Being at home with both Sophia and Grace over the last few weeks has made us have to be re-think screen time. With Luke and I still trying to work, it means that at times we have to rely on screens to keep the girls occupied. And while sometimes all they want to do is watch Frozen or another Disney princess movie, we have been trying to balance that with being able to watch and engage with shows or games that are educational too.
One of the most helpful things for us has been the list of recommendations I’ve gathered from friends and family and Grace’s pre-school for great educational programs, games and shows for kids. With the focus of most of these online resources being on literacy and maths, it has been great for building on the things the girls have been learning at school and at pre-school. There have also been some really fun activities such as visiting some of the world’s best museums virtually or story time online that has entertained the girls and allowed them to learn at the same time.
I know there are countless parents out there in the same boat right now so I thought I’d collate the most popular sites that parents can check out, based on the recommendations I’ve been using during isolation. There’s a great mixture of learning tools, shows and games so hopefully it makes navigating screen time a little easier.
There’s a mixed bag on this list, with the majority focusing on reading and writing and maths. There are different levels with most of the programs so they’re suitable for different ages. Some require sign up whereas others you can just launch straight into the program or games. Hopefully there’s something here that you and your kids will approve of.
YouTube: more than just cat videos! There are some really good educational channels to check out on this platform. While you can find virtually anything on YouTube, I’ve found most of the kids’ channels are great for science and geography content as you can check out everything from sharks and dinosaurs to doing experiments and profiling different countries around the world. I’ve listed a few below but a quick search based on subject matter will unearth plenty of options.
As most mums can probably attest pulling together an outfit is low on the priority list when you’ve got a busy day ahead of you. The aim is just to get out the door fast! I know for myself that when I’m in mum mode with Sophia and Grace I need to be comfortable first and foremost and my outfit needs to be able to withstand whatever the girls may throw my way. This is why I’ve managed to refine my mum style staples down to a few key pieces so I can just go into auto pilot mode on any given day. Here’s what I can’t live without…
A roomy tote
For me a big bag is essential and I always like to carry a tote as it gives me plenty of room to carry my essentials and the girls’ too. I have lots of different types – from super casual to slightly more dressy – depending on where I’m going.
I love workout gear when I’m with the girls. If I’m going to a class with one of the girls or doing the school run then I can’t go past my Nike sneakers and Lululemon leggings. I live in both! It’s really easy to pull together and you can’t beat it for comfort level.
I always carry a pair of sunglasses with me but I make sure that I leave any delicate, flimsy pairs at home. My sunnies are guaranteed to be thrown around in my bag or the girls will want to play with them so I prefer to wear the style that’s made of a thicker acetate so they’re not easily breakable.
If I’m running around then I’ll always opt for sportswear otherwise you’ll usually find me in lots of t-shirts and singlets paired with a good pair of jeans. They’re both definite mum style staples. I highly recommend splurging on a pair of jeans that can withstand lots of wear and tear because if you’re like me you’ll wear them to death. I also have lots of great knits throughout winter and will wear a big anorak/parka style jacket which I can easily throw on and can be popped into the boot of my car without too much fuss.
Heels are strictly reserved for nights out or for work events. I wear flats whenever I’m with the girls. I’ll usually wear white sneakers, which have become a core part of my mum shoe wardrobe or if I need to be a little more dressed up then I’ll wear my slides or loafers which are comfy yet still look polished.
As we keep hearing these are unprecedented times and I’m sure most parents can attest that parenting in self-isolation and being with your children 24/7 during a pandemic is not something any of us were prepared to do. While there are definitely some beautiful upsides to being able to spend quality time with our kids, much more than we ever though we’d be able to do, it is undoubtedly a tough, exhausting and draining road ahead. I reached out to a friend of mine, who is a registered psychologist and co-founder of The Bumpy Road, a practice that specifically works with mothers on issues such as motherhood, relationships, parenting and career for some tips on how to navigate this time. I’m sharing what she told me below.
How can parents maintain balance when at home with their kids for what seems to be for the next few weeks/months?
We need to pace ourselves and importantly lower our expectations. We have been thrown the world’s biggest curve ball and need to recognise that this is a big adjustment ‘so we may need some time to find our groove. At this stage most of us are still trying to figure out what ‘balance’ looks like with some days working out better than others. It is likely impossible to merge all responsibilities of our pre-COVID and post-COVID worlds so I would start with:
1. Prioritising what is important right now—that may be work, getting the kids established in routine educationally or trying to palm off as many responsibilities as possible to help soothe the angst within the household as we all know that it is difficult to do anything from a distressed state of mind.
