Does your toddler do chores?

We like to involve our toddler in as many aspects of our lives as makes sense. As a 1 year old, he does things like:

  • help set the table by carrying utensils and plates from the kitchen to the table (in an adjoining room).
  • wipe up spills, especially if he caused them.
  • put things away after using them (toys into their basket, books onto the shelf, household items).
  • wash vegetables.
  • put groceries away after we buy them and bring them home.
  • help carry laundry to the washing machine and put clothes into the washing machine (or take them out and put them into the laundry basket after they’ve been washed).
  • sweep or vacuum.
  • take out a wash cloth from the cupboard so that we can wipe/wash his face in the morning, then close the cupboard.
  • throw garbage away (although he likes to take clean tissues out of the box and throw those away too).
  • help empty the dishwasher,
  • weed the garden and water the garden.

Someone asked me one day, “do you give your toddler chores?” I had to sit back and think about that, even ask for clarification, “can you explain what you mean?” because I had never really thought of these activities as chores. They’re just things that we do to help our household run smoothly and everyone does their part to help us achieve some end goal as a family (whether it be enjoying a meal together, maintaining a clean house, growing a garden).

Whether it be due to some combination of his personality and our mentality, he genuinely seems to enjoy helping us and shows pride in accomplishing things on his own. He observes us and likes to show us that he too can play his part. It is really amazing watching him pick up these skills…and I like to think of it as a little investment into our future. By having him participate early on, he’ll both know how to do things around the house (useful lifelong skill) and he’ll be accustomed to doing them as a member of our family. Maybe one day, he’ll ask if he can get paid for doing chores. A bridge we will cross if and when the time comes.

So to respond to that person who asked me if our toddler does chores, I said “our toddler loves to help us do things around the house”. After all, if you call it a chore, doesn’t it just become a chore?

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A toddler’s gift of cooking

Young children are sponges. Everyone says it. Infants and toddlers seem absolutely interested in observing those around them and imitating them. In our household, we’ve tried to involve our toddler in our everyday activities. This, of course, would involve cooking. We built a Montessori learning tower and stood him up on it at kitchen counter height before his first birthday, so that he could see what we were doing as we prepared, cooked and plated food. We let him feel, smell and play with vegetables that we grow or pick up from our CSA share. If we harvest some kale or chard from the garden, he’ll help us wash the leaves. He mixes, pours and stirs things.

I’m not much of a fan of focussing on material possessions for birthday gifts, particularly for kids. My personal preference is to gift the gift of an experience. That could be a gift certificate to a paint-your-own-ceramic studio, some books and a pair of PJs, a crafted toy for imagination galore.

So to bring these two things together, I sewed some toddler-sized aprons for the 1 year olds in my life. My hope is that they can be used for arts and crafts, water play or cooking (read: versatile) and they’ll entice kids into the kitchen (and encourage parents to have their kids join them – since I know some folks don’t want to deal with mess…enter the apron!).

They weren’t absolutely perfect but my technique improved with each apron (shows I can still learn!). There is a nice big pocket on the front with a loop where you can slip a wooden spoon through. The apron folds up nicely so that the pocket is on top and the apron ties can be used to present the apron as a neat square gift. I slotted a wooden spoon through and added two felt carrots that I made to finish off the presentation.

Apron The gift of food

One year anniversary for food allergies

One year ago around this time, we were just learning about our baby’s food allergies. In retrospect, I’d say that it was a life-altering discovery and definitely a bit overwhelming at the start. Without experience with food allergies ourselves – as parents – and with little exposure to people living with multiple allergies, we had a lot of learning to do to understand (a) how to cook without the allergens and (b) how to read labels. Sure, we already loved to cook from scratch but the rules of the ball game had changed. A number of our go-to condiments were now a no-go.

