Winter Adventures – Snow Tubing

Blog Winter Adventures Snow Tubing

You could win a Family 4 Pack for Snow Tubing at Calgary’s Acura Snow Tube Park courtesy of WinSport. Enter here

Snow Tubing is a fabulous outdoor winter activity that has taken many ski resorts by storm! This exhilarating concept of cruising down the snow covered hill on an inner tube is not only fun but a great family activity.

A secondary activity to the toboggan, snow tubing originated sometime back in the 1800’s. The concept of cruising down the hill in a tube slowly gained popularity over the years and really took off in the 1990’s when many ski hills decided to offer an alternate outdoor activity for the increased non skiers that were coming to the hill.

snow tubingAnd let me tell you snow tubing is an absolute rush! We had the pleasure of trying snow tubing for the first time at Winsport’s Acura Tube Park here in Calgary. Boasting 9 lanes and Western Canada’s largest tube park, it is quite different than hopping on the toboggan and zooming down the hill. First off, it is safer as the tube park is set up with lanes, so when you go down the hill you have your own wide space to zip through. Plus it is staff supervised and they moderate when people go, making sure the lane is clear before the next person zooms down.

Second, you can save those legs going up and down the hill with your tube each time because you ride the magic carpet to the top. This allows you to stop and enjoy the ride up as well.

snow tubingThird, the lanes are groomed and maintained. So though you may experience some dips and curves they are none of the bumps or bare spots that you might run into on the traditional toboggan hill. Easier on the tailbone and the rest of the body!

The kids were super excited to give it a try. Children have to be at least 42″ to ride by themselves but children 36″ or more can go if they ride with an adult. Chloe was a little trepidatious but totally wanted to go by herself regardless. Luke, as he does, just watched everyone else go first, getting the lay of the land, seeing what to expect, and was quite confident to go on his own once it was his turn.

snow tubingWhen it’s your turn the staff actually give you a push and launch you down the lane. Either giving you a spin or sending you straight – which they ask you what you’d prefer before they do. Being a little cautious myself I asked for straight the first time I went, but honestly you want to spin! (Just remember to wait a minute or so when you get to the bottom cause you might be a little dizzy). It is so much more fun. Spinning and zooming safely down the hill really is exhilarating. I screamed every time and loved it!

You can also go down in groups of up to 4, where each person is in their own tube but you are all holding onto another tube in your group. This can also be lots of fun and another way to share the experience.

snow tubingPasses for the park are quite reasonable, starting at 18.99 for youth and can be purchased in 2, 3 or 4 hour rides. You also have the ability to reload your cards at a reduced rate for future rides!

The only downside is even though the park has 9 lanes it can get quite busy at the top and hard to determine which line for which lane you are in. Since they are newly opened, they are still working out some of the kinks in the running of the park so that it is smooth and efficient. But they are doing a great job! the staff are so fun and friendly and most people are pretty understanding about being patient and waiting their turn.

Snow tubing is a fabulous alternative to tobogganing and I feel a bit safer as it’s more controlled (you also don’t need to bring any equipment). And with the new bylaws here in Calgary only allowing toboganning on 22 designated hills it provides another great option for kids and families. I also love that it’s local! There are other snow tube parks in the mountains outside of Calgary like Norquay, Nakiska and Lake Louise but if you don’t want the addition of the longer drive then this is perfect! So zip down to WinSport and check it out before the season ends.

Want to experience Snow Tubing at the Acura Snow Tube Park for yourself? Enter here to win a Family 4 Pack courtesy of WinSport. Contest closes March 5.

5 Easy at Home Workouts

easy at home workoutsIf one of your New Year’s resolutions is getting in better shape but the time and expense of a gym just doesn’t appeal to you – I have the solution for you with these 5 Easy at Home Workouts.

I get it, you’re a busy mom/ parent on the go. There are days when you are just happy you’ve had time for a shower and something to eat, let alone a little exercise. It’s also winter – and I don’t know about where you live, but right now it’s freezing and snowy outside! So though I love being outdoors and enjoying winter when I can – the reality is we tend to hibernate in winter. We don’t get out as much, and we tend to be less active in general.

easy at home workoutsFor me, I love things that I can do at home. Because though I do go to a gym and enjoy it, I also love the option of being able to get a workout in without having to go anywhere. Cause honestly sometimes you just don’t have the time to pack your bag, get in the car, drive to the gym… you get the idea. But you do have 10-15 minutes.

