Category Archives: Natural Mom

natural health

Healthy Eating for Toddlers: Tips and Tricks

As with many other areas of toddler life, I think a little one’s eating habits and food preferences can be attributed to a combination of two main things: (1) the hardwiring of the kid and (2) what he or she is offered and how. People may try to tell you that your kid’s preferences for salty French fries or greasy pizza or sugary soft drinks are all your fault. But, it’s just not true. Humans are genetically programmed to prefer salty and sweet and rich, over plain or bitter. That’s just nature. Plus, different people like different stuff, naturally. Still, what we offer our kids, and maybe even more so how we go about doing it, has a huge influence on what they actually eat.

I’ve always been pretty mindful of what I put into my own mouth. Since pregnancy and nursing, I’ve paid even more attention to it. After all, what went into my body went into the peanut growing inside my belly and then into the breast milk that fed the most precious baby I had ever laid eyes on (Yes, of course, I know I’m biased.) Anyway, now that he’s no longer attached directly to what I eat, I’ve been putting the same amount of thought into what goes into my son’s mouth. I look at food as serving two main purposes. It’s (a) fuel for his busy days of exploring and learning and (b) the building blocks for his development. And, call me crazy, but I want high-octane fuel and Grade A blocks for my son. But, how to get him to actually eat the good stuff? That’s the challenge.

Admittedly, like the rest of us parents, I’m still learning. Still, in my experimentation, I’ve found several things that have worked. For now, at least. In case you’re looking for some ideas to get your toddlers to eat healthier, I thought I’d share. Here goes…

