Eating Outdoors





The girls have free access to our yard, but for reasons unknown to me, Greysen has been disinterested in playing outside lately.


So on this day, when they were toes deep in mud and muck and I didn’t want to pull them inside to eat lunch, I grabbed a bit of food and brought it outside to the girls.


This unusual departure from our lunch routine was just the break the girls needed to keep them playing. Their food may have been a little crunchy from their not-so-clean-hands, but they didn’t mind.




Right back to play! Eating outside has been just the thing to keep the girls looking forward to heading outside and keeping them playing.

Picnics are a regular part of our lives, but spontaneous outdoor lunches definitely need a place too.










Discoveries Made at the Farmer’s Market



We are half-way through our Farmer’s Market season, which runs May through September.  At the beginning of the summer, I decided to purchase unfamiliar-to-us foods each week to help add some variety to our diet and maybe even give me some motivation to cook.


While the novelty of cooking unfamiliar foods has eventually worn out, I’m excited that we have continued to try new-to-us foods when we come across something like perrins (pictured above), which we found last week. Other foods that aren’t a regular part of our diet are well on their way to becoming so because I’ve tried to include them more regularly.


Trying to regularly incorporate new foods is taking some getting used to. I’m far less likely to cook foods that I don’t like, and it’s even tougher for me to try to model eating foods that none of us are used to.


Thankfully I have liked all the new foods we have tried, so it has encouraged me to carry on.


The Farmer’s Market has become far more than a place to buy some local produce. This street affair has transformed into a venue for discovery.  This started with food, but soon I was noticing all the other things the girls were taking in and learning about our community.


Discoveries Made at the Farmer’s Market


1. We like most of, if not all, the foods we try. Greysen and Moon will taste anything from the market. We sample foods from other cultures like falafel and samosas, as well as fruits and vegetables that aren’t a regular part of our diet, such as beets, kale, cauliflower (I’m not a fan), and chard.




2. The Farmer’s Market is downtown and amid offices, the library, and the courthouse. We walk around town occasionally otherwise, but not as regularly as during our weekly trips to the market. Greysen is connecting this weekly event to the broader context of our town.



3. Our town – our community – consists of people big and small.



4. The Farmer’s Market is a place to connect with our friends and enjoy the spirit of summer.


Moon and a friend

5. Discovery can happen, even within a familiar routine. I enjoy creating play provocations for the girls and taking them to new places, in part because of the sense of wonder that happens when they encounter something new for the first time. The Farmer’s Market is helping me appreciate the more subtle discoveries that happen in the everyday things we do, the places we go, and the people we see.

Entertaining Children to Eat

food plate


I came across this product while at a local party store looking for some balloons.

There are three ways I can look at it.


  1. Humorous. This is just a silly plate to add fun to mealtime.
  2. Enticing. This fun and interactive plate is a way to get children to eat when they otherwise might not.
  3. Wasteful. This is a silly plate that will probably only used by the children (or as a last resort plate if the others aren’t clean) for a little while. It will also likely take attention away from the food. I can imagine Greysen dumping everything onto the table to marvel at this lady and gentleman.


Can you guess, which perspective I took?


It has been my experience, that our society at large treats  children as though they need to be entertained . . . at all times. From toothpaste packaging, to diapers, to cherry-flavored medicine, children are being inundated with the message that everything they do or eat can be “fun”. Does that lead them to expect that everything should be fun?


One way many of us avoid this is by making simpler, natural choices such as cloth diapers and homeopathic remedies, but despite avoiding all of these choices, I find that we are still affected by the image of the child this portrays. Adults interact with my children with the expectation that entertainment is not just what they want, but what they need.


I see lots of encouragement for parents to make food fun. I won’t pretend to understand the motivation behind this. Food should be eaten because your body needs the nutrition. We need food for strength, to feel healthy, and let’s not forget that it’s delicious. Does upping the entertainment factor of food change the message children receive and change their expectations about why they should eat?  I’m not sure.


