Monday, March 31, 2014

{Cesar Chavez Day} The Value of Sustainable, Local Food

Eating Local: How and Why We Do It...And What My Sons Gain From It


Today is Cesar Chavez Day, a day to honor and commemorate the life of an important activist and community leader who spent his life focusing on fair rights for farmworkers, civil rights and environmental sustainability. The day is also celebrated by many as a day of service, and I often highlight simple service activities on my blog on this day. A great resource for service ideas is my Celebrating Acts of Kindness Pinboard and the Pennies of Time's Pinboard of Blogs About Service.

Inspired by the commitment Chavez had for environmental sustainability and access to healthy fruits and vegetables for all (especially for low-income families and farm workers), I decided this year to focus on how (and why) we eat local.

How We Eat Local...

1. By purchasing fresh eggs from a neighbor's chickens. 

Even in urban communities, chicken raising is becoming more popular. Seeing if you can purchase eggs from someone in your community supports their chicken raising and is an affordable way to get farm fresh, free range eggs.

2. By supporting a local CSA (Abundant Harvest Organics is ours). 

What does CSA stand for? Community Supporter Agriculture. A CSA makes farm-to-table vegetables and produce accessible and affordable by allowing individuals and families to "join" local farmers by committing to purchase a set amount of fruits/veggies straight from the farmers or farm-share group. Through it, our family eats a wider variety of fruits and vegetables than we normally would, and it means organic produce is affordable for my family, despite a limited budget. 

To find out if there is a CSA near you, visit localharvest.org.

3. Through purchasing local honey. 

I buy local honey from a 100% solar-powered honey farm not too far from us. The honey is certified organic and works wonders for seasonal allergies. (I've already seen this benefit with Caterpillar). It also doesn't cost anymore than most grocery store honey, and I recently learned that often honey carried at grocery stores is "blended," which means that as long as it is 51% honey, it can also be blended with high fructose corn syrup without any reference of that on the label. 

4. By purchasing local dairy 

Since I live in California, which produces lots of produce and dairy products, I try to purchase local milk and cheese, when possible, and prioritize local fruits and veggies when I'm supplementing my CSA box. 
Find out what's locally grown, brewed, baked or crafted in your area and prioritize those items. Need helping finding local food, visit eatlocalgrown.com

5. Through growing our own food

Confession: this one is a wish, not a reality yet. Wild Thing is really interested in gardening, 
so I hope we can start growing some of our own veggies and herbs soon. 

(I'm intimidated, though, so if you have gardening tips or suggestions of what foods to start with, please share them with me!)  

Why We Eat Local...

1. Because the food is fresher, and fresh food just tastes better. 

In fact, Caterpillar only eats tomatoes that come in our CSA basket. He doesn't like other tomatoes because the travel time and non-organic method of raising them changes their taste.

2. Because the food is healthier.

Local produce is picked at its ripest with a minimal travel time. This maximizes its nutritional value. 

3. Because it reduces our ecological footprint/impact. 

By minimizing the distance our food has to travel, we reduce pollution and the use of resources.

4. Because it supports fair treatment of workers. 

Another reason I am proud to support Abundant Harvest Organics, my local CSA, is that I am supporting farmers who pay their workers fair wages and provide year-round work in a humane (and caring) work environment, 
which is sadly not the norm in the food industry, especially with "Big Ag." 

Often, individuals who work in the food industry, especially those who pick fruits and vegetables have to travel from various farms as seasons change. This is especially taxing on families as children often migrate with their parents. 

5. Because it builds community. 

Through purchasing local foods, I've connected with individuals in my community who sell goods that they raise and that also support the CSA. I also love that I'm building community by supporting my local economy. Win-Win.

What My Sons Get Out Of It...2 Big Benefits

1. Knowledge of where food comes from

Through buying local, my sons learn about where their food comes. They help feed the chickens that we get eggs from. They visit the honey farm and taste how honeys differ based on the plants and flowers the bees pollinate.  

