Saturday, November 21, 2015

Fostering Successful Eating- G's journey

As I said in my previous post, many if not most of the kids who come into foster care have issues with food.  My lovely G is no exception.

When she first came to our home, every meal took a minimum of 90 minutes between her sitting down at the table and her standing up again.  Each meal followed a pattern: she would look at the options on the table and ask for a serving of the option that looked the least threatening.  If she didn't want the first item, she would choose the next least threatening, then the next, and so on until she arrived at an item she determined she could eat.  Once she decided she could eat something, G would eat all of that item until it was gone and then meltdown, crying that there was no more; or if that food didn't run out, she would eat all of that item that she could possibly cram into her body.  We're talking about a 3 year old eating a loaf and a half of bread, 2 pounds of frozen peas, 5 pounds of oranges, or 2 pounds of roast beef.  She would only, however, eat one food at each meal.  If I served bread, peas, and beef, she would only eat the beef, and if the beef ran out before she was nauseatingly full, she would cry, rather than eating some bread.

If there were no un-threatening foods on the table, G would ask for a huge serving of everything and then sit for hours, staring at her full plate and pushing foods around with her fork without tasting any of it.  If you pressured her to taste something or asked her to get down from the table without eating, she melted down and screamed for what seemed like an eternity.

On top of that, the list of foods she found un-threatening was minuscule.  It took me 6 weeks to find a dozen foods she would consistently eat.  Pizza, peanut butter on bread, and cheese on bread were the only mixed foods she would tolerate.  Peas and pasta in the same bowl were rejected.  Any sauce was unacceptable.  Even putting pepper onto a food rendered it too threatening for G to taste.  She lived on plain starches, salt-and-nothing-else seasoned meats, cheese, frozen peas or corn (still frozen), and oranges for months.

The first sign that there might be light at the end of the tunnel came 3 months into the placement when G started getting down from the table to go play with the other kids.  Finally, meals and snacks could last an hour or possibly even less.  Slowly, she started eating more than one food at a meal.  Slowly, she started tasting foods.  Slowly, she accepted that her most preferred food on the table could run out, and it wouldn't be an emergency.

Don't get me wrong, there are still major issues.  G still eats until she is Thanksgiving-dinner-stuffed-full almost every time she sits down at the table, and we sit down to eat 4 times a day.

G still obsesses about food: if I make enough hamburgers for everyone to have one, she'll gobble hers up and then ask to eat other people's for the rest of the meal.  She still asks repeatedly for me to pick preferred foods out of a mixed dish so she can, for example, eat only the chicken in the chicken noodle soup or only the olives in the chicken with olives.

G still asks for foods she doesn't want.  She requests a huge serving of chili, and then eats only bread.  Or she eats 5 servings of pasta and requests a 6th before leaving the table without taking a single bite.

She hasn't gotten any more consistent, either.  She'll eat pears twice in a row and then reject them for 10 days straight, so it's difficult for me to guess what she's going to eat at any given meal.

This week, though, G surprised me twice.  On Wednesday, I served beef and cabbage stir-fry with white rice on the side.  She ate both, asked for seconds of both, and notably didn't ask me to serve her only beef.  On Thursday, I made a pot of navy beans and a pan of kale, onions, and bacon.  My plan was to eat both mixed together, but to keep the navy beans plain as the safe choice for G.  She tasted both, preferred the veggies, and happily ate multiple servings.

An outside observed dropped into our home at mealtime would see disordered eating.  I, however, can't help but be encouraged with the progress this little girl has made in only 9 months.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Fostering Successful Eating- The book you need to read

Let me start with this: lots of kids from chaotic homes have a history of inconsistent eating.  Parents who are failing to properly care for their children are typically not feeding them properly.  As a result, many if not most of the kids who come into foster care have issues with food.  

I love food.  I love to cook it.  I love to eat it.  I love to share it.  I love to talk about it.  Food is important in my life, and so food is important in my home.

Early in our foster parenting journey, someone shared with me the book Love Me, Feed Me.  It was one of only two books I read during the first 6 months of our first foster placement (the other being a brainless chick-lit novel I despised but read while sitting on the floor of the foster kids' room every night so they wouldn't cry until they fell asleep).  I cannot recommend Love Me, Feed Me enough.

The premise is based on Ellyn Satter's work, and it's pretty simple: the adults' job is to teach kids to be competent eaters. Competent eaters feel good about eating, eat consistently, and enjoy food.  Competent eaters trust themselves to eat well.  This means they can eat a wide variety of foods, try new foods, choose foods that support their physical health, eat enough to satisfy their hunger, and stop eating when they are full.