Cutting sandwiches into bat-shaped pieces seems to be a roundabout way to “get” children to eat foods. To me it says, I don’t expect you to eat your food the way I do, so I will make it fun so that you will try it.


How are children going to make healthy choices when we are not around if we are contributing to the idea that the most entertaining food is the best? Appearances are indeed important to our appetites. Beautiful food is appetizing. My question is, if we set the expectation for fun-colored drinks and dino-shaped pasta as the standard, how will this affect their choices as they grow?


Did you eat fun foods as a child? How did your childhood meal experiences affect your affinity for certain types of foods?


Developing a Taste for Healthy Foods

picky eaters

Greysen: “Mom, what’s this?” She holds the unidentifiable food from her taco in pinched fingers.

Me: “Spinach.” She eats it.

Greysen: “Mom, what’s this?” Questioning the motives of another suspicious character.

Me: “Beets.”

Greysen: “I don’t like it.” End of story.


Twice. Twice; that is, being the number of times beets have been invited to dinner thus far. The first time they showed their burgundy flesh on Greysen’s plate, she tried them. This time she was not as willing to eat them. That’s two down, ten times to go before we hit our goal of at least 12 times. Technically, eight to twelve times is the range for the number of times a child may need to experience (see, touch, taste, etc.) a new food before they accept it. I say “twelve” just to really give it a fair shot.


According to researchers, Bellows & Anderson (2006), children will need that kind of extended exposure to develop a familiarity with a new food. Once a new food is familiar, they are more likely to eventually try it.


Children’s food preferences fluctuate. Favorite foods today may not be favorites later, but with regular exposure children are more likely to give a variety of foods a shot.


Does it really matter if Greysen likes beets? No, not at all. I am, however, trying to help develop her palette to prefer as many healthy choices as possible. Early childhood is the time for this.  Research suggests that it is in these first six years that children will develop eating habits, including preferences for certain types of foods (Birch 1998).  I often ask myself, what kinds of foods do my children have the most exposure to?


As important as eating healthy is to me, I too have been quick to dismiss the possibility that Greysen is likely to enjoy foods that she already shown a distaste for.  Two months ago (I remember the day perfectly), I was guilty of proclaiming, “she won’t like it” in reference to some cauliflower a friend was sharing.  My unforgiving husband replied, “Marisa, how do you know?” Right you are. As if on cue, she ate it. Even though we had tried cauliflower steamed, stir-fried, baked, cheesed and raw, this time she ate it, and liked it.


As the gate-keepers of foods, we adults wield control over what foods our children may eat and how much of it they can have. We decide when they eat and where they eat. With this power comes great responsibility. We can all-too-easily forgo offering our children foods, dismissing the possibility that they may eat it, or we can decide to put it on a plate (again and again, perhaps), eat it ourselves and wait and see.


On Today's Lunch Menu: Broccoli, Artichoke, Hummus, and Beets


When we eat new foods in our home, there are no demands. The girls are never forced or coaxed to “just try it.” Curiosity most often leads Greysen to try new foods, or foods that we haven’t tried in a while, which may as well be new. She is also HIGHLY motivated to try anything Moon eats – which is pretty much anything we put in front of her.


Where do you find inspiration to cook new foods?  My friend, Kimmy, is inspired in the kitchen by her favorite cookbooks and chefs. I get stuck in a rut so easily thus not consistently offering the variety that I should. Last week was the first week of our local farmer’s market for the season. From May to September, we walk to town and pick some local fare for our home-prepared meals. Last week, the beets looked too wonderful to pass up, so a bunch found its way home with us. Our plan for the summer is to buy an infrequently eaten food in our home each week at the farmer’s market. I can’t wait to see what today’s market will bring.





Ray, J.W., & R.C. Klesges. 1993. Influences on the eating behavior of children. Annals of the New
York Academy of Sciences 699: 57–69.

Birch, L. 1998. Development of food acceptance patterns in the first years of life. Proceedings of
the Nutrition Society 57: 617–24.

