Car Wash Sensory Play

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So, let me introduce you to your new best friend, Car Wash Sensory Play. Your kids are going to eat it up! Not to mention keep themselves thoroughly occupied for at least an hour.

Here’s how to play:

You and your kiddos line-up all the toy cars in the household, spray them all over with shaving cream, fill up a sensory bin with water and a little blue dye for some extra pzazz and give them some old toothbrushes to help “scrub the cars squeaky clean”. They brush them off with their toothbrush and them dip them in the “soapy” water to get them rinsed off before lining them up to dry.

There are three primary objectives in this fun outdoor game:

  1. To squeeze in some messy tactile sensory play: Messy tactile input is important for so many reasons! To stimulate the tactile senses in a fun way, to decrease or eliminate any hypersensitivity to touch or textures which can impact a whole number of things (the most important being future acceptance of new food textures), to increase awareness of the hands and body and to let kids realize its OKAY to get their hands messy. If your little has an absolute meltdown when their hands get messy, this might be a good activity to try with them. Having a barrier between the hands and the shaving cream (the toothbrushes) help for those who are hesitant to touch the messy texture.

  2. To promote imaginative and parallel play (side by side play) with siblings

  3. To get kids outside!

    The greatest part is you probably have ALL of the items you need to play this game laying around somewhere in your house. Isn’t it cool that its the simplest things in life that keep kids busy and their brains working? (some of my favorites are old boxes, tissue paper, tape, shaving cream, empty water bottles and old containers, just to name a few)

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So what are you waiting for?? Go put on your mom pants on and get ready to G E T M E S S Y!

**Clearly we did this outside so I could spray them down with a hose when we were done :)

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Large container for water

  • Toy cars

  • Shaving cream

  • Old toothbrushes

  • Food dye (optional)

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-Ashley

Restaurant Boxes (DIY Fine Motor Fun)

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I have a confession..

I have been carrying around random zip-lock bags of thera-putty and bags of beads and strings in my purse for about three years now.

Why on earth would you do such a thing, you might ask?  Because I’m sure you can imagine how just one more thing totally adds to the mom-purse dilemma.  You know, the one where you go on one short trip to or from preschool and you end up with the contents of what looks to be food and supplies for a small tribe of Indians! 

Why the heck would I want to encourage you to add one more thing into that shameful mom-pile??

No, its not because I’m taking crazy pills.  It’s because there is nothing worse than the wait for food at a restaurant with hangry and busy-bodied children.

Especially when you don’t always want to pop a device in front of your child, because said device only decreases child’s ability to control impulses and attention skills, according to research.

Dont get me wrong, we use devices quite frequently in our home, but I do my best to not use it every single time my kids are bored.

Waiting on your food at the restaurant, waiting at the doctors office, waiting to get your oil change with the kids, long road trips, Oy vey, is parenting full of lots of waiting! 

Patience is a virtue, people.  Something I am learning myself along the way but also something even more challenging to teach to children. 

The truth is I would much rather let my kids play and refine their hand skills than be zombified by Paw-Patrol for an hour.  Maybe its the OT in me (ok, its definitely the OT in me)  Maybe its the perfectionist (yeah, its definitely a little bit of that too).  I don’t know guys.  But I will say these little restaurant boxes have saved me more times than I can count. 

So today, I am spilling the beans to my long kept secret to restaurants with kids peace. 

Enter, the restaurant box.  

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:Sigh of relief:

...... 

So, I fill these little guys with all sorts of simple fine motor activities and pop them open when my kids are getting antsy.  It buys me just enough time to look at the menu, order food for everyone and possibly even have a bite of my own food. 

I include all different sorts of simple fine motor activities.  Here’s what I put in mine:

  • A few crayons
  •  Thera-putty (sort of like resistive play-dough) and small beads to push in and take out if it
  • all different sorts of strings and beads (big and small) with different sized strings and felt pipe cleaners for my youngest (easier)
  • A pair of tweezers and these tiny erasors to practice pinch and grasp when putting things in/out of cups and bowls
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The best part is that they are extremely inexpensive and simple to make and you can tailor them to your own child’s interests and age group. You can switch out the items at any time and keep these boxes on deck in the mom-bag at all times for those desperate times (you know the ones I’m talking about).

These containers I found on amazon on the perfect size to keep stowed away in your purse and have handy-dandy compartment separators and locks to keep from spillage. So what are you waiting for?? Go fill up some boxes for some restaurant peace and quiet. Maybe even pretend to have a date-night with your hubs with your kids in tow?

Comment below and let me know what types of tricks you use to keep your own kiddos busy when eating out!

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-Ashley

Lunchbox Chicken Nuggets (Paleo, Gluten-free)

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My kids absolutely love Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets.  But, since we try to avoid gluten like the plague in our household (my son and I both have difficulty digesting it) we don’t really frequent fast food joints very often.  Besides gluten, the list of additives in their chicken nuggets makes my head spin.

Sorry Chick-fil-A lovers, its a hard pill to swallow

These nuggets, on the other hand, are made with 100% organic ground chicken and almond flour and some yummy spices, nothing to make my head spin here.  

Just yummy, whole food goodness!

So yeah, I gave my best effort to re-create a healthier version for the kiddos and I think I hit the spot.

The kids loved them SO much that the next time I made them, I doubled the recipe so that I could have nuggets for school lunches throughout the week.

What I’m getting at is, these little nugs are great for anytime, really.  School lunches, snack time or a fun and easy toddler-friendly dinner.

Other than the time it takes to fry these bad boys up, how easy would it make your school week to throw these in for the protein of the day??  If your school is nut-free, you can substitute with coconut flour instead.

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I honestly would love to make ahead an enormous batch of these nugs to save in the freezer for those days when I’m in a pinch for time and the kids are hungry.  Putting it on my to-do list now.  Just kidding, there’s no way I will likely have time for that.

Back to the nuggets.

They are crunchy on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside, just like the real deal. I’ve seen many gluten free nugget recipes out there that use sliced chicken breast but the ground chicken really makes the inside texture so soft and moist, your kids will think you just went through the chick-a-filet drive through!

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Ingredients:

•1 lb ground chicken, rolled into 3/4 inch balls

•2 eggs, beaten

•1 + 1/3 cup almond flour

•1 tablespoon onion powder

•2 teaspoons garlic powder

•2 teaspoon paprika

•1/4 teaspoon pepper

•1 teaspoon salt

•coconut oil for frying

 

Instructions: 

  1. In shallow bowl, beat the two eggs.
  2. In another shallow bowl, mix the dry ingredients. 
  3. Set out a large plate with paper towels for drying the finished nuggets.  Put all the dishes in an assembly line for quicker cooking and less mess.
  4. Heat coconut oil in cast iron skillet over medium or medium-low heat. 
  5. Form balls into small balls (about 1 inch diameter)
  6. Dip about 5-6 balls at a time into the egg mixture, gently squeeze out excess egg, then roll the balls in the dry ingredients until coated.
  7. Use the back side of a fork to gently press each nugget into the oil and cook the nuggets about 3 minutes each side (be careful not to burn) and then transfer onto paper towel lined plate.
  8. Work in batches of 5-6 until all the nuggets are cooked.

 

 

-Ashley

Top 10 Sensory Tools to Increase Classroom Focus

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There is no greater way to increase students "readiness to learn" than creating a sensory smart classroom environment.

With the back to school frenzy in full effect, I've got SENSORY TOOL's on the brain.  I want to share with both moms and teachers of children with sensory needs all of my FAVORITE sensory tools for increasing classroom attention and compliance.

I kid you not, these tools have the capability of making or breaking the school year for your child and/or your classroom. I have seen them work wonders for the sensory kiddos I see in the clinic and I have used many of them with my own children as well. 

If you've followed me for any amount of time, you know that I am a huge proponent for more unstructured play in the school system, more opportunities for movement and extending recess allotment times.

Call my a crazy recess mom, but I feel strongly that the decline in play (and coupled decreased opportunities for movement and sensory input) are at the root cause of poor learning, attention and childhood depression and anxiety.  Limited outlets for play are causing spikes in sensory processing deficits, OT referrals and over-diagnosing of ADHD.  I'll try not to go off on a tangent, but I will leave you with this interesting fact: prisoners are offered a minimum of 1 hour of free unstructured outdoor time a day.  If you want to read some compelling research about what movement does to the brain and how it can help increase classroom attention, check out Movement & Cognition: How Movement is an Important Precursor to Attention and Learning Readiness. 

Since recess extension isn't always a practical option for teachers (due to time constraints and school politics) we MUST come together as parents, as educators, as therapists and teachers to fight against the deprivation of sensory input in the school system.

How Does Sensory Input Prepare the Brain for Learning?

