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      My son loves to build. So, I bought him three different kinds of blocks and eventually, he got bored with all of them. It  was time for a new project. We cut different shapes out of colored papers. We made rectangles, triangles, squares and  circles. Then, we put them all on a table and started building a town. We made houses, trees, cars, trains and people. My  son loved the game! The best part is that this game is portable ( just put all the pieces in a ziploc bag and take it with you  to a restaurant or on a plane ride.) While building , you can also discuss shapes, sizes and colors, therefore, learning them.  You can count shapes:  “Find how many circles we have?”or count shapes and colors: “Find how many blue squares we have?” … etc. Additionally, this is a perfect rainy day activity.

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Hummus is a chickpea-sesame dip that works really well on a  sandwich or with veggies.  It is also a good source of  vegetarian protein and fiber. It is rich in monounsaturated fat,  if  made with olive oil.  Hummus also contains calcium, iron,  magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and a few other trace minerals. It  contains a little of the B vitamins, including a good  amount of folic acid and a little vitamin A.

Most people buy hummus in the store and get a bunch of preservatives and artificial ingredients with their chickpea dip. I  make my hummus myself, since I spent quite a few years in Israel, where hummus is eaten every day and the standards for hummus are quite high.  Very few recipes are as easy as the homemade hummus one.

My hummus can be fed to babies, because its protein will help them grow and all of its ingredients are completely natural.  Older children love dipping veggie sticks and crackers into the hummus. You can cook your chickpeas or use canned ones, if pressed for time. You can add things to hummus to keep the dip new and exciting every day: adding whole chickpeas to the finished hummus gives it an interesting texture, cilantro or parsley or chives or garlic or even curry or paprika or pesto sauce change its flavor. Mashed carrots or sweet potatoes add sweetness, while avocado makes it more subtle-tasting. You can even be as adventurous as I am sometimes, making this hummus into a completely different dish altogether, using white beans, instead of chickpeas.

Ingredients:

2 cups of cooked or canned chickpeas

1/3 cup tahini paste

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4- 1/3 cup of olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Process everything in a blender until smooth and taste. Some people like their hummus to have a more pronounced sesame flavor (add tahini) and some want its consistency to be more liquid ( add 1/4 cup warm water.) Add the spices I mentioned above if you feel like it and serve on a plate with some more olive oil, poured on top (but not mixed in.) You can also serve it with a pinch of paprika on top. Hummus can stay fresh in the fridge for about 4 days.

 

My son will be three years old in less than a month. Most of his buddies are already in preschool or are starting preschool this fall. Supposedly, going to preschool can help the child’s social development and teach them colors, numbers, letters and some basic reading and writing. Preschool can also help with learning arts and crafts, since there is a lot of coloring and working with play dough going on.

I don’t have anything against preschool, especially if you have an only child, who is beginning to get bored at home. Or, if you want  a little break from your kid to do yoga, hair and nails. Every Mom deserves some free time!

However, I noticed that many of my friends had second babies by the time their first ones turned two or three years old. This way, they can send the oldest to preschool and spend uninterrupted time at home with the youngest, so that the youngest feels as special as the oldest felt, when they were a baby. This sounds logical. Unfortunately, this thinking appears to be against nature.

The second child was not meant to get the same attention and one-on-one time as the first one. This is why they were born second. They were meant to have an older sibling to learn from (something the first one didn’t have.) If you send your older child to preschool and play at home with the little one, you are creating an artificial environment for both. You are robbing the younger one from hours of learning from the older one and you are not letting the older one learn how to lovingly share. Children learn from each other. They also learn to adjust to the new family structure. The older one needs to understand that the younger one is here to stay and the younger one needs to learn that the older one needs his or her time with Mommy, too.

This is where “at home preschool” comes in. I teach my older kid numbers and art and letters, while my 8.5 months old twins try to eat our crayons and I think it’s the best setup, because it minimizes any jealousy or sibling rivalry there may be. My oldest learns about socialization right in our living room and my youngest twins learn how to build castles and read books. A kid who comes home from preschool wants his or her Mommy. The little baby wants his or her mommy all the time, and this is a problem for both. This is where the older one can get aggressive or whiny. If the older one stays home, both him/her and their little sibling learn to lovingly co-exist with the limited amount of  “Mommy-time.”

