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  1. It was a Sunday afternoon last month and I found myself doing something I rarely get the chance to do: laying on the living room couch in a silent house. With our young son asleep in the other room, I was mindlessly flipping channels looking for something, anything, to keep my mind off the fact I had no workout planned. For the previous six months, I started every day looking at my workout log and preparing myself to meet that day's challenge. I followed that routine as close as the rest of my schedule would allow, as I missed just five workouts during that 26-week stretch. Each time I crossed off that day's scheduled exercise, I gained more and more confidence. Yet here I was, exactly one week removed from crossing the finish line alongside my wife at the Honolulu Marathon in what was one of the most exhilarating and proudest moments of our lives, and I suddenly had nowhere to run. I felt like a failure. While I know this isn't true, as I am blessed in many ways, the importance of setting/striving for personal goals became crystal clear for me in that moment. I can't just have my life revolve around my son and his activities. He will always come first, but I need to move me-time up my list of priorities and be running toward something—and it doesn't need to be the finish line of a marathon or any other athletic endeavor. It could be learning an instrument (which I'm considering), a foreign language, how to paint, or something else. It just needs to be something because: Whether I achieve my goal or not, just taking the steps to achieve my goal will help me experience personal growth and keeps me energized, both physically and mentally. Setting goals brings balance to my life. Not everything can be about my son. It just can’t. It gives me something to look forward to that doesn’t involve walks to the park, Wiggleworms or my son’s Saturday morning French class. It sets a good example for my child. By trying to better myself and staying focused on my personal goals, my hope is that my son will one day learn the importance of goal-setting and trying to improve himself—in whatever way he feels is necessary.
  2. For families dealing with food allergies, Halloween is more than just a tricky time of year. The trick-or-treat haul brings home the potential for an allergic reaction to something as simple as a piece of candy corn. Dairy, egg, peanuts, soy, wheat, tree nuts… the list goes on for all of the allergens hiding in those variety bags we hope to catch on sale. As the parent of a child recently diagnosed with four of the top eight allergens, I was really surprised by what I found when I began reading the ingredient lists on everything I brought home. Here’s just a sample of what you might find in your child’s bucket this Halloween: Milky Way (dairy, soy, egg) Snickers (dairy, soy, egg, peanut) Twix (dairy, wheat, soy) Sour Patch Kids (processed in the same facility as dairy, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nut) Regulations are making it easier to know what’s in your food and manufacturers are doing a good job of highlighting the top eight or cross-contamination possibilities in your food. But the lines and facilities used are not always the same even within the same product. A particular item purchased in one grocery store may not have the same cross-contamination possibilities as that exact item in another shipment or a different store location. Now, before you roll your eyes as I make yet another special request of parents who are already up to their necks in to-do lists, please consider this: According to FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) “the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011” and “1 in every 13 children has a food allergy.” The numbers continue to grow and much is still unknown about why more and more children each day are diagnosed with food allergies than ever before. My point is, no one wants to hold their little ones back from one of the most iconic experiences of childhood. Nor do we want them to accept all of those goodies only to have them taken away at home as they eagerly sort through their treasures. (The trauma!) By placing a teal pumpkin outside your door, you are letting those with food allergies know that you are offering non-food treats and showing your support and inclusion of children with food allergies in this timeless tradition. These treats can be purchased inexpensively and set aside to be offered to kids looking for your teal pumpkin insignia, allowing them to take part in the fun! Ideas for non-food treats that can be bought in bulk on Amazon for less than $10: Glow sticks Bubbles Finger puppets Stickers Temporary tattoos You could even get creative with your kids by painting your own teal pumpkin and open a dialogue about allergies and inclusiveness. With the numbers growing as they are, chances are your child will know many friends and classmates facing the challenge of eating outside the safe zone. If you are participating, take a moment to add your home to the FARE Teal Pumpkin participation map here to help parents plan ahead for a successful night out. Now if only we could start a map of houses where we could reload on spiked apple cider and craft brews to fend off the cold… Jamie Donovan lives in Ukrainian Village, works in the Loop, and is mom to Molly and Charlie. In her not-so-spare time, she enjoys reading and wondering if her house renovation in North Center will ever be finished.
