Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reading for Fun and Learning (Sept 2012 : Part 1)

Consult any children's' expert about enhancing early child development and the one advice that they all agree on is to cultivate the habit of reading. Be it child rearing books or online articles or even your child's pediatrician, they all agree that reading books to young children and then having them read books to you once they are old enough is a habit that will help them tremendously.
Read this post to find out about all the benefits of reading to and with your children.
I agree that the reading habit does not come easily to everybody. I mean, curling up on the sofa with a good, gripping book is not everybody's idea of bliss ! As much as experts say that the more children see their parents read, the more likely it is that they will enjoy reading as well..I think its not necessary to have 300 page books in your hand..you could read magazines, read newspapers, read brochures !! Let the kids make the connection that the written word imparts information that is considered important by their parents.

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Getting the books themselves is another important part. That is one thing that I absolutely adore in the US...each city has at least one public library and more often that not ,its very well stocked. Thank you Benjamin Franklin ! Membership is free and in addition to books, you can check out audio books as well. So start there and you are sure to find books to everybody's liking.

Other places to get books would be your child's school library.
The public libraries often have book sales where withdrawn books are extremely affordable, very often priced at $1 each. These is a wonderful opportunity to start building your home library.
Check out half price book stores, garage sales and other book store sales to get inexpensive books.
While choosing books for your child, get those which are age as well as reading level appropriate. If the book is about a topic that is interesting and readable, then your child will show more interest.

My son is currently in the first grade. He has been reading for quite a while now and has progressed to chapter books. As per the suggestion of his school teachers, we make it a point to read daily for at least 20 minutes, either together or individually.As part of an afterschooling program that I am going to start with him, we are going to read as many books as possible, this school year, with a higher emphasis on reading comprehension and spelling.I got a wonderful website from my son's school teacher which has recommended grade wise reading lists. There are also lists available from the library for reference.

We decided to start with a book called 'The Boy Who Loved Words' It is about a boy who collects all sorts of words and sometimes feels alienated from his peers who make fun of him. My son, who has already read this book once gives this one 4 out of 5 stars ! We will make it a point to read the book several times over a period of two weeks. We will do writing assignments based on the book, write the new words that we learn and try and understand the message conveyed in the book.

I hope to make this a regular feature, writing about all the books that we read and learn from and have fun with ! Please join along if you are interested or comment about the books that you have read and enjoyed. Give reading a chance, after all , books are loads of fun, undemanding, always available and informative and educational to boot..what better friends can you ask for ??







Thursday, April 19, 2012

Introducing Solids to your baby - Part II

Once you have started down the road of feeding solids to your little one and you are comfortable with the routine, there are a whole lot of things that you can experiment with. Many parents, myself included, start with the grain cereals available on the market. After a month or so after this stage, the pediatrician might recommend that you start feeding your child pureed vegetables and fruits. Apparently there are different views on whether its better to start first with vegetables and then fruits. The reasoning is that if you feed fruits first, then the baby might not accept the obviously different taste of pureed vegetables..Whatever you decide, do discuss it with your baby's pediatrician. I started with pureed apples and then generally alternated with veggies and fruits.


Picture Source - http://www.amazon.com/Organic-Baby-Food-Carrots-4-Ounce/dp/B001HTR7QS

Good choices for first fruits for babies include apples ,pears ,cantaloupes, peaches and apricots , blueberries
Choices for veggies include green beans , spinach, carrots , butternut squash , green peas.

For any fruit or vegetable that you choose, wash it well and peel it and remove the seeds.
Chop it into medium sized pieces and steam well until it is very tender.
I would recommend that you steam rather than boil so that you retain as many nutrients as possible.
Once the steamed produce cools down, you can mash it with a fork or even run through a blender for a finer puree.

Who wouldn't want to prepare fresh food for their child daily ? But with the hectic lives that we lead nowadays, it is sometimes just not possible. The alternative is to prepare a batch of fruit / veggie puree and then pour it into ice cube trays and stick the trays into the freezer. After a few hours , pop the frozen cubes and store in a zip lock bag. When you want to feed your baby, take out the number of cubes that you need and thaw them out.
Make sure that the food is at a proper temperature, neither too hot nor too cold. Preferably, it should be slightly warm. It will be more palatable to your baby and its also good for digestion.

Once you have tried individual fruits and vegetables, you can make fruit / veggie combinations for a different variety. Remember that you can try a variety of permutations and combinations. If on the first try, your baby doesn't seem to like your preparation, don't despair !! Experts suggest that it takes a minimum of 7 tries for your baby to accept any new taste or texture.