As challenging as it has been to create safe family meals that don’t get repetitive and that include diverse ingredients and flavours, I think it’s led us to eat ‘cleaner’. We cook even more from scratch than before (remember we said bye to a lot of our condiments?), substituting things like ketchup (which is still on our list of foods to try with our toddler) with a mix of tomato paste, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar. We’ve tried different types of recipes than we may have been inclined to try before. I’d guess that our salt consumption is lower since we add a very minimal amount when we’re cooking.

I’ve also added new terms into my lexicon:

  • safe foods
  • Top 8 free (and I actually know off-by-heart what the Top 8 are)
  • ingredient cross-contamination (and not just in keeping raw meats separate from cooked meats!)
  • allergen free
  • hives

…and I’ve learned new concepts:

  • oats, barley and rye are typically cross contaminated with wheat
  • vegan recipes are great because they’re egg- and dairy-free but you have to watch out because they love nut substitutes
  • people with allergies have different levels of sensitivities and reactivities
  • things that don’t sound tasty indeed have a very useful purpose (think egg replacer and xanthan gum)
  • make friends with fads because they can make food shopping much easier (think gluten free, vegan – these are legitimate diets but the mass commercialization of them really helps me zoom in on foods that may be safe)
  • the importance of facilities in following Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) to minimize cross-contamination on processing lines
  • even ingredients like spices that seem so ‘raw’ or bare bones can be contaminated with allergens (the cumin recalls are a recent example
  • the cumin recalls mentioned above actually highlighted the complexities related to the global food chain and ingredient traceability as well as factory practices.

I now make use of the 1-800 numbers for manufacturers on the backs of packages, which I used to always wonder why they needed to be listed. Now I know. It’s for people like me who need to question the safety of the packaged food. And if there is no contact information or allergen information on your website, I won’t bother buying your product any more. Which reminds me, websites that DO list a company’s allergy policy get an A++ in my books and I will be brand loyal to them.

I’ve also learned how to use an auto injector, which is a good thing to know for anyone; I even think it should be taught as part of first aid courses, in addition to AED use.

So you can see, I have gotten so much out of our life situation. It doesn’t take away the anxiety that I feel trying new foods with our child or the stress that I feel when our child has an allergic reaction (because in the moment, you can’t predict how much that localized itchiness will escalate in 5, 10, 30 minutes). I can be okay with seeming like the paranoid parent who won’t let their child eat food prepared by others (did you use a clean cutting board? did you wash your hands? could any cross contamination have happened? how safe are all of your ingredients that you used?) if it prevents my child from having an allergic reaction. But I have learned so much, so far from this experience.

My new take on vegan and gluten-free

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet as well as cooking allergen-free family meals. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, and wheat.

A year ago, if you told me you followed a vegan or gluten-free diet, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to have you over for dinner. I just wouldn’t have known how to prepare a meal for you because those words were huge psychological barriers.

Whenever we prepare food for our friends, I ask if there are any dietary restrictions. This has been a habit for me for many years. Usually, the answer was no dietary restrictions (phew). Occasionally, there was an allergy to nuts, an aversion to beef, or a religious restriction on pork. One type of food restriction, I could handle.

Now that I have spent almost half a year working on cooking and baking without a number of categories of ingredients, I feel as though I can be a much more welcoming host. My pantry includes a host of gluten-free, top 8 allergen-free products: tapioca and potato starches, brown and white rice flours, oat flour (gluten-free of course), sorghum flour, xanthan gum and egg replacer. I’ve become more familiar with the brands that I can buy from: Only Oats for oat products, EnerG for xanthan gum and egg replacer, and Purest for baking ingredients. Unfortunately, brands like Bob’s Red Mill, which is a super popular and widely available gluten-free option, have precautionary labelling for cross contamination with some of our allergens, making those a non-option for us. It isn’t enough to be gluten-free because it needs to be allergen-free for us as well. And yes, I have been that person, sitting on the floor in the natural foods stores/aisles, phone in hand, researching the companies that produce the products in my hand to see if they are allergen-free. It’s a time-consuming process.

