Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dancing in the Kitchen: A Review and Giveaway

I recently received a complimentary copy of the children’s music CD, Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food, from its producer, Melanie Potock of My Munch Bug. My ten-year-old was in the room with me while I was listening to it for the first time, and she loved it. Since then, she’s sought it out purposefully, and put it on to dance. I don’t think 10-year-olds are the target audience for this CD, but my daughter loves music and dancing, and she found the songs on this CD to be fun.

I agree with my daughter that the songs on Dancing in the Kitchen are a lot of fun. New music on this CD are written and performed by Joan Huntsberry Langford. She has a pleasant voice and the songs are very catchy. The music does a great job of bringing to life the CD’s subtitle: celebrating the joy of food. The CD includes a range of musical styles from spirited songs that make you (or at least my daughter) get up and dance, slower lullaby-like songs, and even a silly operetta.

When my kids were younger, we used to listen to children’s music frequently – in the car, in the house, at toddler gym classes, etc. While personally, I’m happy to be beyond that stage in my life, I can definitely see that Dancing in the Kitchen would have made its way into our musical rotation if we had owned it back then. The songs will stay in your head and likely be requested over and over by your kids. My daughter’s favorite songs were “Happy Eating Food” and “Dancing in the Kitchen.” I was partial to “Picnic Under the Jewelberry Tree.”

I especially like the joyful and upbeat attitude that this music brings to food and eating. Just like watching a potty training DVD won’t result in your child becoming toilet trained, listening to this CD will not transform your picky eater or result in your kids loving all foods. It does, however, help create a positive environment about food and it provides a way to communicate with your kids about eating that is likely to be happier and friendlier in tone than typical parent-child food battles. The song lyrics also cover a variety of sensory experiences around food, including the sounds associated with cooking and eating, which can often be overlooked in conversations about kids’ eating.

I would highly recommend Dancing in the Kitchen to parents who want to add a little musical fun to their family life around food. At this time of year, I think it makes a perfect stocking stuffer. You can preview some samples of the songs here.

I am also thrilled to announce that the producer of Dancing in the Kitchen, Melanie Potock will be my guest on the next Kitchen Table Parents teleseminar. Melanie is a certified speech language pathologist who works with treating children with feeding difficulties and educating parents about creating more joyful mealtime experiences. Join me and Melanie on Tuesday December 6, 2011 at 12 noon Eastern for the call-in event, Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids for the Holidays and Beyond.

We will be discussing how to celebrate each step towards adventurous eating, how to handle the pressures of holiday mealtimes, how to understand the impact of sensory issues on feeding experiences, and much more. To learn more and to sign up for this free event, click here

If you can’t join us live, please leave your questions or comments below.

Melanie has graciously offered to give away one free copy of Dancing in the Kitchen.  To enter, simply leave a comment or question below. You must be 18 years or older and a U.S. resident to enter. One winner will be selected by random number from random.org from all entrants on December 6, 2011 at 10pm Eastern.

I received a free copy of this CD to review. No other compensation was offered or received and the views expressed are my own.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What To Keep Doing After You've Said "I Do!"

Why discuss marriage on a blog about raising healthy families? Well, in my opinion, the relationship between a child's parents, married or not, is a key component in raising happy, well-adjusted kids. Tomorrow at noon Eastern time I will be joined by Dr. Ann Park for the Kitchen Table Parents teleseminar, What To Keep Doing After You've Said "I Do!". We will be discussing how to grow a healthy marriage as well as some myths that can undermine marriage. This event is free for all Kitchen Table Parents members. For more information and to sign up, please click here. Can't join us live? Please leave any questions or comments below and we'll address them tomorrow. The call will be recorded.

As a preview of some of the information that Dr. Ann will share us tomorrow, she has offered these words of wisdom on conflict in relationships.

The Keys to Conflict

When we would go on vacation, early in our marriage, one of the things my husband and I could always look forward to was a brisk, invigorating round of conflict.  Our motto seemed to be: “A vacation is a great time to get into an argument!”