Teaching competent eating is done through structure and modeling, not through coercion or pressure.  It's not the adults' job to make kids do anything or to get kids to do anything.  It's simply the adults' job to set up the structure that will, over time, teach kids what competent eating looks like and how to eat competently.

That simple premise, then, gets implemented through the division of responsibility (DOR): Adults choose what foods are offered, when they are offered, and where they are offered.  Kids choose if, what, and how much they will eat from the offered foods.  The DOR means you can parent all of your kids the same way, because the rules are the same for the adopted and biological kids, the "too fat" and "too thin" kids, or the typically- and differently-abled kids.  The DOR also means meals can be relaxed and pleasant opportunities to connect, because the adult has finished all of his/her part of the responsibilities BEFORE sitting down at the table.

The book delves into the details of how to implement the DOR, potential roadblocks, typical eating problems with foster/adoptive kids, and a host of other topics.  There's a ton of valuable information.  Suffice to say, though, that it revolutionized how I thought about feeding my children, particularly the non-biological kids.  With that revolution in thinking came a tremendous sense of relief and an immediate increase in the joy of preparing and eating meals in my house. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Activities for Advent with a Toddler

I had a conversation with a friend whose big kids is the same age as my babies.  She talked about wanting to start Advent traditions with her daughter and expressed interest in my activity Advent calendar.  Upon further discussion, however, it became abundantly clear that my plans are for ages 3 and up.  So what to do with your toddler?

If you've got older kids, I'd suggest scaling down or scaffolding their activities so the littlest can participate.  Clearly parties and outings can involve everyone, even babies can listen to Christmas music, and books can be leveled for your audience.  Crafts can be simplified and oriented more towards process than product (I've cut paper wreaths, you can put on stickers however you like or use bingo dabbers to paint "ornaments" on them.  Here are pine cones, glue, and glitter: perhaps you'd like to combine them?)  Games can be about playing with the components, instead of actually playing the game.  Honestly, my littlest littles like to be involved, even if they have no idea what's going on.  Case in point; L says "knock knock, wha-hoo!" and then laughs hysterically.

If your only kids are under three, maybe a sensory themed activity every day is your best bet.  Introduce the material, let your little explore, and enjoy watching or playing along.  To that end, here are a few ideas:

Twenty-Five Sensory Suggestions for Advent

Lit candles (again, please supervise closely!  A two year old might be able to blow candles out.)
Christmas lights hung in the neighborhood (I would probably just take a walk before or after dinner some night)

Recorded Christmas music
Jingle bells
Caregiver singing
Salvation Army bell ringer

Cinnamon play-dough (or a chunk of cookie dough)
Cinnamon sticks
Pumpkin puree (with spices already mixed in or on the side)
Seasonal drink (eggnog, hot chocolate, apple cider, or cinnamon tea)
Candy cane
Pine branches

Tinsel or Garland
Unbreakable ornaments
A pile of pine needles or a pine branch and pine cones
Miniature tree with unbreakable ornaments to decorate and undecorate
Wooden or plastic nativity scene
Straw + box + doll = manger
String of Christmas lights plugged in (with close supervision, of course)
Wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows
Snow (or fake snow)
Toy reindeer or a horse and sleigh or a toy Santa Clause
Unlit candles (scented ones would be fun)
White fur, faux fur, or a Santa hat and beard
Advent wreath with fake candles (here's an example, but you could certainly DIY something different)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Activity Advent Calendar

You're possibly already familiar with the chocolate Advent calendar: a piece of cardboard with little doors numbered 1 through 25, behind each of which rests a piece of chocolate.  The idea is that you open one door each day of December leading up to Christmas.  When I was a child, we also had an Advent calendar with a little bear whom you moved each day to a new "room" of his fabric banner house.

For the past 4 years, we've done an activity Advent calendar, where each day of December has a special activity planned.  There are a million pinterest-worthy ways to set one of these up, but ours is just index cards in pockets.  I've worked hard to make the activities not about sweet treats and either 1) something we would be doing anyway or 2) something that can be done at home without disrupting the schedule.  We also acknowledge Hanukkah in our celebration every year.  Mostly because we like playing Dreidel, and the story of Hanukkah is a great story.  We're not Jewish, though, so we don't light a menorah.

One thing to make the activities work for me: I plan the month in advance, but I write each card the night before.  This has two advantages.  First, it lets me rearrange things as necessary.  Second, it reminds me of anything I need to get organized for the next day's activity treat.

