When Food Is Medicine

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
One night, after the results of my son’s routine blood work showed scary-high levels of phosphorous, an effect of his kidney disease, anxiety fluttered inside my chest like I had swallowed a hummingbird. Anxiety about his health, the new medication I’d have to force down him, the disease’s progression, his eventual transplant, school, life, friends … I clicked on the TV to take it away, to lose myself in some gorgeous, rainy, heavily-accented series on the BBC. I landed, somehow, on the “Great British Baking Show.”
I ate through the first season like it was cake, watching home bakers whip together sometimes beautiful, sometimes disastrous creations in their bowls and mixers and ovens. What struck me was how real – how average – these people were, baking for the simple pleasure of creating something, of feeding their families. I thought: I could do that.
My first loaf of bread came out lumpy and awkward but delicious. My three children ate it smothered in butter as I spoke to my son’s doctor and nutritionist on the phone. We needed to start him on a grainy, awful-tasting powder – a phosphorous binder – which would be his ninth daily medication. But something in me refused. They said I could sprinkle it on his food, or mix it with water – but I knew, and they knew, it wouldn’t be as easy as that. He was three-and-a-half, very particular, with a history of eating issues. There must be something else we can do.
They relented: We can try to make changes to his diet first, they told me. No cheese, no milk. Limit whole grains, meats, nuts, the list went on and I scribbled notes as the hummingbird fluttered inside me. Really? For this boy who spent the first two years of his life nearly unable to eat solid food? Who would spit out (or vomit up) a single Cheerio? Whose crackers I’d break into grains of sand and set with something like a prayer on his high chair? This child whom I’ve been spoon-feeding for far longer than is good for either of us? For years the message was always FEED HIM, in alarming capital letters. FEED HIM or we will we will write failure-to-thrive on his chart. FEED HIM or we will thread a feeding tube down his nose and into his belly and do it for you.
Now you want me to take the food away?
But my son, like my two healthy children, ate my bread and butter and something clicked. I went to the supermarket; I read ingredients. What I thought of as “good bread” with the label from a fancy Los Angeles bakery wasn’t just flour and water and yeast; it was a science project of chemicals and preservatives, even a phosphorous additive. I put it back.
I started keeping bread dough in the fridge, ready to bake when we were running low. Then on to other things: carrot cake, corn muffins, zucchini bread, forgoing the nuts and doubling the vegetables; French toast with pasture-fed eggs; from-scratch pancakes, waffles, everything with almond milk instead of cow’s. I baked at night, when my family was asleep and everything was quiet and dark, which was better anyway because summer days in LA were just too hot. I kept batches of waffles and French toast in the freezer to warm-up in the mornings. I joined a CSA and looked forward to Wednesdays, when a giant box of organic fruits and vegetables, sometimes with the farm dirt still kissing the heads of lettuce, would land on my doorstep.
Baking turned to cooking. Roasted delicata squash in coconut curry. Pasta with burst cherry tomatoes and garlic and kale. My littlest one now eating spoonfuls of (almost) dairy-free spinach pesto for breakfast, and why not.
Meat quickly took a backseat to fruits and veggies, but chicken from the farmer’s market, lightly pounded and pulled through sesame seeds could save the world. Soups, stews, sauces, and after too many years of spoon-feeding, my son started to use utensils on his own. Rosemary shortbread cookies. He’s feeding himself. Cucumbers and avocado with balsamic vinaigrette. Not just feeding himself, but feeding himself a salad.
I’m lucky to live where the produce is so bountiful. I’m lucky that my children (and husband) are good sleepers, so that I have my nights alone in the kitchen. I’m lucky that I enjoy the quiet miracle of turning ingredients into food. Some things take time, so I save them for when I have time. Good produce, meat, and eggs – it’s expensive, but hey: I serve expensive food on cheap plates.
Sometimes my cooking is beautiful and sometimes it’s a disaster, just like the bakers on TV, but watching my son’s phosphorous levels stabilize without medication, and watching my healthy son and daughter eat their veggies (and their cookies) with pleasure, makes the effort, and the expense, entirely satisfying.
 

A Tale of Growing Up and A Drive-Thru Memory to Keep

The thought of placing a drive-through order gives me the jitters. “What? Don’t worry, I will place the order,” he says, his tenor that of an adult.