And truly 10-15 minutes can do wonders for your overall health, well being and exercise plan. You do not need a lot of fancy equipment to get the blood moving and the heart pumping or to notice the results of your efforts. Plus it’s easy, and I don’t know about you but I love easy. If it’s easy it makes it more of a reality that it is going to happen.

I also like variety. I don’t always want to do the same thing everyday so I like to have options to choose from when I want to switch it up. These 5 Easy at Home Workouts offer a variety of options that are more than just weights and constant repetitions. They are short and great for getting up and moving. They are also easy to do with or involve the kids if you want to. It can even be contagious! My daughter does my 5 minute yoga routine with me most mornings and now does her own periodically throughout the day!

5 Easy at Home Workouts

Easy 10 Minute Workout – Simply using your body and a chair, this workout routine provides 8 strength training exercises to strengthen and tone.

easy at home workouts

Mini Trampoline Workout – Move to your favorite tunes with this low impact workout. I love this idea as you just cue up enough music for the length of time you want – 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc. and then you jump and move and play. That’s it! Easy. Yes you need a mini trampoline but they are inexpensive. They are also portable and fit just about anywhere.

easy at home workouts

Fun Hoola Hoop Exercise Routine – I think this my favorite one. Even though I am terrible at using one, the laughter and joy from doing this would be beneficial in itself. Besides they say practice makes perfect and if no one is watching you (another benefit of doing it at home) then there’s no need to be self conscious. Give it your all!

easy at home workouts

 

5 Minute Yoga Routine – This has become my cornerstone in my daily routine. I do it each morning and I love it because it is only 5 minutes. It’s easy, it gets me moving and if on the odd occassion I don’t do it first thing like usual, I can easily fit it into my day somewhere else. Because it’s only 5 minutes! Don’t worry if you haven’t done yoga before. Krista takes you through all the moves in the video.

easy at home workouts

 

Easy at-home Exercises – 10 minutes, your body and a couple of soup cans. Voila! Easiest at home workout ever.

easy at home workouts

So before you decide to throw out the idea of getting more exercise this year pick one of these workouts and give it a try. If one doesn’t appeal to you try a different one. It’s only a few minutes, it’s easy and you’ll be thanking yourself later.

Regardless of which one you choose, and you could even do a combination, you’ll easily reap the benefits of regular exercise in the comfort of your own home. Tone, strengthen and relieve stress.

Plus there’s no financial investment. You don’t even need workout gear, you could simply do them in your pyjamas (seriously I do it – who’s watching). The biggest thing is to be consistent, even if you only do it once a week but do it consistently it’ll make a difference. So go for it! Make exercise easy and have fun with it. I’m off to play with my hula hoop…

Tips for Experiencing the Calgary Stampede with Kids

calgary stampede with kids

I love the Calgary Stampede! It is one of my most favorite times of year. The whole city comes alive with buzz and excitement, and the energy in the city is fantastic. When I had kids I knew that the Calgary Stampede would become one of our summer traditions. People looked at me like I was nuts wanting to take my kids to the grounds because it is busy, crazy and loud. But I have found over the years that going to the Calgary Stampede with Kids is not a difficult or horrible endeavor. In fact, with a little planning and awareness, you can have a fantastic day on the grounds with both you and the kids wanting to come back for more.

Tips for going to the Calgary Stampede with Kids

Pre-Plan

calgary stampede with kidsTake a look at the schedule and decide what events you would like to see and what days and times they are. Then plan the rest of your visit around them.

Go during the week

I always recommend you go with your kids on a weekday (omitting Kids Day and Family Day). The crowds are smaller and things are less busy. This will cut down on your waiting times and keep kids happier as they are engaged quicker.

Go early, leave early

Go early in the day, when the grounds open (typically 11 am – there are a couple of exceptions). You not only beat the crowds but head out with kids that are fed (give them a good breakfast), fresh and ready to go. Then when you’re ready to call it a day, for us it’s usually around 4 or 5, the evening crowds just starting to come in and you are on your way out.

Take your own food

Pack a lunch, healthy snacks and waterbottles for everyone. I find when my kids are fed and hydrated they are happier and last longer. I’m not saying don’t enjoy some of the fares on the grounds, but they can be quite expensive and add up fast. Also they are not always the healthiest choices and kids need good stuff to keep them going. When you have your own food, it allows you to feed the kids when they are hungry, without having to go find somewhere to eat, stand in line, etc. Also having water and staying hydrated is key. The grounds can get quite hot, so water is important.

