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The Nutrient Walk of Shame

June 2, 2010

I generally feed my family healthy food.  I buy organic when I can (which not only means when it’s available, but also when the budget allows – that stuff is expensive!) I rarely have junk food in the house, and I always go for whole grain bread and pasta.  But I know I could do a lot better (at this point Mommy Guilt rears its ugly head) and so 5 Nutrients Your Child May be Missing was both a blessing and a curse to read.  

At the top of the list is calcium.  I don’t worry about this one at all in my house, because both kids manage to snarf down at least a dozen servings per week of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (I get my health licks in though – neither one seems to have picked up on the fact that the boxes I buy have “Made with 50% Whole Grain” emblazoned on the front – it’s not exactly the apex of healthful eating I know, but it’s a start.)  This of course is based on the somewhat dubious proposition that the cheese in macaroni and cheese counts as good dairy.  Please note:  a dozen servings does not equal a dozen boxes.  Even I am not that depraved.

“Soft drinks, such as soda and fruit beverages, have infiltrated kids’ diets, causing milk to take a back seat.”  I would add coffee to that list of shame.  Anyone else blown away by the number of middle and high-schoolers who frequent Starbucks?  Apparently no one told them coffee would stunt their growth.  I’m really not one to talk though, as I wear my Starbucks habit proudly on my espresso-stained sleeve.  When my daughter was just learning to talk, she caused quite a stir at the local grocery store checkout line when she loudly chirped, “Yes, please, I’ll have a grande non-fat no-whip one-pump mocha, extra hot!” to the astonished clerk.

Next is the ever-popular fiber.  “‘I’m a dietitian and getting my own kids to eat enough fiber is challenging,’ says Shield.”  Well thank you for your honesty!  Most adults have a hard time eating enough fiber, and as any parent knows, it’s even worse with kids.  Figure out how to incorporate fiber into a Tootsie-Pop and then we’ll talk.

Who knew magnesium was so important?  At number three on the list, it clearly needs to be given more respect in the Savvy household.  And just how do I get more of this vital nutrient into my little darlings?  Simply by offering them “dark green vegetables; a variety of nuts and seeds, particularly pumpkin seeds; whole grains; and white, black, and navy beans…”  Oh yeah.  That’s going to go over well.  Let’s see…magnesium is a metal, right?  I have a feeling multiple plays of AC/DC’s Back in Black will have to suffice.

Vitamin E turns out to be an easy one, thank goodness.  You don’t have to look any further than that fortified breakfast cereal in the cupboard.  Alright, now I have my confidence back.

Potassium rounds out the list, and again this is an easy one to tackle.  Low-fat yogurt and orange juice are both palatable to my kids and can usually be found in our fridge.

Now if I could just win the lottery and hire a personal family chef who could cleverly disguise all of the rest of those healthy nutrient-packed ingredients and incorporate them into macaroni and cheese and Top Ramen we’d be in business.

This Organic Life

May 24, 2010

A recently released study seems to show a link between high levels of residual pesticides in children and an increased risk of ADHD (Pesticides in Kids Linked to ADHD).  I try to buy organic when I can, and this news certainly supports my belief that it’s the right thing to do for many reasons.  I have to say though, I prefer my organic experience to be in the grocery store.

You see, I’ve done the organic thing.  Or perhaps I should say, my husband has done the organic thing.  I was just elected to harvest the fields.  My husband is a frustrated farmer, so despite the fact that we lived at the time in suburban Seattle he was determined to work the land in an epic way, and in true epic form he had a grand plan:

  • Step one – buy a tractor (not a prissy little sissified city version that’s actually a glorified riding mower; we’re talking a full-size 1950 Ford 8N because, and this is a direct quote, “I can do a lot with a tractor.”)
  • Step two – proceed to do a lot with the tractor in order to justify the purchase (this includes tearing out and relocating several giant rhododendrons and tilling large amounts of bagged animal doo-doo into the dirt)
  • Step three – build half a dozen HUGE raised beds and several even larger terraces
  • Step four – spend several weeks poring over seed catalogs as if they were Sports Illustrated swimsuit editions
  • Step five – plant everything and then sit back and wait to reap the tasty rewards
  • Step six – enlist some unpaid slave labor to do all of the actual harvesting and food prep (that would be me)