What was happening?
We were stepping into a classic pattern of behavior that’s all too easy to start ... and keep going.
We were putting off our troubles until a little later.  Somehow, “a little later” ended up being during our vacations.  
Now I confess that this was partly my doing.  My difficulty was all the unstructured time that came along with our vacations. Free time meant free associations - I'm a psychiatrist, after all!  And suddenly, all (his) crimes and misdemeanors of the preceding few months would stand up and declare that they were ready for their pre-trial hearing.
Needless to say, this was not great for our vacation time.  I learned the hard way that I needed to find a better way.
Does this ever happen to you?  Have you ever found that the short-term gain of putting off problems leads to a long-term price that is harder to pay?
If so, you’re not alone.  Many of us find that it’s unpleasant (at best) or excruciating (at worst) to rock the boat.  But I think we need to be motivated by this fact:  there are no short cuts.  We either pay up now, or we pay later, for emotional accounts that are due.  Our hearts have a hard time suppressing our emotions.  Feelings don’t get stored up. They ooze out. Usually at the times we would prefer not to ooze. Like on vacation!
In my opinion, Freud said a lot of crazy things but he was also brilliant.  He observed that it was impossible for us to stay truly silent. Our eyes, our hands, and our actions give us away. Our true feelings emerge from every pore.
So what can we do to deal with our feelings, with conflict, in a healthy way within our marriages?
1.              Be prepared.  We can acknowledge ahead of time that it is natural for conflict to arise in marriage.  And it will arise repeatedly throughout the course of our marriages. This is the inevitable fact when two imperfect people come together. 
2.              Be proactive.  In a nutshell, don’t wait until vacation rolls around. And don’t wait until you’re ready to blow up like a can of coke that’s been given a good shake.  Think the situation through ahead of time. Identify what’s bothering you.  Write it out, if that helps.  Gather your thoughts so that when you speak to your spouse, it’s thoughtful .
3.              Be personable.  Do you want to speak to someone who is becoming unhinged before your very eyes?  Neither does your spouse!  Pick a time and a setting to have a discussion that increases the odds of a great outcome for both of you. Choose a relaxed time, with little outside interruption. Put it on your calendars, so you are both ready.  Agree on a defined time to wrap it up. End on a positive note that reinforces your couplehood: go for a walk or bike ride, get dinner together.  Repeat as needed.
And save your vacations for relaxing!
Take home:  Dealing with conflict is a necessary skill in marriage, and you can get great at it.
Optional journaling exercise:  Pick an area that you’d like to discuss with your spouse. Using the three points above, write down three steps you will take this week to begin a healthy discussion with your beloved other.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sweet Potato Sides

The other day I signed on to join Grace of eatdinner.org, Bri of Red, Round, or Green, Bettina of The Lunch Tray, and Jeanne of The Jolly Tomato to participate in a virtual Food Day Dinner Party. Bettina started things off on Monday with appetizers, and yesterday Bri supplied two entree recipes. Today Grace and I are bringing the sides. Welcome!

I thought that sweet potatoes would be a natural complement to Bri's lamb dish. These two recipes are regular parts of my repertoire, although the souffle is usually reserved for special occasions and holidays. The Souffled Sweet Potato recipe comes from mother-in-law, and is one of the best things she's added to my life ~ aside from my husband of course! The Sweet Potato Fries recipe was passed along to me from my mom. Try one or both and enjoy! 

Also, be sure to check out Grace's recipe for more side dish ideas at her site. Grace and I are offering a Blog for Family Dinner t-shirt and the "Eat Real" recipe booklet from Food Day as a prize. Enter by leaving a comment - or your favorite side dish recipe - here or at the EatDinner.org blog. One winner will be randomly selected from the commenters on this site and Grace's site.

Also be sure to check in with The Jolly Tomato tomorrow for dessert!

Souffled Sweet Potato

6 cups hot cooked sweet potatoes (I peel and boil them til fork tender)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 eggs
  • Place sweet potatoes, sugar, butter, vanilla and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl.
  • Beat with electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.
  • Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  • Place in a 2 quart casserole dish.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Sweet Potato Fries

2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into strips
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
  • Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients.
  • Place potato strips on cookie sheet.
  • Bake about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Monday, October 17, 2011

7 Strategies for Fostering Positive Sibling Relationships

As part of the Kitchen Table Parents program, I will be offering the teleseminar, “How to Raise Happy Kids Who Care About Each Other” on Tuesday October 25, 2011 at 12pm Eastern. The philosophy behind the Kitchen Table Parents program is that raising a healthy family involves more than just food, and if you have more than one child, chances are that you want them getting along at the family table and everywhere else they may be. Below are some strategies for fostering positive sibling relationships that will last a lifetime. If you can’t join us live for the teleseminar, please feel free to leave any questions in the comments below.

