Board Books + Classic Literature = BabyLit

Alice in Wonderland for babies

It’s never too early to introduce your baby to great literature. If that great lit comes in the form of tough board books for babies, even better. bynature.ca carries the BabyLit series of board books because they entertain us as adults as well as entertaining our babies.

We read to babies because they learn language as we speak, because we want to create the habit of reading in our children. Before babies even come close to understanding stories, we read them stories. Once they start to recognize numbers, colors, animals, and objects around them, we read books about the familiar.

Trouble comes when a favorite book, a book that absolutely must be read nightly, bores us to tears. We might lose it or distract at bedtime. Clever children will find their favorite books, though. You can escape the repeat performance.

Before you find yourself reading a book about a self-sacrificing tree or an inevitably caged monkey for the hundredth time, start with books that will amuse you. I like the BabyLit books because they make me laugh. Reading these books gives parent and child a multi-layered experience.

You will find the structures of the books familiar: counting books, object books, color books, and weather books.

Anna Karenina for babies

Anna Karenina, for example, has one item of cloth per page then encourages the reader to find another. It’s an easy hidden object book, or, as the book itself claims, “a fashion primer.”

“HAT.
“Can you also find the heart?”

Price & Prejudice for babies

Pride & Prejudice is a counting book with “1 English village, 2 rich gentlemen, 3 houses, 4 marriage proposals,” and so on. Jane Eyre and Dracula are also counting books. Alice in Wonderland is a color primer, Wuthering Heights is a weather primer, and The Jungle Book is an animal primer.

Jabberwocky for babies

Jabberwocky will be fun for any child who loves to play with language.

“Twas Brillig, and the slithy toves. . . .”

All of the books have bold, simple artwork that will hold a toddler’s interest.

Moby Dick for babies

BabyLit is a fun series. Though it is made for toddlers, you will find yourself calling friends and family members to read these books to adults. The books are published by a friend of mine, who sent me the whole series. I’ve read every one aloud to my husband and to friends. The juxtaposition of baby and lit delights them. They laugh. It’s a secret between adults, when the children just have fun listening and pointing.

Come by the store in Orillia and choose a few of your favorites for a baby—or for an adult.

Wuthering Heights for babies

Menu Planning and Shopping

Mother and baby grocery shopping

Do you ever arrive home with hungry kids and no idea what you are going to feed them? Or, you have a great idea for a quick meal, but you end up missing ingredients you could have bought on your way home. This is how we end up eating boxed dinners and other foods we want to avoid.

If you have been building your Home HQ with your family binder, you have the ideal place to organize meals and shopping lists so you won’t get caught without a quick, nutritious meal to make.

Having a system for menu planning and shopping will also help you avoid wasting food that you don’t quite have a plan for. According to the UN Environment Programme, “[i]n the USA, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds [~9kg] of food per person per month.” Before you start thinking that’s just the U.S., Canadian researchers estimate that the average Canadian household wastes 15-23kg of food per month. Not all of the waste happens at home. Food leaves the system at every point in the chain. That’s wasted capacity in the food system and wasted money for us all as prices cover food that doesn’t even make it to us. For us as families, though, the food wasted at home costs us about $1,500 per year. Every day we are wasting about $4 of food.

We can stop wasting food and wasting money with better planning.

A Menu & Shopping System

Start by asking whether you will be better off jumping into a whole, new system or gradually adopting new methods into your current system. We’re all different, so choose your own path.

If you want a complete system, start with Plan to Eat. This software is a small, family business. You’ll love their eating philosophy and their business philosophy. You might blink at the price ($4/mo or $39/yr), but that cost will be worth it if you need a whole recipe-to-menu-to-list system.

If you want a system that involves paper or that you can customize, start by looking at what you are using now. What is working and what isn’t working? Change one thing at a time.

One of my favorite places to look for home organization ideas is Pinterest. So many parents are sharing their home organization systems as downloadable printouts that you will be able to find just the right structure, just the right design, and just the right size for your family. Start with “menu planning” and you will find yourself on a half-day adventure with a lot of new pins.

