Raising Three Kids: When to Bathe

Bath time. It’s fun. It’s messy. Some kids love it. And some kids really (really) hate it. I like bath time, but I also find it challenging when there are a bunch of little ones around.

First, there is the time and people management piece. There are number of children to bathe to consider (Do I bathe them all at the same time? In quick succession? On separate days?) and how to handle the variety of kids who are dirtier-than-mud, Mr-Clean-clean, or somewhere in between.  I have also needed to start evaluating my options in case someone starts wanting snacks, needing to use the potty, or aspiring to world domination while I are up to my elbows in bath toys.

Then, there is the “optimal” amount of time in between baths. Do I go ol’ skool and bathe them daily? Do I strategically skip days so that I optimize the amount of good bacteria on their skin? How does using/not using soap change showering frequency? What if they want to join their sibling in the bath – does that reset the bath cycle?

But today, I figured out when I would know it was time to bathe my sweet, sweet baby: When he starts smelling like Umami. Yep, if I snuggle up next to him and inhale and am reminded of cheese or miso soup instead of Mr. Snuggles, I know it’s bath time. Mind you, he gets a pass if he just smells like goat cheese – anyone can smell like that with just a splash of dried spit up (Child’s play, really). I’m talking like a sharp cheddar or aged Romano. Love those smells from the kitchen, just not from the fat rolls hiding my baby’s neckline.

There ya have it: When to bathe baby – When he smells like miso soup. Or poop (obviously). No spreadsheet or predictive modeling required. Enjoy!

 

 

Shopping Clean: On Buying Real Food

In one of my previous posts, I shared with you my horror of learning about what I was actually putting onto my family’s plates: processed human hair. Gross!

Now that I have removed the offending “not-food” from my pantry, I have to ensure that when I shop, I shop clean and buy real food.

Now, I don’t know what your shopping routine is like, but mine is highly unpredictable, which can make it stressful at times. No, I’m not talking about impulse buys of ice-cream  at the grocery store (although I am definitely guilty of those!); I am talking about corralling preschoolers in a grocery store during the late afternoon when everyone’s energy levels are all over the place (Read: All I want is a nap) while I attempt to get through a grocery list quick enough to be able to have enough ingredients on hand to make something healthy and yummy for my family to eat. Some days this experience is amazing – my kids act like little angels, help me find items off my shopping list, take turns pushing the cart, and ask me to buy broccoli (for reals). And some days … well, let’s just say some very nice strangers come over to me to give me very kind words of encouragement (Thank you grocery store angels!).

In any case, I need some kind of quick and dirty way of figuring out whether an item is real food or just a poser, and I need to be able to figure it out while keeping preschoolers entertained and somewhere near my cart. This means I need to be able to evaluate a food in less than 15 seconds. To do that, I have developed a mental cheat sheet to help cut down on time. I’ve been working on this over the past few weeks and have found that over time, it has become easier and more automatic to choose foods that don’t have artificial preservatives, colors, additives, and flavors in them. Here are my tips in no particular order:

  1. Shop at places where it is easy to find clean food. I have found that I can drastically cut the amount of time I spend selecting food if I shop at places where clean, minimally processed food is abundant. For example, I have found that independent bakeries, natural foods stores, and farmer’s markets often (but not always!) have pre-made food that is fresh, made from real ingredients, and tastes really good.
  2. Restructure your grocery list so that the bulk of your food is unprocessed. For example, instead of buying a frozen chicken teriyaki dinner entree, buy chicken, fresh veggies (pre-cut if you want to spend extra to save on prep time), and a sauce (or make your own!). You’ll still have to read the ingredient label on the sauce, but at least you will know the chicken and veggies are fresh and unprocessed (plus you have more freedom over deciding which veggies and cuts of meat go into your food). Unprocessed foods that require little or no label reading include all the following:
    • Fresh fruits and veggies
    • Fresh cuts of meat
    • Dairy (milk and eggs).
    • Dried or milled foods (whole grains, dried fruits, beans, legumes)
  3. Read no more than 5-10 food labels during each grocery store trip. Yes, you will need to read labels to find out which foods are the real deal and which are posers. However, there is no reason to force yourself to read all of them in one trip. Decide which dishes you will “clean” ahead of time (Your favorite casserole? Stir fry? Pasta?) and then read labels for that type of food during that particular grocery store trip. The good news is that once you have found a clean substitute, you won’t need to read the labels again. The new brand will become your “go-to” brand (and who knows, it might taste better too!).
  4. Spend less than 15 seconds looking at a label. I don’t read food labels, I scan them looking for problematic ingredients. Here are some tricks I have to speed up reading labels:
    • Are there any ingredients I cannot visualize? …coconut milk…carrageenan… (“WTF does carrageenan look like?). Stop. Food goes back on the shelf.
    • Are there any ingredients my toddler cannot pronounce? …milk…calcium propionate…(“Pro-PIE-on-ate? PRO-pee-on-ate?”) All I know is I am not eating it.
    • Are there any acronyms in the food list? …chicken … PDMS… (“Is that like PMS???”) Doesn’t sound like a food. Out it goes!
    • Are there too many ingredients in this label for what it is? I know from cooking that pasta sauce has a handful of ingredients: tomatoes, olive oil, garlic/onions, and spices. If the label of the basic pasta sauce I am looking at has 2-3 times as many ingredients, it goes back on the shelf.
    • Is sugar one of the top 3 ingredients? I love sugar, but sugar should not be the star when it comes to my plate. For much of human history, refined sugar was not used in food plus it’s consumption been linked to health problems. Do yourself a favor and avoid foods that have sugar towards the top of the ingredient list (which means it makes up the bulk of what you are eating). My one exception: Treats or condiments that are supposed to be sugary (like cookies or jams).
    • If 15 seconds have passed and I am still reading the ingredients label, the food goes back on the shelf.
  5. Avoid Poser Foods. Want to drink milk that isn’t from a cow or goat? Want to eat cheese that is low (or no) fat or meat that isn’t from animals? Poser foods like these often have additives in them to make them have the consistency, aroma, or appearance of whatever real food they are imitating but with a lot less nutritional substance. If you really want the taste and texture of milk without buying the real thing, be prepared to spend a good chunk of time reading the labels of competing brands. Or spend that time googling a DIY recipe for it. Your homemade version might taste better than the store-bought one (or it might not), but at least you will know what went in it (and possibly have a funny story to tell about your epic cooking failure if your version doesn’t turn out so well).
  6. Buy items that don’t have packaging. Fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, meats, beans, etc. are exactly what they are and don’t come in packages. In addition to knowing you are buying a real whole food, you will also save time not having to read labels or un-package food. Plus, you can feel good knowing that you are reducing your waste by purchasing food that doesn’t have any packaging that needs to be recycled or left in a landfill to rot over the next several decades.

Cleaning Pantry

Hello again! It’s been a while since I last posted. Due to the California deluge, many people have been indoors most of the time, which has resulted in everyone in my family taking turns getting sick multiple times (including yours truly). I guess we are just really good at sharing. Maybe I should cut back on the “sharing is good” lecture I give my kids whenever there is a quarrel or just add in a caveat…hmm…

In any case, I am still scarred from eating hairy bagels and have been working on cleaning my pantry. This task has been surprisingly easy and difficult simultaneously. It’s been easy in that now I read the list of ingredients on everything that comes in a box, bag, jar, or can. If there is an ingredient on the list that I can’t picture in my mind (WTF is ‘palm stearin‘???), then out it goes.

Reading ingredient labels is simple and surprisingly quick since once you rule out an item, you never have to re-read the label again. However, I have found that once I determine a food is on the no-go list, I am faced with an ethical dilemma:

Is it better to eat this bag of not-food-posing-as-food (shudder) or to throw it out (shudder)?

