Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Healthy Honey Muffins

As a follow up to my last post on the ickyness of refined sugar for mommies, daddies and kidlets alike, I wanted to follow up with at least one of the yummier “ick-free” recipes I’ve discovered. This basic muffin recipe is healthy and delicious, and there are endless variations you can use to keep things interesting…
Healthy Honey Muffins
You will need…
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
¾ cup milk
½ cup liquid honey
3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine (or substitute 3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce for lower fat muffins)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Create a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, combine wet ingredients in a medium bowl, and pour wet ingredients into the well. Stir until just combined (do not over stir). Fill greased muffin tin cups two thirds full, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
There are endless variations that work with this recipe. Use your creativity, or throw in roughly ½ cup of one of the following…
·         Raisins
·         Finely chopped apple sprinkled with cinnamon
·         Finely chopped pear sprinkled with nutmeg
·         Fresh or frozen blueberries
·         Fresh or frozen raspberries
·         Fresh or frozen cranberries
Helpful Hint:  If you don’t already own a mini-muffin tin, they are a must-have in any home with children. Kids are fascinated by all things miniature, and you’ll waste less food as the portion size is more appropriate. I pop a few mini-muffins into a ziplock bag in my purse – a convenient, healthy little snack for kids when you are out and about. Enjoy!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pythons and Sweet Treats

This morning my munchkin and I went on a little outing to our local wildlife park. And as the early spring weather proved rainy and cold, we spent much of our time exploring the delightfully warm reptile pavilion. We happened to time our arrival perfectly to attend the reptile show, the highlight of which was a large python that the children were given the opportunity to touch. Now, I’ve never been one to run away screaming at the sight of a spider or even to harbor any real fear of snakes. But when the zookeeper approached with that big, slithery python, my stomach did a couple of nervous little somersaults, and my first instinct was to take a step back. But holding my daughter in my arms, I watched as she turned to me for reassurance, and forced myself to stand there and smile. And much to my surprise, my teeny tiny little two-year-old then confidently reached out and patted the snake, saying, “Hello python. It’s very nice to meet you!”

Mmmm...Sweet Treats!
 Delightful story, but what on earth does it have to do with sweet treats, you might ask. Actually, more than you might think. Watching my toddler confidently patting a python, I was reminded of how very responsible we are for setting the tone for our children. Instinctively, they look to us for guidance, and rely on us to help them as they form their outlook on the world. What a gigantic responsibility that puts on us as parents! And while they still look to us, how important it is that we not squander the opportunity!
Several months ago, my hubby became quite ill and we now observe a very strict new diet in our home. One of the things we’ve eliminated from the menu is all refined sugar – initially a seemingly insurmountable task, as I am a self-proclaimed sugar fanatic. But as the months have progressed, I’ve begun to miss sugar less and less. And when I sneak a little “treat” from time to time, I end up feeling so dreadfully ill that I often regret my choice. It is amazing the negative effect that sugar has on our bodies – an effect that often can only be really noticed when we stop pumping our bodies constantly full of junk.
It has been a powerful wake-up call for me. If refined sugar has that sort of effect on my body, imagine what it must do to the body and mind of my tiny, still developing child. I have no intention of entirely banning her for life from every sugary snack. But I am making an even-more-conscious-than-ever effort to redefine the meaning of “treat” in our household. Cutting down on sugar doesn’t mean depriving your sweet tooth. The world is full of naturally sweet, healthy options that don’t contain any refined sugar, and will leave mommies, daddies, and little ones feeling so much better about themselves. Here are a few yummy ideas to replace those sugary snacks…
  • Try baking with maple syrup or honey rather than white or brown sugar (brown is just as processed and just as bad for you, contrary to popular belief). To use honey in place of sugar, use 7/8 cup for every cup of sugar, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. To use maple syrup in place of sugar, use 3/4 cup of maple syrup for every cup of sugar, decreasing the total amount of liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons. These substitutions work particularly well when baking muffins, loaves, and hearty cookies (such as healthy oatmeal raisin cookies).
  • Give your traditional peanut butter and jam sandwiches a healthy makeover. Replace peanut butter with almond butter with no sugar added, and replace jam with thinly sliced bananas or apples, or a little pasteurized honey.

  • Say goodbye to Aunt Jemima and switch to pure maple syrup when indulging in a pancake breakfast. Switch to whole wheat flour and throw some fresh blueberries into the batter, and pancakes become a healthy, wholesome meal!

·    If your child is a juice junkie, think about investing in a juicer and making your own healthy juices at home. Store bought juices are often full of sugar and artificial flavours and colours, and even the “healthier” juice options are really devoid of most of their nutritional value by the time they hit your child’s juice cup.

·    Don’t forget the best sweet treat of all – lots of healthy fresh or frozen fruit. With the money you’ll save when skipping the snack food aisle, you’ll have lots of room in the family budget for more vitamin-packed fruits and veggies!

Happy healthy snacking, Joyful Mommies and tots! And stay tuned for some of my favourite “no-junk” treat recipes….

