Breakfast Monkey (Making Mornings Fun)

Breakfast Monkey

I’d like to introduce you to Breakfast Monkey. Born from a Kinder Egg, Breakfast Monkey arrives each morning to make sure little boys and girls eat a good breakfast. Kids have to eat three bites of their breakfast to make him appear and then he does dances when they are eating well. Breakfast Monkey also gets into trouble; he tries to steal bits of breakfast food from dawdling toddlers, which of course makes said food extremely desirable.

This is what my mornings looked like before Breakfast Monkey came into our lives: lots of whining, begging and crying from all involved.

After Breakfast Monkey: sunshine and rainbows. (Not quite … but much, much better.)

I am pretty grumpy in the mornings. S still isn’t sleeping through the night and so we play musical beds in the wee hours depending on who needs to do what the next day and I am really bad about going to bed when I should. So, I’m tired and cranky and the last thing I want to do is enter into Toddler Negotiations before coffee. J is also a notoriously slow eater, but he has to be ready for the bus by 7:30. S really would rather carry bits of food with her as she runs laps around the house, depositing uneaten bits in various corners. Mornings are stressful with the bus deadline looming and an almost two year old on the loose. And in case you didn’t know, nagging a toddler has a reverse effect.

And so one morning, in a moment of desperation to stop the whining, I grabbed the nearest little toy and made him jump around. The kids giggled and started eating happily (and quickly!). Breakfast Monkey was born.

Breakfast Monkey Happy Kids

In the process of playing “Breakfast Monkey” (which I have since learned is a rejected Cartoon Network pitch), I found myself smiling a bit in the morning, too. 

What a difference. 

How do you make mornings fun?

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March for Babies: Why I Walk

I’m walking in the March of Dimes 2015 March for Babies (<– click here to support us!) for the third year in a row. With the exception of the year right after J was born, I’ve walked each year since–even when I was 33-weeks pregnant. I walk with a group of families whose children were in the NICU at the same time as J. 

March for Babies: Why I Walk

At the 2013 and 2014 March for Babies. In 2013, I was 33-weeks pregnant with S. (J was born at 33 weeks). 

Although our NICU stay (20 days) was not as long as the other families we know (six weeks to six months), nor was it as harrowing—J was never in mortal danger, he just needed extra time to grow before he could come home—this event still makes me very emotional. Through this and other mom groups I am apart of, I’ve come to know several families whose babies never came home.

The fragility of all life—particularly that of young children—is something we’d rather not acknowledge. It’s uncomfortable. It unlocks a Pandora’s box of fear and emotion. It’s become a taboo topic in our culture. Yet, it is a very real part of life for so many families who silently acknowledge an empty seat at the table or birthdays that will go uncelebrated. Some of these families may even be in your close circle of friends and you may not even know that there’s someone in their lives whom they miss keenly each day. 

October 15 is the official Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, however I’m writing about it today because this is every day for far too many families. And this is why I choose to walk each year—so that fewer and fewer families may experience the bottomless grief of losing a child.

If you know someone whose family has been touched by the loss of a child. Love them and give them a safe space to talk about the one who is missing from their lives—even if it makes you a little uncomfortable.

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Raising Resilient Kids

Being resilient is so important to making it in life; it leads to self-confidence and the ability to learn (and move on) from your mistakes. Unfortunately, it’s also a skill that is mainly honed through experiencing failure and disappointment and learning how to overcome.

I often wonder how I am going to teach my kids to be resilient. It’s a hard thing to do because I just want to protect them, but I can’t stunt their growth. Mama’s got to stand back sometimes and let the littles figure it out for themselves.

Raising Resilient Kids

I feel that J, especially, needs a big reserve in the resiliency department. Life in general just takes more out of him, it is harder when everyday tasks take more work and concentration than they do for everyone else. He gets frustrated easily and he is also a sensitive soul. He’s starting to become aware that he can’t do everything that his peers do. And he keenly feels it when they don’t want to play with him for one reason or another. We try to use these moments to help him figure out how to dust off his pants and move on. But it’s hard. It’s hard on all of us.