I should note that we aren’t avoiding gluten because of celiac disease in our household. We’ve noticed a few welts and itchiness/redness develop after our toddler consumed wheat products (all homemade so we suspect it’s wheat and not anything else), so we’re taking a wheat hiatus. You’d think that would mean just avoiding flour but it turns out that things like oats are usually contaminated with wheat and that wheat can be masked in many products under many names. It’s actually easier just to avoid gluten because if a product is gluten-free, then it is definitely wheat-free.

My recipe arsenal is also growing. When I’m searching for recipes on the internet or in cookbooks, I use certain key words now: vegan, gluten-free, allergen-free. For baking, I find it easiest to search for vegan recipes because I know they will not include butter, milk, or eggs. From there, I can try to substitute my own home-mixed gluten-free flour for the conventional flour the recipe calls for. The only issue with vegan recipes is that they call for nuts. With savoury cooking, I start my search specifically looking for allergen-free recipes and I am so appreciative of the many blogs that I’ve come across, as well as allergicliving.com. I want meal recipes that I can just follow without having to experiment too much with ingredient substitutions. Sometimes I search for vegan recipes to find bean, vegetable or quinoa-based recipes that don’t call for dairy or eggs. I try to make a new dish at least once a week so that we continue to increase the variety of dishes we can eat.

A year ago, if you told me you followed a vegan or gluten-free diet, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to have you over for dinner. A lot can change in one year.

Allergen-free chocolate

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, and nuts.

Ah, chocolate. That brown square that melts like velvet in my mouth. Oh but so many of the chocolates lining the shelves at stores contain milk and if not milk, they may contain or be cross contaminated with a variety of nuts. At my local health food store, I asked for a chocolate bar that does not contain milk. The lady pointed out a few good choices. I further clarified that I needed a chocolate bar that has never made contact with nuts. I was given one bar out of their entire display of chocolate bars!

When I think ahead to the Halloweens, Christmases, Easters, and Valentines of my kids’ life, I’m saddened to think that he won’t be able to readily partake in the chocolatey goodness that so many others easily enjoy. That Lindt advent calendar just isn’t in our future *tear*. It’s not just the holidays that will be difficult but facing the sheer abundance of milk/nut chocolate bars that line shelves at the grocery store, gas station, restaurants, vending machines, practically everywhere (I swear I notice it more now that I can’t eat it).

However, there is hope and that hope exists in allergen-free chocolates. Unfortunately, they are challenging to locate and the selection of flavours isn’t the greatest, particularly in my city (ie. not in the United States). Still, they are hidden gems! So far, my finds are:

  • Giddy Yoyo (free of dairy/nuts/soy). An Orangeville, Ontario company!
  • Hummingbird Chocolate (free of dairy/gluten) has no nuts in their bars. An Ottawa, Ontario company! (updated July 2015: I’ve noticed that Hummingbird now has “may contain traces of nuts” on all of their bars…boooo)
  • Enjoy Life! chocolate bars, chips and chunks (free of the common allergens). An American company that produces many products that are all free of the common allergens.

It’s super exciting when I find an allergen-free chocolate and I’m hoping to discover many more in the months to come!

Ubiquity of milk ingredients

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, and nuts.

I read labels when I shop. What are the ingredients? Where is it from? What is the nutritional information? However, I’m realizing that I hadn’t been reading labels on every single food product that I was purchasing.

My go-to chip is the Kettle brand chip and during one of my recent grocery shopping trips, I absent mindedly picked up a bag of sweet onion-flavoured chips…and yes, I had a chip craving one day and went to grab a handful of these chips, only to read the label at that point (did I mention I had an immediate craving!) and find milk ingredients! Reluctantly, I put the bag back in the pantry, unopened.

The more I scrutinize food products, the more I realize just how ubiquitous milk ingredients are. There are the obvious dairy products: the cheeses, yogurts, and ice creams. Then, there are the somewhat obvious milk-y products: many popular chocolates, sherbets, cheesy crackers, etc. But the chips!?