Take advantage of the Free Kids Activitiescalgary stampede with kids

There are lots of free kids events like the Kids Tractor Pull, Chuck Challenge and Penning. There’s also Buckaroos with kids performances with their favorite characters, as well as a character performance on the Coca Cola Stage. There’s the Dog Bowl and the Corral show. Of course there’s the Kids Midway and new this year is the Indian Village Interpretative Program, where you can see daily dances, traditional Pow Wow and drumming. All free with gate admission.

 

Pre-purchase Ride Cards or other coupons

calgary stampede with kidsBefore the Stampede starts you can buy Ride n’ Play cards at Sobeys and Safeway. You cash them in on the grounds for either a ride all day wristband or 60 coupons and save about $20. They are only on sale though up until Stampede starts. Once it has started you cannot purchase them. You can also get deals or coupons on gate admissions. Kids to the age of 6 are free, but you can get free admission for 7-12 year olds when you buy a case of Coca Cola.

Don’t forget sunscreen and hats

It can get quite hot down there on a sunny day and the sun beating down on the pavement. Put sunscreen on before you go and take it with you to reapply throughout the day.

Dress for the weather

Weather during the Calgary Stampede can be unpredictable. Take a raincoat. Even though the prediction may be bright and sunny, thunderstorms are not uncommon this time of year. Also dress appropriately for the day. Bring layers or change of clothes for the kids.

Plan it into your Budget

calgary stampede with kidsThere are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it, the Calgary Stampede is expensive. I always plan it into my budget each year as well as take advantage of the deals and coupons that provide savings, making my dollar go a little farther. Another good idea is to decide what amount you are willing to spend on the grounds. Be realistic but cap it and stick to it so you won’t regret it later.

Know your limit

Don’t do too much and don’t overstay, know when your kids have had enough and it’s time to go home. Better to go home on a high where you all want to go back, talking about what you’d like to see and do next year, then one where you’re so relieved to be home and will never go again.

Last but not least, have fun and take lots of pictures. Relax and enjoy. Don’t stress about the lines or the crowds (I always go over with my kids the expectations when we’re on the grounds, stick together, hold hands, etc. I also register them at the Lost Child booth as soon as we get into the park). Go with the flow and be able to let things go. It’s ok if you don’t get to it all.

Going to the Calgary Stampede with kids can be easy and fun. With a little pre-planning and a backpack of items with you, you’ll create an enjoyable and memorable experience for all. I have used these tips with my kids over the years and as a result they love it and ask to go back every year.calgary stampede with kids

Get Dirty! Mud Activities for Kids – Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

mud activities

Mud glorious mud! I love mud. I love playing in it, building with it, digging in it, rolling in it, squishing my toes in it. No wonder kids are drawn to it, it is so much fun to play with. Whether you are covering yourself in it from head to toe or creating something with it, it just feels good. And it’s good for us!

Mud often gets a bad wrap because it can be quite messy and a huge job to clean up. But playing in mud is actually extremely healthy for us and is part of an innate need to not only ground ourselves (connect to the Earth) but a basic biological need for our growth and development. Plus it’s fun!

mud activitiesPlaying in the dirt and mud has many physical, psychological and emotional benefits. The exposure to natural organisms in the dirt actually builds strong healthy immune systems, decreases the risk of allergies and asthma as well as decreasing anxiety, depression, stress and obesity. It allows kids to get creative and explore their natural world. Whether they are building a mud house, making mud pies or just squishing their fingers through it.

And there are so many options when it comes to playing in the dirt. When I started exploring different mud activities I was surprised at how many things there were to do. Many of them quite simple (I’m sure a child would just come up with these things but as an adult sometimes I need a little nudge in the right direction).

Playing in mud certainly does not have to be a structured activity and there is a lot of value in free play, such as discovering limits, developing creativity and ideas, testing things. I find kids can play in mud for hours without any specific goal or purpose and in that they are learning. But there is also value in guided and structured play which helps a child focus on a specific goal, leading to deeper learning, development and expanding their exploration.

When I announced to the twins that we had a ‘mud project’ to do, Chloe was all over it, while Luke was a little hesitant and said he might not do it. I said that was fine but knew once he saw what was going on he’d likely get in there. (And I was right!)