While standing in my kitchen deciding the fate of the box of faux-food that is in my hands, I am instantly transported back to family dinners decades ago. There I am sitting at the table staring at the overcooked, slimy spinach on my plate, and hearing my father lecture me about world hunger: “There are children starving right now who would love to have the privilege of eating this.” Silent and blinking, I am staring down at the shiny, smelly green mess on my plate wondering why anyone would want to eat it, while also wondering if there were a way to somehow invite this figurative person over for dinner so they could finish the food on my plate…

And we are back. It’s 2017, and here I am holding the not-food instant soup mix in my hand. It’s an open container, which means I cannot send it to my local food bank. And, I am hearing my father’s voice in my head “There are children starving right now who would love to have the privilege of eating this.“… I decide to punt and put the box back into the pantry for now.

I tell my husband, who is a full-on pragmatist, about my dilemma and he suggests we eat through whatever we already have and then stop buying it. We’ve eaten it before so why not just finish it out? Makes complete sense. However, once you know something, it is very hard to un-know it. So now when I see the marked boxes, cans, and jars of not-food, I can’t actually bring myself to eat them. So I try to punt again – I’ll just let (make?) my preschoolers eat the “berry” cereal they love that has additives in it to make the berries look nice and red. However, guilt sets in as I watch them eating it. Little kids can get really sick from things that minimally affect adults (think viruses, contaminants, and so on), so why am letting them shove additives and not-really-healthy (or fruity) food into their faces when I can just find a substitute?

After a few guilt-inducing meals, I decide to chuck all opened not-food “food” packages with one important caveat: If my pragmatic husband will willingly prepare and eat the food himself until it’s completely gone, then it gets to stay.

I go through my pantry and put all the not-food into the compost and all of its packaging into the recycling. Guilt assuaged; pantry cleaned. Done and done.

 

Taking the Leap: Saying “No” to Hairy Bagels

I was buying a bag of freshly baked bagels from a store the other day when I decided to flip over the package and read the ingredients. I had recently read some of Michael Pollan’s books on “real food” verses “processed food” and was pretty confident that these freshly baked bagels were fine. That is until I noticed that the bagels in the bag in my hand seemed unusually soft and pliable today. Maybe I just happened to pick them up right after they were baked? Upon reading the ingredients, I found several I didn’t recognize. Ahh, it’s fine, I told myself. These are probably just fancy names for baking soda or something.

Well, the curiosity hung on and after I had made myself and my family a few delicious toasty bagels at home, I decided to play a form of Russian Roulette and randomly google one of the mysterious ingredients; L-Cysteine was the winner.

I figured it would be pretty boring since I assumed that it was some kind of amino acid (trying to remember biology from high school). Turned out I was right. Except I found out something highly disturbing that I wasn’t expecting: the source of this additive could be duck feathers or … human hair! Given that this amino acid is most abundant in human hair (which means it is also probably the cheapest way of manufacturing it) and that human hair is very inexpensive to procure in Asia, one can safely presume that I had been happily scarfing down hair clippings from the other side of the world for several weeks. BLAAAARRGH! Fast forward to me throwing out the rest of my bagel and feeling like I had just eaten a hairball – actually many hairballs; who knows, maybe I had done the equivalent of licking a salon floor post hair cut. I texted my sister, who is a medical school student, to inform her of my horrifying discovery, who reassured me it wasn’t human hair at that point and “That [it is] like saying eating veggies is the same as eating sh*t.” Thanks, Sis, for making me feel so much better.

To make matters worse, I am pregnant, so this whole I-think-I-am-eating-bagels-but-really-I-am-eating-Chinese-hair-clippings episode really threw me for a loop; what was I supposed to eat if freshly baked, FDA approved store bagels had completely bizarre, non-food ingredients in them? Did anyone know what effect (if any) these “approved” additives and preservatives had on unborn children?

I decided I wouldn’t wait for science to determine whether this was the new margarine or not (“Hey this is totally fine, just eat it. Oops, causes heart disease. My bad. Guess you should have just downed the butter. Oh well!”). I decided to quit processed food cold turkey.

