Five tips for raising adventurous eaters

I know this is a hot button issue for some people–much like attachment parenting is for some people and cry-it-out method is for others. So let me start by saying I have no intention of food shaming anyone. I’m not going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. As long as your kids aren’t starving to death, you’re doing just fine.

However, having said that, I happen to have been blessed with very adventurous eaters. I use the term “blessed” because I’m well aware that some of it is pure luck. My husband and I are adventurous eaters, so you could make the argument that we must have genes for very forgiving taste buds and we passed those genes on to our kids and were therefore blessed with adventurous eaters. This is at least partly true. (Did you know there’s a specific gene for super bitter tasters? So some people don’t like broccoli because it actually tastes different to them.) But, baring any weird gene or sensory issues, your kid may have it in them to be an adventurous eater too and you just don’t know it yet. Because The Geek and I do work at getting our kids to eat well. Sometimes we work very hard at it. The reward is kids who can eat almost anything and almost anywhere, kids who eat lots of veggies and love them, kids who make good eating choices more often than not.  Personally, I think all the hard work is worth it. (Plus, I’m too damn lazy to cook multiple meals. I’m not a short order cook, people!)

So here are my five tips for raising adventurous eaters:

1. They have to try at least one bite of everything on their plate, even if they tried it two days ago and hated it then.  Kids taste buds change all the time. Ours do too! And if a kid doesn’t like something on Tuesday night, that doesn’t mean that they won’t grow to enjoy it by the following Monday.

2. They can’t complain about the food someone else has prepared for them. This one is huge for me, probably because I am almost always the “someone else.” I’ve told my kids over and over that they don’t get to complain about my cooking until they’re food critiques for the Times.

3. They don’t have to finish everything on their plate, but if they don’t, they don’t get to eat again until breakfast. Trust me, nothing puts food in a kid’s mouth faster than the threat of watching the whole family eat ice cream without them.

4. You can’t flinch. That’s right, if you want your kids to try everything, then you have to be willing to do it too! I don’t like sushi, but when my kids want to try, I paste on a smile and pretend it’s great. Just tonight we ate at a traditional ramen noodle place and there was this weird egg looking thing in my bowl. I dug right in, ignoring the weird texture. I had to eat it with a smile because my daughter was giving hers the stink eye. Just remember they will model your behavior!

5. And, finally, if all else fails, google the nutritional info about the food. Any time the kids do start looking sideways at a particular dish, I pop open the computer. Many a kale salad has been eaten in my house because I regaled my kids with assurances that Kale has oodles of vitamin K, which will make their bones strong, and tons of vitamin A, which will protect their eyes. Knowing why it’s a good idea to eat something is a big step to enjoying it. Plus, it’s important that kids know that food isn’t just about the pleasure of eating. It’s about feeding our bodies.

So those are my tips for getting kids to eat almost anything. Now what are yours?



The Big 4-0

vision page in my health planner

vision page in my health planner

So it’s almost March which means we’re getting pretty close to May which is when I become an official adult. I realize I’ve technically been an adult for years, but 40 just seems adult in a big way.

Needless to say when January hit and I recognized this was the big year I decided it was time to make some significant changed. I’ve put us on a budget, it’s time to pay off some debt. I’ve been working pretty diligently at my health – trying to eat right and exercise. I get it right some, but I’m still a work in progress.

I’m trying to simplify our lives to some extent – putting the girls on a toy rotation (for another blog), cleaning out closets and getting rid of a ton of stuff. In other words, I’m trying to take control and be responsible and all that adult-like behavior.

How about you? Have you ever made any big changes before a significant birthday? 

I’m Robyn DeHart, AKA Basket-Case Mama, but not because I’m crazy (though really, what mom isn’t?) but because I have a slight obsession with baskets, well containers really. I’m a bit of an organization nut and I love to containerize stuff. And yes, I’m authorized to use words like that because I am also a writer. But back to the kids, so I’m mom to two ridiculously beautiful little girls and I can say that without bragging because I didn’t actually make them. The Professor and I adopted said little lovelies from the foster-care system here in Texas and now we’re a big happy forever family. Busybee is five and so full of joy it just oozes from her. Babybee is a three and is too smart for her own good.

I do some stuff right….

There’s so much pressure in our world to have the perfect life or to at least strive for it. I know I fall into this trap a lot. But here’s the truth, my life is messy, my house gets messy, I’m always behind on laundry, my writing is messy, I don’t consistently exercise (though I’m working on this), I eat entirely too many m&m’s and I’m so not a perfect mom. But every now and then I do something that makes me proud of where I am that day, sometimes it’s only one tiny thing, but you know I’ll take it. So here are some things that I (mostly) do right…

miss_spiders_tea_partyI read to my kids. Even when it’s reading the same I-can-read book that has no plot, and zero excitement. I don’t play with them nearly enough – as in getting on the floor and grabbing a Barbie and using my imagination with them. But I do read them books. And I dance with them. And I snuggle them and get silly with them.

