Tips for Picky Eaters

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In my years working with families and small children, the things parents seem to worry about most are the basics: eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. How often do they nap? For how long? When will you start solids? What about potty training? Where does your baby sleep? Does he sleep all night?

Why are such basic needs of such interest? Probably because they affect every moment of the day for our kids, and we want to help our children spend their days being happy and well adjusted, developing skills that will make them well rounded adults. We can’t eat or sleep or go to the bathroom FOR our children, so instead we end up worrying about how and when they will do these things. And these basic needs can affect every moment of our time parenting as well. A child who needs to eat, or sleep, or poop, and cannot do so, is not a fun child to be spending time with. I have seen the way that having an extremely picky eater can stress a family. Parents become frustrated. They worry about their child getting enough vitamins and adequate nutrition and fiber. They often stop going to restaurants because their child refuses to sit through meals that are of no interest. It can affect every meal decision, and parents often feel very judged and blamed.

Listening to NPR on my drive home last week I heard a great interview with cookbook author Sally Sampson, who founded an organization promoting families cooking together; and Dr. David Ludwig, who is the author of the book “Ending the Food Fight” and works for Boston Children’s Hospital, specializing in Obesity Prevention. The topic on the table was picky eaters. How to prevent pickiness, deal with it when it happens, and create healthful food attitudes in our children. One of the things I appreciate about Sally Sampson’s advice  is that she encourages parents to relax a bit in their meal time approach- she advises to cook just one meal for the whole family and no separate meals for picky little ones. She also follows my personal rule of not getting into power struggles or forcing kids to try things. As a parent and an educator, it’s nice to be told to relax and do less once and awhile. The tips she offers are simple and promote healthful food habits for the entire family, and her tone is very positive and constructive. Here is the interview in full, if you’d like to give it a listen:

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/28/283999734/tips-to-take-back-the-dinner-table-from-picky-eaters

This piece stood out to me because Ludwig and Sampson offered some insightful and very specific tips beyond the usual, vague, “keep offering a variety of foods” and “they’ll grow out of it”. They actually spent time with a family, working with their picky preschooler, and share how in juts six weeks they were able to change his behaviors so drastically that he became extremely adventurous eater.  Their work is chronicled in a blog for the New York Times, called The Picky Eater Project (excerpt and link below).

After I had finished listening, one of Dr. Ludwig’s comments stayed in my head (the preschoolers call this “an ear worm” – it’s a little voice that gets in your ear and won’t leave):

“You know, we live in an environment that makes junk food, hyper-sweetened foods the norm. And by comparison an apple doesn’t taste sweet and a vegetable seems completely inedible…You know, there’s a natural developmental cycle here at work. Children are born with a fear of unfamiliar foods, which protects them from eating something toxic. But they’re also programmed to develop an increasingly broad set of taste preferences. If not, children would die of starvation after weaning.The problem is our modern junk food, hyper-sweetened diet tends to keep taste buds in tantalized state.”

When I heard this I immediately thought about the many times I see preschoolers arrive at school with a carefully packed lunchbox containing things like sliced apples, carrot sticks, cheddar cheese, and a “treat”. Maybe a package of M & Ms or fruit snacks, or some Oreos. For any parent who has ever packed this, and instructed your child to eat the fruit and veggies before the treat, I’m just going to give it to you straight: they ignore you, and they probably trash the fruit and veggies. Kids aren’t good at impulse control. They see it. They want it. They aren’t good at waiting. So they eat it. And after they eat something very calorie dense, that is enhanced with  corn syrup or lots of refined sugar they are not going to have much of an appetite for the apple. In contrast it seems bland or sour, and the carrot sticks don’t taste like anything at all. Not to mention, it sets up a punishment/reward attitude about food. Eat your fruit before your treat. It implies that the fruit itself is not a treat, and is something to be endured. If I’m asked for lunchbox advice I usually say pack a variety of good choices and give your child the control to eat whatever they want from their lunchbox with no guilt. I’m not saying don’t pack a cookie. Go ahead and pack a favorite cookie once in awhile. But it doesn’t need to be an obligatory part of every meal. Pack an appropriate portion size so they are still hungry for their other food.

