In the Kitchen with a Toddler

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I feel like half the pictures on my phone are of Owen in the kitchen. Since he was very young, I’ve always tried to involve him while I cooked or baked, whether that was baby wearing him as an infant, letting him try fun new foods that I was cooking with when he was starting solids, standing on a chair at the counter playing with spoons when he was finally steady on his feet, or, now, actively participating as a toddler. I feel like learning how to cook is such an important skill to teach, and I’m very passionate about starting kids young. I have many fond memories of helping my Nana, Gran, and Mum in the kitchen growing up.

While having a toddler help slows the process down a little bit, and it definitely creates more of a mess, its benefits outweigh the slight inconveniences involved. With a little bit of patience, I find it very enjoyable to watch my little guy develop his skills.

So, how do I involve him without an inch of flour covering my floor or a toddler with third degree burns? It’s all in how you approach the activity and build on existing skills.

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  1. Clean Dishes. One of the first things Owen ever wanted to do in the kitchen was “wash dishes” in soapy water, like he sees me do almost daily. When I first slid a chair up to the sink for him, he was so little that he still had to stand on tip toes to rinse something under the faucet. Now, he’s a pro (and much bigger), and he can do almost everything, including turning the water on and off. Now, does he wash things perfectly clean? Of course not. But he enjoys helping wash the dishes (and occasional truck, Duplo, or rock). It’s amazing how fast they catch on to the wash, rinse, and put out to dry pattern. Another spinoff of this activity is washing fruit and veg in the sink. A few helpful tips:
    • Put an old towel under the sink and around the part of the chair closest to the sink. We use one of our old ratty dog towels. It’ll be a little wet, and that’s okay. My floor and cabinets in that part of the kitchen are always a little bit cleaner than the rest of the room.
    • Wash and put away breakables and knives before letting your kid start washing. At the very least, put them out of reach. They’re going to want to help wash anything they can get their hands on. This also goes for anything especially gross, like something that had raw egg or meat on it.
  2. Measuring and Dumping. This is currently one of his favorites. I help him measure out an ingredient by guiding his hand and measuring spoon, and he gets to dump it into the bowl. I just remind him to do things slowly and to get it all in the bowl (or wherever it needs to go). Soon, he’s not going to need my help loading up the measuring spoon.

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  3. Putting Together a Dish. If I have a recipe that needs to be assembled before adding heat (such as a pizza, casserole, or a soup like my leak and potato soup), Owen is the guy for the job. With some dishes, he needs a bit of guidance evening things out, but, with other dishes, I just let him do it all. It depends on how precise the food needs to be assembled.

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  4. Stir. Even before he could walk, Owen loved stirring. He would sit on the living room floor with an empty metal bowl and “stir” it with a wooden spoon. He’d occasionally turn it into a drum as well, but, mostly, he’d practice his stirring. So, once he was allowed to do it for real, he was really into it. When baking, he’ll often help stir together dry ingredients or help finish stirring something that I started while I get the pan ready to put it in. If he helped me put everything in a pot to make soup, he’ll stir it all together before we turn the burner on. And, recently, he really wanted to sautée something like I was, so I gave him a pan with a little bit of each ingredient, and I let him stir them around while I was doing the real dish next to him. No heat, but he got to actively participate by more or less doing exactly what I was doing. Just make sure they’re out of reach of any hot surfaces or pots/pans.
  5. Getting Ingredients. Ask them to help you find ingredients in the fridge or pantry, and have them help you carry them to the counter or table. This is a great way to help them learn their way around the kitchen and start identifying different foods. I always handle the raw meat and eggs, but I let him help with pretty much everything else. Toddlers love to help, and this is a great way to allow them to help you. It’s so cute to hear Owen say, “here doe” every time he puts something I asked for (and, occasionally, things I didn’t ask for but he thought they’d help) on the counter next to me.
  6. Talk About Everything. As we’re cooking or cleaning up, I make a point to explain what we’re doing. This includes counting, describing the color or texture of something, talking about if it’s yummy or not by itself (Owen has gotten really good at saying if something is only good if it’s cooked, such as eggs or flour), and we always talk about kitchen safety. This is a great way to help build their vocabulary, practice numbers, work on doing things in the correct order, and practice kitchen safety.

Cooking with my son is not only a great learning opportunity for him, but it’s also another fantastic way to bond with him. I always find kitchens to be comforting, love-filled spaces that act as the heart of the home, so I want my son to feel comfortable and welcomed in ours. Plus, he’s always so excited to eat something that he helped make. It’s so much fun watching his confidence in the kitchen grow.

