what they felt being thankful and grateful meant and why it was important to do every day – not just on one day out of the year.  I wish I had a video of that moment to post here, as it was amazing to hear what every child shared.  A few kids chimed in with examples of very materialistic things that they felt equaled gratitude…and the responses from the other kids were hysterical.  “Did you NOT learn what being grateful really is?!?!”  “You are more thankful for your Gameboy than your family?!?  Does your Gameboy buy you school clothes and food?!?”  The list could go on….  The celebration wrapped up with one of my favorite activities of all time – making butter.  (I’ll never forget the first time I did this as a kid – in preschool.  I remember it like it was yesterday…and how I snuck off into a corner of the classroom and ate all of the butter I made.  It was fantastic; even better…I MADE IT!)  The kids were divided into teams formed in a circle and each team got their own Mason jar full of heavy cream.  On my countdown, the teams had to pass around the jar, taking turns shaking as feverishly as possible to turn the cream into butter.  The winning team was the first who created a “butter ball” from the cream (of course this was an awesome science lesson that taught about particles, motion, solids, liquids, and cohesion).  Each year I did this in my class, I almost peed my pants with how animated these kids got.  I can’t even describe in words what ensued with all of these kids shaking and jumping and freaking out over who could make butter.  Nobody got mean.  Nobody got impatient.  The big kids helped the little kids.  The little kids laughed at the big kids.  Magic.  We enjoyed our homemade butter on homemade cornbread and each kid was able to take home a little goodie bag.  Any leftovers (and there weren’t many, due to the careful recipe planning of the kids) went to the kids who I knew needed some extra food at home.  As each child filed out of my door that day, I felt beyond complete as a person watching all of these kids pull off what they did – on their own.  It restored faith in me that taking things for granted and being super selfish may not be the things that drive most people in society today.  They truly embodied what it was to show gratitude and thanks in their own way, and I was thankful and gracious for that.

So, how does this all tie into the health coaching?  Much of what I learned through my teaching experiences carries into my health coaching practice today.  As we all head into this busy week, many of you will be planning grandiose meals, arranging get-togethers with families and/or friends, and children ready as sponges excited to learn new things.  While I could tell you what nutritious foods to scatter all over your table this year, I find it more fitting to engage in some quality exercises and activities that builds the other component to being healthy – the persona-based and interactive components of our relationships that round out who we are as people.

For starters, get children involved!  Whether it be helping to shop for everything that will be prepared, cooking in the kitchen, decorating the table, or making fun crafts, include the kids.  Be clear on directions and make it fun.  Break tasks down into simple steps, and even use pictures for them to follow if reading is not mastered yet.  It is amazing how much you can teach a child when cooking together in the kitchen.  You can practice counting, colors, measuring, multiplying and dividing, letter recognition, word association, compare/contrast, creative thinking….the list goes on.  Patience is key, so see what things you can prepare in advance so you don’t have to contend with the pressures of time on Thanksgiving day.  Check out this awesome list of ideas here by http://www.teachbesideme.com: http://teachbesideme.com/cross-curricular-kitchen-lessons/

Another lesson kids can learn at any age starting this week is keeping a daily gratitude journal and just getting in the practice of sharing what they are grateful for upon waking up and then going to bed.  This helps disengage any ill feelings that could have arisen through the day; it shifts the focus to positive thinking and learning how to appreciate things in life.  Most importantly – it’s cultivated and learned at an early age, so it’s important for us as adults to model and exemplify this, too.  Besides, it’s a great activity for all of us adults (if you don’t already do it).  Many times when I coach clients, they feel “stuck” or “deprived” or that things “happen to them.”  Through gratitude work, we shift the focus to why certain things are happening for them (remove the victim role here) and how they can take good from what seems like even the worst scenarios.  What’s important to note is that while I am sure this is an area we can all work on (believe me, I am the first to admit it!), kids are observing us react to situations in life a particular way, and this is paving the course to how they will react.  So start practicing all this week and kick things off by sharing whenever you can things that everyone is grateful for.  This can make an awesome and fun art project, too – use some butcher paper or any paper really to create a “gratitude board” that can have words on sticky notes, cut-out pictures, drawn pictures, stickers, etc. to represent everything that everyone in the family is grateful for.  Having it visible is a constant positive reminder and helps to reinforce that mode of thinking.  It’s awesome to see how it grows over time, too.  Get a special notebook for kids to record their gratitude thoughts down daily, too.  They can decorate them and keep them next to their bed or with them at school, etc.  Here are some gratitude journal ideas (and for adults, too):

–          Take 60 seconds upon waking in the morning to write down what you are grateful for.  Take 60 seconds before you go to bed to write down what you are grateful for.  It may sound annoying, but it’s literally 2 minutes out of your day to express what you are thankful for; it leaves you starting and ending each day in a positive way.