2. They try new foods and get more nutritional value from those foods.

Since supporting a CSA and buying local encourages us to purchase fruits and vegetables in accordance to what is in season, we don't get stuck in a "produce rut" and eat the same 2-4 fruits/veggies all the time. The boys constantly try new produce, and I know they are getting optimal nutrition from their produce. Plus, local honey really has worked wonders for my youngest son's allergies. His constant runny nose and itchy eyes are a thing of the past. 

Do you have tips for eating locally? Do you celebrate Cesar Chavez Day? Please share! 

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Meal Planning Made Easy: What We're Eating This Week (AKA Transforming Leftovers)


This week's meals are inspired by a use it or lose it attitude. I selected them based on what we already have, so that I can limit purchases this week - saving money and reducing food waste, which is really important to me. Check out my Meal Planning Pinboard for all of the recipes here and much more!

Sunday Brunch: Gluten-Free Sausage Mushroom Quiche or Breakfast Tacos (w/scrambled eggs, sausage, mushrooms and sauteed greens) and Cinnamon Swirl French Toast (for the boys!) 

We have some sausage and mushrooms already cooked up from a pizza I made last week, so repurposing them for a yummy breakfast seemed perfect. (Confession: my husband already made breakfast tacos with the sausage and mushrooms for himself on Friday night, so we'll be going with the French Toast and scrambled eggs this morning).

Since we're having brunch, we'll probably do some grazing and snacking during the day rather than lunch and then it's leftovers for dinner -- I'll just dig into the fridge and see what we've got left from meals last week and that will be that!

Monday - I never liked oatmeal until I tried overnight oats. Not only is it a healthy breakfast that I truly like, but it's also SO EASY and perfect for busy mornings because you prep everything the night before and it is ready to go in the morning. 

For dinner - Quesadillas and Taco Soup inspired by the tortillas, corn, black beans we already have. Bonus: The Taco Soup can be made in the crockpot! 

Tuesday - Seems like a good day for breakfast for lunch with scrambled eggs and toast. For dinner, Honey Wings and roasted veggies are perfect -- I can cook it all in one tray! 

Wednesday - For breakfast, we're going with Egg Muffins from Conveying Awareness, and dinner is inspired by the cucumbers I happened to have, so we're going Greek: Greek Salad and Kebabs! 

Thursday - I'm excited to start the day off with pancakes (we skip the syrup at our house and the boys don't even miss it). I'm also planning a lunch family outing surprise. I haven't decided yet if it will be a picnic lunch or if we'll go to one of our favorite pizza places.

For dinner, an easy favorite for us with grilled turkey burgers topped with swiss cheese and sauteed mushrooms with oven fries (from potatoes and carrots). 

Friday - Friday morning is our coffee shop morning with the boys, so we often share a bagel at the coffee shop and Friday dinner is Daddy's pick! 

I know I skipped sharing lunch on most days. To be honest, we pretty much graze throughout the day after Wild Thing gets home from preschool, and I often end up making myself a veggie smoothie for myself when the boys nap. 

Our typical snack/lunch grazing items include: Carrots, Apples, Grapes, Oranges, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, Cereal, Popcorn (made from organic kernels in the microwave - details for making it can be found in our P Letter of the Week post), Yogurt (typically plain yogurt with local honey), and (occasionally) Organic Corn Chips with Salsa, Homemade Muffins (usually carrot muffins or zucchini muffins) or No-Bake Oat "Cookies."

You might also like: 
Letter I for Ice Cream!
Kids in the Kitchen - Easter!
Breakfast Matters
Eating Well on a Budget

Friday, March 28, 2014

{Weekly Kid's Co-Op} Kids in the Kitchen With Cute Easter-Inspired Snacks

In April, No Kid Hungry/Share Our Strength launches a national fundraising initiative that is one of my favorites: Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry. Baking delicious goodies as a way to raise funds to help end childhood hunger (which affects 16 million children in the U.S.) sounds great to me, especially as a fun way to engage kids. My boys love baking and sharing their baked goods with others, so doing a Bake Sale for No Kid Hungry is perfect for us. I'll be sharing more about our fundraisers soon. In the meantime, if you want to get involved, check out the No Kid Hungry Bake Sale site - nokidhungry.org/bake. Brainstorming ideas and items for our bake sale, put me in a "kids in the kitchen" mood, so I decided to highlight some of my favorite kids in the kitchen activities from The Weekly Kid's Co-op. 