2. Work out how those priorities can be met—acknowledge and build acceptance of what has to be let go of and timetable your day and allocate your resources to top line priorities
3. Work on the foundation of home, household and family that are going to get you there. For example non-negotiable exercise in the morning, food shop and prepared meal purchases/planning, (virtual) connection with those outside the house.
How can parents ease the pressure to be productive and fill their kids’ days with endless activities?
Ah, this is a work in progress in my house. We need to recognise that this is a HUGE shift for the kids too and they have not been in a situation with so much unstructured time with no book ends. We need to gradually condition them to having less parental availability and engagement (perhaps compared to the pre-COVID world).
For preschool and older kids, establishing a routine and involving them in what that routine looks like for the day, what (directed AND self directed) activities they would like to do. Choose things that they are familiar with and can accomplish on their own e.g. lego/play-doh/colouring in may be appropriate to the younger ages and then also agree to time where you will actively participate with them. Unfortunately you are likely going to have to relax your standards on screen time if the demands of kid and works keep colliding and you need to steal those longer stretches to give to your work or home tasks that are non-negotiable. It’s a constant of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ at the moment.
What are some ways to ease the guilt for parents who are trying to juggle working and caring for their kids at home and feeling like they’re not doing both very well?
It’s important to realise that the way we think about a situation i.e. the mindset, plays a significant role in defining our perception of a situation. So whilst COVID is providing us all with significant hurdles, guilt is a feeling which is often magnified by unhelpful thinking. For example if we fail to adjust our expectations of what can/should be achieved at work, we are likely going to experience anguish about work output or our parenting capacity.
It is very important to acknowledge this change in circumstance and be conscious about our expectations at both work and home. The fact that we are turning up to both in a 50 per cent capacity is not an inditement of you. These are significant responsibilities, or if we can call them ‘jobs’ and all of a sudden for circumstances beyond us, we are required to do them in tandem. The difficulty is not because you are failing – make sure you do not fall into the pitfall of interpreting this mammoth challenge as a personal failure. Simply pick up the phone and call a friend and you will see that we are all in this together, in this world and the best we can do is the best we can.
What are some coping strategies when parents may be feeling overwhelmed and just a little over it?
Wherever possible connect with you support group and prioritise self care. You are an important cornerstone and it is important to put your needs first so that you can meet the demands around you.
This may look like a quick FaceTime from the car or an online exercise program for 15 minutes in the morning. The micro top ups is where you are going to find the resources which help re-energise and give you the boost to get your momentum for your next challenge.
What are some of your tips to help getting through each day of isolation with kids a little easier?
Make sure you are prioritising connection with your kids. The more connected you are the safer the kids will feel and the more cohesion you are likely to feel. This is an investment that pays dividends in so many ways and will help improve your navigation through each day.
Involve your kids in setting a plan for the day – the more involved they feel the more engaged they will be and the less arguments you are likely to face
Be realistic about what is achievable – whether that’s balancing work and kids, play and household or kid vs adult time. It’s a balancing act
Make sure you are active – this may be alone or combined with the kids. This is a non-negotiable
Make sure your kids are connecting with others too via the phone, video conference, letter writing or even emoji sending. This way they may feel less reliant on you to fill their cup.
What should parents do when faced with endless questions or complaints from their kids as to why they can’t do the things they usually do?
It’s important to keep finding age appropriate ways to communicate the circumstances of COVID. Make sure you continue to ask them if they have any questions. Point out differences that they may be able to observe e.g. less traffic, shops closed, playgrounds closed etc. It is important not to stoke anxiety but ensure that they build an understanding of this first in a lifetime and abstract event.
How can parents help their children through such a big upheaval in their routine?
With compassion and patience. Given the COVID virus is not visible, it takes quite a lot of cognitive gymnastics for children to really embed an understanding of what is happening in the world. Whilst our ‘normal’ routines have been changed abruptly, it is important to create new routines for example rituals at the dining table, a board game before bedtime, having a dance together at morning tea time – whatever is age appropriate. This will help give them some new anchors and is an opportunity to use this time as time to connect with your kids even though you may be more time poor than ever.
What should every parent aim to have in their emotional/mental survival kit to help getting through this time easier?
Given we are so physically restrained, many of these tools relate to the way in which we look at our circumstance. Here are some examples of important ways to optimise your wellbeing through the way you think.