3 Simple Mud Activities for Kids

What you will need:mud activities

  • big bag of dirt
  • water
  • buckets
  • shovels
  • old clothes

We used our sand table and started by dumping a big bag of garden dirt into it. It was the perfect height for the kids and kept it contained in one spot. I had put the kids in old clothes so that I didn’t have to worry about staining or washing. We added water and off they went, immediately starting to mix with their hands.

The first thing I did was just let them mix it, squish it, shape it, do whatever they wanted with it. There were lots of oohs and awes and screams of delight at how sticky and messy it was. Chloe soon started covering herself in it.

I had set out the materials for the two other mud activities I wanted them to try so they were ready for them to move to when they were ready. These were mud painting and making mud bricks. I had explained to them beforehand what activities we were going to do so they knew what was happening. This allowed them to move at their own pace and complete the activities.

mud activitiesMud Painting

  • paint brushes
  • large sheets of bristol board

This is simply taking mud and painting with it. Get a large piece of bristol board (you’ll want bristol board or something similar in thickness as paper will get soggy fast with the water content in the mud); and some paint brushes and let the kids go to town. You may find that they’ll quickly discard the brushes for their hands and that’s ok too.

Mud Bricks

  • egg cartons

We used an empty egg carton and packed the mud into the different sections. I explained to the kids that we did not want the mud to be higher than the top of the carton and that they needed to be levelled off. Once the carton was full, we put it in the sun to let them dry and set. Curious and excited the twins wanted to know how long it would take them to dry. I told them it would likely take a day for them to be ready, then we could pop them out and build with them.

Tips to make your mud activities successful (and easy clean up)mud activities

  • do it outside
  • set up the space you want them to do it in
  • go over expectations for mud play (where to do it, what activities they could try, etc.)
  • use a large tupperware, sand table or something similar to mix up your mud
  • use old clothes so you don’t have to worry about staining or washing
  • hose them off (literally) and clean them up outside

And get in there with them! Mud play is good for us adults to. Think about it, we go to the spa and spend money to get a mud wrap, willingly. Not that I’m saying don’t go to the spa, as it has so many other benefits, but playing in the mud at home is free! And it’s a great way to connect with your kids and share beautiful, fun, happy memories. So go ahead get dirty! Play in the mud!

Going on a Sound Hunt… Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

sound huntYesterday I took my kids on a sound hunt. I picked them up from school and we went straight to Fish Creek Park (a provincial park very close to our house) to play and explore. When I announced what we were doing Luke and Chloe were sooo excited. Luke even said so! He said “I don’t know what a sound hunt is but I am so excited to do it.” How wonderful! It made my heart swell how willing and open he was to the whole thing. A sound hunt, sounded exciting, it must be good.

Exploring nature through sound allows children to learn and recognize things they may not have noticed before. By engaging and focusing on sounds it allows children to connect what they hear with what they see. It also enables them to identify the many different sounds of nature. How the wind through the grass can sound slightly different than the wind through the trees. It begins to help them identify not only bird sounds, but that there are different kinds of birds. And once they hear and identify the different bird songs, their innate curiousity leads them to learning visually what the different kinds of birds look like.

As soon as we stepped out of the car Luke and Chloe were already telling me what they heard and named at least 3 things before we formally got started. They really were raring to go!

How to Set Up a Sound Hunt

What you will need:

  • notebook or paper
  • markers/ pencils
  • listening ears
  • a sense of adventure

sound huntI had brought along notebooks and markers to help record what we heard in the forest. I told them that we would be going for a walk through the park and listening for all the different sounds. We were to walk along quietly and when they heard something they were to stop, pause and then share what they heard. They set forth with their listening ears on and wonder in their eyes.

Shortly down the path, Luke stopped and said he heard wind, Chloe birds, an airplane. I said I heard our footsteps along the path. Cause although that was not a sound specific to nature it was one we were hearing in nature, and later could talk about the differences between the natural sounds and the sounds we made in nature and how they could be good or bad (a discussion about noise pollution).

sound huntThey did very well. We’d walk for a bit in silence, they announce some things they heard, chat for a bit about it, then we’d continue along in silence. The listening quickly lead to the visual connection and more discoveries and exploration. Our natural response when we hear something is to turn towards the sound and look. First we heard the squirrel and then turned to see him scampering by. We heard a bee buzz by, then spotted him digging around on the ground. We were able to watch him for a bit, which was quite fascinating and wondered what he was looking for. He was madly using his feet to search for something. After a bit, he flew off but not too far and we were able to watch him land and dig again. Also noticing that as he flew low to the ground searching for the ‘right spot’ to dig that he actually created enough air movement to move the pine needles on the ground without touching them. It was super cool!

