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Healthy Kid-Friendly Favorites

Want to get your kids on board with eating more nutritious meals, but not sure where to start? How about with a week’s worth of better-for-them versions of their favorite meals? They’ll eat what you make, you get to stick to your healthy eating plan, and everyone wins!
Posted 9/14/2012  2:00:00 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 6 comments   29,896 views
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Just for Parents: A Refresher Course on Surviving the School Year

A new school year is under way.  Like many of you, I have been consumed by it for the past few weeks.  School supplies, new sneakers, "back-to-school" night, homework, after-school activities, new teachers, and uniforms have all played some part in the return of school.  These topics have been discussed regularly with friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else I have seen in passing (my dentist, employees at my gym, the girl who prepares my morning chai…).  The great balancing act has begun!

For me, the opening of the school year is usually a seamless transition from summer.  But, for some reason, this year is different.  Third grade feels unlike any other.  There is an anxiety about it that I’ve not felt before (not even when I was in third grade!)  Last week, back-to-school night was outright intimidating!  I watched the third grade teachers’ Power Point presentation and I felt overwhelmed.  I simply couldn’t absorb it all: the dreaded dioramas from my own childhood; an overnight trip of almost 60 kids and only four adults (yikes); something about building machines out of household materials; and the list went on for about 45 minutes.

To be perfectly honest, I think I am writing about this topic because I need a refresher course on the ins and outs of surviving parenthood during the school year.   And, to be even more honest, it wouldn’t hurt to commiserate, find hope, or laugh along with many of you out there whose kids also just started a new school year.  Here, I will remind myself (and you, perhaps) of some important topics:
Posted 9/13/2012  2:00:00 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 9 comments   10,178 views
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How to Teach (and Learn) Self-Control as a Parent

Any pediatrician or experienced parent will tell you that tantrums are just a fact of toddlerhood. Every child throws fits, and every parent struggles with how to deal with them.
What you're actually teaching is self-control, which is what makes it so difficult. That concept starts with you, and controlling yourself in the face of a screaming, irrational toddler is not always easy.
The official advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to distract, ignore and remove--in that order. On the surface, it seems simple. Distract the child when he starts fussing. If he is angry about leaving the playground, sing a silly song to redirect his attention and mood as you buckle him into the car seat. If that doesn't work and he continues to cry and yell, ignore it with the hope that he'll wear out the anger and frustration. And if that doesn't happen and he pitches a toy at your head instead, tell him sternly, ''No throwing!'' and remove the toys and other potential missiles from the car seat.
Simple--except you're now trapped in a vehicle with a kid screaming bloody murder because, after copious warnings that lunch was coming soon, you had the audacity to ask him to leave the playground. For food. Which he needs to survive.
Are you angry yet? Frustrated? Because I'm getting irritated just remembering this horrible experience--er, I mean, thinking about this hypothetical situation.
Posted 8/28/2012  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 20 comments   17,622 views
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CONTEST CLOSED Win a Copy of Our Healthy Lunches E-book


SparkPeople want to help you get your kids off to a healthy start this school year. That's why we are giving away 10 copies of our latest e-book: A Month of Fun and Healthy School Lunches from SparkPeople, written by our very own Samantha Donohue, dailySpark blogger and healthy lunch packer extraordinaire.

Since Samantha's three children were born, she has prepared more than 8,000 healthy lunches, which means that she has also cut more than 64,000 crusts off her kids' sandwiches. She has tons of great tips and tricks for packing creative, nutritious meals that kids will like--and that won't take very much time! We also asked Dietitian Becky, who has a son in high school and a daughter in college, and Chef Meg, who has three teenage boy--including twins, for their best ideas! 

We think it's just what you need to get kids excited about packing lunch--with ideas and recipes for meals they'll actually eat.

Enter the contest today! 
Posted 8/27/2012  6:00:00 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 5 comments   14,966 views
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How to Keep Your Child Safe in Cyberspace

Technology is everywhere.  Personal computers and smart phones grant us easy access to games, chatting forums, and countless threads of information that seep into every corner of our lives. 