I love that Conveying Awareness shared a great way to teach children about making healthy eating decisions using a Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light system. Her in action post of activities she did at her son's Montessori preschool is fabulous. 

Keitha's Chaos shared several fun book-themed lunches, and I love My Nearest and Dearest's Adorable Easter Bunny Lunch/Snack

Craftulate also shared an Easter-inspired snack idea with some cute Easter popcorn treats, Crystal and Co. made some very cute Easter Bunny cupcakes (perfect for an April Bake Sale) and Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails shared my other favorite Easter-inspired snack -- her very clever "Carrot" Strawberries

Plus, the Kids Activities Blog's DIY Fruishi (Fruit Sushi) makes snack time extra fun as do Danya Banya's Cheese Monsters. 

Finally, World of Learning gave me several books to add to my library list with her round-up of Cookbooks for Kids that help children discover food from around the world, and Every Star is Different shared Kitchen Inspired Learning Activities

I hope these posts inspire you too! Now it's time to link up and play!



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Happy Very Hungry Caterpillar Day: Celebrating 45 Years with Caterpillar and Butterfly Crafts from The Kid's Co-Op

March 20th is Very Hungry Caterpillar Day with celebrations and programs being held around the world to honor the 45th Anniversary of the book. 


We love The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so of course we're joining the fun. Plus, my youngest son's blog nickname is Caterpillar, after the book. Just as Wild Thing is my 4 year-old's nickname inspired by Where the Wild Things Are. 

Today, we'll be doing another Very Hungry Caterpillar Food Drive. We did our first one for Eric Carle's birthday last June and called it a Very Hungry Caterpillar Virtual Food Drive and loved hearing that the virtual part worked, as others were inspired by our online shares and also did VHC-inspired food drives.

P.S. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Virtual Food Drive post 
also features 40+ Activities Inspired by the Book, so you'll definitely want to check it out.

For our VHC-inspired food drive this time, Wild Thing will be helping me write the grocery list for food items to donate as we read the book together. I've also got some math extension plans for our giving/service activity. A full post with details should be coming to the blog soon. In the meantime, perhaps our previous food drive will inspire you. Plus, I've got Caterpillar and Butterfly Crafts and Activities from The Weekly Kid's Co-Op to help you celebrate Very Hungry Caterpillar Day! 

Click on the bold text for any of the activities below to go to the blog posts for each craft.



Wishing you a Very Happy Very Hungry Caterpillar Day - 
from our family to yours! 


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Letter Learning Through Sensory Play: Letters A-N and Letter P!

Tot School Letter of the Week focused learning worked really well for me this Fall when Wild Thing (4) went to preschool, and Caterpillar (2) felt a little left out. 

Initially, I had a new letter activity basket ready for Caterpillar each morning, and to help me organize and create activities, each day focused on one of the fives senses. 

Very quickly, I adjusted the activity baskets and sensory experiences to work for both my toddler and my preschooler because Wild Thing really wanted to be included in our learning activities too. 

Quick note: we focus on all of the letters all of the time, but the emphasis on one letter each week helped me structure and plan activities. It also helped Wild Thing with his reading and spelling as we focused a lot on beginning letter sounds and identifying words. With Caterpillar, I focus on identifying both upper and lower case letters - not only for the letter for that week, but for other letters he might be seeing a lot too, like p when we did A is for Apple. 

I'm way behind with blog sharing of our learning activities, but am hoping to get back on track with it soon. In the meantime, at the request of some fellow mamas, I've put A-K and P all together in one place, and am sharing a bit about what we've done for L-N too. 


Click on the bold titles for each letter (A-K) to be taken to a blog post with activity details.