“Mama, can you stop at McDonald’s drive-through? I’m super hungry,” says my 14-year old son.
It’s Thursday evening and we are returning home from his Taekwondo class.
“It’s a week night. I cooked stir fry okra today. Your favorite,” I tell him.
“I don’t want to eat that. Please.”
Why is he refusing to eat at home? He knows our family’s rules: we only eat out on weekends. My son is an only child, so I worry about him growing into a selfish and insensitive adult.
I was born and raised in India in a middle class family. My family did not own a car; my siblings and I bicycled to school, exposed to the sun in summer, buttoned up in raincoats in monsoon, bundled up in scarves and hats in winter. Eating out was restricted to an ice-cream cone once a year, on the evening our final exams culminated. I never tried to bend or question my parents’ rules.
I talk to him about spending wisely and saving hard-earned money. I eulogize the benefits of eating fresh, home cooked food. I demonize the empty-calorie comestibles sold by fast food restaurants.
My son pulls a long face. That and the fact that he will be fleeing my nest in another three years soften my heart. He is a good kid. It’s not his fault that he has not seen poverty and longing up close.
I have to accede to his request today.
The thought of placing a drive-through order gives me the jitters. I tell my son that I have never, in my 15 years of life in the US, done a drive-through.
“What? Don’t worry, I will place the order,” he says, his tenor that of an adult, resolving a puerile conflict.
I glance at my son in the passenger seat. His head is bent into his phone. The line of black hair on his upper lip appears thicker and darker. Pimples and their remnants dot his forehead and sideburns. A whiff of Axe deodorant escapes from his underarms.
This boy, who came from the smiley shaped incision on my abdomen, now towers over me. He has never noticed that his dad has been on the wheel anytime we have done a drive-through. What else does he not know about the machinery of our life as a family?
What does he mean by he will place the order? He doubts my spoken English. He corrects my pronunciations, tells me which syllables to stress in words like Indianapolis and Kentucky. But I am an Information Technology professional and am gainfully employed by an American business.
My mind begins to wander. We recently watched an Indian movie “English Vinglish” on Netflix, in which the protagonist is an Indian mom who visits the USA to attend her niece’s wedding. This woman, who has a tremulous command over English, tries to order a coffee at Starbucks and ends up being insulted by the barista.
My son is unconsciously drawing parallels between that woman and me. I have never heard Starbucks baristas speak in a condescending tone. The plot is implausible to me.
My hesitation is not because of my lack of language but because of my short arms. I am a tiny person. My mind is mired in doubts – what if my arms don’t reach the window and I drop my credit card or the food packet?
Finally, I scrape out courage from each cell of my puny body and pull into the drive-through lane, approach the microphone and rattle off the order of one Filet Fish sandwich with a medium fries. The person on the other side does not say repeat or pardon.
My son looks up from his phone. I approach the payment window, steering carefully. The window guy’s fingers reach mine and I hand him my credit card. Success. We then float – my son, my Lexus, and I – as an autumn leaf to the next window, where another oblivious partner hands me the paper package.
I hand over the steaming package to my son, without even looking at him, like it was a mundane activity.
“Thank you, mama,” my son says, looking at me with eyes brimming with pride.
My son narrates the story to my husband later that evening. “Mama is brave,” he says, “She just needs to try.” Animated conversations and moments of levity have become rare in our house.
The teenage years have pulled my son into a shell of reticence. He answers in deep sighs, bored monosyllables like “yeah” and “no” or boorish phrases like “kind of’” and “not really.”
My son has stopped lingering in the kitchen. Before, he used to turn over the parathas for me or shell the boiled eggs for curry, all the time chattering. I had to ask him to stop the blabber or my fingers would forget to add some vital ingredient, like the ginger-garlic paste to the egg curry.
He has moved his homework station from my kitchen island to the den. He leaves the den only when called. He eats with us every night and heads upstairs to his room soon as he is finished.
I don’t complain but I have not stopped missing him. I miss trimming his nails every weekend and pouring eye drops in his eyes every night. I miss helping him with his homework. I miss his telling me of his tummy aches. I miss his asking me simple questions.
As I lie in bed, I feel accomplished and happy. I have conquered a fear and I have built a strong memory with my son. This memory is most precious. My son might forget how I raced in my heels to his daycare. He might forget how I wracked my brains over his Math Counts problems long after he went to bed. He might forget how I folded his laundry and placed it neatly in his closet when his dad asked him to do it. He will never be able to forget this drive-through experience that we shared. Perhaps, he will narrate this tale of his puny mother’s courage to his kids.

What I Gained by Giving up Weeknight Drinking

What does it matter that my nightly glass of wine was turning into two or three, or two light beers were becoming five? It matters quite a bit, actually.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
This is going to sound cliché, but as I’ve gotten older I have found it harder and harder to maintain my “happy weight.” I know, I know: Join the club. But I started examining the possible reasons and I had to admit something that I really didn’t want to: Calories from alcohol do count. But it wasn’t that simple.
What does it matter that my nightly glass of wine was turning into two or three, or two light beers were becoming five? I eat a healthy diet (I told myself) and exercise every day, so I assumed it would all balance out. And yet, the less attention I paid to how much I was drinking, the faster the weight crept on. I decided that there was nothing else I could do. My knees will no longer allow me to work out three hours a day, and who has time to do that anyway?
The turning point came when I was watching TV one weekend morning, flipping through channels aimlessly. I landed on a show where a young, beautiful, skinny host travels to different exotic destinations and basically eats and drinks her way through all the cheesy, meaty goodness, and tropical alcohol combinations that the region could offer, all while cavorting on the beach in an impossibly small bikini. Or sometimes a sarong.
It should have been obvious before, but it hit me then: She doesn’t really do that. No thin person really does that. I wish it were true, but it’s not.
That was it, I was going to quit drinking. At least on weeknights. I honestly expected an amazing transformation, considering not only the calories in the alcohol I was drinking, but all the additional calories I was taking in as an indirect result of drinking.
Case in point: Almost every very morning I would wake up at 3 a.m., thirsty. I would go downstairs, fully intending to only get a glass of water, but the pantry would call to me. “A doughnut would go nicely with that ice water … How about a handful of crackers with cheese? Some olives would make a nice accompaniment. Come on, it will help you get back to sleep.” I gave in every time. Why I didn’t just bring a glass of water with me to bed every night and avoid the middle of the night doughnut dance is beyond me.
Then there were the morning breakfast choices. The mornings after not drinking, a small bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey seemed perfectly reasonable. The mornings after drinking, cold pizza was the obvious choice.
After three days of no drinking, I stepped on the scale, eager to see what I figured should have been at least a pound lost. Nothing.
Ok, maybe a pound isn’t enough to register on the scale. I’ll wait a few more days.
At the end of week one: Nothing. No weight lost. I almost gave up. What’s the point? If trying and not trying have the same result, why go through the effort of trying?
But I stuck with it, and somewhere during week two, I noticed something interesting. No, not weight loss. That still hadn’t happened. But I was feeling different. Mostly I was in a better mood. I realized this when I sat at the table with my son one morning and calmly told him to chew with his mouth closed. Any other day, I would have snapped at him for breathing too loud.
I was also sleeping more soundly. No more middle of the night trips to the pantry, no waking up thirsty or groggy. I got out of bed when my alarm went off, made myself oatmeal, and didn’t think anything of it. Who knew that feeling normal could feel so … normal?
My memory also improved. Don’t you hate when you walk into a room and can’t remember what you are there for? Well, that didn’t stop happening. I still do that, quite often. But the difference is that I remember what I came for much faster. I even produced an actress’ name in record time the other day. “Jessica Lange!” I blurted out in a conversation with my husband, rudely interrupting him. He couldn’t understand why I was so happy to yell her name.
Some weight finally started coming off in week three. I have no idea why it took so long. It’s been six weeks now, and I’m seven pounds down. It wasn’t the sudden, amazing transformation I was expecting, and I haven’t reached my goal yet. But I’m about halfway there.
What surprised me is that the non-weight-related improvements have been as rewarding – if not more rewarding – than the weight loss. Once I realized that being crabby, tired, and forgetful wasn’t normal, I embraced my “new normal.” No drinking. I mean, on weeknights. I may be slightly transformed, but I’m not perfect. And I can live with that.

