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  1. If you’re like most parents, returning home from a vacation with children can leave you feeling like you need a vacation from the vacation. With a little planning though, you can re-enter your routine with ease and even work in some much needed “vacay recovery.” Here are some top notch tips for helping you (and your kiddos) get back into the swing of things. Plan a buffer day for the family: It can be tempting to try to squeeze in as much away-time as possible, but returning home on a Saturday vs. a Sunday can make all the difference for you and your kids. Have a loose plan on how you’ll spend your first day back and keep it low key. My kids love to have pajamas and a movie day! If you’re really on your A-game, you might decide to pull out some old toys or games to keep kids entertained while you unpack luggage and prepare for the week. Plan a buffer day for YOU: This is great if you have school aged kiddos. If you can swing it, take the Monday off! Send the kids back to school and take your own pajama day. Resist the temptation to be productive and truly relax. No, you really don’t need to get back to work. This is your permission to take the extra day for YOU. Hire a service to clean while you’re away: The hustle and bustle to get out the door for vacation can sometimes leave your home in disarray. There is nothing better than coming home to a clean house. You’ll be so happy to walk into a clean home, with beds made, dishes cleaned, and toys tidied. From here on out, make it part of your vacation budget! Pre-plan grocery delivery: Place a grocery delivery order for the day you return home. Consider quick meals like frozen pizza or pasta. Of course take-out is always an option too, but even a small delivery of groceries to set you up with the essentials can put your mind at ease as you head into the week. Order prints of your vacation photos: If you see a dip in your mood upon returning from a vacation (this happens to my husband!), you might consider a fun activity for the family to reflect on the trip once you’ve returned home. Order prints of your vacation photos and have a scrapbooking night as a family. You don’t need to get fancy with materials either. Put the photos in a pile and let everyone cut, glue, and chat while you remember the fun you had!
  2. Embarking on family adventures, such as road trips, airport travels, or exploring foreign lands, often poses the challenge of picky eating. A change in routine, exposure to new environments, and the availability of unfamiliar cuisines can all contribute to a child's resistance to trying new foods. As a registered dietitian, I emphasize the importance of healthy eating, consistent meal frequency, adequate protein and energy intake, and hydration while minimizing highly processed foods. In this article, we'll explore the reasons behind children's picky eating during travel and offer practical tips to ensure proper nutrition whether on a road trip, at the airport, or overseas. Tips to Improve Eating Habits and Promote Nutrition on the Road, at the Airport, and Overseas Create a Portable Pantry for Road Trips I advocate for planning by packing a cooler with ice packs and a variety of healthy snacks. Options like cut-up/whole fruits or vegetable sticks paired with a healthy dip like dark chocolate/regular hummus, plain Greek yogurt, or nut butter packs, along with single-serving packet choices such as yogurt-covered/plain raisins, applesauce, low sodium jerky, seaweed snacks, popcorn, dried mango, dates, mini energy bars, cheese sticks/balls, drinkable kefir, cheese/nut crackers, plain/dark chocolate pretzels, pistachios or dark chocolate almonds, and sunflower seeds can provide essential nutrients during long drives. As a dietitian, I recommend avoiding excessive reliance on sugary treats, which can lead to energy spikes followed by crashes. Airport Adventures Navigating airport dining can be challenging, but with thoughtful planning, it becomes manageable. Carry a mix of healthy snacks such as the ones mentioned above. Look for airport restaurants offering balanced options like salads, wraps, or grilled chicken. Whether you're on a road trip, at the airport, or overseas, having a stash of familiar, healthy snacks can be a game-changer. Hydration is Key I stress the importance of staying hydrated during travel. Carry reusable water bottles and encourage regular sips. Limit sugary drinks and opt for water or diluted 100% fruit juices. Coconut water is also a great choice! Proper hydration is crucial for maintaining energy levels and overall well-being. Balanced Fast Food Choices While on the road, fast food may be the most convenient option. However, as a dietitian, I recommend making mindful choices by selecting items with a balance of protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals. Many fast-food establishments now offer healthier alternatives, such as grilled chicken options or salads. Opt for Buffets or Family-Style Dining Choose restaurants that offer buffet or family-style dining options. This allows children to explore various dishes in smaller portions without feeling overwhelmed. It also gives them a sense of control over their meal choices. Embrace International Flavors Traveling abroad provides a unique opportunity to expose your child to diverse cuisines. Encourage kids to try small portions of local dishes. For food safety, focus on foods that are cooked thoroughly and filtered bottled water. Engaging in the cultural