The problem of socialization with the kids outside of family can be easily solved, as well. You can join  a local mommy group on meetup.com, you can go to playgrounds, you can enroll your child in various classes and activities. You can organize your own playgroup, where you and five other mommies agree to meet at a specific time in a specific place once a week. I know many will disagree with my view, but I believe if a woman is a stay at home mother, she should stay home with ALL of her children, not just some. What do you think?

 

As a busy mother, I know nothing beats a good casserole when it comes down to a quick and delicious family dinner. This casserole is very easy and is excellent for utilizing leftovers. The vegetables I chose to use this time are more suggestions than musts. Green beans work well, cauliflower is fine corn is delicious and sweet potatoes taste great! Furthermore, you can take any other grain you fancy and use it instead of quinoa, making this casserole into a completely different dish altogether! I am a big fan of millet for this dish, but I also love brown rice. I sometimes use garbanzo beans instead of the multi-colored ones. I usually serve this casserole with a  nice salad of arugula, cucumbers, carrots, celery, avocado and pumpkin seeds with a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top.  Go to the kitchen and begin experimenting!

Ingredients:

  •     3 cups quinoa, cooked in vegetable broth
  •     2 medium sized peppers, chopped
  •     1 medium sized onion, chopped
  •      1 cup thawed green peas (the frozen ones)
  •     2 medium carrots, chopped
  •     1 medium zucchini, chopped
  •     1 can mixed beans, drained and rinsed
  •    4 medium tomatoes, sliced
  •     4 cloves garlic, diced
  •     1/4 cup olive oil
  •     salt to taste
  •     tabasco sauce to taste
  •     curry powder to taste
  •     1 cup of grated cheese ( goat cheese or soy cheese is fine)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all chopped vegetables, (except for tomatoes) beans, garlic olive oil and spices.

In a  casserole dish, put the quinoa on the bottom and the vegetable mix on top. Put tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake for about 45 minutes.

Recently I read this piece about sunscreen safety.  Apparently, typical sunscreens we cover ourselves and our kids with contain one more of these potential dangerous chemicals:

Dioxybenzone and oxybenzone are some of the most powerful free radical generators known to man. Other chemicals on this list have been connected to things like  cancer and hormonal imbalance.

I have been using Kiss My Face Sunscreeen for a few years. I love how light this cream is and how easily it absorbs into the skin, without leaving a typical white residue. I also like how it gives me and my family great sun protection without the dangerous chemicals. It is available in a spray bottle, as a cream or even as a sunblock stick.

What else can be done to protect the skin agains harmful UV-rays?

Nutrition helps, like it does with everything else.

Antioxidant-rich foods have been linked to good sun-protection of the skin. As pesticide residue can deplete the body’s antioxidant supplies,  it’s always better to choose certified organic foods.

1. Green tea’s  epigallocatechins directly block DNA damage from UV light, which has been demonstrated in studies involving human skin cells.

2. Moderate amounts of sunlight are helpful, as they provide us with vitamin D. A good buildup of this vitamin is essential, if you’d like to avoid sunburn. Dr. Mercola recommends staying in the sun until the skin turns light pink (for Caucasian skin.)

3. Phytonutrients lycopene in tomatoes and phenols in olive oil have been linked to better sun protection by a German study.

 Vitamin C, vitamin E and the mineral selenium all are good antioxidants that protect the skin against sun damage.

4. For vitamin C, try kiwis, oranges, bell peppers, broccoli, papaya,  and strawberries.

5. For vitamin E, try  sunflower seeds, almonds, olives, egg yolks and dark green leafy vegetables.

6. For selenium, try  mushrooms and fish.  Buying wild-caught fish is better,  because pesticide and antibiotic residues in farmed fish deplete the body’s antioxidant supplies.

7. Limonene and ellagic acid are other sun-protective nutrients. Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons and limes,  are rich in limonene and berries, such as blueberries and rasberries are rich in ellagic acid.

A week ago, we went to our three year old friend’s birthday party, where my kid was the only one that didn’t eat a slice of cake and didn’t sample any candy. He didn’t care, because he didn’t know what cake or candy tasted like. My husband and I caught a few disapproving looks from other parents, however. Like: “You are depriving your child” kind of looks.

Yesterday, my husband took our 2.5 year old son to an age-appropriate Easter-themed workshop at a local museum. The plan for the workshop was to decorate Easter eggs. What was used for the decorations? You’re right: rice crispies, frosting and chocolate sprinkles. All  of this sugar at 11 am. As my husband put it: “My kid ate breakfast, how about you teach him some creativity instead of ruining his health and appetite for lunch?” so, they left the workshop. I love my man!