I’ve finally conquered the paper monster. I don’t know about y’all, but we get an extraordinary amount of mail, I’d say about 80% of this is crap (junk mail, flyers, political crap & credit card offers – you know what’s irritating? credit card offers from companies where you already have a credit card – check your mailing list, people). But after many trial and errors for the right process and solution, I finally have one that works that keeps paperwork from eating my house. (for the most part…)

IMG_0941I make sure we eat pretty healthily *most* of the time. My girls get lots of fruit and they eat veggies even if they don’t want to. And they have to try new things, even if the chicken is “wet” (Emily, can you believe Babybee said that to me last week? She is so my kid!) They snack on raisins and trail mix with nuts. I try to make sure that we’re all set for the week with healthy go-to foods, boiled eggs, cut up veggies, fruit, etc.

I learn from my mistakes. I don’t know about y’all, but I screw up all the time, in all areas of my life, but especially in parenting. But I think I learn from my mistakes and try to correct things in the future. As much as I hate it, I do recognize when I’m wrong and try to move forward in a better direction.

Hopefully there are other things I do right, but that’s my list for today. I could fill a book with all the things I do wrong, but I think we put too much focus on those things. Sometimes we need to step back and acknowledge that we do do some things very right. So what are your things that you’re doing right?

My Family’s Favorite Christmas Tradition by Priscilla A. Kissinger

Welcome Priscilla A Kissinger back to PBK!

Christmas is my favorite holiday.  I love the music, the baking, the giving and receiving of presents, the parties and good food—remembering our blessings and why we celebrate.

Most of all, I love getting together with family and friends to celebrate.  If you read my last guest blog on PBOK, you probably figured out how important my family, especially my three daughters, is to me.

In our house, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without some of our long-held family traditions. I worried as my girls grew older and went off to college that some of these traditions might fade away.  Blessedly, they’ve remained just as important to my girls as they are to me.

Some of our traditions have religious meaning—singing “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel” as we light the advent candles on the dinner table. Others are a mix of religious and secular—reading the original Christmas story followed by Twas the Night Before Christmas while wearing our new  pjs on Christmas Eve.

One special tradition we’ve followed every year since my girls were in pre-school is making gingerbread houses. From scratch. I’m talking, bags of flour, jars of molasses, Crisco, sugar, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, eggs, oil and a dash of vinegar. Lots of mixing. Getting an arm workout as you roll the dough. Using pattern pieces to hand cut walls, roofs, chimneys, and more. Puffs of confectioners sugar billowing as you add tablespoons of hot water and meringue powder and start the mixer to whip up batches of Royal Icing. Tables splattered with a mix of candies, chocolates, frosting bags with tips. Lots of snacking as you work and Christmas music playing in the background.

Mind you, this isn’t just an afternoon event. I’m talking a long evening or afternoon of baking pieces. Another day of decorating your building sides and creating fir trees from upside down sugar cones, a special tip and lots of green Royal Icing. Another day of “gluing” your houses together and adding the roofs.

In case you haven’t noticed, we take our gingerbread house baking pretty serious.

It all started when I bought a VHS tape entitled “The Magic of Gingerbread Housed with Cheryl Lesh-Maughlin.” It’s a short video that comes with a recipe and pattern pieces you cut out by hand. Little did I know what I was starting when I watched the video with my girls and sparked our love of house building.

What started out as one simple house our first Christmas season


Has morphed into much more. We’ve made gingerbread neighborhoods, complete with a frozen pond and a sleigh train full of toys.


Being avid Chicago Cubs fans, one year we attempted to create a mini Wrigley Field, complete with mini gummi bears as Cubs fans and a sports bar across the street. Yes, for any Cubs fans out there, you’ll be happy to know we included rooftop seating on the bar and a handicap parking space in the lot.



One year we scratched our itch to travel by creating three spots we’d either like to visit or would love to visit again. This turned into a hotel on the Greek shores of Santorini—complete with brown sugar and cinnamon sand, the Roman Coliseum—with crumbled ruins inside, and a pavilion in Guell Parc in Barcelona—multi-colored Nerds candies provided the fabulous colors Gaudi envisioned in his park.



When my girls were younger, you’d probably find a Jasmine or Belle figurine on the front porch.  Now those figurines have been donated or hand-me-downed to cousins. But the fact remains that my girls still remind me gingerbread time is arriving. One might comb Pinterest for ideas. Another might come up with some outlandish design, which means another one has to talk her back to reality.

It’s a lot of work. A lot of hours. In my mind, that means a lot of bonding time. A lot of singing carols together. A lot of laughing as we reminisce.

We used to start early in December. Then we’d have the house to display during the holiday season. The frosting and gingerbread make a great potpourri on the kitchen counter. Then sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve we break out a hammer and a butter knife to start chipping away. Yes, Royal Icing dries that hard. I’m talking, cement hard. That’s what makes it perfect for house building.

So it’ll mean another year’s creations demolished and devoured. But the memories we’ll have created will linger. My girls will once again scatter off to colleges and jobs in other states. But the together-time  we shared will be priceless.