Sensory input is simply what our senses (sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing) take in and send to our central nervous system in order to help us create appropriate responses to challenges in our environment.  Engaging different sensory systems can significantly impact a child's academic performance, arousal level, self-regulation and attention to task

The autonomic nervous system is the part of the brain that regulates an individual’s ability to adapt to environmental changes through modulation of sensory, motor, visceral, and neuro-endocrine functions via its parasympathetic and sympathetic branches. (1) These branches function together to promote adaptation and self-regulation in response to internal and external environmental demands. The sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system modulates immediate phasic responses to events, such as the fight-or-flight reaction, while the parasympathetic branch modulates the visceral and the neuro-endocrine systems to maintain homeostasis and self- regulation, as well as to regulate recovery from a stressor/challenge (Nance and Hoy, 1996 ). (1)

Simply put, sensory input can be either stimulating/alerting or calming and organizing.

Alerting/stimulating sensory input correlates with increased attention and readiness to learn (via the sympathetic nervous system), while other types of sensory input can help to calm an overly anxious or rambunctious child down (via the parasympathetic nervous system pathways). 

Sensory input tells us how to respond to our environment.  It's why gentle rocking and tight swaddling can soothe a crying baby to sleep.  It's why loud sounds can make your heart skip a beat.  It's why cold showers wake you up in the morning.  Its why you turn the music up loud and let the wind blow in your face to help you stay awake during a long drive. 

In the event that movement is restricted, which is typical since most classroom environments offer 20 minutes or less a day, children will innately seek to meet his/her sensory needs in one way or another.


Ways Kids Meet Their Own Sensory Needs When Movement is Restricted

  • Bouncing in their chair or falling out of their chair: engages the vestibular and proprioceptive systems
  • Kicking their feet against something: engages the proprioceptive system
  • Chewing on their pencils: engages the proprioceptive system and provides calming oral motor input
  • Banging their head on the desk: engages the vestibular and proprioceptive systems
  • Rocking back and forth: engages the vestibular system
  • Making strange noises with their mouths: engages the auditory system
  • Spinning: engages the vestibular system
  • Touching others: engages the tactile system
  • Touching everything: engages the tactile system

The good news is there are some AMAZING and WONDERFUL sensory tools on the market for your little sensory seekers. 

As a mother of a sensory seeker myself, I have learned that you have to advocate for the sensory needs of your child and often it's really just a matter of finding out which sensory tools work best for your child.  It can be a game of trial and error at times trying to figure out which sensory tool is best but the biggest piece of advice I can give is to think about the child's past history. 

What types of activities have helped them calm down in the past?  Were they pacifier suckers? Maybe they need an oral sensory tool.  Were they the type that likes to go alone in their room to calm down? Maybe they need a quiet corner in the classroom with books and some noise cancelling headphones. Were they the type that likes big hugs? Maybe they would benefit from using a pressure vest.

So without further ado, here are my top favorite sensory tools for the classroom.
*Affiliate links below

Top 10 Sensory Tools for the Classroom

1. Flexible/Alternative Seating Options

Did you know that school-aged children need 4-5 hours of movement a day to support their developing central nervous system's sensory needs?  That's quite mind boggling to consider, since children are in school ALL day long! 

That is why flexible and alternative seating is ESSENTIAL for learners and why its at the TOP of my list.  Different seating (or standing) options give the learner the opportunity to move their bodies and engage their vestibular and proprioceptive systems, which can quickly turn on all the right attention buttons.

  • Wiggle Cushions 
  • Standing Desks
  • T- Stools
  • Therapy Balls
  • Floor Seating in Bean Bag Chairs
 Here's a cozy option for a reading nook or calm down center:   Over-sized Beanbag Chairs by Flash Furniture

Here's a cozy option for a reading nook or calm down center: Over-sized Beanbag Chairs by Flash Furniture

 
  The Brick Stick by ARK Therapeutic  is my all time favorite Chewelry

The Brick Stick by ARK Therapeutic is my all time favorite Chewelry

2. Oral Sensory Input

An easy way to ensure adequate oral sensory input throughout your child's day is to send send a variety of consistencies for your child's lunch and snack.  Vary the texture and flavors and be sure to include something crunchy, which provides good proprioceptive input to the mouth.

For kids who crave more oral sensory input, chewelry is a wonderful choice.  These little wonders have come in handy so often in my practice and my own kiddo uses one too.  

Chewelry is a fun and discreet jewelry design for kids who are naturally sensory seekers.  Chewelry provides calming and organizing sensory input to kids who:

   The Brick Stick by ARK Therapeutic   is my all time favorite Chewelry

The Brick Stick by ARK Therapeutic is my all time favorite Chewelry

  • constantly fidget or have a hard time sitting still
  • seek out sensory input in all sorts of ways (rocking, tapping, jumping, bouncing, spinning)
  • have difficulty with self regulation or self calming (especially within the classroom environment)
  • chew or suck on everything including fingers, shirts, blankets, pencils, etc
  • need help paying attention + focusing at school or during homework
  • are transitioning off of the pacifier or bottle and still craving calming input to the oral cavity
  • who drool excessively or display low muscle tone in the oral cavity
  • who don’t have age appropriate oral motor skills (for speech or feeding)

    ARK Therapeutic also makes these fun chewable pencil toppers for kids who tend to chew on their pencils. 

 

3. Deep Pressure for Calm Focus

Pressure vests offer quick and effective calming input to the little learner.  The pressure vest is like a big, wearable hug that provides steady proprioceptive input (body awareness) with deep pressure and balanced weight. The effect is so gentle, calming and reassuring, kids even ask to wear it.  It is helpful for kids with hyperactivity, extra sensory needs or those on the autism spectrum.  It is great for creating a calm but attentive environment during circle time or seated work!

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This one by Fun and Function has the option of adding weights (depending on child's needs or preference)


Weighted Blankets + Lap Pads are key to helping overactive children calm down and settle for nap time or even just calm down for seated work after a period of over-excitement (like music class or recess).  The deep, calming proprioceptive input can take an over-stimulated child into a state of calm and regulation.  Guided deep breathing can also be a great addition to the weighted blanket.
 

6. Tactile Input: Fidgets + Manipulates

Children are naturally kinesthetic learners, meaning they learn optimally when they can touch, feel, participate and DO!  Any activity or craft where you can get their little hands involved can turn on the tactile sensory system and increase attention and spark interest.  You can learn letters with playdough, learn science by doing experiments, learn counting and math with something tangible like shiny coins or even regular dried black beans!

There are also those kids who need a little extra tactile input throughout the school day.  These are the kids who are constantly touching and feeling everything, whether you like it or not.  These types of children would benefit from a tactile sensory board or a tactile hand fidget.

While fidgets catch a lot of flak for being too distracting, I have seen them used successfully in classrooms where the teacher has a written and mutually agreed upon rule system when it comes to hand fidgets.

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I love the discreet design of these Bookmark Hand Fidgets by ARK Therapeutic


7. Auditory Input

Routine songs and familiar rhymes/rhythms can prompt children through transitions and classroom expectations.  They can also help the sensory child learn new information and know when to expect the end or beginning of an activity.  Use familiar songs to your advantage but try to eliminate over-stimulating sounds or background noise distractions to improve focus.

Children can also struggle with auditory input in different ways.  Some students are easily distracted by background noise or children talking nearby and cant focus for tests and desk work when there is anything else going on nearby (a problem with auditory filtering).  Others become over stimulated or frightened with loud sounds like the roar of a cafeteria (typical for children on the autism spectrum).  

Noise cancelling headphones are a simple but effective sensory tool for children who struggle with auditory input in any way.  They are great for loud or frightful situations and also helpful for homework time, desk concentration and test taking.
 

8. Visual Input

Visual input is simply how the child learns and takes in through the visual system via sight.  Busy classroom decorations on the wall can be very distracting for any child, but especially a child who is having difficulty focusing and attending.  Create a calm and natural classroom environment and eliminate loud or busy decorations or bulletin boards.

Slant boards help to bring the written paper more upright and closer to the midline visual field.  They can also decrease strain on the eyes, assist with handwriting (more stable and improves pencil grip position), assist children with visual deficits and even eliminate slouching.  They are extremely helpful for children with low muscle tone, weak pencil grips and resistant handwriters.  They are easy-peazy to make yourself with a 4 inch 3-ring binder, some velcro adhesive and a large clip.

A small but not to be overlooked sensory tool, enter the all time therapist favorite, a visual timer.  Visual timers can assist in a variety of ways within the classroom:

  • help to ease transitions to and from centers or activities
  • increase student productivity
  • decrease need for constant verbal promting
  • extremely helpful at improving positive classroom behavior and regulation for sensory children


9. Sensory Deprivation Area

Because schools and classrooms can be noisey, over-stimulating and overwhelming at times, a designated "calm down corner" is SO necessary for the typical student and sensory seeker alike.  Noise cancelling headphones, a t-pee or a book nook with a bean bag chair are all good ideas for calm down corners.  Make sure to keep the visual stimuli on the walls to a minimum.  You can place visual calm down jars or tactile boards in this area as well.