A motto of ‘good enough is good enough’… more then ever we need to embrace this now
Find ways to catch and reframe negative thinking e.g. This is a disaster – changed to – This is my opportunity to show that I can work flexibly- share these with your friends as it will help both you and them!
Exercise every day even if it’s just for 10 minutes
Take one day at a time and recognise the small wins within each day.
For mums in particular who may find themselves left with the lion’s share of the domestic/child-rearing responsibilities during this time, how can they avoid feeling overwhelmed?
It is an important time to renegotiate these domestic responsibilities. Now more than ever, the significant load of parenting and household responsibilities will visible. I would recommend scheduling time to negotiate the priorities and division of these responsibilities. Be careful not to fall into the trap of doing more of what you were doing because of prior circumstance. The goal posts have moved and this is your opportunity to move with them.
You can find more information about Belinda and The Bumpy Road here. Follow her on Instagram at @the_bumpy_road.
Sitting down for a movie together as a family is always a favourite activity in our household. The girls are at the age now where they are able to sit through an entire movie and actually enjoy it so we’ve been working our way through a mixture of new movies and classic films. I love being able to revisit a lot of my childhood favourites and introduce them to the kids for the first time and it’s always nice to see Sophia and Grace getting into a movie I too loved as a little girl. There are so many great family flicks out there but I’m always looking for suggestions so definitely comment below and let me know your faves!
If you’re looking for ideas of a movie to check out with the kids, here are a few of the winners at our place.
We have sat down to watch these movies as a family and have found them to be movies that both kids and grown-ups will enjoy. Some of them the girls love so much (The Greatest Showman for example is the girls’ favourite movie this year and the soundtrack gets played every day in our household) that we often find ourselves re-watching them a number of times. These movies are always a winner in our house.
The Greatest Showman
The Lion King (live action)
I am loving the excuse to re-watch all of my childhood favourites. It’s so nice to be able to introduce the girls to them and the trip down memory lane also brings back a lot of great memories of watching these movies as a kid. Here are a few classics the girls have watched and absolutely loved.
Kids grow so much and at the start of a new season you’re guaranteed to always need to stock up on new pieces to replace everything they’ve outgrown. And when you have to do this twice a year it can become quite the expense, particularly if you’ve got to do it for more than one child. So how can you buy the basics without spending a fortune? Try these tips for cutting down on your clothes shopping bill.
Buy out of season
Winter clothes get drastically reduced in summer and the same goes for summer things in winter. So if you aim to snap up pieces the next size up out of season then you’ll find yourself being able to buy everything at a fraction of the price.
Take advantage of special discount offers
If you time your purchases for when major discounts or spend and save offers are happening you’ll be able to buy more for less. If you look in store and online ahead of time and know what you need, you can get in early once these offers are announced and save yourself a lot of money in the process.
Sign up for newsletters from your fave kids’ clothing brands
There are so many sale offers that come through via newsletters so make sure you’re on the mailing list of your go-to kids’ clothing brands. You’ll often be alerted to sales first and also any discount offers and bundle deals and ensure you can grab the pieces you’ve had your eye on.
Smart shopping can help save on your kids’ clothing budget
Check out Facebook marketplace and other online groups
As kids go through clothes so quickly you can often find that there are good quality (sometimes even designer) pieces that are sold through Facebook marketplace or other swap and sell groups. Just do a quick search for those in your area, or those with brands that you’re interested in and see what bargains you can snap up.
Invest in quality items upfront
I did this when I first started buying Sophia clothes and have found that because I invested a little more on quality items at the beginning, I was able to easily recycle pieces and have Grace wear them without everything looking too worn. This works great for things that don’t get a constant workout such as coats and special dressy pieces.
Check out overseas brands
Since our seasons are opposite to the northern hemisphere it’s sometimes a great opportunity to check out overseas brands and check out what kids clothes they’ve marked down. This happens to work perfectly with our current season as all their winter clothes will be on sale just when we’re heading into that season.
Swap with mum friends
If you have a friendship group that includes mums who have kids with similar ages, why not arrange a swap meet afternoon? You can all bring gently worn pieces (probably best to leave the puree stained onesies out of this one!) and swap your clothes with others in the group. You can then all go home with new wardrobe pieces minus the cost.
