Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Do Fast Food Restaurants Target Children? by, Barbara Christensen

Thank you to Barbara Christensen of EatFreshInTheCity for contributing this article. Reprinted by permission.

                                          Do Fast Food Restaurants Target Children?
Yes, according to a lead story on our local news . Of course I had to know what they said in the study. It was done by the Yale Rudd Center and documented the menu items offered in these restaurant and how they are marketed to kids. They looked at 12 of the nation’s largest fast-food chains, including McDonald’s, Subway, Domino’s and KFC. Kelly Brownell, Ph.D, with the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, said, “Several of the largest fast-food companies have made pledges they would market less to children, but in fact, in the past several years, the amount of fast-food marketing has gone up.” In fact the article showed that the average preschooler sees three fast-food ads per day. I am not surprised. The other day my daughter was watching Sprout while I was cooking dinner, and my husband was shocked that there was a debt reduction commercial on a preschooler's channel. The truth is that your children are watching commercials geared towards decisions that they will want to make in life, that you most likely won’t want them to make. How many of you have kids with credit cards that are just 18 years old?
The study also found that at most fast food restaurants, a single meal contains at least half of young person’s daily recommended calories and sodium. Also they found that at least 30 percent of the calories in these meals bought by kids comes from sugar and saturated fats. And if you didn’t think that was bad enough they found that these fast food companies heavily target African American and Hispanic youth. African Americans see at least 50 percent more fast food ads than their white peers.
Do you want to learn more? There is a great website that I think every parent should check out Fast Food F.A.C.T.S. Some of the top facts that they shared may make you mad…in fact I hope that they do:
Only 12 of 3,039 possible kids’ meal combinations meet nutrition criteria for preschoolers. Only 15 meet nutrition criteria for older children. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
40% of parents report their children ask to go to McDonald’s at least once a week; 15% of preschoolers ask to go every day. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
84% of parents report taking their child to a fast food restaurant at least once a week. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
Teens, 13-17, purchase 800-1,100 calories in an average fast food meal, roughly half their recommended daily total. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
The fast food industry spent more than $4.2 billion dollars in 2009 on TV advertising and other media. -Fast Food F.A.C.T.S.
Our recommendation is to be in control of what your children eat. Make healthy meals at home, and send healthy meals to school. And I love what Bari Nan Cohen, prior entertainment editor for Good Housekeeping, said, “it’s really not whether or not you let your kids eat fast food that determines their nutritional fate, it’s how you talk about all food, all the time, that leaves the strongest impression.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Great Video by Katherine Center

A friend showed me this short clip on youtube and it touched my heart. I thought you all might enjoy it too so I wrote to Katherine Center and asked her for permission to post it here on my blog. She graciously agreed. Katherine is a novelist with Random House. To learn more about her and her books visit www.katherinecenter.com  Many thanks to her for this beautiful message.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mommy Vacation Guilt

I am leaving tomorrow to spend a week in Italy. My best friend and her family are living in Rome right now, so I am going to go visit her while my husband holds down the fort here at home. I'm very excited about this trip. It will be my first time visiting Europe and I have a million things I want to see and do. But today I noticed a tiny bit of "mommy guilt" seeping into my day. I'm trying very hard to make sure things are all set and ready before I go so no one's activities will be interrupted at all. Food is in the pantry so they won't starve. This will a good chance for the kids to spend extra time with their Dad, so I know they will have fun. I won't even be away all that long really.  I won't miss too much and they'll barely notice I'm gone before I'm on my way home. So why then am I feeling these pangs that somehow I shouldn't be doing this? I don't think I'm the only Mom out there that feels guilt when she does anything just for herself.  I think we all need to stop doing that to ourselves don't you? And here's why -

1) It's important now and then for a woman to reconnect with who she is at a deep level. Just her, all by herself. To have fun and have time to think and relax and have adventures.  Just because we had a child it doesn't mean that the girl inside of us ceased to exist. We don't stop having dreams and goals and wanting to play and laugh and explore. I love being a Mom and it brings me great joy. But now and then I want to go remember that I am not just "Kevin's Mother". I am Laura. And I'm going to love eating gelato on the Spanish Steps.

2) It's a good message to teach our children that they need to take time to renew their spirits. So when they are parents they will nurture themselves and their relationships with their spouses properly. I wish now I had understood this better when I was a younger mother. I want to teach this lesson to them.