  1. Make sure he is hungry. I can thank my doctor for this one. When I was trying to wean my son off my boob and pique his interest in other foods, I was nursing him about every two hours. My doctor suggested to spread him out to 3.5 or 4 hours and to offer him other foods before my breast. My son went from hardly interested in anything, to hungry enough to try it all! Even now, months later, if I feed him less than 3 hours apart, he’s not into eating much of anything except his favorites (mostly dairy).
  1. Fruits and veggies first. This is kind of a no brainer. I mean, think about it. As an adult, if I have both pizza and salad in front of me and I go for the pizza first, I end up not having room for the salad. The same applies to kids. Offer what you want them to eat while they’re super hungry, and before you offer the things that they prefer and that will leave no room for the healthier foods.
  1. Keep all favorites out of sight until nothing else is going down. This goes along with the last one. My son’s favorite food (well, maybe I should say “ingestible thing” because it’s a beverage) is milk. If he even sees the white stuff in his peripheral vision when I open the fridge to pull out something else, it’s all over. It’s the only thing he wants. I make sure to hide it while I’m offering him the things I want him to eat first. (Not that milk is unhealthy, but as I’ve said before, my son would eat only dairy if he could. And, one cannot live on milk, cheese, and yogurt alone…unless he never wants to poop again. Enough said.)
  1. Let him feed himself. I said this months ago when I wrote about my son’s aversion to all baby food. My Jacob will eat a whole cubed kiwi off a fork–that he holds and uses himself. Yet, he will press his lips together and shake his head if I’m the one bringing it to his mouth. At this age, my son is all about independence, learning new skills, and especially being praised. Feeding himself taps into all of these, so it works.
  1. Plan for messy…at least sometimes. I must admit that I am just not that mama—you know, the one who is totally relaxed when her kids get disgustingly dirty. I can’t stand messes. They stress me out. Still, I remind myself that they are an important part of the learning process. It’s one way toddlers explore and discover. When I’m feeling a little less high strung than usual (sometimes this requires a glass of wine), I just let my son go with his messy self. I give him his own spoon and plastic bowl of yogurt or oatmeal. He smashes it, dumps it on himself, puts his hand in the bowl, and sometimes even makes some into his mouth. And, he’s learning…and eating healthy stuff…so I’m okay with it (or at least telling myself I should be.)
  1. Make it a game. I don’t fully understand this one…but my son is slightly obsessed with feeding me. He giggles when I take a bite that he puts in my mouth, and he’ll eat whatever I eat when we play this game. One for me, one for you; those are the rules. Try it with yours and let me know…
  1. Make food into shapes. I mentioned in a previous post that my key to de-constipating my son is making balls of crushed dates and nuts (scroll to the bottom of the post for recipe). He just likes balls right now. Soccer balls, baseballs, Nerf balls, and yes, date/nut balls. Hey, whatever works, right?
  1. Colorful is cool. One of my son’s new favorites is watermelon. (I have to share with you that he calls it “may-yay.” I’m such a proud mama with all his new words lately.) He just likes to look at it. He watches intently as I cut into the bright green shell and reveal its bright pink goodness. He points at whole watermelons at the grocery store, and at cubed pieces in a glass container in our fridge. I think he just likes color: not only is he eating canteloupe, zucchini, bright yellow spaghetti squash, blueberries, strawberries, and watermelon, he’s kicking for them. He’s pointing at them. He likes to hold them and see them. Eating the rainbow of foods is just a bonus.
  1. Healthier is okay when healthiest is not working. We all know that whole, unprocessed, natural foods with no additives are what we’re supposed to be eating. But, in a world where far yummier things exist, those ideal foods are just not going to be eaten 100% of the time. Sure, they’re packed with sodium, but my son loves veggie burgers, turkey sausages, uncured, organic all-beef hot dogs, and many other healthier-than-fast-food-but-not-as-healthy-as-fresh-picked-from-the-farm foods. And, I’m totally okay with that. I know parents who say that the only thing their kids will eat is McDonald’s or frozen chicken nuggets and French fries. While I can empathize to some extent, I just wonder if they’ve tried something in between Mc-ee-dees/Tyson and plain Brussels sprouts. Here are some compromises that have worked for us:
  • Whole grain versions of bread, crackers, bagels, tortillas, English muffins, pasta, rice, cereal, etc.
  • Healthy, prepared foods: there are healthier (natural/organic) versions of everything, including nuggets and fries—look in the health food isle of your grocery store or at your local health-food store
  • Adding a little butter or sprinkling a little salt on the things that won’t go down plain. Yes, I know that saturated fat and sodium aren’t great staples, but a little bit can go a long way when they make the vitamin-rich broccoli appealing.
  1. Change it up. I don’t know if this is just my Jacob or all toddlers…but my son gets tired of the same things. One day, he’ll love, love, love oatmeal, and the next day, he’s pushing away the spoon and saying “all done” before he takes his first bite. (He says this phrase just perfectly now…I’m beaming at the words even when he’s pushing away the food I’ve just prepared.)
  1. Eat whatever you want him to eat in front of him. I have gotten my son to try all sorts of odd, healthy things this way. One of Jacob’s favorite (newish) lines these days is “moh-uh-dat” (more of that), which he says while pointing to whatever I’m feeding myself. He has tried and liked black olives, hummus, and several spicy, curried Indian and Thai take-out dishes this way.
  1. Be persistent. For me, this sort of goes along with the last one. In spite of my husband’s revulsion to their smell, I eat hard-boiled eggs daily. After about ten or so times of asking me for a bite and gagging, one day, my son took a bite of my egg and said “moh” (more). He eats an egg (which he now calls “yay-guh”) almost every day now.
  1. Don’t offer it  (or have it around as an option) if you don’t want him to eat it. To me this is another “no-duh” sort of statement with toddlers. I’ve heard parents say, “once I introduced donuts and pizza, my kids never went back to cereal or sandwiches.” No offense, but…seriously?? I’m not saying never feed your children fast food, because I know whether it’s you on a rough night or grandma and grandpa buttering them up, it’s going to happen sooner or later. But, don’t keep doing it. The majority of kids won’t starve themselves. If I offered Jacob greasy, fried things all the time, he would definitely take them. I just don’t have much of them around. Again…um. Duh.
  1. Don’t eat it in front of him (or let him see it) if you don’t want him to eat it. With my son at least, if he sees almost anything, he wants to put it in his mouth. The problem is that keeping unhealthy things out of his sight is way easier said than done. And, unfortunately, the hard-boiled egg story I just told also applies to mommy’s favorite salt and vinegar potato chips. After several “whuzzat”s (what’s that?), followed by opening his mouth and gagging to the flavor of them on his tongue, my son acquired a taste for their tangy exquisiteness. No kidding. (Thankfully, I have found a healthier alternative: Pop Chips. Just as delicious, but with less fat and fewer calories.) To fully disclose, I should also mention that Jacob became a huge fan of hot fudge (I have a good recipe and make it too often at home) and McDonald’s ice cream this way. (This tip applies to mama’s time of the month and is evidence of her dietary weaknesses…what can I say? If you are stronger than me, please ignore tip #14.)
  1. Prepare foods in advance. Too many times, I’ve been caught empty-handed with a fussy toddler screaming for food. When I can, I make oatmeal and rice; chop fruits, veggies, and cheese; and fill plastic (BPA-free!) bowls of dried cereal, freeze-dried fruit, and whole grain crackers on Sundays before the craziness of the workweek sets in. This way, if I need to grab something quick, I’m armed.
  1. Have something quick on hand even when you haven’t prepared anything. Unfortunately, my little guy is losing interest in Cheerios (which used to be one of my favorite, simplest things to give him.) My new go-to’s, when he’s screaming in hunger and I don’t have anything prepared, are string cheese and Pirate’s Booty. Again, they are not the healthiest things in the world, but they are not the worst. Plus, they buy me time while I prepare the healthy stuff.

And probably my #1 lesson/tip/trick:

  1. Realize that sometimes even the best-intentioned efforts fail. Just like everything else during this wonderful period of toddlerhood, attempts to get my son to eat healthy don’t always work. When he’s teething, really tired or cranky, or for reasons unknown to me, there are times that a meal is just plain (whole, organic, white) milk. And, I’m okay with that. It’s the big picture, not one meal, that makes for that fuel and those building blocks I mentioned earlier.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions! I could always use more, especially during those times when tip #17 is the only one I can apply. Cheers to happy and healthy toddlers!