10. Movement + Heavy Work

I saved the best and most important for last!  Incorporate movement in the classroom in any way you can.  Use movement prior to any seated work, activities that require sustained attention or tests.   Research shows that movement alone is one of the most effective tools to increase learning and attention in young children.  Why? Because it turns on the vestibular system! 

Songs that incorporate movement are a great way to start the day!

Heavy work activities turn on the proprioceptive system and have a calming but organizing affect on children.  Pushing heavy boxes, lifting heavy books, stacking chairs, dry erase board erasing and door holding are all heavy work that can be used throughout the day for your sensory seeking kiddos.

Fidget kick bands are one of my favorite tools for classrooms.  Why? Because they offer calming and organizing resistive heavy work during seated tasks.  They also increase upright desk sitting and posture AND offer an outlet for movement/vestibular input for sensory seeking kiddos in a discreet way.
 

For more information, check out Movement & Cognition Part 2: 12 Ways to Incorporate Movement in the Classroom (for Increased Attention) 



-Ashley


 

 

 

Resources:

1) Nance, P. W., and Hoy, C. S. (1996). Assessment of the autonomic nervous system. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 10, 15–35

 

Blueberry Muffin Breakfast Bread - Gluten Free, Vegan, Paleo

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Eating gluten-free doesn't have to be boring!  You can still have delicious treats, they just won't send you into a sugar coma! 

I get asked a lot by people what I eat since I avoid gluten,  dairy and pretty much most forms of fast-acting carbs (other than fruits.)

 My answer is that, as long as you don't mind spending some extra time in the kitchen, and can get creative with real, whole foods, the possibilities are truly endless! I mean, in a day and age where you can find more than 20 recepies on pinterest for cheesecake made out of CASHEWS, the sky is the limit people! 

The kids... okay I was craving blueberry muffins this morning for breakfast and since I was fresh out of cupcake liners, I decided to make a blueberry breakfast bread instead.  It was so moist and delicious, it definitely hit the spot.  The kids both gobbled up at least two or three pieces without batting an eye.  The best part about it was, since these are made from real food ingredients and have adequate fiber, healthy fats and protein (from the eggs and almonds), they somewhat resembled a balanced meal.

If you’ve had bad experiences in the past with gluten free bread recipes that turn out too dry, that won’t be the case with this one.  Holy moly this bread is so good, you guys! I am already planning on working it into the weekly routine and next time I am planning on adding a bit of lemon flavor too!  

Enjoy!

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Ingredients:

3 eggs
5 dates
1/2 cup ghee (or coconut oil)
1 1/2 almond flour
3 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp agave
3 tsp arrowroot powder
1 cup wild frozen blueberries
pinch of salt


Instructions:


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees and line a meatloaf/bread pan with parchment paper.
  2. Beat the eggs with a hand blender until fluffy.
  3. In a food processor, puree the dates, ghee and agave until smooth. Add to the eggs.
  4. Add all the other ingredients, except the blueberries.  Mix thoroughly, until combined.
  5. Fold in the blueberries but don't over stir them.
  6. Pour mixture into pan atop parchment paper.  Sprinkle a few blueberries on top.
  7. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test.
  8. Enjoy!
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-Ashley

Cutting Straws + Build a House

Anyone else feeling the summertime crazies already?!

I will openly admit I have been going a little stir crazy around here. Keeping these guys busy is imperative to my sanity!

Thank goodness I pulled out one of my all time favorite fine motor activities yesterday and was able to keep these busy little hands at work for quite some time!

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✂️Cutting Staws +  Build a House🌈🏠

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You’ll need:

✂️Scissors

✂️Colorful straws

✂️Paper

✂️Glue

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Cutting straws is the absolute best in my opinion.  Here’s why I think it’s the cats pajamas:

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🎉It’s always my go to as the first step to teaching scissor skills due to the fact that it’s one small snip and way less challenging than cutting paper

🎉It gives toddlers instant gratification

🎉The straws literally shoot across the room and they (and I) think it’s hysterical

🎉It gives great feedback (auditory and propricoeptive) to a beginning cutter like my 2 year old

🎉It’s a bilateral (two handed) task that makes the 🧠left and right sides of the brain work together as a team to build good motor planning skills!


Adding a second step to build a house made it a bit more challenging (and increased the task completion time 🙌)for my 4 year old buddy who’s got cutting down pact.

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This week I’m partnering with thinkbaby.org, an amazing resource for all things parenting,  and I just LOVED this list of Fun & Educational DIY Crafts for Toddlers.

 

If you’re having the summertime mom crazies, like me, I think you’ll find this list very useful! 

 

-Ashley  

Birthday Cake Surprise -Fine Motor Fun

And our adventures continue trying to beat the heat this summer...Bored with play dough? Have a kiddo who loves talking about all things birthday?Just want to keep the kids entertained indoors to escape the relentless summer heat? 😩😭

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Enter birthday cake surprise! Place candles into the “cake” and then decorate the candles! You can make patterns if you want to make it more challenging. And of course sing happy birthday 1,000 times 😆

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This activity is great for any age really. All you need is play dough, spaghetti noodles, marshmallows and Cheerios. 👌if you have any foam blocks laying around (we found ours at the dollar store) it adds a bonus challenge 👍

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This activity works on lots of things, including sensory exploration, grasp development and strengthening, fine motor precision and graded pressure modulation.

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Most wild boys (ahem, my son) and wild girls too, who are described often as ‘too rough’ are missing the ability to grade (control) their pressure on objects might have a hard time with activities such as this. They might appear clumbsy or too rough. They spill, accidentally crush things 😂 and have a hard time with things that require them to s l o w their bodies down.

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Pushing the marshmallows onto the spaghetti noodles without breaking them and also pushing the noodles into the foam bricks requires a lot of graded pressure modulation so it’s a great activity for those wild ones.

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We did lose a few noodles, but in the end, my wild boy was able to master his birthday cake surprise!👌🤗👏🙌

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Try it with your kiddos and let me know how they do😃

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10 Nutrient Dense First Foods for Baby (BLW Style) Plus Tips on How to Introduce Them

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If you read my post last week, you'll know I'm not too keen on purees and baby cereal as the first foods for baby.  You can read more about why here if you missed it: First Foods For Baby: What Your Pediatrician Won't Tell You
 
The reason that this topic is so near and dear to my heart is that, in this country, 1 in 4 children suffer from a diagnosed feeding disorder.  What this translates to in the developmentally delayed population, is that 80% of children with developmental delays (or 8 out of 10 on a typical occupational therapist or speech therapists caseload) have an eating disorder. 

Many 1 year-olds I treat in the clinic don't display age-appropriate oral motor skills and lack the ability to chew.  Babies should have the ability to chew a variety of different foods by the time they reach 11-15 months old. 

The truth is that babies brains and bodies are growing by the minute in the first year of life and they need to be introduced to nutrient-dense, whole foods that are going to nourish their brains and set them up for healthy growth and development.  They also need to be set up for a healthy relationship with food by having parents and family members act as positive role models surrounding the mealtime environment.

I truly feel there is a dissconect happening with the introduction foods in our country.  I believe mothers need more guidance and support on what is nutritious to feed their infants and toddlers and how to do it.

That is why I have put together a list of 10 nutrient-dense foods that are a great starting point for your babies introduction to the food world.  I am going to talk about the nourishing benefits of each food and also discuss how to introduce them baby led weaning style.

First, though, lets review a few talking points and terminology.

When To Start:

Most experts in feeding agree that food introduction should occur around 6 months of age.  We now know through research that 4 months is too early for their developing digestive systems.

I recommend slowly introducing solids anywhere from 6-8 months of age while carefully watching for food reactions and sensitivities.  From a developmental standpoint, it makes sense to begin introducing solids around 6 months, since this is when your child begins to sit unassisted, can maintain balance in a highchair and begins to develop their grasp.