We discovered and learned about woodpeckers and how they peck for insects in trees, examining the holes they left behind. We found chickadees after we heard their call and Luke even imitated their call. We even heard the noisy crow cawing over and over but actually didn’t see him.

chickadeeAt one point, we did stop along the path and I asked Luke and Chloe if they could tell the difference between the wind through the leaves and the wind through the grass, as there was a slight difference. At first they couldn’t but as I pointed out the subtle yet distinct differences they were able to identify them as well.

We heard many sounds. Gophers squeaking (they thought it was neat they squeaked), squirrels chirping, bees buzzing, wind, different kinds of birds (at least 3) and more. One of our favorite sounds was the creek gurgling by and Luke and Chloe were specifically on the hunt for this sound. They knew it was here from being to the park before and kept saying “Where is it?” not resting until they heard and found the creek.

When we did find it, after wading in and playing a bit, we sat by the creek and took out the notebooks. They each spent a few minutes writing or drawing the different sounds they heard in their books. Recording what they had heard and starring their favorites. Taking these extra few minutes to have the kids record what they have heard helps solidfy it and increases retention. It also gave us another opportunity to sit one more time and listen. Seeing if there were any new sounds that they had not yet heard on our sound hunt so far.

sound huntWe spent over an hour in the park playing, listening and learning. And when we returned to the house it was amazing how calm, grounded and happy they were. Chloe stayed outside and blew bubbles, while Luke came in and relaxed doing a guided children’s mediation. The whole experience was amazing! and we definitely reaped the benefits of our outing.

The other neat thing is is that after our adventure, I have heard Luke talking about and sharing it with others. Telling them how much he enjoyed it and what he learned.

Exploring with kids through nature is such a rich and exciting experience. By having them focus on identifying sounds not only heightens their sense of awareness but quickly leads them to connecting visually, engaging their other senses and deepening their exploration.

Like to do more with sound outside? Check out this idea on Making Outdoor Sounds

Seeking and Sorting – Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

outdoor nature activities for kidsChildren naturally love to be outside. Running, jumping, playing, climbing are all elements of outdoor play. We should not underestimate the value of outdoor nature activities for kids  and playing outside as it has many benefits.

Children who spend more time outside learn to appreciate and care for nature. Their natural curiosity encourages them to explore and learn in ways that we may not even realize. They develop physical and gross motor skills, burn calories, get their Vitamin D and contribute to their aesthetic learning as well. Think of all the colors, sights and sounds out there engaging the senses – from bird song to the feeling of bark under their hands or mud squished through their fingers. These activities are all contributing to the development and growth of your child.

outdoor nature activities for kidsThough free unstructured play in the outdoors definitely has it’s place and benefit, you can enhance your child’s learning experience by doing simple and exploratory outdoor nature activities with them. Deepening their appreciation of nature, teaching them basic skills/ concepts as well as growing their curiosity. Outdoor nature activities for kids can introduce them to something they may not have thought of before or learn about something that they may just take for granted. For instance, the feeling of the bark of a tree – some are rough, some are smooth, while others have a powdery substance on them. Then this can lead them to asking why? why are the barks different? Or looking at and finding all the different colors there are in nature – there is not just green and brown, exploring a little through different activities can show them the many colors of nature and where to look for them.

outdoor nature activities for kidsOver the next 6 weeks, we will explore different outdoor nature activities for children, featuring one activity each week; their benefits and how easy they are to do. You do not need a lot of equipment, just curiosity and a sense of fun and exploration. Depending on the age of the children, will depend on how deep you take their exploration. I find the best is to start simple and then take cues from the child as to where to go with it next and how long to spend on it. Something that might keep one child engaged for 20 minutes, might only engage another for 2. That’s ok, length of time is not important – it is the experience and what they get out of it. Besides the child who is engaged for less time might find another activity of more interest to them and spend longer with that one.

Seeking and Sorting

Children naturally love to collect stuff. They often run outside and collect dandelions, rocks, leaves, etc. This activity uses this concept to start to grow their appreciation as well as some basic math and counting concepts. You can easily do this with a group of children as young as 2 years old or one on one.