Menu Planning

My family has been using a post-it meal planner for the past year, Menu Planner from Homemade by Carmona, and I love it. My husband, the primary meal planner and shopper in our family, sat down and gave me a full review of this system. He loves it, too.

There are two parts to our menu system: WHEN is on a printed grid in our family binder and WHAT (the foods) is written on Post-it Page Markers, which are rectangular rather than square.

My husband likes that he can see at a glance one page with the family’s list of favorite foods. Once he pulls sticky notes from the master list to place them on the calendar, he can also find gaps in order to balance the overall eating. We color coded the sticky notes. For example, blue for Thai and red for Mexican. I added another layer by making dark blue “long prep time Thai” and light blue “quick Thai.” We can look at the weekly menu quickly and say, “Oh, no! No Thai this week. We’d better add Thai” or “Let’s switch out long-prep Thai for quick Thai on the night we get home late.” (Thai is an important food group in our household.)

Pros:

  • Easy to plan for one week, several weeks, or any period of time, as long as you have enough week sheets printed.
  • Easy to get input from other people, since they can write ideas on sticky notes and add them.
  • Two-page view means you can plan for two weeks and see if you are cooking the same meal too often.
  • Reusable. No printed pages to throw away at the end of the week.
  • Easy to add multiple dishes for one meal.

Con:

  • Post-its lose their stick after they are used week after week.

I like the Menu Planner because it simplifies the process so much that you just think about it ahead of time and don’t have to OVERthink or REthink a common process.

What this method doesn’t do is connect to our shopping list. If you want a simple grid that gives you space to write needed ingredients for your shopping list, this downloadable shopping list template from The Joy Cottage is nice looking.

Shopping Lists

To determine the best kind of shopping list for you, ask what you are optimizing for:

  • highest priority items, if you have limited cash and might have to leave low-priority items off them list
  • most efficient walk through the store, if you have limited time.

We optimize for the walk through the store. Change your list order or shape to fit the store you go to. Otherwise, you might end up walking back and forth. I even found (Pinterest again!) a multi-store shopping list template you can download from Ask Anna Moseley.

The shopping list that my husband uses is lifted directly from his Franklin-Covey Planner with nine zones, which he uses for nine categories of shopping: produce, meat, dairy, bottles & cans, frozen, dry goods, cleaning, bakery, and miscellaneous. He’s written out his list on a 3×3 grid for at least a decade.

Multiple stores can be difficult when you are working with one list. My husband crosses out as he goes then circles what he doesn’t have yet before he arrives at the next store. If you are shopping at a big-box store, like Costco, that is probably a once-a-month trip with a separate list. If it makes sense to include a second store on your list, you can add a code or color to mark stores.

If you have a random element in your shopping, such as an unpredictable CSA delivery or a trip to a grocery liquidation store when you don’t know what will be available until you get there, you will need to adjust your shopping list. If you watch the television show “Chopped” (3 random ingredients must be used in a meal), you can get inspiration to think outside of your usual categories of food. If you adopt the mindset of improvisation, you might find new and wonderful favorites.

Even Better, Let’s Combine

As I was planning this post, I asked my husband how we could improve our own system. We imagined a drag-and-drop app starting with a menu that looks like post-it notes (because we really do like what we already use). Once an item is dragging onto the menu for the week, a shopping list is populated. When the week’s list is complete, we check the pantry and the fridge and mark anything off that we already have. Then, we shop.

That might seem like a lot to ask, but we just found an app that does enough that we’re about to add it to our system: Our Groceries.

We read about Out of Milk as well, but we saw most comparison reviews between them came down on the side of Our Groceries. I love two things about this app to start: syncing across devices, so more than one person can shop at the same time, and recipes you can create so one tap populates the shopping list with all of the needed ingredients. Plus, if you have an Android and your spouse has an iPhone, you’re still safe with this app. My plan is to use the web interface to create “on your way home” shopping lists for my husband. If you are more likely to want to sync with your pantry, you might want to start with Out of Milk.

After a month with Our Groceries, I might just give in and try the 30-day trial of Plan to Eat. If I do, I’ll give you a review.