We try to tell him “it’s no big deal” when things don’t go his way: when the blocks fall, when he can’t get something just right, when a kid at the playground runs off and he can’t catch up. We try to distract and find something new—something he can do to help him feel success. But, it’s not the same. He knows it. We know it.

So, I’ve done quite a bit of reading about how to help both S and J develop resiliency. And here’s what I’ve learned. You’ve got to let them experience pain and frustrations in life, encourage them to search for their own solutions, and then be right there to help them find their way to put themselves back together and move on. In other words, I’ve got to let my mommy guard down and let the chips fall where they may (within reason) for J and S and then be there to help them pick up the pieces (if they need it).

Here’s a few practical ways we’re working on resiliency at home:

  • Allowing J and S to try to work through their scuffles themselves before intervening.
  • Allowing J to experiment with building new structures or trying other things even if we know it might end in tears of frustration. Allowing those tears to come and then coach him through to recovery. (We don’t do it for him.)
  • Asking J or S for their explanation of the situation and what they think they can do.
  • Helping them find a solution, but encourage them to do as much as possible on their own.
  • Expecting the S and J to wait for us to finish talking or another task (within reason, of course!) before moving on to their request.

Here’s some more really good ideas from Creative with Kids.

I’ve also found these resources to be extremely helpful:

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Greek Turkey Meatballs

Easy Greek Turkey Meatballs with FetaThis one is a crowd pleaser in our house. It takes a bit of work, but it’s worth it to make one dinner and to see smiles all around the table. It also fits in with my 21-Day Fix eating plan fairly well (especially with zucchini noodles).

The mixture can be pretty goopy, so I use a cookie scoop to form the meatballs and then I gently roll them just a bit with (wet) hands before putting them on the parchment paper.

Greek Turkey Meatballs in the oven

I like to buy or make tzatziki sauce to go with these, but they also go well with a light tomato sauce or even just plain! The kids aren’t huge fans of feta cheese, so I make a few before I add it to the mix.

 

Greek Turkey Meatballs
Yields 25
A family favorite. They also freeze really well.
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62 calories
2 g
28 g
4 g
6 g
1 g
30 g
64 g
0 g
0 g
2 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
30g
Yields
25
Amount Per Serving
Calories 62
Calories from Fat 33
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 4g
6%
Saturated Fat 1g
6%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 28mg
9%
Sodium 64mg
3%
Total Carbohydrates 2g
1%
Dietary Fiber 0g
1%
Sugars 0g
Protein 6g
Vitamin A
15%
Vitamin C
1%
Calcium
3%
Iron
4%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1 lb ground turkey
  2. 1 cup frozen chopped spinach (thawed and drained)
  3. 1/3 cup breadcrumbs (whole wheat is best)
  4. 1 egg
  5. 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  6. 1 tablespoon oregano
  7. ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  8. salt and pepper to taste (I go light on the salt because the Worchestershire sauce and feta are salty)
  9. 1/3 cup feta cheese (or more if you like)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until everything is well combined.
  3. Form into 1”-1 ½” meatballs and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 15–20 minutes.
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calories
62
fat
4g
protein
6g
carbs
2g
more
Learning Grace http://www.learning-grace.com/
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Tyranny of Toys: Toy Rotation

Toy rotation is when you put out just a few toys at a time and then change them up every so often.Ideally I’d do this a lot better than I do, but I’ve found that doing this at just about any level is helpful. 

Rotating Toys-Encourage Play

There are a lot of benefits to toy rotation. These are the big ones for me:

  • Less clutter.
  • Old toys feel “new” again.
  • Kids are more engaged with the toys. (And they play with them in new ways.)
  • Two words: independent play.

There are a lot of great articles out there about how to determine what kinds of toys (and how many) should be out at one time. Some of my favorites are listed below.

I put out a lot more toys that what’s ideal because we don’t have much storage space. I rotate the toys probably every 6–8 weeks or so. There are several signals that tell me it’s time to rotate:  J just gets “stuck” playing with certain toys in only one way, the kids start fighting over them more often, and they just don’t seem to be as engaged. 

Here’s the main place where we keep our in-rotation toys. Some things stay out all the time: Toy Rotationsome form of blocks (Legos, wooden, etc), musical instruments, the baby stroller and the riding toys (not pictured). I do change up what’s in the pretend play box (tea pot, picnic basket, clothing). I also reconfigure the open shelves pretty regularly to give it a new “look” and encourage the kids to play with different toys. 