One of the most common questions I receive is how to build up a great mum wardrobe. I’m sure a lot of mums out there will agree that dressing when you’re looking after a tiny human is all about comfort and wearability. I can’t be wearing anything too fussy when I’m with the girls as I am often running after them, playing in the park or just generally on the go so I’ve got to be comfortable. Over the years I feel I’ve managed to really nail the key pieces that make my outfits cohesive and allow me to get dressed with minimal fuss. Here are some of my musts…
Have go-to pair of sneakers
I spend my life in sneakers whether it’s paired back with a dress or jeans and a tee. A pair of classic white sneakers is a must and is a worthwhile investment as it can work back with so many outfits. They’re ideal for those days when you’ve got a packed schedule with the kids and need to be comfortable.
Invest in great outerwear
During winter I often rely on my jackets to change up the look and feel of what I’m wearing. If I’m purely relaxing with Sophia and Grace then I have a puffer jacket I pop on as it’s casual and warm. However if I need to look smarter I often put on a nice coat or a blazer to help dress things up a little. The thing with outerwear is I can be wearing the same thing underneath— so jeans and a tee for example and changing up the jackets can instantly change the vibe of my ensemble.
A great pair of jeans is a must
Take the dress shortcut
Dresses have got to be the easiest thing a mum can have in her wardrobe. I just pop on a dress, pair them with sneakers and then I’m pretty much ready to walk out the door. They’re great for when I need to get dressed in seconds and don’t have much time to fuss around (which is pretty much every day.)
Look for pocket details
I love clothes with pockets. Since the girls are getting older I don’t need to bring a baby bag with a million things which is why I tend to gravitate towards coats and jeans with pockets. If we’re not going out for long I don’t need to pack a massive bag, and I just pop my key essentials in one of my pockets and I’m set.
Go for hands-free bags
Backpacks and crossbody bags are a huge trend and they’re a godsend for mums. I often opt for either style when I’m out with the girls as it leaves my hands free (this is ideal as most mums can attest you never know when you’ll need to stop someone from running off or need to wipe someone’s hands). I’ve invested in a quality leather backpack and crossbody bags as it can withstand the daily wear and tear that running around after two kids can bring. A simple neutral colour such as black, grey and navy is perfect as you can match it with virtually everything in your wardrobe.
Take the easy way out when it comes to fabrics
I love the feel of luxe fabrics like cashmere and silk but when I’m on mum duty they stay at home. I will always wear easy wash and wear items made of cotton or wool as I’ll invariably end up with something on me so need to be able to clean it off quite easily.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with prints and colours
Build up a staple collection of pants
I’ve found that by building up my collection of comfortable pants— so think things like jeans, leather leggings and casual lounge pants— it has made getting dressed every day easier. I can pair them back with my trusty t-shirts or jumpers and I’m set.
Ensure you have a healthy supply of tees and sweaters
I’ve found that anything I can easily throw on (that doesn’t need ironing) makes getting dressed so much more straightforward. I’ve got a good range of t-shirts and sweaters in practical neutral colours that I can rotate every day. I’ve made sure that my tees and sweaters can work back with everything in my pants collection and vice versa so I don’t have the added layer of complexity of trying to figure out what to match with which.
Play with prints and colours
I’ve found one of the easiest ways to liven up a an outfit is with a touch of colour or a great print. I tend to incorporate a few bold pieces amongst my neutral pieces and find that it can give my look a little extra personality.
What are some of your favourite wardrobe essentials as a mum?
With back to school time just around the corner, most parents are starting to think about prepping for another year, and one of the key things would have to be school lunches.
Having to pack a school lunch daily can often mean parents are stuck for food ideas or not entirely what to pack in their child’s lunchbox day in and day out. And it can be one of those things that can make the morning rush even more stressful.
To help make it easier I’ve enlisted the help of Sydney-based paediatric dietitian and nutritionist and mum-of-two Karina Savage to share her expertise about all things school lunchboxes. The director of Smart Bite Nutrition is here to help make organising healthy lunches this year a stress-free affair.
What types of foods should a healthy school lunch comprise of?
Slow release (low GI) carbohydrates “[This will] provide a sustained release of energy into the blood stream over the day – this helps to keep blood sugar levels stable which supports good concentration and learning, together with happier mood at pick up! Grainy bread and crackers, fruit, homemade baked goods such as a muesli slice and brownie, which are all good options.”
Plant foods “Include plenty of colour and always try to put at least two different coloured vegies into the lunch box.”
Quality protein “Shredded chicken, boiled or mashed egg, tuna and legumes such as baked beans or hommus are all good options here. Stay away from processed meats where possible.”