–          http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal

–          http://happytapper.com/gratitude-journal

–          http://www.oprah.com/spirit/The-Power-of-Gratitude

I couldn’t leave you without how to do my favorite Thanksgiving activity – making butter in a jar.  Here are some ideas:

–          I use a clean Mason jar with a lid that works (if you are concerned about this breaking, you can get a BPA-free plastic container with a good lid or wrap the Mason jar in a towel and tie string around it tight to protect it).  I buy organic heavy whipping cream, pour it in the jar, close the lid, and shake away.  Some people like to add a pinch of sea salt if you prefer salted butter.  Once the butter “ball” forms, pour off excess water (this is normal) and you have butter!  You can even use cleaned and disinfected glass baby food jars.  I have even decorated the jars with feathers and construction paper cut-outs afterward to look like a turkey to serve as a festive display container.

–          http://www.jumpstart.com/common/make-your-butter

–          http://www.mykidlist.com/2012/08/make-butter-in-a-jar/

–          Vegan?  Here is a vegan butter recipe (that you may not be able to make in a jar, but can be a great lesson anyway!): http://www.cupcakeproject.com/2012/10/homemade-vegan-butter-that-looks-feels.html

I wish each and every one of you the best of Thanksgiving days – no matter how you celebrate.  The focus is on what the day is about…not necessarily how much food and fanciness you have.  Try some new activities to get your children engaged in a fun and different way.  My son is 21-months old and I have had him help out in the kitchen already stirring and mixing since he was 18 months old.  Use this week to kick-off a new trend in positive thinking and acting in your house – you’ll be thrilled with the results!  Oh, and reach out to those in need – whatever way you can, no matter how small or large of a hand you lend; it will make a difference.

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at: megan@empowerhealthcoach.com.

 

 

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What Would Megan Use? A List of Products and Brands the Health & Nutrition Coach Trusts & Uses Daily, Part I

seal of approvalMegan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach.

With all of the educating I do (or “preaching” as some of my friends and family like to refer to it as) about what and what not to use, what’s healthy, what’s harmful, what’s best, etc., it can often leave some people feeling deflated / dejected / frustrated / overwhelmed.  Let’s face it: there is a TON of garbage products out there lining the shelves from shampoo to fondue that is more of science experiment than something you’d want to put on your body or in your mouth.  I have spent an insane number of hours researching and checking out different products (and homemade alternatives) that are healthier and better options than many of the things most people are currently using.  I must disclose that a mere six years ago, I was using many, if not most of the products that I am now encouraging you to seek alternatives for.  It was through my education and research that I learned there are better alternatives out there.  Another thing I realized is that most companies are out to make a buck, not protect your health or well-being…and the FDA is just as much to blame with its heavy industry pay-offs and corporate political influence, so don’t just assume that just because something is sold on the shelf that it must be safe and OK for us to use.  There are over 85,000 chemicals (many of them toxic to our systems) used in everything from food to healthcare products, so it’s OUR job to be smart, savvy consumers.  I have written other articles here on MySuperFoods addressing the topic of toxins and products to be aware of:

This week, I’ll share a sampling of things I have made a concerted effort to eradicate and/or change and the products I now happily use (as broken down by category).  I HAVE NO AFFILIATION WITH ANY OF THESE COMPANIES, SO MY ENDORSEMENTS ARE STRICTLY FROM LOVING THEIR PRODUCT(S):

KITCHEN/BATH/LAUNDRY/HOUSE CLEANING:

–          No more Tide, Bounce, bleach, and Clorox 2 for us.  I love: Ecos Detergent, good old distilled white vinegar (acts as a great odor control and fabric softener), Borax (for tough stains or disinfecting), Molly’s Suds Detergent, Charlie’s Soap, and baking soda.  You can even use a few drops of essential oil(s) for disinfecting and/or odor control.  I have never tried it, but I have friends that use castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s) as laundry detergent, too.  If you really want to use fabric softener, I have tried Seventh Generation and Ecover and both work well without all of the dyes, perfumes, and toxic chemicals like what’s found in Bounce, Snuggle, etc.

 

–          Instead of blue-dyed Windex with tons of chemicals, I just use distilled white vinegar, filtered water, and a few drops of fresh lemon juice in a spray bottle.  It works great, isn’t toxic, and is cheaper.

 

–          Stain scrub – just use baking soda and some distilled white vinegar with a cloth to remove stains.  You can also use ½ of each of distilled water and white vinegar in a spray bottle with castile soap (like Dr. Bronner’s or some essential oils).

 

–          Anti-bacterial/all-purpose cleaner – did you know that all of the chemicals in “disinfecting” sprays really don’t do that great of a job, not to mention the chemicals in them can be more harmful than the bacteria they are trying to clean?  Try making your own mix in a spray bottle with 1 cup filtered water, 1 cup white vinegar, 2 tsps. Rubbing alcohol, and 10 drops of an essential oil like Thieves, thyme, clove, oregano, tea tree, cinnamon, or lavender.

 

–          I also like the BabyGanics line of dish soap and multi-purpose sprays…they don’t use harsh chemicals and natural.  They also do a great job cleaning.  Other friends have used Seventh Generation, BioKleen, and Ecover and have liked them.