All babies are different.  Some may be ready just before 6 months, while others aren't ready until the end of their 8th month.  Instead of age, I recommend looking for these signs to determine if your baby is ready for self-feeding: (1)

  • Baby can sit unassisted in high chair (doesn't lean to one side)
  • Baby displays adequate head control in sitting
  • Baby has begun to grasp smaller items
  • Baby is reaching for food from your plate or shows interest in participating in mealtime
  • Baby aware of connection between mouth
  • Baby enjoys exploring hands, fingers, toys and nonfood objects with mouth
  • Adequate bowel/intestinal mobility
  • Efficient coordination of lips, tongue, soft palate
  • Can form and propel bolus safely (no choking/aspiration)
  • Slow, deep regular breathing
  • Normal tone of tongue, cheeks, lips

What is Baby Led Weaning:

First coined by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett in their book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods, Baby-led weaning is an approach to introducing solid food where baby is allowed and encouraged to self-feed solid finger foods instead of receiving purées via spoon.  The term weaning is confusing, so let me clarify.  Baby led weaning is not really weaning babies off of breastmilk or formula, but rather weaning them (slowly exposing them to) onto solids.  The idea is that, during this phase of food introduction, babies will naturally begin to decrease their milk consumption (in correlation to the amount of calories that are taken in via food).

Baby Led Weaning Babies:

  • Are in control of their eating experiences.  (Meaning they pick what, how much, and how quickly to eat, under the supervision of an adult)
  • Are given the freedom to explore new tastes and textures with their hands and mouth.
  • Are never pressured to finish or eat a certain amount of food.
  • Are encouraged to join the family at mealtime and typically eat the same foods the family eats.
  • Continue to nurse (or receive a bottle) just as often. Solids are to compliment milk, and baby is trusted to know when to increase solid feedings and decrease milk (usually later in the first year).
  • "Solids" offered are not necessarily completely solid foods.  Soft veggies and meats are good starter introductory foods.
  • As the babies oral motor skills develop, a wider array of solids are offered.
  • Are allowed to make a mess during mealtime.

I feel strongly that, if done safely and correctly, baby-led weaning is the best choice.  Spoon feeding and long-term purees can cause delays in oral motor skill development and it takes away the babies innate desire for autonomy during mealtime.  It has been my clinical experience that babies whose parents used more of a BLW approach develop more healthy relationships with mealtime and display less picky eating habits overall.

A Note on Food Allergies + Intolerance

Exclusively breastfeeding for atleast 6 months has been known to decrease incidence of food allergies. (See studies here or here)  Even if the child is breastfed exclusively, it is important to monitor for symptoms of food allergies and intolerances very carefully and talk to your pediatrician about any concerns.  

There is a big difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance.  A food allergy is a total immune system reaction to a food that can be tested for via markers in the blood or stool.  A food intolerance is an inflammatory response in the digestive system that occurs in a response to a food.  Food allergies can be tested for, whereas food intolerances are only able to to be monitored via the observation of symptoms.  Many children have food intolerances to wheat and dairy proteins but not a diagnosed food allergy that can be tested for.  

Most Common Food Allergies:

  • Milk 
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Wheat
  • Peanut
  • Soy
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts

Introducing these foods earlier rather than later, while carefully monitoring for immune or digestive responses, is best.  Delaying the introduction of certain foods for longer actually increase the chance of food allergies (the early introduction, the better)

Common Symptoms of Food Intolerance or Allergy (1)

  • Vomiting/Spitting up
  • Diarrhea/Constipation/Bloating/Cramping
  • Colic
  • Bloody stools/mucous in stools
  • URI
  • Reactive Airway problems
  • Skin rashes; eczema
  • Facial Skin (puffiness, dark circles under eyes, red ears, red cheeks)
  • Failure to Thrive
  • Headaches
  • Chronic sinus or ear infections
  • Neurological symptoms (distractability, poor attention, hyperactivity, sleep disturbances)

Gagging vs. Aspiration

As a mother of two young children who was once terrified of choking,  I can relate to the intense fear that surrounds food introduction and choking.  I can now say I have mostly recovered from this fear through my own BLW experience.

The most important thing I want to point out is that there is a big difference between gagging and aspiration.  Gagging or eliciting the gag-reflex is a normal, necessary component of learning how to chew.  The gag-reflex is a wonderful protective mechanism by which the body (at the brainstem level) protects itself from true danger (aspiration)  Believe it or not, babies are designed to gag on objects entering their mouth from the moment they exit the womb.  The gag reflex is more sensitive in the first few months of life and slowly desensitizes and moves further to the back of their mouth as the baby enters into the first year of life.   

Aspiration, on the other hand, is when food enters the airway.  It isn't always a life-threatening situation but it certainly can be.  If you want to learn more about aspiration and gagging in babies I have linked two articles below that are very informative.
What You Need to Know About Your Baby Gagging By Your Kids Table
Aspiration in Babies and Children by Cedars Sinai


So here you go Mamas!  I selected all my favorite toddler and infant whole foods that are high in calories, vitamins/minerals, protein and healthy fats, which growing brains and bodies thrive off of.  Do your best to stay clear of pre-packaged foods and anything labeled fat-free or low fat for babies.  My hope is that you and your little one can enjoy learning the joys of healthy eating together!


10 Nutrient-Dense First Foods for Baby (BLW Style)

1. Wild Salmon: 
Wild salmon is one of the most healthy foods to offer a baby, considering its abundant nutrient profile.  A rich source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, D, Bs, selenium, zinc, phosphorus, calcium and iron.  Health benefits include heart health, cancer prevention,brain health and cognitive function, bone and joint protection, healthy skin and eyes. (2)

  • BLW idea: Prepare baked salmon and gently fork smash a portion; place it on babies food tray for baby to self-feed with fingers (or a fork if they're skilled enough)

2. Avocado:
Avocados are a rich source of vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin C, B6, B12, A, D K E, thiamin, riboflavin, potassium and niacin.  (3) They are also a great source of healthy fats (a whopping 22.5 grams per medium hass) and nutritional fiber.  They have been known to aide in digestion, support healthy skin and hair, support healthy liver functioning, are good for the kidneys, eyes and heart and have anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties. (3)

  • BLW idea: Cut avocado in half and remove the seed.  Then cut the avocado in half one more time lengthwise.  Offer to baby this way; they should be able to maintain gasp of it while self-feeding.

3. Egg Yolk:
Eggs are rich in protein and contain significant levels of vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, vitamin D, E and K as well as phosphorous, selenium, calcium and zinc.  (4) Furthermore, eggs also have various key organic compounds, such as omega-3s, antioxidants and protein. (4)  I like to offer the more caloric and nutrient dense portion of the egg, the yolk to babies due to their higher fat content.

  • BLW idea: Prepare yolk by pan frying or boiling for a minute or so in water so that it is par-cooked.  If it is formed, you can offer the yolk to baby whole (gently fork smashed).  If it is less-formed or runny, you can offer it on a spoon with assistance or by dipping it in for them and offering the baby the spoon. Two to three yolks with some veggies or fruit is a great way to start the day for breakfast.

4. Cooked Spinach:
The various health benefits of spinach are due to the presence of minerals, vitamins, pigments, and phytonutrients, including folate, vitamin A, niacin, Vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, manganese, zinc, magnesium, iron and calcium. (5) Spinach is high in insoluble fiber, which can aid in healthy digestion.  Spinach is known for its benefits to the eyes and the heart and has anti-cancer and anti-oxidant properties as well.

  • BLW idea: Cooked spinach is easy to offer as a side to any meal; breakfast lunch or dinner. Cook it with butter or ghee in a pan until soft and flavor it as you wish (onion powder, garlic powder or a pinch of sea salt)

5. Bone Broth:
Bone broth is great for the digestive system, the hair and skin and is a powerful defense against colds/flu to bulk up the babies immune system.  It is an abundance source of essential amino acids and other nutrients like calcium and magnesium.  You can click here to learn about the healing power of bone broth

  • BLW idea: You can offer home-made bone or store bought warmed in an open cup (baby will need assistance at first) or you can offer home-made chicken soup with all soft veggies. Babies need assistance from the parent for soups.  Here is an easy recipe to follow for DIY bone broth/chicken soup. 

6. Wild Blueberries:
Blueberries are packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants.  In fact, wild blueberries have a higher antioxidant content than almost any other food!  They have been known to protect neurons in the brain and even help repair any tissue damage to the brain and CNS.  Their other health benefits include the ability to strengthen bones, lower blood pressure, prevent cancer, decrease inflammation, control diabetes and improve heart health. (6) Blueberries are a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, copper and manganese. (6)

  • BLW idea:  My favorite way to offer blueberries is to wash them first and then smash them onto babies tray (you can use your finger).  After several weeks of eating them this way, baby should be able to manage a whole blueberry without choking.  Blackberries and raspberries are also good choices that you can offer in the same way. 

7. Banana:
Believe it or not, the tried and true kid favorite, the banana is actually very nutrient dense!  One serving or 126 grams of banana contains 110 calories and 30 grams of carbohydrates.  (7) They are a rich source of potassium and dietary fiber. (7) Their impressive nutritional content includes vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, B6, riboflavin, folate, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, magnesium and copper (7)

  • BLW idea: Simply cut the banana in half and offer it to them whole.  The introduction of the whole food to the front of their mouth is natural.  Once baby takes a small bite, they will begin to move it from the front of their mouth into the side gums (or molars) to smush it before swallowing.