This Toy Rotation post on Playful Learning describes in-depth how to create and store different sets of toys. I like how she breaks it all down step-by-step. I am certainly not that organized. I drag everything out (see evidence here) and then think about where S and J are in their development and interests and try to decide appropriately.

 And here are some more resources about rotating toys. It’s a bit of extra work, but it’s worth it for us.

And don’t forget the sage advice given by Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, identify the items (toys) that spark joy and keep those.

 All of this has made me want to take another look at what we’ve got going on around the rest of the house.

Happy toy taming! Wish me some luck, too.

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Baked Oatmeal: Your Way

Oatmeal Square2I don’t know about your house, but breakfast is always a rushed situation in ours.

I found this recipe on Pinterest around the time that we started changing our diet to whole grains and natural sweeteners. Over time our version of this recipe has evolved. I now make it with more of this and less of that and now it’s our own. I also make it in a 9×13 pan instead of individual muffins just to save time. I make a few variations depending on what’s on hand. The version pictured here is made with 2 cups of pumpkin and one banana. I added diced apples and topped it with sunflower seeds for some crunch. Blueberries, raisins, cranberries, pecans and just about anything tastes good in this.

Oatmeal Bowl This freezes really well, so I make it once a month or so and store the individual pieces between parchment paper so all I have to do in the morning is pull out a few pieces, reheat them and we have a hot breakfast all around. Oatmeal Pan

 

Baked Oatmeal: Your Way
Yields 15
Wheat- and sugar-free adaptable breakfast that makes everyone happy.
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175 calories
31 g
28 g
4 g
6 g
1 g
146 g
187 g
11 g
0 g
3 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
146g
Yields
15
Amount Per Serving
Calories 175
Calories from Fat 35
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 4g
6%
Saturated Fat 1g
6%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol 28mg
9%
Sodium 187mg
8%
Total Carbohydrates 31g
10%
Dietary Fiber 4g
18%
Sugars 11g
Protein 6g
Vitamin A
53%
Vitamin C
14%
Calcium
12%
Iron
9%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 2 eggs
  2. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  3. 1 banana mashed
  4. 1 cup applesauce
  5. 1 cup pumpkin
  6. 1/3 cup maple syrup or honey (I use more or less depending on how much applesauce is used)
  7. 4 cups rolled oats
  8. 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  9. 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
  10. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  11. 1 teaspoon salt
  12. 2 cups milk (almond and soy milk work as well)
  13. Optional additions: berries, pears, apples, raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, etc.
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix eggs, vanilla, applesauce/pumpkin, banana and honey/maple syrup in a large bowl.
  3. Add oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and salt. Mix well with wet ingredients.
  4. Pour in milk and combine.
  5. Stir in fruit/nuts.
  6. Grease a 9x13 pan and pour in the mixture.
  7. Bake 50 minutes to one hour, until a toothpick in the center comes out clean.
  8. Cool and enjoy.
Notes
  1. The applesauce/pumpkin/banana combination is adaptable as long as you have roughly the same amount of mashed fruit/vegetable. The one pictured is made with one banana and two cups of pumpkin, no applesauce. Sliced apples are baked inside and it's topped with sunflower seeds.
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calories
175
fat
4g
protein
6g
carbs
31g
more
Learning Grace http://www.learning-grace.com/
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Tyranny of Toys: Out of the House

I’m going to keep it real. This is what my living room looks like right now. I’ve been feeling overrun by toys, so I’m cleaning out.

Tyranny of ToysWe live in a Brooklyn apartment, which means space is at a premium and there’s no such thing as a “playroom.”  There are also only three closets—none of the walk-in variety. So, most things have to be stored in plain sight and it’s a struggle to keep the place looking like something that one could consider “neat” or “orderly.” But I try. 

When it’s time to let go of some toys I often get paralyzed by one of two things:

  • We have so many good memories with this toy, how could I ever let it go?
  • This toy is in good condition; I can’t throw it out, but I don’t know who would take it.