Good fats “Usually nuts aren’t allowed [at school], so our go-to here is seeds such as sunflower, pepita or incorporating sunflower (tahini), linseed and chia into baked goods. Avocado is another great option providing a good source of healthy fats.”
What are some great foods to include in lunchboxes to ensure satiety and boost energy?
Grainy bread sandwich (can be as simple as Vegemite or raw honey)
Do parents need to tweak what they include in lunch boxes according to age?
“Children typically need similar types of food going into the lunch box throughout primary school. As they get older, children may require more food in the lunch box (eg more carbs) if they are really active, however many will struggle to finish their lunch box as they are “too busy” running around with their friends. They will often make up for this at afternoon tea time.
As children move through primary school, they may start to refuse more of the healthier lunch box snacks. As parents, have the confidence to be consistent and stick to your guns – always including plenty of plant foods in the lunch box daily.
With home baked goods, I’ve found with my own children, that I’ve had to add a little more sugar into some recipes to make sure they eat them. In my opinion, this is OK, as I know my children will still be getting much more nutrition compared to giving them a supermarket baked item or packaged product—which are usually much lower in nutrition.”
What are some common mistakes parents make when it comes to packing their kids’ lunches?
“Giving in easily to pester power and including too much of the processed packaged foods such as Shapes, biscuits etc. Kids often love these snacks as they usually taste great, however these products are usually high in salt and very low in fibre.
Most of us are in the same situation here and it can be exhausting as parents, when the healthy food comes home every day. We need to have the resilience to keep offering the good food, teaching our children about the balance of foods — the sometimes foods and the everyday healthier foods. Popcorn or dried legumes are much better packaged option compared to many of the packaged crisps/Shapes products.”
If a child will only eat a limited amount of foods for lunch, what are some ways a parent can help broaden their food repertoire?
“Don’t stress too much if their intake is healthy—if your child isn’t too fussed about the lack of variety from week to week, don’t worry. As long as they have a balance of protein, carbs and plant foods in their lunch box, you are doing well. You can always balance out the day at other meals and snacks such as breakfast and dinner.
Remember it’s a nutritionally balanced week rather than day.
For some more ideas about healthy lunch box additions, check out my lunch box ideas sheet here.”
What are your tips for making school lunches more exciting?
“I think it can be really hard sometimes to please kids with school lunch boxes and as busy parents we need to take the pressure of ourselves. School lunches don’t always have to be “instagrammable”, they just have to be as balanced as possible with some good quality contents.
To improve acceptance of food, a good tip is to bake some options with the kids on the weekends – such as muffins, brownies, bliss balls etc and work out what they like/don’t like. You can then be more confident of putting those preferred baked goods into the lunch box.
Experimenting with various dips can be fun – such as hommus, beetroot, guacamole and cheese dips. These can be included with raw vegies and crackers in the lunch box. Home made pizzas can be another good option that children can be involved in creating the night before.”
Most parents have to deal with the mad school rush in the morning. What are some of your time-saving tricks for creating a healthy school lunch every day?
Make sure lunch boxes are clean and ready to go the night before – you may even wish to include a little secret message/note which will make them smile when they open it the following day.
Pack what you can the night before – fresh fruit, popcorn, dried legumes, muffin, homemade brownie or cookies placed in plastic containers. Muffins and cake can also be frozen in individual portions and popped in the lunch box in the morning.
Some parents also pre-chop vegies and cheese, which can also be placed in the lunch box and popped in the fridge overnight
Use leftovers – you may consider doubling the batch at dinner time and using some for leftovers the next day. These can be sent cold with an ice pack or warm in a thermos.
Freeze yoghurt pouches and small containers of dip so that you can pull out of freezer in the morning and they will stay cold until eaten.
In the past, psychologist and co-founder of The Bumpy Road, Belinda Williams has shared her tips for new mums and mums-to-be. This time, she’s got more practical and useful advice for those who are currently navigating their way through motherhood for the first time. Most especially when it comes to dealing with the overwhelming feeling that comes with being a mama and dealing with the reality of what it’s really like to care for a baby day in and day out (spoiler alert: it’s not all sunshine and rainbows like a nappy commercial!). If you’re a new mum read on for your survival guide for the first few months…
What should new mums do if they’re feeling overwhelmed?
