Foodies, Picky Eaters and Everything In Between

I always swore there would be no picky eaters in THIS family!

Growing up, that was as close to a mortal sin as it gets (OK, not really, but really), so when I started dating a guy who was a picky eater and took him home to meet my parents, I was a little concerned.  Fortunately, the meal was a meat and potatoes kind of meal, which was right down his alley!  Things were going smoothly, and I was sitting there groaning in pleasure and savoring every bite of my mom’s homemade banana pudding, when I remembered that my boyfriend couldn’t STAND bananas–it’s a texture thing.  I whipped my head around to see him slowly and methodically putting small bites of the pudding into his mouth while smirking at me.  I quickly shoveled the rest of my own banana pudding into my mouth and then got up and started “clearing the table,” removing his bowl first, underneath my own bowl, and furtively scraping the rest of his pudding into the trashcan, reserving my grief over the waste for later.

Today I have 5 boys:  Two I would classify as foodies–they will try ANYTHING and like most of it.  One I would say is fairly “normal,” whatever that means, and two, it pains me to admit are picky eaters.

So how do kids that are raised in the same family, eating the same food, turn out so differently from each other?  If I was a child psychologist I could probably/maybe answer that question, but since I’m not, I won’t even attempt it.  The purpose of this post is to discuss WHAT to do about it.

I recognize now what I didn’t recognize in my pre-child days, that not every picky eater is a product of his parents’ “bad” parenting.  I understand that there are more factors that go into the shaping of a person’s likes and dislikes.  And if you have a child that you are taking to therapy to help him/her swallow more than 3 foods, please understand that I AM NOT directing this at you.

However, I think we can all admit that the vast majority of parents who have picky eaters, have simply given up because they don’t see it as a battle worth fighting.

I’m here to advocate for the fighting of that battle!  Why?

You are depriving your child of much-needed nutrients

Even with the unusual child who might only like 3 things that are actually good for him,  nobody gets all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals their body needs from 3 foods, no matter how healthful those 3 foods are

You are discouraging the spirit of adventure in your child

We should be encouraging our children to be willing to try many things (within moral, legal and safe boundaries), and that includes the food they eat.  When we had a group of students from our church school go over to China a few years ago, one of the things they talked about excitedly when they came back was visiting the open-air market and trying literally anything they wanted on a stick–snake being the most popular choice.  Everybody around them shuddered, but you could feel the admiration and even the envy of those listening to the adventures, and there were a few that regretted not being adventuresome while they had the chance.

The art of enjoying life is embracing differences, trying new things, and spending time with people from other cultures.

On a practical note, you don’t know where your child will live as an adult–their job might send them overseas to another country that doesn’t have chicken nuggets readily available.  They might even turn down an incredible job opportunity, because they can’t face the diet changes they know would come with it.

By encouraging them to be adventuresome, you are opening them up to  limitless possibilities.

You are depriving your child of a world of cultural exposure

This is somewhat related to the last point, but do you know that one of the few things that pretty much every culture has in common is that relationships and society revolve around food?  Every culture has its “typical” dishes. When I was growing up in Spain, you could literally sit at a dinner table for 3 hours–appetizers, main course, fruit, and finally coffee with maybe a dessert, all the while talking non-stop.

When you come back from a foreign country, one of the most common questions you get from friends is “what kinds of foods did you eat?”

Over the years, we had many people come visit us in Spain.  The people who enjoyed their visit the most and tended to make more friends, language barrier or not, were the people who didn’t turn up their noses at the food placed before them by the very hospitable Spanish hosts.

You are limiting the hospitality that will be offered to your child

I’m just being transparent here: When I know that you or your child is a super-picky eater, I am less inclined to invite you over.  Having company is stressful enough without adding the stress of wondering if you are going to like what I make.

Before I go on, I would like to clarify that I am mainly speaking of children who are a little bit older–potty trained, 3-4 years old and above.  Definitely expose your younger children to a wide variety of foods, but don’t expect the same level of obedience in eating it when they are younger.

So what do we do?

Here are a few tips you might try out with your picky eater.

  1. Be excited yourself about good-for-you food–talk about how extra yummy and crispy that yellow bell pepper strip is on this hot day (yes, this is one that worked on one of my boys, and yellow peppers are now one of his favorite vegetables)
  2. DO NOT talk about foods you don’t like.  Just being honest here, I’ve never (despite still trying them periodically) been able to like raw carrots, but my 12-year old just found that out this year, and my other boys are quite oblivious as they daily consume large amounts of raw carrots.
  3. Do not deprive your child of a food just because you don’t like it.  Back to the carrot illustration, for the first few years of parenthood, I hardly bought carrots, because I felt bad about making my children eat food I didn’t like.  Then one day I realized I was actually making an assumption that they couldn’t possibly like carrots either.  Most of my boys LOVE carrots, and I almost deprived them of a good nutritional source!
  4. Make them eat at least one bite of EVERYTHING you’ve prepared.  Over the course of YEARS, some of my boys have come to at least tolerate if not like several foods that were a battle when they were younger, including salad, asparagus, and many other foods.
  5. Don’t ever allow them to say, “I don’t like  . . .” but ESPECIALLY don’t allow them to turn up their nose at a food they haven’t even tried.  (Oh, and don’t say “eewww” yourself about something that’s never crossed your lips!)
  6. Once you’ve convinced them to try something new and they have decided they like it after all, remind them about that the next time they are reluctant to try something, (“Remember when you thought you didn’t like yellow bell peppers, but then you tried it and now you love them?  You should try this squash and see if that happens again!”).
  7. Get used to saying, “You don’t have to like it, but you do have to eat it.”
  8. APPLY steps 1-7 to YOURSELF and be a good example!

Does this guarantee that you will “cure” your child of being a picky eater? No. Teaching your child to be honest, does not guarantee that he won’t be a liar.  But we still teach it, because a parent does what is best for their child, not just what works. However, what I can guarantee is that you will increase the chances that your child will be willing to try new things and eat things he doesn’t prefer in the name of adventure and even courtesy.

