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How to avoid the school lunch slump—and keep kids excited for their meal

With the school year in full swing, you may have already approached that school lunch slump. As a parent, you want your kids to eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal, but you also want to make sure your child eats what you pack. The last thing you want to do is fill your kiddo's lunchbox with junk or unhealthy fare or get stuck on repeat meals that may bore them.

So how do you make sure the healthy lunches you pack get eaten? Here are a few tips:

1. Prepare lunch together

Children should be part of the process so discuss what they would like, and even have them choose foods to include from the various food groups. The more involved your child is in making their lunch, the more likely they will eat it.

2. Meal prep

As a parent, busy weeks can let healthy habits slip. Be prepared with healthy options by meal prepping at the beginning of the week. That could mean pre-making containers of cut up veggie with dips like hummus or ranch, or pre-packing nut-free trail mixes that fit perfectly into a healthy lunch box.

3. Encourage eating together with friends

Lunch is a social time and more enjoyable when surrounded by family and friends. Ask your child who they sat with and discuss lunchtime with them.

4. Make meals for appealing

Kids eat with their eyes, so adding bright colors or shapes helps make the meal more appealing. Think red peppers, orange clementines, black beans and green edamame. Even lunch boxes can have bright, fun colors so kids enjoy toting them to school.

5. Leave some love

My kids always loved when I left them a personalized not in their lunchbox. They would come home with all smiles. Even a simple "I love you," or "hope you're having a great day!" can help.

6.  Opt for allergy-friendly options

Many schools are nut-free, so make sure to stay updated on their lunch policy. Fortunately, there are many options now available at your local markets.

7. Keep food safety in mind

Some kids eat lunch early at school while others have a later lunch hour. If your child eats later, you want to make sure to keep their lunch cold. Look for insulated containers to pack lunches, and use several ice packs to keep it cold. You can even speak to the school as some will refrigerate lunches if needed.

What to know about kid's nutrition

According to a recent survey by Revolution Foods, the nation's leading healthy school and community meal provider, 80% of parents and 60% of students agreed that balanced nutrition, including a selection of lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruit and veggies, is extremely important when it comes to school lunches because it gives children the opportunity to take in the nutrients they need for successful growth and development.

Nutrients children need include:

  • Calories: Children need to take in enough calories, which depend on age, gender and activity level. Your child's pediatrician or registered dietitian can crunch those numbers. Most of the calories should come from nutritious foods.
  • Protein: Children are growing and need protein to do so. Protein is also important for strength and muscles. Choose lean proteins whenever possible like skinless chicken breast, lean cuts of beef and pork, tofu, eggs and fish.
  • Iron: Children are at risk of not getting enough iron in their diet. Foods that provide iron include meat, poultry, beans and leafy green vegetables. For the iron to be better absorbed from plant foods (like spinach), pack them together with vitamin-C rich food like strawberries, citrus fruit and bell peppers.
  • Calcium: Needed for strong bones and teeth, calcium is another nutrient kids require. One of the best sources of calcium is cow's milk and dairy products, but you can also find it in calcium-fortified juices, calcium-based tofu, beans, soy milk and leafy green vegetables.

Here are some recipes we love:

Turkey Tacos

Total: 25 mins

Prep: 15 mins

Cook:10 mins

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 or 2 fresh chili peppers, like serranos or jalapeños (chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil (or canola or vegetable oil)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey meat (or 2 cups shredded cooked)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves (chopped)
  • 1 lime
  • 8 corn tortillas (or taco shells)
  • Optional: salsa, guacamole, spring mix lettuce, cheese, and sour cream

Steps to make it:

  • Gather the ingredients.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the garlic and chiles. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and soft, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the cumin and cayenne and stir to combine until spices sizzle, about 30 seconds.
  • Add the turkey and salt. Stir to combine and break up meat with the back of the spoon or spatula.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until the turkey is cooked through. Note: if using shredded cooked turkey, also add 1/4 cup of water, stir to combine, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover to heat everything up and let the flavors blend a bit, about 10 minutes.
  • When the meat is fully cooked, take it off the heat, and stir in the cilantro.
  • Juice the lime over the meat and stir to combine.
  • Heat the tortillas, if using, and top each one with some ground turkey, salsa, guacamole, and lettuce (or fill each taco shell). Add sour cream or shredded cheese, if you like.

Serve and enjoy!