For some fresh ideas and constructive advice, here are The Picky Eater Project’s “12 Tips to Take Back the Dinner Table”:

1. If you don’t want your child to eat it, don’t bring it home. “When it comes to food,” says Dr. David Ludwig, the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and the author of “Ending the Food Fight,”    “one of the pillars of parenting is to protect the home environment. Attention to this non-coercive measure can prevent eating issues in the first place, or help defuse problems that have already developed.” You decide what foods are welcome.

2. Institute a “one-meal rule.” If you don’t want to be a short order cook, making a separate meal for different children, stop. Keep the messaging positive: Tell your kids that the house rule is now one delicious dinner for everyone. “Parents need to parent,” advises Bill Dietz, M.D., the former director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Food related responsibilities in families should go like this: Parents are in charge of what foods are offered at home, and children can choose to eat it or not. If a child rejects the food, it is not the parents’ responsibility to offer something else.” It’s fine to make sure the meal includes at least one thing that’s generally acceptable (even if that’s just plain pasta), and you should decide in advance what’s acceptable to you after dinner for a child who didn’t eat (a choice that’s distinctly different for toddlers than for teenagers).

3. A little hunger can go a long way. Snacks are fine but don’t overdo them. If children arrive at the dinner table hungry, they are more likely to eat what is in front of them. I routinely put salad on the table before the entrée and found that salad eating spiked as a result.

4. Shop and cook together. Involve your children in every step as much as possible. Take them to the grocery store and ask them to pick any vegetable/fruit they want. Have them help you cook. Depending on their age, this can mean counting out cherry tomatoes to add to a salad, stirring, and later making a meal on their own. Even setting the table instills ownership.

5. Meet them where they are. If your children  love roast chicken, don’t start the “one-meal rule” by making exotic pork dishes with a lot of sauces. Make basic food you know they like. This way it will not feel like deprivation. Additionally, make sure they can personalize parts of their meal: If you’re making burritos/omelets/burgers, have all the fillings/toppings in little bowls so they can choose what to add.

6. Don’t force them to eat anything. There are many schools of thought about this. Some people feel you should make them “just take one bite.” I don’t agree and think that this has a very negative implication and tends to backfire. Instead say, “Wow, these roasted brussels sprouts/shredded carrots/spinach pancakes are amazing.” Children who won’t taste don’t get nudged or judged. The 10th time you serve them, your child may, unprompted, take a bite.

7. Talk about what it takes to grow and cook food. Breed respect. When children understand that someone had to plant a seed and harvest a vegetable even before it gets to your kitchen, they will more fully appreciate what goes into making a meal. Even better, plant a little garden.

8. Be consistent but not rigid. Be sure everyone knows what the rules are, but if your rule is a home-cooked dinner every night and you’re exhausted, cut yourself some slack: get take-out. Eat breakfast for dinner. Pull everything out of the fridge and see who can make what.

9. Be a good role model. Children  take their cues from their parents: if you don’t like something, don’t pretend to like it but express your pleasure that someone – even you — went to the trouble to prepare it.

10. Play. Experiment. Try different food “games” outside of dinnertime. We’ve had a lot of success with games where everyone can make a lot of choices and mix and match:

Vegetable Tasting Extravaganza: trying many vegetables, each prepared in multiple ways. My Plate Scavenger Hunt: show them MyPlate and have them identify what goes into each quadrant. Raw Vegetable and Dip Experiment: trying different dips with different raw vegetables

11. Don’t refer to anyone as a “picky eater” or make a big deal out of their “picky eating.” If your child doesn’t eat carrots, don’t stop serving them, or when your child is a guest at someone else’s, don’t say: My child doesn’t like carrots. If you define them, it makes it much harder for them to change.

12. Use positive peer pressure. When my children were in elementary school, their friends ate whatever my kids ate when they came to our house. I literally never had a child say: “I don’t eat hummus. I don’t like carrots.” Seeing a peer eat an unfamiliar food automatically makes it safer. You’ll be amazed at how many children will eat something because they see another child eating it.