Fast forward 20 years (give or take) and that same boyfriend, now my husband, has eaten everything from  pickled eel to goat head to snake, and yes, even banana pudding.  Did he like it all?  Absolutely not!  Does he regret trying something even when he hated it? No! Does he like to tell people about it?  You’d better believe it! And in the process, he discovered that he wasn’t as picky of an eater as he’d thought he was.

What are tips you have that have helped your children overcome their picky eating habits?

Table Talk–4 Tips to Making Dinner Time Enjoyable



Whew!  Well, summer flew by! We had a great time and it’s hard to believe that the school year has started and we now have a middle schooler!


When you think of family dinner time, what is your gut response?

I’m going to admit that 4-6pm tends to be my least patient time of the day–especially in the summer when they’ve been home all day.  I’m trying to get dinner ready, fielding “how long ’til we eat?” questions from my starving horde, playing referee between the grouchy hungry ones,  . . . .  By the time dinner actually rolls around, I just want to get them fed with as little mess as possible and escape the kitchen!

A couple of  years ago, I started sitting back and actually listening to what went on at our table, and I realized that we were one LOUD, CHAOTIC family!  The boys were talking over each other, getting louder and louder in their competition to be heard, but no one was actually listening!  It was deafening and frustrating for all involved.  I MAY have been known to raise my voice a time or two (or more) and say (very kindly, mind you) “Everybody, BE QUIET!”

I realized that some of my impatience before dinner was probably coming from my dread of the actual time around the table.

So my husband and I came up with a couple of strategies helped along by our very creative boys.  Here are a few of them that have helped to improve the overall climate of our dinner time.  We are still loud, but I think we may be SLIGHTLY less chaotic.


First of all we had that talk where we established (again) the expectations of having an actual conversation–you know, where one person talks and everybody else listens, and then another person responds and then another person can insert a comment . . . you know, a conversation. Believe it or not, conversation does not come naturally to a young child because it involves WAITING!  For more on that, feel free to browse through a previous post here.

Hush Puppies

This is a strategy that our boys actually brought home from school.  Once you start this game, the goal is not to make a single sound while at the same time you are trying to make everybody else either speak, laugh, snort or make some other noise with their mouth.  When a person makes a sound, everybody else points at them while trying not to laugh. You must use this one judiciously so it doesn’t get old, but it is a fun way to calm everybody down when things are in an uproar, when mom has a headache, or just any time you need a break from the noise!

Side benefit:  Obviously the silence, but they also learn a little self-control.

Nerd Word

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This game has been going on for years and I believe it’s a pretty common game, but we recently added a twist . . .

The original game is that the “nerd words” are “it” and “the.”  If you say either of those two words you “have the nerd word”  or rather “you have ___ nerd word” (because you can’t say “the”) until someone else says one of those words.  You can have a lot of fun with this game, but we recently decided to change the nerd word up, so one night we decreed that the nerd word was any word starting with “W.”  (“Ha! He said the nerd Word! Oh, Wait! Oh, man!”)   Another night it was any word ending in “-ing.” One of the boys tricked another family member (it may or may not have been his mom) to say their full name–yep IrvING.  You get the picture.

This game is TONS of fun, provides a lot of laughter, and makes the talk a little sparser because everyone is trying to make sure they don’t say the nerd word!

Side benefits: spelling/sounds for the younger ones and a mentality of “think before you speak.”

“Best thing that happened today”

This question, started by my husband, has become a standard, almost daily, question at our table.  In fact, sometimes, if he forgets to ask it, one of our boys will ask it.   We will be sitting around our dinner table and at any given moment, my husband will say, “Ethan, best thing that happened today?”  IMMEDIATELY everyone NOT named Ethan will raise their hand in the air and say, “Ooh, ooh, me!” but everyone knows that they don’t get to answer the question until they are asked.

We went through one phase with one child who wanted to be negative and say, “Nothing good happened today.” We simply resorted to having him list 3 good things instead of one best thing, and that phase passed pretty quickly!

Side benefits: You develop a spirit of gratitude and positive thinking in your children and you get to know them better by drawing them out and finding out what makes each one of them tick.

Side benefit to all of the above: We now dare go out to eat every once in a while to a sit-down restaurant.  I’ve even been known to take all 5 boys out by myself!

If your dinner table time has become something you dread, why don’t you give 1 or 2 (or 4) of these a try and see if it improves your time?  Dinner has actually become something I (mostly) look forward to now, and I hope it can for you as well!

How to Survive a Long Trip With Children

Well, summer is here and while moms everywhere are enjoying not having to get up early every morning to get their kids out the door with backpacks, water bottles, papers signed, homework done and lunches and snacks ready, a whole new set of challenges lie ahead. Keeping the children busy while still encouraging them to self-entertain. Making memories with them while keeping the (false) mom-guilt at bay for not doing MORE.  Deciding how much work to give them while still making sure they enjoy their break.

By the way, if you haven’t read my blog on summer schedules,  please scroll down to my previous post.

But one of the events that tends to come with summer, and one that we both anticipate and dread in equal parts is . . . TRAVEL!

Sure we want our kids to have fun vacations and see their grandparents and make incredible memories!  But the thought of spending 2 hours, much less 8 or 10 or 14, can be a little (or a LOT) daunting.

Each summer, we take a 14 hour trip one way to visit grandparents. In fact, we will be leaving very soon for this year’s trip.  Our boys look forward to that trip each summer, and my parents make those trips very fun and very memorable!  But in order to survive 28 hours of car time, I’ve come upon a few tips that have really helped make it bearable, so I thought I would share!

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Get an early start

By early, I’m talking it is still dark outside and it is still going to be dark for awhile.  We usually leave around 4 o’clock in the morning.  Yes, you read that right– 4am.  The boys will usually nod back to sleep, but even if they don’t, there is something about the dark that keeps them relaxed and quiet for the first leg of our journey.  We can usually get at least 4 hours down the road with minimal activity in the back of our minivan!  At most, I will have had to feed them breakfast, which we will discuss in a little bit.

