Garden Fresh Snacks for Children

Vegetable Kebabs

If you planted a garden with your child earlier this year, she’s probably been eager to sample the results. Now is the season for fresh garden snacks with children.

Eat It Fresh and Raw

Fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the garden can be such an intense taste experience that they become lifelong memories. I remember very well trailing after my mother through our garden, tasting as we went. In particular, I always remember biting into a tomato. I don’t like tomatoes, and that is the only time in my young life that I remember voluntarily eating one. I just remember how incredibly good it felt to bite through the sun-warmed flesh of the tomato before the taste exploded through me. This one little fresh fruit (or vegetable, depending where you want to come down on that issue) is the anchor for all of my other childhood garden memories.

Now, without giving it much thought, we’ve put our mostly likely garden snack foods next to our main doors near our house. Because our herbs are next to the door we use most frequently, my children often stop to eat mint or fennel on their way inside. We have planted grapes by our front door, but they are only two years old and aren’t fruiting yet. I like to picture guests snacking on our grapes as they wait for us to answer the door.

Walk through your garden with your child and see what there is to sample and taste as a snack.

Choose Dark Vegetables for Micronutrients

We know dark, raw vegetables provide phytonutrients that help our bodies repair damage on a cellular level. For our smoothie series a year ago, we focused on the 5-7 color categories that fruits and vegetables can be divided into, each category rich in a particular set of phytonutrients.

Dark blue and purple foods can contain anthocyanins, which contain antioxidants that help protect cells from damage. From Sour Purple Blast Smoothie.

Carrots in particular are an incredible source of Vitamin A—or, rather, provitamin A carotenoids that can form Vitamin A. Alpha carotene is a cancer fighter, and beta carotene promotes repair of damaged DNA. You probably know that beta carotene will help your eyesight, which is related to this repair function. From Earth Orange Smoothie.

Green plants have chlorophylls, which play an important role in photosynthesis—capturing energy from sunlight and converting it into chemical energy. The phytonutrients in our smoothie included the carotenoid lutein, which works with zeaxanthin (both from raw spinach) for eye health. From Easy Green Smoothie.

As you are planting your garden then later strolling through for a snack, keep in mind that a variety of colors means an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.

Quick Vegetable Kebab Snack

It’s cooling down. My children have been requesting hot snacks and lunches, so it is time to put together simple, warm foods. They do like raw vegetables, but one of the ways we create variety straight from our garden is with quick grilled vegetable kebabs. My children love crunchy grilled vegetables, and it’s a great alternative to fried foods.

  • Garden vegetables – Use whatever you have in your garden, like zucchini, tomato, onion, sweet pepper, and summer (yellow) squash.
  • Oil, vinegar, and spices for marinade
  • Skewers – We use metal skewers because they are easiest to reuse.

Rather than buying anything special for this snack, it’s an adventure for a young child to go out into the garden and eat what he finds. Collect vegetables early in the morning, then prepare a marinade using oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, and any herbs you collect. Cut up the vegetables into large, bite-sized pieces. Place the marinade and the vegetables in a container for 2-3 hours. Shake it around to be sure that the vegetables are coated.

When it is time for a late morning snack, help your child skewer just a few of each kind of vegetable. Vegetable kebabs are wonderful grilled, but we try to keep snacks simple since we’re only cooking a small amount of food. We broil until the zucchini starts to steam and brown because we like the texture of the crunchy crust outside and the hot, soft inside.

I love the idea of simple snacks from the garden because it makes such a profound connection for children. They help grow the food with their own hands. As they eat and enjoy the foods in simple ways—either raw or just cooked but still recognizable—they begin to realize how much power they have to care for their own bodies and their expanding world.

Image © Michael Zysman |

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Back to School Supply Lists

Recycled newspaper pencils for school supplies

For the past month, every store I’ve been in that sells any kind of school supplies has a prominent display of supply lists for every grade. I would just think this is another marketing opportunity for the stores themselves, but my friends tell me that they have surprisingly long school supply lists from their children’s schools.

The school supply list has become ubiquitous in August.

I love school supplies. I love office supply stores. I loved going to work with my mother as a child and raiding the office supply closet. I loved having access to the supply closet at every job I’ve ever had. I just love the smell of newly sharpened pencils. School supplies are definitely a big thing for me.

I was curious how much school supply lists can vary. Since my children are homeschooled, we’re basic pencil and notebook people with a side of glue stick. We bought a few things recently, but we haven’t put too much thought into whether we have every little item. I wondered, though, what I might be in for if I had to send my children back to school next week.

So, I surveyed store lists, which I conclude are way overloaded. Skip those. And, I surveyed elementary school supply lists across Canada and the U.S. I’ve listed a few below.