The rest of the advice and stories shared on the Picky Eater Plan are great. To read the full blog post, and the entire series, or find more tips for encouraging adventurous, healthful eating,  here is the link to the New York Times Picky Eater Project:

http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/category/the-picky-eater-project/?module=BlogCategory&version=Blog Post&action=Click&contentCollection=Style&pgtype=Blogs&region=Header

How real food, and the way we eat it, has the power to change the way children think, learn, feel, and live

Eating and trying new foods, much like having an adventure in the woods, is an opportunity for children and adults alike to explore, share, and have new sensory experiences while nourishing our bodies and our minds. Studies on emotion and neuroplasticity continue to show that new and novel experiences, including time spent outdoors and in nature, allow us to release serotonin and dopamine, combat depression, and be happier individuals. By encouraging our children, at a young age, to engage in health positive behaviors, to move more, to eat better, to be outside and connect with their communities and their food sources, we are healing our entire community and helping them to be healthy in a way that is much more balanced and significant than their BMI could possibly indicate. When we move beyond seeing snack time as a time to reach for a box of crackers and satiate until the next time we eat, and view meals as opportunities to learn and experience and participate in the world, we move beyond encouraging physical health, and set our children up to be healthy on an emotional and cognitive level as well.

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This is a photo of  the meals I pack for my one year old daughter to eat during the daytime while I teach. I would expect this to last for 3-4 days. From left to right, top row: tuna and broccoli pasta with garlic and goat’s milk; pasta with tomato basil sauce. middle row: vanilla yogurt; apple slices; blackberries and pomegranate seeds; fresh mozzarella; seasoned firm tofu; seaweed; peas and carrot bites. Bottom row: raspberry yogurt; shredded chicken breast; peas and carrot bites; blackberries and pomegranate; lentils; wild blueberries; mushrooms and asparagus in garlic butter. I will be posting lunch and snack ideas and recipes regularly, as well as tips for feeding kids and families.

When working with children how can we help encourage healthy attitudes about exercise, food, and body image?

I will never encourage a child (or an adult for that matter) to move around to burn calories,  to lose weight, or to “earn” permission to eat treats. I will encourage a child to move to express joy, to feel strong and competent, to develop new skills and gain physical strength. I will encourage them to move so that they can celebrate the amazing things their body can do and the blessing of having functional limbs, and so that they will know the exhilarating joy of sharing experiences like dancing, running, and playing with their friends. I will encourage them to move around outdoors because our world is an amazing place, and they will not be able to fully understand that, or be in awe of our planet and nature, or  inspired to study it, or protect it, until they have first experienced it.

I will never use food as a reward for behavior. I will never encourage a child to “trade” “healthy” foods such as vegetables for “unhealthy” foods such as desserts, to count calories, to watch their carbohydrate or fat intake, or to deprive themselves of foods they love. As long as children play and move and do not have underlying health issues, if they have access to a variety of good food choices- nutritious whole foods, they are naturally good at eating what they need.  I encourage them to try new foods because it is exciting and fun to try new things. I talk with them about what they are eating and where their food comes from. How they feel about it and how it tastes.  I encourage children to learn where their food comes from, and then go a step further and plant the seeds, to grow the vegetables, to participate in cooking their favorite meals. I encourage children to eat because sharing meals with friends promotes meaningful conversation and relationships. I encourage them to eat because they love the sensory experience and taste of the foods in front of them. I will encourage them to think about how what they are eating affects the way their bodies feel. I  will give them more when they ask for it, and trust that they know their limits, are done when they say so or walk away, and never force them to eat food or clear their plate.

I teach the preschoolers to look at their food and think about the ingredients, to know where it came from and how it is connected to the earth. Yes, that is string cheese. But how did it get to your lunch box? An amazing number of children will tell me that it “comes from my refrigerator” or it “comes from the store”. How can we expect children to care about what they put into their bodies, and care about animals, and care about the earth, if they don’t see how these things are all connected? I want them to know that the little things like sunflower seeds, and blueberries, and water drops, and the big things like mountains, and forests, and cities are all part of cycles that affect one another, and give and take energy, and I want the children to understand that they are part of those systems too.