I had a friend who took my suggestion on this, and she said 3 of her children slept ’til 8:30 and the 4th one slept until 10am!

Have them sleep in their travel clothes

If you are getting an extra-early start, and you are wanting them to go back to sleep, a minimal of activity should be required of them prior to starting the trip.  We will have everything loaded, including their shoes, pillows and blankets, and even have the car running, before we get them out of bed.  If they seem awake, we MIGHT have them go ahead and use the restroom, but I won’t even expect that if I’m carrying them to the car and they are still sleeping. If you have one still in diapers, I recommend double-diapering the night before.  And throughout the trip, for that matter!

Take breakfast to go

You may be a meal  planner with every thing you need for feeding the kids the entire trip. And if so, kudos!  That is awesome!  But if you are like me . . . at LEAST consider taking breakfast with you–poptarts, granolas bars, banana bread, muffins, etc.  I usually make a banana bread or some muffins, and then have fruit and juice boxes.  That is one fewer stop you have to make.  Due to the early start and the fact that it is at the beginning of the trip, this first leg of the journey tends to be our longest before having to stop. There is a sort of victory in making it down the road at least 4 hours, but you can’t expect to make it that long if you don’t have breakfast ready in the car for them.

Use meals as an in-car time-killing event

I know that meal-time can seem the obvious time to take a break on a trip, however, if your experience is anything like mine has been in the past . . .

You stop at a fast-food restaurant with a playground so they can “get some energy out.”  By the time they eat their food AND go play, you will have been at the restaurant a minimum of 45 minutes, and you risk your dawdler pitching a fit because he sat at the table longer than the others to eat his food and therefore didn’t get as much playtime as he thinks he should get.  You check your GPS and it is so discouraging to see the new ETA, especially since you are dragging cranky children away from the play area.

Here is a new scenario that I’ve now been using for at least 4 years: You run through a drive-through (or if you are good, you already have lunch in the car with you), get back on the interstate, and hand out the food.  Instead of 45 minutes of dead time at the restaurant, you now have 15-20 minutes of a time-killing event as they munch on their food.  Extra trash and possible accidents in the car?  Yes.  But in my opinion, totally worth it!  So, how do you get their energy out?

Make your stops at rest areas

Don’t stop at restaurants. Don’t let them get out at gas stations (unless they have to go the bathroom). Rather, stop at rest areas and make them RUN!  I take balls, bubbles and anything else I can think of to encourage this energy outlet.  But mostly, when we get to a rest area, we do the bathrooms and then I set up races or obstacle courses with the trees and picnic tables available.  This is HIGH-energy consumption in a short amount of time.  I can make them RUN all out for 5-10 minutes, and they will consume more energy than they did in 45 minutes at a fast food play area.  AND they are usually happy when they get back into the car, to say nothing of ready to rest!

Give them a few dollars each to buy their own snacks at vending machines

My husband’s grandmother usually gives our boys “pocket change” when we go on trips like this–a few dollars to spend however they like.  So one  of the “treats” on these trips is to get to buy stuff from a rest area vending machine.  They can buy as much or as little as they want within the “budget” given them.  They can spend it at one rest area, or spread it out between stops.  It is THEIR MONEY, and they think it is so much fun!  BUT, they may not open any of it until we are back in the car–I don’t want it interrupting our races and, you got it, it is a time-killing event once they get back into the car!

Don’t use the DVD player and devices as the exclusive entertainment

Obviously, I’m talking about longer trips here.  If you have a 2 hour trip and want to pop in a movie, that is probably ok, but unless you want your children to arrive at your destination cranky, brain-fried messes, I would suggest taking regular breaks from “screen-time” and having some simple alternatives.

Plan on having a “quiet time” after lunch–this summer I have some audio “Adventures in Odyssey” that we are going to try out.  Another option I used last year–I took a book that we were reading a chapter a day and I read one of the chapters to them in the car. Obviously, older kids can take books to read or activity books to work on on their own.

Have them take a few toys, but think it through–a really big toy, will annoy the person next to them,  a toy that makes noise will annoy YOU, and a toy that comes apart (like a lego set) will cause frustration when the pieces get lost in the seat cracks.  Simple toys like cars, characters, dolls with clothes, things like that are best.

Last summer I discovered an idea on Pinterest that was a big hit with my boys.  I bought a few cookie sheets from the Dollar Tree and then I ordered a set of magnetic shapes.  They made designs for hours. Once we got home, I put it away, and it has only come out a few times over this past year, so I’m hoping it will still be a hit on the trip this summer.  I’m considering adding numbers and letters this summer so they can make each other spelling words and simple math problems . . .

Play games.  I can’t do this for super long periods of time, but every once in a while we will play simples games like the alphabet game–you have to look outside the car and find letters in alphabetical order on car license plates, billboards, etc. You can make it a competition or (like me) just have everybody do it together and avoid the competitive spats. It is simple and fun, and unless you are in Quick Trip country, the Q can really take awhile! A variable we have added is to do numbers.  It can get interesting trying to find 2-digit numbers! Another game we play is “I’m thinking of a person/place/thing.”  One person gets someone/somewhere/something in mind and everyone else takes turns asking yes/no questions until you narrow it down and somebody guesses the correct answer.

Growing up, my family did a LOT of traveling and one of the things some of us did was memorize the “Gettysburg Address” and then we would sit in the car and quote it, but we would take turns saying the next word–my dad would say, “Four,” my brother would say, “score, ” I would say “and,” and so forth.  Is it silly? Absolutely, but do you think it killed time and entertained–YES!

Take extra snacks and drinks in an easily accessed cooler

Food is always a good thing to have on your trip!  Take small snacks that are easy to hand out, or have a box of snack-sized ziplocks so you can hand out portion-sized snacks.  I highly recommend fruit, since trips can cause constipation in children (and adults).  Go with something that is nutritious, but feel free to add in a “treat” that your children will be excited about.  You can always use it as a prize for good behavior during a leg of the journey!