The Basics

You could probably guess most of the basic supplies. Some of the lists were very specific by brand and type—ONLY glue sticks or absolutely NO glue sticks, for example.

  • Backpack
  • Ballpoint pens
  • Binders and folders
  • Colored pencils or markers
  • Construction paper
  • Crayons
  • Dry erase markers
  • Glue or glue sticks
  • Lunch Box
  • Pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Wide-ruled paper

The Surprises

The biggest surprise to me was cleaning supplies—a lot of them. A New York Times article this month on the evolution of school supply lists mentions a school that asked students to bring garbage bags and cleaning spray. The reason is not mysterious. School budgets have been cut, and schools are no longer able to provide some of the basics. What parents aren’t (and sometimes ARE) paying in taxes is covered directly through the school supply lists.

  • Boxes of antiseptic wipes or baby wipes
  • Boxes of plastic zippered bags
  • Boxes of tissues
  • Braided rug
  • Camp pillow and bath towel
  • Checks to the school for magazine subscriptions
  • Copy paper
  • Paint shirt
  • Rolls of paper towels

Green Your School Supply List

It’s tough to know how to send a lower impact version of zipper plastic bags and antiseptic wipes when schools are specific down to brand. The best chance environmentally conscience parents have is probably working with the teacher, school, or district—whoever generates the school supply list—to come up with options.

You can find green school supplies as more retailers stock recycled and reusable products. If you have some flexibility, you can substitute cloth handkerchiefs for paper tissues, recycled pencils for new-wood pencils, and refillable pencils for throwaway pens.

Back Pack

Dabbawalla Insulated School Backpack

A lot of parents like the Dabbawalla backpack because it is insulated. If your child’s lunch box is not insulated, this is another layer to help keep food cool or warm.

Lunch Box

Goodbyn Lunch Boxes

We covered waste-free lunch boxes last week, since a lot of schools are moving toward waste-free lunches.

Hand Purifier

Clean George Hand Purifier

If you have to provide hand sanitizer, you may as well choose a natural option like Clean George’s Hand Purifier with Tea Tree Oil.


Stockmar Wax Crayons

Beeswax crayons are non-toxic because you know that crayon is going in the child’s mouth.


Clementine Art Natural Markers for Children

Natural markers have no petroleum binding agents and only food-derived colors.


Clementine Art Natural Glue

Traditional glue contains animal and petroleum products, but natural glue uses bio-polymer adhesives.

Colored Pencils

EarthZone colored pencils

EarthZone pencils use 100% post-consumer recycled newspapers and white glue rather than new wood to make their hard bodies.


EarthZone recycled newspaper pencils

EarthZone pencils last up to 3 times as long as wood pencils.

An Unscientific Sampling of Elementary School Supply Lists

I chose only elementary school lists, focusing on Kindergarten when there was a grade-by-grade list.

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Helping a Young Child When an Older Sibling Goes to School

Younger child with parent

Whether your child is just going back to school or going to school for the first time, the sudden departure of an older sibling can be disconcerting to a younger child. Just prepare the child as best you can, and expect a period of transition.

Make sure the younger child understands what is going to happen and when, though very young children may not grasp the idea very well if you warn them too far in advance. Talk about how your daily schedule will be different so he knows what to expect. Both children will need to ease into the new routine.

Visit the school if siblings are invited to open house events. Actually seeing the school can help the younger child as she pictures her sibling in the classroom.

Have your younger child help with back-to-school preparations. If the older child agrees, the younger child could even choose a pencil or notebook or sticker that will remind her sibling of her during the day. Sharing her opinion during the exciting time will help her feel included.

As you buy school supplies, you might want to buy pencils, notebooks, and a few other supplies for the younger child. Toddlers are notorious for their ability to know what belongs to whom (“It’s mine!”). Making sure she has her own supplies can help whether you are going to play school at home, really have lessons, or just encourage her to experiment with writing and drawing.

Have projects or lessons in mind for your younger child. Even if it is something simple like learning to watercolor for the first time or taking a tumbling class, the younger child may need a learning activity he can claim for his own.

If the younger child will be the only child at home, you can create a special one-on-one space for the two of you to do what you like to do together. If you don’t know yet what you like to do together, it’s time to explore!

Encourage your younger child to talk about or draw pictures about her feelings. She may be worried, or she may just be excited to have you to herself. Just help her communicate those feelings so any fears don’t grow unnecessarily.

Ask the older child to spend quality time with the younger child. When my daughter was away all day, every day for five weeks for dance, my son had big plans for her every day when she returned. She was tired and wanted time alone, so I had to convince her that it was important for him to spend time with her—that she was doing it more as a gift to him than because she needed or wanted play time. We found a healthy balance, and the time apart went smoothly.