On Halloween, by a Candy-Loving, Dentist's Daughter

I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.

Halloween (and in particular the candy procured) is one of my favorite Holidays – which is curious considering my dad, his dad, and my dad’s two brothers were all dentists. Of course, growing up the candy-loving daughter of a dentist had its daily challenges. Simply biting down on a blow-pop induced heart-wrenching guilt. (That sticky sugar just sits between your teeth!) But – oh holy day! – on Halloween, my dad the dentist smiled his pearly white smile, and allowed me to guiltlessly celebrate the holiday in all of its sugar-laden, cavity-inducing glory.
Even as an adult, there are many reasons to love Halloween – the crisp fall air, the childhood excitement, the silly and scary decorations, and obviously the candy – plus, there is no atoning for our sins and no sitting through sermons. It’s a holiday of untainted indulgence, until I learned information that shook my moral compass: A nationwide program called Halloween BuyBack is working with dentist offices nationwide for children to trade in their candy in exchange for money. I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.
To better grasp this internal conflict, it helps to understand that a comically tortured relationship with candy runs in the family: My dad used to keep a personal stash of sugary orange circus peanuts and sticky black licorice in his office cabinets – right next to boxes of “Stillman, DDS” engraved toothbrushes. He is now retired from his practice, but according to the website halloweencandybuyback.com, it doesn’t matter: This year an estimated 22,000 dental offices will be participating. I checked the website, and there a six dentist offices within five miles of my house alone. That certainly makes it convenient for my family, but do I make my kids bring in their loot?
While the child in me sees Halloween BuyBack as a Halloween horror story, the mom in me sees the obvious benefits. Like so many parents these days, my husband and I are stringent when it comes to our kids’ sugar intake. We are aware that too much sugar may lead to childhood obesity and childhood tooth decay, not to mention that my kids are like suped-up wind-up-toys when they get a pinch of the white stuff. We never give them soda. Juice is for special occasions. Dessert is a treat, and often taken away for bad behavior. Yes – when it comes to sugar, we are a million times stricter than my parents ever were, despite my dad’s dental profession.
Yet, like my parents allowed for me, Halloween has always been a free-for-all for my kids. So when I brought up the cash for candy concept with my third grader, he looked at me like I offered him broccoli for dessert. “No way!” He said incredulously.
With logic on my side, I tried to talk sensibly: First of all, he could not possibly eat all the candy he’d collect, even over several months, even with my help! And then there’s the “selfless lesson” because it’s for a good cause – the candy goes into care packages for US Troops. Lastly, it’s bad for you! It will rot your teeth and your body!
But honestly, my heart wasn’t in the argument. Nostalgia (and hypocrisy – I’m eating sour skittles as I write this) get the best of me. I remember the thrill of dumping my precious treasures into my desk drawer after a long night of hitting every house in my neighborhood. When I was little, I would have screamed like I saw Freddy Krueger at the thought of someone ripping my hard earned candy from my sticky fingers, and no amount of cash would have lessened the blow. (Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who asked the Tooth Fairy for gummy bears.)
But I’m an adult now. The teacher of healthful living, and selfless giving. So this year, I’ll try to be a better person. I’ll let my kids run house to house until their little arms ache under the weight of all that delicious, teeth-rotting junk-of-the-Gods. Then, that first night, I’ll let them gorge until they feel physically ill (like roll around on the floor, clutching their belly, ill). The next day – candy hangover in full effect – I’ll have them fill a ziplock bag to take to their local dentist office. I’m not sure who this will be harder on, them or me.
In the weeks following, they’ll each get a piece for dessert or as a treat in their lunch, until they forget it about it altogether. The rest is mine, all mine (duh!). And yes, Dad – I promise I’ll floss.