I recommend having drinks, but maybe not offering those out as much, since the more they drink, the more you will have to stop for bathroom breaks.  Of course, I don’t recommend allowing them to get dehydrated either!

Take styrofoam cups to use as barf  buckets

This is one that up until last summer, would never have crossed my mind, because my boys tend to be good travelers.  BUT, last summer, due to an accident that totalled our van while we were out of town, we were forced to rent an SUV to get back home.  Ugh, worst trip ever.  We found out later, when another adult sat in the back, that the SUV swayed back and forth continually, making one of my boys VERY sick the entire way home!

At first, as he was nauseated the entire time, we tried to calculate when to keep going and when he had had it and was going to barf, at which point we would do our best to get off to the side of the road in time for him to get out of the car.  Needless to say, it was a VERY stressful time.  Finally, we stopped near a store, and I ran in and bought a dozen large styrofoam cups.  My poor child ended up chafing his little nose because he kept the cup up to his face the entire way home, including sleeping with it stuck there!  But, the problem was solved.  He could actually throw up without us having to stop, and he didn’t spill a drop anywhere in the car or on himself! He would then hand the cup up to me and I would replace it with a fresh cup, then I would stick napkins or paper towels into the top of the cup and place it in a cup holder near the floor until our next stop.  It sounds awful, but we got our “barf system” in place and it was a well-oiled machine by the time we made it home!

Sometimes the car ride itself is the memory a child brings up when talking about a trip.  With a little planning, it can be fun and memorable, not just an event to be endured!

What are some traveling tips that you use to make your traveling easier?

Structured Flexibility: Not an Oxymoron for Your Summer Schedule


You have to understand, I grew up in Spain.  As I remember it (from the eyes of a child) the culture there is very laid back compared to the American rat-race, and the people are go-with-the-flow, enjoy life, sit at the table for 2 hours, kind of people. I loved it!  Then I married a man who for several years–before children and as we were starting our family–was a full-time youth pastor and a part-time athletic director, so we were out late at night several nights a week, but not necessarily the same nights every week.  On top of that I was a PRN nurse, which meant that my schedule was different every week.

All that adds up to not having a lot of structure in our schedule, which worked fine in those early years, but in my naiveté,  while pregnant with my 1st child, I remember thinking, “Well, this baby is just going to have to be FLEXIBLE.  I’m not going to be tied down to a schedule with him because if I allow that, I will never see my husband.”  And I continued on blithely ignorant that structure and flexibility are compatible, not opposed to each other.

Fortunately, during that same pregnancy, as I was reading up on being one of those perfect parents (yeah, right), one of the authors I was reading, explained that there is actually only true flexibility if there is an underlying structure.  Without the structure, it is not flexibility, but rather chaos.  Like a young tree, that has the ability to bend in the wind only because it has a structure that is rooted to the ground.

This basic principle has been invaluable to me over that years as I have set  (very) flexible structures in place for our family. These structures are ever-changing, extremely flexible,  and sometimes you might even call them “fluid.” Nevertheless when a child knows what to expect because there is structure in place, he will be happier and more secure, and your home will be more peaceful for it.  OK, at least less chaotic!

I have several different mini-structures in place such as chores, morning/nighttime routines and behavioral reward/penalty systems, but since summer is looming, that is where we are going to camp in this post.

How do you set up structure in the summer for your children?  Do you let them sleep in (I wish they would!), do you go, go, go all summer long, does all play-time have to be structured?  Is it possible to over-structure? It can be a little overwhelming to figure it out.

I have a personality that enjoys sitting down and organizing and figuring things out on paper.  As a result, my structures in the past have tended to be overly-complex with the result of not lasting very long because they are not sustainable. On the other hand, I have found that if I do a GENERAL structure and then plug-in specifics on a day-to-day basis, I am more likely to follow the schedule, and my boys are more able to understand it.  Simplifying also makes flexibility easier!

So how do you go about setting up a summer schedule?

1.Make a list of things you KNOW you want to include in your schedule:  chores, activities, routines, events, personal development.

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OK, I admit it, I’m a list person! But this will help guide you as you embark on getting that schedule written.

2. Choose your schedule style

  • Clock-ruled:  A few years ago, when all my boys were in the “young” stage of life, I had a general schedule that followed the clock.  For example 8-9 was breakfast, breakfast clean-up, morning grooming and bed-making.  9-10 was outside playtime, etc.  This style places the responsibility of keeping it squarely on your shoulders and is probably a great one to use with younger children.
  • Check-list: As my older boys moved on to a different life stage, I have moved to a check-list style schedule.  I don’t control whether my 11-year old eats breakfast as soon as he gets up or whether he waits 30 minutes, so trying to follow a clock would be frustrating.  Also, I don’t really care when he does his chores, as long as they get done.  The beauty of the check-list is that you are relinquishing the responsibility to your child.
  • Combination: This is where I settled last year.  I have a big general schedule for everyone, and then I have a specific check-list for my older boys.

3. Initially, make your schedule general enough to fit all your children, leaving the specifics for later.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 8.19.00 PMMake out a schedule that they ALL are going to share–breakfast, grooming, chores, activities, etc.  Start with a basic structure that you can then tailor to each child according to his age or capabilities.

Start with morning routine:  Do you have a time you want them to be up by?  Or a time they may not get up until?  Because some of my boys tend to get up at the crack of dawn, we have fairly strict rules about what they are allowed to do before 8am.  Last summer they had to stay in their rooms.  This summer, by their own choice, they have all moved into one room together, so I will be sending them into the playroom so the other boys can continue to sleep.  And if that gets too loud, I will assign them different rooms they can go to be alone until 8am.  Other morning routine stuff would include breakfast & clean-up, grooming, making beds, maybe morning chore time, outside playtime, etc.