You can even combine vegetables and fruits to get the taste as well as the nutritional punch. For inspiration, you can check out the flavors available in the markets and then prepare the same at home !

I have often seen parents plop their kids in front of the television in the hope that they would get distracted by the programs which would allow the parents to feed them quickly. Although this might work in the beginning, I can only think that this habit will be harmful in the long run. It is entirely possible that even when the child gets older, he / she will not be willing to eat unless they are watching the idiot box.
Instead, have them sit comfortably in a bouncer or a high chair , keep their food in front of them and involve them in the process. Tell them stories, talk to them about your day, sing songs. They will be much more entertained by your face and will also eat if they are hungry.

Please don't force feed your child. If a spoon full or two is all your precious darling manages to eat in the first few sittings, then so be it. Slowly increase the amount of fruit or vegetable puree that you offer your baby.
As the baby grows, so will its appetite and your baby will start enjoying all of nature's bounty :)

Once you have started feeding solids, you might notice some changes in the baby's bowel movements. If it looks like your baby is constipated, don't worry...Increase the amount of liquid that your baby consumes, be it breast milk, formula or even plain water. It will take a little while for the tiny digestive systems to get accustomed to different textures of food.
My children's pediatrician that in order to keep their digestive systems working in order, we should ensure that we include the following food in their diets :
* Cantaloupe - Puree the fruit and feed at lunch or snack time
* Papaya - Make a smoothie with other fruits and offer it to your baby
* Prunes - Prunes are an excellent fruit to keep your baby regular. You can rehydrate prunes in warm water and then blend it in a blender for homemade prune puree ...or you could also chop it into small pieces and mix it while making oatmeal for your baby
* Raisins - Include these dried fruits in oatmeal, or other fruit purees for added sweetness

Stay tuned for a final post on this topic ! I will be including some recipes for home made food that you can try with your little ones !

Please note that I am not a healthcare professional. It is always advisable to consult your child's pediatrician and your own common sense while trying new things with your baby.


-Chhaya




Monday, April 2, 2012

Introducing solids to your baby - Part 1

My little one just turned one recently. I started him on solids when he was 5 months old. He has been exclusively breast fed and the only reason I started him so early on solids was because he was showing a lot of interest in the food that we were eating and seemed ready for solids. His pediatrician also agreed and thus began my journey again with baby food.
I started with the baby cereals available on the market and then worked up to homemade food.
The ideas and options listed below are just a few of the choices that you can make when you and your little one start on your food journey :)



Image Source : http://www.drugstore.com/products/prod.asp?pid=161829&catid=182625&aid=338666&aparam=161829


1. Oatmeal - Generally recommended as a first grain for your baby. These are available in a variety of combinations. Try the plain oatmeal first and when you have ascertained that your baby is able to digest it well, then try the other fruit combinations.
2. Rice - Rice is also a safe option for most babies. In fact, in India, a small ceremony is held by the parents in which the baby is fed sweetened rice out of a gold ring ! This signifies that the baby is ready to start eating solid foods.
3. Barley - Barley cereal is also widely available in the markets and makes for a very good and nutritious choice for little tummies. Please note that barley falls in the same group as wheat when it comes to gluten content. So if your little one has a gluten intolerance, then please do not feed barley to your baby.
In any case, please talk to your baby's pediatrician before beginning any new food.
4. Whole Wheat - Whole wheat cereal is a good alternative for slightly older babies. It can be given plain or like I prepare it, with a couple of tablespoons of mashed fruit. Since I do not add additional salt or sugar to these prepared cereals, adding fruit definitely increases the appeal !
5. Ragi (finger millet) - This is a much beloved cereal amongst South Indians...Although I am one, I am not very familiar with this as baby food. But its very nutritious and quite filling while being digestible as well. Dissolve a couple of teaspoons of the flour in cold water and remove lumps. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens. Add a little bit of desired milk, a little sweetener and offer to your baby.
6. Mixed Grain - This is another option available in the US markets and consists of whole wheat, rice and oatmeal. Once you have made sure that your child is not allergic to any of the individual grains, you can try this blend more more nutrition.