K was a little bit of a "cheat week" 

Letter L: Leaves (Sight, Sound and Touch), Lettuce (Taste), 
Lemon and Limes (Taste and Smell)




I haven't blogged about the Letter L yet,
but am sharing these photos from our leaf learning activities.

Letter M: Moon, Melons, Mums, Magnets, Moose and Mouse


I haven't blogged M either, but these photos give a sneak peek!

Letter N: Nests, Nets, Noises, Nuts, and Noses 
(Coming soon to the blog) 

Hopefully, I'll be sharing full posts about L, M and N soon. We've done P already because we skipped ahead and did P when we had pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving. As you can see, learning is fun! I also have a Tot School Pinboard with more great learning and play ideas for toddlers and preschoolers. You might also want to check out All Done Monkey's 31 Days of ABCs, which several talented bloggers participated in and which features tons of ways to play your way through the alphabet. 

Happy Learning Through Play! 

Sharing this post at: Montessori Monday, Tuesday Tots, Artsy Play WednesdayMom's Library, and The Weekly Kid's Co-Op.

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More Apple-Inspired Play!
4 Activities Inspired
by Brown Bear,Brown Bear,
What Do You See?
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Monday, March 17, 2014

Lucky Charms? A Good Start to a Child's Day Shouldn't Be Based on Luck -- Breakfast Changes Lives

16 million children struggle with hunger. Let that sink in for a minute. 16 million -- and I'm just talking about the United States with these numbers. Another way to put it is to consider that 1 in 5 children in the U.S. struggle with hunger. 

Take a moment and think of 5 children you know. Now, think about the possibility that one of those children lives with food insecurity, doesn't always have a meal for dinner, rarely eats breakfast, or (as I saw so often when I ran an after-school program) stashes extra snacks to take home for siblings who are not in school yet and, thus, can't benefit from a school lunch/snack program. 



Today, on St. Patrick's Day, ‪#‎TeamNKH‬ is heading to Arkansas to see "Breakfast After the Bell" in action and talk ‪#‎SchoolBreakfast‬ with Billy Shore, Jeff Bridges and Governor Mike Beebe. No Kid Hungry has focused quite a bit on school breakfasts recently as another way to close the gap and bring an end to hunger for children in the U.S. because they understand the importance of breakfast, as their site says: 

"When a child misses breakfast, his or her chances to succeed in the classroom and later in life are drastically reduced. There is a solution. Pioneering schools have found that moving breakfast out of the cafeteria and making it a part of the school day (breakfast after the bell) ensures more kids can start their day with a healthy meal."

Now that I have a preschooler, I understand the value of breakfast more than I ever did before. I make sure I feed my sons breakfast every morning -- even though he is also given a breakfast at preschool. When I stop to think about that I realize how incredibly lucky we are as a family. Even though our budget can get pretty tight, I am still able to make sure my son eats breakfast everyday. I am also lucky enough to know that if we miss it one morning because we're running late or ran out of cereal/yogurt/fruit/eggs (etc.), his school provides breakfast for him -- for everyone, in fact, which is a valuable way to reduce and/or avoid the stigma that can come with "school breakfast" or "school lunch." 


I think of all of this and I am full...



        ...of gratitude (for what my family has)

  
          ...of sorrow (for kids who struggle with hunger)


              ...of passion (to engage and make a difference)

                    
                    ...of optimism (because I know change is possible).

For me, action always begins with compassion, and I find myself circling back to my guiding word for 2014 -- compassion. I join the fight to end hunger from a place of compassion, of understanding, of love, and I think this matters. I invite others to join -- and to engage your children. All of our children have experienced hunger, but many of us are lucky enough to be able to do something about that -- to feed our children when they are hungry, to splurge and buy a snack or meal when we are out and have forgotten to bring food with us or an appointment or errand takes longer than expected. 

If we talk to them about it, we'll probably all be quite surprised to see how well our children understand the concept of hunger and how eager they are to help others who don't have enough food. Pennies of Time set a bold example when she hosted a hunger dinner with her family as a way to teach her kids about hunger and allow for important discussions about the issue.