And so I am. It just so happens that this coincides with New Years, which makes me hesitate to say “This year, I am opting out of all non-food ‘food'” mostly because I don’t like New Years Resolutions (so much pressure, so little follow through). But, this time I decided to interpret this as a nice coincidence that meant that I had a whole year of clean, non-hairy eating in front of me. That and learning how to cook and substitute out boxed goods.

So join me on my quest to nix the packaged and boxed items while attempting to juggle work, family, and home (possibly in that order).

PS – Don’t believe me on the human hair because it is just so disgusting? Check it out (along with other horrifying additive sources) here.

 

 

How to Institute a Veggie Loving Household: Step One – Examine Yourself

Neither my husband nor I started out loving veggies. Years ago, words like “kale” or “brussels sprouts” would send shivers down our spines. That has changed. Now we love roasted brussels sprouts and frequently add kale to our soups and smoothies. And our young kids love eating them too (cue birdsong and waterfall sound effects). So, how did we get here?

The first thing we did was have an honest look into our veggie eating (or not eating as it were) habits. Those discussions really got us started down the path of eating well, and I think the questions we asked ourselves can be of use to you as well. So, Step One is to examine your and your partner’s (if you have one) attitudes towards vegetables. Here are a few questions to get your discussion started:

  1. To maintain a balanced diet, what percentage of your breakfast/lunch/dinner plate should be filled with fruits and veggies? (Answer is below)
  2. How much of your plate is usually filled with fruits and veggies (10%? 33%?)? Be honest here.
  3. Why do you want to eat more veggies?
  4. Forget your kids. What is stopping you from eating more of your veggies?

Before we delve into our tips and tricks, let’s examine how much of a plant-based diet we should have. According to the latest recommended dietary guidelines for Americans, half – yes, half! – of your plate should be occupied by fruits and vegetables. No, this is not some kind of state-mandated punishment. This is the amount of vegetables needed to maintain a healthy (read not dying from heart disease, cancer, etc.) lifestyle and a hot bod (most veggies and fruits are low in calories and high in nutrients). And let’s be honest here, who doesn’t want to be the hottest and healthiest version of themselves?

Alright, now that we know why eating our veggies is crucial for our well-being and how much we should be eating, look at your answer to Question #2. Did you answer 50%? If you didn’t, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, get ready to start eating more veggies more consistently and look for opportunities to add them (more on this in a future post).

Now that we have come to terms with what we are eating verses what we should be eating, let’s focusing on what can motivate you to eat more veggiesDo you want to fit into your pre-baby jeans? Do you want to age gracefully (and look good while you’re doing it)? Do you want to get off the sugar-and-caffeine rollercoaster (veggies can help stabilize your blood sugar)? Find your reason and write it on a sticky note somewhere where you can see it when you need a reminder (maybe inside the cupboard or the fridge)? Then, focus on your goal and remember that every piece of spinach, asparagus, and okra will help get you closer to your goal. Slip ups happen. That’s okay. What matters is that you keep on focusing on your goal.

Now, let’s take a look at your answer to Question #4 above: What is preventing you from eating more of your veggies? Is it time? Money? Distaste for all things kale? Really sit down and figure out what is stopping you from eating your fruits and veggies on a daily basis. Then, come up with a way to overcome it (Buy pre-washed veggies? Buy on-sale veggies? Find a new way to cook kale?). By doing so, you’ll get yourself to eat more veggies. And believe it or not, your family will follow eventually.

Once you get yourself on the fruit and veggie wagon, you will feel better about yourself and you’ll be a more convincing salesperson to your anyone nearby (“Mmmm…fennel! I love this!). And you might just end up loving veggies in the process too.

 

The New Kind of Appointment You Need to Keep

Have you ever noticed how when you have an appointment with someone important, usually a doctor who has a 2-month waitlist and charges you $75 to cancel an appointment, you always keep the appointment even when the unexpected creeps up?