To the Cheesy End

This newfound frustration with being able to swallow undesirable foods seemed more than I could fight after such a long toddler day.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
“I don’t know how to swallow,” my oldest cries with a mouth full of broccoli. My head sinks into my hands because this newfound frustration with being able to swallow undesirable foods seemed more than I could fight after such a long toddler day.
“You’ve chewed and swallowed broccoli successfully many times, my dear. Please keep trying. It’s no different than any other food you eat. Just swallow,” I reply as calmly as I can and end up sounding rather Eeyore-esque. And then I follow up with a typical mom-tactic, “If you finish, you can have a treat.”
The clock ticks, time disappears, but also eventually the broccoli does too.
A hard earned treat after a grueling process of eating noodles and broccoli for dinner, my oldest was given a few Doritos. Mama has been known to knock back a bag of these bad boys in a sitting with no problem, and only a side serving of guilt. Unless no ones knows it happened. In which case, it didn’t.
Bag of what?
Anyway, while having a few chips for herself, my eldest looks at me, distressed, saying, “These chips are burning my lips.” Her eyes shine as tiny pools begin to well up within them. You can read the frustration on her face. After all, she swallowed all that broccoli just for this. And now, this “treat” was causing an “ouchie” and that was not supposed to happen. This isn’t how treats are supposed to work.
“Awe honey, are your lips chapped a little? Let’s get you cleaned up. You don’t have to finish them. I’ll get some chapstick.” But rather than turn and fetch said chapstick, I stand there, looking at my daughter, looking at me.
Mouth slightly agape, cheesy bits visible on her toddler tongue, she stares at me blankly. You’d think I had suggested that she step away from a brand new pony with the way she looked at me in total shock and horror. Or like I’d suggested she not open her Christmas presents she had been waiting for all year and forever. They were just chips … at least to me.
To her, this was her reward for her troubles. Her dinner’s Holy Grail. Earned with the grueling task of swallowing a vegetable. (It doesn’t matter whether or not it was a vegetable she previously used to love. And by previously, I mean, like, last week.) She had put saliva, sweat, and tears into choking that stuff down, and here I was trying to lift away the reward with nary a care in the world.
She turned to face this challenge, her delectable yet slightly stinging treat, and with a look of utter determination, grabbed another chip, exhaled and said very calmly, “No.”
This was not really a no of defiance, but rather one of “no, I will not let this deter me. No, I will not be denied this satisfaction due to a little pain.” So this little girl kept plugging along, savoring every cheesy crunch and the finger-licking which ensued afterward.
Oh, my dear little girl. May you face every adversity with such determination and reap life’s cheesy rewards.

6 Tricks to Make Halloween Treats a Non-Issue for Your Allergic Kid

If you’re also wondering how to enjoy trick-or-treating without being spooked by potential allergens, here are some tips.

My daughter has multiple food allergies. I’m not talking about food sensitivities. I’m talking about taking an EpiPen with us everywhere we go, knowing our bright, curious daughter could die were she to accidentally eat a rogue cashew.
At two she was old enough to enjoy trick-or-treating with her big sister but too young to understand that, with the exception of Skittles, Smarties, and Tootsie rolls, her Halloween candy would mysteriously disappear.
And that was fine with me.
Now she’s three and she “gets it.” I know she understands that she must ask me or her dad before she eats anything at a party. I know she’ll wait for me to give her a special, safe treat that I’ve packed just for her instead of accepting a slice of birthday cake. What I don’t know is how to handle Halloween.
If you’re also wondering how to enjoy trick-or-treating without being spooked by potential allergens, here are some tips.

1 | Create your own traditions

You don’t necessarily have to replicate the Halloween experience of your youth for your child to love the holiday as much as you did. As a parent, you have the freedom to invent your own family traditions.
Jennifer Roblin takes her seven-year-old non-allergic son trick-or-treating while her husband stays home with their daughter, who is four and has multiple food allergies. Her daughter loves dressing up and handing out plain potato chips (which are safe for her). Says Roblin, “I asked her if she wanted to go trick-or-treating this year and she cried, saying ‘No Mommy, I dress up and hand out tato chips.’”
Leigh Goodwin Furline, who has one child with food allergies and one who does not, gives her kids the option to trick or treat or not. Last year, they decided to skip trick-or-treating in favor staying home to watch a movie. They also received some safe candy and a toy of their choosing.

2 | Trade candy for a toy

Trading candy for a toy means not only can parents bypass label-reading, candy-sorting, and the risk of cross-contamination, but they also avoid the hassle of candy rationing, candy-hiding, kids begging for candy, and all other candy-related problems. Sarah Jean Shambo lets her son choose whatever toy he wants in advance, but she waits until Halloween to purchase it. This way, she explains, “he’s excited about the trade and it doesn’t have to be a fight.”
While the Shambo family takes a DIY approach to the switch concept, many parents call on the official Switch Witch, who needs candy to keep warm through the winter. Developed by a mom who struggled with the piles of candy her kids brought home from trick-or-treating, the toy is designed for parents who want to limit their kids’ sugar consumption and for those who need to keep their food-allergic kids safe.

3 | Trade unsafe candy for safe candy

If a Halloween without candy sounds as depressing to you as a birthday without presents, trading your child’s Halloween candy out for safe treats is a sweet solution. If you’re concerned about the possibility of cross-contamination, you could do what Sarah Hodges does. Instead of sifting through all of her son’s candy and reading all of the labels to determine what’s safe, she replaces everything with Enjoy Life Halloween candies. Megan McDavitt has two children, ages four and two, who between them are allergic to milk, peanuts, tree nuts, and sesame. She encourages them to take non-candy or safe items if any are available. Once they get home, she lets them keep any safe candy and replaces anything they can’t have with No Whey Halloween candies.
Kim Schmid, who has one child with allergies and one without, does it a bit differently. She combines the contents of her two kids’ candy bags and then sorts it. Her allergic daughter gets to keep whatever is safe for her. The rest of the candy goes into her non-allergic son’s bucket.

4 | Just say “no thank you”

As parents of kids with food allergies, we all hope our kids will outgrow them. In the meantime, we share the hope that our kids have the maturity and the confidence to speak up for themselves anytime they could be exposed to an allergen. For some families, Halloween is no exception. In fact, it can be an excellent opportunity to give a child the chance to practice having these conversations.
This Halloween, Adrianna Shook plans to help her almost four-year-old daughter say, “Trick or treat, we have allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Do you have something else?” Many parents I spoke to said that they were happy to politely ask neighbors if their treats were peanut-free when their kids were little but now that they’re older, the kids do it themselves. Not only that, but it turns out a little education goes a long way. Charlotte Eugenio said that after a couple years of polite no thank you’s in a row, she noticed some houses started offering a separate selection of nut-free options.