Toddler Made Lemonade



Our generous lemon tree inspires us in so many ways. This time, however, we’ve put our lemons to a more conventional use.


Eager for real experiences, Greysen is determined to help prepare foods for anyone and everyone.



We used the only juicer we have – a levered one.  This adult-supervision-necessary juicer gave Greysen the chance to act independently and purposefully. I am, admittedly, tempted every now and then to redirect her away from preparing foods, especially when she asks to do so at busier times. In trying to slow down throughout the day, I realized that no matter what I am cooking, there is always a way for her to make a genuine contribution to our meal preparations.


Having a hand in the food prep, more likely than not, results in several good things – not just for her, but for me as well:

  • She taste-tests the ingredients, sometimes eating them right then and there. This is great when she’s working on the good stuff, but not so much if there is butter anywhere in the vicinity, which she loves.
  • She is more interested in the cooking process.
  • She helps me to slow down. Explaining things to her and watching to make sure the child’s knife is used with care helps me focus on the moment.


Our recipe: Lemon, water, and sugar (yes, GeeGee, we used sugar – organic turbinado, but sugar nonetheless) to taste. Having never tasted lemonade before, she was very content with a very, very sour lemon-to-water ratio.


This juicer was a little too effortless. I’d like to try to find and another type of handheld juicer, one that requires more effort and provides a different kind of motor experience. Regardless, she seemed empowered both by turning the lemons into a drink, and by using the juicer competently on her own.


I’m thinking oranges next.






Our Experiences with Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)


I was somewhat familiar with the idea of baby-led weaning before Greysen started solid foods, but had not seen it first-hand. The idea of infants being capable of feeding themselves made intuitive sense to to me, but I could not help but cringe at the memories of the occasional infant I have known in the classroom who choked on her or his solid foods.


I was not feeling 100-percent ready to take what felt like a huge risk at the time, so her very first taste of solid food was mashed avocado. It went so well that I could imagine Greysen safely eating thoroughly steamed or otherwise soft enough foods with her small but mighty gums. I felt up to offering her a slice of whole avocado the very next day, and so our adventure into baby-led weaning began.


Greysen fed herself right from the start. She brought food to her mouth, chewed, and gnawed tiny bits of avocado right from the slice, which was tricky because those were some slippery slices. I continued to simultaneously offer her some foods by spoon, depending on the type of food.


For us, some foods lend themselves better to BLW than others. Things that Greysen chewed easily included watermelon, broccoli, avocado, and banana, to name just a few.


Here is a video of her first broccoli. It took a while, but she eventually ate the crown.


Greysen did have a harder time digesting smaller foods like peas, which didn’t cause choking, but instead went through her undigested and whole more often than not.


I felt comfortable with our approach to eating, so with Moon we again started with a mashed avocado. Though she was six months old, just like Greysen was, she gagged a bit. I think some congestion contributed to this difficulty eating, and so we tried foods slowly, and always mashed.


Now eight months, she has the hang of chewing and readily reaches for food. We are again offering her whole foods for her to pick up and eat on her own, and we are finding that the same foods that worked for Greysen work for Moon – though she likes carrots much more than her sister ever did.


I attribute several positive eating habits that Greysen and now Moon have developed to baby-led weaning practices.


Greysen has always been capable of feeding herself, at first by hand and shortly thereafter with a utensil. She would often take the one I was eating with!


Here is a video of Greysen feeding herself at 9 months.  We did not have many infant spoons at the time, so she was wielding one of ours.



Greysen tries and eats a variety of foods consistent with what we eat at meals. No need to cook a baby meal and an adult meal.  At eight months, Moon eats foods from our family dinner. We sometimes continue to pull her cooked vegetables or legumes out before we season or spice our food, but ultimately we are cooking one meal for the whole family. This practice has developed some adventurous eaters who are accustomed to eating what we eat at family gatherings or special events.