 

 

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Killing two birds with one ball: Two gross stories and a healthy recipe

I’ve had two rather minor, but still pretty annoying, health issues going on in my house lately. And, I think I’ve found a solution to both. Here’s the run down:

Bird #1

I’ve mentioned before that Jacob never quite took to baby food. In spite of countless attempts of everything made for babies, nothing really worked…unless I mixed it with yogurt. In fact, my son has never discriminated against anything in the dairy department. Cheese of all kinds, yogurt of any flavor, and milk are, by far, his very favorite foods. I even can sneak a whole jar of baby vegetables (peas, carrots, or green beans) into an equal amount of yogurt, and he eats it the same. Milk with a liquid vitamin (Polyvisol with iron is what we use) goes down no differently than its white, less nutrient-dense counterpart.

Anyway, as you can imagine, a toddler cannot live on dairy alone (even if it includes a bit of pureed veggies and a shot of vitamins)…especially if he plans to have regular bowel movements, that is. (Sorry for the TMI—I realize that not everyone is as comfortable discussing poo as I am. You should definitely stop reading now,  or at least scroll down to the recipe if you fit into that category, because this post is going to get more disgusting before it gets better.)

Generally, constipation has not been a huge issue with Jacob because, as I said, I can mix veggies into his yogurt. Plus, he’s interested in lots other foods and especially in trying at least some of whatever I’m eating. If I feel he needs to “get things moving”, I eat fruits or veggies or something else fibrous in front of him. He always ends up pointing, asking “uhzzhat” (“what’s that?”), and opening his mouth.

Lately, however, Jacob has begun a boycott of sorts. He refuses any food that he cannot feed himself. This translates into a limited menu of foods that include only those he can (a) grip with his tiny fingers, (b) stab to get onto his own little plastic fork, or (c) scoop up with one of his toddler spoons and make to his mouth without dropping or spilling it all. Mealtime has become a much longer and messier process, and it’s been especially difficult to travel (which we often do on weekends in the summer). His bowel movements have become few and far between. On a bad day, for him, going number two has been a combination of grunts and screams. For me, it has meant either rubbing his bottom nearly raw in attempt to remove the spackle-like substance stuck to it, or having to stick my fingers up his backend to dislodge rock-hard poo that got caught in the exit on its way out. Not fun. Quite horrible actually.

In case you are not grossed out enough…

Bird #2

My husband has been telling me for a while now that I belch like a sumo wrestler. I don’t know if there is such thing as a sumo-wrestler style of belch. However, the imagery sort of speaks for itself. If something coming out of the mouth of someone like me (barely 5 feet tall and about 115 pounds) can paint the picture of obese men bouncing around a ring, then something is very, very wrong. And, it’s true—for the past several years, I’ve had some serious Revenge of the Nerds: Booger/Snotty burping contest quality stuff going on. (Again, sorry for the grossness of this post, but I’m trying to get my points across.) A few years back, I felt so bloated and so much pressure in my chest that I had a bunch of tests done: an upper endoscopy, tests for allergies, and several other related exams. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on. Neither they nor I ever really did.

And then there’s my belly. Again, I don’t have a weight problem. I never have. I eat what I consider healthy and exercise regularly for many reasons. Still, now, well over a year after I gave birth, I still look pregnant some days. I get asked if I’ve got another on the way about once every couple of weeks, no joke. And, that’s from the people who lack the tact to hold back from asking the question. I’m sure dozens of others are thinking it. I would be.

When I told a friend of mine about my sumo belching and non-preggers-but-looks-preggers belly, she said “duh, you have a food intolerance.” She suggested I take soy and gluten out of my diet. And, here I am, a few weeks into this soy-free, gluten-free eating plan, and it’s actually going pretty well. One of the biggest challenges has been finding substitutes for the Luna and Kashi bars in my diet, which have both soy and gluten and of which I used to eat about four a day! In attempt to find a good replacement, I’ve been experimenting with various ingredients to create something sweet, portable, and healthy to replace all the bars in my life. (I tried this before with a chocolate covered bar, but those don’t keep too well in the summer.)

In the process of my experimentation, my son has been fascinated with my creations (mostly, I think, because they are in the shape of balls, which he happens to be semi-obsessed with lately.) Thankfully for the two of us, the product of my science is something that works for my sweet tooth and soy-free, gluten-free diet and that is perfect for pushing the poop through his body and all the way into his diaper—minus his grunts or my fingers as pliers.

So, I thought I’d share. Here ya go. Drumroll, please…gluten-free, soy-free, vegan, raw, super yummy…

No-Bake Muffin Balls

Ingredients

1/2 cup dates (packed well into the measuring cup)

1/3 cup raw cashews

1/3 cup raw pecans

2 T raw coconut flour (it’s just coconut ground into flour)

1 t cinnamon

2 t alcohol-free coconut extract (vanilla or other extract works too—alcohol free is key)

2 T water

Instructions

  1. Throw the dates and nuts into a food processor until they are chopped fine.
  2. Toss the date/nut mixture into a bowl with the coconut flour and cinnamon; mix.
  3. Stir in extract and water.
  4. Roll into 1-inch balls. (It makes about a dozen.) I wrap mine individually in plastic wrap or foil (or first plastic wrap, and then foil) so I can take them wherever I go. I’ve found they keep outside the fridge (wrapped as I have shown above in plastic wrap and in a sealed container) for about five days. They probably keep much longer in the fridge.