5 | BYOC

For parents of younger kids who want their kids to experience as much of the “normal” (read: allergy-free) Halloween experience as possible, a little benign trickery goes a long way. Jennifer Devine Pirozzoli usually takes her kids to the homes of other family members, which gives her the opportunity to run up to the door with an entire bag of safe candy from which her child can choose, without ever knowing that that mom hand-picked it in advance.
Other parents, like Victoria King, who plans to take her two-year-old son trick-or-treating for the first time this fall, will carry safe treats for their food allergic kids to munch on as they walk.

6 | Cash for candy

There’s no reason a kid shouldn’t have the chance to cash in on his treats. Parents like Toni Gaudisio are happy to buy back their kids’ candy. Says Gaudisio, “My kids (who are eight and 11) are allowed to swap out five pieces of candy for safe candy and the rest I buy back for 25 cents. We usually take them [shopping] a few days later to purchase toys with their Halloween money.”
Other parents, like Becki Rice and Cristina Salazar Rafferty, enjoy the benefits of getting rid of the candy without having to pony up – their family dentists are pay for Halloween candy.
Life with allergies can certainly be scary. But Halloween doesn’t have to make it even spookier. A little creativity goes a long way when it comes to making Halloween fun for everyone, no matter what they can or can’t eat.

7 Kid Requests You Should Agree To in the Name of Autonomy and Independence

What are the costs and benefits of saying “yes” to these 7 common kid requests?

Last Sunday, my three-year old, recently liberated from the Costco shopping cart, took off running down the aisle.
My first instinct was to yell at him to stop running. Until I saw him peeking through the shelves of the next aisle over, beaming at me from between giant cans of tomato sauce.
What if I just said “yes”?
The aisles of grocery stores are made for running and sliding. Why wouldn’t I want my kid to get a little exercise while I shopped? We just had to set some ground rules. Wait for the aisle to be empty. Pick an object to run to. Run back to me.
Important lesson learned: Whatever your kid is asking, there is almost always a way to say “yes.”
There are a lot of lists of ways to say “yes” while actually saying “no,” or “not now,” or “when you’re much older.” These are of course necessary parenting survival skills. But in this list, there’s no redirection or deferring. You’re really going to let the kid eat chips for dinner, or cut her hair, or stay up late. This piece covers the costs and benefits of saying “yes” to 7 common kid requests, as well as what you’re really giving permission to with each “yes.”

1 | “Can I go outside without a coat?”

This question is one of an entire category of requests that parents say “no” to in order to spare kids from pain or discomfort. You can’t wear pants because it’s 90 degrees outside. You shouldn’t wear last year’s Halloween costume because it’s too tight. You should eat that right now so that you won’t be hungry later.
Kids are early students of cause and effect. At just eight months, they realize that their actions create effects (for example, shaking a rattle makes noise). At three years of age, kids can make and test their own predictions.
So your kid does not need to you to warn him about the discomfort of not wearing a coat. He can predict and test it for himself. And you can stand by the door and let him come back inside as soon as he realizes it’s too cold.

2 | “Can I wear this to school?”

Children are physically capable of dressing themselves between ages three and four, although they may need a little help with socks and zippers. While a child is learning to use the bathroom, a good general rule is that if he can take it off easily, he can wear it.
But parents often squabble over clashing patterns, princess dresses, and other items we don’t want to let our kids wear to school. When we tell preschoolers they can’t wear pajama pants or mismatched socks to preschool, we’re worried about how others might judge our parenting. But we do this at the expense of our kids’ self-expression. Why not let them power clash stripes and polka dots and let them enjoy being kids?
As children age, parents’ wardrobe worries shift. When we tell first grade boys they can’t wear dresses, we’re worried that they will be teased. When we tell eighth-grade girls they can’t wear midriffs, we’re worried about how they’ll be treated, either by their peers or school officials. In both cases, there’s still no reason to police our children’s fashion choices, because it’s now their job to consider the benefits and consequences of their own choices.

3 | “Can I get my hair cut?

Hair grows back. There’s no good reason to say no to this request. And yet, many parents and children suffer through nighttime detangling sessions because parents don’t want to say yes to haircuts.
This question is really a philosophical one for parents. What have you invested in your child’s hair? Do you view your child as your mini-me, a tiny version of your idealized self? Do you love watching the swish of her ponytail on the playground? Do you bask in the compliments his curls get from strangers?
You may have spent years hoping that hair would finally grow in. But it’s not your hair. It’s your child’s hair, and in “allowing” the cut, you’re reinforcing your child’s bodily autonomy.

4 | “Can we eat chips for dinner?”

We say “no” to chips because they’re unhealthy. But you can honor this request while sticking to your family’s rule of making only one (reasonably healthy) meal.
Tell your kids that yes, they can eat chips for dinner if they also make a fresh salsa taste test. Hand them tomatoes, peaches, mangoes, black beans, onions, tomatillos, garlic, and bunches of herbs. Better yet, get them to shop with you for those items. Then, review lessons about knife safety and let them start chopping.
If they want a blind test, pull out the blender so they don’t get clues from the texture. They get practice with knife skills and blenders and creative table setting.
KJ Dell’Antonia and Margaux Laskey of the New York Times argue that “children who cook become children who taste, and sometimes eat.” Early cooking also gives children more knowledge about healthy eating, a “can do” attitude, and closer relationships with other generations.
In this specific case, you’ve also allowed them some whimsy – chips for dinner! – while also eating reasonably healthy. Look at that ingredient list. It’s salad. The kids just happily made salad for dinner.

5 | “Can I decorate my room?”

You may have spent nine months or more pinning, planning, and decorating the perfect nursery. So when your kid asks if he can have that Lego Batman poster, you reflexively say “no.”
Gabrielle Blair’s endlessly creative blog Design Mom is a great resource for parents who don’t want to sacrifice good design once they have children. What you’re saying “yes” to when you let their kids decorate their rooms is not wall-to-wall Frozen paraphernalia. (Blair has a strict “No character” policy in her own home.) Instead, you’re saying “yes” to your kids’ interests.
Blair advises that parents handle kids’ decorating requests like more like designers. Designers take their clients’ interests in mind and come up with possibilities that the clients may never have thought of. You can do the same thing, making a list with your child about ideas for the room and then guide your child’s choices with a limited set of wallpaper designs, paint colors, and light fixtures to choose from.
If you take this route, though, you need to be prepared to go multiple rounds with your kid clients, just as a real designer would. Your job isn’t to choose decorations for your child’s room, but to help your child develop a space that reflects her interests.