Making meals an adventure helps underscore a broader message that life is full of opportunities to explore, to be flexible, and to celebrate and feel grateful for the simple joys in life.

My goal, when feeding my daughter or sharing food with the people in my life- children and adults, is to be intentional in the choices I make. To create opportunities to eat a wide variety of whole foods (as few ingredients as possible, as close to their natural form as possible). I try to offer different colors and textures and types of flavors, and make each meal a sensory experience. At the same time, I try to support my values by shopping as locally and organically as possible, and support my family by doing it as an economical a way as I can.

This week we had some encouraging local news about children’s health. Too often we are told what we are doing wrong, and given a gloomy picture of the ills in society. It’s nice to pass on a story that is hopeful and encouraging, and share some useful tips about what we CAN do to make a positive difference for our kids and our world.

One important side note to this story, if you can’t already guess from my previous statements, is that I don’t believe talking about obesity and focusing on BMI and caloric intake and weight is a useful way to encourage health among children. It is a data point that can be tracked and measured which makes it useful to administrators and organizations when looking at the impact of this grant program.

Both the Seattle Times and NPR reported a drop in obesity rates of 17% among high school students in King County. Overall, for Washington State and for our country as a whole, obesity rates remain stable or are on the increase. This change seems to indicate that we can have a positive impact and change outcomes for children and young adults on a broad scale. (here is the original article: (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022957941_obesitydownxml.html) The children being tracked in this study are generally from low income school districts, and participated in a grant program designed to promote healthy lives among youth. This grant program took a holistic approach at promoting health. From the article:

“The 41 grant recipients were asked to focus on goals such as creating safe, walkable and bikeable communities, reducing consumption of sugary beverages, and supporting farm-to-school programs, low-income immigrant urban farmers and small retailers seeking to provide healthful options.”

I’m so encouraged that this program took a look at the school and citizens within the context of a community. It recognizes that time outdoors, and community connections, and fresh produce and whole foods are all interconnected components in creating a healthy life for our children. And the proof that this approach works seems to be evident in the numbers. My hope is that parents and school districts and legislators can take this evidence and use it to affect change in our schools across the state and country. Investing in our children’s health is an investment in their future and an investment in their ability to learn and thrive in the classroom environment. Children who are hungry, sick, tired, poorly nourished, and deprived of time outdoors playing, exploring, and moving, cannot be effective learners. As a nation we all need to do the same thing that I encourage my preschoolers do. And we need to make sure these opportunities are accessible regardless of where children live and go to school. Go outside. Move. Play. Explore. Eat real food. Be happy and grateful and responsible. Every. Single. Day.

A Pre-K Manifesto

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The other day I stumbled upon a washington post article, titled “A Really Scary Headline About Kindergarteners” ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/06/a-really-scary-headline-about-kindergarteners/ ). I encourage everyone to check it out for themselves. It shines a spotlight on the trickle-down effect standardized testing is having on early childhood education. I frankly found it to be pretty heartbreaking. As I read, I thought to a recent information night that I hosted for the preschool program where I teach. We are lucky to be located on a 68 acre park and farm, which pairs nicely with my personal philosophy of “real” education- facilitating an experience based, play based program focused on exploration, creativity, and going OUTSIDE!!!!