To me, it’s the reason for the season—peace, love, and joy. That’s what I wish for you and your family this holiday.

And speaking of your family, do you share any traditions that carry on, no matter how old your kids have grown? I’d love to hear about them!

A001Priscilla A Kissinger is a three-time Golden Heart finalist who writes contemporary romance with a Latino flavor. A single mom with three daughters, Priscilla recently earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. During the day she works as an administrator at a major university, and she spends her free time writing, reading, playing tennis, training for half marathons, watching sports and singing karaoke with her family.  You can find out more about her at


The big 4-0

100_2299I’m not there yet, I just turned 39 in May, but that big birthday is looming. It’s funny how certain numbers can freak us out. I remember 25, in particular was difficult for me. I’d had everything planned out that I would meet my would-be husband in college and I’d be married by 24. Yeah, that didn’t happen and when that 25th birthday rolled around, I was in a funk. Silly when you think about it now, but then it was difficult. In any case, with that big 4-0 looming I’m doing what most people (women? do you think men do it too?) do before a “big” birthday, I’m planning all the ways I want things to be different. You know like before 40 I’ll be the new and improved Robyn.

Come on, I know y’all do that too. So here’s my list.

Spiritual – I want to be better about making my spiritual life more integrated into my daily life and not just a church day thing.

scale_upload-lHealth – this is probably the biggest for me and well the same damn thing I was struggling with at 29 before that big 3-0 birthday. (oops, but in my defense I got married when I was 30 and then, well, fertility treatments made me gain all the weight I’d lost in that 29th year…let’s pretend I’m not still carrying that 60+ lb gain around today, ten years later!) It’s not just about the weight though. I’m an inconsistent exerciser. Always have been. Once I find something I like I can stick with it for a while, but if something changes to shift that around, I have a hard time getting back on track. I’m currently in one of the “find something I like to stick with” phase. I need to just get up on my treadmill and get it over with. Also, in this category is my family’s health – I’m responsible for feeding most of the people in my family so it’s up to me to make sure I plan and make healthy meals. I’ve gotten lazy with that the past two years and I need to get back to my meals planning and cooking, it just works better for all of us.

Personal – I’m frump girl. Remember that from My Big Fat Greek Wedding? I love that movie! But man, I could so relate to her when she said that. Being a work-at-home mom means I don’t have to really fix myself up much. I mean I get dressed (most days) and even put on shoes and brush my teeth, but my hair ends up in a wad on top of my head and make-up only gets put on if we’re heading to church or I’m going to a writer function. I don’t even really fix myself up most of the time on the rare occasions The Professor and I have a date. Often because it’s a last minute – my mom offers to watch the girls so we can go see a movie kind of thing. But I would like to make a bit more of an effort with myself, try to look my best or at least look groomed.

Parenting – I think this will probably be an ongoing to-do for me, for all of us, I’d wager. Most parents (the non meth-making in the bathtub variety) strive to be better. We want to be gentler, kinder, more nurturing. I want those things. I think most of the time I do an okay job, but lots of times I could do better. It’s those moments, I want fewer of. I know I’ll never be perfect at it, but I’ll know I’m successful if my girls feel about me the way I do about my own mom.

100_0282The lazy factor – okay I don’t know if it’s just laziness or if there’s more to it, but damn somedays I just don’t even want to get up off hte couch. Granted I sit for my job so there’s that. I’m used to sitting. I like sitting. And some days dealing with the girls is enough to make me want to just get horizontal. But its those days that become a problem – I don’t exercise, I don’t do dishes, I don’t cook, I’m so wrapped up in how exhausted (and stressed) I am that I just sit and let life zoom past me all the while my house is falling apart around me and laundry is eating the bedrooms. Okay that’s a slight exaggeration, but I’m sure you know what I mean. I hope you do, at least, otherwise, I’m a slug and I just admitted that to all of you.

So there you go, my would-be, personal to-do list before I turn 40. Do you make such lists before your birthdays? 

And I have to do a little self-promo because I have a new book out. So let’s all look at the pretty cover together and we can ooh and ahh. You can go here to find out more about the book.


Guest Mom Amanda Brice on Food Allergies

Today’s guest mom, attorney and author Amanda Brice, is covering a topic that literally makes my heart race and my breath shorten as I write this sentence! Like Amanda, I’m the mother of a child with a serious allergy, so serious that a bite of the wrong food could be life-threatening. Living with this possibility all the time is not easy. Thanks for listening to Amanda and for trying to understand what families like ours go through. And if you deal with serious allergies in your household, just know that you’re not alone. –Kieran

“References that include everything from Snooki to Chewbacca will have you laughing out loud.” – Romantic Times

“It’s good, frothy fun. Like a hot chocolate with a marshmallow and lots of sprinkles on top. I defy you to read this book and not laugh out loud. It’s full of wit and humour.” – Bookish Trish from Between the Lines blog

Mmm…hot chocolate with marshmallows and sprinkles… But in our house, that marshmallow will be egg-white-free and the chocolate safe from cross-contamination with nuts.

