Thankful Tree - A Thanksgiving Activity Booklet for Kids

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I know it sounds cliche, but with the hustle and bustle of the holidays quickly approaching, it is SO easy to get wrapped up in the business of it all that we forget to even enjoy this time with our families and forget the reasons for the seasons.

And the true meaning of Thanksgiving is gratitude and spending quality time with family.

I am of the mindset that a little bit of gratitude can truly change everything. Whiney kids, grumpy sleep deprived moms, a negative attitude, stress, you name it. It only takes a few minutes to thank God for the top 10 things you’re grateful for to help shift your mindset from worrying about the things that don’t matter, to just being grateful for what you have.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate either. I think God is pleased when we thank him for the little blessings in life too.

I wish my kids would sleep at night
Changed Mindset: God, Thank you that my kids have a safe place to sleep at night
I want that new Toy for Christmas, Mom
Changed Mindset: God, I’m thankful for how many toys I already do have
Why are my kids always getting sick?
Changed Mindset: God, Thank you that I have access to healthy food and medical care

Get yourself and your kids into the spirit of Thanksgiving with this fun Thankful Tree Activity Booklet and Poem.

You can tape this big tree up on the back of the door or in an open wall space and have your kiddos practice their cutting skills while choosing what they want to give thanks for each day. You can have them cut them all out at once or just choose one a day to put on the Thankful Tree. This package comes with an extra page of gratitude leafs for your child to think of any extra things they’re thankful for.

The Activity Booklet also comes with this cute poem to read out loud with your kids thanking God for all of their blessings.

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-Ashley

No-Bake Pumpkin Sunflower Butter Treats (Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Nut-free, Vegan, Paleo)

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As you guys likely already know by now, I’m pretty obsessed with trying to incorporate pumpkin in EVERYTHING when it turns into fall. I’m also always trying to make healthier versions of everything for me and my kiddos to have around the house for healthy yummy snacks.

The other main criteria for me, with two young kids around is that it must be EASY.

These No-Bake Pumpkin Sunflower Treats definitely fit the mold for that criteria! They are literally SO ridiculously easy, you and your toddler can totally make them together in under 10 minutes.

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Here’s how to make them:

Ingredients

1 cup Sunflower butter (or nut butter of choice)
2 tbsp agave
1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1 tsp vanilla
1 + 1/2 tbsp dark chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Melt all the ingredients (except the chocolate chips) on low heat and stir until well combined.

2. Spread mixture onto parchment paper evenly, sprinkle chocolate chips and freeze for three hours before breaking it into pieces and enjoying for a midday healthy sweet!

Five Minute Guacamole

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As we walk into this month of gratitude and thanksgiving, I am trying to incorporate some new and fun ways to cultivate gratitude in our home and even though they’re young, my kids totally understand thanksgiving! Its so sweet to hear the things they’re thankful for that it makes me even more thankful!

Mostly, it’s the little things I thank God for, like happy kids and year round guacamole! But we have SO much to be thankful here in the United States, for safety and freedom and more than enough food and water (even if we may have to filter it thoroughly to remove all the nasty chemicals)

Did you know that verbally expressing gratitude and thanksgiving can cultivate physiological mental and physical health changes and essentially RE-WIRE your brain for wellness?! That blows me away! If you don’t believe me, watch some lectures on YouTube by neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf!

Dr Caroline Leaf: Bringing Toxic Thoughts Into Captivity

It just reminds me of how awesome God is and how he designed us for thanksgiving and wellness and our bodies are truly such a masterpiece of artwork

What little things are you thankful for walking into this month of Thanksgiving? Let me know in the comments below!

Anyway, here is mine and my kids FAVORITE Five Minute Guacamole that we use on the daily around here. It’s so tasty with a bag of tortilla chips, a great party dish or just for enticing kids to try new veggies with (as a dip!)

Ingredients:

2 ripe hass avocados
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/8 of a medium onion diced finely
a squeeze of lime juice
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 1 tbsp dairy free sour cream

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Directions:

  1. Smash 2 ripe avocados with a fork

  2. Add in the remaining ingredients and combine with the fork until you reach your desired consistency. I like to leave some big chunks here and there!

    Enjoy!