Unfortunately this new trend of fully immersing our children in sugar is everywhere. In preschools, you are expected to bring cake for your kid’s birthday and cupcakes for every other joyful occasion. Birthdays are supposed to be full of sugar and having some M & Ms in a school lunch box is more of a norm than an exception.

There is nothing wrong with a little cake or a Snicker bar once in a great while for older kids or for adults. Introducing highly refined, health-destructive foods to two year olds is criminal, in my opinion. One day your kid will discover chocolate. One day your kid would love cupcakes. Knowing how truly poisonous these foods are to children’s health, why would you introduce them yourselves at the time the kid is barely eating solids? The reason why my two and a half year old doesn’t know what candy is is because I care for his health. The reason why my two and ahalf year old loves eating salad is because he doesn’t eat cookies. Te reason why he enjoys healthy natural foods is because I take good care to not pollute his taste buds with overwhelmingly strong flavors of refined and processed sugary snacks. You choose what your little children eat for a reason: put some thought into what goes into their mouths.

Nancy Appleton, PhD, presents this list of why sugar is bad for heath in her book Lick the Sugar Habit. Every single claim on this list is backed up by a scientific study. You can read even more about sugar dangers here. See if you will give your kid a candy bar after reading this.

  1. Sugar can suppress your immune system and impair your defenses against infectious disease.
  2. Sugar upsets the mineral relationships in your body: causes chromium and copper deficiencies and interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
  3. Sugar can cause a rapid rise of adrenaline, hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and crankiness in children.
  4. Sugar can produce a significant rise in total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad cholesterol and a decrease in good cholesterol.
  5. Sugar causes a loss of tissue elasticity and function.
  6. Sugar feeds cancer cells and has been connected with the development of cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, biliary tract, lung, gallbladder and stomach.
  7. Sugar can increase fasting levels of glucose and can cause reactive hypoglycemia.
  8. Sugar can weaken eyesight.
  9. Sugar can cause many problems with the gastrointestinal tract including: an acidic digestive tract, indigestion, malabsorption in patients with functional bowel disease, increased risk of Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
  10. Sugar can cause premature aging.In fact, the single most important factor that accelerates aging is insulin, which is triggered by sugar.
  11. Sugar can lead to alcoholism.
  12. Sugar can cause your saliva to become acidic, tooth decay, and periodontal disease.
  13. Sugar contributes to obesity.
  14. Sugar can cause autoimmune diseases such as: arthritis, asthma, and multiple sclerosis.
  15. Sugar greatly assists the uncontrolled growth of Candida Albicans (yeast infections)
  16. Sugar can cause gallstones.
  17. Sugar can cause appendicitis.
  18. Sugar can cause hemorrhoids.
  19. Sugar can cause varicose veins.
  20. Sugar can elevate glucose and insulin responses in oral contraceptive users.
  21. Sugar can contribute to osteoporosis.
  22. Sugar can cause a decrease in your insulin sensitivity thereby causing an abnormally high insulin levels and eventually diabetes.
  23. Sugar can lower your Vitamin E levels.
  24. Sugar can increase your systolic blood pressure.
  25. Sugar can cause drowsiness and decreased activity in children.
  26. High sugar intake increases advanced glycation end products (AGEs),which are sugar molecules that attach to and damage proteins in your body. AGEs speed up the aging of cells, which may contribute to a variety of chronic and fatal diseases.
  27. Sugar can interfere with your absorption of protein.
  28. Sugar causes food allergies.
  29. Sugar can cause toxemia during pregnancy.
  30. Sugar can contribute to eczema in children.
  31. Sugar can cause atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
  32. Sugar can impair the structure of your DNA.
  33. Sugar can change the structure of protein and cause a permanent alteration of the way the proteins act in your body.
  34. Sugar can make your skin age by changing the structure of collagen.
  35. Sugar can cause cataracts and nearsightedness.
  36. Sugar can cause emphysema.
  37. High sugar intake can impair the physiological homeostasis of many systems in your body
  38. Sugar lowers the ability of enzymes to function.
  39. Sugar intake is higher in people with Parkinson’s disease.
  40. Sugar can increase the size of your liver by making your liver cells divide, and it can increase the amount of fat in your liver, leading to fatty liver disease.
  41. Sugar can increase kidney size and produce pathological changes in the kidney such as the formation of kidney stones. Fructose is helping to drive up rates of kidney disease.
  42. Sugar can damage your pancreas.
  43. Sugar can increase your body’s fluid retention.
  44. Sugar is enemy #1 of your bowel movement.
  45. Sugar can compromise the lining of your capillaries.
  46. Sugar can make your tendons more brittle.
  47. Sugar can cause headaches, including migraines.
  48. Sugar can reduce the learning capacity, adversely affect your children’s grades and cause learning disorders.
  49. Sugar can cause an increase in delta, alpha, and theta brain waves, which can alter your ability to think clearly.
  50. Sugar can cause depression.
  51. Sugar can increase your risk of gout.
  52. Sugar can increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. MRI studies show that adults 60 and older who have high uric acid are four to five times more likely to have vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s.
  53. Sugar can cause hormonal imbalances such as: increasing estrogen in men, exacerbating PMS, and decreasing growth hormone.
  54. Sugar can lead to dizziness.
  55. Diets high in sugar will increase free radicals and oxidative stress.
  56. A high sucrose diet of subjects with peripheral vascular disease significantly increases platelet adhesion.
  57. High sugar consumption by pregnant adolescents can lead to a substantial decrease in gestation duration and is associated with a twofold-increased risk for delivering a small-for-gestational-age (SGA) infant.
  58. Sugar is an addictive substance.
  59. Sugar can be intoxicating, similar to alcohol.
  60. Sugar given to premature babies can affect the amount of carbon dioxide they produce.
  61. Decrease in sugar intake can increase emotional stability.
  62. Your body changes sugar into 2 to 5 times more fat in the bloodstream than it does starch.
  63. The rapid absorption of sugar promotes excessive food intake in obese subjects.
  64. Sugar can worsen the symptoms of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  65. Sugar adversely affects urinary electrolyte composition.
  66. Sugar can impair the function of your adrenal glands.
  67. Sugar has the potential of inducing abnormal metabolic processes in normal, healthy individuals, thereby promoting chronic degenerative diseases.
  68. Intravenous feedings (IVs) of sugar water can cut off oxygen to your brain.
  69. Sugar increases your risk of polio.
  70. High sugar intake can cause epileptic seizures.
  71. Sugar causes high blood pressure in obese people.
  72. In intensive care units, limiting sugar saves lives.
  73. Sugar may induce cell death.
  74. In juvenile rehabilitation centers, when children were put on low sugar diets, there was a 44 percent drop in antisocial behavior.
  75. Sugar dehydrates newborns.
  76. Sugar can cause gum disease.