And this is where I have to get tough. Everything has to go into one of these categories:

  • Keep
  • Save
  • Donate
  • Sell
  • Trash 

Keep

I keep they toys that J & S are playing with right now and a few that I think they’ll grow into. I have about 1.5–2.5 times what can be put out in our play area at any one time because I rotate toys. I’ve got another post in the works about this.

Save

I save the toys that I’m just emotionally attached to. This is a danger zone, because I think I can find an attachment to almost any toy we have. To limit myself, I have two bins in the kid’s closet for keepsakes. The sentimental toys will go in there. As those bins have gotten full, I’ve gone back and revised what I think I’ll want to keep for time and eternity.

Sell

We have a local resell Facebook page that I’ll post some of the better toys on. Sometimes I they get sold and we add a few bucks to our household money, sometimes they don’t. In which case I add them to the donate pile.

Donate

I check around with friends to see if they have any need for what I’m about to give away. If not, I give to one of the local charities. Right now, I have a TON of stuffed animals to give away and not everyone takes those so I asked on my community’s parent Facebook page and got some great ideas:

  • A local toy store takes used toy donations and sends them to local charities as there is need.
  • A nearby shelter for abused women also takes toys and clothes.
  • The Teddy Bear Brigade gives toys to children recovering from disaster. 

I like knowing that the toys will be helping local families.

Trash

Just put the tchotchkes in the trash, along with toys broken beyond repair and anything else that just needs to hit the curb.

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Whole Wheat Strawberry Oat Muffins

(or what to do with extra strawberries and toddlers)

StrawberryOatMuffins4
My in-laws visited last weekend. They live about an hour away and travel a lot so it’s not too often that we get to see them. As always they arrived bearing a generous amount of groceries for us. We don’t have a car and they like to help us out by bringing some things that would be cumbersome for us to cart home. It’s very nice of them, but sometimes I feel overwhelmed at the amount of food coming into my tiny kitchen and I’m at a loss for where it should go and how we’re going to eat it before it spoils.

In this week’s haul were four pounds of organic strawberries. My mother-in-law said they got a really good deal on them and we sure appreciated them. Strawberries in late February are a real treat for us. And, although I try to buy organic it’s cost prohibitive a lot of the year so we often go without. The strawberries were pretty ripe and had about 48 good hours left. Those hours have passed and we still had 2.5 lbs left. So, I turned to the internet and found some good healthy strawberry muffin recipes. I patched a few together (namely this one and this one) to make these whole-grain beauties sweetened with maple syrup instead of white sugar.

Strawberry oat collageAnd because I was feeling extra courageous I decided to bake them with my kids. My son has been asking to cook with me for awhile lately. I’ve been putting him off because it’s just so hard to cook with littles. But I took the time and premeasured and prepped almost all the ingredients, so it was (mostly) a success. Baby girl dumped about half the bowl with the baking soda and baking powder on the floor, so I had to guess how much I needed to add back in. In the end they tasted pretty good.

 

Whole Wheat Strawberry Oat Muffins
Yields 12
100% whole grain muffins sweetened with maple syrup
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137 calories
21 g
18 g
5 g
3 g
4 g
67 g
168 g
5 g
0 g
1 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
67g
Yields
12
Amount Per Serving
Calories 137
Calories from Fat 42
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 5g
8%
Saturated Fat 4g
18%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 18mg
6%
Sodium 168mg
7%
Total Carbohydrates 21g
7%
Dietary Fiber 1g
4%
Sugars 5g
Protein 3g
Vitamin A
1%
Vitamin C
15%
Calcium
9%
Iron
4%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. ½ cup rolled oats
  2. 1 ½ cup white whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur’s)
  3. ½ teaspoon salt
  4. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  5. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  6. Zest of one lemon
  7. 1/3 cup maple syrup
  8. 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  9. 1 egg
  10. 1 cup yogurt
  11. 1 cup diced fresh strawberries
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin.
  2. Whisk the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl beat together the remaining ingredients except the strawberries. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir until just combined. Do not over mix. Fold in the strawberries.
  4. Fill the muffin cups to ¾ full. Bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.
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calories
137
fat
5g
protein
3g
carbs
21g
more
Learning Grace http://www.learning-grace.com/

 

 

 

 

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