 

–          I am very cautious about the dishwasher detergent I use: I am currently using a natural-based one by Seventh Generation and it does a great job.  Just think: those chemicals in harsh dishwasher detergents get coated all over and then baked onto your eating surfaces…and you ingest that with each bite, drink, and lick off of everything washed.  Remember not to wash plastic food containers or anything for kids and babies in the dishwasher, as research shows an alarming rate of chemicals released by the heat and washing process, which then gets washed over everything else.

 

–          Instead of using tons of paper towels all the time, try using reusable and washable cloth kitchen towels.  You’ll save a ton of money, paper, trips to the store to replenish, and the cloth I find cleans messes better (and has better absorbency than paper towels). 

 

–          DITCH THE NON-STICK!  Teflon and the like have to be some of the worst offenders of off-gassing of chemicals.  I love my GreenPan non-stick pans that are ceramic-based….there are other brands like GreenPan out there, but stainless steel, ceramic, and cast-iron pots and pans are also great alternatives.  Be sure to steer clear of any products that use questionable “glazes” or finishes….

 

–          Toss the Tupperware (or any plastic ware for that matter).  I used to buy Tupperware like it was going out of style.  I mean, who wouldn’t want a container for every scrap of food in your kitchen?  The only problem is, all plastics use petroleum and an onslaught of chemicals to be produced, which all get leached in some form or another into your food.  I don’t care if it says BPA-free…there are still other chemicals that were used to create that plastic.  I switched everything to glass for storage: glass jars from IKEA (or you can also try Anchor Hocking, Fridgeoverre, Pyrex, or Ball Mason jars) and I got a great glass storage set from Costco for $20.  Glass does not leach anything into your food, and it cleans up very well.  Plastic tends to hold particles of food and never really gets “clean.”

 

–          For dusting, I use either citrus oil or almond oil to protect wood.  Even better, I use my vacuum to dust most surfaces and then I don’t need to worry about a dirty rag afterwards.  Some people report having great results with just a wet rag.

 

–          For home fragrance, I don’t use Renuzit sprays or harsh air fresheners… instead, I either use a food-grade wax and essential-oil mix in a warming element or an essential oil diffuser and Thieves oil is my favorite.

 

BEAUTY & DENTAL PRODUCTS

–          I no longer wear commercial perfumes.  The amount of chemicals that can POISON you (literally) are astronomical…and thanks to a loophole by the FDA, companies are not required to report their chemicals in perfumes and other products.  My thyroid was so out of control when I used to wear perfume; it makes sense since I sprayed it right on my neck where my glands are and it was immediately absorbed.  Instead, I love just rubbing some essential oils on my skin and they smell fresh.  I use Aveda essential oils, and I have clients who love DoTerra or Young Living essential oils.  You want to make sure they are from a reputable source, and preferably organic, as they are concentrated extracts.

 

–          Lotion has made a radical transformation in our house, as I used to buy things like Eucerin, Aveeno, etc…until I researched and realized it’s all garbage I was slathering onto my skin that was getting into my body.  And all the face creams and products that people use for acne, blemishes, wrinkles, etc.?  I could go on and on about those how terrible they actually are….it’s savvy marketing that gets people, for most of the chemicals in these products do more harm than anything and create more issues.  I switched to organic coconut oil for lotion most days, but I LOVE the company Earth Mama Angel Baby for organic body oils, lotions, and washes.  This company is AWESOME and uses the best ingredients that are all SAFE.  I have never had softer skin and my son’s skin is beyond soft and clear from anything.  I also love Weleda products – they make great calendula oil-based products, and I am a huge fan of calendula oil for moisturizing and clearing up skin irritations.  California Baby is another one of our favorites and I have never had any problems or reactions.  You can also make your own whipped coconut oil body creams by taking organic coconut oil (hardened), a few drops of essential oils, and whipping it in a stand mixer for several minutes until it’s soft and fluffy.  I also had great luck using Jojoba oil to moisturize.  Dr. Bronners makes a great body lotion, too.

 

–          For facial skin care, I used to use benzoyl-peroxide and salicylic acid based products, but no matter how reputable the name or price, there are harsh and harmful chemicals in these products.  I now make sure my skin care regimen uses Vitamin C, as this is a natural anti-oxidant.  I really like MyChelle and Jurlique for toners, moisturizers, fruit enzyme scrubs/cleansers.  I also have no problem using Dr. Bronners castile soap to wash my face.

 

–          Body wash?  I can cringe at the list of fragrances, additives, preservatives, parabens, and harsh chemicals that go into these artificially colored and smelling toxic lathers (I know I sound dramatic, but that’s what they are).  One simple switch for us: Dr. Bronner’s peppermint castile soap.  It works awesome, our skin feels awesome, and it gets you super clean and smelling great.  I even use it on my 21-month old son when he doesn’t use Earth Mama Angel Baby wash.