6 | “Can I stay up late?”

If we acknowledge that our children are increasingly autonomous humans who can understand the consequences of their actions, we need to start saying “yes” to a lot more requests, even when we don’t want to.
Children’s bedtimes are often non-negotiable, with countless parenting sources stressing the need for a regimented sleep schedule. One potential consequence of such rigid adherence to the sleep schedule is that children don’t get to experience the consequences – both good and bad – of staying up late.
Without an occasional lapse in bedtime, it’s hard for kids to understand exactly why they have bedtimes in the first place. Without actual experience, kids tend to hear “bedtime” as “because I said so,” no matter how thoroughly we articulate the consequences of missed sleep. Better to just let them miss sleep and suffer the consequences.
Parents do a quick cost-benefit analysis every time we decide whether to binge-watch Netflix’s latest offering instead of going to bed. Why not occasionally extend this kind of decision-making to our children, too?

7 | “Can I touch that?”

Questions about how to decorate a room or when to go to bed fall to parents because these are our homes, and we are the ultimate decision-makers about what happens in them. But for some of the questions our children put to us, we do not have the final authority over the consequences.
At the toy store, your kid walks over to something shiny and slowly moves his hand toward it while cocking an eyebrow in your direction. You shout out “don’t touch!” But what if you didn’t? What if you let your kid touch it? What lessons might he learn?
If he picks up the toy, carefully inspects it, and places it back on the shelf, he’s learned a browsing technique that most adult humans use daily. If he picks up the toy and drops it, he will learn that it if you break it, you buy it. If he picks up the toy and dashes out of the store with it, he’ll learn the embarrassing consequences of shoplifting. In all of these cases, your child learns that in some situations, you are not the ultimate authority figure.
Imagine if you took this approach at museums, too. What if you said “yes” to touching the statue? Your child would quickly learn, through an alarm or docent scolding, that his actions have consequences. This is not to argue that we should let children destroy the world’s masterpieces. But we can teach our children that our permission isn’t always enough. We can teach them that we are not the ultimate authority figures, that different spaces come with different rules. If only the same policy worked on the adults who behave badly at museums.

“Can” versus “May”

Eagle-eyed parents may have noticed that grammatically, these questions should be phrased as “may,” because that’s the word we teach children to use when seeking permission.
But these questions are intentionally “can”ned.
First, your children can do all of the things on this list, and have probably been capable of each item for longer than you realize.
Second, although your children are asking permission, in these cases permission is not yours to give. In saying “yes” to these questions, we’re not giving permission. We’re acknowledging our kids’ bodily autonomy and growing independence.

6 Simplicity Hacks for Parents Who Would Rather Spend Time Doing Than Planning

Here are some strategies you can use to minimize decision-making and maximize time and energy for the pursuits that bring you joy.

“How’s it going?”
“Busy. Good, but busy.”
We’ve all had this conversation. However you feel about busy-ness – whether it’s a badge of honor, something to be avoided altogether, or just an inevitable part of life – most of us do not enjoy managing the minutiae of the busy life. I know I’d rather spend my time tickling my kids, reading something without pictures after they go bed, or checking out the new yoga studio down the street than figure out how and when I’m going to actually do all that stuff.
I spent my childhood longing for the sweet freedom that adulthood promised. Now that I have it, I find I’m actually happier when I go out of my way to limit the number of choices required of me. That experience, it turns out, is not unusual. According to psychologist Barry Schwartz, less is more when it comes to options. People tend to be happier when they have fewer choices.
Enter routines. We know they’re good for kids but they might be better for adults than we give them credit for. By creating “rules” for what, how, and when we are going to do things, routines limit or even eliminate the pesky choices that drain our time and energy, leaving us with more room to engage with the people and things that matter to us.
Creating routines takes some up-front investment, but once you have them dialed in they’re worth the hassle. Here are some strategies you can use to minimize decision-making and maximize time and energy for the pursuits that bring you joy.

1| Divide and conquer

My husband and I have a deal: Until 7 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday I am free to “sleep in” or work out while he gets our kids dressed and fed. Monday and Wednesdays, we switch roles. This has been our agreement ever since I got the green light to exercise after our first child was born.
Kate Darby and Marc Neff, who are professors, parents of two, and avid runners, have a unique way of making sure they both get their miles in. On weekends, one parent drives the kids to the park and the parent runs to meet them. On the way home, whoever ran to the park drives the kids home, and their spouse runs home solo.
Katie and Daniel Westreich, parents of two, take the concept a step further. Every week, they grant each other an entire day off from parent duties of any kind, including even seeing their two children. Westreich jokes they have trademarked the arrangement “20 percent divorced.”

2| Schedule all the things

Savvy parents take the time to schedule all the things in advance. Jessica Ziegler, the co-author of Science of Parenthood, relies on phone alarms for everything: “One for Get The Kids Up, one for 10-Minute Warning/Brush Your Teeth, one for GTFO.” What did we ever do before phone alarms with customizable labels!?
Joy Jackson, a stay at home mom of three, has a phone alarm scheduled to ding three times a week at 9:45 p.m. after her kids are tucked in for the night. “It’s the sex alarm,” says Jackson. “It says, ‘Hey, reminder, you guys like each other, but have your busy days made you forget?’”
Lorin Oliker Allan is a stay at home mom who relies on a weekly delivery from a local farm for her family’s eggs, milk, and produce.
Elyana Funk’s two daughters have piano lessons every Thursday afternoon, which means Thursday is always pizza day. Says Funk, a non-profit administrator, “I order it earlier in the day and schedule it so that it arrives when we do.”