Reviewers tend to agree that one of my strongest points as a writer is my humor, and I do love writing funny. But I’m not going to be funny today because the subject of today’s blog is no laughing matter, and that’s food allergies.

Perhaps it’s an unusual topic for a blog titled “Peanut Butter on the Keyboard,” but the photo at the top of the website makes clear that kids can make messes. It’s all cute until those messes put others at risk.

Recently Hollywood has taken to getting cheap laughs by making fun of food allergies, the parents who deal with them, and the kids who have them.

Nick Jr. was in the crossfire of food allergy parents this past spring when their Nick Mom programming (that begins at 10 pm EST, so presumably kids should be in bed, but that’s only 7 pm on the West Coast and I don’t know about your kids, but mine are wide awake and watching Nick Jr. at 7 pm) featured a highly inappropriate skit called “Taking the ‘Food’ Out of ‘Bake Sale’” in which a bunch of moms guffawed about how put-upon they are with all these fad diets today. The video in question had a bullying undertone, implying that families are overreacting to nothing.

This summer, the Smurfs 2 movie also jumped on the “all these crazy parents are overreacting” bandwagon by including a scene mocking an anaphylactic reaction to peanuts, a potentially fatal reaction, for cheap laughs. Shortly before a character ate a corndog that had been cooked in undeclared peanut oil (after which he reacted and was rushed to the hospital), his stereotypical helicopter parents, in true caricature style, made their demands clear – his diet must be organic, BPA-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, food-free. The implication was that parents were just making up food allergies – everything needs to be peanut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc, because of overreacting parents. They were not just making sure all the kids in the party scene could eat the cake. They were making sure everyone laughs at the gluten-free-peanut-free-vegan-cake-made-with-love as if to say “how hilarious it is that kids these days need all this special food?!” Insert audience eyeroll here. Ho, ho, ho, barrel of laughs!

Even if the ingestion of peanuts was inadvertent rather than bullying, when did poisoning a child become a comic moment? It was an unnecessary scene, making fun of parents and their kids in what was supposed to be a nice family movie.

I know it might seem like it’s not that big of a deal: “It’s a joke. Relax.” But that’s the point. It’s not. Not to kids who have to deal with food allergies every day. Kids who constantly have to inspect everything they eat so their throats don’t swell up and they die can’t just relax. Nor can their parents.

Sadly, it seems that the only way to get many people to change their mind about their belief that the food allergy epidemic is blown out of proportion is for them to experience it firsthand. Time columnist Joel Stein learned the hard way that it’s real. Having previously written a piece that began “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special,” he blamed the epidemic on over-reporting. A year later, his one-year-old son suffered anaphylaxis to tree nuts: “sneezing, then breaking out in hives, then rubbing his eyes, then crying through welded-shut eyes, then screaming and finally, vomiting copiously at the entrance of the Children’s Hospital emergency room an hour after eating his first batch of blended mixed nuts.” Believe me, this is the worst type of eating crow.

The recent death of a girl at summer camp (as a result of eating Rice Krispie treats cross-contaminated by peanuts) underscores the seriousness. This is why it is completely reprehensible to make a joke out of a kid needing an EpiPen.

You wouldn’t joke about a kid having cancer. Or autism. Or using a wheelchair. So why is this acceptable? It’s not a lifestyle choice. It’s a health concern. A health crisis, I would argue. Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), this potentially deadly disease affects 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18. That’s roughly two in every classroom.

A 2008 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that there was an 18% increase in food allergy between 1997 and 2007, although there is no clear answer as to why. Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. Every three minutes. Reactions to food can range from a mild response (such as eczema, stomach cramps, or an itchy mouth) to anaphylaxis, a severe a potentially deadly reaction.

I know the stereotype is that food allergy parents are overprotective. And maybe we are. But that’s because we have to be vigilant. And we’re not unreasonable. I know people like to joke about our crazy demands, but I promise you that we don’t expect you to provide special food for our children at your private party. We just want to know the ingredients so we can make our own decisions. In fact, most food allergy parents I know are among the most low-maintenance party guests around. Not only do we bring our own food and help chaperone, but we help you clean up afterwards!

As for school-sponsored events, we encourage you to consider alternative treats. To quote the excellent article A Mom’s Perspective: A Guide to Registering Your Food Allergic Child for Kindergarten, is “it really so much trouble to substitute an unsafe pretzel with a safer brand that costs the same and was available at the same store? I wondered how resentful they would be if someone handed their child a homemade cookie baked with arsenic!”

Meet Ballerina Girl and Monkey Boy.


Ballerina Girl is anaphylactic to tree nuts (those are all nuts that grow in trees, such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, or pine nuts – please note that although peanuts tend to be the big allergen you here about the most in the media, it’s not actually a nut – it’s a legume; tree nut allergy is different, but no less dangerous), gets hives from sesame seeds, an itchy sensation when she eats raw mango (although cooked is fine), and eczema from eggs.