 

I’m Not Crunchy, I’m Chewy

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In the green living world, some people are considered “crunchy,” and some people are considered “mainstream.” While I often err in the side of crunchy, I consider myself in a third category: “chewy.” While often crunchy in my ways, I have a few things I do that are a bit too mainstream for the crunchy crowd. So, I pretty much get the side-eye from both sides of the aisle, depending on what I’m talking about. 

There are some crunchy things that I aspire to do better or start doing. I want to start my edible garden this spring (more than just my usual herbs). I want to find better beauty products that actually work for my extremely dry and sensitive skin (like…even sensitive face washes leave me irritated and burning feeling. My poor skin can’t catch a break). I want to use reusable ziplock bags to reduce our waste. But there are also some things that I’m very happy with that I do. 

In honor of Earth Day, I’m sharing the top 5 things I’ve done to make my family’s and my life more green: 

  1. Unscented Everything. I started by switching my laundry detergent because of my sensitive skin. Then the hand soap. Then, I eventually made it so the only scents in my cleaners are naturally derived and more or less immediately dissipate. My house now only smells of baked goods when I make them, flowers when I’m given some, and citrus when I’m eating an orange. No artificial scents happen in my house anymore, and I kind of love it. Now, I’ll get a headache going down the laundry aisle in the supermarket, and, after reading an article likening artificial smells to second hand smoke, I understand why. However, I do want to find some natural candles in the future for when I need to relax a little bit.  
  2. Natural Cleaners. None of my household cleaners have harmful chemicals in them. I made this change years ago, way before I ever had a kid playing on the ground, and I’m glad I made it. It makes me way less worried about what my son is constantly in contact with when no bleach or other heavy chemicals are used, especially since he has sensitive skin like me. When he was a new crawler, he’d sometimes get rashes from whatever chemical the library uses on their carpets. 
  3. Natural Diapers and Wipes. We use a natural, plant-based brand of diapers and wipes, so my son’s sensitive skin isn’t exposed to so many harsh chemicals. This has probably been the most costly part of having my son. I originally wanted to cloth diaper (way cheaper and even greener), but it wouldn’t have worked with our childcare arrangement when he was younger and I had to go back to work (before I became a stay-at-home mom). However, we do use reusable swim diapers instead of disposable. Hopefully our little dude will be out of diapers completely within the next year. *fingers crossed*
  4. Natural Remedies Before Medicine. Before I reach for an over-the-counter remedy, I try all of my natural ones first: cool mist humidifier, natural chest rub (not Vics), Olbas Oil on bedsheets, slightly elevated mattress, etc. If all that fails, then we usually end up at the doctor. The only OTC drug that I keep on hand, just in case, is Children’s Motrin because I feel that fevers in little ones are nothing to mess with, and, if my son gets a fever, it’s a full blown one. Not low grade. 
  5. No Artificial Dyes. I’ve gotten weird looks for this one a lot recently. I don’t give Owen food with artificial dyes in them. Even the above mentioned Children’s Motrin is dye free. I get cheese that is cheese colored, and not dyed orange. He doesn’t really do candy. His first time having straight chocolate (not in something baked) was this Easter. And then it was chocolate with no colorful candy shell or anything (and other people bought it, not me). His birthday treats never have food coloring, and he’s never had a cheeto in his life. The reason? I keep reading articles suggesting that, not only are colors made from some sketchy things, but some think they are tied to hyperactivity and other behavioral issues. So, he just doesn’t have it. A bit interesting when he’s at parties or around the holidays, but not terrible. 

Now, this isn’t saying that if your family doesn’t do these things that you’re wrong. These are just things that work for my family. And there’s always room for us to improve as well. I have a huge list of things I want to eventually do better. I’ve always been passionate about the environment and health, but I’m even more so now that I have a child. 

What are some of the green things your family does regularly? I’d love to get more ideas! 

No Food Easter Baskets

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Surely, I cannot be the only one who hasn’t finished shopping for my son’s easter basket, right? Anyone else? Honestly, the main reason why I’ve not finished is because I don’t get many chances to go to the store without the little man accompanying me, making it near impossible to discreetly buy basket fillers. This Friday though, my husband has the day off work! So, Friday is the day. It’s cutting it a little close for my liking, but hey, you work with what you have, right?

Every Easter Owen has had so far, I’ve made it a point to not put any food in his basket. Obviously, for his first easter (he was about five months old), it was because he hadn’t even started eating solids yet, so food was a no-go. Since then, it’s been a choice we feel is right for our family.  We prefer to have the dessert after Easter dinner be the big treat for the day, and we’ll put those cute bunny crackers in our plastic eggs for the egg hunt instead. Now, if you family does food in your baskets, I’m in no way shape or form saying anything is wrong with it. I was always super excited to dive into the goodies in my basket every Easter, and I’m sure, when he’s a bit older, I may slip a treat or two into Owen’s basket. However, for right now, we prefer not to.

