Smart Parenting
Practical advice about raising children

Eat Your Crusts!

One of my eleven-year-old’s tasks in the morning is to make his own breakfast. As a parent, handing your child responsibilities sometimes means allowing them to do things their way as we work towards the greater goal of independence. This morning, however, I couldn’t step back. After pouring his bowl of cereal, he removed the almost, not quite, empty carton of milk from the refrigerator and casually tossed it on the counter. When I strongly suggested that the first carton be emptied before the second carton opened, he shrugged his shoulders in his pre-teen sort of way, ignored my suggestion and went along his merry way. I decided this was a good time to talk about waste.

Ryan recited several reasons for this habit of leaving almost, not quite empty containers of food. “It’s been sitting there too long….it’s probably sour…there’s barely anything left anyway.”

I flashbacked to my own childhood when my Dad would scold me for the uneaten crusts from my sandwich left on my plate. “There are starving children in Africa,” he would say. “They can have my crust,” I would tartly reply. Respect for the earth and its resources (not to mention a parent’s wallet) is not something we are born with; it is something to be learned.

And so went my lesson on this particular morning. I began with my Dad’s “starving children in Africa” argument. We need to be grateful for the plentiful food that we have, I explained.It is something that we middle class Americans take for granted. Aside from the vast number of people in third world countries who don’t have enough to eat, many Americans go without nutritious food. Despite the safety net in the U.S. not found in some countries [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)] 41 million people in the United States struggle with food insecurity including 13 million children, according to the nonprofit organization, Feeding America. Cultivating gratitude for one’s own food could lead to creating a society that shares its resources with one another.

In addition to gratitude, maintaining a sustainable lifestyle is something that I want to teach my kids. Though I have my extravagances, I do attempt to consume only what I need, I told Ryan. This means using what we have and being thoughtful in buying only what we need.

It was at this point that my husband chimed in. Sustainability is a lifestyle, he repeated. Throwing away something such as a small piece of aluminum foil seems insignificant, but multiplied by thousands, millions, those small pieces of foil would bloat a landfill. The waste we create does make a difference because we are part of a larger community.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013, Americans recycled and composted approximately 87 million tons of material while sending about 254 million tons of material to landfills.  This equates to a 34.3 percent recycling rate. We could do better, and it all starts at home.

Photo by Hermes Rivera

Back to that carton of milk. John explained the resources needed to feed the cows who produce the milk, the energy needed to sustain the farm, the fuel needed to transport the milk. I put it in eleven-year-old terms. Cows make poop. Lots of cows means lots of poop. In fact, livestock emit 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gases and over half of that comes from cows. If we care about reducing our carbon footprint, we need to be cognizant of using only what we need and reducing our waste.

Photo by Ryan Song

Each generation considers themselves caretakers of our planet. Yet for our youngest generation, the challenges have never been so consequential. The habits and values we instill could lead them to take on the imperative role of environmental stewards.

As Ryan watched, I put the almost not quite empty carton of milk back in the refrigerator. At some point I heeded my Dad’s advice and began to eat my crusts. If there is hope for me, Ryan may learn too.

The Benefits of Early Nut Introduction in Your Child's Diet

Peanuts have been taboo in diets for children in the past, but now new health guidelines released by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases recommend early nut introduction in children’s diets.

The new recommendations include adding peanut extract or powder to finger foods or pureed food even before six months of age and even if your child is allergy-prone. Doctors say it is safe. However, whole peanuts shouldn’t be given to young children who aren’t ready for whole foods — they’re a choking hazard.

peanuts with jar of peanut butter
Photo by Adobe Stock/sergojpg

The science-backed theory is this: If these guidelines are widely implemented, the amount of children who typically develop a lethal nut allergy should dramatically drop. Sadly, peanut allergies resulting in death from anaphylaxis are higher than any food allergy recorded. Deaths are rare, but children who have developed peanut allergies usually don’t grow out of it.