Continue with the middle-of-the-day structure:  From mid-morning to late afternoon is usually the time in my schedule that has the most variety.  This is where I plug in the activities: Make something Mondays, Activity and Picnic on Tuesdays–usually a park or the pool, etc.  Again, I keep it general enough on the actual schedule so I can use that same schedule week after week throughout the summer, but then each week, I look at my initial planning list, and pick something from that list to do on each particular day.  I still have a child that needs a nap in the afternoons, so I plan quiet activities for my boys during that time.  That is when they do their reading, Rosetta Stone, writing, quiet toy-time, etc.  Usually I schedule more outside time during dinner-prep.

End with the evening routine:  Pre-dinner, Dinner and clean-up, family time, bedtime routines.

Somewhere in that structure, please be sure to structure in what we call “free play.” That is play time that is non-screen related and is not dependent on your planning or participation.  Being able to self-entertain and socialize with peers is crucial in the proper development of a child.

4. If your children are old enough, give them a tailored schedule.Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 8.30.07 PM

Last year, I had a binder for the boys.  At the front was the general schedule that had the times on it.  Then they each had their own tab with their personal check-list schedule that they were responsible to keep and check off.  This tailored one got printed out each week so they could continue to use it as a check-list.

I had one that was old enough to keep a schedule, but was having a little difficulty reading, so I made one up with pictures for him.  I’m happy to report that this summer we will be able to use words!

5. Sit down with your child and go through the schedule, laying out the expectations.

Believe it or not, most children will be EXCITED to have a schedule to follow.  The downside is that they can become the schedule police!  So in this initial conversation, be sure to include that this schedule is not set in stone, it is flexible, and that some things may change.

6. Offer them a reward for fulfilling responsibilities.

Last summer I did an all or nothing approach for each day–if they accomplished the ENTIRE days’ worth of check-list, they could get a quarter per day.  If they did it every day for the entire week, I threw in a bonus quarter to make it $2 for the week.  It’s the best money I spent all summer!  My house stayed fairly tidy, I got to sleep in a little, I didn’t have to hound my boys to read, or write or get their chores done, and they loved making money for stuff they were expected to do anyway.  It was a win-win.  Find the currency that speaks to your child.  Let them earn a toy over the course of a week, promise them a trip to the dollar store, if that is what they like to do.  Offer them a meal of their choice or a restaurant outing.  My suggestion is that you make it small enough to be sustainable, and if it is a bigger reward, make them earn it over a longer period of time.

7. Remember that the best kind of structure offers flexibility

If your child has had a few late nights in a row, and one day you can’t start your morning routine until 9 (gasp), understand that that is OK.  Keep in mind that rainy days will affect your outside events, and that is OK.  Note that a friend may call up wanting to get the kids together and the only day that works for her is not your scheduled “friend day” and that is OK.  Some days you may decide that enough is enough and today needs to be a stay-at-home, extra-movie, scrap-the-schedule lazy day, and that is OK.  Especially if this is your first time to make a schedule, you may get 3 weeks into the summer and realize that you have to toss it and start again, and THAT IS OK.

Get a structure in place, try to be strict about keeping it at the beginning just to get it established, and then be flexible so you can fit it into your family’s life. The point isn’t to be structured or to be super-mom.  The point is to make your life easier, their lives more secure and your home a happier place to be.  The point is to get beyond surviving the summer to enjoying your children throughout the summer.

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Let Them Wait: 5 phrases that are OK to use (and your child will survive!)

Wow, it is good to be back in front of my computer!  It’s been a bit busy lately–good busy, but busy!  Spring break gave me a taste for how soon summer is going to be upon us, so let me go ahead and give a plug for my NEXT blog–structuring your summer so your kids and you can survive and even enjoy it!

For several months now, this post has been percolating in my brain as I see other parents (and myself, I admit it) falling into a very bad habit . . .

Scenario 1:

You are at a playdate with your child/children.  Your friend and her child have also shown up, and you are having your first adult conversation of the week.  Just stop.  Picture it.  Can you feel your shoulders relaxing, just thinking of how nice that feeling is?  A CONVERSATION.  You know, back and forth, give and take about an INTERESTING TOPIC, like how your youngest is potty trained for day-time, but hasn’t mastered the night-time yet, birth stories, whether you’re going back to work or not after your youngest gets into school.  The topic is irrelevant.  It’s all good, because it’s with another ADULT.

Suddenly, your 4 year old, runs up and mid-your-friend’s-sentence shouts, “Mom, I’m thirsty!”

You now have two choices:  a. get up, go find his water bottle and give him his drink immediately, so you can get back to your conversation ASAP, or b. stop the conversation, look at your child, and say, “Johnny, you are interrupting.  You will need to wait a minute.”

Which one is the option that is, ultimately, in the best interest of peace, harmony, and the future of your child?  Is it a big deal that we allow our children to interrupt for any whim and allow their demands to control our schedules, conversations, and our very lives?  Is it OK to “make them wait?”

Before I go on, let me give you another scenario.

Scenario 2:

You are standing at a booth at a home improvement center, speaking with a sales person.  Your 3-year old, who has been gorging on candy from every booth you’ve passed thus far, is standing next to you frenetically yanking on your clothes to get your attention.  Do you ignore him, hold up your finger in the pre-agreed-upon signal to “wait” or do you think that he may be choking on a piece of candy and needs your help?

Scenario 2 happened to me with my oldest child when he was 3.  SCARY moments until I was able to dislodge the candy using the Heimlich maneuver on him! So before I go into why you should “make them wait,” let me clarify that there are always exceptions, and part of parenting is looking at each individual instance and deciding the BEST way to handle it.  If your child who is potty training interrupts because he needs to “go pee,” then that is a good time to allow an interruption.  It goes without saying that danger and serious injury qualify as OK times to be interrupted as well.

HOWEVER, if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit the the VAST majority of interruptions from our children, do not fall into the category of emergencies–except in their minds, of course.

