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  1. I don't cook, and I am totally envious when I see mom friends post incredible dishes they make for their kids on social media. As a result, I make impulsive purchases to acquire cooking tools that gather dust in my cabinets. Like some mamas, I am just not interested in cooking. I enjoy it when it is an activity, an experiment, but not a task. Most of the people in my generation growing up in Asia have a live-in nanny or take-out is merely a block away. Also eating out is a social thing with friends and families. And traditionally, Asian parents didn't encourage their children to learn how to cook, because in their mind it is "wasting time,"—kids should focus on studying and school. Especially for boys, messing around in the kitchen was definitely a no when I was growing up. (Clearly that's an old notion—nowadays, cooking is the enhanced value proposition for men because sexier men cook.) Now I am a mother of a picky toddler and an infant migrating to solid food. Even though I don't cook, my kids still need to eat! This is how I do it: Watch and collect ideas from cooking YouTube channel Tasty: I enjoy watching and collecting these nicely done cooking videos for future inspiration. The video editing technique they use makes everything looks so easy! I have a "cooking idea folder" where I collect video clips from Tasty Japan and Emmy Made in Japan. What makes them different is that besides being exotic and yummy, it's all about presentation—they make food too adorable to eat. And I can't resist buying all those cooking gears and molds—once a while, my kids get to eat one, or two, or three Panda rice balls. Order mobile food: I order from a wide array of restaurants with a single tap on my phone. I actually prefer "new delivery" (e.g., Foodora) vs. the traditional "aggregators" (e.g., GrubHub) just because the delivery service and timing is much more predictable when you have hungry kids at home. The essential difference is "new delivery" has its own logistics for delivery from gourmet restaurants and "aggregators" pass the order to the restaurant to fulfill. Make sushi: We are not talking about rainbow rolls or caterpillar rolls here. Avocado and salmon rolls are easy, healthy and achievable at home. Simply buy a sushi making kit, get some fresh avocado and sushi-grade salmon and follow a YouTube video. Buy great kids' party food: Call me bold, but even thought I don't cook, I am brave enough to throw in a kids' birthday party with 60+ guests. I've tried out a variety of things from different places, and the winners are the ones that are easy to bake, steam, heat up or put together. Just to name a few from my shopping list that are super popular among little kiddos: H Mart: Crab or shrimp shumai, chicken teriyaki bao, mini seafood dumplings, Ramule (kids soft drink with a crystal ball inside of the funky bottle). And it looks like H Mart is going to add a West Loop location this summer, making my party-shopping route more streamlined. Costco: Beef bibimbap (Korean beef rice), party-size quinoa, crispy vegetable spring rolls Trader Joe's: Corn dog, veggie pizza bites, shrimp toast, macaroons (in the box)
  2. When my two older boys were younger I distinctly remember thinking one winter they were never going to go back to preschool because they were never healthy. Fast forward about five years and one additional kid, and we seem to be in a better spot health-wise. I attribute this to a few changes I’ve made, which I've highlighted below. I’m not a doctor, nor a scientist, so this is purely speculation, but it seems to be working for us. 1. Get rid of the hand sanitizer and just use soap and water. I used to use hand sanitizer religiously thinking it was actually doing some good. I think instead it was just stripping the kids of any "good dirt" and making them more vulnerable to infection. I could be wrong about this, but since I have switched to just handwashing with regular old soap and water we’ve had better luck with staying away from colds and other infections. 2. Add a daily probiotic. About three years ago, I started everyone on a daily morning probiotic appropriate for their age. I just buy the one they will actually tolerate from Whole Foods so no real science going into this, but I figure it can’t hurt them, and possibly only help. 3. Get a flu shot. This is a vaccine, so clearly there is major debate around whether one should receive a flu shot. Full disclosure: I am 100% in the "all vaccines are good vaccines" camp, and I make sure my kids, myself and my husband all receive the flu shot every year. 4. Cut down on dairy and push water. My kids don’t really drink milk or any milk-based products. My older two children had ear tubes and chronic ear infections when they were younger, and the doctor suggested to cut back on dairy. I’ve followed that advice ever since and the head colds and congestion have definitely decreased. 5. Get fresh air. Ever since my oldest was just two weeks old (and this was during a Chicago winter) my mom always said, "Get him outside!" I try to get the kids outside for a little while every single day, no matter what. It’s good for their mental health and their physical health (as well as mine). I also try to open the windows to air out the house every once in a while, too. This is definitely a throw back to my nana, but it makes the house seem fresh in the middle of winter, and as if the germs are leaving the premises. Sometimes getting sick is just hit or miss, and for whatever reason some kids are more susceptible to getting sick. However, these basic tips have definitely helped us decrease illness overall. I also found that getting through that first year of preschool or kindergarten helped build up the kids’ immune systems immensely.
