Beth Edmiston, PhD, RN, CCRN is a Heights mom and our health advocate! Look for more blogs from Beth about keeping our kids healthy at school and home.
Hello Heights Coop! My name is Beth Edmiston, or to the kids in Mx. Taryn’s room, Miles’s mom. This is our third year at Heights Coop, and we have been packing lunches and snacks since even before that.
Besides being a mom, I am also a nurse, and spent many years as a cardiac nurse. Part of my job was educating patients on heart healthy nutrition. Since starting to pack my own children’s lunches and being the person responsible for figuring out how to support my kids’ balanced diet, I found my knowledge and creativity in this area were really lacking. Over the years, I have done a lot of digging through medical resources, magazines, cookbooks, and so on, to learn about child nutrition, what to do about picky eaters, and ideas for healthy, fun snacks.
So how can we balance healthy eating with our busy lives? I have put together some solutions to support our preschoolers in getting comfortable with a wide range of nutritious lunch and snack foods.
Let’s Talk about Nutrients
Having a variety of nutrients and food options is important for building healthy bodies - and a healthy relationship with food as our kids grow. A balanced diet has a place for all types of food. Remember, all food is fuel for our bodies.
Most people are familiar with the major nutrient groups: Carbohydrates, protein, and fats. These are called macronutrients. Other nutrients like vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients. And all of these types of nutrients work together in our bodies to help us learn and play!
It’s About Balance
Let’s talk about sugar, since there’s a lot of talk about it when it comes to nutrition. As long as meals and snacks are balanced, sweet treats can be a tasty part of your child’s lunch. In fact, sugar is the nutrient that is most readily converted to energy in the body, so having a mix of complex and simple carbs can help keep energy levels sustained throughout the day.
Everybody knows that too many sugary things all at once will give us a tummy-ache, but we also know that the lure of the forbidden is real! Remember that feeling when someone tells you "No, you can't do that" and suddenly that exact thing is all you can think about? That feeling is so powerful for children, and as we strive as parents to guide our kids to a healthy relationship with food, avoiding that lure of the forbidden can be very helpful.
Assigning moral value judgments to food, such as “good” vs “bad,” “healthy” vs “unhealthy,” etc, can have a lasting impact on a young person’s relationship with food. But encouraging your child to choose different colors, textures, or shapes of food and talking to them about how this gives their bodies all the different macro and micro nutrients they need will support them in building confidence with food and trust in their bodies as they learn what they enjoy from each category.
Remember, it’s all about balance! To reduce jittery hyperactivity and the dreaded sugar crash, pack some fats and proteins along with carbohydrates and sweet treats to stabilize their effects on blood sugar. This could look like hummus with carrots and crackers or a Greek yogurt with some chocolate chips to sprinkle on top. The possibilities are endless!
How to Encourage Your Kids to Eat Nutritiously
Kids can be picky! (Even I’m a picky eater sometimes). New foods can bring unexpected flavors, textures, and smells that take a while to get used to. Research shows that people may need to try a new food at least eleven times before they actually like it! As you’re encouraging your child to eat from many different food groups to get their nutrient bases covered, here are some suggestions to make it more fun for you both.
Eat the rainbow! Involve your child in grocery shopping and meal prep so they can see how many colors of fruits, veggies, and other foods are available. Colorful food is so much fun to eat, and you might even find new varieties of tried and true ingredients you haven’t seen before, like purple cauliflower, carrots, and even rice. Bell peppers provide a beautiful array of colors too, and go great with hummus, ranch, or your child’s favorite dip. Turning new foods into a fun and colorful activity can increase your child’s interest in their fruits and veggies.
Colorful fruits and veggies also come with their own unique micronutrients based on color called phytonutrients.
Red foods help reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease and help promote skin health! These foods include apples, cherries, tomatoes, watermelon, beets, strawberries, red bell peppers, raspberries, kidney beans, red grapes, pomegranates, and red onions.