Nutrition info

Per ball (1/12 of recipe): 75 calories, 4 g fat, 1.5 g protein, 1.5 g fiber.

So, there ya go. They’re portable, healthy, yummy for mommy and kids, and they’re super easy to make. I think I have killed more than two birds with these balls. Let me know if you try them or if you have any ideas for additions or substitutions. I have a special variation with cocoa powder and walnuts that I’ll save for another day.

Until then, try out the recipe. De-constipate your kids. Have a ball.

 

A few tips on typing

Good physical health is one thing many of us take for granted. The human body is a complex network of intricate systems and parts, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that everything is going perfectly smoothly for many of us. It often takes a major malfunction within own body or in someone’s close to us before we realize we’ve been taking our health for granted all along.

For me, the first time I experienced the realization that health isn’t a guarantee was when my younger sister, who was fifteen at the time, got very sick and lost her eyesight. Out of nowhere, a perfectly healthy teenage girl was stricken suddenly by a severe virus that made her world go black. Almost a decade later, a second big shock for me was childbirth. My extra long labor followed by a complicated c-section left me mostly immobile for several weeks—it made me realize how lucky I had always been to be so healthy and active.

I got my third reality check recently. I’ve been experiencing swelling and pain in the fingers, joints, and wrist of my right hand over the past couple of months. For someone who is right-handed, spends over 40 hours per week at work typing, lifts weights three or more times per week, blogs in her free time, and then feeds, changes, and lifts a 22-pound baby several times a day, this is a huge problem. As I’m typing now, I’m wearing a wrist brace and using an ergonomic keyboard and mouse I just purchased. And, I’m still a little uncomfortable.

In a world where people spend more and more time in front of computer screens, I thought I would pass along a few things I’ve learned lately after seeing a few specialists and having an ergonomic health expert visit my workstation:

Practice prevention. In spite of spending the majority of my working hours at a desk for about 10 years now, I’ve never had any problems. I noticed some weird back pain several years ago, but it went away and never came back (knock on wood). Suddenly, when I entered my thirties a couple years ago, I started noticing more aches and pains…and that they hang around a heck of a lot longer than they used to do. After having someone evaluate my work station, I’ve realized that I should have been paying more attention to how I move, sit, stand, and type since the beginning. Why didn’t they teach us this stuff in computer classes in school? My new take is that even if you feel your computer setup is completely comfy, please do yourself a favor and take a peek at the suggestions below. Then, make a few adjustments to prevent problems down the road.

Adjust the height of your chair, keyboard, and screen.

  • Your feet should be flat on the floor (or on a footrest.)
  • The back of your chair should support your lower back and fit the curve of your spine.
  • Your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle and even with your keyboard when your shoulders are relaxed and your hands are resting comfortably.
  • The top of your screen should be slightly below eye level and 16 to 20 inches from your eyes.
  • There should be little or no glare or reflections on your screen, and the contrast and brightness should be set at a level that feels comfortable.

Keep things close. Place the items you use most frequently (mouse, telephone, etc) within easy reach so you don’t have to twist and stretch to get to them.

Take breaks.

  • Check in with yourself throughout the day to ensure your hands and body are relaxed, not tense. If you’re not good at doing that, set an alarm on your computer calendar or cell phone to remind you throughout the day.
  • Change how you are sitting periodically.
  • Go do something else (clean your desk, make a phone call, etc) to break up the time you spend at your computer.
  • Stand up every once in a while.
  • Look away from your screen and glance across the room or out the window.
  • Close your eyes occasionally, or, at the very least, blink.
  • Stretch. Circle your wrists. Spread your fingers. Shrug your shoulders.

Here’s a diagram I was given from the specialist working with me. I thought it was super helpful:I also switched to using my mouse with my left hand. I figured there’s no reason not to distribute some of the work I do to the left side of my body. The first day or so, it felt very awkward and frustratingly slow. But, after that, I was clicking away just as I had been with my right hand (amazingly).

As much as I can help it, I’m not planning on reducing my computer use anytime soon, so I figure I may as well work on how I do it. Let me know if you have any other suggestions!