Image © Joshhhab | Dreamstime.com - Mother With Girl Shopping In Supermarket Photo

7 Foods to Keep Your Kids Warm This Winter

Winter stew

Craving comfort foods this winter? There is an explanation for that. When the temperature outside drops, your body has to work harder to keep warm, burning more calories to create that energy. Simple, hearty foods like stews have many of the elements your body needs right now: protein, fats, and spices. Don’t avoid those foods you crave, just keep it healthy and you and your children will stay toasty warm.

You don’t want just to be hot for minutes; you need foods that keep the kids feeling cozy and warm for hours. Choose foods that burn slowly rather than simpler carbohydrates like crackers and sweets. Potatoes, bread, pasta, and rice are all great foods, but they will metabolize more quickly—and you will feel hungry sooner. Winter is the time to eat true slow foods.

Winter Foods Kids Will Love

Nuts. If you need to tide kids over with a snack, give them nuts. The protein and fat content make them an ideal winter snack food. Cook with nuts and seeds as well.

Spices. Whether you tend toward cinnamon, chilies, or ginger and garlic, spices are particularly good for you during the winter. Ginger helps you digest the fatty foods your body craves in the winter, and antibacterial and antiviral effects of foods like garlic help you fight off infections.

Curry. My favorite winter food is curry. I have a long list of my favorite Indian and Thai curries with lots of chilies and ginger. These make an ideal winter lunch. I feel warm and full all afternoon with no temptation to snack before dinner. My children favor peanut-based curries that aren’t quite as spicy.

Stew. Do you have any holiday leftovers, like a ham bone or a desiccated turkey carcass you put into the freezer to think about later? Your holiday leftovers can make a great base for stew, but you can also make a hearty stew without any meat at all. Add a variety of root vegetables, and caramelize those onions to give it a nice flavor. Or, make nut-based sauces for African stews. Or, make rich tomato sauce for gumbo. Any flavor-way can be used to make a rich stew. This is the perfect place to experiment.

Pie. Pot pies are one of my favorite post-holiday dishes. My mother always made great turkey stew in her flakiest pie crust. For children, you might consider making the crust more of a feature. A Cornish pasty is a pie with the crust folded over in a half-moon shape. You can eat it with your hands without too much mess and it keeps the family full all afternoon. That is why the Cornish miners took these little pies with them to work. Any stew you can dream up will (probably) also make a great pie.

Beans. My kids often just have spiced black beans for lunch. This is my daughter’s absolute favorite comfort food—a food that she almost missed when she first saw it. She told me, the first time I served her black beans, that she didn’t like it. She knew immediately, but we have a rule that one has to have at least one taste before one can form an opinion about liking a food. It turned out that she actually loved it, and she’s been eating beans happily in many forms since.

Chili. Chili is another kind of stew. Either chili or stew can include almost anything you have on hand or anything your children favor. It’s easy to make vegetarian chili or meat chili. A slow cooker, a bag of beans, and a (glass!) jar of tomatoes, and you are almost there. It’s easy to make simple chili, and you can involve children in choosing the flavors.

Keep those toes and bellies warm. Eat up!

Image © Maxim Shebeko | Dreamstime.com

Household Chores for Children

Father and toddler sweeping kitchen

Are you wondering when your children will be ready to help with household chores? My family’s bumpy experience may help you decide that now is the time.

My family was terrible at sharing household chores with children because my husband and I took completely different approaches when the children were very young. I remember the conversations I had with my husband.

“Let her help you wash the dishes.”
“It’s easier just to do it myself.”

He was right. It is easier and faster to just do it yourself. The point wasn’t to get the work done, though, but to let children learn the work, to let children learn that they are important to the functioning of the household.

Once they hit a certain age, my husband expected them to do chores, but they didn’t have a strong pattern of helping yet.

“Ah! So, that’s what you meant.”

We had to work to bridge the gap between parents’ expectations and childrens’ habits. We caught up later than I would have liked, but now each person in the family has responsibility for certain areas.