-Ashley

Chia Almond Flour Pumpkin Muffins (Gluten-free, Paleo)

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Well, its October, and even if that doesn’t necessarily mean cool weather here in Miami, it still means my husband will be watching endless hours of football on weekends and I will be baking Pumpkin flavored everything, obviously!

Pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pie, you name it, I’m determined to try to make a healthier version of whatever it is.

My criteria for healthy in our household means cutting out the flour and fast acting sugars and carbohydrates and replacing them with blood sugar stabilizing proteins and fats.

I was searching Pinterest for a pumpkin muffin recipe that met those criteria but couldn’t find the right one, so I decided to make my own version. I was so excited about how wonderful they turned out that I just had to share them with you all.

These sweet Chia Almond Flour Pumpkin Muffins are the perfect breakfast on-the-go or a healthy midday snack and they are super kid friendly. Not only are they moist and delicious, they are packed full of protein and blood-stabilizing healthy fats/omega-3’s from the almonds, chia seeds and eggs.

They are quick and easy to whip up, coming together in only a few minutes! What are you waiting for?? Get your baking mitt on and get in the kitchen!

Here’s how to make them!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large banana, mashed

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree

  • 2 tbsp honey or agave

  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten

  • 2 tablespoon coconut oil, melted

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds

  • 2 cups almond flour

  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • 3 tsp teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Line muffin tin and set oven to 350 degrees.

  2. Smash a ripe banana in a large mixing bowl with a fork.

  3. Add in the eggs and beat and combine well.

  4. Add all the other wet ingredients: vanilla, honey/agave, coconut oil and pumpkin purée. Mix and combine well.

  5. Toss in the remaining dry ingredients, making sure to distribute the baking powder evenly. Combine well.

  6. Pour mixture into muffin tins about 3/4 of the way full.

  7. Bake for 25-30 mins at 350 degrees or until the edges began to brown. Let cool for 10 minutes.

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-Ashley

One Pot Cauliflower Rice Egg Roll in a Bowl - Gluten-free, Paleo, Whole-30, Kid Friendly

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I am a big fan of one pot meals, like really really big fan. Hence why I’m constantly posting about my life-long passion for soups. The main reason is that I make way less of a mess dirtying multiple pans but the other reason is because mixing everything together in one big pot just gives me more reason to add in as many veggies as possible.

I mean, I guess I don’t really even need to explain much further about the beauty of one pot meals. You weren’t born yesterday. You get it. If you’re a busy mom like me, you get it fo sho.

I’m also a big fan of egg rolls except for I don’t eat them anymore. Why? Because they’re made with flour (gluten) that I don’t eat, SOY (which has been linked to breast cancer), probably deep fried in canola oil and packed with MSG.

I might be exaggerating a tad on how bad fast food egg rolls are but you get the point. There’s always a way to make something delicious that you LOVE but can no longer eat anymore, healthy.

This One Pot Cauliflower Rice Egg Roll in a Bowl is SO good you guys. I promise you will feel like you’re eating old-school Chinese takeout and feel victorious since you knew it was all wholesome healthy foods for your body and brain.

And you’ll feel even more victorious when you realize you don’t even have to clean more than one pan.

To make this recipe even easier I use riced cauliflower that I buy in the frozen section of Whole Foods, because who has time for dicing up cauliflower anyways? Truthfully, its really not that difficult it just makes a bit of a mess in my experience.

It is SO SO easy to make too!

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Here’s how I made this scrumptious Chinese-wanna be delight.

Serves: 4-5

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cooking Time:  20-30 minutes

Ingredients:

1 bag of riced cauliflower (frozen section)
4 medium carrots (shredded)
1 medium onion
3 chives
2 cloves garlic
1 lb grass fed ground beef
2 large eggs
1 tbsp coconut aminos
1 tsp ghee
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp fresh ginger (grated or you can use the spiced version)
1 tsp onion powder
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Chop onion and garlic.  Grate the carrots (or us a food processor).

  2. Heat the two oils in a pan over medium heat on the stove-top.  Once heated, add the onions for about 5 minutes or until they begin to soften. 

  3. Add the garlic, cauliflower rice, carrots and chives (save a few to season on top) and stir.  Cook for about 3 minutes.