aspect of food can make the experience more enjoyable. Explore Local Markets While overseas, immerse your family in the local food culture by exploring markets. Allow your child to pick out fresh fruits, vegetables, or local snacks. This not only promotes healthy eating but also provides an exciting cultural experience. Maintain Routine with Time Zone Changes If traveling across time zones, try to maintain a consistent mealtime routine as much as possible. This helps regulate your child's hunger and ensures they receive the nutrients their growing bodies need. Set a Healthy Example Children often model their behavior after their parents. Demonstrate the importance of nutrition by making mindful food choices yourself. If they see you enjoying a variety of nutritious foods, they may be more inclined to do the same. Juggling picky eating during family travels requires creativity, preparation, and a dash of flexibility. By understanding the reasons behind picky eating while on the road, at the airport, or overseas, and implementing practical tips, you can transform mealtime into an opportunity for nutritional exploration. As a dietitian, my emphasis is on creating lasting memories of nourishing adventures for your child, ensuring they receive the nutrients their growing bodies need.
  3. NPN Sitaara

    Making Travel Au-some

    Traveling with children can be fun, exciting and challenging and traveling with a child with a special needs child adds a whole new dynamic. I’m a mom of three: I have one 3 year old son and 5 year old boy/girl twins and my oldest son, Owen, has autism. To get ready for a trip, whether that be an outing in the city, a car trip or a flight, I prepare well in advance, know my resources, plan for the day and embrace a positive attitude. Prepare in advance: Clear expectations, visuals and schedules help Owen process new outings. When preparing for our trip to Florida, we worked with Owen’s incredible and life changing therapy team at Chicago Pediatric Therapy and Wellness Center and utilized a social story. To our delight, Shannon Hurst, Owen’s Occupational Therapist, even went as far as to create a mock trip to Florida to help him prepare. During this mock trip, Owen boarded a flight with his own ticket, practiced wearing headphones to block out loud noises, engaged in a few typical Florida activities while working through sensory challenges such as using sunscreen, playing in the sand and wearing a bathing suit and sandals, and practiced boarding a flight home. This mock trip approach helped Owen know what to expect and equipped him with the tools to navigate uncomfortable situations, such as counting when applying sunscreen and wearing sandals when walking on the beach. Know your resources: Did you know that airports offer a variety of services such as TSA Cares to assist travelers with diverse needs? On the TSA Cares website, you can submit a request for assistance through the screening process and indicate any foreseeable challenges. For Owen, it is imperative that he carry his comfort item through security so I request that a hand scanner is used. We have been very fortunate flying out of O’Hare and have worked with extremely compassionate TSA Cares representatives. Additionally, airlines offer accessible travel options. Since most airplanes can be overwhelming sensory experiences, you can request to board early to get settled and some airlines even offer special perks like a children’s activity packet with a sensory calming strip. When traveling locally, seek out sensory friendly kid attractions. One of our favorites is Lincoln Park Zoo. They do a fantastic job hosting sensory friendly events throughout the year, including a sensory friendly evening during Zoo Lights. Like many other museums, sporting venues and concert arenas, they have a partnership with KultureCity, a non-profit that is dedicated to “creating sensory accessibility and inclusion for those with invisible differences”. When dining out, be sure to indicate your family’s needs when you make your reservation. Request a table or quieter spot in the restaurant that might suit your child best and provide the restaurant with any relevant allergy information. Plan for the day of: Preparation is key for any type of travel and if possible, allow your child to engage in gross motor play prior to and during the trip. If you’re driving, take a minute to walk around the rest stop. If you’re in an airport and see an empty gate, take advantage of open space. Be sure to throw some extra clothes in for the unexpected spill or accident. And of course pack many highly preferred snacks, as you can’t go wrong with snacks. YumEarth has Elderberry lollipops infused with vitamins and they are allergy friendly - a win win, boost your child’s immunity while giving them a calming treat. Additionally, Melissa & Doug mess free coloring sheets and workbooks as well as fidget tools provide entertainment for those long trips and potential delays. Embrace a positive attitude: Traveling can be an exciting opportunity for children to see the world in a new way and certainly will come with many hiccups. It has been helpful for us to break down the travel day into steps and explain each part to our children and celebrate as we make it through the various parts of the day. And yes, there are moments when I look at my husband and wonder, “Why did we sign up for this? Are we crazy?” and then we remember, we are turning therapeutic moments into valuable experiences and making lifelong memories.