  1. outdoor nature activities for kidsGather the children into a circle and show them what it is you want them to collect. Depending on the age of the kids I may ask them to find a specific number or simply to collect as many as they can. For instance, I hold up a dandelion and ask them what it is. If they do not know then I tell them.
  2. Once they have identified what it is I ask them to go and collect 3 of these and bring them back and put them into a pile in the middle. Once they have done that, I will move on to the next item, say a stick. I emphasize that they are only to take sticks from the ground, as we want the ones that are attached to keep growing. I will ask them to collect 4 and bring them back and place it in the pile. Depending on the age group will depend on how many items we go seeking. With preschoolers I usually choose 2-3 items.
  3. Once we have a great big pile, we may pretend it’s a campfire and sing a campfire song. Or I tell them one interesting fact about the items they’ve collected, like pine cones hold the seeds for the new trees.
  4. Then I will get them to sort them into 3 piles, all the dandelions in one, all the sticks in one and all the pine cones in another. Kids not only love to collect, they also love to sort! Sorting activities for children teaches them how to organize, how to determine alike and different as well as beginning math skills.

outdoor nature activities for kidsThe great thing about this activity is it provides the foundation for other activities that you can now use the items you’ve collected to do. Activities like Woodland People, Building a Nature City and Nature Collages all utilize the items you’ve collected and bring in a little creativity and imagination.

Try out this Seeking and Sorting Activity this week and share in the comments below how it went and what favorite things you found!

Next week we’ll build upon this activity by Building a Nature City, that uses what we’ve collected.

Giving Children Choice – Benefits of Empowering Children in Decision Making

giving children choiceMany children grow up unable to make decisions because they have had little experience in doing so. Teaching decision making greatly benefits them in life.

Life involves making decisions and choices. It is something people do everyday, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. The value of making conscious mindful decisions and choices is key to living a full and happy life. Children if presented with choice at a young age learn this invaluable tool easily and will greatly benefit them in their adolescent and adult lives.

Benefits of Providing Children with Choice

R. Renee Bembry’s article Giving Children Choices Rather Than Commands sites many benefits to giving children choices starting at a young age. Choices, if presented appropriately, will enable children to learn the benefits of making mindful, conscious decisions.

Giving children choices teaches them how to make decisions, builds their self esteem, develops problem solving skills, independence and makes them feel more powerful and in control of their lives. It teaches them to take ownership of their choices, the value of sacrificing one thing for another and makes them feel that their point of view is valued.

As parents, providing the child with a choice helps to avoid power struggles and reduces frustration while gaining the child’s cooperation. Done correctly this still leaves the parent in control as they are the ones who provide the choices.

How to Provide Choices to a Child

Some parents panic thinking that if they give their child a choice that they will soon be ruling the roost. This is not so, as the parent can choose what the choices will be, and therefore can choose things that they can live with. It is a win win for everyone as the child feels empowered because he gets to choose and the parent still holds the reins by providing choices that they are comfortable with either way.giving children choice

Dr. Khrista Boylan, child psychiatrist, says to start teaching a child how to make decisions, the parent needs to ensure the choice is manageable and realistic for the age of the child. Do not offer choices to children younger than 2 years of age, and not more than 2 options, a or b. The choices need to be realistic, appropriate and acceptable, something the child understands, and the options need to be acceptable to the parent. Do not offer a choice if one of the choices is not acceptable.

As the child gets older one can offer them a broader range of choices. This will help eliminate power struggles with older children.

Parents need to be consistent and let the child choose on a regular basis. It is also important to note that not everything has to be a choice -there are times when as a parent, they must tell the child what to do.

Where to Start Offering Choice

giving children choiceJamie Sullivan’s article Parenting Tips – Why Is Giving Choice Important suggests that the parent start to offer children choice with everyday things like choosing what to wear, what to have for dinner or type of sandwich for lunch. They can be asked for input on family decisions such as what type of outing they would like to go on, or who to invite to play. As they get older the choices can become more complex and where the consequences of their choices become more pertinent. The more opportunities they have to make choices the more they will learn and the more confident they will become in making decisions.

The Value of Good Decision Making

The key to success is knowing the child and what they can handle. This way the parent can provide realistic choices that will ensure the child feels empowered and learns from his experience.