 

–          Shaving creams are known for their foamy, smelly goodness, right?  Well, it’s the same story – chemicals, chemicals, chemicals…and they dry your skin out more than anything.  Either use castile soap like Dr. Bronners to shave or use a natural cream-based actual shave cream like Alba Botanicals.

 

–          Shampoos and conditioners catch as much slack as the rest of these products and well, it’s because they’re made with the same sketchy ingredients that you DON’T want to be putting on your skin.  Not only can they enter through your skin, but you inhale them each time you shower.  Some great alternatives are: California Baby, Hugo Naturals, John Masters Organics, and even Trader Joes carries a line that is less harsh in the chemical department and animal-cruelty free.  I have heard good reviews from Aubrey Organics and Beauty Without Cruelty.

 

–          For toothpaste and mouthwash, you would think that these would be super-regulated for their ingredients, but no, they aren’t.  It’s scary to me to read the ingredient list on some major brands like Colgate, Crest, etc….just because they have claims up the wazoo on their label as to how great it will make your teeth and breath, you have to wonder how good putting straight-up chemicals into your mouth can be.  I don’t need blue or green toothpaste with all kinds of artificial colorings or flavorings to boot.  I am psycho about my teeth – my entire life I never had any dental issues or cavities, so you better believe I really researched my stuff.  I floss every day, make sure I take my Vitamin D, and switch on-and-off with a natural fluoride and fluoride-free toothpaste (the fluoride issue is something for another topic, as many people are on the fence about it).  I love Vita Care natural whitening toothpaste, Kiss My Face natural whitening toothpaste, The Natural Dentist mouthwash, and Jason mouthwash.  I used to be a religious user of Listerine…however, the chemicals contained are ridiculous and it’s so artificial.  I went out on a limb trying these natural products, but after using them for 6 months and then going for my regular cleaning at the dentist, my teeth and mouth actually got the best report in years.  These natural products use aloe vera, silica, and natural extracts like moss, olive leaf, and tea tree oil to effectively clean and naturally disinfect.  I will never go back to traditional brands. You can actually brush with straight-up baking soda, and that will clean your teeth enough, believe it or not. For my son, I am a die-hard fan of Weleda tooth gel – it’s all natural, fluoride-free (kids should not be using fluoride until they are old enough to not swallow ANY), and my son loves it.  It keeps his teeth super clean. 

 

–          Last but not least, I just recently switched out all of my make-up, for this is a product that has been overlooked for years as being a toxic concoction that sits on people’s faces for a MAJORITY of the day.  We are all concerned about wrinkles and aging, but yet millions of people slather products that contain formaldehyde and other cancer-linked chemicals onto their faces….and think that they are making themselves look good (maybe for the fleeting moment, but all of this chemical damage adds up over time and actually adds to the aging process, not to mention the chemical cocktail flowing through your body).  The average woman wears about 500-800 chemicals a day between facial products, make-up, soaps, and perfumes.  Um, scary!  So… I did my research and found an awesome company, Tarte Costmetics – and I tossed all of my old makeup (and I was a huge fan of MAC).  So far, I am so happy I switched, for while I loved the colors and wear of MAC cosmetics, I always had itchy eyes and redness at the end of the day on my skin.  Tarte uses natural ingredients, especially in their eye and lip products, which is huge since these are the easiest ways into your body and linked to major organs.  Others have reported really liking Coastal Classics Creations, Juice Beauty, 100% Pure, and Faerie Organics.

 

In Part II following up, I will cover food and supplement products that I love and use.  While not perfect, I hope this list is somewhat helpful to you if you are looking to switch out to healthier alternatives.  Please feel free to share any natural & safe alternative products that you love, use, and stand by!!

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more:http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at:megan@empowerhealthcoach.com.

 

 

 

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Easy, Homemade Chicken Pot Pie

I’ve loved Chicken Pot Pie since we first met in my early 20’s and every time I encounter it on a menu, I order it.  That said, I’ve never been brave enough to make it myself.  Anything with a pie crust scares me, I’m a cook, not a baker (and yes, there is a HUGE difference).  But I recently tried Katie’s homemade Chicken Pot Pie (which is her mom’s recipe and it was amazing), so I was determined to try it.

I tweaked it a little, but it was just as delicious and my kids and husband all LOVED it.  Here it is…

Ready Made Pie Crust (I used this one)

2 tblspn Olive Oil

1 small onion (diced)

2 Large Carrots (diced)

3/4 cup sweet corn (fresh or frozen)

1-1.5 cups of diced or shredded chicken (I used roasted chicken)

1 tbspn flour

8oz stock, chicken or veg

1/2 cup milk or cream

1 tsp tumeric (optional)

IMG_1242

Heat oven to 350.  Heat oil in large pan, add onions, garlic and carrot an cook for 5-7 minutes, until golden.

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Add chicken and corn, cook for 2-3 minutes.

IMG_1249Add flour, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

IMG_1253Add tumeric (if desired), season with salt and pepper.

IMG_1255Add chicken broth, reduce for 3-5 minutes.  Add milk and allow to thicken for 3 minutes.