Now I have to say, my husband did a fantastic job.  He tended the garden faithfully and without the use of chemicals or pesticides.  Soon we had loads of asparagus, green beans, onions, lettuce, elephant garlic, tomatoes, blueberries, corn, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and more.  And herein lied the rub:  I couldn’t keep up with it.  We literally had produce coming out of our ears.  It was all delicious, and it really is true that fruits and veggies taste infinitely better when they’re straight from your garden.  But we just couldn’t eat it all. 

I took to inviting just about anyone I came across to waltz into our backyard with a grocery bag or two and take as much food as they could carry.  And still a lot of it went to waste.  I felt guilty about that, but not quite guilty enough to take up home canning.

Our home now has a backyard the size of a postage-stamp, and much of that is taken up by the patio.  There certainly isn’t enough room to have a garden.  However, my husband did manage to grow some pretty fabulous tomatoes in large containers.  They’re delicious right off the vine.  And the best part is, there’s only two plants so I don’t even have to think about canning. 

Now that’s my idea of organic living. 

Top 12 Foods You Should Eat Organic

Who’s in Charge Here?

May 14, 2010

What’s wrong with bein’ sexy?  Nigel Tufnel, This is Spinal Tap

The latest YouTube “sensation” is this jaw-dropping version of seven- year-old girls dressed up like the Pussycat Dolls and workin’ their stuff in the same calculatedly provocative (not to mention ridiculously over-the-top) way.  I suppose some people find this “cute,” which would explain why you can hear loud cheering throughout the clip. 

I think it’s disturbing.  Why are the people involved in this – parents, dance teacher/choreographer, competition organizers, audience members – so happy to have little girls sexualized?  Because that’s what it is, make no mistake.  The outfits and the moves, particularly the last 30 seconds or so, are supposed to be sexy.  Are they not?  Is there anyone involved who can honestly say they aren’t?  If anyone watches this and says, “No, that’s not supposed to be sexual at all,” they’re lying.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, shaking your butt, grinding your pelvis and throwing your chest forward have sexual connotations.  Period.

The girls clearly are fantastic dancers (they won the competition).  But are there really no other dance moves that would have allowed them to showcase their talents?  And while I’m up on this soapbox, I sense a bit of gender discrimination.  Can you imagine a boy dance group of the same age bare-chested, sporting only skin-tight satin pants and a bow-tie while highlighting their package via pelvic thrusts and bachelorette party lap dance moves like little Chippendale dancer wannabe’s?  Ridiculous thought, isn’t it.  So why is it acceptable for little girls?

Frankly, I don’t understand the parents involved.  How do you watch your seven-year-old daughter perform a pedophile’s dream routine and feel good about it?  Don’t they know if they just had the en masse cojones to say, “This outfit and dance routine are inappropriate,” they would have the power to stop this?  Money talks.  Take your business elsewhere.  You’re the grown-up, you’re the parent.  Your daughter will grow up fast enough as it is, I promise.  She doesn’t need to know any sexually provocative moves at the tender age of seven and she sure as heck doesn’t need to show them off, scantily clad, in public.

To Camp or Not to Camp?

May 4, 2010

I’m not talking pack-up-every-bloody-thing-in-the-kitchen-stuff-your-car-so-full-it’s-like-driving-a-massive-polish-sausage-on-wheels-so-you-can-haul-everything-along-with-a-musty-tent-deep-into-the-woods-sleep-on-a-bed-of-twigs-and-commune-with-nature (ie: fend off bugs, dirt, potentially rabid wild animals and the often unpleasant complications associated with pre-plumbing-style commodes) camping.

My idea of that kind of camping is not to do it at all.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.  For any amount of money.