As parents, providing choice builds the foundation for children to make good, sound decisions, where they learn to see the outcomes and accept the consequences (if any) of choosing one over another. This helps them make positive choices in their adolescent years when choices can be potentially life threatening. Teaching them early will only benefit them later in life and develop confident, happy adults.giving children choice

Kids Healthy Cooking – Dairy Free Peanut Butter Ice Cream

sugar free dairy free peanut butter ice creamIce cream. One of the many favorite summer treats, wonderful on a hot summer day. But honestly, great anytime and popular with kids. Growing up in my house ice cream was a staple and often requested after dinner. So when we went dairy free, ice cream was definitely something I missed. But like any change (like when we went sugar free) it was just a matter of shifting gears and finding new recipes to meet our ice cream needs. This is when I discovered this sugar free dairy free peanut butter ice cream.

I had been promising the kids in my Mini Chefs class ice cream for a few classes and many of them kept asking when we were going to make it. In our last class of the session I thought I’d throw it in with our chocolate making, making it a bit of an extra treat. This sugar free dairy free peanut butter ice cream recipe is rich, creamy and delicious. No one would ever know that it did not contain dairy (and don’t worry if peanuts are a concern you can use WOW butter, an awesome substitute for peanut butter. Being in a peanut free facility this is what we used and no one noticed a difference in either look, taste or texture). In fact when we made it in class the kids did not question the ingredients at all. They just heard ‘ice cream’ and were ready to make it and eat it.

sugar free dairy free peanut butter ice creamThis sugar free dairy free peanut butter ice cream recipe is super easy to make with kids. Just put all the ingredients into a blender, blend and then pour into your ice cream maker. If you do not have an ice cream maker, you can take the mixture and put into a freezable container and put in the freezer until firm.

All the kids were bouncing off the walls, waiting for the ice cream to be ready. And when it was, they gobbled it up, most of them asking for some more. I was pleased to be able to finish off the class with something a little more special (and considered a treat), but also still healthy and good for them. By this point, none of them were questioning the ingredients that were going into things, and all of them were willing to try it. Which I think is the greatest success – a child who is willing to at least try it will open up their world of healthy foods and possibilities. Not only with foods, but in other areas of their life as well.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1- 14 oz. can coconut milk, chilledsugar free dairy free peanut butter ice cream

¾ c. coconut sugar

½ c. natural peanut butter (or WOW butter if need peanut free option)

1 tsp. vanilla

3 tbsp. dark chocolate shavings

Prepare your ice cream maker ahead of time by freezing the canister overnight. You’ll also need a good blender to whip the ice cream mixture.

Combine chilled coconut milk and coconut sugar in blender and whip until sugar is dissolved. Add in peanut butter and vanilla. Whip until mixture is creamy and frothy.

*If it’s hot in your kitchen and the mixture is warm-ish, chill mixture before adding to ice cream maker; it will freeze better is mixture is cold.

Set your freezing canister in place and turn on ice cream maker. Pour mixture into freezing canister. Add in shaved dark chocolate.

Churn until frozen. Depending on your ice cream maker this could take 10-15 minutes or up to 30 minutes.

Make roughly 3 cups. Serve in small single scoops as it is rich.

Original recipe from Gluten Free Goddess

healthy chocolateCooking with kids really can be easy and fun. I had a great time working with these kids, gently expanding their palates and horizons. I was pleased to see how everyone progressed and to hear from parents how what they did in class was being transferred to home. Whether it be a food they now liked, making supper, or helping with clean up.

My greatest joy was the success I had with the more particular eaters, one’s who said they did not like much of anything, but by the end of our classes were not only trying everything but loving what we were making. Those kids had come a long way and really grown. It just goes to show how cooking with kids,  and letting them make their own food not only encourages them to eat it, but also to start trying and experimenting with new things.

Kids Healthy Cooking – Healthy Chocolate with Natural Sweeteners

healthy chocolateKids and chocolate. They go together well. All the memories of chocolate covered faces, whether from ice cream or pudding or just a good old fashioned chocolate bar. Yes they say too much chocolate is not good for you, but honestly there is such a thing as healthy chocolate.

A lot of the trouble with chocolate is the amount of sugar in it, but chocolate without sugar and natural sweeteners instead, is a different story. Chocolate itself is rich in antioxidants and is actually very good for us. It is the sugar that is the problem.

When I learned to make my own healthy chocolate, I was surprised at how quick and easy it was. It was so easy that I came home and made it with my oldest son, who at the time was only 6. Four simple ingredients gave us our base chocolate, and then we could create whatever we wanted. He loved it! and wanted to make more. Now my twins who are also 6, love making it as well. It is so easy to make with kids.