Nine Quick Ways Every Mom Can Help Mother Earth

This year, I’m taking a new approach to Earth Day. Instead of feeling guilty about all the things on my to-do list that I haven’t accomplished (making my own household cleaners with natural ingredients, setting up a clothes line in the backyard so I can line dry my clothes, looking into cloth diapers, switching all the light bulbs, faucets, and toilets in our house to efficient ones), I decided to give a little thought to what busy moms can realistically do for the environment, with the limited time and energy we have. After searching a bunch of websites, here’s what I found:

  1. Ditch the bag habit. Do you really need a bag for the pack of gum you pick up at the gas station? What about a bag for the jug of milk or pack of toilet paper? If the bag doesn’t make carrying the items we purchase any easier, tell the cashier, “no thanks.”
  2. Remember: it’s in the bag. Pick up reusable shopping bags and make sure to put them back in the trunk for the next grocery trip as soon as they are empty! If you can’t leave the store without the disposable bags, don’t toss them out right away. Whether you choose paper or plastic, reuse them as trash bags for tiny waste baskets around the house, lunch bags for work, easy clean up for cat or dog poo, or a way to conceal the stink of a dirty diaper before you toss it out. Need more ideas? Check this out: http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/reuses-plastic-bags.html.  
  3. Save trees with the click of a button. Pay your bills online. Switch to online versions of your favorite magazines and newspapers. Get off junk mail lists—here’s how: http://www.ecocycle.org/junkmail/index.cfm.
  4. Don’t just throw away old stuff. Give your old clothes to the local Goodwill or Salvation Army. Post the furniture you just replaced to http://www.freecycle.org/. Donate or recycle your old batteries and electronics (go to  http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm to find a local donation center.)
  5. Look for greener options. Products that are better for you and the environment are popping up all over the place these days. Instead of the dish soap or toilet bowl cleaner you’ve always used, see if there’s a more natural or environmentally friendly version that will serve the same purpose. If you can find time to make your own, check this out: http://www.divinecaroline.com/22156/23878-cheap-clean-green/2.
  6. Rethink the temperature of your home. Drop it a few degrees in the winter, especially when you’re not home or when you’re sleeping. On spring or summer days when it’s not too hot, open the windows to cool the house instead of using the air conditioner.
  7. Unplug electronics when done using them. Appliances and other electronics that are plugged in use power whether they are on or off. This goes for cell phone chargers, toasters, microwaves, hair dryers, curling irons, etc. If you can plug it, you can probably save energy by unplugging it.
  8. Limit water use. Think full loads of laundry, shorter showers, and turning the water off while you’re brushing your teeth.
  9. Buy things in bulk. It saves you money and reduces waste with less packaging! It’s a win-win.

Happy Earth Day!

Blinded by the Times: The Mental Block of Modern Motherhood

I spent a good part of my evening watching my son chase after a can of black cherry seltzer. He would give it a shove and then watch as its shiny colors—maroon and blue and silver—swirled away from him. As soon as the spinning stopped, he crawled full speed toward it—as if he were the hunter and the can, his prey.  When he arrived at his target, he grabbed it quickly and then carried the prize in his hand as his crawl turned to a one-handed wriggle across the kitchen floor.

While I followed him, I thought about the hundreds of toys we had purchased or received as gifts—the ones with buttons and wheels, the ones that played music and lit up…the ones he liked for about five minutes and then never picked up again. Instead of Fisher-Price, my baby preferred crumbling magazine pages and paper napkins, waving around socks and washcloths, flipping light switches, shaking plastic containers of popcorn and rice, scooting chairs across the floor, and chasing after cans. Months ago, the first time Jacob became fully engaged with a paper plate, I mentioned it to a few friends and family members. They all responded with some version of the same line, “Oh, of course. All babies love making non-toys into playthings.” Really??? This is the consensus? Then, what the heck are we doing buying baby so many toys when there are plenty of perfectly good things for him to play with just lying around the house?

What aren’t we asking?

When we stop and think about it, there are quite a few areas of baby’s life that we could question in similar ways. For instance, why do babies sleep in cribs in a separate room from mommy, with a monitor streaming into mommy’s room so she can hear and see his every move? Why not just sleep in the same room? Or, why do we make special trips to the grocery store to buy lots of tiny jars of pureed foods for baby? What did people do before Gerber?

Many of us don’t ask such questions. Yet, we complain about spending money on toys, furniture, and food designed to meet baby’s “needs.” And, we worry something is wrong if baby doesn’t take to those products. Then, we make it work—for example, by letting baby “cry it out” until he likes his lonely crib across the hall (a whole systematic approach to this has been developed and is the topic of several books and websites) or by forcing jar after jar of mush into baby’s mouth until he accepts.

I realize my rant of the day brings no earth-shattering news. Every culture and time period has their conventions for raising babies. How most of us think and what most of us do are functions of the times and the places in which we live. The interesting part to me is that many of us don’t think about it much. We just carry on with the normal and accepted behavior, even though the consequences of doing so affect every element of our parenting.

How does it happen?

Why is it so easy to just go along with societal norms, even if they don’t align with our values or if they are unfriendly to our wallets? Several things come to mind:

It’s the first thing we see. Whether it’s on television, in newspaper or magazine ads, part of a colorful display at the supermarket, or simply what the moms around us are doing, what’s popular pops into our heads first. That’s just how the human brain works—we’re hardwired to attend to our immediate environment. We know the saying: out of sight, out of mind. If all we’ve ever known is Pampers and Johnson & Johnson, we’re not going to think organic, cloth diapers when we think about baby poop, and we’re probably not going to look for methods for making our own shampoo when we think of giving baby a bath.  