I irritated a prospective parent at our preschool open house when I couldn’t guarantee her child would be writing and reading at the end of pre-K. I told her: “my goal is that your child will know the way the stream changes throughout the s…easons- after a heavy rain, in a drought, when the salmon run. She will feel confident and strong when she hikes through the woods and know the names of the trees and birds and plants. She will have access to countless amazing books and know the meaning of words like author, illustrator, fiction, and non fiction, and the joy of reading and writing and telling stories . She will have access to free art and glue and scissors and glitter every day. She will learn that when she talks, teachers will listen, because she is important. She will learn to be a responsible friend with the words to resolve peer conflicts and ask for help. She will feel empowered as a steward of our earth and the people and animals who live here. She will never get in trouble for making messes and she will learn to clean them up herself. She will explore and create and find joy and be loved every time she comes here.” She said “if my child can’t read by the time kindergarten starts it will be a disaster she will never academically recover from.” (Apparently this was my responsibility to fully undertake- not hers). Anyhow, she didn’t enroll. I feel heart pain for the pressure her four year old faces next year. I hope she finds this article. This lines up with my feelings, my apprehension about the direction public education is heading and Richard Louvs points in Last Child in the Woods.

Most of my pre-k class can recognize, write, and read the letters. Some can read books. They all WANT to- not because it is required be a test or a school, but because they are excited to learn and see the power and beauty and adventure of literacy. I believe in setting up an environment full of rich experiences and opportunities for creativity and discovery, and giving support or encouragement when it’s needed and requested. The kids can do the rest. I think most teachers get into education because they love children and learning, and most burn out early because of paperwork an politics and standards and tests, and not being allowed and supported to do what they can and want to do. The memories I retain from elementary school and high school, te ones that will be with me for life, are not of teachers standing at whiteboards or of textbooks. They are memories of experiences – learning to make artificial flavors in chemistry class, going on field trips to the beach for biology, writing stories, creating art, playing games in class, singing.

I also know that I speak from a place of privilege, where most of my students have highly supportive families who provide time at home full of enrichment and books, and we live in an area where it is generally very safe to go outside. If Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs- food safety security, etc, are not met then kids can’t really learn. That is another broad and multifaceted social issue.

I try to reassure parents that the social behaviors are the biggest gift to the kinder teachers- I think K teachers have the hardest job in public school because they have a bunch of wild cards as far as student background, previous experiences with school, parent involvement, etc and it’s often their job to talk with parents about challenges for the first time.

It’s so hard for the K teachers and for the kids because this is not a one size fits all type of world, and not every teacher or style of learning is going to work for every student. Learning flexibility and how to do things you don’t feel like doing, yes there is value in that. But teachers have the flexibility to create or extend projects more often and meet and celebrate the children where they already are, so that they can grow with confidence, we need that more than we need rigorous testing in the early grades. Yes, some evaluation so that teachers know where students are and admin can see where teachers might need to improve, but it should be a side note not the focus. Some children are not developmentally ready to hold a pencil or read until they are six or seven. It’s a shame our system makes them feel like failures. I will say that of our fifty kids this year- some of them never choose to play blocks, some of them never choose to do the organized project, some of them never choose to dance- but every single one of them enjoys outside time and never ever complains, no matter what the weather is. I know many adults who won’t go out in the rain or the cold or the snow or the heat. When does this change? I hope, for these kids, it never does.

UPDATE:

I have a very open dialogue with the families in my program, and a few of them passed my thoughts on to a local magazine, called Parent Map www.parentmap.com. Well, they re-printed my quotation, and so far (in less than 24 hours) it has been liked by 500 people. It has been re-shared 140 times, and gained 65 comments. Originally I actually thought twice about sharing my feelings about this topic, and now I am so glad I did. And so glad that I live in a community where these values resonate. I have been keeping this blog close to my chest until I had the time to really “launch” it and write regualarly, but after many e-mails and words of encouragement from parents of small children I have decided I should delay it no longer. Thanks Parent Map and everyone who helped spread the word. Here is a link to their facebook post, where they shared my quote:

Top 100 Foods for Health and Budget

The Environmental Working Group’s latest effort is a nice visual presentation of the “Top 100 Foods” which combine the qualities of being affordable, highly nutritious, and less likely to be contaminated with pesticides, toxins, or additives. When considering that daily “What’s for dinner?” question, this is a great source of inspiration to get the ball rolling. The proteins were my favorite category, where I personally tend to get into a rut with meal ideas.

http://ewg.org/goodfood/protein.php

When in doubt, my personal rule of thumb is- shop seasonal, shop local, shop colorful, shop organic where you can (when prices are close, when cooking for young kids or pregnant women, or when the food is highly likely to have pesticides which are difficult to remove even with washing, such as those on the “dirty dozen list”).  When I follow these rules I always have fresh ingredients and variety in my cooking and don’t spend too much.