December 2015 Activity Advent Calendar

1- Start Christmas crafts for family gifts
2- Set up Nativity scene
3- Make paper snowflakes
4- Christmas Lights bubble bath (light candles on the counter and put glow sticks in the tub)
5- Joyful Traditions (our town tree lighting ceremony)
6- Buy Christmas tree
7- Play Dreidel
8- Read Hanukkah Stories (I check these out from the library in advance)
9- Decorate our tree
10- Sesame Street Christmas videos on YouTube
11- Tell holiday jokes
12- See the lights at a local park
13- Church Christmas party
14- Christmas song sing-along
15- Christmas for animals (we smear pine cones with peanut butter and roll in birdseed, then hang them with ribbon from our trees outside)
16- Read Christmas Stories by the Christmas tree
17- The Gibbon's holiday concert
18- Support group Christmas party
19- Watch a Christmas movie
20- Children's Christmas program at church
21- Make snowman pancakes
22- Pajama Dance Party
23- Board Game night
24- Midnight service at church
25- Merry Christmas!

In case you don't have as many parties as we do this year, our backup activities are:

  • drink tea from the fancy china cups
  • wrap presents together
  • decorate bedrooms for Christmas
  • carol for our neighbors
  • dress up and take glamorous photos,
  • a winter scavenger hunt in the back yard.  

Of course, if you had fewer parties, you could spare a few extra sweet treats, and then you might want to bake cookies, decorate a gingerbread house, or drink hot cocoa.

Any other great ideas?  I'd love your suggestions.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Joyful Noisy Reboot

Hi friends!  Long time no see.

I gave up on myself for a while there.  I've realized that I just do better meal planning in a notebook.  I like having the flexibility of rearranging meals with an arrow.  I like being able to leave a day or two open to plan later instead of having to plan on grocery shopping day.  And I don't like writing things down twice, because I'm lazy.

However, I still have things to say.  Things longer than will fit in a Facebook post.  And saying things here will (hopefully) prevent me from telling the same story to the same friend 18 times, because I just have to get it out there.  To that end, I'm rebooting the old blog.  Let's see where this goes.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sensory Bins

Let's talk sensory play, shall we?  Start with this: Little children learn by physically exploring the world.

To begin with, your baby explores by moving his body through space.  But as soon as he gets some control of his body, he'll be interested in exploring the objects around him.  Any time your baby touches an object, he is engaging in tactile sensory play.

Of course you don't need any special toys or supplies for tactile play.  Your baby will be delighted to touch anything he can get close to with both his hands and his mouth.  As long as you give him a variety of safe objects to explore, he'll be learning about how the world works and how his body is part of it.  Any plastic, fabric, or metal object that isn't sharp, breakable, electronic, or a choking hazard can be a tactile toy, and if you give him more than one tactile toy, it's an additional learning experience for him to see how they interact.  This blog post has some fantastic ideas for putting together a "treasure basket," or collection of household objects for your Little to explore.

All that said, however, it can be both fun and beneficial to give your baby or toddler opportunities to explore a variety of less common tactile experiences.  You've probably seen sand and water tables in the toy aisle of a store, but sand and water are just two of many possibilities for sensory play.  Below are a few tips to make sensory play fun for both you and your Little, and after that, a huge list of possible materials for sensory exploration.  Have Fun!

Tips to make sure you BOTH have fun
1. Only do it if you feel comfortable with it.  A lot of the suggestions below are choking hazards, not edible, or just plain messy.  True, many paints are nontoxic, but it's still best not to eat them.  If you know your Little will grab a handful of anything presented and immediately swallow it, only give her things that are safe to ingest.  If you know that sloppy messes on your floor are going to make you crazy, don't set up a messy experience in the kitchen.  Know yourself and your child before you try any idea.

2. Find a container.  You don't need an expensive sand or water table.  A dish tub, 9x13 cake pan, wide and shallow bowl, under-bed storage box, plastic shoe box, toddler pool, or baby bathtub can be set directly on the floor for the play time.

3. Be prepared for dumping, mixing, and spreading.  It will happen!  If the weather accommodates, many of these ideas would be perfect outside.  Simply sweep the mess into the grass or hose down the play area after you're done.  If you're setting up inside, a drop cloth, tarp, or sheet under the play area is a good idea.  For some of the messiest suggestions, you might want to set up in the bathtub.  Play in the dry tub, and when you're done, clean up is as simple as turning on the tap.