3) It's a good thing now and then for kids to have time with their dad's with Mom out of the way. The child/father relationship is different than the one they share with their mothers. But since Mom is often the more hands-on parent, Dad can feel a little pushed out of the way at times. He may not do things exactly how you do them while you are gone, but the kids will have a great time. Remember that old Bill Cosby comedy routine? "Dad is great! Gives us the chocolate cake."   No worries...they'll survive.

4)  There can be a bit of relentlessness in the life of a mother. Repetitive tasks and constant demands. Carpools and meals to be prepared. Diapers and dishes. Laundry. Homework. Pretty much dawn to dark day after day. It's all good, but can be physically and mentally exhausting. A little R and R  can help ward off depression and anxiety and resentment. Getting some extra sleep and a little break in the same routine is critical now and then. I am a better Mom when I take the time to recharge my own personal batteries from time to time. Even the long plane ride sounds restful. Hours and hours with no one asking me anything except "peanuts or pretzels?" Bliss!

5) Going away helps you appreciate coming home all the more. As nice as the vacation will be I will miss seeing the faces of my loved ones every day. Will wonder often what they are doing. I'll miss them. And be just as excited to be on my way home as I am to be leaving now. I'll return with some fun stories and pictures and European candy to share! They have already put in their requests.

I'm going to try to keep up with the blogs this week, but if my posts are a little more sporadic than usual I hope you will understand. The Sistine Chapel calls my name!! Au Revoir!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Car Chats With Teens

Our 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

Talking to teenagers can be challenging to say the least. They have long since outgrown the notion that you know much about anything, so they don't always come to you for advice like they used to. When you kindly try to offer your wisdom they often have the audacity to call it "nagging."   They will be gone for the whole evening, but when you ask how it was you hear "ok."  Ask what they did, "nothing." If they seem upset you may feel inclined to ask what is the matter, but be careful because that can sometimes backfire. Whatever the problem was can quickly become your fault. It's a volatile time of life, so even if they were very open the day before they may be guarded today. Communication can become very strained as they push the boundaries and exert their independence and this tension can spill over into ordinary conversation. They may seem far more interested in talking to their friends than to you. Take heart. All of this is fairly normal and won't last forever. So how do you stay connected, instill lessons and express love when their eyes glaze over the minute you begin to speak?

Having dealt with four teenagers of my own so far, I have learned a lesson that seems to work every time. Teenagers open up and talk in the car better than anywhere else. I'm not an expert, but I have my theories as to why this is. Teens are fairly self conscious and defensive generally. So if you say to them, "Hey let's talk" their guard immediately goes up as they wonder what you intend to lecture them about this time. But if you invite them to go to the store with you that is totally non threatening, so they are feeling more open. Talking in the car is also nice because it is less direct. Eye contact is wonderful, but can overwhelm a teen if they have something to tell you that they are embarrassed about. Or if they aren't sure how you will react. Not staring straight at them and having scenery to focus on can provide just enough buffer that they feel braver sometimes. In the car you have them all to yourself for awhile. If you can avoid their natural instinct to blast the music at high volume, it is uninterrupted conversation time.  Let them play the music if they wish. That in itself can loosen them up.  Just play it softly enough to hear each other over the din. Don't tackle issues head on. I have found it works better to chit chat about mundane things until you have rapport built up. Then try to ask questions that do not lend themselves to one word answers. Rather than say, "how was school today?"  try, "What's one good thing and one bad thing that happened at school today?"    Then pause long enough to really hear their answer before charging on to make your point.

Another great teen car tip...be the driver whenever you can to groups of your teenagers friends. Then just be quiet and listen carefully.   They actually often forget you are there and you will be amazed how much you will learn as they talk to each other. Never use this information against them later or they will think of you as spying on them. Just tuck it away as information about your son or daughter that can help you know them better.