The latest national health guidelines are set to change all that by encouraging early exposure to nuts. At this young age, the body is more likely to tolerate a potential allergen than it is to react to it.

The Great Nut Allergy Switcheroo

So what’s up with the about-face when it comes to nut allergies — and everything else? As parents, it’s challenging to decide what’s best for your kid when conventional wisdom shifts so frequently.

In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised parents to keep peanuts out of the diets of children who posed a high allergy risk until the age of three. However, peanut allergies were here to stay and their numbers were on the rise. In 2010, about two percent of U.S. children had a nut allergy, increasing from one percent in 1999, but luckily the AAP stopped recommending this in 2008.

What’s different about the Great Nut Allergy Switcheroo? And why should parents follow this advice?

The new recommendations arise from various studies done over the last few years challenging the banning of peanuts during infancy. This has long been a standard practice in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Some believed there must be a better way.

Introducing Nuts Early and Safely Into a Child’s Diet

The latest guidelines section off children by risk. Infants who are low-risk, without an egg allergy or eczema, and who are consuming solid foods, may be introduced to peanuts as early as six months. Children who are a moderate risk and have mild eczema may sample peanut-containing foods around the same age.

However, infants who are high-risk, with an egg allergy or severe eczema, should be introduced to foods that contain peanuts around four to six months — after they’ve started solid foods and had a doctor evaluation.

An allergy specialist is the best doctor for the evaluation. They will order an allergy test and likely try out a peanut-containing food during your child’s visit to test the waters. If a slight sensitivity to peanuts is revealed, that doesn’t mean the child is allergic — they could still benefit from eating foods that contain peanuts. A child who has a very strong reaction to a sensitivity test may have the allergy already. The doctor could recommend total avoidance of nuts and peanut-containing products.

So how do you begin introducing nut foods into your child’s diet at such a young age? You can do it safely by mixing a teaspoon or more of creamy peanut butter and warm water until it reaches a pureed or soupy consistency. You could also mix in a little of this peanut puree with pumpkin or other preferred fruit or vegetable purees.

Do not let peanuts be the first solid food your child eats. Start with peanut-containing foods like creamy peanut butter and keep your child on a regular intake schedule, such as two or three times every week, over the course of childhood. When your child has moved on to other solid foods, try introducing whole peanuts with a flavorful twist, such as chocolate-covered peanuts or toffee peanuts. It’s more likely your child will eat and like them this way.

Nuts in Your Child’s Diet Benefit Longevity

If your child welcomes nuts into their diet, they also get a delicious nutritional boost. Many kids were told that nuts were constipating and fattening as they grew up, but science is here once again to set the record straight.

Nuts are a powerhouse of nutrition and various studies have shown that the consumption of nuts significantly lowers mortality rates — even in those who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease:

• The Nurses’ Health Study involving 76,464 females and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study involving 42,498 men discovered that people were less likely to die when they consumed more nuts — especially from heart disease and cancer.

• A study conducted by the Vanderbilt University of Medicine, with over 200,000 male and female participants, revealed lower mortality rates, when more nuts were eaten, from “all causes” and especially stroke and heart disease.

• Another study featured in JAMA Pediatrics found pregnant women who consumed the most peanuts or nuts, in general, were less likely to give birth to children with a nut allergy. The risk reduction was at its highest in children whose mothers had consumed nuts at least five times a month.

Parents feeding their children nuts from an early age won’t prevent every individual case of an allergy. However, it is strongly likely that the number of cases of nut allergies will be reduced in the coming years, and the nutritional benefits of nut consumption in the long run are powerful reasons to introduce nuts earlier into a child’s diet.

Parents feel like nuts when they’re trying to decide what’s best for their child and they’re bombarded by contradicting information. But sometimes it’s better just to eat the nuts than to feel like one.