Orange and yellow foods are rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene, and they help boost the immune system, reduce the risk of heart disease, and support healthy eyes. Orange and yellow foods include: citrus fruits (orange, lemon, grapefruit), mango, papaya, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, cantaloupe, pineapple, peaches, bananas, and bell peppers.
Green foods are rich in so many amazing nutrients that support the immune system and our overall energy levels. Green veggies have folate and vitamin K and they help our blood and brains stay healthy! Try green foods like: broccoli, brussels sprouts, leafy greens (kale, chard, collards, romaine and green leaf lettuce, cabbage, arugula, etc.), asparagus, green beans, peas, zucchini, green apples, kiwis, grapes, and avocado.
Purple and blue foods are not only beautiful, they help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, decrease inflammation and pain, and support cognition and skin health. Berries especially have incredible healing benefits, helping reduce inflammation and more! Purple and blue foods include: blueberries, blackberries, grapes and raisins, plums and prunes, figs, eggplant, and purple varieties of onions, potatoes, cabbage, and cauliflower.
White and brown foods are also important in this rainbow! These phytonutrients can help protect against certain cancers and support bone and heart health. These foods include mushrooms, potatoes, parsnips, daikon radishes, jicama, cauliflower, onions, and garlic.
Read more about eating the rainbow at Food Revolution Network - and get some amazing recipe ideas too!
Try different preparations. Sometimes your kids (and you!) might love a raw veggie and hate it cooked, or vice versa. Try different preparations of foods to see if you love it a certain way! You can try roasting, steaming, grilling, or pickling instead of eating raw. You could also try using lettuce or other leafy greens as wraps, to make things more interesting.
Pack lunches and snacks together in the evening. Children engaged in decision-making and preparation of meals are more likely to eat their lunch and try new foods. Offer food choices, and talk about how to balance your packed lunch to include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. I encourage my kids to include a fruit, vegetable, or small dairy product (string cheese) as their snack. The lunch should complement the snack choices and vice versa. If lunch has lots of veggies, make the snack a fruit option. Or include fruit in their lunch and a veggie snack to mix things up.
Make the food appealing and get creative. No, I’m not talking about those unrealistic Insta-mom lunches. Use fun ice packs, bento box containers, or add a fun napkin. I use a flower shaped cookie cutter to cut sandwiches into a fun shape! Pack some ranch or Italian dressing as a carrot or broccoli dip, or try hummus. Switch up the cheese snacks (I sometimes buy blocks of cheese and slice them myself, and my kids think it’s gourmet). Do a “homemade lunchable.” Pack leftover pasta in a thermos as a main dish. Make things easy on yourself. Start with one thing and add this to your toolkit. Eventually, as you add different methods, being creative with food choices will be easier.
Check the label. I know this can be so tedious, but some items may be hiding ingredients that you want to know about! Double check that any sweet snacks also have protein to help them sustain energy longer and reduce crashes. And also check for any potential allergens if your child or their classmates are sensitive or allergic to ingredients.
Help your child eat their lunch, even though you aren’t there! If you know your child struggles with the size of a regular sandwich, cut the sandwich into smaller pieces or use a cookie cutter to make the sandwich more appealing. Peel oranges ahead of time and place in a container for your child to easily eat. Cut fruits and veggies into smaller pieces to ensure your child attempts to eat them. Remember, the children have 20 minutes to eat lunch and you want to set them up for success!
Be persistent. Remember, it takes someone at least eleven times of trying a new food to like it. Discontinue foods that your child has a strong negative reaction to, but keep packing interesting new options! With persistence and a little creativity, they will eventually start to try new foods and find new favorites.
Finally, remember not to be hard on yourself. Every once in a while, we all only eat frozen French toast sticks or chicken nuggets for dinner. Remember that all food is fuel for our bodies, and don’t beat yourself up! Raising little humans is hard, and you’re doing great.
Beth Edmiston, PhD, RN, CCRN is a Heights mom and our health advocate! Look for more blogs from Beth about keeping our kids healthy at school and home.