So, what do you put in an Easter basket lacking in those delicious Cadbury mini eggs (those will be in Mum’s secret stash…)? There are quite a few options, even for younger toddlers. Here are our 10 favorite no food Easter basket ideas:

  1. Bubbles – My son and his friends absolutely love bubbles. There are so many different types to choose from, but, honestly, the best bubbles we’ve found so far have been the ones that are meant to be used as party favors. They’re usually in packs of 8-10 for under $5, and they’re great!
  2. Sidewalk Chalk – This was one of my son’s favorite gifts in his basket last year. I love that it encourages his creativity while simultaneously being outside in the fresh air.
  3. Books – I have a huge love for books, and so does my son. If you give him a new book, he’ll ask for it to be read to him multiple times a day, and he’ll even bring it into the car with him to “read” while we’re driving somewhere. Find books about topics that your child is into to help encourage their love for reading.
  4. Small Toys – Again, whatever they’re interested in, find small toys that will fit in the Easter basket. This year, Owen is getting another train for his wooden train track.
  5. Play Doh – I haven’t braved Play Doh yet, but I think this might be the year!
  6. Puzzles – We love puzzles! They’re great to develop fine motor skills and reasoning. I’ve recently found some great ones in the Target Dollar Spot.
  7. Coloring Books – I have some coloring books at Owen’s disposal whenever he wants them, some special ones that we bring along when we go to a relative’s house or out to eat, and one smaller one that stays in my diaper bag at all times as a precaution, just in case I need to entertain him unexpectedly. We have coloring books featuring everything from animals to trains to robots. You can never have enough coloring books!
  8. Craft Supplies – Crayons, markers, paints, etc. are always running out, so they’re a great option to gift. Owen is running low on paint, so that’s one of the things he’ll be getting.
  9. Reusable Stickers – Melissa & Doug have the most amazing reusable stickers! They have multiple scenes with accompanying reusable stickers that cling to them. These hold Owen’s attention for a while, and we bring them anywhere where we know he will need to stay put for extended amounts to time. If you haven’t yet, you guys should seriously check them out. Life. Saving.
  10. A Special Movie – We don’t have TV (we do Netflix and Amazon streaming instead), and we’re not big fans of extended TV watching, but, as a treat, we’ll curl up and watch something fun with Owen. When he was at a friend’s house recently, he saw Curious George for the first time, and he loved it. So, I’m thinking about hunting down the Curious George Easter movie to put in his basket, so he has something fun to watch for Easter.

I’d love to hear your ideas for Easter baskets! What are some of your favorite non-food Easter basket fillers?

 

Leek and Potato Soup

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One of the things I like to do in our house is Meatless Mondays. It helps me be more decisive when menu planning, and it’s both frugal and healthy to go meatless at least one day a week. One of the most popular meatless dishes in my house is leek and potato soup. Added bonus: it’s extremely easy, and it’s toddler approved.

My husband isn’t a big soup person, but he loves this one! He also swears it helps him feel better when he’s sick, so he always requests it whenever he catches a bug. Some people do chicken noodle soup; my family does leek and potato soup.

Those of you following along on my Instagram may have seen that my son, after getting over a pretty intense fever, caught a nasty cough off of some kids that I babysit. So, I decided to test my husband’s theory about leek and potato soup’s healing powers. Owen even helped out in the kitchen, even though he was feeling under the weather.

Once it was finished, he enjoyed it so much, he had an entire coffee mug’s worth of soup. The warmth helped soothe his poor throat after coughing for two days, and, by the next morning, his cough had improved significantly. So, who knows? Maybe my husband is right about its healing properties. 

The soup is incredibly easy to make, and my family and I make it multiple times a year. I hope those of you that make it enjoy, and, who knows, maybe you too will find it to be healing.

Leek and Potato Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 lb leeks
  • 1 lb potatoes
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Method

  1. Peel and cube potatoes.
  2. Slice and clean grit out of leeks.
  3. Boil potatoes, leeks, chicken stock, salt and pepper for 40 minutes, with a lid on.
  4. Use a blender or immersion blender to puree.
  5. Stir in cup of heavy cream and bring back to a boil.
  6. Season to taste. (Note: I enjoy extra cracked pepper on mine, once served.)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Activities

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In north Texas, as well as much of the southern United States, spring doesn’t necessarily just mean “spring showers.” It also means tornado season. We get intense storms that occasionally decide to go rogue, and we end up in a bathroom with the entire family. Not necessarily my favorite thing to do, but it’s just part of living here. We get gorgeous weather most of the day, then an intense storm develops, and we had to move things inside.

