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  1. As parents, we are sometimes just as excited as our kids when school is out for summer. For us, that means no helping with homework, no rushing around in the morning, and no packing of lunches. But as the summer nears the end, we realize the tasks ahead of us as the school year begins. Packing lunches does not need to be one of those dreaded tasks. Here are some helpful tips for putting together a delicious lunch in advance: No “surprise” lunches Try out new recipes on your kids at home first, rather than surprising them with a new lunch. As a food blogger, I do this all the time. Use Sunday to prep When I find something they like, I’ll make that dish on a Sunday night. I make enough so I can pack individual lunches for a few days during the week. My kids’ lunch favorites are Banana Muffins, Hidden Zucchini Muffins, Bourbon Chicken and Crispy Corn Flake Chicken (see below for recipe). Also on Sundays, my boys and I will bake S’mores Brownies. Then we’ll wrap them individually so they’re ready for the lunch box for dessert throughout the week. Eat in season My go-to fruit is the small individual bag of organic apple slices from Costco or Trader Joe’s. Of course, a fabulous autumn activity is apple picking. If you have picked them fresh, make sure to cut them up in the morning so they don’t turn brown before lunch. If stored properly, freshly picked apples will last up to two months in the refrigerator. Keep it cold Freeze a box of yogurt squeezers (my favorite is Stoneyfield Organic Strawberry), and include one in the lunch box. By the time lunch rolls around, the yogurt will be defrosted but still cold. And it will keep the other lunch items cold, too. You can find dozens of quick and easy kid-friendly recipes on my blog at www.mommachef.com. All use no more than six ingredients and are under six minutes of prep time. Momma Chef’s Cornflake Coated Chicken (makes 6 servings) 6 boneless chicken breasts 4 cups cornflakes 2 large eggs 2 tbsp. water 1 tbsp. salt 1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 2. In a large bowl, mix together eggs and water. Set aside. 3. In a large Ziploc bag, add the cornflakes and salt. Then crush the cornflakes. 4. Dip each chicken breast in the egg/water mixture and put them in the Ziploc bag. Shake to coat all sides of the chicken. 5. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes.
  2. Are you or someone you love struggling with feelings of anxiety, extreme sadness or feeling very overwhelmed following childbirth? Nancy Segall of Beyond the Baby Blues and Claire Zawa of Birthways Inc. share information and resources for expectant and new parents about the causes, symptoms and treatments for postpartum depression. Postpartum depression occurs in approximately 20 percent of all new mothers. It’s considered the number one postpartum childbirth complication. After this webinar, you will have a better understanding of how perinatal mental health extends beyond depression, impacts the entire family, and can be identified before the family is in crisis. Topics covered: Perinatal mental health diagnoses and presentations Risks factors, special populations, and situations that require referral Tips for how to engage a new or expecting parent in a dialogue about perinatal mental health and how to best offer support Cultural considerations Assessment/screening Resources
  3. Being a parent is hard, and when you have a child with developmental, health, learning or attention challenges, the demands increase. Watch this 40-minute video and learn relaxation techniques and self-care skills designed especially for parents of children with special needs. Watch the above video. If you have ever found yourself running on fumes trying to parent a child with special needs, take a much-needed break and learn some strategies for self-care. This 40-minute video offers practical tools that parents of special-needs kids can use to fortify their emotional, mental and physical health in order to lead their best lives and continue supporting their child. This video includes a five-minute guided meditation exercise.
