Dining Out with Young Children

One of my favorite activities with my family is enjoying a meal out. Sitting together on a restaurant patio, having conversation and enjoying good food…dreamy. The reality is, many parents struggle with taking their children out to eat. They worry they will make a scene, that their child will misbehave, or they will end up putting a screen in front of their child to distract them. Today I’d like to share an excerpt from my upcoming book about food and family. (Stay tuned for a release date).

Here are a few of my best tips to help you prepare for a meal out with your young children: 

  1. Practice: Having sit-down dinners at home is a preparation for eating at a restaurant. Each time you sit down as a family for a meal at home, you are practicing for your next meal out as a family.
  2. Bring a set of dishes: It may be helpful to bring your child-size plate, glass, and flatware that your child uses at home. Restaurants do not often have these items available, making it difficult for your child to fully participate in the meal. 
  3. Invite your child to be a part of the process: Take the opportunity to introduce pictures on the menu or new words. Discuss options with your child and then give him two to choose from. Even pre-verbal children can suggest preferences with facial expressions and hand gestures.
  4. Choose your seating wisely: Make sure to be seated in a way that your child can see people or look outside., Check that he won’t get overwhelmed and that he is not facing a screen. 
  5. Ask for your meals to be served together: Many restaurants assume that children should be served first. The difficulty with this is, when a child finishes eating just as the parents’ meals arrive, the child is ready to move onto the next activity and the parent hasn’t eaten. This often results in one parent taking the child outside while the other eats alone. This is no fun. A purpose of a family meal out is to eat together, therefore, everyone should be served at the same time.

In order to maximize the possibility of an enjoyable family meal out, keep in mind the time of day—is your child usually getting ready for sleep at this time? Consider his activity of the day—has it been a full day of activity (this might just be too much to ask)? What about his level of hunger? Is your child hungry enough for food to keep his attention, or is he over-hungry and asking him to wait is not going to work? All of these will factor into his ability to sit and enjoy a meal while out.

Flood of Feelings

Now that Harvey has left our city, we are faced with recovery.  We, as a community have lost so much.  Houses, schools, businesses, friends, pets…

We have seen how strong we are as a community and quickly we move  to take care of each other.  This is important, especially for our children.  

When I walked in to see that my Studio had flooded, I was overcome with sadness and started to cry.  During the storm I was able to stay calm and connected with my children, now, in this moment of grief, I balled and was unable to stop the tears.  

My children instantly became so worried about me.  They knew I was overwhelmed and they too started to feel out of control.  They look to me for strength and guidance and now I was the one unable to be strong.  I need to cry.  How do we attend to our children when we are feeling so full of sadness and grief?

We want our children to have a natural connection with these feelings so we do not want to hide it, on the other hand, we do not want to be so consumed by our own feelings that we can’t help them deal with their own.  Here are some thoughts that may help you.

  1. Breathe.  Show your children that you have your own ability to calm yourself when you are overwhelmed with emotion
  2. Be honest.  Name your emotion.  Say, “I am sad that our furniture was damaged in the flood.  I just need a little time to be sad and then I will be ok.”
  3. Let your children comfort you. Children are very compassionate and want to help.  Let them hold you and pat your head if they are naturally inclined to do so.  They want to return the love and care you have given when they have been sad.
  4. Take time for yourself.  The community has done a wonderful job of putting together some free activities and care for children around town to help families.  Here are some resources:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Free Camp

Aurora Kids Day

5 THings to Do This Weekend to Find Fun After Harvey

Use these moments away from your child to grieve so you will be ready to be present when they return to you.

A Whole Meal

vegetarian meal

Now that another school year has started my children have once again been challenged by their teachers to bring a balanced lunch to school.  When packing lunches the conversation around proteins, grains, fruits and veggies has been wonderful.  I take the opportunity to test my children’s understanding of how their foods are wade and all their ingredients.

This is no accident, maybe a little unforeseen, but I have been setting this stage from their first meal.  Each of them had their first solid food meal at about 6 months. At a calm time of the day I introduced a complete meal in replacement of a liquid meal.  I set the table with a special set of dishes, a napkin, placemat, and bib, and sat across the table as now it was their turn to eat, not cradled in my arms – latching on, but at a table as a separate person from me: my show of respect for their development and individuality.

We do not have a history of food allergies in our family, so although I was quite aware and observant when offering new foods, I was not particularly concerned.  The first meals need protein, grain, healthy fats, fruits and veggies, and water: all the components that their meals need now.  I started with puréed foods and after just a few short weeks moved to chunkier, mashed foods and soft bite-size foods.  This transition helped them to be more independent in eating as well as didn’t prolong the liquid and purée stage.  Trying new textures early in the introduction of solid foods allowed my children to have more variety in their diet and stay open to trying new foods.