This happened to me the other day. I had a new-patient appointment with a doctor who has a very long waitlist, and the afternoon beforehand, my boss says, “Hey, I know your calendar says you’re busy, but we need to move our client meeting to <exactly when the appointment was>.” While slightly panicking on the inside, on the outside I calmly said, “Oh gee, I have a really important appointment then that I do not think I can move, let me see if I can reschedule it.” Then I called my super popular, busy doctor and of course she could reschedule my appointment … for two months from now. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t like waiting 4 months for a doctor’s appointment, so I went back to my boss and said “Hey Boss, I would love to make the client meeting but I have an appointment that I unfortunately cannot move; could we meet with the client at a different time?” Then as if by magic, my boss found another time to meet. Wow! Disaster averted.

Now, I should point out here that I am the kind of person the boss-man and boss-woman love – when asked to stay late or rearrange my schedule (which sometimes involves semi-superhuman skill when it comes to coordinating picking up my kids, running errands, making dinner, and running a household), I say “Sure, no problem.” And I pat myself on the back for being such a good “team player.” Barf.

Because of this, I feel rushed and have very little “me” time (aka “breathing room”). And that is no bueno.

Well, this particular incident got me thinking: If I can acknowledge the importance of keeping an appointment with a doctor I have never seen before and push back (nicely) when other forces attempt to intrude, why can’t I do the same for myself?

Specifically, I am going to argue here that we should treat our free time with the same respect and commitment that we reserve for our doctor’s appointments. Now before you say something snarky like “Well, I don’t have two wait 2 months to hang out with myself,” answer this question honestly: When is the last time you guiltlessly enjoyed an hour or two of time to yourself doing something that you find meaningful?

With the exception of right now, the last time I really guiltlessly enjoyed time to myself was about 3 weeks ago when I splurged on a pedicure (and it was glorious). This outing was exceptionally refreshing because I actually let myself enjoy it. Usually, I find some kind of excuse as to why I don’t have time for free time (“Oh, gosh, I would love to spend time relaxing now that the kids are in bed but I really need to iron their underwear right now.”) and so I don’t make free time a priority. Or when I do have “free time,” I spend it checking something off of my to do list (“Yes, installing kitchen cabinet latches is super fun!” “Yes, I will remain on hold while you look up my insurance policy!”).

In short, I am the kind of person who needs to schedule appointments with myself so that I can be a “well-balanced” person who is not totally burned out. Burned out isn’t healthy.

So, I challenge you to schedule your own Dr. ME Appointments. Here are the guidelines for making these appointments successful:

  • Pick a block of time that is equivalent to how long you would actually spend going to a doctor’s appointment. I find this is usually 1.5 hours long.
  • Determine how you will spend your time. Will you go on a nature walk? Paint a picture? Get a manicure? Write poetry? Take a circus arts class? Choose an activity that you will be able to immerse yourself into and wholly enjoy.
  • Take out your calendar and schedule the appointment. Make sure you pick a time that you will not be tempted to move. You can even write “Dr. ME Appointment” to remind yourself that this appointment is just as important for your well-being as a real doctor’s appointment (albeit in a slightly different way).
  • Mentally check out when it is time for your appointment: no cellphones or multitasking allowed at the doctor’s office; none allowed at your appointment. This time is for focusing on what you are there for: taking care of yourself.
  • Charge yourself a “No Show” fee ($50) if you do not make your doctor’s appointment or you are more than 15 minutes late. Then, reschedule your appointment for a “time when the doctor can see you” and use your no show fee to do something fun (because if you really had to miss your appointment then something really serious must have been going on because you respect yourself and your time). Just don’t make yourself wait two months for that next appointment.
  • Schedule follow up visits with yourself so that you can ensure you remain a pleasant person to be around. We want to change the adjectives we use to describe ourselves from “stressed,” “tired,” and “burned out” to “relaxed,” “rejuvenated,” and “fulfilled.”

So go ahead, open your iCalendar, and create that appointment just for you.