Easy Cheesy Chicken Quesadillas

Total: 15 mins

Prep: 5 mins

Cook: 10 mins

Yield: 6 Quesadillas (3 to 4 Servings)

Ingredients:

  • 6 flour tortillas
  • 2 (9-ounce) packages cooked diced chicken
  • 1 cup shredded Colby cheese
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup salsa

Steps to make it:

  • Place three of the tortillas on a work surface. Top the tortillas with half of the cheeses, then the chicken, then the remaining cheeses. Top the filling with the remaining tortillas. Spread outsides of the quesadillas with the butter.
  • Heat a flat pan, large skillet, or griddle over medium heat. Add the quesadillas, one at a time, and cook, pressing down with a spatula, until bottoms are browned, about 2 to 4 minutes. Turn quesadillas and cook second side 2 to 3 minutes or until the tortillas are browned and crisp and the cheeses melt.
  • Remove the quesadilla with a spatula to the work surface and cut into quarters. Repeat with remaining quesadillas. Serve immediately with salsa for dipping.

English Muffin Pizzas

Total:10 mins

Prep: 3 mins

Cook: 7 mins

Yield: 2 English muffins (2 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 English muffins, preferably whole grain (see Note), split
  • 1 cup store-bought or homemade tomato sauce
  • 4 slices (1⁄4 inch thick) Mozzarella, preferably fresh
  • Coarse salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)

Steps to make it:

  • Preheat a toaster oven or standard oven to 350°F.
  • Toast the English muffin halves until very lightly brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Spoon 1⁄4 cup of the tomato sauce evenly over each English muffin half.
  • Top each English muffin with a slice of mozzarella. Lightly salt, and sprinkle on the oregano if desired.
  • Bake or toast the pizzas until the cheese is melted and a bit bubbly, about 4 minutes. Serve, making sure your kids know that the pizzas are hot!

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When you become a parent for the first time, there is an undeniably steep learning curve. Add to that the struggle of sorting through fact and fiction when it comes to advice and—whew—it's enough to make you more tired than you already are with that newborn in the house.

Just like those childhood games of telephone when one statement would get twisted by the time it was told a dozen times, there are many parenting misconceptions that still tend to get traction. This is especially true with myths about bottle-feeding—something that the majority of parents will do during their baby's infancy, either exclusively or occasionally.

Here's what you really need to know about bottle-feeding facts versus fiction.

1. Myth: Babies are fine taking any bottle

Not all bottles are created equally. Many parents experience anxiety when it seems their infant rejects all bottles, which is especially nerve wracking if a breastfeeding mom is preparing to return to work. However, it's often a matter of giving the baby some time to warm up to the new feeding method, says Katie Ferraro, a registered dietician, infant feeding specialist and associate professor of nutrition at the University of California San Francisco graduate School of Nursing.

"For mothers returning to work, if you're breastfeeding but trying to transition to bottle[s], try to give yourself a two- to four-week trial window to experiment with bottle feeding," says Ferraro.

2. Myth: You either use breast milk or formula

So often, the question of whether a parent is using formula or breastfeeding is presented exclusively as one or the other. In reality, many babies are combo-fed—meaning they have formula sometimes, breast milk other times.

The advantage with mixed feeding is the babies still get the benefits of breast milk while parents can ensure the overall nutritional and caloric needs are met through formula, says Ferraro.

3. Myth: Cleaning bottles is a lot of work

For parents looking for simplification in their lives (meaning, all of us), cleaning bottles day after day can sound daunting. But, really, it doesn't require much more effort than you are already used to doing with the dishes each night: With bottles that are safe for the top rack of the dishwasher, cleaning them is as easy as letting the machine work for you.

For added confidence in the sanitization, Dr. Brown's offers an incredibly helpful microwavable steam sterilizer that effectively kills all household bacteria on up to four bottles at a time. (Not to mention it can also be used on pacifiers, sippy cups and more.)

4. Myth: Bottle-feeding causes colic

One of the leading theories on what causes colic is indigestion, which can be caused by baby getting air bubbles while bottle feeding. However, Dr. Brown's bottles are the only bottles in the market that are actually clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to an ingenious internal vent system that eliminates negative pressure and air bubbles.

5. Myth: Bottles are all you can use for the first year

By the time your baby is six months old (way to go!), they may be ready to begin using a sippy cup. Explains Ferraro, "Even though they don't need water or additional liquids at this point, it is a feeding milestone that helps promote independent eating and even speech development."

With a complete line of products to see you from newborn feeding to solo sippy cups, Dr. Brown's does its part to make these new transitions less daunting. And, for new parents, that truly is priceless.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Many parents begin looking into Montessori when their children reach preschool age, but there is so much you can do at home even with the youngest babies. Montessori is much more than a method of education or academic system. It is a philosophy and a certain way of approaching children, whether at school or in the home.