I’m talking summer camp for kids.  You see, I want them to have plenty of unstructured time to just goof off, hang around and play with friends in the neighborhood.  But I also want them to enjoy some new experiences and push their comfort zone beyond the routine of school.  So every year I face this quandary:  how can I best balance summer camp with some good old-fashioned “do nothing” down-time?  Complicating matters is the fact that we now live in an area where it’s the cultural norm to ship your kids off for the bulk of the summer to “sleep-away” camp.  This means the streets of our neighborhood are as deserted as the Mensa booth at a convention of politicians (except for my sister, the mayor) and unstructured down-time quickly morphs into the classic summer whine, “There’s nothing to doooooooooo!”

I have found that keeping my kids busy for most of the day, throughout most of the summer, is the best way to keep everyone sane and happy.  My general plan of attack is to find weekly day camps that end by 3pm, and work out a schedule where the kids have a week of camp followed by a week off.  This year between the two of them we’re looking at surfing, golf, baseball, horseback riding and math camps.  The kids have already attended each of them, so thankfully I know that they’re all great programs and the kids will have a fun, safe summer.  At this point it’s just a matter of juggling the schedule and sending in a boatload of money with each registration.

If you’re still in the market for a great summer camp, try the links below for some helpful tips.  And if you’ve yet to figure out how much camp is the right amount for your kids…I wouldn’t worry too much.  Keep a pair of squishy earplugs jammed into your ears all summer long and I’ll bet you barely even hear the whining.

Attention CEO’s: Embrace the Breast, Save America!

April 7, 2010

According to a study recently released by the online journal Pediatrics (American Academy of Pediatrics) “…there are hundreds of deaths and many more costly illnesses each year from health problems that breast-feeding may help prevent. These include stomach viruses, ear infections, asthma, juvenile diabetes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and even childhood leukemia.”

CEO’s and management-types, listen up.  The potential benefits of breastfeeding are staggering in economic and human terms:  the lives of nearly 1,000 babies saved each year, plus 13 billion (yes, that’s a “b”) dollars.  All this if 90% of U.S. women simply breastfed their babies for the first six months of life. 

As blown-away as I was by the above statistics, I found the following even harder to believe:   

“About 43 percent of U.S. mothers do at least some breast-feeding for six months, but only 12 percent follow government guidelines recommending that babies receive only breast milk for six months.”

Only 12 percent?  Really?  What’s the big rush to give babies formula?  Did I miss something when my kids were infants?  And while we’re at it, I find the fact that less than half of U.S. mothers do any breastfeeding at all pretty shocking, too.  Don’t the other 57 percent of women know that breastfeeding basically gives you a free boob-job for as long as you do it?  That for the six or twelve or however many months you breastfeed you don’t just have breasts, you don’t have boobs, you have ginormous bazoombahs each with its own zip code?

I find it very difficult to believe that anyone is really surprised that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish babies and bolsters their immune system.  And if there’s anyone out there who can honestly say they had no idea, well, I know of a certain Nigerian prince who would love to make your online acquaintance. 

One reason for the low number is that a lot of women work outside the home, and the logistics of breastfeeding can be difficult under those circumstances.  Pumping breast milk is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it particularly pleasant (how can any woman enjoy feeling like Elsa the cow giving her morning quart?).  It is even less appealing if you don’t have a private (no, a bathroom stall does NOT count) place to do so.

Hellooo…CEO’s of companies large and small…you can actually save a lot of money by providing a nice little private area, along with extra break time, for breastfeeding mothers.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a pleasant place to sit uninterrupted for ten minutes or so.  Weigh that against all of the lost productivity and extra costs of bringing in a temp when a mother has to stay home with her sick child.  And don’t worry about her lounging and lollygagging around after she’s done.  No woman is going to leave those contraptions – no matter how “life-like” or “whisper-quiet” the action – clinging to her body like giant vinyl remoras any longer than she has to.

Save money, save lives, boost employee morale, help create a healthier population, give the U.S. economy a much-needed boost.  If there are any downsides to business embracing breastfeeding, I sure can’t see them.