When we think of children's cyber safety, we most often think of monitoring Internet use on computers.  And some parents do, though not enough.  One study of teen Internet safety reported that 75% of teens said that their parents almost never monitor their use. Additionally, almost one-third of teens surveyed said their parents would disapprove of how they spend their time on the Internet. 

Besides computers, other devices need monitoring, too.  Kids and teens now chat, share pictures, and watch videos on cell phones and gaming systems. Downloaded games on smart phones and gaming devices often have a chat component within them—and these games can usually be played with random online ''buddies.''

What technology does your child have access to?  What technology does your child have that allows others to have access TO your child?   Do you trust blindly or monitor closely?  Would your child know what to do if he came across inappropriate content or if someone asked her questions through a chat?

Recently, the playroom door in our house was closed.  It is never closed, so it caught my attention.  I opened it and my 7-year-old son, with his gaming device in hand, looked up with an ''Oh, no, I didn't expect you to walk into the room'' expression.   Without thinking, I blurted out, ''Put your hands where I can see them and don't move!''  (Perhaps I need to cut back on TV.)  I took his game and found that he was watching a video that was borderline inappropriate for his age—I would deem it ''okay,'' but only with adult explanation of its content.  Unbeknownst to me, the system regularly gives the (child) user notifications and access to new games, music videos, and the like. 

It became clear that a ''switch'' had turned on in his little brain, and he had to be monitored more closely than I'd realized. 
Posted 8/23/2012  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 17 comments   17,314 views
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Parenting is NOT One-Size-Fits-All

The advice starts pouring in as soon as your belly starts to show.

First, they want to tell you how to give birth. Then, they have wisdom about how to feed the baby. Breastfeeding, bottle feeding--doesn't matter. The world has opinions and those opinions don't care what's working best for you and your child and your lives. Just when you thought no one could have any more to say about food, it's time to start solids. Actually, it probably was time a month ago. Unless you've already started, in which case, that's too early! The food advice slows only when the questions about the big developmental milestones start flowing. ''Is he walking yet? Has she started talking? Here's how you get them ready…''

And of course, there's the mother of all parenting advice: ''Enjoy them now! They grow so fast."

Some of my best parenting tricks have come from the advice of others. My sister taught me how to diaper a baby boy to prevent leaks. My mom helped me learn to ignore the small tantrums of a toddler. I got my boys to at least try everything on their plates thanks to the advice of a blogger. A preschool teacher taught me how to turn on my sons' ''listening ears'' before issuing commands. I'm all for using the wisdom of the masses to make my life easier.

But I've also gotten some really rotten advice, advice that makes life harder if only by its existence.

Posted 8/14/2012  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 30 comments   10,209 views
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A Month of Fun, Healthy School Lunches

Want to get kids off to a healthy start this school year? So does SparkPeople! That's why our very own Samantha Donohue, dailySpark blogger and healthy lunch packer extraordinaire, wrote our latest e-book: A Month of Fun and Healthy School Lunches from SparkPeople.

We think it's just what you need to get kids excited about packing lunch--with tips and recipes for meals they'll actually eat.

With A Month of Fun and Healthy School Lunches, you'll end the food fight and get kids excited about packing lunch--with fun yet simple meals they'll actually eat. Written by a mother of three, with 50 easy and healthy recipes plus plenty of ideas tested by real parents in real life, this e-book turns lunchtime into fun time while reinforcing the importance of eating right!

The book includes:
  • Tips for Making Healthy School Lunches Kids Will Actually Eat
  • Mom-Tested Tips for Saving Money and Time
  • Fun, Easy Ways to Turn Lunch into Something Special
  • The Basics of Planning a Healthy Lunch
  • Dozens of Meal Ideas: DIY Lunches, Finger Foods, Sandwich Makeovers and More
  • Also: Tips for Teens, Tweens, and Kids Who Insist on Buying Lunch
  • Bonus: 25 Healthy, Kid-Friendly After-School Snack Ideas!