So when it came to our last class of Mini Chefs, making healthy chocolate was really a no brainer. I wanted a nice sweet, fun, but healthy treat, so this was perfect. In class, we made the plain chocolate and kept it in liquid form for fondue, dipping a variety of fruit into it; such as apples, oranges and bananas. All of the kids loved it! And yes ended up with chocolate faces 🙂

Raw Organic Chocolate

Ingredients:

Cacao butterhealthy chocolate

Cacao powder

1 vanilla bean

pure maple syrup or honey

*amounts depend on how much chocolate you want to make

Boil water in kettle. Pour boiled water into a large metal bowl, place second smaller metal bowl on top of large bowl so that it sits on top. Place cacao butter into top bowl. Cacao butter will start to melt. While cacao butter is melting slice vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the inside seeds with a spoon. Put seeds into melted cacao, it is ok if cacao butter is not completely melted yet. Stir.

*Be very careful not to get any water into your chocolate as it will not work if you do. If your second bowl sits nicely on top, this should not be an issue as you do not need to lift the second bowl off the one with the water in it until you are done making your chocolate. 

Sift cacao powder into a separate bowl. Once cacao butter is completely melted add 2-4 tablespoons of cacao powder. Taste for desired level of chocolatey-ness. If you’d like it richer add more cacao powder. Once satisfied with amount of cacao powder add natural sweetener of choice. Start with 3 teaspoons and mix. Taste, if desired level of sweetness has not been reached, add 1-2 more tablespoons and taste again. Once level of desired sweetness has been reached you have your base chocolate. This can now be kept liquid and used as a fondue, or can be poured into chocolate molds to form chocolates.

Another option at this point is to add additional ingredients such as nuts, dried fruit, coconut, etc and pour onto a cookie sheet to let set. Chocolate is best set in freezer but may also be set in fridge.healthy chocolate

I had also been promising the kids we would make ice cream for a number of classes and many of them kept asking when we were going to make it. Since it was the last class we did make peanut butter ice cream as well. Sugar free, dairy free and super easy to make with kids. Look for the peanut butter ice cream recipe in the next kids healthy cooking post.

Energy Bites – Easy Healthy Snacks for Kids

energy bitesEnergy bites are a very easy and quick snack that are not only delicious but full of nutrition. They are one of those great recipes that you can basically put anything in them that you like, and they are great to make with kids.

They are easy because you simply put all your ingredients into a bowl and mix together. You then roll them into balls and freeze them for 10 minutes. Done!

The kids in my Mini Chefs really enjoyed making these. There were lots of things to measure and put in, and no one turned up their nose at any of the ingredients. They loved it because they all got a chance to mix and roll their own ball, which was a bit of a sticky process. It didn’t matter to them, as they were really excited to try them out. Even my pickiest eater was licking her fingers after rolling her energy bite – already expressing how much she loved it. I was super pleased! (I had been working hard to find something that this child would enjoy that was really good for her) In fact, when we sat down to eat them she had 3. Yes! Success.

energy bitesNow the original recipe calls for peanut butter, but being in a peanut-free facility we used WOW butter, made from non-GMO soy and allergen free (dairy, gluten, egg) it is a great alternative if needed. It does contain sugar, so not so great if you are avoiding added sugars as well. I can vouch that it tastes just like peanut butter and the kids in the class had no idea whatsoever. It looked and tasted the same to them.

Energy bites are a perfect easy on the go snack, as you can make up a batch ahead of time and just grab them when you need that extra boost. There are also many variations on these balls, you can even create your own adding in or removing whatever you like. Things such as raisins, dried fruit, nuts, cacao powder are just a few of the things you could add in. Once you have the basic recipe that sticks together the options are endless.

Energy Bites

1 c. dry oatmealenergy bites

2/3 c. shredded coconut

½ c. peanut butter (WOW butter is a great non-nut option)

½ c. ground flax seed

½ c. cacao nibs

1/3 c. honey

1 tbsp. chia seeds

1 tsp. vanilla

Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Once thoroughly mixed take approx. 1 teaspoon and roll into a ball – dough will be sticky. Place ball onto a cookie sheet. Continue rolling until all dough has been used. Place balls into freezer for 10 minutes or until firm. Take out and enjoy!

Once frozen balls can be stored in an airtight container and are great quick grab and go snacks.

Makes 20-25 balls

Next week our last class and it’s a good one! We make chocolate and peanut butter ice cream…