This Thursday, March 20th, many around the world are celebrating the 45th Anniversary of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar -- why not join the celebration, but in a way that will help others?



My boys LOVED it when we did it, so we're doing it again this Thursday. Or, if you have children who love to bake, why not host a bake sale for No Kid Hungry or for your local food pantry? 

If you're celebrating Lent, why not ask everyone in the family to give up one treat (coffee, snack, etc.) each day or even just once a week during Lent and put that money toward an agency working to end hunger? Or, just carry around a special change jar for Lent and see how much you can collect to serve others? 

Need more ideas/ways to help? There's lots of them on Stacy of Kid Stuff World's Moms Fighting Hunger Pinboard, but here's a few others too: organize a food drive at your local school, church or other community group, or keep it simple and just call the local food pantry and set up a time to volunteer or tour the space as a family. Want to keep it even more simple? Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, G+, Pinterest or just share a status update/tweet encouraging others to join the fight against hunger. You can also join Share Our Strength and No Kid Hungry's school breakfast effort by making a quick phone call that will help complete their School Breakfast Map. 

Even a small act can make a big difference...go ahead, be someone's lucky charm. Join #TeamNKH by taking the pledge. Get engaged in a way that has meaning for you -- whatever that way is. #BeTheChange 

(Oh - and tell me about it. I'd love to hear how you're getting involved to make a difference, so leave a comment. You never know, your action and words might inspire someone else.) 

Sharing at: Afterschool Linky, Mom's Library and The Kid's Co-Op. 

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Our Favorite Breakfast Recipes
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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Travel and Transportation Play Ideas + Books from The Kid's Co-Op

Transportation play and books about travel are always popular with Wild Thing (4) and Caterpillar (2.5) -- so popular that I've got an entire Pinterest board dedicated to Things That Go!

With Spring Break (or Fall Break) coming up, I thought it was the perfect time to highlight some fun transportation play ideas shared last week at the Weekly Kid's Co-Op as well as some great posts about books that will take you around the world. With these books, you can travel the world, even if you're staying at home.

Plus, I'm sharing my pick of the week from last week featuring my favorite idea for families traveling this Spring or Fall.

Pick of the Week: Pennies of Time's Acts of Kindness to do with Kids at the Airport with several fun (and simple) ideas to make the travel experience better for the entire family and other travelers. If you're driving and not flying as you travel, you could also spread kindness along the way by paying for coffee for someone behind you at a pit stop, having "nice notes" to give to gas station attendants or coming prepared to pick up trash at a rest area or park you see along the way -- leaving extra quarters at a rest stop vending machine with a note would be a fun idea too!

For more Acts of Kindness, check out my new Celebrating Acts of Kindness Week Pinboard. I love the idea of a Spring Break family challenge focused on spreading kindness all week long!


Whether you have a train lover, pirate/water-obsessed little one or an astronaut in the making, these easy transportation activities can all be made with items you probably already have on home -- which is my favorite way to create: Winegums and Watermelons shared Sail Boats Made From Pool Noodles, P is for Preschooler has a cardboard tube train and The Keeper of Cheerios shared a Coffee Can Rocket -- any of these three would be big hits with my boys.


We also love kites and consider them one of our favorite "things that go," so I wanted to share Triple T Mum's Simple Kite Making for Kids and Growing Book by Book's round up of Book about Kites.


I've got a few more book favorites to share. We often use books at our house to travel the world, so if you're staying put during your break, hit up the library and bring the world to you! KC Edventures has a great list of Books That Take Kids Around the World and World of Learning highlights Children's Books for Learning About Maps. Plus, I've got 100+ Books for Transportation Lovers.

Last, but not least I'm highlighting Where Is Coco Going? by Sloane Tanen, my Picture Book of the Day, and one of our favorite transportation related books. Coco practically takes every mode of transportation possible (planes, trains, cars, skateboards, camel riding, parachuting and more) on her amazing journey to a very special destination. The unique illustrations featuring pom-pom chicks and detailed miniature dioramas make this book stand out. It might even inspire some children to create their own diorama scenes -- another fun activity for those extra hours with kids at home.