1. Rivalry and conflict between siblings is normal. If you have siblings yourself, take a moment to reflect back on the history of your relationship. We often present our “worst selves” to our family and have the opportunity to work at social skills in the safety of family relationships. While I believe that parents need to develop a comfort level with a certain level of conflict between their children, I also believe that there is much that parents can do to promote a positive relationship between their children.

2. Think before you intervene. If someone is getting hurt (physically or emotionally), I would recommend that a parent intervenes. Otherwise, I would recommend that parents pause to consider whether or not they think their intervention will likely help or escalate the problem or possibly lead to future conflicts behind the parent’s back. Also, think about whether their conflict is bothering you because of your own “stuff” (e.g., history with your own sibling, personality, etc.) or if your children are upset for their own reasons.

3. Coach rather than directly intervene when possible. Parents have a powerful role in helping their children learn how to work things out. One of my pet peeves is when adults tell toddlers to “work it out” between themselves because toddlers really don’t have the skills yet to be able to do this. Preschool age children might have some rudimentary skills to be able to work things out between themselves but might need some suggestions or guidance. Older children have had more opportunities and experiences in managing conflicts and negotiations, but may still need some suggestions and guidance. Often this type of guidance is best received when it is delivered in the form of a question rather than a direct command (e.g., “What do you think would happen if…”)

4. House rules vs. individual behavior.  Try to minimize any targeting of an individual child’s behavior. What I mean by that is to say something along the lines of, “We all get the chance to be first sometime in this family,” or “Everyone in this family can have a treat at snack time,” rather than saying something like, “Why do you always have to bully your sister?”

5. Family meetings. Even young children can benefit from family meetings. Family meals can serve as a setting for family discussions or times separate from meals when all family members are available to discuss plans or matters related to family functioning.

6. Fair is not equal. Parents’ interactions with their children should focus on meeting each child’s individual needs rather than on making sure each child is treated exactly the same. For example, your older daughter might have a stronger need for attention than your younger daughter. Try to find ways to meet this need of hers that do not undermine your younger’s daughter’s needs.

7. Notice the positive. Make sure you catch your kids “doing good” and getting along with each other. And make sure that they know that you’ve noticed.

More tips on promoting positive sibling relationships and behavior is available in my downloadable e-workbook, Empowered Parenting: A Workbook for Parents of Toddlers and Preschoolers, Helping You Become the Parent You Want to Be.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mindless or Mindful? Must One Choose?

While reading the article, "How to Eat Better - Mindlessly" and watching its accompanying video with Dr. Brian Wansink (click on red arrow at bottom right of article for video), I found myself thinking, "I guess I'm really not a dogma girl." Dr. Wansink, author of the book, "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," has been involved with a large body of research that shows that how much we eat and how we evaluate what we eat is heavily influenced by factors in our environment such as setting, word choice for descriptions of food, plate size, and placement and presentation of food. I find his research fascinating, and have experienced with my own family how simple environmental changes influence eating patterns. For example, if I put whole pieces of fruit in a bowl that is easily accessible to my family, it largely goes uneaten. If, however, I cut up pieces of fruit and put it on the table, it almost always gets eaten entirely.

Dr. Wansink states that the solution to mindless eating is not mindful eating for the vast majority of people because our stomachs are "a terrible gauge of how full (we) are." He is referring to a number of similar, yet distinct, approaches to eating which involve tuning into your body awareness about your sense of hunger and fullness. I value these approaches, including Ellyn Satter's model of eating competenceMichelle May's Am I Hungry program, and Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch's intuitive eating approach, because they all acknowledge the failure of traditional diets in maintaining a healthy weight and body image over time, and they all acknowledge that there is an emotional component to food and eating that needs to be addressed for longterm healthy eating patterns.

Must one really choose between an approach to food and eating that is mindful/intuitive/competent versus one that acknowledges the importance of environmental cues on our eating behaviors? As I said above, I guess I'm not really one to hold tightly to one particular model. In parenting my own children and in my work helping other parents, I value both the use of behavioral plans and of insightful understanding of psychodynamics and attachment relationships: two camps in psychology with a long history of division. I think each has its place and and utility. In my approach to raising children who are successful eaters, I believe it is important for parents to get out of the way and not interfere with most children's natural ability to eat according to their own internal cues of hunger and fullness. I also believe, however, that parents can positively influence their children's eating behaviors by using some anti-mindless environmental cues such as descriptive word choice, setting, and presentation with regard to food and meals.