Remember, too, that you are helping your younger child take a step toward school. A smooth transition for your older child will set the tone for your younger child.

Image © Nyul |

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Easing Back into the School Routine

Kid's Morning Routine

Whether your child has been to school before or not, easing back into a scheduled routine after a summer of fun can be a shocking transition. My goal is to keep mornings smooth so my children head into their day calm and ready to learn. Most children want and need routines, so I focus there.


Getting enough sleep is one of the most important elements of your child’s success in school. If he drags himself through the day, he won’t take in or process information efficiently. He just won’t learn. Not every child needs the same amount of sleep, either. Work backward from the time he needs to get up, and stick to a bedtime schedule.

Especially if bedtime is going to be significantly earlier than it has been all summer, start an earlier bedtime a week early. Both you and your children may need to reset your internal clocks.

Before Bedtime

Do as much as you can before bedtime so there is less to do in the morning.

Lay out clothes. If you have a child who likes to try on everything before making a decision, this can be a real time saver. Checking clothes the night before can also reveal flaws in the plan, like dirty jeans that really have to go into the wash now.

Check the backpack. Make sure your child has all of the books, school supplies, and personal items needed in her backpack. This might include a list of supplies from the teacher, a return permission slip, a charged phone, a power snack for mid-afternoon.

For a child going to school for the first time, you might even let a favorite doll or animal travel to school in the pack as long as the doll agrees to stay hidden during school. Just having the familiar item nearby can be comforting.

If you expect a lot of notes and papers to and from school, put a folder in your child’s backpack that will stay there. Don’t take it out. Just remove the papers and left the folder.

Tidy up. This is so important in my house. If we wake up to chaos, it’s harder for us to convince ourselves to get going in the morning. Just a few minutes of putting clothes and toys away can make a big difference to the morning routine.

Chat. Talk about any concerns your child has. Discuss the morning schedule. Tell a bedtime story. Whatever your bedtime routine, make sure that it eases your child into a good night’s sleep in preparation for the next day.

Waking Up

Giving a child, even a very young child, an alarm clock can help instill responsibility. It has taken a long time to work with my children. I like them to wake themselves up. They like to me to wake them with kisses and tickling, but they know they can wake up with their own alarm clocks and, occasionally, they do. With a loose homeschool, there is less urgency to waking up, but they are starting to realize that they miss a lot when they don’t get themselves up. So, initiative begins to kick in.


Plan for enough quick breakfast options that your children don’t get bored of the same old thing every day. Sometimes just putting a familiar breakfast together in a new way can make it interesting. When I introduced my kids to toad in the hole (egg cooked into the middle of a hole in toast), eggs and toast suddenly became more appealing. I always make sure there is cut fruit with breakfast just because it’s so difficult to get enough fruits and vegetables into children.

Whether you need a slow burn (protein) breakfast or a fast burn (fruit and grain) breakfast may depend on when lunch is scheduled. If you child’s school has quite an early lunch, be sure to adjust breakfast accordingly.

Schedules sometimes slip, so make sure you have a quick and nutritious option. Our back-up breakfast is cereal and fruit, though smoothies can be a quick meal as well. Alternating can help you reach nutritional balance over days even if not over one day.

Pack a Lunch

A lot of food for school lunches can be packed the night before. If you are not a morning person, this is important. For us, my daughter’s lunch bag goes into the freezer the night before, food is packed into our glass containers, and morning consists of just pulling everything out of the refrigerator and freezer and packing the lunch bag. The first week or so, everything will be new, so you may not have to try so hard to keep lunch interesting. You may want to add some fun lunch flare as you settle into your school routine.


After me nagging my children to do morning stretches and deep breathing (“Let’s wake ourselves up with more oxygen!”), I gave up. Then, they discovered on their own how much better they feel when they exercise every day. Now that they have invented exercise, they are committed to it, and they have worked together to create their own routine. For about 15 minutes, they watch videos of Shaolin monks doing Kung Fu then they go outside to practice forms and meditate. I love their routine and how energized they are when they return.

It may help a younger child to have you lead a kid-friendly morning yoga, but you may find that your child needs to come up with her own routine in order for it to really work.


The last check before we go out the door, we check that teeth and hair are brushed. A young child will probably need a reminder. I have to convince my son that brushing teeth comes after breakfast for a good reason.

Schedule & Calendar

To make your back-to-school routine work well, keep it organized.

Chore Chart. If there is a lot to do and essentials tend to be left undone, you can make a chart or a check list for your children. My children love to check off items from a list.

Schedule. It helps me to see the typical daily schedule, so I write it out. I don’t go so far as to schedule specific homeschool subjects for specific times, but I like having a good idea when the children are committed to start school. If lunch slips more than 30 minutes, they will remind me. Everyone has their own priorities on the schedule. I put this on a wipe-off calendar on the refrigerator for easy access and frequent reminder. We still leave a lot of room for improvisation during the day, but it helps when everyone shares basic expectations.