  3. It never ceases to amaze me how my two kids—born from the same womb—can be so different. I don't know why it still surprises me so much, but it always does. In areas where one excels, the other struggles. At times when one is calm, the other is fired up. The differences in their personalities show up everywhere, including at the dinner table. One loves chocolate, the other loves vanilla. One is adventurous and willing to try new foods, the other is ... not. Over the holiday break, we visited my mom and dad in Florida. One night, we went to a local restaurant called Deep Lagoon Seafood. Jack, my adventurous one, saw a poster on the wall promoting a local "delicacy" on the menu. The poster said: "Gator Bites. Bite them before they bite you." Um, ick. But, right away, Jack was practically bursting with excitement. (Kinda weird, right?) I mean, the kid was ALL IN. Meanwhile, Caitlin (my not-so-adventurous one) broke out in a cold sweat. She was ready to do a mad dash from the restaurant. Can't say I blame her. My stomach did a few somersaults, too. For me, it was a great reminder of the fear kids can feel when faced with an unfamiliar food. I'm a full-grown, 40-something adult and I was feeling the fear loud and clear. If someone tried to force me to eat 'gator, I would not be happy. Not one little bit. As parents, it's human nature to want to encourage our kids to try new foods. After all, we know that foods like peas and broccoli are harmless and (sorta) tasty. But from a 2-year-old's perspective, those green veggies can set off the panic button, much like the 'gator bites did to me. So, as a parent, how can we respect our kid's food preferences and aversions, while still encouraging them to eat healthy, new foods? First, we can try to be good role models and eat the foods we want our kids to eat. In the 'gator example, I maybe wasn't the best at modeling adventurous food choices, but I also can't exactly say that 'gator is a food I want my kids to like. On the other hand, give me a fresh, simple salad and I'll role model my way to Timbuktu. Second, as the wise Ellyn Satter recommends in her "division of responsibility" approach, it's the parent's job to offer kids healthy options; it's the kid’s job to choose whether or not to eat them. In other words, we should routinely prepare healthy foods for our kids, then leave it at that. Our work is done. Amen and hallelujah. As I often tell my kids when they get all hot and bothered about the choices I've given them, "Food is food. You can eat it or not. It's your choice. But food isn't something to get worked up about." Then we move on. Sounds like a ridiculously simple way to deal with a tantrum at the table, doesn't it? But once you get the hang of it—and your kid realizes that you aren't going to force a food—so many stresses at the dinner table melt away. So what was Jack's verdict about the 'gator? "Tastes like chicken, but chewier." P.S. I don’t know if eating ‘gator is humane, sustainable or acceptable. I should probably look into that. Keep in mind this was a one-time experience, not an overall lifestyle choice, so please be kind.
