Fuss-free Halloween Treats

DSC_0002Because the bags and bags of candy lying around the week of Halloween aren’t enough… I thought, “Hey, let’s make that bark stuff where we pile it all together and coat it in chocolate!”

So easy – and it does kind of look like a party on a plate.

I modified the recipe here because I couldn’t find the Halloween Oreos, so I used brownie crisps, instead. The boys had fun stealing candy while I tried to make it before all the ingredients were gone.

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Oh! And I almost forgot! The other day I made these silly mummy dogs to help us get into the Halloween spirit…also super easy and a big hit.

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Yes, they are exactly what they look like. Hot dogs (organic, non-cured, non-nitrate of course ;-)) wrapped in crescent rolls and baked…with mustard dots for eyes. The boys had a good laugh at breakfast and started asking when they could wear their costumes.

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Well, they aren’t THAT scary. ūüôā

Happy Halloween Week!!

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Lose The Training Wheels Party

Earlier this week our recently-turned-five-year-old announced that he wanted to ride his bike without his training wheels. He made this announcement while his dad was in the middle of trying to fix the leaf blower. I remember him saying something about tiny little parts being all over the place…so the answer was probably, “Yeah, OK…in just a little while when I finish this.” ¬†Which is something the boys hear a lot because they like to ask for things when we are knee-deep in something else.

Not being terribly gifted with patience, our son decided to rummage around in the tools…found the appropriately-sized socket wrench…and tackled those wheels himself. By the time my husband was finished with the leaf blower, there was a two-wheeled bike in the garage next to a helmeted-padded-up little boy who was ready to hit the street!

And away they went. I think my husband was a little disappointed that he hardly needed any help at all…and practically no running-along-side-the-bike action. He lit off on that thing like he’d never had training wheels on it at all. So exciting!

Of course we had to have a little party.

Nothing really fancy at all…literally a last-minute idea just to reinforce how proud we were and a chance for some family to come over the next day and see a demonstration of the new skills! He was beside himself all afternoon. And he helped with decorations – made obvious by those crazy scissor lines.

I was reminded of a great idea I heard several years ago called the “honor candle.” A mom of several kids had a special candle she kept in a closet…it only came out for special events which merited “honor.” At some time during the day she would put it out on the dining room table – indicating that someone would be the honoree at dinner time – but she wouldn’t say anything else. And then, when it was time to eat the candle would be lit and she would announce who was being honored and why. The thing I liked about this wasn’t just the overall concept but more the examples she gave of when the candle might come out. A brother “caught” sharing a prized toy with a younger sibling when he thought no one was watching. A fifth grader with a B on a test…in a class where she had struggled to even get Cs. A son who was beyond nervous to play in the big championship soccer game…and they didn’t win…but he showed dedication and sportsmanship. Maybe not the typical events one thinks of for celebration, but teaching moments for sure…supporting children in times of struggle, persistence and disappointment…and reinforcing the most important family values. I think we will probably come up with an honor candle ritual fairly soon – maybe when Kindergarten starts – but in the meantime a flurry of silly little decorations was a good substitute.

And such a cute helper!

Dinner was fairly no-fuss…chicken breasts and angelhair pasta in a lemon-garlic-cream sauce and a big salad eaten on the back patio. We looked up what Tour de France racers most commonly eat and he was so delighted to discover that it was “noodles!!”

I will admit that several times over the past couple of days I’ve been aware of what a metaphor the whole experience is for parenthood in general. As we were at the park the next day practicing more bike riding, I was watching in disbelief as he rode farther and farther ahead of us on the trail…suddenly thinking, “I think there’s a pretty big dip up there and then a little hill, and maybe even a ditch to the side of the trail.” The only thing I could say to myself was, “It’s OK. He knows the rules and he’s so careful. And he’s wearing a helmet. He’ll be fine.” And about that time I saw him heading back toward me at full speed with the biggest smile on his face, yelling how he had turned around all by himself without stopping. I laughed at myself for my moment of worry and thought, “This will be much harder when it’s a car.”

 

The Quest for More Vegetables

Vitamins are about the only thing keeping me sane at the moment when I look at what my boys are eating. I think if either one of them ate a vegetable, I would faint.

We seem to be having more luck with orange than green. I’m OK with that. My oldest will eat carrots if they are in soup. As long as there are noodles in that soup. And my youngest will eat sweet potatoes, if they are cut in tiny cubes and roasted.

With butter and cinnamon. Or curry. Or garam masala.

I’ve been thinking lately that if I put enough cheese on the broccoli so it looked orange, maybe they’d eat that?

