Alternatives to Candy on Valentine’s Day

Candy for Valentines Day

Has your child been asked to contribute candy to a Valentine’s Day party? We can turn this into an positive opportunity. Let’s think of this as taking a treat—a treat of any kind—rather than approaching negatively as NOT taking candy. You can just quietly send a fun treat that happens not to be food.

Crayons
Kids love crayons. Give them out in the original shape, or you could make a craft of it and use a candy mold to shape melted crayons into hearts. Our Soy Rocks Party Box gives you 64 colorful crayons to give out.

Lip Gloss
Make lip gloss. It’s easy and exciting for kids to make lip balm in many flavors and colors. Don’t call it “gloss” and you might get boys interested as well.

Bouncy Balls
A ball is a small gift that won’t cost you a lot but will get used a lot.

Pencils
A common non-candy gift for children is a fun pencil. They come in great variety (including our tree-free pencils), they are easy to decorate and personalize, and kids will use them.

Wooden Toys
We often find situations where kids might want to give small gifts, and we don’t want to create more plastic clutter of throwaway gifts. We want to give eco-friendly gifts that children will actually use. That is why we created a loot bag section in our Green Celebrations department. We have a couple of tiny toys that would be perfect for Valentine’s Day gifts: mini wooden kaleidoscopes and wooden pop tops.

Friendship Bracelets
An older child can use cotton embroidery floss to create friendship bracelets. To make it a Valentine, add a small tag with a message.

Wooden Yo-Yo
For a special friend, a red wooden yo-yo is great gift that will be played with for a long time.

The Recurring Candy Issue

Yes, it’s nice to take a positive approach. I can be tiring to think, “Great. Another holiday, another opportunity to explain why we don’t give out candy.” Sure, we don’t have to focus on explaining. We can just nudge expectations away from sugary treats to other treats.

The issue will continue to come up, though. If you want to deal with Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and all of the candy holidays all at once, if you are tired of navigating the candy and food issues, help your school or district develop policies that will make it easier not just to manage allergies but to meet nutrition goals.

A lot of schools have no-food or no-candy policies for celebrations. This makes it a lot easier for schools to manage food allergies and sensitivities. Sell them on the benefits for the school, and they might be willing to work with you.

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Lower Holiday Stress Through Compassionate Communication

Mother listening to a child

Are people around you all wound up and snappish? Despite all of the talk of happiness and joy, I find that people are more stressed and anxious leading up to the holidays. There are a lot of obligations to meet, school events, parties, cookies to bake, presents to finish, and everything starts to pile up. Our ambitions can get ahead of our capacities, and we get stressed. When we’re stressed, we might snap at others.

Underneath all of those actions, though, are often the best of intentions. We DO sincerely feel those best wishes we spread around. We ARE grateful for those teachers who open our children’s minds to new ideas. We DO feel joy when we see family members we don’t see nearly as often as we might like.

We feel those positive feelings underneath it all, but we still have that list of obligations to get through. Sometimes it is difficult to be present enough in the moment to focus on that deeper feeling.

For those stressful times to turn into negative experiences, it usually takes two people feeling bad and taking it out on another. I see that happening all around me.

On top of that, we are setting a pattern of expectations for our children. If holidays bring on a stressful time for our children, they will have a more difficult time feeling that joy year after year.

How do we stop the cycle of stress?

I suggest that you slow down just enough to bring compassion into your interactions with others. Recognize that the people around you are doing their best and falling short, just like you and I are. We all are. It’s OK! Extend a genuine smile, a handshake, a kiss on your child’s forehead as the stress starts to show around the edges.

Practice compassionate communication with your children, with the people around you, and even with yourself. That starts with listening and understanding what the other person feels.

Give yourself a break. If your expectations exceed your capacity, scale back. Let go of what isn’t working.

Have a joyful holiday season, and spread that joy to all you meet.

