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As parents, of course we want to raise healthy kids.


Research often points to the family dinner as a good place to focus our efforts, but why? As a school chef and a mom of three, I think about kids and food a lot.

I  believe we really want to raise kids who know how to eat well, and who can make healthy choices for themselves. We want to raise kids who are food literate. And family meals might just be the best way to get there.

What is food literacy, and why is it important? Food Literacy is defined by the non-profit Food Literacy Project as “understanding the impact of your food choices on your health, the environment, and our economy.”

In my version, it also encompasses the family activities of cooking and sharing food. So a food literate kid would ideally understand basic food systems (how food gets from the farm to our plate), and get why whole foods make sense for their bodies (they’re natural and deliver lots of nutrients).

They would have an idea of the work that goes into cooking those foods, and be able to help out with the process. And they would enjoy the sense of connection that comes from shared meals. All wins. So what’s the trouble?

We’re losing food literacy.

In his book “Cooked,” Michael Pollan writes that since the 1960s, when women began to enter the workforce in real numbers, Americans have spent increasingly less time cooking at home and instead come to rely on more heavily processed foods.

During that same time, health issues related to our food choices have steadily risen. We all know that childhood obesity is a problem, and what used to be known as adult-onset diabetes now appears regularly in our kids. Our increased consumption of super processed food, high in sugar, salt, and fat, is a known contributor to the decline in our health.

Shifting away from the processed stuff and cooking more whole foods at home can be a simple but powerful way to support the physical health of our families. But that’s not the only reason to get your family around the table.

By cooking and eating together less often, we’re losing more than good nutrition: Namely the understanding of what whole, unprocessed food looks like, where it comes from, and how it gets from its starting point to our plate. We’re losing food literacy!

Making a habit of home-cooked meals can give families a unique opportunity to get kids thinking and talking about healthy food in a bigger context:

  • You can plan the week’s (or the night’s) dinner menu and talk about what fruits and veggies are in season where you live.
  • Get your kids thinking about where the food  you’re buying was grown or prepared and how it got to the store where you bought it.
  • Ask your kids what they like to eat, and why.
  • You can talk about budgeting, how you decide what foods to buy, and why some foods cost more than others.
  • Tell your kids how you plan to cook it all, and even enlist them to help.

Then, and I believe this is the most important part, you can eat it. Together.

After all, food does more than nourish our bodies. It  connects us as families, and as humans.  Eating together is a natural time for families to hit pause on a busy day, take a breath, and regroup.

Indeed, the family dinner boasts an impressive list of benefits:

  • Research has shown that people of all ages make healthier food choices when eating at home with others.
  • Kids who eat regular dinners with family have better grades than kids who don’t, and are less likely to be overweight.
  • In a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse teens reported a stronger sense of connection to other family members after sharing meals together.
  • Best of all, when you cook, your kids will learn by example that devoting time to cooking and eating together  is worthwhile.

And it’s true, cooking takes time. As working parents we are so busy that cooking has become just one more chore competing for our time.Make It Yourself, Eat It Together

Pre-made stuff is easy, fast, and relentlessly marketed to busy, tired parents. What’s the harm in heating up some chicken nuggets and letting the kids eat alone while you finish the laundry, or the work you brought home, or any of the million other tasks you need to complete before bed time? If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. And sometimes in modern households this scenario is unavoidable.

I cook professionally, and even I don’t want to live in a world without Annie’s Mac and Cheese or the occasional frozen pizza bagel. But it’s worth considering that by relying on processed foods for a large part of our diets we’re not just eating less healthy food, we’re losing those cooking skills, recipes, and traditions that used to be taught through families.

By cooking less, we’re raising kids who don’t cook, who know less about the food they eat, and who will rely more on processed foods as they transition into feeding themselves. What we feed our kids is laying the foundation for their lifelong health and development. When you consider the whole picture, cooking from scratch seems like a much better use of our parenting time than the makers of frozen pizza bagels would have us believe.

Eating together is the most important part.

If family dinners are the norm at your house, right on. If you want to give it a go but you’re a non-cook, or if making regular family meals happen feels unrealistic, don’t despair. My advice is to keep it simple and take it slow.

There are many excellent recipe websites with tons of easy dinner ideas to get you going. And you don’t have to make Pinterest-worthy mega meals, just start where you are. Scrambled eggs and whole grain toast with butter are whole foods.

Cut up some oranges or carrot sticks on the side and you just made a dinner that’s a million times more nourishing than any processed chicken nugget, especially if you share it.

Eating together is the most important part.

 

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Ah, back to school time. The excitement of a new year for our kids and the impossibly busy schedule for their mamas. Anyone else get to the end of the day and think, "What did I even DOOO today, and why am I so exhausted?" 🙋

Luckily, finding a system to help you plan out your days can help reduce stress and improve your overall quality of life—which we are all for.

Here are eight planners we love that'll quickly take you from "What is happening?!" to "Look what I did!"

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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A new school year is looming and while a lot of parents are looking forward to seeing their kids take the next steps in their education, many of us are not looking forward to getting everyone back into a weekday morning routine.

Mornings can be tough for kids and their mamas. One of our favorite celebrity mamas, Kristen Bell, does not deny that mornings with her daughters, 5-year-old Lincoln and 3-year-old Delta, aren't easy at all.

"It's miserable," Bell recently told POPSUGAR. "It's awful no matter who's doing what. And I'll tell you right now, the 3- and 5-year-old aren't doing jack."

Anyone who has ever tried to wrangle a preschooler out of their pajamas, to the breakfast table, then into their school clothes and backpack at seven o'clock in the morning knows exactly what Bell is talking about. She says some days are better than others, but it's hard to know what level of kid-induced chaos you're gonna wake up to on a weekday.