  4. To keep your family healthy during the rest of the winter season, it’s important to keep our immune systems in tip-top shape. Here are some ways to keep your immune system boosted so those colds and flus don’t get you down. Know what works and what doesn’t First, understand that antibiotics are ineffective against the flu because influenza is a virus. Medications that are not effective against the flu can cause more harm than good, especially to our gut health. What do you do if you or your child is home sick with the flu? Tried-and-true remedies The most effective ways to treat the flu include rest and consuming fluids. Taking out sugar and dairy can be helpful as sugar suppresses immunity up to six hours after ingesting. This makes our immune system work harder, thus taking longer to rid the cold and flu. This is just a short phase, but definitely helpful to speed up the process. Using humidifiers to add moisture into the air and diffusing essential oils both will help ease congestion by opening up the airways. Draw a bath Soak in an Epsom salt bath before you reach for an expensive over-the-counter drug. This naturally-occurring mineral will ease muscle aches, improve circulation and reduce the length of symptoms as well as help you get a good night’s rest, so you can recover faster. Some doctors say it helps spur the cellular rejuvenation process called vasodilation, which can in turn speed healing by detoxifying your body, combating the illness faster. Children under 60 lbs can soak in a bath of ½ cup of salts; over 60 lb can add another ½ cup. Adding 5-10 drops of lavender to the salt bath also has a calming effect: it can help ease body aches, enhance blood circulation, promote relaxation and ease upper respiratory distress. Go (coco)nuts Another natural way to fend off the flu and stay healthy this winter is to drink raw coconut water. Coconut water help builds your immune system and makes it stronger by cleaning your body of bacteria. It’s also anti-fungal and anti-viral, and is a great source of electrolytes needed to replenish the body. Plus, it’s cheaper and healthier to buy raw coconut water than Pedialyte. Take prevention measures Be courteous of others and help curb the spread of flu. Wash hands often, using the proper technique (wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry). Anti-bacterial soaps and gels just don’t cut it and, in fact, the FDA says: “they do little or nothing to make soap work any better,” and the industry has failed to prove they’re safe. Eat foods high in vitamin C They help the body produce collagen, which promotes the body’s natural healing process. Foods with the highest vitamin C levels? Camu camu berries, kiwis, red/green peppers, and guavas. Take vitamin D Some studies show that a deficiency increases your risk for colds and flus. As Chicago sees the full sun about 84 days out of the year, we need some extra vitamin D. My pediatrician recommends 2000 iu/ day for children.
  5. As the lack of sunshine becomes a part of our daily lives, a certain gloom comes over many young people and is often assumed to be something ranging from “winter blues” to a depressive disorder called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). According to kidhealth.org, “SAD is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern; SAD appears and disappears around the same times each year. People with SAD usually have symptoms of depression as winter approaches and daylight hours become shorter.” Once spring arrives and the days become longer again, they feel relief from their symptoms and a return to their normal mood and level of energy. Surprisingly, there are people who experience SAD in reverse (apparently, summer is not an exciting time for everyone). The symptoms of SAD are a lot like depression, but the fact that SAD symptoms occur only for a few months each winter (for at least two years in a row) distinguishes it from other forms of depression. You may assume your child has “winter blues”—a common emotion for some Chicagoans this time of the year. But the problems caused by SAD, such as lower grades or less energy for socializing with friends, can affect their self-esteem and leave them feeling disappointed, isolated, and lonely, especially if they don’t realize what’s causing the changes in energy, mood, and motivation. It is imperative that as parents and caregivers, you are checking in with your child in order to provide enough examples to share with your pediatrician. If your child is diagnosed with SAD, here are a few tips that parents can do: Participate in your child’s treatment. Ask the doctor how you can best assist your child in managing their moods. Find quality time to build a sense of connection with your child. Alienation exacerbates SAD symptoms. Positive human connection increases their energy level. Assist with homework. Children with SAD may worry that they’re incapable of doing the schoolwork.Reassure them that your assistance is to be seen as support, not a handicap. You may also want to talk to the teachers and ask for extensions on certain assignments until things improve with treatment. Stick to a sleep routine. Encourage your child to maintain a regular bedtime every day to reap the mental health benefits of daylight hours. Though we can’t bring the sun down to warm and light up our winter days, we can make the best of the season by planning ahead on undesirable days. Do your research and get outside for some fresh air, plan a playdate, or have an indoor beach party with summer jams playing in the background! Lastly, to make those grey days more bearable, count down every week with a special event such as an outing to an exhibit, or to your favorite restaurant. Having something to look forward to will only help to distract not only your child, but everyone enduring the notorious Chicago winter.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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