Although we avoid all of the above, the ones we are most vigilant about obviously are the nuts. Hives, itching, stomach pain – all of that is uncomfortable and we don’t want to inflict unnecessary suffering on her. But the fact of the matter is that you don’t die from a single accidental exposure, whereas with nuts she could. It is life-threatening.

Even worse, a child doesn’t need to eat one of their allergens to have an anaphylactic reaction; contact with another child or an item that has been exposed to the allergen – such as might occur when a child shares scissor or a pencil sharpener and then rubs his eyes) can sometimes be enough to trigger onset.

Monkey Boy fortunately doesn’t have any allergies. However, he does have a milk protein intolerance and a rice intolerance. (Yes, I know. A half-Asian kid who can’t eat rice. Who knew?) Ingesting any amount of dairy in any form (not just milk, cheese, and ice cream, but casein, whey, and other forms that we have to check carefully on product packaging) or rice can cause hours and hours of severe cramping and screaming, and occasionally vomiting. For months we just thought he had colic. Well, colic is a catch-all term that refers to a baby who screams and you don’t know why. Turns out in his case it was because I was breastfeeding him and inadvertently poisoning him with my own diet. We now diligently avoid rice and dairy to keep him from pain, but thank goodness it won’t kill him.

Ballerina Girl carries an EpiPen because of her potential for anaphylaxis. We also keep pre-filled spoons of Benadryl around. We don’t need to take such precautions with Monkey Boy (and it wouldn’t make a difference anyway, since his is an intolerance rather than an allergy).

Although the word “allergy” makes people think of stuffy noses, a food allergy is actually an immune response – your body mistakes something in food as harmful and attacks it. It can affect your entire body, not just your stomach or sinuses. Symptoms may include:

  • Rash, hives, or itchy skin

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble swallowing, or breathing (CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY)

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic reaction that is rapid in onset and may cause death. When anaphylaxis presents, the primary treatment is injection of epinephrine, such as with an EpiPen  or Auvi-Q.

The most famous food allergy is peanut allergy, but the Big 8 allergens that the FDA requires food manufacturers to list on labels also include tree nuts, eggs, milk, shellfish, fish, soy, and wheat. These eight foods account for an estimated 90% of all allergic reactions.

When a food irritates your stomach or your body can’t properly digest it, that’s an intolerance. Symptons include:

  • Gas, cramps, or bloating

  • Heartburn

  • Headaches

  • Irritability or nervousness

The most famous food intolerances are Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and lactose intolerance.

So…what should we as parents do? For the record, I support food-free classrooms, but not nut-free schools. (Unless there is no separate cafeteria and the children must eat in their classrooms, in which case I support nut-free schools, such as at my daughter’s preschool.) Removing the food completely from the classroom is becoming a more widely accepted accommodation as children with severe food allergies are protected under 504 plans as qualifying under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In an ideal world, I’d love to have all nuts and peanuts eradicated from the face of the planet, but I know that’s not happening, at least in this lifetime. Besides, while most anaphylaxis is the result of nut and peanut allergies, and most other allergies present in more moderate (though uncomfortable) reactions, some children are anaphylactic to milk or fish or shellfish, just as an example. So are we going to pit seriousness of children’s allergies against one another? If all allergenic foods are banned, what would the children eat? Therefore, I support learning to reduce the risk (such as keeping food out of the classroom entirely) and practicing good hygiene (teeth brushing and hand-washing with soap and water – allergens are proteins, not germs, so use of hand sanitizers is not sufficient), rather than outright bans.

However, if your child does attend a nut-free school, please abide by this policy. It was put in place to protect, not to cause hardship. There are many nut-free snacks and lunches your child can bring instead of PB&J sandwiches. recently released the 2013 Safe Snack Guide, which is a list of commonly available commercial snacks intended as a guide for schools, organizations, sports leagues, clubs, parties, play dates, and other events where snacks may be brought in the presence of people with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts and/or eggs.

Peanut butter derives much of its taste from the roasting process. There are a number of other spreads available at the store that use a similar roasting process and taste remarkably similar to peanut butter, such as sunflower seed butter or soy nut butter. Similar doesn’t mean “exactly the same,” so you might need to ease your child into it. Simply mix ¾ peanut butter with ¼ alternative spread when lunching at home, and then change the proportion to more of the alternative spread over time.

Voila! Simple, and it will do so much to help your kids’ allergic friends. Even if your school doesn’t have a nut-free zone, you may decide that you prefer the taste of one of these peanut butter alternatives. And we can all breathe easier knowing that everyone is covered.

Or if you’re in the mood for homemade, I list some of my own favorite recipes on my “Extras” section of my website. Just because a food is “safe” doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. Each of the recipes on my list is devoid of the Big 8 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, shellfish, fish, wheat), so if you don’t have those allergies or have other ones, you may need to substitute.

You see, I’m not just an allergy mom, but the heroine in my YA mystery series also has food allergies. I wrote the first book, in which my heroine suffers a reaction after the villain switches her “safe” Pad Thai with the regular kind, before my daughter was even born. At the time, I just thought that it would be an interesting and topical subplot, because as scary as the thought might be, food really can be used as a weapon in this way. In fact, the book was published two months before my daughter ever suffered her first allergic reaction to nuts. Although I’d done research when writing those scenes, nothing could prepare me for the firsthand experience of watching your child’s face swell, the itching, the coughing, the wheezing, the gasping, and finally the vomiting. There is nothing scarier than not knowing what to do for her or how to help her.