"It depends on their emotional stability, it depends on their attitude toward each other, toward life," Bell told POPSUGAR. "It depends on their developmental stage."

Luckily, Bell has got some backup. She's been open about how she and her husband, Dax Shepard, practice a tag team approach to parenting, and sometimes, Bell gets a chance to tap out of the morning routine. Unfortunately, Shepherd's later schedule means it doesn't happen as often as she would necessarily like.

"I don't want to say that I do more mornings than he does, but if you were to check the records, that's probably what you'd find," she told POPSUGAR.

If, like Bell, you're really not feeling mornings with the kids, there are a few things you can try to make things a little easier on yourself, mama.

1. Change the conversation

Instead of saying "hurry up" or "get in the car, right now,"try to mix up your vocabulary a bit.

If there's a need for speed, remind the kids that it's time for "fast feet" or that you're racing to the car.

If you're feeling overwhelmed, you might consider sharing that with your kids. Let them know that mama's got a lot to do this morning and that it would be a huge help if they could make sure their water bottle is in their backpack.

2. Make breakfast ahead of time

If cereal isn't your jam or your kids need something hotter, and more substantial in the morning, cooking up breakfast can be a major hurdle on hectic mornings.

Check out these Pinterest perfect make-ahead morning meals, like breakfast enchiladas or egg muffins, and make mornings a bit easier on yourself, mama.

3. Bring some Montessori into your mornings

Help your kids take control of their AM destiny by bringing some limited choices (like clothing) into the morning routine and allowing for natural consequences (like having to settle for an apple in the van because they missed breakfast) but also allowing for fun with mom.

"Try doing something simple, with clear boundaries, such as reading two books before it's time to start the morning routine. If they're ready early, you can spend more time together, which is also a great natural incentive," writes Montessori expert Christina Clemer.

Here's to a less stressful AM routine for Kristen Bell and the rest of us mamas. Just because it feels miserable today doesn't mean it will be tomorrow. There is hope, Kristen!

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It was a year ago when I was pregnant, parenting a highly-spirited preschooler and also working a full-time job while trying to maintain a part-time side business when I got to the point of I have had enough.

I can't remember exactly what the trigger was, but like most times, it wasn't just one thing but a build-up over time that culminates in a massive meltdown.

You see, I was not getting much appreciation or validation for all of my contributions. This was a time when my partner, too, was working full-time and in graduate school two evenings a week. It was stressful for everyone, but, as the wife and mother, I carried the family through it by tending to the little details: the pick-up and drop-offs, the shopping, the cooking, all the minutiae of everyday life.

So, after perseverating on my laundry list of seen and unseen responsibilities, I decided to sit down with pen and paper and make a "day in the life" list from wake-up to bedtime that showed my partner exactly what my day entailed—a day that supported two other people in the house and one in the oven.

Even I was surprised to see all of the things listed out in 15-minute increments. On paper, it actually looked even worse than it felt. I thought to myself about how much physical, mental and emotional energy I expend in this hectic season of our lives. And I didn't regret it for a minute.

However, back to my original complaint…I still wanted to be validated for it. I needed to be seen for both the implicit and explicit tasks and expectations in my day-to-day.

So I handed my list over to my husband, expecting him to be awakened to the fact I was indeed working in overdrive and for him to be grateful for all the ways that I take so many burdens off of him so that he can be successful in school and his career.

Instead of that, his response almost put me into a state of shock. He read over the list and then said, "I know. You are Superwoman."

His words, like kryptonite, left me speechless. Part of me knew that his intent was for this to be a compliment, but it felt so invalidating. It completely missed the mark, and instead of leaving me feeling appreciated, I felt less understood.

Superheroes have innate superpowers that I imagine they use with ease. In fact, they are expected to use their powers and perhaps that is their sole purpose. No one ever looks to a superhero and asks, "Do you need a break?" And as a feminist, I sure as heck believe women are strong and powerful. But the idea of being labeled a "superwoman" did not feel empowering.

I already know I am efficient, capable, strong and fierce. But, I am also fatigued, sometimes overworked and underappreciated, and worst of all expected to be the one that keeps it together for everyone else.

What I learned about through my research of who Superwoman really is was this: her powers always wear off by the end of the story. Turns out these so-called "superpowers" really are temporary. That I can relate to.

I am only human and there are days and weeks where I feel on top of the world, days where I can manage it all with ease. I can be up all night nursing a baby, take both kids to school, and show up on time for a 9:00 am meeting with a French pastry I baked from scratch. I can push through the exhaustion and demands every day…until I can't.

And it's not just my spouse who uses this label. I have well-meaning girlfriends who have also tossed the term out there as if it was meant to be a feather in my cap.

When things get tough, I appreciate the texts of support my girlfriends send me. Even when they are far away, it's nice to know someone cares when everyone in your house has the stomach flu while your partner is out of the country. It's comforting to be able to share the ups and downs of trying to balance a career with a growing family.

But when the text comes in and says something like, "I don't know how you do all that. You are a supermom!" I feel like there should be an auto-reply that says, "Connection lost."

The thing is, I don't want to be elevated to superhero status for living my life. It is not heroic and it's probably not too far off from what every other devoted partner and mother provides their family. But, this is what I think we need, what we are starving for. We need someone to say, "How are you doing?" or, "What have you done lately to care for yourself?" or, "Thank you for all that you do and who you are."

Those are the kinds of words that let me know I am seen and make me feel validated when I am working the hardest. They let me know that the people I love the most see me, and not a cape.

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