8. Broccoli:
Broccoli has a wide variety of health benefits, including its ability to prevent cancer, improve digestion, lower cholesterol levels detoxify the body, boost the immune system, protect the skin, eliminates inflammation, improve vision and maximize vitamin and mineral uptake (8)  Broccoli is highly rich in dietary fiber, contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids and contains vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B1, vitamin K, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, sodium, potassium, selenium, chromium, choline, manganese and phosphorus.  (8)

  • BLW idea: Steam broccoli until soft (or fork tender if you prefer softer).  Cover with a topping of grass-fed ghee, butter or olive oil.  If offering florets whole, offer the larger ones (smaller florets can be a choking hazard if the baby places the whole floret in their mouth).  If fork tender, you can mash with some butter and a pinch of salt on babies high chair tray.  

9. Grass-fed beef and liver:
Beginning around the age of 6 months, breast milk iron supplies begin to decline in the breastfeeding mother. Your pediatrician may start checking for iron deficiencies and asking about iron supplementation around 12 months.  The idea that meat shouldn’t be introduced until later is an outdated way of thinking.  Babies bodies and brains are craving the nutritional value of iron.  Yes, you can get iron from non-animal protein sources like through raisins, spinach and cereals that have added iron.  However, heme-iron is much more easily assembled and absorbed than non-heme (plant based) iron sources.

Believe it or not, liver (that is locally sourced and grass-fed) is one of the most nutrient dense foods you can offer your baby.  If you don't believe me, check out this nutritional chart from Chris Kresser's website that compares the nutritional value of liver to other foods.

So what makes liver so incredibly nutrient dense? Quite simply, it contains more nutrients, gram for gram, than any other food. In summary, liver provides: (9)

  • An excellent source of high-quality protein
  • Nature’s most concentrated source of vitamin A
  • All the B vitamins in abundance, particularly vitamin B12
  • One of our best sources of folic acid
  • A highly usable form of iron
  • Trace elements such as copper, zinc and chromium; liver is our best source of copper
  • An unidentified anti-fatigue factor
  • CoQ10, a nutrient that is especially important for cardio-vascular function
  • A good source of purines, nitrogen-containing compounds that serve as precursors for DNA and RNA.

(9)

  • BLW idea:  For beef, I usually only offer pot-roast style (slow cooker tender) at first. Fork smash and offer dime size pieces at first on babies food tray. For liver, I usually cut it into small pieces and pan fry it in ghee with a sprinkle of sea salt or onion powder.  You would be surprised to find out that babies love liver!  Find out more information on liver and other ways to prepare it here

10: Sweet Potatoes:
Sweet potatoes are great for digestion and very easily digested due to their high magnesium content and starchy nature.  They are known to assist in weight gain (a big plus for babies), are anti-inflammatory, can relieve symptoms of asthma/bronchitis and have known anti-cancer properties. (10)  They are a great source of fiber and have high amounts of vitamin A, C, B6, and minerals like manganese and copper. (10)

  • BLW idea: Bake sweet potatoes in the oven and offer it fork smashed with grass-fed butter, ghee or coconut oil.  If you wan to make more of a puree, you can puree it (manually or with a hand blender) and offer the baby a small dish with a spoon for self-feeding.  As an option, you can add some black-strap molasses (to increase the iron content) or maple syrup to sweeten it a bit.  

 


-Ashley



Resources:

  1. Johanson, Nina. (MS, CCC-SLP). "The AEIOU Systematic Approach to Pediatric Feeding." October 2016.  Education Resources, Inc.  PowerPoint Presentation.
  2. Organic facts.  12 Wonderful Benefits of Salmon.  Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/salmon.html
  3. Organic Facts.  19 Best Benefits of Avocados.  Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/health-benefits-of-avocado.html
  4. Organic Facts.  6 Impressive Benefits of Eggs.  Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/eggs.html
  5. Organic Facts.  15 Impressive Benefits of Spinach.  Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vegetable/health-benefits-of-spinach.html
  6. Organic Facts.  Top 20 Health Benefits of Blueberries.  Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/health-benefits-of-blueberries.html
  7. Organic Facts.  16 Surprising Benefits of Banana.  Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/banana.html
  8. Organic Facts.  24 Incredible Benefits of Broccoli.  Retrieved from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vegetable/health-benefits-of-broccoli.html
  9. The Liver Files.  Lynn Razaitis.  July 29, 2005.  The Weston A. Price Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/food-features/the-liver-files/
  10. Organic Facts.  11 Impressive Benefits of Sweet Potatoes.  Retreived from https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vegetable/health-benefits-of-sweet-potatoes.html

First Foods For Baby - What Your Pediatrician Won't Tell You

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Most pediatricians won't tell you that the best first foods to start your baby on are real, nutrient dense, whole foods.  Most pediatricians won't tell you that spoon feeding for extended periods of time is unnatural and takes away your babies autonomy with food.  Most pediatricians won't tell you that offering your baby only purees for extended periods of time can affect your baby's development of oral motor skills.  They also won't tell you that rice cereal is a synthetic (made in a lab) food that would be hard on your little one's immature gut.

Nothing grinds my gears more than nutritional recommendations for babies that suggest iron-fortified rice cereal and purees as the gold standard for babies first food.  First time mothers (and all mothers alike, really) are looking to their pediatricians for advice on when to start and what to give their babies as a first food. 

Most pediatricians recommend starting solids around 4-6 months of age and way too many recommend baby cereal as a first food.

Rice cereal has been long known for filling up tummies to encourage babies to sleep through the night and pediatricians often encourage them for their benefit of having added iron (along with other vitamins and minerals).  One fact rings true; that growing brains and bodies need rich sources of iron.  However, I beg to differ that rice cereal is the best source of this key nutrient.

It really doesn't take much investigation to understand why rice cereal is a poor choice for a first food to introduce to an immature and developing gut.


Why Rice Cereal is a Poor Choice

  1. Difficult on babies immature gut:
    The first ingredient is usually some sort of whole-wheat or white rice flour which has been highly processed (for that "instant ready" option).  This highly processed flour (white or wheat) is usually unrecognizable to a babies digestive system and if it contains the gluten protein, it is inflammatory by nature within the gut.  
  2. Low nutritional value:
    Since rice cereal is naturally lacking in the nutrition department, manufacturers add synthetic (made in a lab) vitamins back into it to boost the nutritional value from a marketing standpoint.  
  3. Synthetic additives:
    Soy lechtin is an ingredient in many popular brands on the market and introducing soy to a baby so early on in life can cause allergies and damage the gut.  The other vitamins and minerals are synthetic and more difficult for baby to absorb than if they were to obtain it from real, whole foods.
  4. Rice products manufactured in the US have been crop dusted with the herbicide Roundup:
    Its no secret that glyphosate, a known carcinogen and key ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, is being used widespread on wheat crops in the US.  Roundup has been known to significantly damage gut lining, increase permeability of the intestinal wall and disrupt the beneficial bacteria balance in the gut.  In my opinion, this would render any non GMO or non-organic rice cereal brands unsafe to offer to a baby.
  5. Bland and Textureless:
    Since babies palates need to be exposed to many different types of textures and flavors, the bland nature and non-existent texture of rice cereal sets off a red light in my head.  If the baby is getting mostly rice cereal and then offered something with a little flavor (even something like peaches), it would be completely alarming to their taste buds.  A bland diet of mostly baby cereal can easily lead to rejection of a wide variety of flavors in the future (aka picky eating and limited diet.)

Let's talk a bit about baby purees.  For the most part, I think they are usually safe and not harmful to baby, especially if you're buying an organic brand.  After all, they are really just pureed fruits and vegetables.  I do think they are a good way to introduce baby to a new and unfamiliar taste.  However, my problem is with prolonged and exclusive feeding of purees (longer than 2-3 weeks) and I find it to be quite common.  Prolonged puree feeding can cause long term feeding issues.  