Line pie dish with pie crust, add chicken/veg mix and cover with remaining pie crust.  Pinch the edges by hand or with a fork.  You can also brush the crust with a beaten egg for a shiny, golden crust.

Bake for 20-25 minutes and voila, deliciousness awaits you!IMG_1269

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Cranberry Chutney …and My Kids Actually Ate It!

cranberry chutneyWhen I approach a new recipe I often have to pass it through the “will my kids eat this” test. Does it have a weird texture? Does it have more than one new ingredient? Does it look or smell like something that they recently decided was no longer worth their time?

It’s a full time job. On top of being their mom. Which is like two full time jobs in itself.

Last week I received two large boxes of fresh cranberries in my CSA box.  Cranberries are not something I normally buy, though I love their tart flavor.  My daughter Claire loves raspberries, so I figured she might be up for a new recipe and even though I had a lot of them, I didn’t want them to go to waste.  So, I looked around my cook books to see if I could find anything appealing.  Naturally, when I came across this recipe for cranberry chutney I almost turned the page without even glancing at the ingredients.  Chutney?  That would never pass the kid test.  Chunks of food mixed together in an unidentifiable sauce?  Yeah, my almost-4-year-olds are always up for adventure at the dinner table. But this was a recipe from one of my favorite cook books, Clean Food.  My kids loved so many of her other recipes.  Maybe it was worth a look.

2 C fresh cranberries

1 C raisins

1/2 C sucanat (cane sugar)

1/2 C maple syrup

1 T cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1 C water

1 small onion, chopped

3 medium apples, cored and chopped

4 stalks of celery, chopped

To Prepare

Combine cranberries, raisins, sucanat, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger and water in Dutch oven. Place over medium heat and cook 15 minutes. Stir in onion, apples and celery and cook 15 minutes more. Remove from heat and serve.  Chutney can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in the freezer.

Easy enough and at the very least I knew I would love it (that still has to count for something, right?).  Since I was making a pork roast with sweet potatoes and apples for dinner last night, it seemed like a great opportunity to add a spoonful of cranberry chutney on the side and let the fall flavors do their magic.
As soon as my daughters sat down at the table, I knew I was in for it.
Rachel: What’s this? (squishy face, poking at it with her finger)
Me: It’s called cranberry chutney.  It is raisins, syrup, cranberries…
Rachel: Yuck. Ew. (pulling her finger back as if it bit her)
Me: You don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it.  I really think you’ll like this one.
Rachel: (takes a bite and grimaces, bracing for the worst) chew, chew, chew.  Grabs for more.  Finishes everything on her plate.
Victory!  And I made sure not to say a word.  In the hopes that she’ll eat it again someday.  Like tomorrow…
Source: Terry Walters, Clean Food – http://terrywalters.net/2011/03/cranberry-chutney/
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MEGAN MONDAY: Veterans Day – A Time for Thanks and Reflection

veterans dayMegan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach.
Several times throughout the year, I like to take a break from my usual health & nutrition features to focus on other important topics, and with today being Veterans Day here in the U.S., I would be remiss to not take the opportunity to honor and thank those who dedicate and have dedicated their lives to serving our nation as uniformed servicemen and women. I understood at a young age that Veterans Day is not just an extra Monday off per year for some people; with both grandfathers, a grandmother, uncles, aunts, my dad, husband, and numerous friends having and continuing to serve in the military, I have a profound respect for those who have ever earned to wear a uniform. I know there are individuals out there who view war and war preparation as a negative facet to life, and I myself am not a proponent for war at all, but political views aside, the bottom line is we have and have had the luxury in this nation of individuals who put their county and its people before themselves, which I find honorable. I think this is an important lesson to teach to our children, if anything, to really have them understand why they may have a day off from school or know what it is like to live without many comforts of home for prolonged periods of time in the name of defense of others.
No matter the degree of patriotism any of us may hold, I think we should all be cognizant of all of the Veterans, past and present, and those still serving and just take a moment to say “thanks.” Each and every one of these individuals holds a story unique to his or her experiences – some desirable, honorable, sad, traumatic, humble, or unexplainable. Some of these soldiers come back with physical and/or mental battle wounds that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. I learned some of the greatest lessons of challenging myself, perseverance, work ethic, and honor from the Veterans close to me in my life; it was through their stories of sights and experiences they saw through their time serving that really gave me a clear glimpse of how fortunate we are. While nothing is perfect, and never will be, we need to take the time to stop, reflect, and be grateful for all that we have – and that came at the expense of something and someone somewhere down the line.
One thing I find fascinating with each passing Veterans Day is how young many of our Veterans are. When I was a child, my vision of a Veteran was someone older who had fought in World War I or II; today, there are more and more young Veterans who have served tours of duty starting as early as their 18th year of life. With so many young veterans in our country, it’s important to note that many of them need great support in all areas of their life to help with the transition of having served during a time that is very different than our elders.
I had a conversation with some of the children in my neighborhood about Veterans Day and some of them knew what it was about, but many of them didn’t; they had not even spoke about it in school, which I found disheartening simply for the fact that these children are unaware of a component of what makes our nation and people great. I understand that is not the case everywhere, but I find with each passing year, less and less attention is paid to those who work behind the scenes to protect our nation domestically and abroad.
Here are some basic facts and pieces of info regarding Veterans Day that you may find helpful in discussing with your children and/or loved ones, in addition to some ways to say thanks to and support those who put you before themselves:
By definition, Veterans Day (SOURCE: Wikipedia):
Veterans Day is an official United States holiday which honors people who have served in armed service also known as veterans. It is a federal holiday that is observed on November 11. It coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are celebrated in other parts of the world and also mark the anniversary of the end of World War I. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect.)
Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day; Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.[1]
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. In proclaiming the holiday, he said
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”[2]