What do you think? Am I the only one who finds the division between these two models to be unnecessary?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Celebrate Family Dinner with #B4FD!

I wanted to personally invite all Dinner Together blog readers to join me at the Blog for Family Dinner project.

From September 26, 2011 through October 24, 2011, we will be featuring daily blog posts that explore the far-reaching benefits of family dinner. (Learn more about why we chose those dates here.) We've gotten some fantastic written and video posts already, including some personal stories about the challenges involved in making family dinners happen, recipes, and helpful tips and tools, and we can't wait to start publishing! We still have a few slots open and would welcome your submission. You can also help us spread the word to let others know about this project. We even have some sample Facebook and Twitter posts already written for you to just copy and paste for use on your own accounts.

My cofounders in this project, Grace Freedman of eatdinner.org and Billy Mawhiney of Time at the Table will be will offering a teleseminar, "Celebrate Family Dinner with #B4FD!" with me on Tuesday September 20, 2011 at 12pm Eastern. We will be discussing why family meals matter, some tips for overcoming obstacles to family meals, recommendations for enhancing family connections at the family table, and more. We will also be discussing the Blog for Family Dinner project and offering you a preview of upcoming posts we have lined up. This event is free for all Kitchen Table Parents members, and Basic Membership is also free. To learn more about this event, click here.  If you can't join us live, but have a question or comment, please leave it in the comments below this post. The teleseminar will be recorded.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

3 Easy Recipes with Zucchini and Summer Squash

As I mentioned earlier this summer, my family joined a CSA for the first time this year. During the month of August, we received an abundance of zucchini and summer squash. I was actually a little disappointed when there was none at yesterday's pick up (now we've got an abundance of peppers and tomatoes) because I've been having fun experimenting with some new zucchini recipes. I thought I'd share a few of my favorites below.

Baked Ziti with Zucchini and Summer Squash

1 lb ziti
2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 medium yellow squash, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups (8 oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 egg, slightly beaten
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
½ tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
cooking spray
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and return to pot.
  • Mix together ricotta cheese and egg.
  • Add ricotta mixture and 1 ½ cups of mozzarella cheese to the cooked pasta and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Saute zucchini, yellow squash, and onion for about 5 minutes.
  • Add tomato and garlic and cook for about 3 more minutes.
  • Stir cooked vegetable mixture into pasta mixture.
  • Add basil and oregano.
  • Spray a large baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Transfer pasta mixture to baking dish.
  • Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
Serves 10.

Note: This dish freezes very well. Increase the cooking time if baking from frozen.

Slow Cooker Ratatouille
Adapted from The New Creative Crock Pot Cookbook by R.T. Swatt, 2001.

2 medium eggplants, cut into ½-inch thick round slices
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium zucchini, cut into ½-inch slices
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium yellow squash, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 medium tomatoes, sliced into wedges
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup chicken broth (or white wine if you have it)
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
grated Parmesan or crumbled feta cheese (optional)
  • Place the eggplant slices in a large colander and sprinkle with salt to remove excesss water. (I peeled my eggplant first, but that is optional. I know there are lots of nutrients in the skin, but I don’t care for it.)
  • After 30 minutes, rinse the salt off the eggplant and pat dry.
  • Cut the eggplant into 2-inch pieces.
  • In a large skillet, sauté the eggplant, onion, garlic, zucchini, yellow squash, and red pepper for a few minutes.
  • Transfer to a slow cooker and add the tomatoes, olive oil, chicken broth, and vinegar.
  • Cover and cook on Low 4 to 6 hours.
  • Serve with cheese if desired.

Serves 8.

Note: This recipe can also be frozen, but it tastes better fresh; it became a little more watery through the freezing/reheating process.

Summer Squash Ribbons with Lemon and Parmesan
Adapted from RealSimple.com

1 large zucchini
1 large yellow squash
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste
  • Cut the squash and zucchini into long, thin ribbon strips using a vegetable peeler. Stop peeling when you get to the seeded core.
  • Place squash in a large bowl.
  • In a separate small bowl, combine oil, lemon juice, cheese, and salt and pepper.
  • Pour dressing over squash ribbons and toss gently to combine.

Serves 6.