4. Dress both yourself and your Little for the play experience.  For some play, anything you want to wear would be fine.  For messy play, stripping your Little naked or to just a diaper might be advisable.  But remember, your child may want to share her exploration with you, and you will certainly need to wipe your child clean or carry her to the tub after she's finished playing.  Be prepared by wearing clothes you don't mind getting dirty yourself.

5. Know how much you want to play.  It's ok for you to get down in the mess with your baby, to model using the materials and then step back, to describe your baby's play without participating, or to simply supervise.  If you're comfortable with the material and confident your child will use it appropriately, setting up sensory play can give you a bit of a break to, say, cook dinner or make a phone call.

More than 100 super sensory play ideas
1. Sand
2. Water
3. Water with liquid soap or bars of soap
4. Rice - raw or cooked
5. Pasta - one kind or a mix; can also be colored
6. Snow
7. Leaves, acorns, twigs, pine cones
8. Hay
9. Soil - use organic for safety; add live worms if you're brave
10. Sod
11. Homemade silly putty
12. Jello - make it the night before and let it set in the fridge.  You can dump a whole pan in or cut it up first.
13. Cereal
14. Sugar - or colored sugar
15. Salt - table salt, rock salt, Epsom salt, or ice melting salt.  Note that the last two are NOT edible.
16.  Ice cubes, crushed ice, or a large block of ice.  Ice and salt together adds another layer of play.
17. Shaving cream
18. Easter grass
19. Shredded documents - from a regular or cross-cut shredder
20. Birdseed
21. Seaweed
22. Pellets used for animal feed
23. Dog biscuits
24. Fish tank gravel
25. Flour
26. Dried corn - popcorn or seed corn
27. Packing peanuts - biodegradable ones are safer than Styrofoam
28. Cedar chips - check your local pet store
29. Sawdust - ask your local lumber company
30. Marbles and cardboard tubes
31. Feathers
32. Applesauce
33. Cotton balls
34. Strips of bubble wrap - you can buy it in large rolls
35. Plastic "jewels"
36. Beads and string
37. Cooked spaghetti - add a little oil to keep it from sticking or a lot of oil to make it a slippery mess.  Try another pasta shape for another layer of play.
38. Curling ribbon
39. Homemade play dough
40. Yarn and string
41. Confetti
42. Pebbles, gravel, rocks
43. Hair gel
44. "Oobleck" - equal parts cornstarch and water
45. Shells
46. Cream of Wheat or another grain-based cereal - raw or cooked
47. Homemade slime
48. Magnets and small metal objects, like paper clips
49. Potato flakes or instant mashed potatoes - raw or cooked
50. Shampoo
51. Grass clippings
52. Tinsel
53. Small amounts of various spices - cinnamon, cumin, garlic powder, nutmeg, etc.
54. Natural clay
55. Real or fake flowers
56. Bubble solution
57. Water and a bottle of mineral oil or baby oil
58. Finger paint
59. Jingle bells
60. Wood scraps and sandpaper
61. Papier mache - mix equal parts flour and water to make paste, add strips of newspaper
62. Hand lotion
63. Sponges and soapy water
64. Dry beans.  Heck, cooked beans would work, too.
65. Buttons
66. Insides of a cleaned-out pumpkin.  Or just chop the top off of said pumpkin.  Kids typically prefer pumpkin guts and seeds in water, though.
67. Pudding - Tapioca has a unique texture
68. Used coffee grounds
69. Toilet paper - Just put in a whole roll for your Little to unravel, or add a little water if you like
70. Cornmeal
71. Different kinds of tape or pattern scissors
72. Doll or pillow stuffing - really cheap at Wal-Mart
73. Separate bowls of vinegar and baking soda for mixing
74. Polymer crystals - they are used to provide water to plants; they absorb the water and turn into a gel
75. Toothpaste
76. Oatmeal
77. Nuts - use a variety, still in their shells
78. Crepe paper streamers
79. Pom-poms
80. Poker chips
81. White glue
82. Stretchy/squishy toy worms/insects
83. Fake snow
84. Any Grain - raw or cooked.  Look in the baking aisle as well as near the rice in your grocery store.
85. Whole gourds/mini pumpkins/decorative corn
86. Fabric scraps
87. Yogurt
88. Beanbag filler
89. Cat or dog food.
90. Cat litter
91. Clean Mud - Mix 1 roll white toilet paper, 1 bar grated Dove Soap, and warm water. Tear up the toilet paper into small pieces (great kid job). Put into big bowl with grated soap. Pour in water in small amounts while mixing paper and soap with hands. Add water until the mixture is the consistency of thick cool whip. The more you work with it, the softer it gets.
92. Cloud Dough - Combine 1 part oil with 8 parts flour.  So, 1/4 cup oil with 2 cups flour, or 1/2 cup oil with 4 cups flour.  Use baby oil or cooking oil.
93. Grits - raw or cooked
94. Cotton Balls
95. Flubber: Mix 2 cps white glue with 1 ½ C water and food coloring. Separately, Mix 4 tsp of Borax with 1 1/3 C of water. Mix two mixtures and knead until water is incorporated. WARNING _when dried will not come out of carpet, clothes or Hair. Blow it with straws and cut with plastic knives.
96. Mardi Gras Beads
97. Holes from a hole puncher
98. Popped popcorn
99.  Potpourri
100. Powdered milk
101. Whipped cream
102. Cool Whip
103. Tissue paper and wrapping paper
104. Toothpaste
105. Fake snow
106. Water beads
107. A diaper and lots of water to pour into it
108. Flax seed
109. Whipped cream, cool whip, or both.
110. Glitter. Use the cheap big stuff, not the ultra-fine.  And be careful of your Little rubbing his eyes with glittery fingers.
111. Combine any two of the above.  For example, play-dough and rice, 2 kinds of beans, glitter and slime, pom-poms and fabric and jingle bells, whatever strikes your fancy.