Kids at the Table

So, anyone else out there struggle with small children at the table?

Obviously, I feel that family-around-the-table time is important…but that doesn’t mean it is always easy. ¬†The mess. ¬†The whining. ¬†The refusal to eat anything that isn’t macaroni and cheese. ¬†And, in my case, my son is usually almost finished with what he’s going to eat before I finally get settled in my own chair. ¬†He’ll ask to be excused and then begins his barrage of requests to play, come see, or sit in our lap with toys making it impossible for us to eat.

I certainly admit to feeling like “why did I even bother going to all this trouble to put dinner on the table if no one even gets to enjoy it? ¬†Throwing a pizza out here would have been much less frustrating.”

So, here’s a list of some ideas I have used or come across online:

  • Practice makes “perfect.” OK, well maybe not perfect…but it’s true that simply creating the habit of the family meal will make the process easier as kids get older. ¬†If it’s just what you’ve always done, they are less likely to be resistant.
  • Turn off the TV. ¬†Turn off ¬†the phone/let it ring. It’s best to not have any distractions during dinner and this will send the message to your kids that spending quality time with them is more important than television or the phone. ¬†And, if you are like my husband and can’t stand to eat in the quiet, turn on some fun music to set the mood!
  • Have the kids help. It’s true that kids are more likely to eat the food if they have been involved with making it. ¬†And this isn’t just about food preparation – setting the table, putting ice in the glasses, getting out the butter and condiments are easy tasks for kids to help with while you are cooking. ¬†My three-year-old is delighted to add salt and pepper to things before I cook them, to stir the lemonade or fruit punch in the pitcher and to pour the rice and water from the measuring cups into the rice cooker…even though these are small tasks, he proudly tells his dad “I helped make dinner” when it’s time to sit down.
  • Keep it positive. This is not the time to nag or bring up disciplinary issues – save those for family meetings or a private talk. ¬†Conversation should be respectful and fun and inclusive – everyone should have a chance to talk without fear of being teased or put down. ¬†When in doubt, ask yourself if you are listening more than you are talking. ¬†(Here’s a great article on talking to your kids about their day.)
  • Don’t forget manners. This is a great chance to teach your children life-long social skills. ¬†When kids feel confident they know how to behave in common social settings it builds their self-esteem. ¬†Best way to teach manners? ¬†By example.
  • Don’t fight over the food. ¬†Once the food is on the plate, my job is done. ¬†If they eat it, great. ¬†If they don’t, that’s OK too. ¬†I do my best to put a variety of healthy options in front of him and encourage him to taste new things – alongside things I know he already likes. ¬†And yes, sometimes it means that later in the evening I’m saying, “Well, maybe you’ll like breakfast.” ¬†I’m not a short-order cook. ¬†(And my pediatrician keeps reminding me not to look at what my toddler eats in a day, but rather over the course of a whole week…and that makes me feel a little less anxious, but just a little!) ¬†We also ask that he sits at the table with us even when he says he isn’t hungry at all – because it’s not just about the food, it’s family time.
  • Get creative and mix things up. ¬†This is some of the fun of parenting, in my opinion. ¬†Once or twice every other week or so, do something different…something that still protects the family time, but doesn’t feel like the run-of-the-mill dinner. ¬†It can be simple:
  1. order a pizza for game night twice a month.
  2. Check out this list of conversation starters to generate ideas for new, out-of-the-box table talk.  Or this one. Or this one.
  3. Pack up dinner and head outside to a park or a playground – fresh air and a change of scenery can make dinner feel renovated.
  4. Let your kids plan the menu once in awhile (last time we did that we had fish sticks and macaroni and cheese for dinner and it was fun to feel 8 again!)
  5. Or you can get more complicated, especially if your kids are older: ¬†for example, my dear friend Erica grew up in an awesome family where they would periodically have theme-night dinners. ¬†Her mother would select a foreign country well ahead of time and create a menu that incorporated foods native to that place. ¬†The kids would dress up in theme-related costumes and even bring reports to dinner with interesting facts about that foreign land. ¬†(I know what you are thinking…sounds like a school assignment…however, I can attest to how much fun it is! ¬†We were lucky enough to be invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at her parents’ house one year…we all went in costumes and there was a rousing trivia challenge. ¬†It was one of the best Thanksgiving celebrations we’ve ever been part of and I remember thinking how lucky Erica is to have that as a regular family tradition.)
  6. There are also some great character building ideas from a company called “Once Upon a Family” that can help solidify some powerful family traditions at the dinner table. ¬†(I have a future post planned with more details as well.)

So what else?  What works in your house?  What dinner table problem drives you bananas?