Teenagers get a bad rap I think as surly rude creatures. They can be at times, but they are also quite delightful. It is an age of great confusion and anxiety and change for them. Sometimes they don't talk much just because they really don't know what to do or say. Or they are pondering deep thoughts about life. Seriously. Often I learn more from them than the other way around. And sometimes hanging out with them in silence is ok too. But you will be surprised if you consistently invite them along on errands or find other opportunities to be alone in the car how often they will open up and start talking. Having a hard time getting them to join you...how about offering to let them drive? Yes it's terrifying (but that is another post for another day)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hiking With Your Kids

I went hiking with my husband and daughters (16 and 12) yesterday in the beautiful White Oak Canyon of Shenendoah National Park. It was a gorgeous sunny day in the 60's. Couldn't have asked for better weather. The trail was so pretty. For most of the day we hiked next to a rushing stream, so we had the peaceful sounds of the water soothing us as we walked. The leaves were not on the trees yet so we didn't have the usual greenery, but the advantage of that was greater visibility of the mountains in the distance and of the many waterfalls that you pass along the trail. It was just a really great day.

Now I guess to say that I hiked "with" my daughters might be a bit misleading. In truth they have way more energy and stamina than I do so they spent most of the day about a 1/2 mile out in front of me. They bounced along while I dragged myself upward at a somewhat slower pace. But while we may not have spent the day talking and bonding in that way, we still all walked away with the same memories. We still got out and were active in the fresh air together. I hope I still instilled in them that I value fitness and nature. And taking the time off from other activities to share that with them. I think they had fun. I know I sure did, even though I am sore this morning. I would highly recommend hiking with your children of all ages. In this world of media and rushing around, the simplicity of nature is a welcome environment in which to connect with those you love.

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Spring" Party

This coming Sunday (March 20th) is the first day of Spring. After being cooped up inside all winter long this is really something to celebrate!!! So this weekend why not have a "spring" party. With treats and activities based on things with springs.

We went out in the cul-de-sac this afternoon, set up cones and had pogo stick races. There was also some competition amongst the oldest on who could jump the most times in a row. It was a nice sunny warm day today for the first time in awhile too, so it was great to be outside.


Then we enjoyed a cake decorated with slinkies and had slinky races down the main front stairs. For being such simple toys, slinkies have really stood the test of time haven't they? Every new generation seems as taken with them as the one before. Still can't figure out exactly how they work, but we had fun.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Celebrate Plate

A fun tradition to have with your kids is a "celebrate plate." When something noteworthy happens to any member of the family they get to use the special plate that night at dinner and announce their good news to everyone. I got this particular one at a Pampered Chef party years ago, but you could also go design your own at a pottery shop. Or even just buy a plate in a different color that distinguishes it from the rest of your set. All that's important is that it is recognized as the celebrate plate and spotlights the child for the evening. This can be used for big things like getting a driver's license or smaller things like losing a tooth. We have two actually, because with so many children there are often multiple "good news" opportunities in the same day. Any chance you have to make a child feel wonderful is precious indeed. So have fun with this and look for excuses to bring out the plate. I have been forgetting to do this lately and my kids have missed it so I vow to start celebrating at dinner far more often again!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pi Day

If I must I must!

Today is 3/14  and since the numbers 3, 1 and 4 are the most significant digits in the mathematical constant "pi", this date has been designated as National Pi Day. This tradition began in 1989 at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Physicist Larry Shaw and his staff celebrated by marching in a circle and eating fruit pie. It was eventually recognized by the US House of Representatives in 2009 as an official holiday, and is currently celebrated in schools around the country. One of the most popular ways to commemorate the day is of course to eat pie. My philosophy is that any excuse for pie is a good one!!! So enjoy!!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Warning!!! Window Blinds Danger

Most of us remember a few years ago when the major window blinds manufacturers altered their designs because of the risk of children choking in the cords. Most changed the strings to two side by side rather than a connected loop. We went right out and switched all of our blinds to the new type and felt much safer. But the other night we had a wake up call. Our kids had gone to bed awhile earlier, but the little ones were still running around upstairs as they usually do. We suddenly heard the three year old screech and a bit of a ruckus. My husband went up to investigate only to find out that our son had gotten the two cords tangled together and then had somehow gotten them stuck around his neck. He panicked and started pulling and choking and got a pretty decent red scrape before our nine year old, who sleeps in the room right next to him, had freed him. It all happened very fast, and everything in this case turned out fine. But I shudder to think about the "what if's." What if I had not been home and one of the older kids had been babysitting and not paying close attention? What if my older son had not been only steps away at the time? What if my little guy had not been able to make any sound so no one had realized what was happening? Soooo scary. So I wanted to post this alert as a reminder to be vigilant. The new blinds design is indeed safer - UNLESS the kids have been playing with the cords and gotten them tangled. In that case they are as dangerous as the old ones had been. So as you do your weekly cleaning just take the time to make note of the cords and be sure they are tangle free. It only takes a minute to help make sure your kids are safer.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Loss of a Lizard