An example of one of their first meals is:  Peaches, roasted sweet potatoes with olive oil, rice cereal and hard boiled egg yolk with breastmilk.  So many textures and flavors and a complete meal – worthy of replacing a milk meal.  After all, they received a full meal when nursing, it was important for me to continue that into their new solid meals.

Making sure even the first meal is a complete meal helps to lay the foundation for a healthy relationship with food.  Sure they have foods they prefer, don’t we all? But they are far from picky eaters.  

Rephrasing “No!”

SONY DSC

As a parent, saying “no” seems to come so naturally.  And I do think it has an important place in my vocabulary.  However, I find it can really shut down a conversation when I lead with it.  SO in an effort to keep it positive, I have challenged myself to create a list of how I could say yes instead of no.

Just a little background story; we have desserts at our house, just not every day.  I like to think I am teaching my children how to enjoy sweets in moderation.  I also believe in helping them develop an ability to delay gratification/patience.

“Mom can I have a cookie?”

“No!”

   or

1. Yes, after you finish your dinner.

2. Thats a great idea, when should we have cookies, after lunch or after dinner?

3. Yes, tomorrow I will have fresh cookies available after dinner.

4. Yes, when we go to the store next, we can choose some cookies.

5. Yes, I love to bake with you, lets find a recipe.

6. I love to share a sweet treat with you, shall we enjoy it after dinner today or tomorrow?

7. When would you like a cookie, today or tomorrow?

8. Yes, but I don’t have any cookies, can we enjoy some sweet fruit together?

9. Yes.  Lets choose which day this week you would like a cookie.

10. Yes, let’s have cookies, what a great idea.

Why do we carry one thing at a time?

carry one thing

This is an common question.  In many of the activities we do, we ask a child to carry one item at a time.  Why is this?

These are my reasons:

1. So they can have both hands on the item and have the best chance of successfully getting the item to the intended location without dropping it.

2. In order to increase memory. When you say, “Please get a fork”.  You offer your child the word ‘fork’.  She hears the word, finds a matching image in her memory and then holds that image  in her mind as she goes to the shelf, chooses one, and then returns to the table with the fork.  Sometimes they loose the image somewhere in between and may return with a different item, or even nothing at all.  It is important to repeat the command and have your child try again.

3. Efficiency isn’t the goal.  If it were, it would make perfect sense for a child to carry as much as possible in each trip.  However, when your child is moving with purpose, it is more important for him to be accurate over efficient.  It is accuracy in his movements that will help him strengthen his muscles and master his movements.

4. Repetition leads to concentration.  When your child repeats her movements she travels back and forth to a shelf, gathering the materials she needs.  Each trip she is challenging her memory and mastering her movements.  And each trip adds to a deeper connection and level of concentration with her work.

5. Movement with purpose increases the ability to learn.  Studies have shown that adding movement to your child’s learning experiences can greatly impact her experience.  The whole child is involved in learning.  Her hands must move to feed her mind.  Your child is wired to learn through her senses and this includes, her kinesthetic sense, also called the muscle sense.

The Power of Play: A Two-Hour Work-Cycle

workcycleThe work-cycle is the time, everyday, the children have to work/play at school. Once a child has adapted to the routine of school, he moves from one activity to the next, with very little adult interaction.  He sometimes will choose to be in a group activity, or check-in with the teacher through conversation.  Generally, he plans his day and proceeds with his “auto-education”.  The children’s ability to do this is what allows each child the specific education they need, and each teacher the ability to observation each child and their growth. 

Here are five characteristics of play that allow the child the ability to move through his morning effortlessly, as described by Dr. Rachel E.White for the Minnesota Children’s Museum’s report, The Power of Play.

  • PLAY IS PLEASURABLE. Children must enjoy the activity or it is not play. 
  • PLAY IS INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED. Children engage in play simply for the satisfaction the behavior itself brings. It has no extrinsically motivated function or goal. 
  • PLAY IS PROCESS ORIENTED. When children play, the means are more important than the ends.
  • PLAY IS FREELY CHOSEN. It is spontaneous and voluntary. If a child is pressured, she will likely not think of the activity as play. 
  • PLAY IS ACTIVELY ENGAGED. Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity. 

When parents tour a Montessori school they often ask about the difference between play and work.  Play is the work of the child.  We use the term ‘work’ in order to hold it in high regard and respect it as purposeful and meaningful.  

This info-graphic is made from the observation of one child for the full two hour work cycle.(2 hours for 12-36 months, 3 hours for beyond 3yrs) I have used different colors and shapes to highlight the different types of activities chosen throughout the morning. 