  4. Add the ground beef and begin to break it apart with a spatula into the mixture as it begins to cook.

  5. Stir in the ginger and coconut aminos with the beef.

  6. As it cooks, season the mixture with salt, pepper and onion powder and stir.

  7. From here, cook on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until beef is cooked and veggies are all semi softened.

  8. Open up a spot with your spatula inside the pan mixture for the eggs.  Scramble the two eggs right inside the same pan (in its own space) until cooked.  Then mix the egg into the mixture.

  9. Add the remaining chives to season on top.

  10. If the mix needs a little more seasoning, just add more coconut aminos right on top or to individual bowls. 
    **You could definitely add some rice or quinoa into this mixture to add a bit more bulk to it and you could always eliminate the eggs if you are egg-free!

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-Ashley

Identity Cards for Moms

As wild and beautiful as it may be, the challenges that come with motherhood often leave me second guessing myself and feeling as though I have lost a bit of my identity along the journey. The challenges that some days bring can leave me feeling overwhelmed and very much unable. Motherhood often brings me to this irrational place of self-doubt and self-criticism and if I’m not careful, even self-loathing.

Something huge that I have learned along the way is this - if we don’t intentionally find out the truth about who we really are and speak it over ourselves D A I L Y, we’re just leaving an open door for the enemy to come in and fill that void and tell us all the things we’re not.  For mom guilt and negative thinking about our parenting skills to override the truth and steal our joy and peace.

We are challenged physically and emotionally every single day.  We are pushed to our breaking point, we are exhausted beyond measure, sleep deprived, we have a million and one things to juggle and people to manage, meals to make, hearts to tend to, children to teach, lunches to pack, houses to clean, play dates to make, countless dates and obligations to remember.  

It’s hard work.  Good, wonderful, meaningful work, but hard work, nonetheless.  

Its almost always in those moments of being emotionally and physically drained when those negative thoughts will creep in to invade our peace, telling you all the things were just so darn bad at.  

I’m not good enough.
I’m not like the other moms at school.
I’m not pretty or skinny enough.
My kids aren’t well behaved (and its probably all my fault)
My house isn’t clean enough.
My kids aren’t healthy eaters like all my friends kids.

And then the mom guilt to top it off! 

I didn’t listen enough.
I yelled too much.
I didn’t play enough.
I lost my temper too easily.
I wasn’t there enough, etc etc. 

The list goes on and on.  The thoughts go in and out all day long if we are not careful.  And if we’re really negligent of our thought life, we begin to believe these things are actually true.

And this is exactly where the enemy wants us to be.  He wants us wallowing in a pile of self-guilt and doubt and self-condemnation about who we are so deep that we forgot who we even are and how to even live and enjoy our lives.  He’ll even take a good quality about you and make you believe its a quality we need to feel bad about.  Let me give you one example of how this was playing out in my own thought life; For a long time I was thinking I was too organized and I cleaned too much and that would somehow make my kids perfectionists and I needed to change that about myself.  I believed this for many years until I wrote down the truth: I like things to be clean and organized and it makes me feel good when things aren’t messy and chaotic.  Its also a good skill to teach my children to be organized and tidy too.  I don’t have a housekeeper so I do have to clean a lot when my kids are around but I still love on them unconditionally and spend as much time with them as I can.

When negative thinking tells us we are unable and unworthy of our jobs as moms, God tells us he uniquely designed us this way and he can use our gifts in the lives our children.

But for Jesus, who says we are chosen, forgiven, called, perfectly designed by him for a purpose.  He uniquely designed us to be the mother of our children.  He chose us for this job.  He sees past ALL of our mistakes, he only sees the good.  We just have to figure out what that good is and hold tight to it.  (The belt of truth - Ephesians 6:14)

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It is time, mama.  To end this relentless mom guilt, negative thinking, constant self-doubting and self-critical self talk.  I am challenging you today to re-frame your thought life and grab a hold of your identity, in three ways:

  1. Write down a list of every single negative thought about yourself and call it out as a LIE and challenge it with the opposite, the TRUTH.  And don’t just stop there.  But go one step further and promise yourself that the next time this lie or negative thinking comes into your head, you will replace it with the truth that you wrote down on that piece of paper.