Wait 3

Three reasons we should make them wait:

 1. Waiting is a LIFE SKILL–What other scenario in life are they EVER going to be in that does not include waiting?

Standing in the bathroom line at preschool, waiting in the school lunch line or for their turn at the swing at recess.  Waiting to open their gifts on Christmas morning. Sitting in a doctor’s/dentist’s WAITING room, waiting in line at every. single. amusement park in the world. Waiting ’til they turn 16 to get their driver’s license then waiting for that light to turn green.  Waiting at work until it’s their turn for lunch break, waiting for payday, waiting for that promotion, waiting in the cash register line at the grocery store (it doesn’t just happen at Walmart!), waiting while that baby lives inside her body for 9 months before getting to see him in person. . .

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Accurate or not, I found this interesting statement here–“The average person throughout their lifetime spends five years waiting in lines and queues where roughly six months of that is waiting at traffic lights.”

Have you every seen a person have a nasty meltdown in a doctor’s office,  or in the grocery store line?  That’s a person who never learned the life skill of waiting.

Wait, wait, wait.  It’s what we do. It’s what we need to prepare our children to do.  It’s part of being a good parent.

2.    Ultimately, making them wait SAVES TIME & ENERGY, and makes for more PEACE and HARMONY

I know that in the moment, when we allow those interruptions, it feels like the simplest thing to do.  Sometimes, we can take care of whatever the interruption involves without even breaking the conversation!  But what are we communicating and what are we creating when we allow those interruptions to go unchallenged?  We communicate that everybody else’s life is subservient to their wants.  They are more important than anyone else, and their demands take precedence over anyone else’s needs or comfort.  And this communication, then creates a “brat.”  Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a more diplomatic word.  After you have allowed a few of those interruptions, when you do ask them to wait, they look at you like you have lost. your. mind.  And they will not meekly submit to your request.  They will simply reiterate their “need,” because, after all, what could be more important than meeting their demand?

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On the flip side, imagine that you have trained your child to wait.  You haven’t allowed unreasonable interruptions, you’ve come up with a signal that allows the child to communicate that he needs you without actually having to interrupt (when I’m consistent, ours put their hand on my arm and leave it their until I acknowledge them–my older boys are a lot better at this than my younger ones, a sure sign that I’ve let it slide a little with them!).  Imagine the peace and harmony that comes with getting to talk to one person at a time, rather than trying to keep the conversational ball rolling while holding a conversation with Johnny too.  Conversation with others becomes more enjoyable (finishing a thought is a wonderful thing!), you have fewer frustrations throughout your day if you don’t have to constantly stop to fulfill a demand on the spot, and (a side benefit that we are discovering) dinner table conversation as a family actually becomes enjoyable when they wait their turn to speak! Another benefit is a decrease in whining–one of the major  frustrations for parents!  When a child can’t complain at the very moment he wants to, when he is made to wait before he can verbalize his issue, he has a moment to step back from the emotion of the moment and actually think things through.  Instead of a whiny, “I’m hungry!” you tend to get a question, “Mom, when is lunch?”  Wow, what a difference that makes in a day!

3. Waiting is a Gospel practice

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Just read Hebrews 11–all the Old Testament people that lived their life in faith, waiting for the promise of God.  They didn’t get to see the fulfillment of the promise in this life, which means they waited a long time.  In Romans 8,  and really, throughout his writings, Paul talks about waiting for our coming redemption.  If we are teaching true Gospel to our children, we are teaching them that the Gospel DOES fix all things, but not NOW.  Justification and forgiveness of sins happens now, but sanctification is a process, and sin-free living is something we are waiting for.  Perfection and freedom from life’s difficulties don’t happen now, they are simply a side-benefit to living with God in eternity, but we have to wait for them in faith and confident hope.  If you have not raised your child with the expectation of waiting, they will have a larger struggle understanding why they have to wait for God to bring justice, health, prosperity, success, etc.  They will expect it as their due in this life, NOW.

So here are 5 phrases that we can use with our children to help them develop the life skill of waiting!  Get in front of the mirror and practice saying these phrases, and make it your goal to use at least one of these phrases in the next 24 hours! If you have never used these with them, be prepared for shock and push-back, but keep their best interest in mind, and (knowing they will survive) stand your ground–in the most loving, gracious way possible, of course!

  1. “You are interrupting”–a pretty obvious one, but if you have spoken with your child ahead of time, this phrase can become a simple attention-getting warning.
  2. “Just a minute”–a good one to use with your preschooler who is calling you to wipe his little butt.  He will survive sitting on that toilet while you finish that blog post thought!
  3. “Not right now”–When you don’t want to say a straight-up “no” but it’s not a “yes” yet either.
  4. “We will see”–you don’t owe your child an immediate commitment for every request they make.  I find that I say “no” more if I don’t have a chance to think it through a little, so this phrase has actually worked in my kids’ favor!
  5. “I don’t know”–once again, children like to get a split-second decision and commitment/promise from you, but they can survive waiting to hear the decision until after you have thought it through, talked to your spouse, etc.

One final bonus tip: Pre-arrange a body/hand signal with your children, and you won’t always even have to use one of those phrases.  My signal with my boys is a finger pointing upward.  It tells them that I’m aware they want to talk to me, but that they are interrupting in an unacceptable manner.  If they have done the right thing by putting their hand on my arm rather than interrupting, I try to either make eye-contact and smile at them or place my hand on their shoulder to let them know that I am aware they are waiting on me and that I will talk with them in “just a minute.”

Do you have any signals or phrases that you use with your children to help them learn the important life-skill of waiting?

Party on a Budget Tip #4: Games, Favors and Other Miscellaneous Thoughts

Today I had 2 hours to myself  very close to a restaurant with wifi!  So I am really enjoying being a blogger today!

We are coming to an end of this party series.  The other night, I was interviewed about my party planning, and the questions I was asked gave me some ideas about quick tips and short topics that I haven’t covered yet, so this post is going to be a quick wrap up covering some final miscellaneous topics. Please feel free to post in the comments below if you feel like I have  skipped over a subject matter that interests you.

CLICK on the pictures to see specific information for each one.

How far in advance do you start planning a party?

Obviously, you can never start too early, but I think the ideal time-frame for fairly stress-free party-planning is a month.  This gives you time to come up with the theme, decide on the details, and get items ordered if needed.