The dreaded sick child. We’ve all been there. You wake up, preparing for your day, and then your kid just doesn’t look right. Are they sick? Maybe their temperature is a little elevated or they have a runny nose. They still eat breakfast, and you have a morning meeting that you need to be at… So you have to make the decision on whether or not they should go to school.
As we finish the third full year of a pandemic (not to mention, the ‘tripledemic’ we are currently weathering between COVID-19, RSV, and the flu), this is beyond tiresome and frustrating for us parents. However, “this too, shall pass,” and we need to remember why it is so important to keep sick kids at home.
Our beautiful Heights Coop Preschool is a small community. Many of us have younger children and infants who have basically no immunity and are not old enough for vaccines. I see so many grandparents who graciously pick up and drop off students and who likely do some caregiving. A handful of us take care of sick people or care for the elderly. Heights Coop School staff are only a handful of amazing teachers.
When one of us is sick, we are all exposed. While most of us can manage our sick selves at home, please keep in mind that the three viruses mentioned above hospitalize and kill thousands of the elderly and young just in an average year. Minimizing illness exposure of vulnerable people is everyone’s responsibility.
Signs and Symptoms to Look For
Fever (100.4°F) is the most obvious sign of illness; however, there are many other signs and symptoms that warrant a child staying home from school. A low-grade temperature (99-100.3°F) also indicates that your child may be sick or starting to show signs of illness.
Vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, and severe coughing also are all obvious signs. Some less obvious signs and symptoms of common illnesses may include sore throat, difficulty swallowing, lack of energy, or generally not feeling well.
Don’t forget, if you child has needed a fever-reducing medication (Tylenol/acetaminophen, Motrin/ibuprofen) within the last 24 hours, keep your child home because they are still contagious!
Lastly, if your child is exhibiting symptoms and has known or suspected exposure, please have them tested.
Screen-free Activities for Sick Days
It is a real struggle to keep a sick child busy! Of course, movies, YouTube, and television shows can be nice, restful options (remember, you have that meeting!), but when you can, engaging your child in activities encourages their development even during an illness. Pick activities with familiarity to promote comfort and security and avoid frustrating tasks. A sick child’s attention span will be shorter than
normal, so plan for frequent breaks and (fingers crossed) a long nap.
If your child wants to or needs to stay in bed, use a lap desk or cardboard piece to give them a firm surface to work on. Coloring, reading, duplos/blocks, and puzzles are easy, quiet activities to do together. Playdoh, painting, and cutting and pasting are a little messier, but can entertain children for a while. Bubbles are nice for
warmer weather and may even help clear out lungs. Of course, enjoy all of the cuddles and hugs you will inevitably receive!
The holidays are a time for family, friends, and togetherness. This often means lots of hugs and kisses! But what do you do when grandma wants a hug and your little one isn't feeling affectionate? It's important to ensure your children are able to create and maintain healthy boundaries that help them feel safe in their bodies. As parents, friends, and family of these special kids, there are ways you can help!
It is a caregiver's responsibility to ensure their children are educated on the importance of consent and healthy boundaries. Teaching children to recognize and respect their own boundaries, as well as those of other people, can help them create and maintain a sense of safety in their bodies. This is especially important for younger children, as they may not yet be aware of what type of touch is appropriate or not. It is essential for parents to provide clear guidance and support to make sure their children understand the importance of consent in all aspects of life.
Isn't Consent an Adult Topic?
We often hear about consent in adult relationships, but consent isn't just for grown up moments behind closed doors. Consent and bodily autonomy are always important. Think about being on a busy train or in a store. If someone touches you on the shoulder or arm to get your attention and you don't know them, that can feel very stressful - for adults and kids!
Asking permission to touch your child instills in them that they deserve this respect just like an adult does. This is why teaching consent and bodily autonomy to kids is such an important part of their development.
How to Teach Consent to Kids
It’s important for parents to start talking to their children about consent at a young age, so they can learn the basics of what it means and how to respect it. Teaching kids the importance of consent can help foster healthy relationships and ensure that everyone’s boundaries are respected.