Notes:
1.For each of the above options, I initially used breast milk and then later water or fruit purees. You could either do that or even use your formula of choice.
2.When you first start feeding your baby solids, make sure that the consistency is almost comparable to milk / formula. Your baby needs to get used to receiving the food on the tongue and then learn to push it to the back of the mouth.
3. Keep in mind that it takes a while for the baby to get used to the different taste and texture of these cereals. Start with only a tiny serving each time and then work up to larger servings.
4.Do note down any reactions / allergies that you might notice when you start a new food and discuss with your child's pediatrician. Wait for at least 4 days after you introduce a grain / cereal before you try another one.
5. My baby had a few bouts of indigestion and gas every time I tried a new cereal. I gave him extra water / breast milk and used gas drops and gripe water along with a few home remedies to prevent discomfort and constipation.

In the next post of this series, I will write about the home made options that I tried with my little one.
I would love to hear from you...when did you start your baby on solids ? What all have you tried so far and how have the two of you enjoyed the process :) 

Disclaimer: Please note that I am not in the medical professional, just a fellow parent trying to make the best decision about my children's nutrition. Please consult your child's pediatrician before you start your baby on solids.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lunch Box Special - Mini Pasta in Almond Butter sauce

Many a times, mealtimes are dictated by our kids' palette.
Be honest, now ....who wants to cook two separate dishes ,
one for the adults in the family and one for the kids , every day ?
We might do it once in a while, to please the children or to pamper our own taste buds..
But on a regular basis, at least in my house, food that appears on the table is something that everybody in the family can enjoy.
One weekend, my son wanted to have pasta...As I put the mini pasta shells into the boiling water, I realized that I did not have the ubiquitous pasta sauce , neither did I have the patience to cook the sauce from scratch.
I did not want to make an alfredo / cheese sauce either...So whats a mom to do ?
I started adding things to the pan randomly ..a little bit of this and a little bit of that :)
Surprisingly enough , the end result was a quick, healthy dish that both my son and I enjoyed .This is good as a snack or can be paired with some bread or salad for a light meal.I have used nut butters (peanut / almond) to make the sauce ..Along with lots of vegetables.

Nut butters are a good source of protein and there is a lot of variety available in the markets for you to try and choose your favourite. Obviously, if you or anybody in your family avoids nuts due to allergies, then this recipe is not for you. This is especially important to ascertain if you are planning to serve this to people outside your family.

Nut butters are very versatile and its time to use them in something other than the plain old (but still delicious PB & J sandwiches )
Although, I have only ever served this dish hot, it might be worthwhile to check how this behaves when packed in a lunch box.




Ingredients:

2 C - Mini Pasta in any shape of your choice (penne, spirals ) 
( I used the mini ones because they are fun to eat :) ..but you could use the bigger ones too )
1/4 C nut butter (your choice - peanut butter and almond butter work really well )
1 tsp oil (olive or canola)
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp chili sauce / hot sauce (you can completely omit this if you want a less spicier dish)
1/4 tsp black pepper.
1/2 C mixed chopped vegetables (bell peppers , carrots , beans )
2 Tbs chopped coriander or parsley
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 C of milk / cream / water (if required)

Method:

Boil a sufficient quantity of water with salt and cook the pasta according to directions.
While the pasta cooks, saute the vegetables in a tsp of oil. If you like, you can add sliced ginger or chopped garlic.
This will add a nice depth to the flavour, but you can certainly omit it.
Once the vegetables are tender, but still a little crunchy, add the nut butter, soy sauce , hot sauce and black pepper.Sprinkle a little salt . Mix well, until the sauce comes together.
Add a splash of milk / cream / water if the sauce is too thick.
Adjust any seasonings , if required.
Drain the pasta and add directly to the sauce and mix until well coated.
Heat through, add the lemon juice and sprinkle with coriander and mix well.

Serve Hot !

Note: If you plan to serve this as part of a lunch box, run the drained pasta
through cold water to stop it from cooking any further. Also make sure the sauce has enough liquid for the pasta to absorb,
otherwise it might end up too dry.

I thought this was a nice change to the usual marinara / alfredo sauce and with a serving of vegetables and protein, its a dish that I wouldnt mind giving my son. Even better if the pasta is whole grain !