I also credit this independent style of eating for establishing an interest and comfort in sitting while eating. I think that it is the major reason Greysen is willing to sit while she eats, instead of eating on the run as some toddler-aged children are apt to do.


Self-confidence in knowing their appetites. Greysen and Moon have participated in feeding themselves since they started eating. Eating on their own timetable has helped the girls develop, know, and respect their own appetites – eating habits I hope they sustain for a lifetime.





First Foods Minus the Cereal


Our little family hoorayed for Moon’s six-month birthday with an avocado party last month. That is, Mike, Greysen and I all shared a bowl of guacamole as Moon took her first taste of solid food – avocado! We were all excited for Moon to join the rest of us in a daily experience that we have come to cherish – meals together.

Well, her face says it all. Yes, that’s what she thought of it.
Sitting with us is not new to Moon. She has always sat with us at the table, in our arms, even joining in out chatter sometimes. This time, however, she would try food, so we were eager to see her feelings on the matter.


Why Avocado?
Food, as in most families, is inseparable from meals for us. That is, eating is a cultural experience, a time to joke around and talk, but most importantly it’s just one more way our children become part of our family.

Cup of Water - Greysen at 6 months


We choose avocado because it’s such a healthful food, and also because I am completely biased and think it is the best food of all time, so I was excited to share it with her. With our pediatrician’s go ahead, Greysen and now Moon tried avocado as their first food, and always with a cup of water.  Since Moon does not yet sit on her own, she sits in our laps to eat.


In search of some additional first food ideas, I looked online for a little advice. I came across some helpful advice from the folks at Wholesome Baby Food. Their blog has some great first food recipes, and I find myself going to it back again and again for ideas. I also rely on Cooking for Baby, a great cookbook that focuses on foods for little ones 6 to 18 months.


My experiences feeding infants in the classroom changed my opinion on what constituted baby foods.  I also cared for children from various cultural upbringings which helped me see all the foods infants could try aside from cereal, such as spicy foods. With so many vegetables and fruits for Greysen yet to try cereal was very, very low on my list of must tastes for several reasons.


Reasons I think cereal can wait:

1. Potential allergies


Most experts recommend starting solids with rice cereal because it is a single grain and is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction in most people. Other cereals such as wheat or mixed grain ones may cause an allergic reaction.


2. Nutritional content


Rice cereal is typically iron-fortified but inherently lacks the vitamins that other fruits and veggies are packed with.

Dr. Greer of the Committee on Nutrition, American Academy of Pediatrics,  explains that rice cereal has traditionally been the first complementary food given to American infants, but, “Complementary foods introduced to infants should be based on their nutrient requirements and the nutrient density of foods, not on traditional practices that have no scientific basis.”


3. Ability to Digest

Some parents have expressed some concern over rice cereal causing constipation. Rice is a binding agent and iron can also cause constipation so it leaves a question in my mind.


As with Greysen, we will not be giving Moon any rice cereal or any other baby cereals. Since the avocado, Moon has tried sweet potato, peas, apples, bananas, broccoli and butternut squash. Up next – lentils!


Do you have any traditions for your little ones around trying new foods?

Clearing the Dishes – An Act of Interdependence


What are the best times of the day for you and your children to really take each other’s ideas in? For us, its mealtimes. First, because Greysen is there for such a good chunk of time, and secondly because we are all pretty happy getting to eat and relax together.  I think that is why so many of the choices we make or the goals we have for Greysen are practiced around mealtimes.

As I have mentioned before, I try to offer Greysen the experiences she would have in the classroom, were she in one. Clearing your dishes after a meal or snack is fairly common practice in high-quality group care settings.

In school, clearing dishes or tossing your leftovers in the trash is encouraged. Such practices promote independence and personal responsibility.  Encouraging children to take responsibility for themselves in a classroom setting is really essential to its organization and overall success. Teachers can’t pick up after 12 young toddlers all the time, can they? Well, they do, but . . . back to my point.