It also helps them with the boundaries of their friends and classmates too! Even if they want to hug, tickle, or wrestle, they are learning to respect that their friends don't always want to. Teaching about consent helps us all set healthy boundaries.
Parents can begin by introducing the concept of consent in simple terms and then provide examples of how it applies to everyday activities. You don't have to use those words exactly. Many parents teach the phrase "No means no" or "I'm in charge of my body" as ways to encourage their children to name their boundaries.
It is also essential to emphasize that all people, regardless of age or gender, have the right to say no to touch that isn't comfortable for them. With early education, parents can help create an environment where their kids understand the importance of consent and learn how to practice it in all interactions.
Start by asking before and during touch activities. Ask if you can pick your toddler up, or if they want to snuggle during their bedtime story. Teaching them from an early age that they get to say yes or no to physical contact is a huge lesson that will be built up over a lifetime. It builds trust with you as their caregiver, and also builds their trust and connection with their own bodies.
Consent can also be taught during physical games like tickling. The Intentional Nanny has a great blog about this topic and says:
Tickling can be really fun. In fact, it’s one of my own child’s most requested games. It goes like this: My child says, “Tickle me!” I say, “Ok!” And I tickle. My child says, “Stop!” or “All done!” or “That’s too much!” I say, “Ok!” And I stop. Immediately. I don’t ask, “Are you sure?” and keep tickling. I don’t ignore it and tickle harder. I stop. If I am tickling and tickling and my child doesn’t ask me to stop, I stop after a few moments anyway so he can catch his breath. Chances are in either situation, my child will ask me to tickle him again. And I do. And the moment he asks me to stop, I stop. Because I know that if he’s asking me to stop, he’s asking if he can trust me. Can I trust that I am still in control of this game? Can I trust that I am still in control of my body? Can I trust that if I say stop, my voice will be heard and respected? You can see how this conversation starts out with tickling and can keep our children safe as they grow. When someone doesn’t stop when our child say no, it should be a major red flag for them. We as parents and care providers are responsible for teaching children that this is how a body should be respected. Their own body and others. So when our children inevitably hit, pinch, kick, or poke us without our consent, our response of, “I won’t let you hit me,” or, “Please stop, I don’t like that,” will be another layer of the conversation around consent. I am not consenting to this behavior, I will not let you do that to me. We want our children to respect our bodies, and in return, we must offer the same respect to their bodies. If we push the limit with tickling, we are teaching that “no”/“all done”/“stop” doesn’t really mean no, and pushing the limit is an acceptable practice. And that seems like a dangerous message.
What About Being Polite?
Of course we want our children to be polite and not rude to guests, family members, and friends. But it's important to teach them how to be polite without touching. If your child doesn't want to hug or kiss, encourage them to say hello, or offer a different greeting like a high five or fist bump.
Most importantly, back them up if family members insist on a hug or kiss after your child says no. Your child is learning to stand firm in their boundaries, and you're their safe person.
At the end of the day, pressuring a child (or anyone, for that matter) into physical touch under the guise of politeness is very confusing as they figure out their boundaries and what's appropriate.
What About Hygiene and Safety?
Sometimes kids don't want to take a bath or wear a warm coat, but as their caregivers we have to help keep them clean and safe! When it comes to keeping their bodies clean, warm, and safe, it's still important to ask first. Sometimes offering your child a choice can help them feel a sense of autonomy in the decision.
Try asking questions like:
Even if it takes a few extra moments, allowing kids to get in and out of the car by themselves or put on their own shoes helps them develop motor skills and their bodily autonomy. (We know those moments can be agony, but it'll pay off when they're strong, independent kids later!)
This holiday season, you may want to have something prepared to say to relatives if you anticipate any issues. Let us know if you need any support making these plans or about how to help teach consent and boundaries to your kids. Our team is here to support you and your children!