Luckily, products now have a clear statement when they contain any of the top food allergens (soy, milk, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, sulphites, mustard) – see Health Canada’s page outlining 2012 changes to allergen labelling requirements – and many have precautionary statements laying out possibility of inadvertent contamination with common allergens. Had I read the label on the chip bag, I would’ve easily seen “milk ingredients” among the list of ingredients but I didn’t realize that seasonings are another possible source of milk.

Milk. It’s in so much of the packaged foods that we consume and to an extent that I am only now realizing.

Straight dairy alternatives…so far

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, and nuts.

I grew up drinking a lot of milk. I’ve heard many a complaint from friends that skim milk just tastes like water but that is exactly why I loved it: water with calcium. Oh so refreshing! I would have it with my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then, in my twenties, I started to suspect that I was a little bit lactose intolerant and decided to stop drinking milk. However, I could not stop did not want to stop eating dairy products such as ice cream (craziness to cut that out!), yogurt and cheese. I love these things, after all.

Fast forward to today, where I have a stronger reason to cut dairy out of my life: my baby is allergic to it. Pause. My baby is allergic to dairy. Scary.

Liquid milk was fairly easy to phase out of my life. Ice cream, yogurt, and cheese, not so much. In times of weakness I could foresee myself caving to having just that one lick of ice cream or yogurt or a cube of cheese. Therefore, I put myself on a search for feasible alternatives, not with the mindset that these new options would have to taste like their dairy counterparts (that would be a good way to set myself up for disaster) but that could offer me a real tasty alternative. After all, why would or should I need something to taste just like dairy-cheese or dairy-yogurt when it’s not made from dairy?? It’s like trying to find a brown rice that tastes just like a white rice: they’re just not the same!

So far, I’ve tried:

  • Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream: absolutely delicious. I’ve never been a fan of coconut but I really enjoy this ice cream and *gasp* I actually find it much more satisfying than dairy ice creams. It’s creamy and comes in a variety of delicious flavours.
  • Good Karma Rice Divine ice cream: reminds me of the flavour of Japanese mochi ice cream (which I love)…but has a gritty mouth feel that I did not enjoy.
  • So Delicious yogurt: cultured coconut milk. More palatable than a soy yogurt that I tried.
  • Soy yogurt (forgot the brand): had one spoonful and did not want to eat any more. Not the right product for me.

I haven’t ventured into the world of non-dairy cheese yet, but am pretty happy to have found a solid ice cream. A few teaspoons full a day keeps me pretty happy!

Being thrown into the world of food allergies

I love food, so when it came to introducing solid foods to our baby, I was quite excited to be able to share something that I loved with a person who I loved. We exclusively breastfed for six months and decided to let baby lead the weaning process as he started to explore foods other than breast milk. We would provide a selection of appropriate food items for him to choose from, and he would use his hands and all other senses to “eat” the food that he chose to “eat”. We didn’t start with rice cereal, as is so typical in our society. Instead, we gave him steamed broccoli florets, a bell pepper, an apple slice, and a strip of steak. The key with this approach is for the caregiver to provide a well-balanced assortment of foods and the eater to control if and how much they “eat”.

It was going fine until our baby experienced some fairly significant reactions to food. The look in his eyes as he scratched at his neck and face is something that I will not soon forget. After that first adverse reaction, we saw our family doctor and he referred us to a paediatric allergist. In the meantime, we avoided the foods that triggered that reaction but continued to offer other foods.

Meanwhile, while we waited to be seen by the allergist, another particularly strong reaction led us to the emergency room, where some Benadryl and the passage of time eventually calmed the reaction; I felt so thankful and grateful that the reaction didn’t continue to worsen. This ER visit led us to equip ourselves with an epinephrine auto-injector. Just having to fill the prescription for it illuminated the gravity of the situation. Heaven forbid we ever have to use it, but better to have it in our possession than be sorry.

Skin prick tests are not the most conclusive in determining whether or not a baby has an allergy but at our first allergy appointment, we had it done for numerous common allergens. The test indicated that he was positive for peanuts, nuts, dairy, and egg. Based on our history, we were also directed to avoid wheat until another test could be completed in a few months.