I always have quinoa leftovers. I also usually have some veggies in the fridge. Combining the two typically produces delicious entrees or side dishes. Tonight I cooked one, using my brand new Xtrema pot I bought off dr. Mercola’s website. Xtrema cookware looks sleek, is easy to clean, can be used both on the stove, in the oven or in a microwave and most importantly, it does not leak heavy metals into foods. My new pot exceeded my expectations: it heated the food evenly, nothing stuck to it,’ it kept the food warm for a while afterwards and it looked really good. I am happy to know that my new pots and pans are going to not just be pretty and cook foods well, but also contribute to my family’s health. Anyway, here’s what i made:

Yummy Quinoa Dish

Ingredients:

Quinoa, cooked- 3 cups

Carrots, grated – 3/4 cup

Broccoli florets – 1/2  cup

Onions, diced -1 medium

Tofu, cubed – 1 cup (or use cooked chicken instead)

Zucchini, chopped -1 medium

Parsley, chopped  – 1/2 cup

Braggs Aminos 2 tbsp

Olive oil – 1/4cup

Garlic – 2 cloves, diced

Paprika to taste

Warm up 1/2 of the olive oil in the  pan. Add the onions and saute for 3 minutes. Add the  Braggs and the tofu (or chicken. ) Saute for another 4 mins, or until the tofu has a little crust. Add the remaining oil, the carrots , the parsley and the broccoli. Lower the flame, cover with the lid and let simmer for another 2 mins. Add some water, if things are getting sticky. Add the remaining veggies and let simmer for two more minutes. Mix in the  quinoa. Taste and add the  spices. Let simmer for another 2  minutes.

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Today I was doing what I like to do best: playing with food. I actually tried to make some edible play dough. All of the recipes for homemade play dough online seemed to be copies of each other and the ones that seemed more original utilized unhealthy ingredients, such as corn syrup, powdered milk and white sugar. As I was testing my recipe (made out of leftovers,) I realized that my edible play dough can also be made into some yummy healthy candy.  So, I made candy and my kid and I played and ate: what could be more fun?