Information overload. At times, when I’m trying to decide what type of product to buy for baby or how to handle a particular baby issue, I get obsessed with making sure I’m considering all possible contenders. Suddenly, my eyes are wide and glazed over, and my fingers are in a frenzy flipping frantically through baby books or quickly keying in every possible Google search term to identify the best car seat, baby bottle, diaper rash cream, or brand of cereal. I end up exhausted, anxious, and overwhelmed with contradictory information, ratings, and reviews of my options. When my brain’s “system overload” signal is flashing, I just take the easy route. I run to Target and pick up whatever’s in stock, just so I don’t have to deal with it anymore.

What’s out there is good stuff. There’s nothing wrong with buying name brand baby care products or expensive toys that glow and sing. In fact, soap made for babies is usually gentler on their skin than mama’s soap. And, the fancy toys probably enhance baby’s development like they advertise they do. The problem is we feel like we have to buy them in order to care for or entertain baby…when really all baby needs is some hand soap and warm water to get cleaned up or something new to flap, rattle, flutter, or rustle to be entertained.

No time to think about it. (Or, it doesn’t occur to us to think about it when we actually do have the time.) Although I’m not the most eccentric and adventurous person out there, I also wouldn’t consider myself 100% conventional. I’ve always questioned what’s “normal” and considered my options carefully. However, one day, sometime after baby came around, I stopped thinking and started following. I suspect that once creative thinkers can’t think in quite as creative ways when it comes to baby. Is there really such a thing as a lower functioning “mom brain”? Some days I think so.

It’s safe. Does anyone else have nightmares about leaving some indelible mark on your child’s existence…all because you did this or didn’t do that? Fear that I’m going to mess up something major keeps me from experimenting. If I know it’s safe, sometimes that’s all I need to know.

Convenience. Premade baby food OR hours in the kitchen making my own? Plastic, disposable diapers that I can toss in the trash with their stinky contents OR cloth diapers that require I scrub out the brilliant array of baby waste they absorb? If something saves me time, I’ll usually take it. Enough said.

My doctor told me to. How fortunate we are for modern medicine! Moms with complicated pregnancies and parents of preemies often thank their doctors for baby being alive and well.  And, it’s nice to know when tiny bumps appear on baby’s skin or when baby’s demeanor seems a little off that we have a place to go that is full of people who studied how babies work. However, it’s good to keep in mind that pediatricians learned a lot of what they know from textbooks (that change yearly), medical journal articles (that contradict each other), and from observing babies that aren’t ours.

Why does it matter?

So what? What happens if we just go along blindly with the times?

Common sense becomes less common. Thank goodness for Google! What would I do without WebMD? My baby books give me ideas for games to play with baby. And the fact that multiple answers to nearly every question I have are just a search button away—that’s pretty fantastic. But, with expectations based on the What to Expect series and decisions centered on babycenter.com, what happens to our common sense? The more educated we are and the more resources that are at our disposal, the less common sense we use and gain. We’ve been taught not to trust our instincts, and I don’t know if that’s always a good thing.

We spend money we don’t need to spend. Even if you’re one of those coupon bag carrying moms who goes to ten stores a week to get the lowest prices, only buys what’s on sale, and shops exclusively on double coupon day…you may be spending more than you need to spend. People spend up to $4 for a tiny bag of puffed food for baby. Why not give baby the real fruit instead of its dried up doppelganger?  The same applies to toys, books, CDs, baby care items, and many other products “made just for baby”. So much of it just isn’t necessary.

What comes naturally is not natural. In general, I find that the easiest, most convenient, and most popular thing to pick up is often the most unhealthy and the most harmful to the environment. Unfortunately, the quickest, cheapest food is usually more processed and has more sugar, sodium, and chemical preservatives. With baby care products, the ones we commonly reach for have long lists of harsh chemical ingredients on the back.

We feel pressure to always have certain products on hand. Do you panic whenever you run out of [fill in the blank]? Have you ever been late to work after driving through rush hour traffic and waiting in line at Walgreens so you can buy a binky to leave with the babysitter? We become reliant on having particular foods, creams, and toys with us at all times, when baby often would be fine without it.

We feel stressed when what everyone else does isn’t working for us. When we feel like all babies should do X or like Y, and when our babies don’t, we get nervous and we try to make ours fit the mold. We forget that each baby is unique and will have different preferences and patterns.

We have regrets. As my baby is eating Cheerios, wearing Huggies, and playing with a toy from Wal-Mart, I run into an acquaintance whose baby is eating fresh fruit, wearing cloth diapers, and playing with a handmade toy. And I feel bad because I didn’t put as much time or thought into baby as she did.

What can we do?

Is there anything we can do to open our eyes?

Talk to other moms. Spend time with people who are less conventional than you. I have mom friends who wouldn’t set foot into a Babies ‘R’ Us, even if they were paid to do so. They use cloth diapers, make their own baby food, sew their babies’ clothing, and make their babies’ toys. While I must admit that (1) I harbor a little envy toward those moms, (2) I will probably never try all of those things, and (3) I may have a tough time attempting any of them, it’s still nice to get a different point of view.

Talk to your mom. (Or grandmother, aunt, etc.) Although the way they did it might not be better, it’s interesting to see how things have evolved. Finding out what has and hasn’t stood the test of time may shed some light on how you do things.