It was during one of those stormy days when I was trying to entertain my energetic toddler that I decided to improvise and take advantage of my education degree a little bit. Owen was really into The Very Hungry Caterpillar that week, so I decided to find some activities to do with him related to the book. Naturally, Pinterest came to my rescue, and I was able fill an afternoon with all things caterpillars!

 

We started by reading the book. And then we read it a couple of more times because, well, I have a toddler. Once Owen was satisfied with the amount of times we read the book, I got out some printables that I had previously printed out from Pinterest and some pom-poms, and he went to work! I guided him through each number, counting out the pom-poms as he placed them and then, once he finished the sheet, asking him to point to the colors as I said them (at the time, he could only say the color “blue.” He’s now able to say all of his colors).

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Next up, we worked on our letters. I found a cute idea where you make a caterpillar with your child’s name. First, I had Owen draw on a piece of construction paper while I cut out circles, wrote the letters of his name, drew the head of the caterpillar, and bent some pipe cleaners in to antenna. I put the letters into a random order and guided him through spelling out his name. He already knows the first letter of his name is O, and for the other three letters of his name, I asked him to show me the letter that made the sound I made (for example, “which letter sounds like “eh?”). We did this in the order of his name, until it was assembled. Then, we went back, and he told me the names and sounds of the letters one more time before I glued them down for him. He’s so proud of his caterpillar! It’s currently hanging on our fridge, and he still likes to show it to guests and tell them what the letters are and what it spells. So cute!

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Finally, I wanted to get him moving. Our house isn’t the biggest, but we do have a decent sized living room, so I looked around for something active to pull up on YouTube that had to do with our theme. I saw someone raving about Cosmic Kids Yoga, and there just so happened to be an episode featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I put it on, but, honestly, it was a bit too old of a concept for him. He enjoyed having the yoga mat pulled out, he thought it was hilarious watching Mum do all of the poses with the woman on the TV, and he maybe tried to copy a couple. Other than that, he mostly just tried to tackle me and use me as a bridge when I was in downward dog. So…at least he was active?

I found so many fun activities featuring the book that, honestly, if I wanted to, I could probably make an entire week’s worth of activities just on The Very Hungry Caterpillar. There’s such a wealth of resources online. It definitely helped make our stormy afternoon more fun!

Happy Birthday, Gran

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My Gran was an incredible woman and lived a life that was like something out of a Hollywood film. She was kind and loving, and she had a wicked sense of humor. Unfortunately, I was never able to see her as much as I would have loved to due to us being in different countries for the majority of my life, but what time I did get with her was precious.

Whenever I’d go over to her house, she would sit me down in the kitchen with a big piece of her famous banana bread, and we’d talk about life. Sometimes this would revolve around whatever was happening in my life and the lives of our family members, and sometimes it would be Gran remeniscing about her heyday. Her stories would usually end with her chuckling, wiping her eyes, and saying, “Ah, well, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry,” offering another piece of banana bread and pouring herself a gin and tonic.

The stories ranged from her howling with laughter as she remembered bloopers such as trying to put the star on top of the Christmas tree, leaning in too far, and bringing it all down with a crash underneath her, excitedly telling me all about taking swim lessons with an Olympian after winning a race, dancing around while telling me about her ballroom dancing days, getting misty-eyed while remembering her first fiancé who was shot down during World War II, and bursting with pride while talking about the accomplishments of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Even though she’s no longer with us, I find myself thinking about her often, sometimes after opening my mouth and having one of her famous sayings come out of it. She was one of the strongest women I know, and she deserves to be celebrated. So, for her birthday, Owen and I made her a birthday cake: her famous banana bread.

If you decide to make the recipe, I hope you enjoy it, but don’t forget the most important ingredient: love. My Gran loved her family fiercely and always loved us unconditionally. Cut your family and yourself a piece, sit down, and soak up every minute of being with each other.

If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. 

Gran’s Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups self rising flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margerine
  • 3 small ripe bananas, pureed
  • 2 large eggs, beaten

Method

  1. Sift dry ingredients together.
  2.  Combine with butter until it looks like breadcrumbs.
  3. Mix in pureed bananas.
  4. Fold in beaten eggs.
  5. Grease a bundt pan, and pour in the mixture.
  6. Cook at 350*F for about 30-40 minutes or until toothpick comes clean.