As a main ingredient, I used cooked amaranth. Amaranth is a grain, which was used by the Aztecs and now is popular in Latin America. Amaranth contaisn large amounts of protein and essential amino acids. Amaranth has  30%  more protein  than many other whole grians grains, such as brown rice, wheat flour, oats, and rye. Amaranth grains are very small and cooked amaranth is sticky ( this is why I thought of play dough.) Generally, I like to use amaranth as a side dish, as a substitute for any dish, asking for a grain, as  a sticky base for a casserole or even as an egg substitute, because of the binding effect it brings to baked dishes. Amaranth works well as a diversion from your morning oatmeal. It combines very well with fruits and vegetables.

 

Homemade Amaranth Play Dough

Even though this recipe contains brown sugar, it is rich in protein, fiber, folic acid, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc, as well as vitamins B, D  and E. Perhaps you need to encourage your kids to eat more  play dough!

1 cup amaranth (cooked, according to package instructions.)

1/2 cup  smooth natural almond butter

1/2 cup wheat germ

1/4 of brown sugar

Mix all of the ingredients together. If the dough is too watery, add more wheat germ. If it’s too dry, add more almond butter. You can add more sugar of you think it’s necessary for a better flavor. Use my suggestions for homemade edible colors from here.

Homemade Amaranth Almond Butter Candy


Follow the recipe for play dough. Add 1/2 cup of almond pieces and (optionally) 1/4 cup of chopped dates. Form the dough into balls. Roll each ball in shredded coconut. Refrigerate for thirty minutes and serve.

Chia can be used in cooking and baking in a multitude of ways. One of the easiest and most accessible ways is making it into a gel first.

Chia Gel

Take 9 parts water to 1 part Chia seeds. You can also use more water for a less thick gel.

Pour slightly warm water  into a container with a tight-fitting lid.  Slowly pour Chia seeds into the water. Shake the container for 15 seconds. Let stand for a minute and shake again. Soon the mixture will turn into a gel. This gel will store in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.

Chia gel is  slows the conversion of carbohydrates into sugars, regulating and maintaining  healthy blood sugar levels in the body. Including this gel in your daily diet will help you eat less and still feel satisfied. The gel also helps with regularity, as it contains a lot of fiber. The gel works well in smoothies and in baking.

You can modify this recipe and grind the seeds, releasing their  essential fats for better assimilation.

The gel can be added to sauces, drinks, yogurt, salad dressings, cream cheese, jams, jellies, preserves, salsa, hot/cold cereals, yogurt, dips, puddings, soups, or other liquid or creamy foods. Add the gel, mix well and taste. The gel won’t affect the flavor of foods, but will increase its nutritional value. The texture gets smoother with the addition of Chia, while the flavor stays intact. In addition to adding up to 50% to 75% more volume to the foods used, Chia “removes” calories and fat because its gel is 90% water.

If you like to bake, you can use Chia gel as a fat replacer by substituting the oil in your breads with Chia gel. Top your favorite bread dough before baking with Chia gel (for toping on baked goods, breads, cookies, piecrust, etc., reduce the water ration to 8 parts water to 1 part Chia seed) for added shelf life.

Chia Gel can also replace up to half of the butter or oil in any recipe without altering the flavor or the cooking method.

Chia gel or chia seeds can also be added to smoothies or other liquid foods, without being made into the gel first.

Chia seeds can be eaten with almond milk, instead of a cereal.

Chia seeds can replace flax seeds in recipes.

Buy some Chia seed and experiment!

I jut finished reading Teach Me to Do It Myself: Montessori Activities for You and Your Child by Maja Pitamic.

I believe every parent of a preschooler should have this book. It presents simple activities that you can do with your preschooler to help encourage his/her cognitive development. If you consider yourself not too creative and imaginative, the book will give you tons of ideas of learning by playing interesting games with your child. If you are already full of ideas for fun and productive play, the book will give you more.  The instructions are brief, clear, and well illustrated. The activities are fun, and generally don’t require a lot of prep on the parents’ part. The recommended materials are easily found in most homes.

There are five chapters with activities you can do at home or in a classroom setting: Life skills, Developing the Senses, Language Development, Numeric Skills and Science Skills. Each activity has a picture next to its description, a numbered list of directions, a list of  what you will need as well as other, similar,  activities to try. In the back of the book you can find worksheets to accompany some of the activities shown in the book: everything is simple, concise and well-organized. I highly recommend this book.

 

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