Ideas to honor Veterans Day:
– Fly the American flag!
– Wear red, white, and blue
– Make a donation to a Veterans’ association that supports services to Vets (i.e. DAV – Disabled American Veterans, Wounded Warrior Foundation, Care for Disabled Veterans, even check out your local VAFW hall)
– Writing letters to soldiers: http://www.apples4theteacher.com/holidays/veterans-day/packages-from-home.html
– Teaching about Veterans Day and tons of fun activities for kids: http://militaryfamily.about.com/od/holidays/a/Teaching-Kids-About-Veterans-Day.htm

– Activities to do on Veterans Day to show your support: http://www.fantasticfunandlearning.com/teaching-kids-about-veterans-day-resources-and-ideas.html

– Video interview of a Veteran: http://www.meetmeatthecorner.org/episode/veterans-day-for-kids-interview-with-tuskegee-airman

– Celebrate Veterans Day with your children: http://www.military.com/veterans-day/celebrate-veterans-day.html

– Ways to support Veterans: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/09/veterans-day-how-to-help_n_2095945.html

– Supporting troops and veterans: http://yourlife.usatoday.com/mind-soul/doing-good/kindness/post/2011/11/How-to-support-our-troops-this-Veterans-Day-2010/8106/1
http://localfresh.biz/2013/11/07/veterans-post/
– Ways to make Veterans Day more meaningful: http://theveteranssupport.org/blog/10-ways-make-veterans-day-more-meaningful

– Help those who need extra support: http://www.carefordisabledveterans.org

– Healthy Veterans Day-inspired recipes: http://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/5-healthy-patriotic-recipes-celebrate-veterans-day
http://www.carefordisabledveterans.org/blog/patriotic-recipes-for-a-veterans-day-picnic.cfm

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at: megan@empowerhealthcoach.com.

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Four Easy Ways That I Add Super Seeds into My Kids’ Daily Meals

chia seedsIf you’re at all into health and nutrition you can barely get through a scroll through Facebook, Twitter or the evening news without hearing something about super seeds.  Chia, hemp, flax.  In our drinks, in our oatmeal, in our cookies.  What goes where?  Which benefits what?  How would I even start getting these into my daily diet?  Or my child’s?

Yesterday, I came across a great slide show of seven super seeds.  Pomegranate (antioxidants), hemp (protein), chia (calcium), pumpkin (iron), sesame (omega-6), flax (omega-3) and wheat germ (fiber).  It got me thinking…a few years ago, I barely knew what most of these were, let alone what nutritional benefit they held and (gasp!) how I could possibly work them into my daily diet.  Or my family’s.  The amazing thing is that each of these seeds really does pack a punch of nutrition.  In my opinion, their size is what makes them super.  How is all of that power in such a tiny vessel?  As I’ve learned about each one over the years, I’ve played around with ways of mixing them in with recipes and even prepackaged snacks that we already know and enjoy.  Without much planning or premeditated thought.  Just a little practice.  Here are some of my tips:

1. Blend – Smoothies are the easiest way (I think) to get a TON of nutrition without sacrificing taste.  Or fun.  My daughters love smoothies.  So do I.  As long as they base is something they love (for my daughter, Rachel it’s peanut butter and banana.  For my daughter Claire it’s yogurt and berries) I can add a 1/4 cup of wheat germ, oat bran or whole oats and a teaspoon of flax, chia or hemp.  These thicken the smoothie but don’t alter it’s flavor.  With a few spoonfuls I add protein, calcium, fiber and omega-3s.

2. Sprinkle – Lately, the girls are obsessed with cereal for breakfast.  I used to cringe at this idea until I realized that since they love granola, I could mix a couple kinds of cereal (eg: Cascadian Farms Purely O’s and Nature’s Path Pumpkin Flax Granola) and then sprinkle in a couple spoonfuls of any of these powerhouse seeds on top and they would gobble it up.  The first time I tried it, I was sure they were going to call me out.  They are VERY sensitive to “strange things” floating in their food.  But, because the granola is something they like, adding a few more tiny grains or seeds on top, they don’t notice or care.  This same theory applies to oatmeal and yogurt.