Happy travels wherever you go -- in real life or with your imagination! 



Monday, March 3, 2014

Top Picks from 14 Days of Loving-Kindness - February's Family Challenge

#Compassion2014 - Putting Life Into Focus


Rather than setting resolutions, I prefer to select a guiding word for each year. In 2013, I chose Abundance (to encourage myself to focus on gratitude and the goodness all around me). For this year, I selected Compassion. After taking an almost bloggy break in January, I decided to focus on Acts of Kindness in February as part of my commitment to compassion. 


14 Days of Loving-Kindness proved to be an invaluable challenge for myself and my family -- pushing me forward in so many important ways. Before sharing my March challenge (yep, I've decided to do another one), I wanted to highlight my favorite posts from February as well as a few words about what I learned in the process. 

  • Embracing My Imperfections - Kicking off the challenge with a reminder of the importance of loving myself and taking care of myself really helped. As parents, we can often put ourselves last, but when we burn out, it becomes impossible to show love or kindness to others. I love the shift that is happening as I learn to love myself -- completely and fully.
  • Loving-Kindness for a Counselor - Gratitude might be one of my favorite acts of kindness. Taking the time to hand write a letter to individuals who positively shaped my life felt really good. It also reminded me of the importance of teaching gratitude to my sons. 
  • Healing Through Showing Kindness + Compassion to Someone Who Has Hurt Me - This post was the hardest to write and share, but also the most important of the series for me personally, one of the most popular on the blog that month, and definitely received the most comments. I hadn't realized that this act -- finding a way to show kindness to someone who hurt me deeply -- would be so freeing. As difficult as forgiveness can be, being angry at someone for years is much harder. I've been transformed by the act and by all of the support I received from readers. Thank you. 
  • Teaching Little Hands to Help - Thinking about how we could extend loving-kindness to someone hungry or homeless helped me realize that caring for others in my community and teaching my children to respect everyone  is something I learned from my own parents and am honored to pass on to my children. 
  • Love Thy Neighbor - The boys love doing acts of kindness for our neighbors so sharing our favorite ways that we do this was lots of fun! 
  • Random Acts of Kindness Week Pinboard + Simple Acts of Kindness Making a Big Difference - I've seen over and over in my sons that something quite simple can really make another person happy. We've discovered the value of including a child who is left out at the playground, saying hello to an elderly person who seems lonely, holding someone's hand, and so many other simple acts that really do matter. I've also learned that ANYONE can make a difference. The week after the challenge officially ended, we went to a nursing home for veterans. I was nervous that the boys wouldn't know what to "do." While we were there, I realized that being there and being themselves was enough. I realized that time is quite often the greatest gift of all

Before signing off, I just had to share a fun photo collage from #14DaysofLovingKindness with a few images mixed in from other activities we've done as a family to spread some love, kindness and compassion. 

From the top: showing love by sharing veggies/produce with neighbors and
serving our community through trash pick up and food donations.
In the middle: showing kindness by feeding our neighbors chickens and delivering muffins and
teaching gratitude through thank you cards.
On the bottom: learning to love ourselves by recognizing what makes us unique --
 Caterpillar + I's shoulder dimples and my signature family trait...(you'll get it if you read Embracing my Imperfections).  

Does your family practice random acts of kindness? Do you have a family tradition connected to helping others? If so, please share in the comments, on my Facebook page or by connecting with me on Twitter. If you're a blogger and have a post, share that too -- I'd love to pin your wonderful ideas to my Be the Change or Celebrating Acts of Kindness Week boards...or maybe both! 

Also, if you're on Twitter, I'd love for you to join Pennies of Time, myself and many other inspiring people for the next #servechat on March 6th at 9:30 pm PST. We'll be talking about identifying need and taking action. 

You might also like: 

Learning to Serve
Loving Ourselves
Teaching Gratitude
Loving Fully