Find out how other cultures do it. You may be surprised to know that baby food in some countries means mom chewing food first and then spitting it into baby’s mouth. In other countries, baby sleeps in mommy’s bed until baby is a teenager. Again, you may not be interested in embracing another culture, but expanding your perspective doesn’t hurt.

Educate yourself about alternatives. There are countless magazines, books, and websites devoted to providing information on healthier or more natural options. Check them out and find out about home remedies, how to make your own cleaning products, or how to get baby to sleep better. Also, take doctor’s advice for what it is: a well-educated opinion about what’s best for our babies, but don’t rule out other possibilities or recommendations.

Stop and think about it. Although you may decide to jump on the bandwagon, make it a conscious decision by asking yourself “why” before you do.

Try going without. The next time you are about to make a purchase, ask yourself if it’s necessary. When you run out of something you always have in your diaper bag or in your refrigerator, stop before you head to the store. Are there any alternatives that would be cheaper, healthier, or just a nice change of pace?

Nothing. Some of us are perfectly happy with tried and true. If you have bigger and better thoughts on your mind and you continue doing everything that everyone else is doing, you will likely be perfectly fine. People will judge you less. If my words are giving you a headache and the questions would complicate your life, then carry on.

As for me, I like these types of headaches. In general, mommies and headaches are not a good combination. But, if it can change my approach to motherhood in helpful ways, then, every once in a while I’m willing to give my head a good spin. And in case you’re wondering, I’m not arguing that we all should reject the customs of our times. I’m merely suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t adopt modern conventions so mindlessly. To me, being a good parent is making sure my approach to parenting reflects my values and the unique needs of my baby. And, I can’t do that without lifting a few blinders.

What is healthy eating?

If you know me, you knew this topic was coming sooner or later…and probably on the sooner side. What can I say? It’s always been an interest of mine.

For years, I considered a degree in nutrition (and took a lot of classes in that area before I decided I didn’t want to be a dietician). I’ve read hundreds of books and magazine articles on the topic, and I’ve tried out many styles of eating myself. Five days a week, I work at a lab where we create brochures and videos to encourage people to eat five to nine fruits and veggies a day for cancer prevention. After work, I teach aerobics at a gym where everyone talks about dieting and where a lot of participants in my classes are asking me what I eat. As we all have, I also have witnessed friends, family members, co-workers, and acquaintances try out different diets, with one or two of them sticking with it and finding success and the rest failing and soon moving on to the next trend. I’ve thought about proper nutrition even more since pregnancy and breastfeeding, and as a mom. At the grocery store and in the kitchen, I have choices to make that affect the growth and development of my kids and the physical and mental health of me and my husband. So, yes, I have a vested interest in this question about healthy eating…but, don’t we all?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about it from a few new angles. Several friends and relatives of mine have gone “primal” and report losing a significant amount of weight and having more energy (for more info, visit: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/). Another couple of my friends have just become vegan (http://www.vegan.org/) or vegetarian (http://www.vrg.org/) in the last year. Still others I know swear by Atkins (http://www.atkins.com/) or paleo (http://thepaleodiet.com/) or South Beach (http://www.southbeachdiet.com/). If I ask any of these folks why they are changing their eating habits, they say one of two things: (1) to lose weight or (2) to eat healthier.

If you check out the websites above, you will find that these popular approaches to eating are quite different. For instance, primal, Atkins, and paleo include a variety of animal foods, while veganism and vegetarianism exclude or limit foods that come from animals. These approaches to eating also vary on their recommendations for intake of fats, grains, dairy, and fruit. Yet, they all claim to be healthy. Are they? It all can be very confusing.

My personal standpoint is that we’ve made it far more complicated than it has to be. True, it’s not as easy as just eating whatever we want. In a country where many of us are overweight and have health problems, we can’t get away with not thinking about it at all. Still, once we’ve got the basics of healthy eating down, my opinion is it’s not really that hard either. (And, if you want proof, ask my husband. Without even trying, he dropped 60 pounds the first year we started living together—and has kept if off, just by switching over to my style of eating.)

So, how can we eat healthy?

To me, healthy eating is about these 10 things:

  1. Getting the nutrients our bodies need so that we can function at our best. It’s about feeling good physically and mentally and having energy. It’s not just about weight loss. Sure, we all may drop a few if we eat only cauliflower for three days. But, seriously?! How healthy is that? I say eat for energy, longevity, glowing skin, shiny hair, strong nails, cancer prevention, whatever health-related goals you have. Then, if you’re overweight, the weight loss will happen. If not, then make a few more changes. Either way, I think the key is to think: health first, losing weight second.
  2. Natural, whole foods. I mentioned that the diets listed above differ in a lot of ways. Still, they have a few things in common: fresh, natural, unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Think lots of veggies! And nuts and seeds. Think fruit instead of juice…and if you’re eating them, whole grains instead of white flour and steak instead of lunchmeat. I’m sorry, but any “healthy eating plan” that includes a bunch of artificial sweeteners, chemical fat substitutes, additives, or preservatives is not healthy in my books. (Although, if your tried and true way to eliminate a dietary disaster—say, stops at the local donut shop every morning or a supersize fry on the way home from work each night—is to chew on a piece of sugar-free gum or chug a Diet Coke here and there, then I say fine. Although I wouldn’t consider that healthy per se, healthier is a step in the right direction!)
  3. Variety! Whether you go vegan or primal or you’re just following the USDA guidelines, it’s all about changing it up. If you eat the same stuff every day, not only will you bore yourself right out of your healthy eating plan, but you’re simply not going to get the range of nutrients that your body needs. Protein, fiber, and fat keep you full. Calories keep you going. Eat a little of everything, and you’ll get what you need.
  4. Enjoying your favorite foods! In my world, nothing is off limits. Sure, I eat smaller portion sizes of most of the naughty foods in my life, but I still eat them. And, on my birthday or during that time of the month, if I want the whole double dip hot fudge chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream sundae (my favorite indulgence that I will never, ever give up), then I go for it. Unless you have a medical problem and the doctor says absolutely none of something, I say just do it. Eat your favorite not-so-healthy treat every once in a while. Have your sundae, French fries, double cheeseburger, whatever…and cherish every single bite! But, then move on to the rest of your healthy eating plan the next time you put something in your mouth.
  5. Looking for healthy substitutes for some of the unhealthy things you love. True, nothing is better than the real deal sometimes. My ice cream sundaes speak for themselves. However, through the years, I’ve found lots of sensible snacks and treats to fill in when I need to put the brakes on the hot fudge. Look up recipes online. Go to a health food store. And, keep an open mind! I had to try tens of nutrition bars labeled “brownie” before I found my new personal favorite: http://thepurebar.com/pure-products/pure-organic/chocolate/.  
  6. Limiting sugar. Sorry! This is another one of those frustrating parts of healthy eating…and another bullet point that all the diets above have in common. Sugar by itself has very little to offer us nutrition-wise besides calories. For most styles of eating, fruit is best, juice is okay, and sugar should be limited.
  7. Not feeling too hungry but not feeling stuffed. Most healthy eating plans start with breakfast and include several other meals and snacks. If you skip a meal and let yourself get too hungry, you’ll end up overeating later. Eat enough to satisfy your hunger but not so much that you have to unbutton your pants and take a nap after every meal!
  8. Gradual changes. Very few of us are good at going cold turkey with anything. You have to experiment a little to find out what works for you. Some changes will come easy; others…not so much. However, tackling a little bit each day is much easier than overhauling your life all at once. Eating healthy depends on your activity level, your preferences, and your schedule, among a bunch of other variables. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to think about all these things right off the bat. This is one area of life I firmly believe should not be all or nothing. Take it slow, and things will fall into place.
  9. Maintaining your sanity! Eating healthy should not make you crazy! To me, there’s a huge mental health component to healthy eating. Eating happens every day, multiple times. I just cannot deal with feeling guilty or like I’m depriving myself that often. No one can. How healthy can any plan really be if it stresses you out? Personally, if I have to worry about counting calories, carbs, or fat grams every time I pop something in my mouth, I’m going to go nuts! If you start slow, you’ll begin to recognize what foods make you feel good and help you achieve your health goals. Sure, it’s okay to look up the nutrient content of something here and there if you’re curious. And, some people do very well with logging what they eat in a diary. If that works for you, fine. But, keep yourself in check. Remind yourself that healthy eating is feeling good about yourself and your body because you know you’ve made the right choices. Eating is one of the things in life that naturally brings us joy. And, we get to do it every single day! Mealtime should not bring on a panic attack. Yes, you can eat healthy and still enjoy food!
  10. Finding a plan you can stick with over time. If you’re eating plan leaves you hungry, irritable, and longing day and night for cheesecake, it’s not working for you. People have different thresholds for change. I’ve known people who have cut carbs out of their diets permanently. They decided one day—no more bread, potatoes, sweets, etc., and that was that. I know others who tried to go a day without a bagel and ended up eating a whole loaf of bread in one sitting. In general, eliminating a whole food group from our lives (especially all at once) won’t work for most of us. It’s all about choices—if you neeeeeed your fettuccine alfredo or Snickers bar or Dr. Pepper or whatever, then don’t threaten yourself with the idea of never again having it. If you’re like me and you do that, your premenstrual alter-ego will end up playing nasty tricks on you, and your healthy eating plan will go out the window. Your approach to food has to make sense for you. There are healthy vegans out there on lower-fat, animal-free diets focused on whole grains, tofu, nuts, seeds, fruits, and veggies. There are others living on meat and butter and greens who also are healthy. You are a unique individual; the way you eat should reflect that!

To sum it up…in my (non-expert and admittedly biased) opinion, healthy eating, like many other things, looks a little different for all of us. But, it focuses on a few of the same things—providing ourselves with the nutrients and energy we need to feel good and get through our days, without stressing us out! And, if you truly want to be healthy, some exercise won’t hurt either…but that’s another post for another day. Until then, happy (healthy) eating!