3| …And use a shared electronic calendar app to do it

My husband and I started using a shared Google calendar when our first child was born over five years ago. My husband had been trying to bring me over the dark (read: electronic) side for years, but as a paper lover at heart, I wouldn’t budge – until we had a child and I had to make sure someone was watching our kid every time I went to work on a Saturday, worked out, or met a friend. Now, I’m never surprised when my husband “invites” me to happy hours with men I don’t know, and he’s come to expect “invitations” to girls’ night.
Galit Breen is a mother of three and author of “Kindness Wins,” a guide for teaching your child to be kind online . Breen has had her kids enter their own events on the family’s iCalendar since her two older kids were 10 and eight. “We’re all on the same page,” says Breen. “They don’t need reminders from me because they’re the ones who put them there, they see double-booking instantly so that we can take care of it in advance, and it’s so much less busy work for me!”

4| Simplify your meals

Melissa Proia is a stay at home mom of three kids under the ages of six. She has egg frittatas every morning for breakfast. It may sound elaborate but it’s actually far simpler than even cereal or instant oatmeal. Once a week, she mixes up a nine eggs, a pound of ground turkey, and veggies, bakes them in a casserole dish, cuts and wraps them into nine squares, and all she has to do is grab one and heat it up each morning.
On Sundays, Sam Watts – a busy stay at home mom who juggles five part-time jobs – plans her family’s meals for the week, puts all the ingredients on her shopping list, and does her weekly shopping. Having this system dialed in means she never has to take extra time to think about dinner.
Amy Muller is a mom and project manager who volunteers for her local Boulder, Colo. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America chapter and hits ballet classes in her spare time. Muller takes it a step further with a weekly dinner schedule featuring chicken Monday, taco Tuesday, and pizza Friday, that rarely, if ever, varies.

5| Batch process

Never do something one at a time when you’re going to need to do it every day, every week, or every month. Stay at home mom Meryl Hertz Junick does all her school lunch prepping at once. This way, she says, “I just need to refresh the containers in the insulated totes each night or morning.”
I make a double batch of just about every time I bake muffins or prep a meal in the slow cooker. Those items freeze well and my future self always thanks me.
With two children in elementary school, Elyana Funk says it feels like her family attends two birthday parties every weekend. She saves time by stockpiling birthday presents.

6| Do it the night before

I am the worst procrastinator. The more deadlines I have, the cleaner my house is. But even I swear by doing as much as I can the night before. I make my kids’ lunches while I make dinner.
Elyana Funk has her coffee pot prepped and ready to go before she goes to sleep.
Brittany Bouchard, a bank manager and mom of two girls, makes getting her kids dressed a breeze by putting entire outfits together on a hanger. So instead of helping her children choose a top, a bottom, socks, and underwear, each outfit is pre-planned and ready to wear. All her kids have to do is grab a hanger and go.
Jess Allen – the popular online trainer and fitness blogger at Blonde Ponytail – even preps her kids’ breakfast the night before to make mornings smoother.
When I was a kid, all I wanted was the freedom to be an adult and do whatever I wanted. Now that I’m an adult, that freedom can feel overwhelming and I find myself longing for some of the constraints I had as a child. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional Netflix binge, third glass of wine, or extra helping of dessert. But I am happier when I can put some of my adult responsibilities on auto-pilot and devote my limited mental energy to the areas of my life where it matters.

6 Kids Books for Families With Food Allergies

As the mom of a kid with food allergies, I know how stressful a food allergy diagnosis can be. These books can make it easier, though.

As the mom of a kid with food allergies, I know how stressful a food allergy diagnosis can be, for both parents and kids.
These books can make it easier, though. Kids will identify with the characters, who, like them, have to be cautious at school, friends’ houses, birthday parties, and everywhere else. Parents will welcome the chance to spark conversations about safety, the importance of being assertive, and more.

ThePeanutPickle

The Peanut Pickle: A Story About a Peanut Allergy

Written by Jessica Jacobs
Illustrated by Jacquelyn Roslyn
Age range 4-8

“The Peanut Pickle” features our sweet yet assertive protagonist, six-year-old Ben, who has a peanut allergy so severe he can’t even be in the same room as a peanut without getting sick. Ben is quick to admit that he is sometimes nervous about speaking up about his allergies, but that he always feels better once he does. In this story, Ben confronts a number of situations where he has to advocate for himself. He consistently makes his needs known in a way that is both clear and kind. Most of the time, his friends and family are happy to accommodate him. Even when his grandmother forgets about his peanut allergy, Ben doesn’t take it personally. In one instance, he has to leave a pool party because there are just too many peanuts around.
This book is chock-full of realistic scenarios, conversation starters, and it even has reference sheets at the back, including rules for parents and children (e.g., always carry your epinepherine injector, always check food labels), a note on peanut allergy statistics, and a list of safety guidelines for parents and caregivers.


TheBugaBees

The BugaBees: Friends with Food Allergies

Written by Amy Recob
Illustrated by 64 Colors
Age range 4-8

There are eight BugaBee friends, and each one has an allergy to one of the eight major food allergens – peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs, soy, and wheat. Written in rhymes, it tells the story of each friend as they encounter situations where they have to avoid allergens. Scenarios include Halloween trick-or-treating, encountering an allergen on the school cafeteria menu, and parties. Kids will love the fun pictures and relatable scenarios. Adults will love the second half of the book in which each of the eight common allergens has its own page. Listed are pictures of several different foods, along with questions like “Which of those foods would probably be safe to eat?” or “How can you know for sure if a food is safe to eat?” and “What are some signs that you are having an allergic reaction?” These pages serve not only as a vehicle for assessing your child’s understanding of his allergies but they also provide parents and caregivers a chance to educate kids in a low-pressure way.