Amanda Brice lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband, a 3 ½-year-old daughter, and a 20-month-old son. An intellectual property attorney for a large federal government agency, she combines her love of writing with her legal career by speaking on basic copyright and trademark law on the writers’ conference circuit. A two-time Golden Heart finalist, she is the author of three books in the Dani Spevak Mystery Series, and has a YA time travel romance series beginning this fall with 1816 Candles. You can learn more about Amanda and her books at her website.

Preschool Battles

Dear Daughter,

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given is to choose your battles. I have definitely learned to apply this to parenting. Here are three battles I will not fight.

1) What you wear. If you want to wear long sleeves when it’s 100-degrees, as in the picture below (no, you did not wear these shoes anywhere other than our house), that’s fine. If you want to wear clashing colors, I won’t argue. I might suggest, I might recommend, but I won’t battle you on it.

2013-07-11 07.55.51

2) Completing your chores. You have chores to complete each day. You have to dress yourself, make your bed, pick up toys, and set the table. I will not cajole or beg or repeatedly ask you to complete your chores. I’ll remind you and if you don’t want to do it, you won’t get your happy face for that chore. No happy face=no treasure at the end of the week. I’m going to allow you to learn that your actions have consequences.

3) Finishing everything on your plate. We have battled with your pickiness since you were 6 weeks old. But you can talk and you can eat on your own, and if you don’t want to eat, then don’t. I won’t make you clean your plate or sit at the table all evening. I also won’t give you snacks between meals or desserts when you haven’t eaten. And yes, if you want a cookie or marshmallows, you have to eat some broccoli.

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But there are battles worth fighting. There are a few things I cannot let go when they come up. So pay attention, daughter, when I say we need to talk because these are the important issues.

1) You are you and no one else. I know you like to dress like your friends and wear your hair like them. I know how important it is to feel like you belong. But when I see you being a follower and not a leader, when I see you emulating less than ideal behaviors, I will call you on it. You are special. There is only one you, and I want you to act like you, not any one else.

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2) You cannot do everything. I know Juliette plays soccer and Fallon swims and Lily takes ballet and Sophia takes gymnastics and Elinor takes music, but you have to make some choices. You may not need down time, but I do. I won’t shuttle you from activity to activity all day long. You need unstructured time too. (And yes, those are names of heroines in my books).

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Finally, dear daughter (3) I will fight when I see you acting unkindly. You are a very sweet girl, but sometimes you push, hit, kick, and won’t share. You take advantage of someone younger than you. You tease an animal. I won’t allow that. I want you to grow up with a sense of empathy for others. I want you to respect all living creatures and treat them well. I would rather you be unpopular, unintelligent, and unattractive than unkind.


Loving Myself: Part II

Last week I wrote about my lifelong (it seems) food addiction and how a plant-based lifestyle completely changed my perspective; I also wrote about my recent struggle with self-doubt and emotional overeating.

Today I want to give a little history to what I think may have influenced my food addiction at the beginning (note: I am taking full responsibility for my actions as an adult, but I DO think there is a family root to this). The main reason I’m writing this second part is because I believe that MY choices regarding food can influence my children’s lives for the better or worse.

My parents divorced when I was 5 years old. While I don’t think this traumatized me or affected my attitude toward food directly, it did split my family into two categories: my mom’s side of the family and my dad’s side of the family, whereas before I considered them all my family.

Growing up, my mom’s side of the family was consistently skinny, many were always on diets, and well, there was a lot of family bickering, talking behind each other’s backs, and just good ol’ infighting. I guess the typical dysfunctional American family.

On my dad’s side, in contrast, all of the adults were overweight, many obese, and some morbidly so. They ate food with pleasure, laughed all the time and enjoyed one another’s company, and because of this, I think I grew to associate food with love.

At home, my mom was obsessed about her weight. In my memory, I never knew her to be fat, but apparently she’d been overweight as a teenager before she went on a soup-and-tea diet that got rid of the excess weight.  There was no love lost between my mom and dad, and she and my stepdad didn’t censor themselves from talking about my dad and his family’s weight in front of me. I had a cousin on my mom’s side who was larger than everyone else (mostly because she was very curvy), and my mom and stepdad would talk about her after they would see her, always about how she needed to lose weight.

One of the clearest memories from my childhood was one day when my mom was sitting on our kitchen barstool in a t-shirt and shorts. She always had lovely tan legs (to my way of thinking), but seemingly out of nowhere she looked down at her legs, pinched the inside of one of her thighs, and complained about how fat they were. Another consistent memory–something she did over and over–was talk about the stretch marks on her stomach from being pregnant with my brother and I and wish she could afford plastic surgery.