Why Purees Aren't Great for Baby

  1. Promote long term spoon-feeding:
    Just like all humans, babies like to be in control of what is going into their mouths.  (Would you ever allow someone to place an unkown flavor/texture into your mouth?!)  They want to be the ones to decide if they like it or not and be able to expel it if the taste or texture does not agree with them.  Spoon feeding is great in many instances, especially if baby needs your help or when they are first beginning to use utensils.  But long term and persistent spoon feeding, after the age of 1, diminishes the control the child has over his/her feeding experiences and also limits their ability to learn how to manage utensils on their own.
  2. Limit the types of textures baby is exposed to:
    If you have read my article about how to avoid picky eating, you know I recommend all different types of textures during the first 2 years of life including finely chopped, fork mashed, soft table foods, meltable solids (crackers), crispy foods, mixed textures (more than one food texture mixed together), difficulty chewy foods.  Feeding mostly purees for an extended period of time (longer than a few weeks) only offers baby one type of texture and this can potentially cause food rejections, picky eating and limited diet in the future.
  3. Can cause delayed oral motor skills:
    Purees provide little to no propriocpetive feedback to the mouth.  Proprioception is simply how we use receptors in our body to determine where we are in space (in this case, where the food is within their mouth).  Different textures provide a range of propriopceptive feedback to the mouth.  This simply means depending on how hard or soft a food is, baby can feel the texture of the food on their teeth, gums and with their tongue in order to determine 1) where it is in their mouth 2) what it feels like 3) what to do with it in order to mash it up and swallow it. 

    Can you take a minute to think about how eating something like an apple provides different feedback to the mouth than pureed spinach? Purees lack any real propriocpetive information and are typically taken in as a bolus on a spoon and then swallowed.  The problem with this is that babies aren't learning how to chew and manipulate food.  I will even go as far as to say that babies who are spoon fed purees too long often have little to no awareness of the components of their mouths due to lack of sensory information provided through their diet.  These are the kids we often seen in the clinic for feeding issues.
  4. Low in calories:
    Rapidly growing brains need a large amount of healthy fats and protein to thrive.  That's why human breast milk (from a healthy mother) has about 50-60% of its energy as fat.  Pureed fruits and vegetables are low in calories and won't provide adequate amounts of protein and fat.

Don't worry mamas, I want to help you find some great sources of nutrition for your baby and also give them opportunities to learn how to develop healthy oral motor (and utensil) skills along the way!  Instead purees and rice cereal, I suggest introducing real, nutrient-dense whole foods, one at a time, while monitoring closely for any allergic reactions.  I suggest offering these foods in a natural, family-style setting, with other role models surrounding the child for support and learning.  

I am working on the follow up piece entitled - 9 Nutrient Dense Foods for Babies First Foods and How to Introduce them BLW Style.  Comment below if you will find this helpful!

Stay tuned!

 

-Ashley
 

Good Fats Chewey Granola Bars (kid-approved, gluten-free, paleo, vegan)

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Getting good brain foods into kids diets (Hello, Omega-3;s) does not have to be complicated! I made these delicious chewey granola bars on a whim and they took less than 10 minutes to throw together.

These bad boys are packed with protein and healthy fats and contain a ton of essential vitamins and minerals like magnesium, zinc  and iron.  As a benefit to mom, these ingredients are all supportive of healthy hormonal balancing and adrenal gland health (coconuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds).

They are delicious by themselves to throw in your bag for soccer practice.  They are even better for a quick no-fuss toddler breakfast!  You can crunch them up to make your own cereal or throw them atop of some yogurt for a parfait.  

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**affiliate links contained below

Ingredients:

5-6 dates (pre-soaked overnight)
1/2 cup coconut shreds
3/4 cup almond butter (I use this brand by MaraNatha)
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup chia seeds
3/4 cup sliced almonds (pre-soaked overnight)
1/4 cup agave or honey

Instructions:

  1. Set oven for 350 degrees.

  2. Place soaked dates in a blender or emulsifier (alternatively, you can hand smash them with a fork)

  3. In a large bowl, combine almond butter, honey and dates well.

  4. Add all the other ingredients and combine well.

  5. Place the mixture on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and smash it flat using your hands (warning, you are going to get very sticky!) Flatten until it’s abkut 1/2 inch thick or less if you want it to be more crispy.

  6. Drizzle with honey (optional)

  7. Bake for about 7-8 minutes (you don't want them to get too crispy at the bottom so keep an eye so they don't burn!)

  8. Let them cool for 10 minutes and then cut them into squares.


 

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Enjoy!

-Ashley

Decorating Telescopes for Fine Motor Skill Building

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(18 months and up)

I love stickers for 3 reasons:

  1. They keep kiddos entertained F O R E V E R
  2. Taking stickers off of the pad encourages a three-digit grasp (tripod grasp) and strengthens the thumb 👍muscles which are an important building block for all aspects of prehension (grasp)
  3. Taking stickers off of a pad encourages higher level bilateral coordination (using both hands together in a coordinated way) I’m always looking for smaller items that encourage one hand to stabilize while the other hands manipulates (places stickers) and these toilet paper rolls are 👌

✍️Why am I always talking about the importance of thumb strength and the development of proper grasp?

Because if encouraged early on through simple play like this, kids can avoid awkward grasp patterns down the road.

I treat so many kids in the clinic who don’t have a functional grasp due to weak arches of the hands and poor thumb strength improper grasp patterns on a writing utensil cause quick fatigue of the hand during writing tasks and can (not always) lead to an overall negative association with all things handwriting related.

Get some stickers from the dollar store and some toilet paper rolls and you’re good to go! Also my son for some reason believes he can spy things more easily through his “telescope” 

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Cauliflower Rice + Quinoa Chicken Friend Rice

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My husband is always begging me to make chicken fried rice.  I wanted to try to make a healthier version, without all the extra post-meal guilt and calories and I also wanted to boost the nutritional value a bit.  

I decided to swap out the white rice for a mixture of cauliflower rice and quinoa and let me tell you, this turned out SO good.  In fact, I have made it three times since and it’s been polished off completely by the family each time.

While I like the taste of frozen veggie mixtures in fried rice, they aren’t exactly through the roof on the nutritional charts, you guys.  So adding cauliflower and broccoli made it a complete meal for us and truthfully, I didn’t really miss the “real deal” one bit.

While the adults in the house enjoy casseroles and other mixtures such as this, my little guy sometimes has a hard time with them. That doesn’t mean I just stop offering them completely.

Here are a few tips when offering a meal such as this to your kiddos:

  • If you’re offering a casserole or something like this dish with lots of different foods and textures mixed together, try offering a “no thank you” plate where they can remove the items they have tried and don’t like. This helps them feel more in control of what’s going into their bodies and helps not feel threaten or afraid to try. (My son basically removed all the mushrooms before he was even willing to try a bite)
  • You can also deconstruct the meal a bit by placing veggies in one tray, chicken and eggs in another.  OR you can place the child’s preferred foods on top so that it’s the first thing they 👀 see. (I arranged the chicken on the top, since my son loves chicken)
  • REMEMBER, between the ages of 2 1/2 - 4 years old (but ESPECIALLY at the age of 3) ALL kids go through a “picky eating phase” and this is considered C O M P L E T E L Y N O R M A L.
  • Try to talk them THROUGH the meal instead of talking them INTO the meal. Talk about all the sensory components of the foods like textures, colors and shapes of different veggies (how they look, feel and taste).
  • Allow THEM to decide what kinds of foods they like and don’t like but never stop offering a certain foods just because your child initially rejected it (it can take around 15 exposures before a new food is accepted, yes 15!)
  • It’s hard, you’re doing a great job, way better than you think!!

So if you’re like me and craving take-out style chicken fried rice but also trying to offer a nutritional family meal, give it a try and let me know what you think you guys!

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Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup organic frozen vegetable mixture
1 1/2 cup organic cauliflower rice
1/2 cup quinoa (cooked) 
4-5 chicken thighs
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp coconut aminos
1 1/2 tsp grassfed butter or ghee
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 pack sliced mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 tsp onion powder
sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste
coconut oil or EVOO

Instructions: 

  1. First, cook the chicken.  I boiled some water and added the thighs, lowered the heat a bit and cooked them for about 15 or until cooked through.
  2.  Next dice the onion, garlic and roughly chop the mushrooms.
  3. Add butter or ghee to pan on medium high heat and sauté the onions, garlic and mushrooms (add onions and garlic first, once they’re soft add the mushrooms)
  4. Next, add mixed veggies and stir for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add additional coconut oil or ghee to pan.
  6. Add the cauliflower rice, quinoa, sesame oil and coconut aminos (or soy sauce) and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  7. Make an open spot in the pan to scramble the eggs and mix into the mixture. 
  8. Fork shred the chicken and add to pan. 
  9. Add onion powder and s + p to taste. 
  10. Serve with broccoli and sesame seeds. Enjoy!
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 -Ashley 

A Mom’s Guide to Letting Go of Perfect

Being a perfectionist has just naturally been part of who I was since as long as I can remember.  I could blame living in the continental US, where perfectionism is highly esteemed, or the family dynamics that come with growing up in a household of five women. 

Deep down, though, I think it all really stems from a deep and instinctual longing to be loved, accepted and approved.

Whatever the rhyme or reason, it has never really been a part of me that I considered a problem.  That is, until, I became a mom. 

However, even when I had my first child, I did the best I could to keep it all together, to prevent people from seeing how my perfection was being pulled apart at the seams. 