  4. It used to be a painful exercise when I had to write a note to our son’s teachers to let them know we would be taking our son out of school for a family vacation. The guilt would sink in and I would start to think we were bad parents for not putting enough focus on his education. I would write and re-write these emails and would get a knot in my stomach after hitting send as I wondered what his teachers must be thinking of us for prioritizing a trip over the classroom. But as we’ve traveled more and I’ve gotten more practice writing these types of emails, I’ve come to a few basic conclusions: Travel is education. The memories and experiences gained through travel can sometimes be more valuable than the lessons learned inside a classroom. Our son is still very young and him being absent for a handful of days each school year is not going to have an impact on him learning the class material. The time we enjoy together on vacation is crucial for our family. The reliance on technology, work stresses, and constant running around the city for errands, after school activities and birthday parties takes a toll. It is a huge release to be able to leave all this behind and just focus on each other. Some will argue that vacations are no reason to take a child out of school, and I am also very aware that just being able to take a vacation is a privilege. But if you are able to take a trip and decide to do so during your child’s schooldays, here are a few tips on how to write that note to your child’s teacher: Before you send that email, review the school’s policies. What is considered an excused absence vs. an unexcused absence? What, if any consequences, will there be if your child accumulates too many unexcused absences? Communicate well in advance of your trip. Telling your child’s teacher a day or two before you plan on taking your child out of school for a trip is not best practice, and it’s not respecting the teacher’s time. We like to give our son’s teachers at least a month's heads-up when we need to take him out of school so they can modify their lesson plans for him, if necessary. Focus on academics. Your child’s teacher is concerned about your child’s academics, not your family spending a week at Disney World or Spring Training in Arizona during the middle of March when school is in session. So, let your child’s teachers know that your child will be making up any assignments they’ll miss. If assignments are posted online in Google Classroom or another platform, even better. Your child can still complete/submit work on time when they’re gone. Be honest. There’s no reason to make up a story about why your child is going to be absent. You’re taking a trip. At the same time, as mentioned above, you don’t need to share your vacation itinerary with your child’s teachers.