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Toy Cleaning 101

Spring is finally here, and as the brightness of the sun begins to illuminate the grunginess of your child’s toy box, perhaps it’s time to consider a little spring toy cleaning. After working for a decade in the field of early intervention and spending what seemed to be a sizable portion of that time cleaning and disinfecting toys used as part of my work with families, toy cleaning has become, surprisingly even to me, a bit of an area of expertise. As such, there are few things that bother me more now than really dirty, grimy toys…and yet they get that way soooo easily!

Toy cleaning actually isn’t as straightforward as it seems, and knowing what you are doing can make this potentially very big task much simpler. So before you begin tackling a little spring toy cleaning, here are a few helpful toy cleaning tips to get you started…
Remember that not all toys are created equally, and not all toys should be cleaned in the same way!!! Generally speaking, toys can be divided into three cleaning categories:
·    SUBMERGABLE TOYS – Most plastic toys, excluding battery operated toys or toys with small holes in which water can become trapped, can be submerged in water. These are the easiest toys to clean, and can be scrubbed down with dish soap and hot water, thoroughly rinsed and allowed to air dry. If you are worried about really disinfecting toys, using a mild bleach solution is most effective. And if you are looking for an easy way out, many of the studier plastic toys (i.e. nesting cups, plastic links, teething rings, etc.) can be washed safely on the top rack of the dishwasher.

·    WIPE DOWN TOYS – Many toys should NOT be submerged in water as this may result in damage to the toy. Toys in this category include battery operated and electronic toys, toys with small holes in which water could become trapped, toys with stickers or paper labels, books, some wooden toys, and puzzles. To clean wipe down toys, wipe toys thoroughly with a damp soapy cloth, then again with a clean damp cloth OR use a dry antibacterial cloth OR wipe down with a cloth dampened in mild bleach solution, allowing to air dry.

·    CLOTH TOYS – Most cloth toys, including stuffed animals, cloth baby toys, and doll clothes can be easily washed with a mild, baby safe detergent in the gentle cycle of your washing machine. If cloth toys are handmade, delicate, or of great sentimental value, hand washing in warm water using a gentle hand washing detergent is a better option. Allow toys to dry inside on a drying rack or outside on a clothesline.

Before returning clean toys to their rightful place, be sure to thoroughly wipe down the toy box or storage unit. And rather than just dumping all of the toys back into toy chaos, take the opportunity to purge, organize, and rotate your child's toys – it will save your sanity while at the same time creating a better learning environment for your child.
And just a few more HELPFUL HINTS:
·    To get into grimy, hard to reach spaces while cleaning your child’s toys, try using an old toothbrush. If that doesn’t do the trick, use the tip of a wooden kebab stick (available at most grocery stores) to dig into all those dirty little crevices.
·    For a natural and environmentally friendly cleaning solution, try scrubbing your child’s toys using just a dish brush, water, and a sprinkle of baking powder – a great, non-toxic cleanser.
·    To eliminate germs from a hard-to-wash stuffed toy, simply wrap the toy in a plastic bag and pop into the freezer overnight.
Happy toy cleaning, joyful mommies!!!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dinosaur Princess Cupcake Tower

Today was cake baking day at our house, as we prepare to assemble FIVE choo choo train birthday cakes, complete with tracks, tunnels, and mountains, for a very special upcoming birthday. And as the sweet smell of confetti cake wafts through my kitchen, I am reminded of the fact that I haven’t yet posted anything about our last birthday cake adventure…The successful creation of our sparkly, dinosaur birthday cake cupcake tower!
We threw a dinosaur-themed birthday party for our two-year old daughter this year (little girls love dinosaurs too!), but still wanted her cake to have that girly, princess touch. We based the theme of the cake on four brightly coloured, polka-dotted, wind-up dinosaurs that we found in a quaint little toy store featuring hard to find and retro-inspired toys. We followed that discovery up with a trip to the cake decorating store (an absolute MUST if you want to find easy ways of making your cake a stand out). We used brightly-coloured icing, coordinating polka-dot cupcake liners, some pre-made sugar flowers, and the ultimate secret weapon for any truly magical birthday cake fit for a princess – sparkle sugar!
Although cupcakes are more work than they may initially appear (it takes longer to ice multiple cupcakes than just one large cake), when arranged on a cupcake tower (which can be rented, but are fairly inexpensive to buy) they really do look impressive. We chose to make the top layer of the tower a small, individual cake, which allowed us room for a little dinosaur scene and that all important birthday candle. This cake was probably the easiest and least labour-intensive of any we’ve made over the past several years, but still had the wow factor we always try to go for. Hope you’re inspired…