Limitless Possibilities: 3 Ways to Lead By Example for Your Kids

When it comes to teaching children, leading by example is critical. As a parent, one of your main responsibilities is to teach your child how to become a caring and kind, self-sufficient adult. In order to do this, you need to hold a mirror up to yourself and really see what behaviors and traits you want your child to adopt. Here are three things you can do to set a great example for your kids and show them that anything is possible with some hard work.

mother and daughter traveling
Photo by Shutterstock

Never Stop Learning

The Aristotle quote is true. The more that you know, the more you realize you don't know, but that's all the more reason seek new knowledge in any way that you can. A commitment to learning will not only help you continue to expand your mind and grow intellectually, but it is also great exercise for your brain. By learning new things frequently, you can keep your mind sharp and nimble as you age, and even possibly counteract the natural slowing of your brain's processing speed over time.

By setting the example for your kids that learning new things is as a lifelong experience, you can show your kind the value of learning a variety of skills and the overall value of education. This can help strengthen your child's commitment to his or her own studies from childhood through adulthood.

To put this into practice, all you have to do is devote some time to learning about a new subject or a new skill. It can be as simple as learning a new hobby like how to knit or as complex as learning another language. You can take classes at a local college or university or simply teach yourself by trial and error after watching a few YouTube tutorials. Do whatever works best for your learning style and busy schedule. It doesn't matter how you approach learning new things, the most important part is simply doing the work and challenging yourself.

Run Your Own Business

Another way that you can help your child realize their limitless potential is by running your own business. While these two subjects may seem unrelated, they are not. The fact is that by being exposed to business owners and the challenges and triumphs that come with having your own business, your child can cement the understanding that they can do anything they set their mind to as long as they are diligent and determined.

So if you have always wanted to start your own company, do it. Be as transparent as possible to show your child an age-appropriate, realistic perspective of the work that goes into getting a business off the ground. You could even follow a more established framework and start your own franchise or network marketing business with a company like Amway.

See the World

Travel is the ultimate education. By exploring the world, you can step outside of your comfort zone and learn how to thrive in an unfamiliar environment. From the language and culture to the food and the landscape, exploring other countries is a great way to expand your family's horizons and gain an appreciation for your own daily opportunities. You can see how local people live and work and in many cases even happily thrive with much less than the typical American middle-class family expects to have.

As a mom, wife, writer, runner and amateur chef, adventure is the name of the game for Allison. When she’s not exploring with her toddler, she’s researching her next family vacation, trying to answer the never-ending question of what to make for dinner or taking some me time on her yoga mat.

5 Tips for Doing Household Chores With a Baby

My apartment is a mess. Most new parents have messy houses, but I feel like ours is especially chaotic. Granted, both my husband and I work full-time and I just finished my undergrad within the last month. However, it is important that my son has a clean and safe living space. While my son is only a little under three months old, he is starting to scoot on his stomach—crawling isn’t all that far away. While we want to move into a house eventually, we will need to baby-poof and clean everything in our current space. I’m planning to share a before-and-after of cleaning and organizing my apartment. To do that, I need to actually clean. It’s overwhelming to know where to start, especially when my little one wants Mommy-R time. Here are a few tips on getting chores done as a new parent.

You can fold towels during nap time or your lunch break. Photo by Pixabay/Stevepb.

A little at a time

I like to throw myself into projects full-force. When I make a lifestyle change, I want to switch everything overnight, but that’s not usually realistic. Break your larger chore list (such as organizing the living room or cleaning the bathroom) into smaller tasks. You will feel much less disappointed about not completing your to-do-list if you turn your chores into smaller and more attainable jobs.Try creating a list of tasks that should be done daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonally.


Everyone says to sleep when your child sleeps. As much as I enjoy sleeping, my body doesn’t always allow me to fall asleep when he’s laying down. If I can’t rest while he is in blissful sleep, I tackle some projects (or spoil myself with a longer-than-5-minute shower). The other night, he fell asleep around an hour before his normal bedtime, but I wasn’t able to fall asleep. Instead, my husband and I cleaned some trash from the living room and worked on cleaning up messes in the kitchen. Just make sure to keep an ear out your child wakes up.