Sadly my 9 year old son's pet lizard passed away a couple of days ago. It came on suddenly and we are unsure as to the cause. But these sorts of things are always very hard for kids. Death is an unfortunate reality in this world and I think pets are often a child's first exposure to loss. We held a little burial in the flower bed and bid his friend goodbye. This particular son is not very demonstrative though, and didn't really want a lot of ceremony or to talk much about it, so I have been left with this nagging sense that we didn't do enough to help him deal with this experience. I'd really like to hear from my readers on this one. How have you handled the death of pets with your children? If you have any ideas you would care to share you can post a comment here or send them to me at admin@makessense.com and I'll gather them and repost as a group for others to see. Thanks so much.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Green Dinner For St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's day is next week and everyone knows that the color green is associated with the holiday. I'm not sure why exactly. Maybe because Ireland is called "The Emerald Isle"? Or because shamrocks are green? Anyone know? In any case, be sure to have your kids wear something green to school on the 17th so they don't get pinched. ;-)  Another fun thing to do to celebrate is to serve an all green dinner.

Here I used basil pasta (spinach pasta would work too) with alfredo sauce. You could put a few drops of green in your sauce to color it, but I realized as I was cooking that I was out of food coloring so I just sprinkled some parsley on top instead. Served with broccoli and a green salad as shown here you have a well balanced healthy meal that just happens to be all green! You can be creative. Serve green grapes or zucchini instead if you wish. We had some green Powerade to drink and for dessert we made lime jello with cool whip and sprinkles. This is not a hard thing to do. You have to make dinner anyway right? Kids really enjoy anything that is a little out of the ordinary, and coming to the table on St. Patrick's Day for "green dinner" can become a simple tradition they look forward to.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardis Gras

Today is Mardis Gras...which is French for "Fat Tuesday". It represents the last day of feasting before Lent begins so it's origin is as a Christian holiday. But over time it has become famous throughout the world as a big carnival day. Two of the biggest events take place in New Orleans and Rio De Janeiro with parades and a lot of wild partying. Mostly "adults only" types of activities are associated with Mardis Gras these days, but there are still some fun things you can do to celebrate with kids.

-Have them make masks out of paper plates and wear them to dinner.

-Decorate your table in bright colors and with beads and streamers so it feels like a festival atmosphere.

- Play some jazz music of course.

- Prepare a meal with all of their very favorite foods. And for dessert serve the traditional King Cake.  The cake is made as an oval to represent unity. It's usually decorated in purple, gold and green to symbolize Justice, Power and Faith. Cover the cake in beads to represent the gifts that the wise men brought to the baby Jesus. And somewhere inside the cake hide a small toy baby. If you are not Christian you can hide a  toy coin or some other fun item instead. Make a rule that whoever finds the item in their piece of cake becomes "King (or Queen) for the day!" The kids will love it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Harlem Globetrotters

We took our 9 year old son to see the Harlem Globetrotters on Saturday night. It was such a great show. I had seen them in high school so I knew they had been around for awhile. But I was amazed to learn they had been touring for 85 years and will visit 200 cities this year. It isn't very often anymore that you find a show that appeals to fans of all ages and is completely wholesome and clean. Just honest good fun. They kept the fans in stitches and had audience members involved throughout the show playing games and winning prizes etc. After the game they stayed to sign autographs and take pictures. I was impressed by the effort they made to give high fives and personally interact with the audience members. The pre and half time shows were very entertaining as was the upbeat music played throughout. We had a wonderful time. Watching my son laughing was worth every cent of the ticket cost. Visit www.harlemglobetrotters.com to learn more about the team and to see if they are coming soon to a city near you. If they are I would highly recommend that you go and see them. Take the kids and make a fun family night of it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Children's Fitness!