What kind of games and how many do you need?

The answer to this question, can depend on the age of your children.  The younger the children, the shorter the attention span, and the more organization is needed to avoid chaos.  With preschool/early elementary, I try to plan 3-4 activities that last 10-15 minutes each. They should be SIMPLE, with instructions that are easy to follow and enforce.  For this reason, many times, I simply choose games they already know how to play (musical chairs, hot potato) and just add a themed element to it.  Or I choose a “basically no rules” game, like take turns showing us your ninja moves on the trampoline.

I also have one activity that is “quiet.” It can be a craft or as simple as coloring pages spread out on a table (of course, the pages are theme-related!)

With older elementary kids, you might be able to get away with one game that has a variation of rounds–flag football with a “capture the flag” variation round.  Nerf wars with different scenarios and goals (target practice, evasive tactics and then all-out war!)

FYI, Pinterest can be your best friend in finding theme-related games.

Are party favors a must?

I don’t think they are.  I usually give one out, but it is NOT going to be my high-expense budget line item.  My party favors consist of either 1. something I used during the party for the decor or a game (at the Nerf party, the boys got to keep their team bandana and eye protection along with theme-colored gum and tic-tacs), or 2. $1 or less/child.  For example, one year we did a Ninja theme.  I found giant (2-inch) ninja star gummy candies.  I printed a “thank you” label, stapled it to the individually wrapped ninja star, and that was my party favor that year.  I think it came out to 25 cents/child. And no, I did not take a picture of that particular party favor–another photographer fail!

To DIY or not to DIY?  That is the question!

Should you make your cake or buy it?  Do you order everything or try to make it yourself?

There are so many factors that go into this decision, that I can say with all honesty that there is no wrong answer!  Factors to consider include, but are not limited to:

-SAHM with more time than  money or working mom with more money than time?

-Priorities: is this something that helps you bond with your child or something that keeps you from spending time with him?

-Do you ENJOY it, or do you get stressed just thinking about it?

-No matter your skill level, you CAN DIY.  Just remember, you need to learn your limitations and tailor your DIY accordingly.  For example, I can wield, a mean glue bottle, but I cannot sew, so I don’t even attempt any DIY that involves a needle and thread. On the other hand, after several years of attempting to make cakes, and knowing that this was something I wanted to keep doing, I went ahead and took a beginners cake-decorating course and learned SO MUCH. My stress-level went down and my enjoyment (and skill) level went up. I have learned to look at a cake idea, and tweak it down to my skill level.

How do you make sure you aren’t forgetting a key element to your party?

Get a party template going and follow it for every party you plan.  This blog is long enough, but if you would like to see mine, make sure you are subscribed to my blog and then comment below that you would like to see it, and I can email it to you.

In the future, I will try to post about once a month on planning a party for a SPECIFIC theme.  Please post in the comments below if there is a theme you would like me to post a blog about to help you in your planning!

My next blog post will be about teaching our children the life skill of WAITING! So stay tuned!



Party on a Budget Tip #3: Use What You Have

Party on a Budget Tip #2: Edible Decor (and free printable)

I had very good intentions of getting this post out earlier, but this household has been hit with the nasty stomach virus, and I’ve been busy doing other not-so-pleasant activities!

Back to the more pleasant subject of party planning!  Did you know that one of the best ways to save money when planning a themed party, is with your food? Why? Food has to figure into your budget one way or the other, right? Well, here is a little secret:  You might be able to fudge on some of your other decor, if you make your food part of the theme, thereby saving money!


Edible decor has another advantage:  It gets consumed so you don’t have to figure out what to do with it after the party is over. Here’s another secret: I think this is why I enjoy cake decorating so much–I can be crafty, without having to figure out where I’m going to put it after I’ve made it!

Now, before you get overwhelmed, let me clarify.  If cooking and baking is not your thing, ordering pizza is not a wrong choice, or worthy of inducing guilt.  You can still have an epic party!  Your child would rather have a relaxed, fun mom at his  pizza party, than a frazzled Martha Stewart who is barking orders at his perfectly themed and executed party-of-the-century.  I know, because I’ve been both.

However, edible decor, does not necessarily have to be super fancy or even time-consuming, if you use a little imagination.

Edible decor CAN be simple.  Take the picture of the above veggie platter.  I always serve veggies at my parties, so I chose what veggies to serve and HOW to serve them in keeping with my Ninjago theme.  That “snake” is one of the bad guys.  Meet Pythor.  I spent no more money than I would have, but added a great decor element to the theme that my birthday boy loved!



Here is another great simple example:  Sandwiches cut with a bat cookie cutter to match the Batman theme.  It added no cost to the party, and maybe 5 extra prep minutes, and they got gobbled up.





The menu itself might be chosen based on the theme.  This Kung Fu Panda party menu featured mini egg rolls, “dumplings” (pepperoni & cheese rolls), chow mein noodles served with chopsticks, and “sushi” made with rice krispie treats and gummy candies.




This isn’t a great picture to illustrate my point, but sometimes I fall down on the photography job at parties!  Another easy way to use your food as decor, is to choose your food based on it’s color.  Here is party where I chose to do pizza, rather than making a lot of food, so I kept the rest of the food color-coordinated.  I only served orange and yellow food to go with this Nerf theme.  I had lemonade and orangeade (and Pepsi, but hey, black was one of the colors too!), yellow plain chips and orange Cheetos, and yellow peppers and orange carrots as veggies.  Simple, but it still tied into my theme (remember tip #1 about colors?)

12553048_10153808781575053_5058950187527923158_nStar wars label

Sometimes, all you need are printed signs with pithy names for your food. And if you are as unimaginative as I am in the name/title/labeling department, well, that is what Pinterest is for!  In our Star Wars theme, we had “Yoda Soda,” “Hutt Dogs,” “Vader Veggies,” and so forth. In fact, if you would like a ***FREE PRINTABLE*** of my Star Wars food labels, subscribe to my blog, and then let me know in the comments section that you would like me to send it to you.