Sometimes R doesn’t want to be put down. He craves attention and interaction, and I love spending time with him after work or on weekends. My solution to getting small tasks done while also interacting with him is to set him in a baby carrier and have him rest against my chest. I can keep an eye on him (and give him kisses whenever I want), but can also keep my hands free. The key to doing this successfully is to use safe practices and common sense. I’m careful not to do a whole lot of bending or lifting heavy objects while I’m wearing him, because my center of gravity is a tad off.

Lunch break

I’m lucky enough to work close to home. I usually go home for an hour during my lunch break and tackle a small project. The other day, I, somewhat successfully, tried to clean the carpets. Other days, I work on dishes or hanging clothes in the closet. I normally just warm up some leftovers or eat snacks at my desk during the work day to fill me up. I recommend doing some less-messy tasks during your lunch break, so you won’t waste time by changing clothes before you return to work.

Set your child nearby, but talk to them.

If your baby is content, you may be able to place them in a bassinet (or playpen, bouncer, playmat, etc) in the same room that you are working in. For example, I place R in his bassinet while I’m putting clothes away in our room, or put him in his swing when I’m clearing up messes in the living room. I make sure that I interact with him—although I’ve been guilty of just having him watch Sesame Street while I multitask in different rooms. I narrate what I’m doing or turn on music and sing/dance for him. He thinks it’s a hoot when I sing and sway while hanging clothes on the hangers.

What tricks do you use to clean with a child? Tweet your tips to @MLC_Consulting, and I will share your helpful tips with other busy parents!

Marissa is a Digital Content Assistant for Ogden Publications, a freelance digital marketing consultant, and a new mother. In her free time, she enjoys snuggling her son, learning to sew, and spending copious amounts of time on Pinterest.

4 Tips for Connecting Your Kids with Nature

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, cites that children today are becoming more and more removed from the outdoors and nature, which comes at the expense of their physical and psychological well-being. Instead of spending time outdoors, kids are spending most of their time in structured environments or behind an illuminated screen. Louv shares that nature has extraordinary benefits, some of which include improved concentration, exercise, and greater ability to engage in creative play. Spending time in nature is even able to an aid in mental illness, particularly depression and ADHD. Furthermore, kids who spend more time outdoors are said to develop better coordination and motor fitness, as well as greater mental acuity, sustained intellectual development and inventiveness. Unplug and spend more time out in nature with these tips.

family enjoying nature
Photo by Shutterstock.

Make Time for Outdoor Play

Make it a priority to make time for outdoor play. This can be as simple as nightly or weekly outdoor walks on a nearby trail or neighborhood green space. Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that kids spend, on average, 45 hours behind a screen each week. Your kids need a break from all of that screen time. And chances are, you do too. Take a frisbee along on your walk or non-tech toys that can inspire creative play.

Foster Curiosity

In this case, it’s a good thing to be curious. Inspire curiosity by showing your own excitement for nature and the outdoors. Consider starting a backyard garden. Even if you’ve never tried your hand at gardening and don’t quite fancy yourself as having green thumb, this outdoor hobby can allow you and your child to learn, grow and discover answers to questions that you didn’t know before. A garden also gives you the opportunity to teach your child about food.

Seek Out the Outdoors and Visit Often

Pick a nature spot, any spot, and return to it every so often. Doing so allows you and your child to observe the changing of the seasons and cycles of life. Take a trip to the country or find a green space near your home to try this out. Visiting the same fishing hole every three months or so can do the trick. Pack up your fishing gear, apply the sunscreen and head out to nature. This can allow for repetitive sensory stimulation that can give children a more connected feeling to nature.