I think the same is true for the family. As important as it is to offer opportunities for our children to do things on their own, I also think its important for them to do things on their own because of the impact it has on others. At the heart of it, clearing the dishes reflects a level of responsibility, but in time it’s my hope that this routine will evolve to be an act of consideration for others, in addition to the act of just taking on this responsibility.

Beyond Independence
In contrast to the expectation of developing solely independent skills, I am encouraging Greysen to do things on her own, along with a simple explanation of the impact her actions have on us, her family. She is, after all, not necessarily an independent person, but rather an interdependent one.

My explanations are simple, logical, and often tangible. When I ask Greysen to put her dishes in the bin, I ask her to do so that I can wash them and they can be ready for when she, Dad, or I need to eat off of them next time. This unforeseen benefit of Gracie not using “kiddie” dishes, but rather the same dishes that we use, makes this explanation true and meaningful to her.

This type of comment reflects her connection to the rest of her familiar, as opposed to a comment emphasizing independence such as, “Can you put your dishes away so that you can go play?”

In the book, Next Steps Toward Teaching the Reggio Way: Accepting the Challenge to Change, by Joanne Hendrick, she describes the expectation the adult community (teachers, parents) have of the children in the classroom:

“The high level of cooperation is made possible precisely because of such thoughtful organization.”

At home, “thoughtful organization” in this situation for us means Greysen using a bin that she can put her dishes and napkin in when she has finished, and the consistency of being encouraged to do so.

Clearing her place means Greysen has a chance to:
1.  Do things on her own, which is something she can’t get enough of these days.
2. Take responsibility for herself and her actions.
3. Be considerate of her family’s needs. Though this is a concept she may not yet grasp, she is capable of taking the steps that will hopefully one day lead her there.

Unfortunately, I started filming this video after prompting Greysen to clear her dishes. In this instance, she needed a few reminders throughout the process. Sometimes she clears her place without needing any prompts, other days she needs more explanation as to why its important for her to try at all.

Acknowledging  the Interdependent Child
Children simultaneously need help from others sometimes, and absolutely refuse help at other times. Isn’t it the same for us? To respond to the expanding needs of the toddler in our house, we are giving her the time she needs to do the things she wants to do on her own, and also creating opportunities for her to do things that we believe she is capable of doing.  However, we also respond to the dependent being that she is and help her when she asks.

I hope that the connections we talk about while having breakfast will help Greysen understand that picking up after herself is helpful, but more importantly it is a meaningful way for Greysen to contribute to our family’s general well-being. However, I’ll save this level of explanation for somewhere down the road.

Soon, I think she’ll be ready to wash her dishes once in a while. I’m not yet sure how to start going about this.  Anyone out there do this with their toddler on a regular basis?

When is Easier, Harder? An Argument Against Bottle Feeders

bottle donoght

Late this afternoon while at a baby shower, I saw a product that shocked me. One of the shower guests, a first time mom and woman I know well, was leaving the party. As she was already gathering her things, she attentively noticed that her 6-month-old daughter was hungry. This kind-hearted mom gave her daughter a bottle while she sat in her car seat with a “neat” little product designed to assist today’s busy parent in feeding their children.


Keep-It-Up Bottle Holder

So, there sat the infant girl, bottle in mouth held in place by a doughnut-shaped pillow.                                                                                     
The little one drank and drank, her hunger eased by the warm formula that filled her hungry belly. Her mom was able to politely say her good-byes to the other guests at the party, took a phone call, and finished gathering her things. Nevermind that the bottle fell out once or twice and a passerby popped it back in, or that the bottle had slipped the slightest bit and the baby was sucking on air for some time. She was, after all, being fed.

These things, though, were not the reason I was taken aback. What made me stop was the thought that yesterday was a typical busy Saturday afternoon, not that unlike any given weekend filled with parties, shopping trips and errands – obligations that occupied a busy mother and her only daughter. That bottle holder replaced the need for a parent to care for her child. The two did not spend the time to connect, to bond, to think of one another fondly for a few minutes. I’ll be the first to admit that not every feeding time amounts to a parent and child bonding experience, but that bottle holder absolutely removed all possibility of one.