Calendar. In addition to the daily routine of a schedule, keep a calendar that the whole family can see and add to. Avoid missing important appointments, play dates with summer friends, or school nights by adding events to your calendar as they come up. Get your children involved in keeping the calendar as well. I find that they pick up the responsibility when I just refuse to pick it up for them. They don’t want to forget, so they add dates to the calendar.

Personal planners. I love planners on paper and on my computer. Everyone needs to find their own groove with planning, though. I have bought children’s planners several times, but my children just don’t use them. They’re great looking and useless to us. My children, without my prompting, have started just listing what they plan to do in a notebook. One started, and the other followed. You may need to experiment with this, but make sure your child has a convenient way to record important personal notes and events.

This Is Fun!

A new routine and a new school may be stressful for your child. Keep it calm and collected. Be positive. Focus on all of the great things your child will learn and do in school.

If this will be the first time your child has gone to school, you might consider a test run right down to the details of setting out clothes, early breakfast, and walking out the door. This can help young children transition from the play of home life to the school schedule.

Image © Arpad Nagy-bagoly |

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Allergy-free School Lunch Strategies


If your child is going to school for the first time and has food allergies, you may be wondering how you are going to keep your child safe at a distance. You need allergy-free lunch and snack strategies.

Food Allergies Seem to Be on the Rise

In 2007, approximately 3 million children under age 18 years (3.9%) were reported to have a food or digestive allergy in the previous 12 months.

Almost 4% of children under 18 years of age, 3 million children in the U.S., reported having food or digestive allergies in 2007, and the number increased 18% over the 10 years previous. Several thousand children are hospitalized each year because of their food allergies. About 2% of Canadians have severe, anaphylactic allergies. It isn’t clear why the numbers are going up. It may just be a matter of increased diagnosis.

Allergic reactions can be severe to the point of being life-threatening for some. Food allergies involve a reaction of the body’s immune system. Symptoms of food intolerance tend to be much less severe gastrointenstinal reactions. The best-known food intolerances are lactose (milk) and gluten (wheat). Many children outgrow many food allergies, but peanut and tree nut allergies can stay for life.

The numbers of children with severe problems are low overall, but, if your child is one of the few, food allergies can be a big enough issue to shape family life.

Food Allergy Basics

U.S. Food and Drug Administration labelling laws identify eight “major food allergens” that account for 90% of all food allergies. There are, though, 160 foods identified as potential causes of allergies.

The big eight food allergens are:

  • milk,
  • eggs,
  • peanuts,
  • tree nuts,
  • seafood,
  • shellfish,
  • soy. and
  • wheat.

Allergic reactions can include: hives, flushed skin or rash, tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth, face, tongue, or lip swelling, vomiting and/or diarrhea, abdominal cramps, coughing or wheezing, dizziness and/or lightheadedness, swelling of the throat and vocal cords, difficulty breathing, or loss of consciousness.

Sending Your Allergic Child to School

If your child is going to school for the first time, you want to be sure that your child, your child’s teacher, and school officials know about any severe allergies.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control conducts a periodic survey to find out how schools are dealing with food allergies. Most schools (97.9%) keep records of students with severe food allergies, but not all schools that had students with food allergies adjusted the food offered to those students. Some schools (76.9%) had a written plan to feed these students, but there is enough of a gap that parents need to be prepared to help schools accommodate their children.

Work with the school to be sure that your child eats safely at school. Your child, though, is the first line of defense, since she is the one who will be able to say, “No, I can’t have a bite of your peanut butter cookie” or “I can’t trade sandwiches.”

The best resources I have found for back-to-school allergy strategies are in the PAL Back-to-school Kit from The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. The kit teaches not only the child with allergies but that child’s friends how to be safe and Protect A Life (PAL).

Resources for Parents of Children with Food Allergies

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network – A nonprofit working to bring global awareness to food allergy issues. Their focus is information exchange for awareness and education. They have a Be a PAL Back-to-school Kit with a lot of essential information for students, parents, and educators, including lesson plans that help everyone in the classroom become more aware of those students for whom basic foods in other students’ lunch boxes can be life threatening. They also have a free allergy-free recipe database.

Food Allergy Initiative – A nonprofit funding research, improved diagnosis, and education and advocacy to keep patients safe. Their focus is finding a cure for life-threatening food allergies.

Kids with Food Allergies – A national nonprofit providing support and community for families. They have a recipe database available to paid members. Forums and support are available to free members. They also have allergy alerts for undeclared ingredients for products in Canada, U.S., and the UK.

Image © Salahudin |

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