We don’t have a perfect system. When there is a bigger job, the two teenagers moan about having to help one another, but they often help one another anyway. We have a generally functional and moderately liveable household, and my children feel ownership and responsibility for the housedold—a household that is messier than I’m happy with but cleaner than others might be willing to live with. (Ahem.)

Where to Start Children with Chores

Start when they start. When a child plays alongside you working—washing dishes or folding laundry—share your chore with your young child. It’s play for your child at this stage, but it also helps them learn the vocabulary of work around the house.

Child with toy cooking set

Play in parallel to your work. A toddler wants to do what you are doing, so they will pretend to do your work. The kitchen is an ideal place to make a space for a toddler to play at your work. We made a simple kitchen out of cardboard boxes, and my children spent a lot of time there while I was in the kitchen. That wasn’t as fancy as the beautiful wooden kitchen sets we carry at bynature.ca. We find that toddlers want toys that let them be part of the flow of the family.

Grow as they grow. Make assigned chores age- and person-appropriate. A toddler can carry folded laundry, but it might not arrive folded. If you don’t mind that, it’s a simple job. The younger the child, the simpler and more specific the chores need to be. You could make their chores dependent on an adult. “When I pour out the dog’s food, you put the bowl down and feed her.” An older child, especially one who has been doing chores in parallel with an adult already, needs less specific instruction. My children gradually figured out how to wash their own clothes then fold and distribute clothes to the whole family. That involves a string of many tasks, each of which they did separately before they just stepped in to take care of laundry. They actually divided laundry between themselves, with one gathering and starting the washer and the other drying and carrying laundry to the bed, where they fold together.

Don’t expect perfection. Thank your child specifically for what they did and how they did it. Rather than “You didn’t do that as well as I would have,” you could say, “I like how you scrubbed and rinsed each plate. Thank you for doing that.” It’s about more than just getting the job done.

Explain the role. Don’t just focus on the immediate task, but explain the role your child plays. “We all live here, and we all help one another.” I want my children to understand that they are important within the whole family.

Explain the goal. Like explaining the role, I like my children to get the big picture with the goal behind their chores. The goal isn’t to move an armful of recycling to the garage; the goal is to clear the counter so we cook in a clean and clear space. The goal isn’t to spend one hour weeding; the goal is to clear the old plants from the garden before winter. (This was a conversation just yesterday as my son and I walked through our garden that is full of both last year’s dried plants and this year’s optimistic yet confused little flowers. We failed to clear the garden before winter.)

Make it fun. When everyone is cleaning together, we turn on music, and we all sing along. It makes us sound like the von Trapp family, but it’s more like 80s karaoke. Our attitudes as adults toward household chores will rub off on our children.

Make an assignment. To make it easier to remember and to help your child feel more responsibility for the work, assign chores and acknowledge the assignment until everyone remembers.

It’s All Part of the System

Chart? I have tried many different chart systems as reminders: magnetic grids with movable pieces, calendars, me hovering over everyone. None of this worked for us. They seem to work for others, though, so I think they are worth trying for your family.

Domains. What has worked for us is dividing chores into four general domains for the four family members: kitchen, garden, tidying throughout the house, and away from home errands. We do have other jobs, but we own these areas. Once we distributed responsibility, we had less complaining about messiness and fewer questions about who would remedy the situations.

Meeting. Our new family meeting routine gives us a space to talk about non-routine chores or figure out why things aren’t getting done.

For example, I have a black dog and light blue carpet. Dog fuzz shows. My son is responsible for keeping the floor clean.

“Why isn’t the carpet clean?”
“I can’t use the vacuum because there aren’t any vacuum bags.”

So, my husband is assigned the task of chasing around the city to find a vacuum bag that fits our ancient vacuum, then the floor is clean—or will be clean, since we finally got the bags yesterday.

When we’ve done 30-day challenges to tackle certain difficult areas of our house, we all pitch in.

Everyone in my family participates. We don’t all do equal work, but we do all feel free to ask for help when the work is more than we can handle. It took a while to arrive at a smooth(ish) system.

I hope sharing how we got here will help you as your young children learn to participate in household chores.

Image © Mast3r | Dreamstime.com - Father And Daughter Cleaning In The Kitchen Photo