  4. The holidays are upon us, and with the holidays come family gatherings, tidings of good cheer and food—lots and lots of food. Everywhere one turns there are cocoa and cookies and fruitcake—oh, my! For some, this time of year, and the many delicacies that come with it, is welcomed. But if you have a child with a food allergy it is a total nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want others to suffer just because my child can’t eat something, but sometimes I wish we celebrated with movies or cards or activities rather than food. It’s something everyone can enjoy rather than be excluded from. As my child has gotten older it’s definitely gotten easier to navigate the holidays in regards to sweats and treats, but it’s certainly not without bumps in the road. Here are seven simple steps to help you navigate this month (and heck, you’ve already made it through Thanksgiving so pat yourself on the back). Now, full disclosure, my oldest has celiac disease so should he ingest a food he shouldn’t eat he will not go into anaphylactic shock. I 100% realize that a food allergy is obviously a lot more stressful, to say the least. Still, he reacts with vomiting for 12 hours and no parent I know likes to deal with vomit, and no eight-year-old I know likes to vomit, so we are vigilant in avoiding gluten. On to the steps: 1. Help. As in, ask for help. You can’t do this alone, so make sure you reach out to the other parents in the class and understand who’s doing what for each holiday get together – this way you can more easily move on to step 2. 2. Outsource. You don’t have to do all of this baking yourself. There are dedicated nut-free bakeries, gluten-free bakeries, and all sorts of amazing bakeries in the city. Use them! They even deliver. 3. Listen to your child. Sometimes he might want to skip an event (if it doesn’t mean skipping school I’m okay with this) or go a little late to miss the cookie-decorating part. If it means avoiding a severe allergic reaction and keeping your kid happy then it’s ok to change up tradition or make your own new ones. 4. Involve your child in creating those new traditions, be it an outing, a food she wants to attempt to make herself that works for her diet, or a new restaurant she wants to try that you know would be safe. Help your child lead the way. 5. Dedicate. Meaning, dedicate a single day to knock out of all your allergy- and diet-friendly baking (so that you can spend the rest of the holiday season prepared and enjoying the season, rather than scrambling). Also dedicate a day to just your child. As in tip No. 4, give your child a day where food is not a thing or an issue that comes up on his radar—just fun and coziness and holiday joy. 6. Alternatives. As in alternatives to food. Our society revolves around food, whether we like it or not, but little by little classrooms and other social gatherings are changing to focus on group get-togethers and crafts rather than just food. Pinterest has a ton of great ideas for things to do at classroom holiday parties that are not food-related, such as tree-decorating contests, snowflake decorating, snowman poofs and even indoor ice skating. 7. Yay! You made it. Now pour yourself a glass of Champagne (or gluten-free, vegan eggnog) and toast 2018!
  5. Article
    We all know that cooking with kids is recommended. Research shows that it encourages kids to have a more adventurous palate and promotes family bonding, among a host of other benefits. But the truth is, cooking with LITTLE kids can be a real circus act. Take, for example, the time when my mini sous chef decided to use the kitchen faucet as a fire hose. Or when and my little pastry queen turned our kitchen floor into a sugary beach. Of course, these things always seem to happen while something is burning on the stove and someone needs a massive diaper change. UGH. So much for family bonding, right? The reality is, on most nights, it's hard enough to get a meal on the table without our kids' "help." So how can we reap the benefits of cooking with kids without the headache? As someone who's made a lot of rookie mistakes, but stubbornly keeps trying, here are five things I've learned. 1. Don't attempt to cook with your kids right before dinner. If you actually need to get a real meal on the table in 30 minutes or less, don't even attempt to involve your kids. It will be a disaster. Instead, give your kids a snack sampler and find a time to involve them when the clock isn't ticking. 2. Give kids age-appropriate mini tasks. Cooking should be fun, so it's important to keep your child's fine motor skills and attention span in mind. Beyond measuring, mixing and pouring, a few good tasks for preschoolers include shucking corn, pulling the leaves off Brussels sprouts, sorting dried beans and washing lettuce leaves. (Hint: This leafy greens washing machine game gets my kids to eat their greens every time). 3. Make veggies a priority. Sure, baking is fun and kids can learn a lot from measuring and mixing. But kids usually don't need encouragement to eat sweets. So, as often as I can, I involve my kids in recipes that allow them to get their hands on vegetables, even if it's just serving themselves a deconstructed chopped salad. 4. Do food science. Okay, so this isn't exactly cooking, but the idea is the same and can be just as much (if not more) fun. Fruits, vegetables and other ingredients are great tools for science experiments. 5. Make it a scheduled activity. When I lack the creativity or energy to come up with a fun cooking activity, I turn to the pros. We LOVE the cooking classes at The Kids Table, where my kids have learned to like (or at least try) everything from lentils to tofu. Next on my list is to try a kid-focused recipe kit from Raddish or Kidstir. These could even make for great holiday presents.