- Chhaya

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere

Summer holidays have rolled to an end and children everywhere (or almost everywhere ) have gone back to school. While most parents might heave a sigh of relief to get back routine and order and peace back in their lives, I am sure most of them now have to put in extra effort to make sure that their children get adequate nutrition and energy throughout the day.
Breakfast remains the most important meal for the children and since they can have it at home
parents have better control over how their children begin their day. If kids  take their own lunches from home, parental control over food choices can extend further. (I personally do not have experience about the kind of food available at school cafeterias, but whatever I have heard and read is not very encouraging.)
Add in a special diet factor, such as food allergies or vegetarianism / veganism and it becomes even more imperative that parents keep a better watch over what their children consume.
The problem however stems from the fact that given how busy both parents seem to be, we are likely to depend on store bought convenient food items to pack for lunches. Admittedly, without proper planning and forethought, packing home-made nutritious lunches can be a daunting task. Peanut butter - jelly sandwiches, pop tarts , juice boxes, chips and cookies seem to be making more appearances in lunch boxes even now. While these might be alright once in a while, the preservatives, added food colours and dyes and more importantly , the sugar content make such items wholly unsuitable to consume consistently.
But the alarming realization is that almost every thing that you might get your hand on, in a grocery store has a lot of sugar in it. We seem to be surrounded by processed sugar or its derivatives !
Cereal, juices, bread , snacks...the list is endless.

                                                                                 Picture courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There certainly are more wholesome products available in the grocery stores, if we are willing to look and experiment a little.

These are a few tips that we, as parents could follow to make sure that our kids eat food that is nourishing as well as filling :
  • Cut back on baked goods such as cookies , cakes, doughnuts. Too much sugar overload and not nutrient dense enough. (Although an occasional treat is definitely welcome :-) )

  • Check for everyday grocery items that have added sugar. Avoid cold cereals that have high sugar content. Instead, add fresh fruit, or dried fruits or even drizzle a bit of honey. If your family is used to sugary cereals, combine low sugar cereals such as wheat flakes or cheerios or bran cereal. Gradually decrease the offensive cereal.

  • Buy fruit juices that do not have added sugar. Inspite of this, fruits themselves contain a lot of natural sugar. Dilute the juice with water. Have your child eat a piece of fruit instead. The fiber and other nutrients in the fruit will compensate for the sugar.

  • Preparing food from scratch at home will ensure that preservatives, food colours and "natural" flavours do not make their way into your child's diet.

  • Offer savoury breakfasts and snacks. Try cream of wheat with lots of vegetables (Search for "upma" recipes on google - this is a savoury Indian breakfast which is hearty and filling and easily made at home), sandwiches or wraps with hummus and shredded veggies. Dont be hesitant about trying a new item.
  • Replace processed sugar with raw sugar , jaggery, molasses , maple syrup, honey. Even though the nutritional content might still be similar to that of sugar, these are not as highly processed and some of the sweeteners have a low glycemic index, which means that they get gradually absorbed by the system, thus avoiding sugar highs and lows.

  •  Try baking your own breads and muffins and snacks. Baking is a science. You follow the recipe exactly and get the same results every time. Find your own healthy recipe for granola, cereal bars and cookies, even muffins.  
  • Have your kids stay away from sodas and soft drinks. These do not provide any nutrition and fill up children with unnecessary sugar instead. Instead offer fruit juices diluted with sparkling water or a fruit smoothie instead ! If nothing else, milk and water are the best options.

Another point to keep in mind is that all these changes have to be gradual. Start slow and work upto a point
where these choices become a habit. Any sudden change and you are sure to have a rebellion at home ....get ready to say sayonara to peaceful mornings !

Sugar, by itself is not harmful. It makes food palatable and is a simple source of carbohydrates. But its consumption has to be moderate. Anything in excess is always a cause for concern. The following are some of the issues noted due to over consumption of sugar and its derivatives:

  • Sugar suppresses the immune system and lowers the body's defenses against infections.
  • The bacteria and yeast that are naturally found in our bodies feed on excess sugar and multiply, thus causing an imbalance in the system.
  • Sugar contributes to obesity.
  • Over consumption of sugary treats prevents children from getting nutrition, because it causes a feeling of fullness.
  • It also contributes to teeth and gum decay.

The reasons for avoiding sugar are many and varied.
It is upto us as parents to make wise food choices not only for the children in our families ,
but for ourselves as well. Many experts suggest that involving the kids in shopping , cooking and choosing what they eat is a better way of getting them to eat healthier.
Always, always look at the labels on the products that you purchase, even if the cover says that the product is all natural and fat free. Look for any ingredients that sound artificial , for sugar derivatives such as fructose, glucose, dextrose, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup.
Start the change today so that your family can then reap the sweet benefits (pun intended ! )

How would you make better choices for your family regarding sugar ??

As always, please consult your physician before making any major changes in your diet.
This post is not intended to be used as a medical reference.


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