With neither parent having any known food allergies, we were thrown into a new world. That’s a bit of hyperbole…it’s more like we started to see our world with new glasses. Questions floating through my head included:

  • what can he eat?
  • how will we eat out?
  • how do we best equip ourselves in the situation?

A blessing and a curse, because I’m breastfeeding, I was also instructed to avoid all allergens to which my baby may react to. The curse: Our allergist mentioned that trace amounts of dairy and egg would be allowable for me (no nuts whatsoever) but if my ingesting these products was affecting my kid, I decided that I should try to eliminate them from my diet too. The blessing: Taking dairy, egg, and nuts out of my diet would give me the best perspective in what could end up being the life of my baby. I would be forcing myself to question what I’m eating, how that food was processed, and (I’d get a head start on determining) how to prepare foods without those allergens.

No tip restos

Earlier this month, a restaurant that will be opening in British Columbia gained a lot of media attention by having no tips, offset by increased menu prices and wages for the staff. Servers and cooks will receive more comparable wages instead of the former getting much more due to tips, and for those restaurants who practice tip-pooling, the amount of money each staff member will make becomes much more transparent.

I remember my time living in Japan and how easy it was to become accustomed to not leaving a tip at a restaurant. The general expectation is courteous service and that is how you keep bringing customers into your restaurant, instead of what, to me, feels like an obligation here to leave at least a 10% tip, even for less than courteous service.

A tip is like a little extra thank you to acknowledge above-and-beyond service (or with today’s lowered expectations, just GOOD service). It shouldn’t be expected by anyone. And it certainly shouldn’t become a post-dinner hassle; have you ever had a server tell you that you should be tipping more!? Ridiculous.

I hope that this no-tip restaurant concept catches on in Canada as it has started to do in the United States. I wouldn’t want restaurant fare to become out of the reach, price-wise, for people as we essentially subsidize the restaurant in lieu of tips but at least you are fully aware, walking into a place (or browsing the menu online), of what you will be paying. And if the service is less than par, you can write a restaurant review on sites like yelp or urbanspoon and vow never to return, but you won’t feel obligated to leave a tip. And a clearer, perhaps more egalitarian wage structure for restaurant staff couldn’t hurt.

Stimulating Saturdays: What is ethical eating?

To you, what does it mean to eat ethically? Off the top of my head, ethical eating would mean consuming food that has been ethically raised and obtained. Of course, that interpretation alone in and of itself is open to much interpretation. What it means to one person to be “ethically raised” might not be ethical enough for the next person. However, I saw this trailer for a book (yes…I wondered to myself what a ‘book trailer’ is) that made me rethink ethical eating.

The trailer is for the book, Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman. I haven’t read it yet but it raises a very crucial point: the food that you are eating at a restaurant may meet your definition of ethical eating, but are the people behind the scenes of your food being treated ethically? And if not, can eating at that restaurant still be ethical?

I am not too familiar with the minimum wage situation in the United States but was shocked to see that for tipped workers, the minimum wage is just over $2 per hour. There have also been numerous attempts to have the minimum wage raised, including a campaign by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

The minimum wage in Canada for all workers is higher than $2 per hour but is still under the poverty line and has been in the media spotlight again recently. In Canada, each of the provinces and territories set their own minimum wage. In the province of Ontario where I live, the provincial government just announced that it will be raising the minimum wage to $11, effective June 1, 2014, ending the freeze that has been in effect since 2010. Decisions on when and by how much to raise the minimum wage have been haphazard in the past. To address this, the provincial government also promised to introduce legislation enabling annual increases to the minimum wage, linked to the rate of inflation, that would be announced each year on April 1 and becoming effective on October 1 of the same year. Critics continue to argue that these announcements by the government are not enough to address the fact that the minimum wage is still below the poverty line (for a person working full time year-round). I can’t imagine only earning $2 per hour at any job. I can’t imagine having to support a family at $11 per hour.

So again, I ask, what does it mean to eat ethically?