Nap time schedule was, of course, essential.  My son was easy going and slept through the night like an angel baby.  My house was still spotless and I managed to somehow work part time and keep healthy meals on the table every night.   I did struggle (tremendously) with breastfeeding.  Since I took this failure as a great assault at my abilities to properly nurture my child, I let mom-guilt run rampant over the issue.  I decided I would just step up my perfect-parenting game, in another way, by pumping breast-milk around the clock until my son was around 18 months old.  

For anyone who has ever exclusively pumped, you know it is total madness and sucks the joy out of life.

Managing a toddler was definitely W I L D, but with my background in pediatrics, I knew how to keep him busy while I kept things "under control."  In other words, with just one child, I could still play the part of being perfect.

All was fine until I became a mom of two children.  It wasn't long after my daughter was born that I realized I needed to start letting go of perfect

I was living alone in a new city with no help and my husband worked long hours.  Managing a 2 year-old and a newborn, all while trying to keep a perfectly clean house and healthy dinners on the table every night, was, to my surprise, impossible in every way.  My body was a wreck, not "bouncing back" like it did with my first.  My daughter never slept for more than 3 hours until she was over a year old.  She cried for hours on end most nights, as I tried relentlessly to calm her.  I remember bouncing her in her carrier for hours trying to get her to calm down and settle in for sleep.  Meanwhile, I was a non-slept zombie and my son tore every square inch of the house into pieces.  Keeping a naptime schedule was nearly impossible with another child to consider.  Dinner was often takeout. There were days when I didn't look in the mirror or have proper clothing on until 5 pm.

The demands of motherhood laughed at my ideas of picture perfect motherhood. 

Every night I went to bed feeling like I had failed my children. I cried.  Oh man, did I cry.

It wasn't long until I came to the realization that if I wanted to be a good mom, that is, to focus on things that are actually important, I had to stop sweating all the small stuff

Even though I didn't really know how, I was relieved that I didn't have to keep up with myself anymore.  I had grown so weary of the high standards I had set for myself and those around me.  I wanted a way out of the perfectionist trap and to loosen the reigns. 

I knew my children needed me to look at them and not the 3-day old stain on the dining room floor.

I realized that the most beautiful encounters with my children had been when I decided to say, "Oh, screw it!" (i.e. the house, dinner, naptime schedules, etc)  Love and joyful encounters with my children was incomparable to the latter.

The beauty in the moments, when I intentionally chose stillness and gratitude over productivity, was the reason I decided it was time to lay down a life-long pattern of perfectionism and control.  

The problem was, I didn't really know where to start.  I had been living this was for over 30 years, after all.  But I did know that I needed to start somewhere.  So I started practicing being imperfect.  Just like I had been teaching my four-year old son.  "The only way to get better at something is by practicing," I would tell him.

So, I did.  And so I still am, practicing being imperfect. 

I feel strongly that perfectionism and control are battles faced by most mothers today.  I also feel strongly that motherhood is the ultimate challenger of that mentality.  I believe that it is by strategic design that our Creator pleads with us through motherhood to lay down control, rely on His strength and grace and to walk in his plans for our lives and not our own.

So without further ado, here are my tips for how a mom like myself might start practicing being impefect:

  1. Get up every day + CHOOSE to lay down perfection and control: 
    It doesn't have to be a long, drawn-out discussion or prayer (most moms of young children don't have the luxury of early morning time).  It can be as simple as saying, "Lord, give me this day my daily bread." In other words; God, provide me with the things I need for just today.  "Help me not to think above and beyond what is expected of me in just this one day.  I lay down control over how my day will turn out.  I will try my best, give me strength and peace through the trials that lay may or may not lay ahead.  I am not perfect, nor do I need to be.  This season is hard but it is beautiful.  Thank you God that You are in control and You are the only one that is perfect."

  2. Love yourself! 
    Motherhood has a way of bringing to the surface all of our hidden issues and flaws that we've managed to somehow keep under wraps, pre-motherhood.  It’s the ultimate refiner, if you will.  It forces us to deal with our personal anxieties, fears and failures in a way that seeks to overcome so that our children can experience a joyful childhood. 

    Accept your "flaws" and embrace and lean on your strengths in motherhood.  It may be helpful to make a list of your strengths and weaknesses as a mother.  And learn to wholeheartedly L O V E that person, flaws and all. You will probably find you have way more strengths than you do weaknesses.

    Again, you weren't made to be perfect and nobody actually is perfect, no matter how much they might appear to be on social media. Learn from your weaknesses and walk proudly in your strengths.  Let areas and moments of struggle become opportunities to learn and not to beat yourself up over.  Give yourself a ton of grace and forgiveness.  Motherhood is hard.

     
  3. Set aside designated times to clean so it doesn't interfere with being present
    One of my biggest challenges has been to enjoy the moment with my children by playing with them and having fun instead of focusing on the mess that they are currently making.  I used to (and still do, occasionally) clean all day long and it is foolish and exhausting.  It has helped me to get into a routine of trying to only clean or pick up the mess during two times a day (after breakfast and at night when the kids are going to bed).  When the entire house is messy and things are out of place, it helps me to envision how it it will look when the night is over and the kids are in bed.
     
  4. Get rid of stuff:
    When you have kids, clutter and useless things build up very easily.  Birthdays and Christmas alone feed into this madness, not to mention your addiction to Targets' $1 section.  It is stressful having to constantly keep track of and put away millions of tiny (often worthless) items all day long.  Try to go through one room a day and get rid of one or more items.  Keep a box in each room for Goodwill.  The less "stuff" cluttering your mind and your home, the less amount of things you have to keep track of in your weary mom brain.
     
  5. Focus on people and not things:
    I know this is sort-of a broad generalization but it has really helped me in times of indecision of what I should focus on.  Should I mop the floors or spend extra time talking with my son before bed? Should I go to park with my daughter or should I stay home and clean?  Is anyone coming over to see your endless piles of laundry or messy dining room floor? If the answer is clearly a no, spend your time nurturing your children's heart instead.  
     
  6. Create your own mothering style: 

    You don’t have to be someone else, you just have to be who you are. I believe that motherhood is an opportunity to step into who you were really meant to be.  Sadly, too many moms are focused on what they think they should be and instead of who they are.  Social media exasperates this problem since we forever looking at another person's idea of motherhood and thinking that's the way we should be a mom too.  

    You are the way you are for a reason.  And it is okay to have different ideas about motherhood than your mom, your sister or your best friend.

  7. Accepting others as imperfect too
    Now that you have let go of the idea that you're suppose to be perfect, its time you let others around you off the hook, too.  Sorry, mama, but your husband is not perfect.  Nor will he ever be.  And this whole parenting thing is hard for him as well.  

    And those children of yours, they aren't perfect either.  They are so far from perfect its not even funny, actually.  But you know what?  Even though they aren't perfect and won't share their toys with all the kids at the park, at the heart of a child is pure 100% goodness.  They just need someone to stand by them and hold their hand as they learn things about life.
     
  8. Breath through the tough times
    Somewhere between the 98th time you told your son to put his shoes on and the 42 minutes it took for you to buckle everyone into their carseats, its easy to lose your cool. 

    Just B R E A T H E when things get stressful or seem out of control. 

    If breathing doesn't do it for you, try to say something like "this isn't a big deal" or "I'm okay, I can handle this"   This too, shall pass.  And being 10 minutes late to school isn't going to be the end of the world, either.  
     
  9. Get OUT of the MOM CAVE:
    I don't care if you live in Canada and its currently below zero, get yourself outside.  There is something freeing and peaceful about being outside, even if it's for a brief walk or taking your kids to play out in the neighborhood playground.  Go where the people are.  It helps to let go of the messy house or unfinished laundry when you're outside enjoying some fresh air with your kids.  It's a little bit like avoiding the subject but it also is the most helpful way of getting out of any mom rut day.  
     
  10. Allow good enough to be okay:
    For the longest time I (subconsciously) thought that things had to be perfect in order for me to be a good mom.  It turns out that couldn't be further from the truth.  Kids don't care if their hair is messy, their rooms are clean or the dinner is perfection.  All the really want is a happy mom.  It took me a long time to finally allow good enough to be okay with me. 

    Maybe some nights I don't wash everyone's hair, but it's good enough.
    Maybe some nights I leave the playroom a complete disaster, but its good enough. 
    Maybe my daughter takes her nap in her car-seat because I have errands to run today, but its good enough. 

    Practice saying "its not perfect but its good enough."
     
  11. Make a list of your priorities:
    This is SO important.  Take time to write down a list of your top 5-10 priorities.  If being a nice mom is to your children is at the top of the list but you're more focused on scrubbing the bathroom floors, then move things around in your life.  Make a plan for how you're going to change to make room for the important stuff.  
     