Are you interested in learning more about compassionate communication? A basic book that any parent can read is Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values. Another more specific to parenting is Raising Children Compassionately: Parenting the Nonviolent Communication Way. Follow the links below to IndieBound to find an independent bookseller in your area that carries either book.

Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communicationhttp://www.indiebound.org/book/9781892005038

Marshall Rosenberg, Raising Children Compassionately. http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781892005090

Fast Food for the Holiday Season

Child drinking a green smoothie

Me suggesting fast food? It’s not what you think.

If you are running around between school activities, shopping, and quick visits with relatives and friends, it gets tough to cook whole foods at the expected meal times.

In 3 minutes you can make a green smoothie. You are out the door again in 5 minutes. Smoothies make an easy, densely nutritious meal for you and your children.

Green Smoothies

Start with the base. Choose bananas, coconut water, yoghurt, milk, juice, or anything that will give your smoothie a mostly liquid texture.

Add leafy greens. Spinach, kale, Swiss chard, or cabbage. Dark foods of any color each pack their own group of micronutrients and phytochemicals that are great for your health. Green plants provide antioxidants.

Add more greens. Celery, cucumber, or avocado. Go through your vegetable drawer and use what you have—except broccoli. Learn from my sad experience and don’t add broccoli. I love it cooked and raw, but it makes a bitter smoothie ingredient.

Add flavorful fruits. You can sweeten the flavor of your mix by adding an apple, mango, orange, or grapes. We keep berries in the freezer for red smoothies.

Add protein. Yoghurt can add protein but nut butter will add more. We like Almond Butter.

Add a punch of flavor. Choose a flavorway that will work with your other ingredients. Cinnamon, nutmeg, or mint add just a hint of flavor; fresh ginger adds a punch. Depending on the mix (and the spice tolerance of your children), you can add cayenne pepper and garlic. I love to add spices to my drinks.

Add superfoods. When we are missing meals, we are careful to add superfoods to our smoothies. We like hemp seeds, cacao nibs, lucuma powder, goji berry powder, and chia seeds.

Don’t add everything at once! Create a simple mix of base, 1-2 greens, 1 fruit, 1 superfood, and a few spices. Let yourself taste these beautiful foods.

4 Simple Green Smooth Recipes

Light and simple. My husband requested that I add his current favorite: coconut water, cucumber, and lime. It’s light on nutrition and substance, but this is what he craves at the moment. When the rest of the foods around you are heavy and dense, this can be very refreshing.

Sweet and spicy. In addition to your base and greens, add mango, grapes (to give it more liquid), cayenne pepper, ginger, and a short squeeze of lime juice. This is me trying to recreate mango chutney in a glass.

Green eggnog spice. Banana, yoghurt, spinach, a splash of vanilla, and nutmeg. Your mind expects the nutmeg in eggnog, and the creaminess of the banana and yoghurt does the rest of the trick.

Mint chocolate. Banana, spinach, mint leaves, splash of vanilla, and cocoa nibs. This is another simple one. I like the flavors to stand out rather than getty muddied together.

Extra Credit

Red & Green. If you aren’t in a big hurry, pour your green mix into glasses, then make a quick red mix (base plus cherries, raspberries, or strawberries) and pour that carefully on top. A thicker mix is less likely to blend at the edges. Surprise your children when they see the beautiful holiday colors in their drink.

More green smooth recipes.
http://www.ecobabysteps.com/2009/08/24/monday-morning-smoothie-easy-green/

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Gifts You Won’t Find on Amazon

Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks

Are you rushing to be ready for the holidays? Relatives visiting, parties to cook (or buy) for, neighbors to acknowledge some way, and kids’ gifts to think about. Think about this as you are rushing around.

Our rushing rubs off on our kids, but children need space for deep, open play to process the masses of information that they are taking in as they learn about their world. They don’t need toys that tell them how to play. They need the simplest of objects that can join the stories they are already telling themselves in their own minds.