So from early on there were a few constants. When I was with my mother’s side of the family (the fighting, bickering side), I felt like I needed to watch what I ate and felt bad for eating too much. When I was with my dad’s side of the family (the laughing, loving side), I could eat whatever I wanted and however much I wanted. And when I was home just with my immediate family, I continually heard from my mom and stepdad about how bad it was to be fat and how my mom was always unhappy with her body.

When I grew up? Well, I got married at 19 and gained about 50 pounds in the first few months of marriage. I guess those lessons of associating love with food continued. On the other hand, I loathed myself for getting fat and hated the way I felt and looked.

About a year after my marriage, I was able to return to Texas on a short trip. I desperately wanted to see my mom (we’d become best friends once I moved out of the house), but I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I seriously considered not telling her I was going to be home. Finally, when it was close to the time we would be traveling, I did tell her, and that I had considered not telling her, and she couldn’t believe that I would be afraid to see them because of my weight. She assured me of her love no matter how much I weighed and I never heard her mention my weight in a negative way again.

As I write this, I’m actually kind of surprised by how my mind as a child interpreted all of this and how great of an affect it had on me, even until now.

You guys, my mom was one of the most loving, wonderful, generous people I’ve ever known. Yes, she had her faults and she wasn’t perfect; I think that’s a given. But it doesn’t negate any of the rest, either. However, like most women, she had insecurities. TONS of them. As a woman now, I can only love her more for those.

But as a child, I can’t help but think that even with the tug-and-pull of the two sides of my family, if I had experienced something different at home; if my mom had been careful not to express her insecurities in front of me and had instead just chosen to lead a healthy example, I think there’s a great chance my attitude toward food would be a lot different than it is today.

Moms of daughters (and even sons), I beg you not to discuss your body insecurities in front of your children or with your children. I beg you not to talk negatively to your children about how fat people are bad for being fat and for not being able to control themselves (not the same thing as talking about how being overweight is unhealthy). It’s perfectly normal to weigh yourself to keep track of your weight, but please don’t let your children see you doing it excessively, and please don’t talk about your weight incessantly.

I try not to do any of this (although the weight scale thing is hard), and I really need to work on some of the things I say in front of my children, too. I want to show them by my example that it’s possible to lead an active and healthy lifestyle and LOVE yourself, despite what other people and the media out there may say.

Because my biggest hope now is that if I can learn to love myself and show my children that I love myself, they’ll grow up loving themselves and one day, when social pressure gets to be too much and they need to re-learn to love themselves, they’ll be able to draw strength from everything I did right instead of wrong.

Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead: The Documentary

fatsicknearlydeadOn Netflix I just watched Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead, the documentary about the Australian man, Joe Cross, who had chronic hives and was overweight and got better by going on a 60-day juicing fast. I’ve heard so much about this film, and I’ve always rolled my eyes because of the title. It’s so melodramatic (the movie poster doesn’t win me over, either). I decided not to watch it. Almost nothing annoys me more than quick fix fad diets, general food quackery, and the people who try to sell you on these outrageous “nutrition plans.” It’s personal–when you have someone in your family who’s gone through an eating disorder, you get protective. I don’t like the word “fast.” I don’t like anything involving food that is extreme.

So anyway, I only watched the movie because yesterday, our youngest son Dragon, a teen, was diagnosed with hives that may or may not be recurrent. The whole idea scares me…he already has a dangerous tree nut allergy and mild asthma, and now, it seems, when Dragon’s core body temperature heats up, his brain gets his histamine levels going and he responds with hives. This is my beloved athlete son. I hate that health issues could stand between him and his soccer dreams in any way. Already his other dream of going to the Naval Academy, where his dad and grandfather went, has pretty much bitten the dust. They don’t let anyone in with asthma or food allergies (we’re still hoping he can get a medical waiver, but chances are slim to none).

When I got home from the allergist, I started reading about other people with this recurrent hive problem that Dragon may have, and it wasn’t pretty. It got me more and more worried. I have to stay grounded and believe that Dragon’s case won’t go that far. You know how the internet can scare you. But one thing leaped out at me in my research: someone recommended the movie Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.

It was a sign. I had to watch it, even though when my own beloved sister asked me to watch it last month, I said no. I had no idea that Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead had anything to do with hives until yesterday’s perusal of the internet after the allergy doctor visit. I thought it was only about weight loss. I downloaded it immediately and watched it avidly because let me tell you–it’s fascinating. It’s also uplifting and inspiring.

It’s not just hives that may get better when you consume a lot of micronutrients through juicing vegetables and fruits: many illnesses can essentially be cured or alleviated. Think diabetes, heart disease, chronic migraines, and a host of other health problems.

The content of this documentary is grounded in good science, too. Dr. Joel Fuhrman was on it–he’s the guy who wrote the national bestseller Eat To Live, which Elise has talked about before. I read that book a year ago and decided that I couldn’t go as far as what Dr. Fuhrman recommends, which is an all-plant diet, basically. But he’s right, and everyone in the medical world agrees: a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet. It’s just that many of us don’t want to commit to that lifestyle.