  12. Try to focus on only one thing at a time:
    There is something that drives me crazy about not being able to accomplish everything on my to-do list.  But I know I get frazzled trying to do a million things at once and I end up not really accomplishing the most important thing.  Focus on one thing at a time, and try to do a good job at that thing before you try tackling 700 other less-important things.  

    My theory is that it isn't necessarily the amount of things I accomplished that given day that actually matters but rather that I accomplished one thing that matters, thoroughly.  
     
  13. Practice being still
    This may sound a lot easier than it actually is for a mother whose prone to striving for perfection.  Just CHOOSE to be still in moments with your children. 

    Forget about the mess.  Forget about the schedule.  Focus on their giggles, and live a little.  You might even try PLAYING and laughing a little too.  

    After all, if you can't have joy in raising your little ones, than what is it all worth anyways? 
     
  14. Allow people to help you:
    This can be as small as letting a friend watch your child while you go to a dentist appointment, or letting someone help you with your laundry or cleaning the bathrooms once a month.  It is absolutely OKAY to admit that you can't do everything yourself.   

    The sooner you allow someone in from the outside to hold your hand by helping out with something small, the sooner you'll realize you were never meant to do motherhood alone.
     
  15. Practice letting others see you in a less than perfect situation:
    This is the one that  has been the most challenging for me and also the most freeing.  It is actually lovely in a strange way to let someone else in on your imperfections and challenges. 

    Practice having a friend over for a play date when you haven't cleaned your house.  Practice dropping your kids off to school in your shameless mom sweats and bun.  Practice letting others see your children eating chicken nuggets for dinner.  Practice letting an outsider watch you struggle with your toddler, who is having a meltdown in the middle of the grocery aisle, and try not to die of embarrassment.

    Also practice letting other moms in on your imperfections by talking about your fears, anxieties and challenges in motherhood.  I was talking to another mom just the other day at the park about how I struggle with not sweeping the floors after EVERY MEAL and it just so turns out that she is struggling with the same thing too!  It made us both feel a little more sane and laugh a little that we were both trying to lay down the same striving for perfection in this crazy season.  We are all cut from the same mold.  Nobody is perfect and if they appear to be perfect, they're 100% putting on a show.  They struggle with the same things you do, just in lesser than or greater degrees. 

    Letting someone in on your secrets helps you move past them.  It helps you realize that no one really has this whole parenting thing figured out, after all.  


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-Ashley

 

2 Corinthians 1:3,4 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

Isaiah 40:11: "He gently leads those that have young."

5-Ingredient Super-food Sunflower Seed Butter Cups (Nut-free, Dairy-free, Gluten-free)

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I am not sure if you all out there have tried sunflower seed butter as an alternative to peanut butter but if you haven't, you need to ASAP.  This stuff is addicting as heck and tastes like a dream.  Not only is it delicious but it's also A LOT healthier compared to conventional peanut butter.  Sunflower seeds are naturally high in vitamin E, vitamin Bs, selenium, thiamine, magnesium and copper and phosphorus.  They are great for cardiovascular health, cancer prevention and and they also have been given credit for having antioxidant powers.

I came up with these E A S Y, no bake, Reese's peanut butter cup copy cats using 5 healthy ingredients and they are the best.  Now I can run to them when I’m having a sweets craving and not feel guilty.  The kids love them too!

The other ingredients are bone broth protein powder (click here to learn more about the benefits of bone broth), chia seeds (high in omega-3 fatty acids), dark chocolate and agave nectar for sweetening.

You have to try them! They're so easy and so so good.

E N J O Y!

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Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Mix all ingredients (minus the chocolate) in a large bowl until well combined.
  2. Put cupcake liners in a muffin tin + pour batter into each cup (1 heaping teaspoon or more if you want them to be thicker)
  3. Smooth the batter flat with the back of a spoon (you can add oil so it wont stick)
  4. Melt your dark chocolate bar by adding some coconut oil over medium heat and then slowly stirring chocolate in until smooth.
  5. Pour the chocolate a top the batter.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze.
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-Ashley

Best Steak Marinade + DIY Buddha Bowls

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You guys, I have been SO excited to share my household favorite, DIY Buddha Bowls + my favorite recipe for marinating steak. It is so so good!

I can’t even describe the level of deliciousness going on here.  To give you an idea as to how delicious, I will say, I would rather eat these steak bowls at home while my kids fling food all over the walls than go out to eat at a fancy restaurant. That’s how good!! 

So marinating does takes a little prep work,  but it is worth it in the end.  You can do it on a Sunday afternoon or if you have a few minutes during nap time and it makes cooking dinner a breeze! 

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone eats healthy without a little meal prepping.  Whether it’s marinating steaks, putting foil over some sweet potatoes and popping them in the oven or pre- chopping some veggies, on any given day it’s the only way I get a healthy, quick family dinner on the table.

Anyways, I digress. 

The awesome thing about buddah bowls is you can add any combination of veggies you like.  I almost always use broccoli, steak and avocado but this time I decided to try sweet potatoes crisps instead.  My husband and I love mushrooms but my son hates them so I let him pick what veggie combination he wants in his own bowl. 

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So here’s the deal.  

  1. Buy some grass fed skirt steak (I buy about 1 lb to 1 + 1/2 lbs)
  2. Cut the strips into four.  
  3. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  4. Use a knife to make some small inscisions down each side (to help Marinade penetrate more deeply) Run along with the striations in the Steak.
  5. Marinate these in a zip-lock bag overnight or for a full day or two.

 For marinade:

3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp something acidic (vinegar or a red wine)
1 tbsp coconut aminos (or soy sauce)
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
1 + 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt & pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp onion powder
1 tbsp honey or agave
salt + pepper   

 

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 For the Buddha Bowls 

  • 1 to 1 + 1/2 lb grass-fed skirt steak
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 bunch organic broccoli
  • avocados, mushrooms, sweet potatoes (depending on preference of veggies)
  • sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp organic butter (optional)
  • organic mayo + sriracha (optional)

Instructions: 

  1. Prepare rice.  (Boil 2 cups water.  Add 1 cup rice.  Cover on low heat for 20 minutes.)
  2. Boil some water in another pot and add broccoli.  Lower heat to a medium high setting and  cook for about 5-6 minutes.  
  3. Prepare and cut any other veggies you would like.  Slice avocados, brown some mushrooms, boil some eggs, etc. I put sliced sweet potatoes in the toaster oven for about 10 minutes each side to make these sweet potato crisps. 
  4. While rice is still cooking on low, make the steak.
  5. Add EVOO to pan over medium high heat.  Add strips of steak and lower heat down to a 3 and cook on each side for about 7-8 minutes.  You'll know its ready when it is just a tiny bit pink inside.
  6. Cut steak into strips or cubes (matter of preference)
  7. Place them in individual bowls over rice.  
  8. When broccoli is finished, you can add a little butter and salt for seasoning.
  9. Assemble all your veggies
  10. Sprinkle sesame seeds + sriracha mayo if you like it spicy!** I mix organic mayo + sriracha to make it.
  11. Enjoy!

-Ashley

 

Weekend Detox Broccoli Caulifower Soup (Dairy-free)

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I know I can’t be alone about feeling the need to detox after a long weekend.  Broccoli soup just seems like the perfect remedy for negating weekend eats.

My mom used to make the best broccoli soup when I was growing up.  I remember devouring it and always wanting seconds.  There is something about the broccoli combined with the onions and garlic and the creamy texture of the heavy cream that really makes the perfect flavor combination.

I wanted to make something resembling my mom's broccoli soup but without the dairy and some added cauliflower for a more creamy texture.  I was surprised it turned out so delicious!  

To be honest, I made mine a little on the spicy side (I added a LOT of garlic) so my kids didn't really like it.  Next time, I'll try to tame down the garlic and see what happens.

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Here’s how to make it.. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 heads organic broccoli, roughly chopped and stems removed
  • 1 head organic cauliflower, roughly chopped and stems removed
  • 1 + 1/2 yellow onions
  • 3-5 garlic cloves (depending on the amount of spice you want)
  • 1 carton organic chicken or vegetable broth (for vegan option)
  • 1 can organic full fat coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, stems removed and chopped
  • EVOO
  • 1 sardine (optional)
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
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Instructions:

  1. Add a few swirls of EVOO to pan over medium heat.  Add chopped onions and stir until soft.  Add sardine (adds flavor) and garlic and mix together.  
  2. Once onions have softened a bit, add broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, broth and the creamy top of the coconut milk can (save the rest of the milk for another time.) Add spices and salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to a soft boil, then cover and turn to low heat and let it simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.  
  4. Once soup is soft and ready, use a hand blender to blend it into a creamy blended texture.
  5. Serve hot and enjoy!