  6. I know that Halloween is a favorite holiday for so many people. And I totally get the appeal—carving pumpkins, dressing up in cool costumes and getting free candy is pretty sweet. As a parent, I still love the holiday, but I’ve learned that I need to "tweak" my approach to the holiday to keep my kids from turning into little monsters. For starters, the crowds in Chicago can be out of control, especially during the trick-or-treating hours hosted by neighborhood stores. It’s a far cry from the small-town experience I had a kid and, truth be told, it can a bit much for my youngest who tends to be crowd adverse. Our solution: Go early and make a quick exit. Sure, that means less candy for the kiddos, but isn’t that also a parenting win?! I’ve also learned that not all kids like dressing up. Last year, we tried to get my four-year-old to wear three different costumes. She HATED them all. They were either too bulky or too “polky.” So, this year, we’re meeting her where she’s at: a simple cotton T-shirt with her favorite character on it and a matching cape. We’re definitely not going to win any costume awards, but she’s comfortable and that’s what matters. And finally...let’s talk candy. As a dietitian, I’m very mindful of the fact that most kids (including my own) eat too much sugar on a regular basis. But on Halloween, I want my kids to be able to enjoy a reasonable amount of candy without feeling any guilt. So, here are five simple strategies we use to relish in the gluttony of the holiday without straying too far from our wellness goals. Surround yourself with healthy foods. Before trick-or-treating, feed your family a healthy meal and be sure you’re stocked up on fruits, veggies and whole grains the rest of the week. Eating high-fiber foods helps us to feel full, which makes candy less appealing. Enjoy, then limit. After you get home from trick-or-treating, let your kids eat a few of their favorite treats, guilt-free. Then restore your normal rules about candy (i.e. limit it to one fun size snack per day). Keep active. After your kids eat their Halloween candy, plan a movement activity (like riding scooters or going to the park) to help prevent the dreaded sugar high. Out of sight out of mind! Keep the leftover Halloween candy in a cabinet where it can’t be seen every time anyone walks by. Hand out healthier treats. Limit the amount of candy in your home by handing out individual bags of pretzels, stickers, pencils or fun erasers, instead.
  7. When my eldest, Jack, was a toddler, I thought I had it all figured out. He was (and is) curious, easy going and eager to please. Naturally, these temperamental qualities translate to him being a good and adventurous eater. As a dietitian, I gave myself a big ol’ pat on the back. Surely, his good eating skills were because of me, right? Well—go figure—kid No. 2 had different ideas in mind. My girl, Caitlin, is sweet, observant and smart, but she’s stubborn as all get-out. Plus, she struggles with sensory processing, which can make eating a challenge. As an infant, she refused all purees. As a toddler, she’d have a huge meltdown at the sight of yogurt (which, coincidentally, was her big brother’s favorite breakfast food). And, now, as a kindergartner, she’ll be the first to say "no" when a new food comes her way. The good news: We’ve made lots of progress. While Caitlin still has her food challenges (I mean, who freaks out at the sight of chocolate?!), I’m happy to say that she now has a wide repertoire of healthy foods that she loves. But it definitely didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken a lot of focused work and dedication to get to this point. And while there are some nights when I want to throw in the towel and order delivery, the hard work has been more than worth it. As a dietitian, I have a leg up on closely following what all the scientific literature has to say about picky eating, as well as strategies that work. While these proven strategies are a few of our favorites, as a mom, I know that every kid is different. If you’d like more tools in your toolbox, my free ebook, 21 Picky Eating Hacks, has lots of helpful advice. Here are five simple strategies that have worked with my kids. 1. Reframe your thinking. Labeling our kids doesn’t do them (or us) any good. Instead of defining your child as a "picky eater," reframe your thinking by telling yourself that your child is "still learning to like new foods." This simple shift in thinking brings more positivity and patience to mealtimes, which often results in better eating. 2. Talk less. Encouraging a child to “take one more bite” or “clean your plate” can add pressure to mealtime, as well as position healthy food as a punishment. When kids aren’t pressured to eat, studies show that kids actually eat more food and make less negative comments about their food. 3. Put a sticker on it. Kids, like adults, are suckers for good marketing. In one study, when an Elmo sticker was placed on an apple, the kids nearly doubled their choice of the apple. When I first tried this with my kids, they ended up literally duking it out over the apple. Oops, maybe this strategy works a little too well! 4. Create hands-on opportunities (away from the table). New foods can be super-intimidating to kids. So, give them lots of opportunities to become familiar with a food, before it ever makes an appearance at the table. Using fruits and vegetables in art projects and science experiments, as well as reading from food-themed books can all help. 5. Move, dance or play before a meal. Work up an appetite and get the wiggles out by engaging your child in physical activity before a meal. Research has shown that when schools have recess before lunch, the kids make healthier food choices. Bonus tip: Have a snack sampler ready, so your kiddo can nosh on fruits and veggies as an appetizer.

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