  2. To print out these truth affirmations somewhere where you will see them every single morning and read them out loud to yourself, even if you don’t believe them to be truth in the moment

    I am Loved, Enough, Seen, Good, Able through Christ, Forgiven, Chosen, Called, Beautiful, Perfectly Designed, Righteous, Approved, Whole

  3. On the back, I challenge you to write down at-least TEN things about yourself that are good identifiers of you.  Descriptors that make you uniquely you!  (i.e. good mother, daughter, lover of cooking or fashion, a visionary, etc)


    The mind is a powerful place, my friends! If we can shift our thinking, we can experience more freedom in joy and peace in our parenting of our kids.

    Identity Scriptures:
    “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”  Proverbs 4:23
    ”Casting down imaginations (thoughts), and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” 2 Corinthians 10:5
    "Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”  Proverbs 18:21
    ”I have set before you LIFE or DEATH, blessing or cursing, therefore CHOOSE LIFE so that both you and your descendants may LIVE.”  Duet 30:19
    ”For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7



    I have uploaded this FREE IDENTITY CARD to my website just for your, mama! You can find it
    right here in the Helping Hands Shop.

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-Ashley

Healthier Chicken Soup (Gluten-fee, Dairy-free, Paleo, Gaps Friendly, Kid Friendly)

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You guys, I have been wanting to update my chicken soup recipe for some time now. I wanted to bring this lovely healthy comfort food to a whole new level of healthy by adding in some of my favorite superfoods. I was a little nervous it might change the flavor too much and be a turn off to my kids, but it was a huge hit with them too. In fact, my son told me it was the “best chicken soup he ever had.” I can’t promise I didn’t tear up a bit. It’s not too often this mama get’s much love and appreciation around here.

So what super-foods did I add to this already delectable meal, you might ask? I added a huge bunch of kale, some turmeric root, parsley and lots of garlic!

Myself and every other health conscious person has probably blabbed your ear off already about the anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, gut healing and immune boosting benefits of collagen in bone broth. But if you have been living under a rock or avoiding Whole Foods at all costs, you can check out all the reasons I love bone broth here.

But seriously, if you are struggling with any gut-health issues, I strongly encourage you to see if adding some homemade bone broth to your regular daily routine would be beneficial for you!

Sure, you can make this recipe with store bought bone broth to save time and there are some really good options out there these days. But I’m telling you, friend, you will be missing out on that homemade feel-good comforting flavor if you do. And plus, its super cheap and easy to make! To make the broth, if you want to skip many ingredients to save time, you can do that too and it will still be better than store bought! Just slow cook some organic bones for 12-24 hours with some onion, salt and pepper and a dash of apple cider vinegar (for nutrient extraction) and viola!

Just one more note - I used ghee and coconut oil instead of olive oil due to all I’ve been reading about how extra virgin olive oil is an unstable oil and how heat can destroy the healthy Omega-3 content of it.

Okay, you’ve waited long enough! Thanks for your patience, friends. Here it is!

Ingredients:

  • Organic + Grass-fed bones **1 whole organic chicken carcass and bones will do but the more bones, the higher gelatin yield.  Chicken feet and beef leg bones typically yield the most gelatin

  • 1 lb shredded chicken

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced finely

  • 4 stalks celery, chopped

  • 4 carrots, chopped into small 1/2 inch squares

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar - I use Bragg's

  • 1/3 of 32 fl oz container chicken or turkey bone broth - I use Pacifico

  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

  • 1-2 turmeric roots (peeled and chopped)

  • 1 handful of lachianato kale, de-stemmed and chopped

  • 2 tsp onion powder

  • 2 tsp garlic powder

  • 1 bay leaf

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa or rice

  • 1 tablespoon organic grass-fed ghee or butter

  • 1 tablespoon organic coconut oil

Instructions:

  1. Place the carcass (chicken removed) and all the bones into a large crockpot with a lid.  Cover with water, add apple cider vinegar and bay leaf and cover.  Cook on low for 12-24 hours, adding water if necessary. Water should only slightly cover the top of the contents.

  2. After 12-24 hours, strain and remove bones and carcass for delicious homemade bone broth. Season if preferred.

  3. In a large pot, heat the ghee and coconut oil over medium heat.  Add onions for about 4 minutes until they begin to soften, then add garlic, celery, carrots and turmeric root and cook for about 4 minutes or until they begin to soften.