It is so important to recognise that you are not alone. Not only do all new mums feel this way, there is most often people in your support network that are very willing to help out. Here are some ways to help manage these challenging feelings:
Set realistic expectations. Things seem to take exponentially longer to complete. Don’t pressure yourself to do everything, instead prioritise what is most important and target your energies here. Make time for yourself/self care. It’s hard to do but oh-so important! It may be a small activity like an extended bath, body scrub or washing your hair, a coffee up the shops solo or a walk around the block with your partner. Micro moments can be magically restorative. Avoid isolation. Try to connect with other mums and talk to them about their experience. It can help to see that others are having challenges too and often gives you better perspective on your own experience. Ask for help. Try to open up to the people close to you and let them know you need help. It is not a time to be a hero and the only person you let down when you push through the pain is yourself.
Often the fantasy of becoming a mum is different to the day to day reality of motherhood and some women may feel a little disillusioned by the experience. What are some ways to deal with this?
Women are often shocked by how consuming and relentless being a parent can be. Each women has a different remedy. This may include:
Look at what it is that you are missing from life before your baby—is it the mental stimulation of work, the relevance beyond the home, the lack of freedom in being able to just walk out the door—maybe all of these? Look for ways that you can reestablish this within your routine as a mother. It may not be in the same form but there is often different opportunities that we have not had to consider before. Be patient—this adjustment in self concept can take time and is not always pleasant. Try not to make the mistake that challenging feelings mean that things are not going well or that motherhood is not for you. These feelings are common as it is a very stressful and demanding time. If you are worried about how difficult you are finding the transition into motherhood, speak with a professional to navigate these thoughts and feelings. Make plans—it may be for a holiday, your return to work, a night out with friends. Motherhood is not all or nothing. Eventually you will find a way to weave back in aspects of your life that you enjoyed. Making plans for this can be empowering. Be selective about what information you are consuming. If you are evaluating your experience of motherhood against Instagram tiles, look elsewhere. This is only a narrow reflection on moments of motherhood and not the gold standard. If it is impacting you negatively then maybe switch off for a while.
Some new mums may miss their old life and the freedom that they had. Is this a normal feeling to have? What are some ways to deal with it? And what should they do if they feel they’re not settling into their new life at all?
I think that this is pretty common. I remember being pretty bewildered when my first child arrived and asking my mum (probably with a few tears running down my face!), “how does anyone get anything done?!”. It is such a sudden and significant shift in pretty much every domain of your life so even if you are ready for it, you want it and it is where you want to be, it is normal to feel very shaken and destabilised by the seismic adjustment that takes place. Talk to others about how you are feeling.
Caring for a newborn is a steep learning curve and some women may start to feel self-doubt about their abilities as as mum at times. What can be done to address this?
I think that all new mothers suffer a crisis in confidence. Firstly everything is new and secondly there is so much conflicting information coming at you even within the hospitals. I think it can be helpful to identify a few trusted people and resources and use that as a starting point. But most commonly women experience the greatest distress when they feel disempowered to trust their own instinct. I am a big advocate of trusting your gut and nowhere seems more natural to do this than when caring for a newborn. If in doubt, then of course, seek advice and do this early. It is often just small adjustments that make the world of difference and help us recover and restore our confidence.
Becoming a new mum often means having to deal with a new identity in some ways as you try and blend the old you and the new you. What can women do if they feel a little lost during this process?
It is exactly that, a process and one that takes time. I think motherhood is a constant time of adjustment and readjustment as our children grow. Very rarely does the learning and changing plateau. This is an experience quite unique to the world of parenthood. There will be parts of your life before children that you no longer connect with and enjoy and there will be parts of life as a mother which you never imagined would bring you joy, but insanely they do. Whilst these changes can be confronting and challenging, it can help to approach it with curiosity rather than judgement. You always have choice even if the options on face value seem more limited to begin with. Try to start out prioritising the things that are most important to you and look at how you can maintain them (perhaps in a different format). Motherhood is a journey not a destination.
Mandy Sacher is a paediatric nutritionist and founder of Wholesome Child and she’s here to making kids and healthy eating work a little more seamlessly together. I sat down with Mandy for a chat about how to prepare nutritious meals when you’re time poor, the pantry staples every parent should have on hand and her quick and easy go-to meals for every meal of the day including snacks. If you’re scratching your head about what to feed your children for dinner tonight then read on because there are plenty of amazing ideas up ahead…
Parents are generally time poor so may not always have the time to prepare healthy meals for their children. What are some of your tips for making the process a little easier?
This is a topic that often comes up in my workshops and with clients in my clinic.We are all incredibly time poor—so it’s an understandable pain point for families who are keen to improve their nutrition sustainably and achievably.