Toys, Tools, and Accessories
Any of the above sensory explorations would be fantastic on its own, but to extend the play value (especially if you're involving older siblings), you can add any one or more of these toys, tools, and accessories.

  • Food coloring - Just one color to mix in, two colors to combine, or a bunch of colors to paint with
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Cooking and serving utensils: Spoons, tongs, mashers, whisks, etc.
  • Funnels
  • Paintbrushes
  • Lengths of plastic pipes and flexible tubing (hardware stores carry different diameters)
  • Small lidded containers
  • Bowls
  • Strainers/colanders
  • Toy people, boats and vehicles
  • Toy construction equipment
  • Plastic animals and insects
  • Cookie cutters
  • Plastic fruits and vegetables
  • Squeeze Bottles (Honey bear, dressing, ketchup)
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Dowels
  • Straws
  • Scissors
  • Clothespins
  • Fishnets
  • Small buckets and shovels
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Bubble wands
  • Spray bottles
  • Eye droppers or pipettes
  • Turkey baster
  • Straws
  • Magnet wands
  • Toothbrushes
  • Watering Can
  • Aluminum Pie Pans
  • Detergent Scoops
  • Egg cartons
  • Fake Gems
  • Film Canisters
  • Formula Scoops
  • Ice cube tray
  • Latex gloves for filling
  • Muffin Pans
  • Orange juice cans
  • Ping pong balls
  • Soda bottles

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Week Plan Wednesday, and a Midnight Snack.

My single, solitary new year's goal is to have a healthy midnight snack once a week.  The Hubby and I seriously eat or drink a snack between 9:30 and 11:00 PM every single day.  The quality varies.  Sometimes it's just a beer.  Last night it was sliced pear, whole grain crackers, assorted cheeses, and red wine.  Milk and cookies, as well as chips and salsa are in the regular rotation.  One unequivocally healthy snack a week isn't too much to ask.  Today it's Pumpkin Pie in a Mug.  Trust me, that's healthy.

Pumpkin Pie in a Mug
In a saucepan on the stove over medium heat, combine equal parts pumpkin puree and milk.  You could sub almond- or soy- or hemp-milk, but I just used regular 2%.  Either home-made or from-a-can pumpkin puree is fine, just don't get the "pumpkin pie mix."  
For every cup of milk, add a pinch of each ginger, allspice, and nutmeg, plus a 1/8 tsp cinnamon.  Otherwise, used 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice. 
Stir in brown sugar to taste and adjust seasonings.  I used about 1/2 tsp sugar per cup of milk.
Serve in a mug with optional whipped cream and/or graham crackers.

Wednesday- Cream of broccoli soup, buns.

Thursday- Taco salad, without the tortilla shell.  Or Mexican Pile-Up, without the chips.  You get the idea: ground beef, re-fried beans, cilantro-lime rice, lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, sour cream, piled on a plate.

Friday- Eggplant burgers.  I found a recipe in the Weelicious lunch cookbook.  It looks good.  I'm trying it.

Saturday- The last Christmas Party of the season!  I'm bringing a shredded beet and carrot salad.

Sunday- Cabbage and mushroom stir-fry, brown rice.

Monday- BBQ ribs, roasted cauliflower, baked potatoes, and microwaved frozen peas.

Tuesday- Pasta with mushroom white wine sauce, carrot sticks.