The book is available now on and for just $2.99.

No e-reader? No problem!  If you don't have an e-reader, such as a Kindle or NOOK, you can still read these e-books. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer free downloads of their e-reader apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and other mobile devices. 

Click here for more info about our other great e-books, which are a fun way to learn more about healthy cooking.
Posted 8/13/2012  6:00:00 PM By: Stepfanie Romine : 2 comments   19,562 views
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Kindergarten 'Redshirting': A Leg Up or an Unfair Advantage?

August is flying by. All too soon a new school year will begin, and with it will come the same mixed feelings and buzz of energy that surrounded the end of the school year. Besides the traditional anxieties of getting to the bus stop on time and remembering to pack a healthy lunch, for many parents of kindergarten-age students, there is another anxiety, this one with much higher stakes than being tardy on the first day of school: When should you enroll your child in kindergarten?   

When we were kids, most US children started school at 5 years old.  It's a much bigger decision now, with controversy and even politics on both sides of the issue.
I followed the old rule and kept it simple.  I enrolled my son in kindergarten for one reason: He was 5 years old, and being five meant going to kindergarten.  He started school two days after his late August birthday in 2009. To me, it was a no-brainer. From the start, there were good signs: In the first week of kindergarten he met his (still) best friend, and their birthdays are less than a week apart!  They were instant buddies. 

But the naïve bubble in which I was living soon burst. 

Their birthdays are within a week of each other, in two different years.  His newfound chum was an entire year older than him and there were kids in his class who were nearly 18 months older than him (At age five, that's almost a third of your life older!)  Evidently, it was not as simple as I thought.

How much did you (or do you) think about when to start your son or daughter in kindergarten?  Is your child one of the youngest or the oldest in the class?  Have you heard the term redshirting?
Posted 8/9/2012  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 129 comments   48,394 views
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Reader's Request: How Do You Get Kids to Eat a Healthy Lunch?

It's almost parents' favorite time of year: back-to-school.

That's why we're asking for your help. We hear from members all the time how difficult it can be to get kids to eat right--and even more so when they're away from home and tempted by pizza and chocolate milk in the lunch line.

Would you be willing to share your best tips in the comments below?
Posted 8/3/2012  10:00:00 AM By: Stepfanie Romine : 47 comments   17,636 views
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Can We Teach Ourselves (and Our Kids) to Be Happier?

Every morning, I start my day with a hot chai.  In the summer, it is a particularly special treat.  Instead of my usual vanilla chai, it is transformed into a half-coconut, half-vanilla chai.  I realize it has too many calories and I should opt for sugar-free syrup (at least it is nonfat), but I consider it my one indulgence.  My one addiction. 

My morning pleasure. 

It makes me happy. 

Happiness.  Most of us want it.  Many of us have it. The drive-thru window where I get my chai provides an interesting backdrop for a small study of the differences in people's levels of happiness. 

There is one girl who is simply bubbling over with happiness each and every time I see her.  It is genuine.  She actually makes you happy.  I would love to meet her parents. 

Then there is another person whom you dread hearing on the speaker and seeing at the window.  Nothing about him even whispers, "Hey, I'm a mostly happy guy."  

With which person do you most identify?

There are two ways that we can think about happiness.  We can consider things that come and go, but bring happiness to us when we experience them (for many, these include shopping, eating, and drinking).  We can also consider something that I think of as our "way of being."  We can have episodes of happiness or we can just simply be happy. 
Posted 7/26/2012  2:00:00 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 28 comments   18,239 views
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How to Get Your Kids to Drink Water

Water is the best thing you can give your kids to drink during the hot summer days. But how do you get them to drink it? How do you get them to chug down plain old water at the pool when they're surrounded by other kids guzzling down sugary juice boxes? How do you get your hard-playing child to drink water instead of sugar-laden sports drinks? How do you expect them to get a bottle of water at the baseball game instead of a cold, fizzy soda?
Posted 7/24/2012  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 26 comments   20,137 views
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The Popularity Contest: Why You Don't Need to Finish First

Disclaimer: Psychological research is largely based on averages for groups of people.  We prove practically nothing in psychology!  It is too difficult--people are too complicated! When dealing with the human mind, one size does not fit all.