Here are five simple (and free!) ways you can begin using Montessori with your child from birth. And if your child is older, don't worry—all of these principles apply to older children as well.

1. Provide freedom of movement

From birth, we can give children the opportunity to move freely in their environment.

For a newborn, this simply means providing plenty of time when they are not being held or constrained in a carrier, stroller or other device.

You might spend time siting next to your child while they lay on a soft blanket, either inside or outdoors. They're clearly not able to move around the environment on their own at this point, but can practice moving their arms and legs and supporting their head, without their movements being limited.

For an older baby, freedom of movement might include letting them pull up on objects and edge their way around the room at their own pace, rather than putting them in a jumper or holding their hands while they walk.

Freedom of movement is excellent for gross motor development, but it is also a great confidence builder. It sends a clear message to your child that you believe they are capable of developing their muscles and abilities in their own timeframe.

Another aspect of freedom of movement is comfortable clothing that supports a baby's growing ability to move. Dressing your baby in a onesie or loose fitting pants and shirt maximizes their ability to move. Providing young babies plenty of time unswaddled and without mittens or shoes also helps them learn to use their muscles.

2. Use respectful communication

Respectful communication is a hallmark of Montessori for children at all ages, and this can certainly begin at birth. It may feel silly at first, but try telling your infant each time you're going to pick them up. Let them know when it's time to eat or time for a diaper. It will begin to feel more natural each time you do it.

You might try asking permission, such as, "May I pick you up for a diaper change now?"

While they, of course, won't be able to answer you in words yet, they will understand your tone and if you ask regularly, they might start to respond in other ways, such as reaching for you or smiling.

We can also show respect through our communication by always using real, precise language. For example, rather than telling a baby a picture is a "doggie," try telling them it's a "dog," or maybe even the type or name of the dog if you know.

This type of communication lays a wonderful foundation for a relationship of mutual respect, and also exposes your child to a rich vocabulary from the beginning.

3. See caregiving as bonding

Caregiving tasks, such as feeding and changing diapers, can seem endless and can be truly exhausting, especially in the first few months. In Montessori, we try to view these activities as a time for bonding and connecting, a time to give a child our undivided attention.

In a classroom with multiple babies, or a home with older siblings around, this can be an especially important time to take a few moments and be present with the baby you are caring for. It can be so tempting to scroll through social media while breastfeeding or rush through diaper changes to get to the more fun stuff, but these are truly opportunities to slow down, make eye contact with your child, and simply be with them.

Montessori also views these activities as collaborative. We always try to do things "with" children, rather than "to" them.

For the youngest infants, collaboration might just be talking them through what you're doing, or following their lead for when they need to eat and sleep.

For older babies, you can include them more through asking them to crawl to the diaper changing area or bring you a diaper, or offering them two shirts or two foods to choose from.

Reframing these caregiving activities not only makes them more enjoyable for us parents, it ensures that we have regular check-ins where we're fully present with our babies. It makes them feel cared for, and never like a burden.

4. Allow time for independence

How can a baby be independent? They rely on us for so much—warmth, nourishment, safety, love—but we can actually help infants develop independence from the very beginning.

We can look for times when our baby is calm and alert and let them "play," or lay on a blanket, without being held. We can give them time to look around the room and visually explore their new world without interacting with or distracting them.

We can respond to mild fussing first by talking to them, by gently touching them or holding their hand, rather than immediately swooping them up into our arms. Sometimes all they need is a little reassurance that we're there.

Every baby is different and every baby's tolerance for these moments is unique. Some babies might be content to lay on their own for quite a while, while others seem to want to be held constantly. Follow your own child's lead, but look for little opportunities to help them stretch their independence from the start.

5. Practice observation

Observation is one of the most important principles of Montessori for all ages.

Each child is on their own developmental path and the only way we can really know what they need, what challenges they're ready for, is through careful observation.

Naturally, you spend tons of time watching your new baby. Observation is just a slightly different mindset, watching with intention, to see what new skills your baby might be working on, what parts of the room they stare at with captivated interest.

This type of observation will help you know what toys to offer your baby better than any developmental timeline. It will also help you get to know them in a deeper way.

Montessori can seem a bit mysterious or even intimidating, but so much of it is really so simple. It is much more about how we view and interact with children than about academic achievement or beautiful materials.

No matter what type of school you plan to send your children to, incorporating these principles at home from the beginning can add so much to your parenting journey.

