Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Food Allergy Frenzy

Food allergies are such a hot button issue right now.  There have been a lot of articles written lately from frustrated parents on both ends of the spectrum.  All three of my girls have had or currently have food allergies and food intolerances.  I try to keep my blog light and non-confrontational, but today I'd like to share my perspective on food allergies.

For a long time Ava, my oldest daughter, couldn't eat nuts because she had a reaction to peanut butter when she was a year old.  When I sent her to preschool, I was relieved to find that it was a 100% nut-free facility.  All snacks and birthday treats served to the kids had to be free of nuts and produced in a nut-free facility. And if your child had an allergy (to nuts or anything else), you had to provide the snacks for your child to eat every day.  If there was a birthday in the classroom, I sent a special snack for Ava to eat.  I was thankful that the school took these matters seriously and understood the concerns that I had as a parent.  I was HAPPY to go out of my way and be inconvenienced to keep Ava safe.

Now Ava is in kindergarten and she doesn't have any allergies to foods!  If you have a kindergartner, you know that birthdays are an EVEN BIGGER deal now.  Our weekends are typically jammed packed celebrating 6th birthdays.  The kids get together and bounce around on inflatables and eat pizza AND cake (or whatever the parents choose to serve) and then come home and pass out.  But they also get to celebrate their birthday at school.  The school has a strict rule that everything has to be nut-free and made in a nut-free facility. Even though Ava no longer had food restrictions, I'm thankful that they have these rules in place.  One of Ava's best friend in her class has a dairy, egg and nut allergy - the same allergies as my Sidney who will start kindergarten in two years.

I am the room mom for Ava's kindergarten class.  All of the holiday parties I've planned include nut-free treats.  I can assure you that those kids love treats and couldn't care less what kind of treat it is. There is a TON of junk food that is nut-free.  Click here for a list of ideas.  My kids would be thrilled to eat any of it.  On days when there is a birthday, the class gets to eat whatever nut-free treat is provided instead of the snack that their mom's and dad's packed. Ava's snack on a typical day is apple slices so when the birthday kid passes out a package of Oreos, Ava is stoked! It's usually the first thing she tells me about when I pick her up from school.

I honestly don't understand why it's so hard for PARENTS to accept that their kid can't bring a big homemade cake to school for their birthday.  The kids seem to be fine with it.  Have you bothered to ask them?  Here's how I'd expect it would go:

Parent: Sweetheart, I was thinking that you could bring in {insert acceptable treat here} for your friends for your birthday treat and then when you get home from school we'll have a big celebration for you and I'll bake a special cake.

Kid: Awesome!  Two treats in one day!  I'm the luckiest kid alive!

Problem solved.  You're welcome.  Now, can we all just get along?

Sidney - 1 year old
A little while after her first reaction to cow's milk
Vomiting and rash around her mouth and neck

 Sidney - 2 1/2 years old
Failed her first egg challenge on the first minuscule bite of egg powder
Redness/rash around the mouth and itching inside her mouth

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Importance of Reading to Your Kids

Since Ava was about 2 years old, Tim or I have read books to the girls at night as part of the bedtime routine.  Sometimes it was fun, other times it was a chore, but we were told it was important and over time the girls came to expect it.  Now that Ava is in kindergarten, I'm so glad that we have an established reading routine.  

Here are 3 reasons to start reading to your kids every day:
1.  Research shows that reading aloud is the single most important thing you can do to help a child prepare for reading and learning.

2.  From birth to age 3 are critical years in the development of language skills.

3.  The number of words a child knows on entering kindergarten is a key predictor of future success.

Since March 2nd is Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss's birthday, I thought I'd share with you some tips from our experience with reading to the girls:
1.  Find a comfy place to read.  
For the longest time, we read to the girls on the floor in their bedrooms.  While I'm sure the girls were just fine, the old people were uncomfortable!  It made me not want to read for very long.  Now we read in the family room on the couch and it's working out much better.

2.  Check out books from the library.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I've lived in St. Louis for almost 4 years now and I JUST got a library card a few months ago.  When Ava started kindergarten reading became a much bigger deal.  Suddenly we were turning in forms with all the books we'd read over the course of a month in exchange for a free Pizza Hut pizza or ticket to Six Flags.  We have a lot of books at home but Tim and I were so tired of reading the same stories over and over again. Now we just go online and request 20 or so books twice a month from the library.

3.  Include your younger kid(s) when reading to the older kid(s).
For a while, Tim and I would split up and one of us would read to Ava while the other read to Sidney.  We assumed that Sidney, being 2 years younger than Ava, wouldn't sit through or enjoy Ava's books.  That has never been true.

4.  Don't beat yourself up if you can't skip a day or two or don't always keep to a schedule.
Just read to your child as often as you possibly can.  They'll be better off for it!

Celebrate Dr. Seuss' birthday with your kids!  
Here are some fun fish-themed ideas to go along the book 
"One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish"

Fish Craft
Paint paper plates or color and decorate with crayons and markers.  Cut out a triangle, add a googly eye and you have a fish!  You could also tape a craft stick to the back to make the fish into puppets.