Think back to your grade school and high school years.  Think about the kids you went to school with.  Who was popular?  How would you describe those kids?  Who did you like the most among your peers?  Why did you like them? 

Research on popularity is now being understood with a new lens.  For decades, it went like this: Researchers would ask kids who they liked and disliked, and would then add up the number of likes and dislikes for each child. Based on the votes, kids were categorized as popular, average, controversial, rejected or neglected.  Those kids who received the most ''like'' votes (and rarely received dislike votes) were classified as ''popular.''

Recently, researchers have been paying attention to children’s comments a little bit more and have started to debate whether being liked is the same as being popular.  The answer: Being liked by many peers is not the same as being considered popular by peers.  Popularity is based more on reputation than on the degree to which one is liked. 

The (mostly) bright side: Popular kids tend to be competent both athletically and academically, and are often physically attractive.  They also show lots of prosocial behaviors and have good senses of humor.  The dark side: Kids who are popular tend to be socially dominant.  Popularity often involves aggressive physical and psychological/social behavior.  For some kids, the more relationally aggressive they are (spreading rumors, threatening not to be somebody’s friend), the more likely they are to maintain their powerful ''popular'' status.  And, unfortunately, when being mean to others pays off, it becomes a reinforcing cycle.
Posted 7/12/2012  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 36 comments   25,592 views
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How to Minimize Summer Sickness

Few things are worse than a summer cold.

Summer is supposed to be a break from the sniffles and sneezes of cold and flu season, but I've found that when you have small children, there is no break from germs. If anything, summer–the season of pools and splash pads, shared water bottles and summer camps–just gives your children more opportunities to bring home a virus.

My boys are in a daycare that has a weekly water day all summer. The school fills up kiddie pools and sprinklers and lets the kids run around splashing and squirting each other. They have a blast. But by the end of the day, the pool is more snot than it is water. And it never fails--everyone in our house is congested and coughing within a week.

I haven't figured out how to avoid the germs altogether, but I do have a few tips for minimizing the damage.

Posted 7/10/2012  10:00:00 AM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 6 comments   12,128 views
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How Do We Raise Morally Healthy Children?

You may have heard the recent news about a school bus aide who was tormented to the point of tears by a group of middle school students. The appalling encounter was caught on video and went viral on YouTube. News stories, internet videos and even thousands of dollars of sympathy donations are among the reactions of shocked Americans across the country.  The questions are rampant:  How could the tormenters behave that way?  How does a person sit idly while victimized?  Could the bus aide have done anything to stop the boys?  What did the parents do (or not do) to raise boys that would behave that way?

At some point, all of us have been the victim of someone’s bad judgment, whether it be a comment or glare because of our age, weight, or some physical feature.  It is wrong, but we cannot escape it.  Why are we compelled to hurt other people?  Even worse, why do some take pleasure in hurting others? 

Posted 6/28/2012  2:00:00 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 49 comments   19,595 views
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Have Fun and Stay Safe in the Summer Heat

We live in South Florida. It's summer. And it's hot.

This time of year, it's 80 degrees at 7 a.m. with 80 percent humidity. It can get to be 90 degrees in the shade by noon.
I've stopped complaining about it, and my kids, born into this sweltering subtropical region, believe the freezing point to be 50 degrees. Yet, even they protest that it's too hot to play outside during the summer, which is fine by me since I'm constantly worrying that they'll collapse of heat stroke from running around the ''bases'' in our backyard.
Still, it's summer, and the kids can't be cooped up all the time. We've discovered a few ways to stay active–and safe–in the heat.
Posted 6/26/2012  2:00:00 PM By: SparkPeople Guest Blogger : 18 comments   10,749 views
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