So, back to the movie, it’s really given me hope that maybe if we incorporate more fruits and veggies into our diet–in a major, semi-extreme way–that Dragon’s hive symptoms might be seriously alleviated. Plus, going from 5% of our diet being fruits and veggies to anything higher can only help. That statistic applies to almost every American: only 5% of what we consume is fruits and vegetables. Sixty percent of what we eat is processed foods.

I never realized it, but I am living an extreme life already–an unhealthy one. I want to flip flop those percentages. I want 60% of my diet to be fruits and vegetables and only 5% processed foods!

As I begin this journey, which will start with purchasing a juicer today–an inexpensive one under $100–I’m a little scared. It’s costly, juicing. But the farmers’ market opens this weekend. I should be able to buy huge bundles of kale and spinach at a reasonable price. And as the documentary points out, we spend much more money on prescription pills and getting better from horrible things like heart attacks than we would if we’d only try to prevent these diseases from happening. And I especially like that Mr. Cross makes very clear that we need to move our bodies. At the end of the movie, he says it’s about so much more than juicing and/or fasting–good health is about balance.

Watch the movie. I think you’ll enjoy it. One thing that struck me was how every single overweight person on it admitted that it’s his or her own fault that they keep choosing to eat fast food and chicken fried steak. Some wanted to change their habits but were afraid or didn’t know how. Others decided that they’d rather die young and happy, so they planned to keep eating themselves to an early grave, consuming truly unhealthy foods because it brought them pleasure. Everyone has to decided for themselves how they want to live. This documentary reminds us that it’s not about the food–it’s really about us, what we believe, and what we want from this one, precious life we’re given.

Do you juice? Have you seen this documentary? What percentage of your diet is fruits and vegetables?

Hi, I’m Kieran. My family loves music and anything that makes us laugh out loud. Along with Chuck, my husband of 23 years, I try to teach our kids that we have to actively choose happiness–and if I accomplish nothing else as a mom but pass that one lesson along to them, then I think I’ve done my job.

My oldest guy, Nighthawk, was diagnosed in kindergarten with Asperger’s syndrome, and now he’s a junior in college; his sister Indie Girl, who’s younger by 16 months, is a college sophomore; and my youngest, Dragon, is in ninth grade. For our family, it’s about managing your weaknesses and wringing everything you can get out of your strengths. And along the way, finding joy.

A letter to a mother

Dear mom I saw at the grocery store:

I saw you there in the cold section, I was picking up yogurt for my family and you were there with your three kids – 2 in the cart and one walking beside you. Your little ones were what people affectionately call chubby, but I want you to know that cute chubbiness is going to change and what happens from there will shape your children’s lives. Your little girl, walking beside the cart, I’m guessing she was 7 or 8 and I’m sure everyone still teases her about her “baby fat” but those eating habits she has right now, they’re only going to get worse.

You see, I was that little girl the one with the baby fat. But once you hit Jr. High, no one calls it baby fat anymore. But then it’s just fat and people will still comment on it. There will be that boy who somehow gets a hold of her yearbook and writes in it cruelly, “save the whales, harpoon the fat chicks.” And there will be that girl who points and tells her that fat girls shouldn’t wear mini skirts. There will be the boy she has a crush on, the one who never looks her way and she’ll go home sad and only get sadder. And bigger.

Mom, know now that you are the one capable of changing her eating habits, of teaching her about healthy choices, fruits and vegetable and no, that doesn’t include french fries. Know that every time you offer her a candy bar or an ice cream cone when she’s sad, that only teaches her to continue to reach for those when she needs some comfort. Know that if you don’t fix it, she will have to, someday when she’s ready, if she’s ready, but that the burden of those extra pounds will cause her health problems and emotional damage that she’ll live with forever.

Mom, I know you love those kids, I could see it on your face, but I glanced in your grocery cart and honestly I don’t mean to judge, but please be careful with those choices for your babies. I know they’re kids, I know they should be able to eat fun “kid food” chips and cookies and every sugary thing in between. But they’re kids and they’ll love fruit if you give it to them, it’s sweet and natural and yes, it can be more expensive, but there is always some fruit in season or there’s frozen fruit. There are ways to do it. And you can do it!

Your window of opportunity is small, eventually this blame will leave you and fall to her. It will be her choices, those things she puts in her mouth. But right now, while she’s still little, you can  help shape her view of food and her body and her health. Right now, you still have time…


That’s what I want to tell them, every time I see moms with “chubby” kids. It hurts me. I ache for those children because I know, first hand, how horribly cruel kids can be and it only gets worse as you grow up. I hope that letter doesn’t make it sound like I blame my own mom because I most certainly do not. Things were different when I was growing up, no one knew much about nutrition in the way that we all know now. Convenience was king and still is to some degree, but we’re having a bit of a renaissance where people are getting back to growing their own food and infusing their daily food intake with more whole foods, grains, veggies and the like. We know more now. And for right now while we prepare our kids food, it is our responsibility to teach them about healthy eating. Of course that doesn’t take into consideration the picky eaters…but that is for another blog.