Fish Prints
I saw two cute ideas for making fish prints from The Learning House and Kiboomu Kids Crafts:
If you don't like working with paint, you could also trace and cut out hand prints.

Fish Food
This is a super cute snack idea from Simple Girl at Home to go along with the book.

Go Fishing for Numbers
Fill a bowl with magnetic numbers.  Tie a string to the end of a wooden spoon or spatula and attach a paper clip to the end of the string.  Fish out two numbers and try to add them or subtract them.

Goldfish Graphing
Give each child a cup of colored Goldfish and have them place the colors accordingly on to their graph.  Older kids can answer questions such as "Which color Goldfish do you have the most of / least of?" and "How many purple and green Goldfish do you have in all?"  After all of the fish are in place, remove the crackers and color in the same amount of squares for each row.  Click on the link above for a free printable worksheet from Apples and ABC's.

Fish Counting Game
Mama Miss created a cute counting game for preschoolers and kindergartners.  Click the link above for instructions and free printables.
Join the Dr. Seuss Birthday Club
You can sign up all of your kids to receive a personalized e-card and special activities on their birthday.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Meatless Monday - Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa

It's been a while since I've posted a Meatless Monday recipe.  I guess I really haven't been doing much cooking lately.  Tim has kind of taken over in that department.  After trying out four, yes FOUR, quinoa recipes, he discovered his favorite and it's super delicious and healthy! I just had to share it. We have been eating it up with all of our dinners.  It goes great as a side dish with just about anything. The key to making this recipe taste great is how you cook the quinoa.  Be sure to follow the instructions (step #3) - the quinoa should turn out very light and fluffy.

2 teaspoons grated lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup quinoa (see Note below)
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium tomatoes, diced
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1.  Whisk together lime zest and juice, butter, oil, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.
2.  Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a sieve each time.
3.  Cook quinoa in a medium pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt for 2 quarts water), uncovered, until almost tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in sieve, then set sieve in same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch bottom of sieve). Cover quinoa with a folded kitchen towel, then cover sieve with a lid (don't worry if lid doesn't fit tightly) and steam over medium heat until tender, fluffy, and dry, about 10 minutes. 
4.  Remove pot from heat and remove lid. Let stand, still covered with towel, 5 minutes.
5.  Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in remaining ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.

This is the quinoa that we buy:
It says that it's pre-washed and requires no rinsing.  We just rinse it one time rather than 3 times as it says in the instructions.  Most grocers carry this brand of quinoa in the gluten free section.


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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

THE BEST Blondie Brownies and Cookies According to 6,000+ People on All Recipes

If you want to bake a yummy Valentine's Day treat I have just the thing.

I stumbled upon this delicious treat from Baked Perfection at Christmastime when I was searching for the perfect Blondie Brownie recipe.

I saw that Risa from Baked Perfection adapted her recipe from All Recipes so I decided to hop on over there and see what All Recipes had to say about the Blondie Brownie.  I was amazed to find that their Blondie Brownie recipe was given 4 1/2 stars and has 1,086 reviews!  That's pretty conclusive.  I read through some of the reviews to get baking tips and the most helpful by far was from "Chef Joy" who mentioned that you could also make this in cookie form with only slight changes.  Even better!  

I looked up the cookie recipe and was even more shocked to find that it was also given 4 1/2 stars and has 6,408 reviews to date!  That settled it.  I had to try both.

They did not disappoint.

Lots of love to you on all on Valentine's Day!

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Kindergarten Valentine's Day Party

I am helping plan Ava's school Valentine's Day party right now.  This is our third party and it's getting harder to come up with new ideas for games and crafts.  Thank goodness for Pinterest.  Here's what we came up with:

We're going to start by reading the book "The Day It Rained Hearts" by Felicia Bond.  Then we will split the kids into two groups.  One group will make this craft that we found on the I Heart Crafty Things blog:

We don't have plastic sewing needles for the kids to lace the rain drops so instead we plan to make hole punches in the paper and tape around the end of a piece of blue yarn (like the end of a shoe lace) to help them thread the yarn through the hole punches.  If that's still too hard, we will have blue markers on hand and the kids can connect the dots (i.e.; hole punches) to make it look like rain falling.

The other half of the class will be making treats!  We have to work around a few food allergies so we are buying Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts (which are nut free) for the kids to decorate with red or pink cake icing and Valentines sprinkles.

If they finish their treat early, we will have activity pages that they can work on.  Click here for a bunch of Valentine's Day Word Searches.

Click here for the heart matching game below:

You can also find lots of free Valentine's Day coloring pages online.

To end the party, we are going to play a game called "Love Thy Neighbor".  To prepare the game, we cut 10 paper hearts in half.  Each heart is uniquely decorated and cut.  Each child will be given half of a heart and the object of the game is to find their "heart match".  Once they find their "heart match", they will sit down with their partner and color a picture for each other.  For older kids, you could have them write down three things that they like about the other person.  We found this cute template on Twisty Noodle:

I think it will be a fun party!  Thankfully, Kindergartens are pretty easy to please!

Happy Valentine's Day!

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