3. Mix – I started out in the kitchen as a baker.  Precise measurements and little room for error.  Watching how the temperature of the butter affected the outcome of the cookie.  But being in the kitchen more and playing around (translation: not being afraid to “mess up”) gave me a freedom to try mixing things in for an extra punch of nutrition.  Whether I’m making muffins or meatballs, I always add some chia or flax, even if it’s not called for.

4. Swap –  As I’ve played around with recipes over the years I’ve come to make flat out swaps for certain ingredients in my pantry.  Instead of using bread crumbs (something I haven’t purchased in over 4 years) I use a combination of wheat germ, oat bran and flax seed.  Sometimes I just use oat bran, sometimes I use all three.  It started when I made crispy chicken bites that are covered in wheat germ, crushed almonds, oat bran and flax and my children devoured them.  I use the same combination when I make chicken parmesan now and adults and kids rave about the taste.

Trying to do one of these can be daunting.  The next time you’re at the store, buy one.  Try it once.  Attempt to try it again.  Make it accessible and it becomes part of your routine.  Start small so it’s not overwhelming.  After 4 years of using flax or hemp or chia in my own oatmeal, my husband started using it in his own.  Stranger things have happened…

 

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25 Healthy, Kid-Friendly Ideas for Thanksgiving

thanksgiving round upNovember already. It seems to sneak up on us, like a remnant prank left over from Halloween. For me, it’s a welcomed guest. The cool air, a bowl of steaming soup, an extra blanket thrown over the back of the couch. I love this time of year and all that it means. Most of all…giving thanks. Alas, it seems that giving thanks tends to come with a hefty menu. Turkey, stuffing, relatives from out of town and children out of school for a few extra days. And pie. Lots of pie.

To make your lives with little ones a little easier, we’ve compiled a list of 25 Healthy, Kid-Friendly Ideas for Thanksgiving. Recipes, crafts, table toppers. Plenty to keep little hands occupied and little mouths happy. Now that’s something to be thankful for!

1. Hosting Kids Tips – If kids are involved it’s best to be prepared for anything, but why not get out in front of some of the chaos with a little planning?

2. Thanksgiving Place Mat – Keep the peace at the table with this fun, interactive idea for kids (and adults!).

thanksgiving placemat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Creating a Fun Kids Table – More festive ideas to make the kids happy to have their own table.

thanksgiving kids table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Garland of Thanks – Get little hands busy right away with a fun, Thanksgiving-inspired project that gets the whole family involved!

5. Turkey Crafts – Inspire the most creative kids in the room with these artistic ideas.

6. How to Cook the Perfect Turkey – A step by step guide.

7. Fruit and Cheese Kabobs –  This acts as a centerpiece to the table and an easy-to-grab, healthy snack.

turkey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Veggie Turkey – Adorable addition to any table full of appetizers.

9. Turkey Fruit Platter – Festive, grab-me-if-you-can alternative to your standard fruit salad.

10. Pumpkin Hummus – A delicious and protein-packed alternative to hum-drum dip options.

11. Cranberry Apple Chutney – A kid-tested alternative to this Thanksgiving standby.

12. Thanksgiving Risotto – A fantastic combination of the seasons best flavors.

thanksgiving risotto

 

 

 

 

 

 

13. Quinoa, Kale, Sweet Potato Bowl – A Dairy and gluten/grain free option – without missing any of the great flavor!

14. Bulgur and Cranberry Stuffing – Delicious stuffing that our kids love!

15. Whole Wheat Pumpkin Mac and Cheese – Surprise the kids with this healthier take on one of their favorites.

16. Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese – Try this alternative as a fun side dish or post-Thanksgiving meal using leftover butternut squash.

17. Butternut Squash and Root Vegetable Soup – A yummy starter for any cold weather day – packed with nutrition!

18. Brussels Sprouts with Grapes and Walnuts – There are never any leftovers of this dish in my house when this comes out of the oven.

brussel sprouts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

19. Roasted Vegetables – Encourage kids to try the different colors, shapes and sizes.

20. Fruit Cornucopia – Build a dessert table around these beautiful, healthy treats.

fruit cornucopia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21. Mini Sweet Potato Whoopie Pies – A new way to serve up traditional pumpkin pie, that’s perfect for small hands.

22. Apple Crisp – Perfectly portioned in small, ramekin cups.  Simple, pretty, delicious.

apple-crisp8+srgb.[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23. Turkey Pumpkin Chili – Make the most of your leftovers

24. Turkey Empanadas – Turn your leftovers into this unexpected kid-friendly dinner

25. Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal – What kid doesn’t want dessert for breakfast?

Remember, there is no such thing as giving TOO much thanks!  Be thankful, have fun, enjoy.

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MEGAN MONDAY: What’s the Best Food Guide to Follow?

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach.