Necessity Really is the Mother of Invention

March 24, 2010

I do not have a personal connection to autism, but in my capacity as the Our Child Safe social media maven I have worked with a number of people who do deal with it in a very personal way every day.  I recently read an eye-opening article by actress and autism activist Holly Robinson Peete that really drove home why the challenge of autism can be overwhelming to many families ( Eight Facts About Autism the Media is not Covering.)

Until I read Peete’s article, I had a false assumption about the resources available to parents of autistic children; namely, that there are a lot of resources out there.  Clearly that is not the case.  It seems that many organizations are “home-grown,” started by parents who saw a need for something to answer their own questions and concerns.

One of those parents is a dynamo named Kim Covell, who founded an organization called Flying Point Foundation for Autism in the fall of 2008.  “I was surprised at how difficult it was to find recreation and other activities outside of school that were geared toward kids with different needs, and I wanted to be able to support groups that did provide that service,” says Covell.  The ultimate goal of Flying Point Foundation is to open or fund a summer camp program for children with autism to provide kids and their families with an option during what Covell calls the three week “black hole” between the end of the local extended summer program and the start of the new school year.  “There is no place to take the kids, plus their skills begin to deteriorate,” she notes.  “We want to fill that gap.”

In the short year and a half since she started Flying Point, Covell has accomplished, quite frankly, more than I am likely to accomplish in a lifetime.  The organization has benefitted from numerous fundraisers including an annual 10K run/2K fun walk, a local Kiwanis Club golf event, a “ride inside” bike-a-thon, a “Wrap it up for Autism” gift wrap event, and a collaboration with a jewelry designer resulting in some really cute handcrafted jewelry pieces available on the Flying Point website.  World Autism Day (April 2) will be commemorated with a special program to benefit FPF, “The Awe in Autism:  An Evening of Music with Savant Brittany Maier.”  

But wait, there’s more!  Kim Covell also started a second website, Give a Buck for Autism.  No fancy-schmancy marketing ploy, no tug on your heartstrings or guilt-inducing hard sell.  It’s short, sweet and to the point:  donate just one dollar to the Flying Point Foundation and then forward the link to your friends.  Little effort, big impact.  Now that’s my kind of activism!

What I find particularly amazing (not to mention humbling) is the fact that Kim finds the time and energy to accomplish all of this in addition to being the mom of a child with autism.  Any parent on a mission to help their child is a force to be reckoned with, but some have the added impetus of knowing that their efforts will make life easier for other kids and families, too.  I love seeing mompower in action.  And when it positively impacts a whole community of families, it is truly a beautiful thing.

Talk about Making Lemonade

February 26, 2010

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.  ~Winston Churchill

Anyone over the age of five or so knows that life isn’t always sunshine and cupcakes.  Personally I believe the cliché that it’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you respond to it that defines you as a person, for better or for worse.  Clearly, Sue Scheff is cut from the same cloth.

Sue’s struggles with her teenage daughter (a “good teen making bad choices”) inspired her to found an organization dedicated to helping other parents navigate the overwhelming internet world of resources and residential treatment facilities.  “When you are at your wit’s end you are more likely to make rash decisions which can lead to bad choices.  Entering the “teen help” industry is a business, and if you are not careful you can get stung.”

Sue and her daughter had a rocky road to walk before Sue found the right combination of resources.  Fortunately their story has a happy ending, and her daughter is now a successful adult happily raising her own family.  What I really admire about Sue is her passion for putting her tough experiences and mistakes to good use.  Over the past decade Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, an organization she created, has helped thousands of people.  She has written several books, and is recognized as a parenting expert and advocate by numerous local and national media outlets.

The funny thing is, had she known from the beginning where her desire to help other parents and teens would take her, she might not have even taken that first step.  “If I had known ahead of time how many people would be depending on me – on my organization – I may not have gone forward out of fear of failure.  But I believe that if you can find a cause you are passionate about and have experience with, you have so much to offer other parents.”

In this case, one person’s ignorance has meant bliss for many families.  And I’ll bet her daughter is pretty darn proud of her, too.