Kudos to Michelle Obama for bringing increased public awareness to the issue of childhood obesity. It is estimated that the percentage of obese children in the United States has tripled in the past thirty years.  The affect it's having on children's self esteems and productivity is hard to measure, but the impact on the health care system is clear and dramatic.
So what can we do as Moms to help our children stay healthy and fit? I personally do not believe in pushing children into rigorous weight loss plans or diets unless supervised by a doctor in extreme circumstances. But we can certainly incorporate healthier lifestyles in our homes. Here are just a few ideas that are easy to implement starting today:

1) Replace the sugary snacks with healthier choices. Whole grain bagels or carrot sticks. Fruit with yogurt dip. Cheese sticks and granola bars. The kids will eat whatever is fast and on hand, so it's up to us to make sure that better options are available in the pantry.

2) Get outside in the fresh air. Have the kids help with yard work. Take the dog for a walk. Go for a family bike ride.

3) Turn off the TV and video games, and encourage physical activity instead. Organize a basketball or kickball game in the cul-de-sac.   Put up wooden swing sets in the backyard with monkey bars and  climbing walls so the kids get some exercise while playing and having fun.

4) Set a good example for them to follow. I am surprised how often my children will join in with me while I am doing my workouts. My son even ran a 5k with me once. It was amazing to share that experience together.

5) Try as often as you can to cook healthy meals at home instead of grabbing take out or frozen prepared meals. Not only are you providing better nutrition, but the family dinner table discussion time is priceless too.

6) Sign them up for school or community sports or martial arts programs. They get to learn new skills and make friends. Better yet volunteer to coach the team so you can be involved too!

Talk to your kids about nutrition and fitness. Make sure they understand that these are important priorities for you and that you want them to be healthy because you love them. If you instill these principles  and habits in them while they are young just think of the troubles you can help them avoid later on down the road. So let's get our families moving!! It's good for you and a lot of fun too.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Remote Control For Kids?

Yesterday was a fairly typical afternoon. The TV was blaring in the family room even though I'm not sure anyone was even watching it. The phone was ringing with a reminder that my kids' lunch account balances were low at school. My 14 year old had rap songs (if you can really call them songs?) blasting from his ipod in the kitchen. My 12 year old daughter was practicing piano. My 16 year old daughter was asking me if we could go antique shopping on Saturday. The dog was barking to be let outside. The three and four year old boys came running full tilt through the room screaming about something or other. I couldn't quite make it out. But it seems that my 6 year old son was involved somehow, because he was in hot pursuit also at top volume. And my 9 year old son was yelling from upstairs "MOM...can you sign my field trip form and help me make a costume for colonial day at school?" My desk is in the kitchen so this is the usual environment that I write in. With activity swirling around me and lots and lots of noise!!! I chose this location on purpose. For the most part I prefer to be in the middle of the fray so I can interact with my kids even while working. I don't ever want them to feel that I am not there for them when they need me to solve their issues large or small ("Mom...don't forget I need crickets for my lizard" - "Mom...can you take me to a friend's house in ten minutes?" - "Mom...just wait until you see the mess the little boys made with cereal in the basement.") Being a Mom is my most important job so smack in the midst of the chaos is where I love to be. Usually! But I must confess that yesterday I found myself fantasizing about how great it would be if someone invented a remote control that worked on children. Think about it! When the cacophony reaches epic proportions, as it has been known to do at our house, how awesome would it be to be able to push a MUTE button and have peace restored immediately? So I could take a few breaths and calm myself internally before turning the sound back on. That would be bliss! On those crazy mornings where my kids are poking around getting ready for school, or when they are dragging their feet at chore or homework time...how convenient would a FAST-FORWARD function be instead of nagging endlessly? On the days when I am feeling lonesome for my grown sons who live on their own now, I sure would adore a REWIND button. To go back and relive one of my favorite days from when they were little. INPUT mode would come in handy when trying to get my points across to a stubborn teen or instill values and important life lessons that I want them to understand. And I am certain I would use the PAUSE button often...when asked a difficult question that I'd prefer to ponder before answering...or at those precious moments when life feels simply perfect. Like when my 4 year old throws his arms around me and says, "I love you Mom. You're so cute". Yes, I'd like to savor that one and have it on TIVO to replay to him at age 13 when he doesn't think I'm quite so smart anymore.  But alas this magical remote control is only in my mind. So I guess it's best to just press PLAY. And enjoy the show!