Nature Sense

Ignite the senses on your family nature walk. Whether a leisurely walk in the park or a moderate hike on the trail, use this time spent outdoors to discuss the five senses: sound, sight, touch, smell and taste. Take a moment every few minutes to ask your child what they sense in that particular spot. It could be hearing the sound of birds chirping or touching a smooth, round rock.

Remember, not all time spent outdoors has to be a lesson or a learning experience. Introduce your child to the wonders of nature first, then start creating learning experiences. It is critical to make time for unstructured outdoor play. Let your kids be kids. Let your son dip his toes into a cold creek. Allow your daughter to get mud on her boots. Let your children pick flowers. Let them explore all that nature has to offer.

Lauren Topor full-time freelance writer and alumna of Arizona State University. Her professional work has appeared in a variety of publications from lifestyle mags to business websites. Follow Lauren on Twitter @laurentopor.

How to Identify and Treat Childhood Eczema

Photo by SocialMonsters

From itchy skin to red rashes, atopic dermatitis affects between 10 to 20 percent of all children, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). This common childhood skin condition tends to appear before children reach the age of five, and for some, it disappears by age 10. About 60 percent of kids never grow out of it and struggle with flare-ups for life.

The condition really affects quality of life for both parent and child. Itchy and irritable skin makes simple actions like dressing and sleeping painful. School-aged children with atopic dermatitis are also at greater risk for developing psychological difficulties and self-consciousness, affecting both academic and social development.

As a parent, arming yourself with knowledge about this skin problem can help your child battle the disease. Proper treatment can make it manageable.

What Is Eczema?

Eczema is a skin disease that manifests in various forms. The most common form affecting children is atopic dermatitis. A genetic history of allergies, asthma or hay fever can make children more prone to eczema.

Although medical experts are not certain about the cause of condition, it is suspected the disease is a result of the immune system overreacting to irritants. Common irritants that trigger eczema flare-ups include:

• Allergies to foods, pet dander or environment • Overheating
• Stress
• Colds or other infections
• Contact with abrasive materials

How to Spot Eczema

If a child develops eczema, one of their most noticeable symptoms will be itchiness. Sometimes itchiness begins even before rashes are formed. Red rashes most commonly appear on the backs of the knees or elbows or on the face. Hand rashes can also occur on occasion.

The appearance of eczema varies by person. One child may develop raised bumps and pimples that burst and ooze. Another child may have thickening skin that looks dry and cracked. Most people with eczema notice inflammation.

What to Do When You Suspect Eczema

First, have your child’s diagnosis confirmed by a doctor. A doctor can typically diagnose the skin disease by asking questions and examining the rash. Your doctor may make recommendations for home treatment such as a bleach bath or, if the eczema is severe, offer prescription medications. They may ask you to regularly follow up when your child has flare-ups since the skin condition can worsen and become infected.

Once eczema is confirmed, you can take several steps to help relieve your child’s symptoms.

Natural Eczema Relief

Managing childhood eczema is often possible through simple home remedies and care strategies — like dressing your child in softer clothing and soothing the skin through topical treatment.

Moisturize the Skin

A common symptom of eczema is dry skin. Moisturizing with baby lotion or a lotion designed for small children can relieve itchiness and help heal rashes. Aquaphor Healing Ointment works great as daily moisturizer and doubles as diaper rash cream. Humidifiers can also provide a moist environment for the skin.

Opt for Therapeutic Cleansing

Doctors often recommended diluted bleach baths for treatment of eczema. As another option, many doctors recommend CLn BodyWash. It bottles up the most important ingredient of a bleach bath, sodium hypochlorite, into a gentle, clinically proven and non-drying cleanser. It's a safe alternative for cleaning red, itchy, dry or flaky skin while also being free of steroids, antibiotics, parabens, and triclosan.

Avoid Irritants

Sometimes eczema has an obvious trigger — your child develops a rash after petting a dog or after wearing a particular sweater. Identify triggers and then avoid them.