A couple of years ago, my friends passed around a story from Wired’s Geek Dad“The 5 Best Toys of All Time.” This Geek Dad led with a pile of discarded box full of bits of plastic toys. These were once cool stuff and awesome gizmos, but they didn’t make the top 5 list:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard Tub
  5. Dirt

Everyone loves the gizmos for a day—or an hour.

Are you hoping to help your child develop a somewhat longer attention span? Make sure your gifts are worthy of the attention. The best gifts aren’t much to look at in the box or under the tree. Kids fold them into their lives. To enable your child’s creativity, turn yours on now before you are tempted to grab those last-minute tchotchke and stocking stuffers that won’t even make it from the pile of gifts into your child’s toy box.

By far the best holiday gift I ever gave my daughter was cotton play cloths in a dozen colors. These lasted even longer in circulation than her most beloved Waldorf doll. I didn’t choose the those because I knew what impact they would have. I didn’t know beforehand that play cloths would be blankets and costumes and wrapping and decoration. I just liked that rainbow of color. I was satisfying my own desires!

You might not know which simple, open toy will hit that sweet spot for your child, so be prepared for a few misses as well as hits.

If you are worried that you don’t have the right toys for your child yet, let that worry go. The toys that enable happy, imaginative play are simple.

Happy holidays, and don’t sweat the toys.

Lemony Cornmeal Shortbread Cookie Recipe

Lemony Cornmeal Shortbread Recipe

During the holidays, maybe you like to have sweets, but you don’t want to offer your children and the rest of your family cookies that are overly sweet. I have lemony cornmeal shortbread cookies for you.

I started with Ginger’s Cornmeal Cookies recipe from the Iroquois White Corn Project based in upstate New York. They grow, process, and sell heirloom Haudenosaunee corn. This isn’t white sweet corn but the corn used for masa, corn tortillas, grits, and hominy. This is not instant cornmeal, either. This is corn that takes a while to cook. This is the best kind of slow food.

Cornmeal and corn flour offers a great alternative for those who cook gluten free. This recipe, however, is not gluten free. This is a basic shortbread recipe that replaces 1/4 of the wheat flour with cornmeal. This particular cornmeal is rough-cut, giving the cookies a lovely crunch. Also, the roasted corn flour from the Iroquois White Corn Project has an amazing nutty smell. Try it, and you’ll want to find more and more recipes where you can substitute corn flour for wheat flour.

My version of the recipe keeps the ingredients but changes the way the cookies are shaped and baked. I used my grandmother’s old candy dish to press stars into the cookies, since I plan to give them as gifts. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), it took less than a day for these cookies all to go missing. Each of the cookie thieves in my family have offered their own explanation, including my husband wondering whether there is some kind of mystery, “mawish” chemical in the cardamom. (Which he tells me means one can’t stop eating it. Likely story. Maybe it’s a British thing.) I now need to make a double batch and hide them so I can give them to neighbors.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Roasted Iroquois White Corn Flour
1/2 tsp of salt
2/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
Zest of one organic lemon
1/ tsp ground cardamom

Directions

  1. Prepare heavy cookie sheet by greasing and lightly flouring. Butter papers provide enough grease.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix flours, salt, and cardamom; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and lemon zest; beat until smooth. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.
  4. Use teaspoon or melonballer to scoop 1″ ball of cookie dough. Flatten each ball to a disk shape about 1 1/2″ across and 1/2″ high. Using the bottom of a crystal wine glass or any cut crystal, lightly floured, press shape into cookie disk until about 3/8″ high and set onto cookie sheet.
  5. Chill cookies on cookie sheet for 2-3 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  7. Bake until edges are golden, 20-21 minutes.
  8. Transfer cookies immediately to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Full disclosure: I’m a volunteer on the Iroquois White Corn Project. Over the past 16 years, I’ve worked with this version of the project as well as with the original project based in western New York. I’m very excited that we have this great corn available again.