And last, but not least, is using the cake to further your theme, but that is probably a post for another day, since that is a hobby of mine . . . this post is long enough!

I leave you with a few more pics of ways to incorporate your food into the theme.  How have you used your food to build on your party theme?

No cute way to serve your drinks? No problem. Just slap on a cute themed label in this Pixar “Planes” theme.
Car "tires" for a Pixar "Cars" theme
Car “tires” for a Pixar “Cars” theme
Lego guys heads made with marshmallows, and m&m and yellow candy melt.
Lego mini figure heads made with marshmallows, an m&m and yellow candy melt.
Captain America Shield Fruit Pizza.
Captain America Shield Fruit Pizza.



Party on a Budget Tip #1: Theme & Colors

Recently, I have had a few people contact me to ask me about party ideas and tips.  If you are friends with me on Facebook, you know that throwing birthday parties for my boys with full-on themes is a hobby of mine.  I LOVE to plan parties–from the basic theme to the cake, to the theme-related games!

However, I also have a budget to adhere to, so I have come up with a few go-to ideas and hacks that help keep me (somewhat) in check when I go shopping for everything I “need” to throw a party that will be “epic” (at least in my boys’ minds, and that is who matters)!

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting several tips, so if you want to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the tips, please subscribe to my blog in the sidebar!

This first tip, is pretty basic, and if you have done a few parties of your own, you might roll your eyes when you read it.  But for those of you who haven’t done parties, and feel a little overwhelmed at the thought of planning it, here is the FIRST basic step you need to take:

Tip #1:  Pick your THEME and your COLORS

So many themes and only one birthday per year per child!  But, at some point, in order to plan a party, you have to know WHAT the party is going to be about.  How do you pick your theme?


Look at your child’s favorite toy, TV show, activity, etc.  One of my boys was (and is) very attached to his “blankie.”  It started with his “Woobie” which was one of those soft blankets with a stuffed animal attached to it.  So for his first birthday, I made him cake with a fondant “blanket” and a bear head that was draped over his cake. If I could locate that picture, I would post it!

For another one of my children, I made a “3” cake, which he loved!10940582_10152980034865053_2731498027540527244_n

One of my children was born on 8/8/08, so he is tentatively planning on having an “8” birthday party them when he turns 8 this year!  That may change, but it’s a fun concept!

Does your child like Superheroes, Sophia the First, Mickey & Minnie Mouse, Dr. Seuss, dinosaurs, Legos, baseball, swimming, a certain type of doll, ballet, gymnastics . . .? Any of those make for a great party theme!


After picking your theme, you need to pick your COLORS.  Think 2-3 colors with maybe a 4th one thrown in for an accent.

Last year, I did a Chima theme.  When I googled “Chima,” the colors for my theme were pretty obvious, so I went with light blue and yellow.  Can you see 1782099_10152962829605053_301082132037931937_nhow the colors are repeated over and over in the background, the tablecloths, the paper goods, the cake, the drink, and even some of the food? Even the party favors were blue and yellow “chi balls” (gumballs).

If you are doing a theme based on a TV character, your color choices may be made for you–Mickey Mouse is red, black & white, Sophia the First is going to revolve around purple, etc.  But sometimes you can have a theme that doesn’t automatically lead you to your colors–Legos, Cowboys, etc.  Then you have a couple of options–go to the store and see what is available in that theme, and let the paper-goods, streamers, banners, etc., decide your colors.  Or just pick your child’s favorite color and work around that!

Does that mean you can never depart from those 2-3 colors?  Absolutely not!  You can’t do EVERYTHING in those 2-3 colors.  BUT, when someone walks away from your party, and they are describing it, you want to hear those 2-3 colors come into the description.

In the picture below, I had a double-birthday party–Royals and Star Wars.  Can you see, how at a glance, you can tell the difference between the two themes because of how the colors set them apart from each other?


Colors are a good way to narrow down your options and simplify the planning.  They are also a budget-friendly way to pull your theme together.

Re-Invention Day

After several years of being encouraged by my husband to start a blog . . . this is it!  My very first blog post!
OK, the real reason I’m doing this is because he finally stopped trying to talk me into it and just set it up for me–my biggest obstacle to starting.  The other reason I’m writing this on December 28, 2015 is Re-Invention Day . . .

Though I grew up in a family that set New Year’s resolutions (we called them “goals”), over the years I got tired of hearing the word “resolutions” always accompanied by the inevitable jokes about not meeting them.  While it is true that most people don’t meet all their resolutions in any given year, I think we fail to see the impetus to change that those resolutions provide us.  After all, if we make ONE change because of those resolutions, we have made progress in our personal lives, right?

However, I was hesitant to use the word “resolution” with my boys since there is so much cynicism attached to that word.  Last year, as I was considering whether to introduce my boys to the concept of goal-setting, I remembered advice that a friend had given me right before we embarked on a cross-country move.  She said, “Hannah, even though these moves aren’t always easy, I actually love it, because every move is a chance to re-invent myself.  If I have been the “shy one” of my group here, I can make a decision to become the outgoing one in my next group of friends.”  This great advice, led me to come up with the term “Re-invention Day” for my boys.

I feel like this term comm11149281_828237443896476_3790970155777370680_n-1unicates so much more than “resolution,” and hopefully it will come without the jokes and cynicism.

There is a list of things to help guide us through as we plan our re-invention: 1. Two things I do well that I would like to improve  2. Two things about myself I would like to re-invent  3. Two new things I would like to learn.

One of our boys wrote that he would like to learn how to make a meal–so I taught him (and his brother) how to make grilled cheese sandwiches–that is a win-win, folks!

OK, here is where I admit that I haven’t been great this year about keeping those goals in front of us to make sure we are on track, but that will be one of my re-invention goals for 2016!

So, why am I writing this blog on December 28, 2015? Because it was on my “Re-Invention Day” list for this year, of course!

Do you have New Year’s Resolutions? Do you call them something different?  Comment below on how you plan to reinvent yourself in 2016!