  5. As winter settles in, many people cope with the change in weather by planning their next family vacation. But if your last family vacation has you wanting to never venture out as a family again - you're in luck! We've gathered the top travel hacks from NPN members on how to master your next family vacation and a ✨magical opportunity to make the financial planning part of your next family vacation a piece of cake! Hack 1: Pick A Location That Works For Everyone The opportunity to get away with your family only presents itself a few times a year. Make the most of your trip by traveling to a destination that will please all of your carry ons - ahem, children. Destinations like amusement parks, cruises, beaches, and family-friendly resorts are always a win! ✨NPN is excited to offer your family the chance of a lifetime! Win a magical family vacation while supporting NPN and Chicago families! Win big while giving back by purchasing a chance to win in the NPN Dreams Come True Family Vacation Sweepstakes! The sweepstakes is now open so secure your tickets today! Hack 2: Don't Stretch Your Budget Family vacations aren't cheap but overspending doesn't have to be your only option. Plus, if you overspend, you'll be more likely to not be able to enjoy your trip because you're too busy worrying about paying for everything later. Do yourself a favor and try to save during the year for your next family trip. Plan ahead and divide the anticipated total cost up each month or pay period to make your dream vacation a reality for your bank account. ✨P.S Did we mention that tickets to NPN's Dreams Come True Family Vacation Sweepstakes are only $40 and that the grand prize includes a check to cover airfare, lodging, tickets to the park, and spending money? Read more about each prize level and secure as many tickets as you want here. Hack 3: Leave The Planning To The Pros There are two types of people out there - those that love planning things and those that don't. If the thought of planning meals and activities makes you nervous, tag in a vacation planner to handle the details! Before you start thinking of your grandparents who used travel agents “back in their day,” remember that travel agents are experts in wanderlust and have relationships that can lead to a better vacation and a much less stressful experience for you. For example, if you're planning a trip to Disney, it can be hard to know how soon to plan your trip, what a Genie+ is, or how to find the best deals. If you're planning things at the last minute or haven't been to Disney since you were 10, a planner may be the expert you need. Looking for recommendations? This forum post has a few! Hack 4: Carve Out Time For Yourself + Time With Your Spouse I know, I know - it's a family vacation. But YOU are a part of your family and so is your spouse! Try to find time to stay up late and catch a movie together or to take a dip in the pool, solo. You'll be amazed how therapeutic it can be! Where possible, choose a family-friendly resort, a cruise with a kids club, or find activities that your kids can do on their own (if they are old enough) to give you a few minutes of alone time. Your kids will also appreciate this time to be independent! Hack 5: Don't Sweat The Small Stuff Every trip is sure to have its share of surprises and things that you didn't expect or prepare for. Try as best as you can to go with the flow and be prepared to pivot under pressure. Figure out how to make the best of crappy weather or meltdowns or sickness to avoid spoiling an entire day or the whole trip. Not only will this help you have a less stressful time, but it'll also show your kids a great example of how to handle disappointments, snafus, and changes of plan—something they’ll carry with them (and that’ll make them awesome travelers) for life. Try (as best as you can) to plan ahead. Bring extra snacks with you (did you know that you're allowed to bring your own food into Disney?!) to avoid the inevitable "I'm starving" whines, pack ponchos to be prepared for random rainstorms, and be prepared for attitudes and tantrums from kids who may not appreciate all of the work that goes into making their dreams come true! There's no need to be afraid to plan your next getaway with your kiddos and there are major benefits to traveling and creating memories with your family. We hope these tips make your next family adventure, a dream come true!
  6. As the days grow shorter and colder, the temptation to go south can be irresistible. But what if the winter season inspired your plans instead? Some of my family’s favorite vacations have been to northern destinations that delivered the perfect combination of festivity, coziness, and invigorating outdoor adventure. This year, consider one of these escapes: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Festive decorations and seasonal activities for families completely transform this popular summer retreat once the cold weather sets in. Lake Geneva’s proximity to Chicago, slower pace and smaller scale make it an easy getaway for Chicagoans. Don’t miss the Santa Cruises that run through December 31. Traverse City, Michigan Dramatic sand dunes overlooking northern Lake Michigan, picturesque farms and vineyards dotting rolling hills, and a celebrated yet unpretentious food scene have made the Traverse City area my family’s favorite Midwestern destination. The five-hour drive might seem daunting, but charming Saugatuck and reinvigorated Grand Rapids provide enjoyable stops along the way. Resorts like the Homestead and Grand Traverse boast suites with fireplaces. Nestled in the snowy woods, they offer the perfect base for days filled with sledding, ice skating and even skiing down sand dunes. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada A visit to Quebec City feels like stepping into Old World France. Beautiful seasonal decorations line the cobblestone streets and ornament almost every building, which date as early as the 16th century when the city was established as the French colony’s capital. This UNESCO World Heritage Site brims with infectious joie de vivre. Fortunately, the friendliness gets communicated as fluently in English as it does in French. Comfortable explorations of this compact city require the right gear (when we visited in December, a Manito stroller cover and 7 A.M. Enfant blanket kept our toddler toasty warm). The opulent Le Chateau Frontenac sits atop the walled city like a castle and provides a surprisingly family-friendly stay. And don’t miss out on a meal at Aux Anciens Canadiens. At the oldest house in Quebec, you can dine on traditional comfort food like poutine and maple syrup pie in a wood-paneled dining room warmed by a gigantic stone fireplace. Chicago Staycation The Condé Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards ranked Chicago as the top big city in the U.S. in 2019. If heading out of town isn’t feasible, try playing tourist at home. Many of the hotels and restaurants in River North, the Gold Coast and around Millennium Park offer excellent hospitality to every age group, and Chicago’s iconic architecture provides the perfect change of scenery. Make sure to visit Cloud Gate in Millennium Park. Despite how many times you’ve seen it, it never loses its appeal for children. Looking for more ideas? Consider Galena, Illinois; Boyne City, Michigan; or Kohler, Wisconsin as other fun, family-friendly escapes. Wherever your travels take you, enjoy your break, and the chance it will give you to create new memories with your family.