You and/or your child may or may not have seen the updated “MyPlate” version of the USDA food pyramid, delineating portions of recommended food groups to eat on a daily basis. While the “MyPlate” rendition is a huge improvement from the former USDA’s Food Pyramid, it still has major flaws and is heavily influenced by the food industry groups (i.e. dairy, beef, chicken, grain, etc. industries) that heavily “contribute”/fund USDA programs, such as the food guide. How convenient that the same industries that contribute funding to the USDA are made dietary “recommendations” by the U.S. Government. While I applaud recent efforts to improve the antiquated version of the food pyramid, I still strongly caution anyone I can about the concerns focused around the “MyPlate” recommendations.
Rather, I feel there is a better alternative, especially one to use to teach children a healthy and balanced way to eat. When studying nutrition, several of my course studies challenged some of the components of the “MyPlate” and USDA daily recommendations. For instance, what do people who are allergic to dairy do with the distinct dairy portion of the MyPlate? How relevant is the large “grains” portion to someone who really needs to watch carbohydrates or has gluten intolerance or sensitivities (not that all grains are gluten)? And where is the water portion? For something that is considered an essential element to survive (and free), I find it odd that it doesn’t exist anywhere on the MyPlate diagram. With how much we’re supposed to “balance” our meals, I find the MyPlate rather misleading and not the best representation of how to square our diets off.
One of the best models I found is Harvard’s “Healthy Eating Plate”, which was designed void of any lobbyist influence, in addition to covering a healthier balance of the most nutrient-dense foods. The Healthy Eating Plate’s website sums up the difference of the two food guides perfectly (SOURCE: Harvard University’s School of Public Health website):

healthy eating plate

myplate

The Healthy Eating Plate, created by experts at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, points consumers to the healthiest choices in the major food groups. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, in contrast, fails to give people some of the basic nutrition advice they need to choose a healthy diet. The Healthy Eating Plate is based exclusively on the best available science and was not subjected to political and commercial pressures from food industry lobbyists.

Whole Grains Grains
The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to choose whole grains and limit refined grains, since whole grains are much better for health. In the body, refined grains like white bread and white rice act just like sugar. Over time, eating too much of these refined-grain foods can make it harder to control weight and can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes. MyPlate does not tell consumers that whole grains are better for health.
Healthy Protein Protein
The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to choose fish, poultry, beans or nuts, protein sources that contain other healthful nutrients. It encourages them to limit red meat and avoid processed meat, since eating even small quantities of these foods on a regular basis raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and weight gain. MyPlate’s protein section could be filled by a hamburger or hot dog; it offers no indication that some high-protein foods are healthier than others, or that red and processed meat are especially harmful to health.
Vegetables Vegetables
The Healthy Eating Plate encourages an abundant variety of vegetables, since Americans are particularly deficient in their vegetable consumption—except for potatoes and French fries. Potatoes are chock full of rapidly digested starch, and they have the same effect on blood sugar as refined grains and sweets, so limited consumption is recommended. MyPlate does not distinguish between potatoes and other vegetables.
Fruits Fruits
The Healthy Eating Plate recommends eating a colorful variety of fruits. MyPlate also recommends eating fruits.
Healthy Oils (Not included in MyPlate)
The Healthy Eating Plate depicts a bottle of healthy oil, and it encourages consumers to use olive, canola, and other plant oils in cooking, on salads, and at the table. These healthy fats reduce harmful cholesterol and are good for the heart, and Americans don’t consume enough of them each day. It also recommends limiting butter and avoiding trans fat. MyPlate is silent on fat, which could steer consumers toward the type of low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet that makes it harder to control weight and worsens blood cholesterol profiles.
Water Dairy
The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to drink water, since it’s naturally calorie free, or to try coffee and tea (with little or no sugar), which are also great calorie-free alternatives. It advises consumers to avoid sugary drinks, since these are major contributors to the obesity and diabetes epidemics. It recommends limiting milk and dairy to one to two servings per day, since high intakes are associated with increased risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer; it recommends limiting juice, even 100% fruit juice, to just a small glass a day, because juice contains as much sugar and as many calories as sugary soda. MyPlate recommends dairy at every meal, even though there is little if any evidence that high dairy intakes protect against osteoporosis, and there is considerable evidence that too-high intakes can be harmful. MyPlate says nothing about sugary drinks or juice.
Stay Active (Not included in MyPlate)
The figure scampering across the bottom of the Healthy Eating Plate’s placemat is a reminder that staying active is half of the secret to weight control. The other half is eating a healthy diet with modest portions that meet your calorie needs. There is no activity message on MyPlate.

As one can see, the Healthy Eating Plate offers a more balanced, realistic approach to how we really should be eating, no matter if we are vegan, meat lovers, gluten sensitive, etc.
Follow the links below for more resources on the Healthy Eating Plate and how you can use it to help educate your children. Also keep in mind that since the USDA (government-run) version of the MyPlate will be the version most taught in public schools (government-run), be an activist and ask to have the Healthy Eating Plate offered in addition to (if not replacing, if possible), the USDA version. Spread the word to other parents and families, too!
http://www.health.harvard.edu/plate/healthy-eating-plate
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/pyramid/
http://www.dlife.com/diabetes-food-and-fitness/what_do_i_eat/the_dlife_healthy_eating_plate
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at: megan@empowerhealthcoach.com.

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