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

All Things Green

It started with just a simple gift – five little plastic bracelets, made of clear tubing filled with water and green sparkles, purchased at the dollar store for 50 cents apiece. Thirteen years ago this St. Patrick’s Day, I was caring for five little girls under the age of six. On my way to their house, I saw the green bracelets while shopping at a dollar store, and picked them up on a whim. The girls, of course, were thrilled with the gift, and became quite suddenly convinced that St. Patrick’s Day must be something very special. And never one to pass up on a little child-like wonder, I determined that it would be.
So I made up a story about a land in which princesses wore magical sparkle bracelets. And about how those magical bracelets could turn the whole world green. And while the wonder of the story still danced in their eyes, I bundled all of the girls up into coats and boots, and very ceremoniously placed the bracelets on their arms. We headed out the door for a walk, two six-year-olds and two four-year-olds holding hands, and one toddler in my arms.  And within moments the older ones were shouting, “Look! We turned the grass green! And the trees green! And the leaves!” They were so entertained that we walked longer and farther than we ever had together, all of the older girls completely absorbed in the game, and the littlest one thoroughly entertained by the excitement of it all. At the end of that magical St. Patrick’s Day walk, one of the four years olds leaned back and smiled in satisfaction, “I never knew there was so much green in the whole wide world! I think this day is wonderful!”
And it was.
This year, I’m planning to take a little colour walk with my own munchkin on St. Patrick’s Day, and to look for all things green. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find any magical green sparkle bracelets at the dollar store today. But if not, any little gift will do. A dollar store ring, a treasure bucket, a pair of mittens or a little green hat…Kids can find wonder in anything. And that’s the most magical thing of all…

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Make-Your-Own Memory

When I was a little girl, my sister and I had a game called “Baby Animal Memory”. It was just a set of little cardboard squares, pale blue on one side with sweet little cartoon drawings of animals on the other. The object of the game was to turn all of the cards face down, turning up two at a time and using your memory to find matching pairs of baby animals. We loved that game and played with it for hours. The baby bunnies were my favourite, and I can remember what they looked like even now. Thinking of that makes me smile. I love those kinds of memories.
A set of “Memory” cards is the perfect, portable activity for keeping kids entertained on the go. I keep a little set of homemade Memory cards in a ziplock baggie in my purse, pulling them out on occasions when we need to happily occupy some time, such as while sitting in a doctor’s waiting room or waiting for our meal at a restaurant. Of course, “Memory” in a classic sense is a fairly challenging game. But there are endless variations that will help keep even the tiniest kidlets entertained…
·    Babies will enjoy looking at the pictures, and listening as you tell them the names of the pictures (a great way to build language skills)
·    Toddlers – give your child one picture, and ask them to find one that is the “same” from three or four pictures arranged face up in front of them. As they catch on to the concept, try seeing if they can find a match when there are more cards to choose from.
·    Bigger kids – Play the traditional way, with cards face down. The older the child, the more cards you can put out to choose from. A fun challenge even for mom and dad!
·    Any age – Have your child line up several of the cards in a row in front of you. Then tell your child a story based on the pictures in the order they’ve arranged them. Or if your child is older, have them tell you the story.
And why go out and buy a Memory game when making your own is not only easy and budget-friendly, but also makes a fun craft activity to share with your child! To make your own Memory game…
You will need…
Sturdy paper such as cardstock – should be dark in colour so pictures don’t show through
Two sets of the same pictures – i.e. two identical catalogues, magazines, or flyers
Begin by cutting out a set of evenly sized squares from the paper (as many as you think you’ll need). Remember that the cards need to look identical on the back side, so be sure to choose plain paper. Then choose a set of matching pictures to cut out. The pictures can be of anything you think your child will be interested in – animals, vehicles (magazines are good sources), toys, household items (catalogues are good sources), food, articles of clothing (flyers are good sources), or even of familiar people and places (simply develop doubles of some of your favourite family photos). If your child is older, have them help you cut out the pictures. Or if they are younger, have them help you glue the pictures to the paper squares. Allow to dry and you have your very own homemade Memory game, sure to help you make lots of happy memories with your little ones!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lovely Leaf Painting

My munchkin and I attended one of our favourite playgroups this morning, and she had even more fun than usual thanks to the fantastic art activity we had the opportunity to participate in. It was one of those oh-my-goodness-this-is-so-simple-I-can’t-believe-I’ve-never-thought-of-it moments for me, so just in case you haven’t thought of it either, I’ll pass it along to you…
You will need:
Washable, non-toxic paint (any colour)
Large, shallow dish for paint (a disposable lasagna pan would work well)
Large pieces of paper
Assortment of small branches and twigs with leaves attached
Simply put a shallow layer of paint at the bottom of the container, then show your little one how to dip the twigs, leaves and branches and use them to create a work of art on the paper. Gathering twigs and branches together may well be the very best part of this activity, so bundle up and head out for a walk. As spring approaches, leaf hunting walks could become an entertaining and ever-changing part of your week!
Helpful Hints:
·    This is a messy activity by nature, so depending on the set up of your art area (and on your tolerance for mess!) you may want to take steps to protect your table from becoming part of the masterpiece.
·    To prevent art paper from sliding around, try taping the paper to the table with a little bit of masking tape. You’ll reduce the amount of mess while at the same time reducing the frustration level of very tiny artists.
·    This is a lovely multisensory experience for kids! Don’t miss out on the opportunity to promote your child's language development by talking about the colour of the paints and the leaves, the look of the patterns created by different kinds of leaves, the feel of the twigs, and the smell of freshly picked branches. Happy creating!