FoodAllergies

Food Allergies (New True Books: Health)

By Christine Taylor-Butler
Age range 7 and up

This book is great for the child who understands that he has a food allergy and what basic safety precautions to take to stay healthy, but wants to elevate his knowledge about allergies. Taylor-Butler covers topics including the immune response that causes allergic reactions, allergy statistics, the nuances and dangers of cross-contamination, common foods where allergens often hide (soybeans in peanut butter, for example), what an allergic reaction can look like (including photos), and how to stay safe (including detailed information on how to read food labels). At the back of the book are resource lists, including recommended books for further reading, organizations and websites, and information on the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) national visitor center.


HoraceMorris

Horace and Morris Say Cheese (Which Makes Dolores Sneeze!)

Written by James Howe
Illustrated by Amy Walrod
Age level 4-8

Horace, Morris, and Dolores are a trio of mouse friends who are crazy about cheese. They can’t get enough of it. But after Dolores breaks out in hives, she receives the unfortunate diagnosis of a dairy allergy. And the timing couldn’t be worse. The Everything Cheese Festival is about to come to town. Any reader who enjoyed a string cheese, grilled cheese sandwich, or a quesadilla before being diagnosed with a dairy allergy will identify with Dolores’s struggle. Initially she has a hard time accepting her diagnosis, but sure enough, every time she eats cheese, she gets sick and ultimately decides cheese isn’t worth it . When she realizes that she has to say goodbye to cheese once and for all, Dolores comes up with a tasty alternative that proves to be quite popular – even among the cheese-o-philes at the Everything Cheese Festival.


ThePrincessPeanutAllergy

The Princess and the Peanut Allergy

Written by: Wendy McClure
Illustrated by: Tammie Lyon
Age range 6-9

In this children’s story, we face a familiar situation – a birthday party. The trouble begins when our young protagonist Paula finds out her best friend’s princess birthday party menu will feature foods containing peanuts … including the castle cake. The problem is Paula has a severe peanut allergy. Unlike most of the other books in this vein, in which the allergic child tells a friend about the allergy and the friend easily accommodates their need for another food option or a change of venue, in this instance Paula’s best friend pushes back. Paula is tempted to shove the issue under the rug, but her dad encourages her to speak up for herself, no matter how much tension it creates. The stakes are too high to stay quiet. Spoiler alert: Paula’s bestie comes around and even marches over to the local bakery to change her order so that Paula can enjoy the cake with all the other kids.


WordNerd

Word Nerd

By Susan Nielson
Age level 9-12

“Word Nerd” is the story of twelve-year-old, socially awkward, severely peanut-allergic Ambrose. Living in a basement apartment with his loving but overprotective single mom, Irene, our adolescent hero runs into trouble when kids at his school place a stealth peanut butter sandwich in his lunch bag and he nearly dies as a result. His mom then decides to home school him, a path that threatens to make Ambrose’s isolated existence even more lonesome. But when Irene goes to work in the evenings, little does she know, Ambrose is forming an unlikely friendship with the upstairs neighbor’s son, a 25-year-old ex-con, Cosmo. Cosmo and Ambrose bond over their shared love of Scrabble and soon Cosmo starts taking our hero to a weekly Scrabble club meeting, where Ambrose learns about community and acceptance – but not without some twists and turns along the way.

Can Folic Acid Mitigate Autism-linked Effects of Pesticides?

New research suggests that taking over 800 micrograms of folic acid around the time of conception can help mitigate the autism-linked effects of pesticides.

Among the rows of grape-drenched vines and bars full of empty wineglasses, is my hometown: Napa, California (aka the most perfect place to return to as a vino-loving adult).
But growing up in such an agriculturally-dense valley has invisible dangers. Like the massive amount of pesticides dumped on those moneymaker vineyards, and the potential link between those pesticides and Napa County’s No. 1 ranking for the rate of childhood cancer in all of California.
Additionally, a study out of nearby UC Davis showed that “women who lived within a mile of agricultural fields where organophosphate insecticides were applied during pregnancy had a 60 percent increased risk of having children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
A large body of research has shown that consuming a folate-containing prenatal vitamin reduces a child’s risk of later developing an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
But new research suggests that taking over 800 micrograms of folic acid around the time of conception can helpmitigate the autism-linked effects of pesticides.
Children whose mothers were taking the folic acid had a significantly lower risk of developing an ASD, even when the mothers were exposed to pesticides on a daily basis.
Mothers who took less than 800 micrograms and encountered household pesticides had a much higher risk – a risk that increased with repeat exposure.
Napa is just one example, but it helps illustrate a much larger picture. Many Americans are exposed daily to dangerous pesticides – both from nearby agriculture and in their own homes.
Many of these women can’t control their environmental or household exposure to pesticides, but studies like this can help put some of the power back in their hands.
It’s important to note that research like this does not determine causality. A lack of folic acid around the time of conception does not cause autism. Nor does consuming an adequate amount prevent it.
Instead, this research notes a statistical significance between the prevalence of ASD in children whose mothers had taken 800 micrograms of folic acid (the amount in a standard prenatal vitamin) compared to those whose mothers didn’t, when they were both exposed to pesticides.
This suggests that folic acid can help mitigate the harmful effects of pesticides on a developing fetus. Beyond prevention methods, the implication of research like this is potentially even greater. When cells are developing rapidly in utero, folic acid acts to assist the DNA. Understanding exactly how this happens and if/how it can help prevent ASD (among other developmental disorders) is the next step in protecting our children while they’re still in utero.
Most mothers-to-be already understand the benefits of prenatal vitamins rich in folic acid, but there can never be a shortage of studies to support its benefits. If you’re planning to conceive, research has shown nothing but positive outcomes to an increased folic acid consumption.