The Latest & Greatest


Products that “help” parents parent abound in today’s market. The need for busy parents to work and/or stay at home to manage everyday chores, personal lives, family lives and work lives is challenging. Products like the Bottle Sling or Pacifeeder, however, while promoted as “easier” due to being “hands free,” are wedging themselves between parents and children and creating a disconnect in very fundamental parenting. The mom I spoke of previously is a great mom who loves her daughter, but all too often the latest products are also equated with being the greatest, which is certainly not the case this time.

Bottle Sling

Routines such as feeding, diapering, bathing, and sleeping are what make up a baby’s day. These are the very moments infants learn to trust that the adults in their lives will take care of them.
The Program for Infant Toddler Caregver (PITC), a program funded by the California department of Education and WestEd ( a non-profit service agency), trains educators to care for young children in group care settings. PITC produces videos and publishes guidebooks to make recommendations, founded on child development theory and research, for providing the best possible care for infants and toddlers.

In the book, A Guide to Routines: Infant/Toddler Caregiving, Janet Gonzalez-Mena specifies that caregivers should hold infants while they are being bottle fed. More specifically, she explains, “Focused attention by the primary caregiver ensures that all babies will get both the right amount of food and emotional nurturing.” This was the guideline I followed when I was an infant teacher caring for other people’s children. The care I provided for others’ children is the same standard I try daily to uphold as I now care for my infants.

As deliberate parents, it is our intention to make thoughtful choices. What choice is made by using a bottle feeder? The “benefit” of not having to hold your child while feeding her is of little, if any, benefit to a baby, as it robs him or her of the opportunity to interact with the people they love and depend on most. In the end, bottle slings and doughnut shaped bottle pillows have nothing on my arms, and I’m grateful for the memories I have of those times.

Serving Up Independence


At 18 months, Greysen is eager to try to do many of the things that I used to do for her for herself.  To make the most of this emerging independence, I am always on the lookout for new ways in which she can assert herself constructively.  In support of her developing skills, I offer Greysen a small pitcher of water or milk at each meal so that she can pour her drink into her cup.

In this video, Greysen is learning to pour her liquids from pitcher to cup. As she is learning, I offer her guidance. After she has poured her water/milk, I generally set the pitcher out of reach to reduce the chance she’ll play with it. In the first part of the video, you’ll notice that she spills, pours back and forth, and drops her glass pitcher. In the second part, a few days later she has become more familiar with the routine and she pours easily.

Foundational to Montessori teachings, the development of “practical life skills,” such as those developed while pouring your own drink, are opportunities for young children to be active participants in their everyday lives and routines. By incorporating the practical life skill of transferring water from pitcher to cup at meals, Greysen is making a genuine contribution to her care. Yes, this practice also hones her hand-eye coordination and strength, but it also contributes to her feelings of personal responsibility.

Any small creamer would make a suitable pitcher. We bought a glass creamer from Montessori Services, but in the classroom I have used stainless steel creamers that worked just as well, if not better.

My 3 Favorite Pitchers for Learning How to Pour:

1. A Small Stainless Steel Creamer
This creamer is small and lightweight, and since many toddlers first pour their drinks from the wrist rather than by lifting their arm and shoulder, this is a great choice for a first pitcher.

2. Faceted Acrylic Creamer
If stainless steel isn’t for you and glass is not an option, this pitcher still offers the visibility I look for in all Greysen’s dishes. The creamer is lightweight and easy for children to handle on their own.

3. Small Glass Creamer
Though this is the pitcher we have, I don’t think its necessarily the easiest to learn from. Though the design of some of the porcelain pitchers would make spills minimal, the tradeoff in lack of visibility isn’t worth it. The pitcher is a little heavy, and Greysen still needs a little help to lift it high enough to get the last drops. However, I like that there is still a little bit of a challenge left in a skill that she has nearly mastered.