Batch cooking freezer-friendly meals and snacks to have on hand goes a long way towards saving time, stress and money!A few hours of prep on a weekend will soon result in a freezer filled with nutritious, homemade ‘convenience’ food like spaghetti bolognaise and beef and veggie meatballs. I also suggest making a little extra each time you cook – for instance, when roasting vegetables or steaming cauliflower, save portions for the next night’s dinner or for use in other recipes.
Planning ahead is also crucial to success and ensuring that you have the right ingredients on hand.My book contains a range of different meal planners which is designed as a practical guide for busy parents. Getting the family and kids involved in the planning, shopping and cooking process is another top tip.Not only will it be a great way to spend quality time together, the family will feel included and more engaged with meals and fussy little eaters will be more likely to sample something that they have helped prepare (which is always a winner!)
What’s your idea of a healthy meal for kids? What should be on their plate?
Typically, I encourage meals to be varied, whole foods based and most definitely looked at as more than something to simply fill little tummies – rather it’s an opportunity to support healthy growth and development, improve their ability to concentrate and boost energy levels for physical activities.
Meals should contain a serve of quality protein, one to two serves of a slow-release carbohydrate, two to three vegetables (aim for a variation of colours for maximum phytonutrient benefit), a single serve of a healthy fat and a calcium-rich food. Include little ones in menu planning and involve them in the shopping and preparation – these are great ways to encourage enthusiasm and give them an element of limited choice. I generally recommend that fruit be included as a morning or afternoon snack, to keep blood sugar levels in check.
I’m quick to advise parents that fruit shouldn’t be used as a substitute for veggies – a topic that my book goes into detail around.Vegetables are nature’s insurance policy against disease and so it’s worth persisting with encouraging vegetable intake (as challenging as it may be!).Setting children up with a genuine appreciate of whole foods and vegetables is so important.
What are some big issues that arise if a child isn’t on a healthy diet?
Little ones have very precise nutritional needs given their intense phases of physical and cognitive development.Deficiencies in core nutrients like protein can lead to poor muscle tone and development as well as fatigue. A low intake of iron rich foods can lead to anaemia, the most commong nutritional deficiency in childhood.Low levels of healthy fats in the diet can impact brain development and hormone levels.
A high fibre diet rich in whole grains and a diverse range of vegetables helps to ensure healthy immune function, gut health along with the alleviation of other unpleasant elements like constipation.It’s no secret that diets high in processed refined sugars and salts are detrimental – for both children and adults.Numerous scientific studies and research have linked obesity, disease and concentration issues to these unhealthy and imbalanced diets.Educating little taste buds early on to appreciate whole food in its natural state, free from additives, flavourings and preservatives go a long way towards training children to enjoy healthy food.
What’s one easy standby meal parents can turn to if they have to get dinner on the table in a short amount of time but haven’t really had time to prep?
Cheesy Cauliflower French Toast with Mushrooms is a great option and a fun way to get the kids involved.It’s packed with nutrition, quick and easy.Its versatility means that the mushrooms could be substituted for other vegetables like asparagus, pumpkin, or sweet potato.
What are some food staples all parents should always have on hand?
Fruit and vegetables: Aim for a good mix of colours to maximise the phytonutrient benefits and go for organic wherever possible (especially for produce you plan to eat with the skin on).Ready chopped veggie sticks and fruit stored in containers in the fridge make the perfect snack and lunch box addition. Going with what’s in season is often a good choice and don’t forget to include fresh herbs and spices like mint, basil and ginger.They are packed with essential oils and nutrition.
Dairy and non-dairy: Great options include almond milk, coconut milk and cream, organic A2 milk, unsalted butter, unsweetened natural yoghurt (cow, goat, sheep), homemade coconut yoghurt., good quality cheeses (organic where possible) – cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella, gouda and ricotta.
Protein: Protein tends to be a common nutrient missing from little ones’ diets so try to pack your fridge with as many different sources as possible. With meat, go for grass-fed and organic wherever possible. My book and website feature a range of recipe inspirations.Fish is among the best natural source of omega-3s, so try Atlantic mackerel, cod, flathead, trout or snapper. Wild or organic salmon fillets are perfect for San Choy Bow, rissoles and mini quiches.Organic eggs are a nutritious and versatile option to always have on hand, as are a wide selection of nuts and seeds like almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamia, pine nuts, chia, flax, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Ideal for adding to salads or using in trail mix for an instant boost of protein and healthy fats.