Stick with Cotton

Clothing comes in contact with your child’s skin the most, so stick to organic cotton material. Other materials, even if they seem soft, can be irritating to the skin. Choose cotton for bedding, towels and other fabrics your child touches regularly.

Switch to Coconut

Coconut oil can be soothing if applied to directly to skin affected by eczema. This healthy ingredient contributes to skin care overall because its proteins promote cellular health and tissue repair. Coconut oil may even prevent or reduce some eczema flare-ups.

Keep Your Child Cool

Overheating and sweating can exacerbate or perpetuate eczema flare-ups. Keep your child cool by dressing them in layers. Keep them away from radiators and sunny windows at school, and make sure they take lukewarm baths. You can also use cool washcloths to soothe itchy rashes.

Eczema is manageable with some knowledge and natural remedies. As a parent, you can help your infant or child identify symptoms and ways to address them.

A lifelong learner, Bethany McIlrath is curious by nature. Researching diverse topics in order to explain them to others through her writing is both a hobby and a career.

Winter Activities for Kids

Photo by iStock

It can sometimes be difficult to come up with creative and simple holiday activities for kids that are eco-friendly as well. The important thing to remember is that it’s not impossible and may simply require a little out-of-the-box thinking. Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying these eco-friendly holiday activities with your kids.

Make Jewelry by Reusing Bread

This concept is likely one you haven’t heard of, but it’s a gem. You can use bread, lemon juice and glue to make beads that are like air-dry clay. After the beads have dried, paint them and string them to make a necklace or a bracelet that is eco-friendly and cute.

These bread beads can be made anytime of the year and are great for making seasonal jewelry or fun friendship gifts for school. To make the beads for Christmas time, use red and green paints or even paint snowy scenes or Christmas trees on the beads.

While you’re making them with your kids, remember to point out that you aren’t wasting the old bread by throwing it away, but are reusing and recycling it instead.

Make Amish Friendship Bread

The Amish Friendship Bread recipe is one of the most popular recipes available. The recipe is symbolic of one of the main Amish values: community. Someone makes a friendship bread starter for the recipe and shares a portion of it with a friend, so they make their bread using the same starter. This recipe reminds you that everyone is connected in one way or another and everyone has something to contribute.

Transform Magazines Into Paper Snowflakes

Making paper snowflakes is a holiday tradition in some homes. It’s a simple and fun activity to do with kids of almost any age, and it creates beautiful results. You can turn this craft into an eco-friendly one by using magazines, newspapers and other papers to make the snowflakes.

Once the snowflakes are finished, you can string them up to make a fun holiday banner or tie a loop of string to the top and let your kids hang them on the tree. Get creative and enjoy the process!

Make Your Own Snow Globes

Recycle glass jars into creative and fun snow globes with your kids. Once the bottles are clean and dry, you add a little Styrofoam to the lid and build your snow globe scene on top of that so it’s visible when the snow globe is put together.

Add in distilled water, glycerin and glitter before gluing the jar shut. Be sure to let everything dry before flipping it over or shaking it. The end result is magical and a great reminder to your kids that recycled things can be beautiful.

Bake an Edible Gingerbread Terrarium

Making a terrarium is always a fun idea, but making an edible gingerbread terrarium with a special holiday scene is even more exciting. Start with clean glass jars. Whip up and cool a gingerbread cake. Your kids can help you make the batter for added fun.

Once the cake is cool, let your kids crumble it up into the glass jars to make an even layer of “dirt.” Get creative with the materials you use to create the scenes. For example, coconut can be fluffy snow, animal crackers can be reindeer and sprigs of rosemary can be beautiful mini-trees. Leave it to your kids and their imaginations to create something festive and fun.

Remember that holiday crafts can be both kid-friendly and eco-friendly without taking much time or requiring many materials. Come equipped with your imagination and your desire to have fun and make memories with your kids — and the rest will take care of itself.

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