  7. It’s not really ever easy to fly with kids. But the reward of getting to your final destination for a family vacay and creating amazing memories makes it all worth it. Right?? That’s what I tried to remind myself when my husband surprised me with a family trip to San Diego for my birthday. During the midst of a global pandemic. Part of me was so excited to go somewhere, to have an adventure with our family, to get out of the normal day-to-day routine. The other part of me was panicked. How on earth was I going to get through an airport and sit on an airplane with a 4-year-old and an 8-month old, when germs today have a whole new meaning? Something important to note here: I am a BIG germaphobe. I’ve always been very aware of hand-washing, antibacterial gel, trying not to touch “public” surfaces. Add that to a worldwide virus-spreading crisis and you have the perfect recipe for someone who should be terrified to go anywhere. But we went. And it was amazing. I would never try to talk anyone into doing something they aren’t comfortable with, but coming from someone who is very germ-adverse, I have some tips that could help you understand that it is possible to travel with kiddos these days. [Related: 7 tips for parents of young kids navigating Covid-19] Plan your antibac kit For me, this is pretty typical for any flight, but I felt good having my antibacterial wipes, sanitizing hand gel, and seat tray covers in my carry-on. When you board your flight (and check with airlines on pre-boarding options for families with kiddos!), wipe down everything in your seat area: tray tables, seat belts, window “sill,” armrest and buttons, video screen and overhead vents and buttons. Remember that while you might not touch something, your little ones might. So wipe it all. (Another side note: We flew Southwest; the flight felt very clean — although we still wiped down everything — and we had priority family boarding.) Masks We wore our masks the whole time we traveled — through the airport and on the flight — unless we were eating or drinking something. Masks can start to get uncomfortable after wearing for a long time, so find one that doesn’t pull on your ears or smush down your nose. Test masks out with the kiddos before traveling to make sure theirs fit well also. Have a bunch of extra masks, too. Kids might accidentally drop theirs on the ground or decide the mask is a napkin. And a fresh mask always feels good. (Yes, we are actually saying that these days!) [Related: The secret to traveling with kids? Planning, planning, planning] Car seat for the bambino If you have a baby, I highly recommend buying an extra ticket and bringing along a car seat. Babies love to be held. Until they don’t. Having a spot to tuck your little one away snugly so they can have a bottle, babble at you, or take a nap is a lifesaver. Bring snacks & activities This is something we do anyway when we travel, but I definitely made sure to pack some healthy snacks (fruits & veggies) as well as fun ones (fruit strips, M&Ms, crackers). On our flight, Southwest had limited food service, but they did offer canned water and a small bag of snack mix. Be patient We didn’t encounter long wait times, probably due to the overall reduced travel, but we gave ourselves extra time just in case. And we felt like people in general had more patience for one another, and it was nice. We really felt (and expressed) gratitude to everyone working at the airport. There’s something about this pandemic that can bring out the We’reAll-In-This-Together mentality. Silver linings…I’ll take it! Travel looks a little different these days, but with some planning, flying with your family is still possible. I’m so grateful I avoided any germaphobic meltdowns, and we had the time to make new memories. And not surprisingly, I’m already trying to plan the next adventure!

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