One of the most important aspects of parenting is keeping your child safe from harm. But a little bit of risk is actually beneficial for your child's development. Though the idea of "risky play" seems counterintuitive, it's actually a great way for your child to learn critical thinking skills!
What is risky play?
Risky play is any activity that allows your child to experience some level of risk. This can include things like playing in the rain, climbing trees, and riding their bikes. This play offers thrill and excitement and invites children to test their limits and expand their comfort zones. At an age when their brains are making new connections every day, navigating and assessing risk is a great skill to incorporate early.
Risky play is important for young children because it helps them learn about risks and consequences and helps them develop their problem-solving skills, self-confidence, and creativity.
It's important to note that not all risk is good risk! A safe environment where your child never experiences any risk would be very limiting for their development, but it's important to step in before they're in actual danger.
Why is risky play important for child development?
The benefits of risky play for children go beyond just teaching them how to handle risks responsibly. Risky play actually helps children learn key skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, and persistence.
Risky play helps children learn about their environment and the risks that are associated with it. It also helps them develop problem-solving skills and a sense of confidence. In addition, risky play can lead to the development of creativity and new ideas. They learn how to take care of themselves and manage their own emotions, as well as how to cooperate with others.
Example of risky play: Playing in the rain
When it's rainy outside, you might find yourself arguing with your child about putting on their boots or a raincoat. Letting them go play as they desire is a great way for them to learn the natural consequences you already know as an adult - soggy socks and clothes, and feeling chilly.
When your child is playing in the rain, they are having fun at first, but soon they also learn how water can cause them discomfort. Naturally, they'll start to think about how to avoid getting wet, which gives you a great way to bring up their boots and raincoat the next time they want to play. They'll learn how to avoid that negative consequence, but it sticks better after experiencing it rather than being told! This type of learning is critical for your child's development because it teaches them how to think critically and solve problems.
Your child may also use this risky play to start overcoming their fears of rain or water. This kind of confidence building can help build a strong foundation for later life.
How can you incorporate risk into your child's play?
There is no one perfect way to incorporate risk into your child's play. Introducing them to new situations and settings, like a park or local hiking trail, can be a great way to let them explore. According to Outside Play, there are multiple types of risky play: play at heights, play at speed, play with dangerous tools, play with dangerous elements, play with a chance of getting lost, and rough and tumble play.
To incorporate play at heights, your child may enjoy climbing trees, playground equipment, or large rocks on the nature trail. You can also play at heights on a swing set by pushing them higher!
To play at speed, your child might ride their bike down a hill at fast speeds, or you could spin them on playground equipment.
Play with dangerous tools could include using a hammer or saw (if age appropriate), or using a knife to chop veggies with you in the kitchen. Always supervise play with tools!
Play with dangerous elements includes fire or water. We already discussed playing in the rain, but swimming lessons could also be a great risky play option, with a trained instructor and a lifeguard of course. We also recently talked about fire in our fire safety lessons, so your child might feel ready to help build a campfire or help you cook on a gas stove.
Play with a chance of getting lost doesn't have to mean that children can roam the neighborhood without an adult - kids get the benefit of this "risk" even if their parents can see them hiding and pretending to be lost. A robust game of hide-and-seek is a great way to get children used to being "lost" and exploring the emotions that come with the territory.
Rough and tumble play is just what it sounds like. Children often play-fight and wrestle, which engages their need for risky play and helps them gain a sense of their body's balance.
Risky play tips for worried parents
The most important thing is to not panic! Remember when your child was learning to walk: falling and getting back up is a critical part of the process. If your child looks a bit stuck, they'll often find a way out of their predicament on their own with a little critical thinking. Pause for a moment (or a few moments) before intervening to give your child a chance to problem solve.
Be sure to talk about safety and risk with your child in an age-appropriate way, and encourage them to take risks in a safe and responsible way. For example, if you notice a potential danger (say, a rose bush with sharp thorns), you can look at the bush together and ask them what they think it would take to stay safe near it.