  4. Once veggies began to soften, add the parsley, the chicken broth (plus 1/3 of the store bought container), the chicken and fresh parsley.

  5. Add all the seasonings and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes.

  6. Add the chopped kale in the last 3 minutes of cooking time.

  7. Add a few remaining sprigs of fresh parsley on top and season with salt and pepper to your taste.

  8. Add a tablespoon or 2 of cooked quinoa or rice to a bowl and then pour the soup over top to serve.

  9. Enjoy!

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-Ashley

Veggie-Loaded Meat Sauce (Gluten-free, Paleo, Kid-friendly)

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This Loaded Veggie Meat Sauce is the R E A L
D E A L, you guys!
I can’t even explain to you how it has changed my life. It is so delicious and so ridiculously loaded with nutrition that you will be wanting to keep it in the meal rotation for every week. The greatest part is your kids wont even think anything differently about it, they will just see noodles and sing a shout of praise.

No, I’m not saying you should necessarily hide whats in the sauce from them. Actually, I feel quite the opposite. Sneaking veggies into foods without your kids’ knowledge has been known to only further distrust and anxiety around the dinner table with picky eaters. I’m just saying that they won’t be able to really taste the difference and sooner or later this will just be what comes to mind when they think of spaghetti.

My kids sometimes like to help me throw the veggies into the food processor and watch them be ground up for going into the sauce. Cooking with kids prepares them for the smells and sights of the meal to come.

If only it was easy and mess free!

Okay, back to the awesome sauce. So I call this Loaded Veggie Meat Sauce because it is literally LOADED with veggies. S I X veggies and T W O powerful superfoods! It has onions, garlic, kale, celery, carrots and tomatoes. It also includes fresh basil and turmeric, both potent super foods packed with nutritional value. It is also packed with iron and tons of healthy fats.

You may be thinking, great for you, but my kids would NEVER EAT THAT! Here’s why I think you should at least try:

  • The veggies are all tender and ground up into tiny pieces which is usually a win for picky eaters

  • The noodles (and optional Parmesan cheese) is placed strategically on top to lure them into the plate (kids are typically very visual beings and if they spy their favorites on top, they’re more likely to try it)

  • Um, did I mention NOODLES?!

Ok enough yapping, here’s how to make it!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large yellow onion

  • 4 cloves garlic

  • 4 carrots

  • 10 leafs of lacianato kale (stems removed)

  • 4-5 stems of celery

  • 1 root fresh turmeric (skin removed)

  • handful of fresh basil, chopped

  • 1 lb grass-fed ground beef

  • 2 tablespoons ghee

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

  • a drizzle of EVOO

  • 1 24 oz jar of organic tomato sauce + 1/3 of another 24 oz jar

  • 3 tsp himalayan sea salt

  • 3 tsp onion powder

  • 1-2 tsp garlic powder

  • 1 tsp powdered turmeric (optional)

  • 1 tsp paprika

  • black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Rinse and dry all the veggies.

  2. Add the onion and garlic to the food processor and process until finely minced. Meanwhile, heat the ghee and coconut oil mixed in a large pot over medium heat.

  3. Add the minced onions and garlic to the oils and let cook for a minute or too until soft while you puree the other veggies.

  4. Add the carrots to the food processor and finely mince. Add to the pot and mix into the onion mix.

  5. Do the same with the kale, celery and turmeric root and add the minced veggies into the pot and stir.

  6. Drizzle a few drizzles of EVOO over the top of the veggies and cook on medium low heat for about 5-6 minutes until they begin to soften.

  7. Add the spices and salt and pepper.

  8. Add the ground beef and chop it with a spatula while it browns. Stir it in well and make sure to break up any large chunks. Cook the beef and veggies together for about 7 minutes or until meat is almost all browned.

  9. Add the tomato sauce. Turn the heat back to about medium heat or until it simmers and leave it this way for about 5 minutes.

  10. After 5 minutes of simmering, turn the heat down to low and cover to simmer for 30 minutes. When its finished, throw in the fresh basil while its still hot and stir in to combine.

  11. Serve this meat sauce over gluten-free quinoa spaghetti noodles or plain quinoa. Make sure to place a few noodles on top (and maybe even a little Parmesan cheese) for all those visual picky eaters.

Enjoy!


-Ashley







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