  3. In recent years, the rise in childhood obesity and diet-related disease, like type 2 diabetes, have been hot topics of discussion. I think it is safe to say that parents want their children to be healthy, but figuring out how to help them make healthy choices may feel daunting. Particularly when simply getting your child to eat may be a battle. The best thing you can do? Get them involved in the food choices for the family. But start small. Pick one step below that you feel comfortable with and build from there. Plan a menu. Pick some recipes that you feel comfortable making and deem healthy options. Then let your kids help you choose which meals to make that week. For younger kids, you can use pictures and tell them about the recipes. Make a list. Now you can create your shopping list. Older kids can help with writing the list and younger ones may be able to help you check for items you already have at home. Kids can also help you identify what staple items you may need such as cereal or favorite snacks. Make sure to read the list together so everyone knows what items you’ll be looking for at the store. Let them help. Let them count produce items and place them in bags. This is also a great time to teach them how to pick a ripe avocado or check an apple for bruising. Read labels. Teach older kids how to read nutrition labels and what things you look for when picking foods. It’s helpful to pick one item on the label to focus on such as saturated fat, sugar, or protein. Eventually, they can compare products to make the healthiest choice. It’s also a good idea to check the ingredients. Have them count the number of ingredients and read as many of them as they can. Encourage them to ask questions about the ingredients. This is a great way to start a conversation about how you evaluate the content of the food you buy. Be adventurous. Ask each child to pick a fruit or vegetable they’ve never had but would like to try. Get them in the kitchen. When it’s time to cook, find ways for kids to help prepare the meal. With just one small job kids become more involved in the process. This increases the chances they actually eat the food, even items they previously refused. The goal is to involve and empower kids in the decision-making process around what they are eating. If you can do this, you are more likely to get their cooperation. You will likely find that trips to the grocery store are also a little easier when kids have tasks to accomplish. Remember to start with what works for you and your family. Even a small step toward healthier eating is moving in a positive direction. Karla Gidwani lives in Lincoln Square and is mom to two young girls. Karla works for Chicago Primal Gym as a strength coach and studio manager.
  4. Photo: courtesy Charlotte Tsou Having a child is just like having an open heart surgery, once your chest is cut open, you are never the same. Becoming a mother greatly changed my mentality and priorities in life, but it also altered my physical well-being. I am not talking about squeezing into that old, small bikini, which is highly desirable, but building back my physical strength and stamina. I came to realize that I needed them desperately to stay healthy and take care of my kids. After the postpartum recovery, the faster you can regain your physical strength the better. However, it may not be realistic for many mothers, because this tiny human being relies on you to be nurtured and loved, so setting up a goal and a doable timeline was the first important step for me. After the birth of my first daughter, I was determined to fit back into that beautiful bridal dress, which I bought before I found out I was pregnant, and to look beautiful for my “dream wedding.” Therefore, my clearly defined goal and the major incentives to feel and look great helped me to drop 50 pounds in just four months. Not fun, but I did it. It was a totally different story after my second baby. I did not have a specific goal to chase, but I did want to get back to my healthy weight in order to feel better about myself. The reality is, I did not want to perpetually chase these last 8 pounds until my kids are in high school...or to fit in those skinny jeans in just four weeks like those YouTubers or Hollywood stars. I was realistic; I gave myself one year. I made up my mind that by the time we celebrate the first birthday of my second daughter, it would be the time to return to 100% me. And I did it. Being a working mom is not easy in my humble opinion, but it enables you to optimize your working hours and to squeeze in time to "invest in yourself." On the other hand, a stay-at-home mom who is always busy with the kids also struggles to find “me” time. There are different obstacles for each individual and it takes different paths and time to "get back to oneself." Taking a holistic approach at my current physical and mental state, I started with a goal of "80%", meaning lose 80% of the baby weight and return to 80% of my physical strength by month 4 when I went back to work from my maternity leave. I did it and I blogged about it, so I felt accountable to myself. However, my body condition fluctuated throughout the following months, attributed to work stress, two toddlers, our nanny situation and a husband constantly traveling. Here some of the tools and solutions I adopted that I found useful: “Beachbody on Demand” is the best workout for a stay-at-home mom or when you can't step outside of your home. There are different styles of workout to fit individual needs. Some fitness celebrities I found annoying, but PiYo is a great start when I was ready to exercise again. It is a very balanced workout with not too much jumping and insane cardio, but you get results. I started to "tuck" things back to my pre-pregnancy shape. Fortunately, I live in Chicago, and the area has countless boutique workout studios. I also enjoy the vibe of working out in a group with an experienced instructor. At the end of the session, I feel fresh and energized, as if I planted a new tree, taking all the oxygen I need to pump through the rest of the days and weeks. Not many people are aware, but Studio 3 has a postpartum promotion with a deep discount for unlimited access to this new and posh studio that offers yoga, cycling and circuit training. I found time to take care of my kids and work out there during my maternity leave. After that, my ongoing solution is the combination of on-demand workout and Class Pass. I logged in around 120 visits in 8 months. I tried everything. Besides Studio 3, my favorites are SWEAT (smart circuit focused), Studio Lagree (intense Megaformer-machine Pilates) and Yoga Six (very high-quality yoga teachers). Honestly, there were times and even weeks when I'm dragging and miss classes, but I do keep my mantra from work—"Showing up is 70% of success"—so I keep showing up. I do think that constant diet projects may affect negatively the eating habits of your growing kids. However, I also believe that not feeling oneself as being physically strong and fit also reflects poorly on self-esteem. As a result, moms may not be able to keep up with the new human beings in her life, which is a big issue for every “super mama.” Nevertheless, even the most organized moms sometimes do feel frustrated, as if all the super power is sucked out of their bodies. When I feel that way, I revert to my yogi spirituality and begin to chant the Ashtanga closing Sanskrit: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu Om Shanti Shanti Shantihi It is truly amazing how the repetition of these simple words can rebalance me and get me back on track. Translation: May all beings everywhere be happy and free Om peace, peace, perfect peace After five to 10 chants, I regain my superhero powers. Happy birthday to my baby's 1st year, and more power to every single mama!
  5. 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)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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