How can parents teach their children to establish healthy eating habits?
Positive role modeling is one of the most important and powerful influencers in a child’s healthy eating habits.Little ones are sponges for information and are incredibly impressionable.Seeing their other family members enjoying healthy wholefoods, celebrating their health, their bodies and discussing how important wellbeing is, are all crucial. In addition to this, being involved in food preparation processes and knowing to expect nutritious foods at snack and mealtimes will guide them on a lifelong path of health and wellbeing.It’s definitely more of a marathon than a race!
Finding ways to get kids to eat vegetables is a constant challenge for most parents. I know it’s something that we have to deal with in our household on a daily basis, and finding new and creative ways to make vegetables appealing can become an impossible task at times.
“Many children I see are repetitive vegetable eaters—meaning that they eat the same limited range each and every week. Whilst all vegetables are beneficial, the ultimate goal is to eat a diverse range of colours and groups to get the maximum benefit.We all eat with our eyes first, so it makes sense to engage your child visually when encouraging them to eat more variety.Encourage your little one to create their own rainbow plate, it’ll engage their imagination and will lead to a nibble or two!”
Include one new veggie a week—and lead by example
“There’s often a strong connection between children who eat the same vegetables each week and parents who do the same.Through parents expanding their own repertoire, children will have an opportunity to see and taste a variety—and watch their parents enjoying the broader range, too!Try salad veggies, cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and brussels sprouts, and starchy vegetables like pumpkin or sweet potato.”
Don’t forget beans and legumes
“Beans and legumes are our most nutritious plant foods.Rich in proteins, B-vitamins, iron, potassium, fibre, minerals and phytochemicals. Hummus, lentil soup, bean stews and chickpea falafels are a fantastic way to introduce legumes to your child. Try kidney beans, navy beans, black beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas and lentils. For canned varieties, look for BPA-free cans wherever possible and rinse well beforehand to reduce sodium levels.”
Include sea vegetables
“Due to its high calcium content, seaweed strengthens bones and teeth.It’s also high in iron, has antimicrobial properties and is a good source of essential vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre which helps prevent constipation.
Nori, rich in vitamins A, B1, B2 and C as well as iodine also contains protein. Use it for sushi, shred it over salad or create veggie-filled seaweed wraps filled with julienned carrots, cucumber, shredded chicken (or protein of choice) and avocado.If your child likes the seaweed snack packs that are commonly found in supermarkets, seek out varieties that are free from additives such as MSG or added sugar.”
Remember to use fresh herbs and spices
“Basil is packed with essential oils which are known to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.Use in tomato-based pasta sauces, sprinkle on pizza and mix into rissoles.
Mint soothes upset tummies and improves digestion.Chill mint tea with a dash of raw honey or add fresh mint leaves and orange slices to water and serve in place of juice.
Oregano is often used to treat respiratory tract disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and urinary tract disorders.Add to chicken, lamb or beef dishes.
Parsley is rich in many vital vitamins and keeps the immune system strong, tones the bones and heals the nervous system.It also helps to flush excess fluid from the body and support kidney function.Add to smoothies, chicken soup and pasta sauces.
Spices – as well as adding flavour, spices such as turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are packed with nutrients too.Add turmeric and ginger to chicken soup, sprinkle turmeric on cauliflower and add cinnamon to pumpkin and butternut squash.”
Create a veggie patch
“Children love planting seeds, watching them grow, and eventually harvesting what they have planted. It’s the best way to help them make the association between earth to plate, and to engage their curiosity about different varieties of vegetables. If outdoor space is limited, start off with herbs such as basil or oregano, or better yet get involved with a community garden.”
Shop for and cook vegetables together
“Encourage your children to touch, smell and engage with their food.Let them help with grocery shopping and encourage them to pick up new vegetables from the shelves and place them in the trolley themselves – this begins the engagement with the new food.
Little ones tend to be more willing to eat what they’ve helped to prepare and it’s important for them to be exposed to vegetables in their raw state and to understand how the texture and look of a vegetable changes when it’s cooked.Get them involved by asking them to peel carrots and potatoes (using kid-friendly graters), cutting lettuce with a plastic knife or adding grated vegetables to muffin batter.
It’s important for parents to be patient and to recognise that change is often slow with children.Don’t be disappointed if they don’t eat the new vegetable or food the first time it’s offered – stay positive and freeze what’s not eaten and offer it again – persistent repetition is key here.”
What are some creative ways you’ve used to encourage your kids to eat more vegetables?