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There are so many firsts we get to experience with our baby in those precious 24 hours after birth, but experts suggest that a first bath should not be one of them as waiting could help mama and baby with breastfeeding.

This week a study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing links delaying newborn baths with increased in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates.

The study's lead author, Heather Condo DiCioccio, is a nursing professional development specialist for the Mother/Baby Unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. She told TODAY her research was promoted by patients, who have increasingly been asking staff to hold off that first bath in recent years.

Part of this is likely due to the World Health Organization's stance on newborn bathing. The WHO recommends babies should not get a bath for 24 hours, but the recommendations don't really explain why the organization suggests this.

DiCioccio's study involved almost 1000 mama-baby pairs. Around half of the babies were bathed within 2 hours of birth, as per the hospital's previous policy. The rest saw the first bath delayed for at least 12 hours. The researchers found a link between delaying a bath and exclusive breastfeeding, but they could not precisely answer why. DiCioccio thinks it might have something to do with baby's sense of smell.

"They've been swimming in the amniotic fluid for 38, 39, 40 weeks of their life and the mother's breast puts out a similar smell as that amniotic fluid," she told TODAY. "So the thought is maybe the two smells help that baby actually latch. It makes it easier for the baby to find something comfortable and normal and that they like."

For DiCioccio, anything that can help mamas with breastfeeding is a welcome intervention, but the nursing link is not the only benefit to delayed bathing. She notes that keeping the vernix (that white stuff) on the baby for longer allows the baby to benefit from its antimicrobial properties and can help with lung development.

However, sometimes babies do need a bath soon after birth. When mothers are dealing with health issues that can see babies exposed to blood-borne pathogens (like HIV, active herpes lesions or hepatitis B or C), a bath sooner after birth is still best, DiCioccio explained to TODAY.

Even when blood-borne pathogens are not a concern, cultural preferences might be. Not every parent wants to delay baby's first bath, and that's okay—during DiCioccio's study the wishes of parents who wanted their baby bathed shortly after birth were respected—but it's good to have all the knowledge we can get when it comes to postnatal best practices.

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Ayesha Curry has three kids, a husband with a super busy career and a super busy career herself. It would be so easy for her priority list to be: 1) kids, 2) career, then 3) Steph—but the TV host, chef, Honest Company ambassador and entrepreneurial #bossbabe says her partner still has the number one spot, even after all these years.

Speaking to HelloGiggles, Curry explains that she and her Golden State Warrior husband have seen how partners prioritizing each other can benefit a family as a whole. That's why she and Stef don't prioritize the kids above each other.

"Both of our parents are still married and have been married for 30-plus years, and the one thing that they both shared with us—some through learning it the hard way, some through just making sure that they do it—is just making sure that we put each other first, even before the kids, as tough as that sounds," she tells HelloGiggles.

For the Currys, that means making time in those very busy schedules for date nights where they don't have to be mom and dad, they can just connect as partners. Curry admits that it's not always easy to break her brain out of mama-mode and prioritize something other than time with her kids, but she recognizes that when she and Stef put each other first, the kids benefit.

"That's been very important, as hard as it is. Because when you become a parent, you want to put your kids first, and we do, but we do it second to our relationship. Because ultimately, when our relationship is good, the kids are happy and they're thriving and our family life is good. We have to put that into perspective and realize that it's not us being selfish, it's making sure we set a strong foundation."



Experts back Curry up

Family therapist Raffi Bilek, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Fatherly that while putting each other first may seem counterintuitive to parents, it's important. "I think that the question of when to prioritize your partner over your kid is best answered with 'always,'" Bilek says.

David Code is a therapist and the author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. He wants parents to lean on each other more because when we don't our kids can end up shouldering some of our emotional needs, and that's not fair. It's also not fair for parents to put their relationship and themselves last every time. He believes the "greatest gift you can give your children is to have a fulfilling marriage yourself."

According to Code, "families centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children. We parents today are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriages for our kids. Most of us have created child-centered families, where our children hold priority over our time, energy and attention."

Therapists like Code and Bilek are calling on parents to put their partners first, and stop buying into the myth that we don't have time for our spouses.

If the Currys can find time for each other in their crazy schedules, so too can the rest of us.

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This morning I left my 4-year-old sobbing in the arms of her Pre-K teacher. As I turned to leave, the sight of her little face crumbling, trying to be brave but not quite managing, tore right to my core. I walked away feeling like I was wading through treacle, my chest aching and my arms heavy and useless where my child should have been. It felt so very unnatural to leave when she was crying out my name.

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