A Conversation After School

imageIf you are a parent of a young child who attends school, you have probably been told not to ask your child about their day at pick up.  So many parents ask me, why is that?  It seems so natural to ask the ones you love about their day when you come back together.  It actually seems like it may be a part of helping a child adapt to his culture through grace and courtesy.  So why are we asked to refrain from the questions?

First, your child who is younger than five years old lives in the moment.  This means that when you come to pick him up from school, he is enjoying the moment of seeing you again and may be full of gratitude for that moment.  If in that moment, you ask, ” How was your day?” Or ” what did you do today?” he may be caught off guard and unable to answer your question. In his mind, he is enjoying the present and not recapping the day in his head.  The ability to recap the day is a function of the reasoning mind of an older child, not the absorbent mind of your young child.

Next, children who feel compelled to answer their parents when asked, “Did you do any work today?” May feel unneeded pressure to preform.  If he doesn’t have an answer at that very moment he may come up with an activity he remembers, a person he recalls, or a staple answer that has seemed to work in the past: “Snack.”

Also, because many children don’t imagine each moment of their time at school to be nearly as significant as their parents see it, they don’t always share the details.  As a parent, you may find it very interesting that they practiced sandpaper letters and learned four new sounds today.  However, your child may just see it as another good day of work.

So, as parents, how do we connect with our children at the end of the day? How do we learn about the details of the day without putting them on the spot or forcing them to come up with something? 

We model.  

We model conversation about our day.  This can be done with another adult or an older child, but this can also be done as an individual. Imagine you pick up your child from school.  You see his sweet face, you embrace and say, “Hello, it is so nice to see you.”  He may say something similar.  Without asking the teacher about the details of the day and without distractions of other parents or your phone, your focus is on your relationship with your child as the two of you walk together to the car or possibly walk all the way home.

On your way home, you wait patiently, offering your child time to open up if he chooses.  If he too remains silent, possibly contemplating the day, you can offer a description of your day. “I was working in my office today.  I organized some papers and called a client.”  Pause.  Your child may have a question for you.  Or, he may share something about his day.  Continue to refrain from questions.  You may want to offer another sentence like, “I enjoyed the salad I packed for my lunch.”  

Making statements such as this will help your child understand what might be notable from his day.  Over time with this modeling approach, your child will start to offer his own tidbits about his day and a pattern of exchange will emerge.  Letting him develop his own ideas in his own time will make the conversation that much more meaningful for both of you.

Five ways to build your child’s brain


Your child sees everything in your house. You have created a physical and emotional space for him to grow. Is everything in this space just as you want him to know it?

Your young child’s brain works as an Absorbent Mind, taking in everything in his environment.

This was one of Maria Montessori’s great discoveries in the early 20th century.

Your child takes in everything around him. All that he sees, hears, tastes, smells, and touches, instantaneously. He soaks up the full experience. In this way, he has no control over what he takes in, and he has an amazing capacity to store this information. Then he builds the connections in his brain from these experiences. These experiences become him; his will, his intellect, his personality!

Five ways to build a better brain:

1) Keep items that help him have purposeful activity and opportunity. Keep your home free of clutter and ‘noise’.
2) Offer the best to your child whenever possible, whether it be fresh peaches instead of canned ones, or grass for crawling instead of concrete. Remember, he is building his brain from each experience.
3) Talk with your child. Model correct and complete language. Use pronouns correctly; refer to yourself in the first person (e.g., “I’ll do it,” instead of “Mommy do it”).
4) Respect the time it takes for him to live in the moment and enjoy the sites and sounds around him. Children have their own rhythm of life that is different than an adult’s rhythm.
5) Be ready and willing to repeat. Children depend on repetition to learn things. Through repetition he builds his ability to concentrate and his understanding of the world. When he repeats, he can remember the new concept.

Five Signs My Children Are Becoming Amazing People

  1. Daughter: while packing lunches for school for her and her two brothers she exclaims, “Tomatoes! Oliver will just gobble them up!”
  2. Son: after recently completing a report on fungus, bursts into tears when he sees a woman kicking over every mushroom she passes. He then explains to me how each of those fungi no longer can reproduce.
  3. Daughter: on the way to school we are listening to the Beatles “When I’m Sixty-Four” and my daughter says, “Hey! 64 is the cube of 4!”
  4. Another Son: “I got all my spelling words correct because I read a lot and reading books is the best way to learn new words.”
  5. Son: after adding up the remainder of funds left after purchasing souvenirs at the zoo, he reads about making a donation to Children’s Hospital and decides we have just enough to make the purchase. What an amazing look of happiness on his face.