The Many Types of Cloth Diapers, Where to Buy, and Which Ones Work Best (Part 2 of 4)

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Today I am going to provide information and links to help sort through the different style of cloth diapers. Because every baby and family are different; different shapes, different needs, different preferences,  I will share the diapers that I have seen work for my baby and for many other families- but please try for yourself and see what works for you. There is a learning curve and it’s good to experiment a bit.

First, let’s review the options when it comes to cloth diapers. For the most part, these are your choices:

  • Old fashioned pre-folds or flats: Flats are basically squares of cotton or flannel that you fold and twist as needed to fit your baby. Pre-folds are what most of us might think of as an “old fashioned” white fabric diaper. They have a reinforced center section, and are made of a few layers of cotton. They used to be held on with safety pins, and you would pull some rubber pants (that looked like a thick shower-cap with leg holes) on over the top to keep the baby’s clothes dry. Now, pre-folds can be fasted with special clips instead of pins, and there are more options for covers.. Some people just LOVE the good old fashioned pre-folds with a cover. I find them to be more cumbersome and not as cute- but that’s just me. The benefit of these are, the fit is completely custom since you fold each diaper yourself, and they are super affordable.  Some families use these for the newborn stage, when babies have smaller amounts of urine but need frequent changes. Later, the pre-folds can be used as rags or wipes, or as stuffing for pocket diapers or All-in-twos. Here’s a link to a helpful blogger who loves to use pre-folds. She includes lots of pictures and ideas about cloth diapering:  http://diaperpages.com/index.php
Gerber Pre-Folds

Gerber Pre-Folds

  • Inserts: absorbant pads made of hemp, wool, cotton, microfiber, fleece, or some combination. Different materials have different benefits. Natural fibers tend to be more breathable and also more absorbent. However, they can get very heavy and dry more slowly when laundering. Cotton or hemp inserts may hold moisture against baby’s skin more than synthetics, and may contain oils which require you to pre-wash them and “break in” your inserts before use. Microfiber or fleece tend to wick moisture away but can’t hold as much liquid, and they have a tendency to develop odors. These are not used alone- they make up the absorbent core of a diaper, but need some kind of cover or shell to hold them in place. The popular cloth diaper brands sell inserts as part of their systems.
Punkin Butt Hemp Inserts

Punkin Butt Hemp Inserts

  • Diapers Covers: This is a pretty diverse category. Covers can be made of all types of material. Usually a cover is made of a waterproof material, or a soft fabric with a waterproof liner such as PUL. There are also covers made of wool. The cover goes over an absorbent under layer of some kind. This layer either fastens around the baby (fitteds), or sits inside of the cover (inserts/all-in-twos, or pre-folds).
Bummies Pull On Covers

Bummies Pull On Covers

Fleece Cover with Snaps

Fleece Cover with Snaps

Thirsties Waterproof Cover with Velcro

Thirsties Waterproof Cover with Velcro

  • More on diapers that need covers: Fitted diapers are soft diapers that use snaps/elastic/velcro to provide fasteners and fit, but are not waterproof. All-in-twos are systems made up of a cover or outer pant, and an absorbent insert that lays in the cover like a hammock. These are very diverse systems. Diapers such as the “flip” or “gDiapers” are examples of this system. Oftentimes these systems have an option for disposable inserts, which is pretty cool. gDiapers, which I get into later, offer a flushable and compostable option.  Here is a video showing how all-in-twos work, as the shell is reusable and the inserts are replaced. She gets into a lot of detail about the different types of all-in-twos and the logistics of changing them: http://dirtydiaperlaundry.com/intro-to-cloth-diapers-all-in-twos/
  • All-in-Ones: These are cloth diapers that are entirely one piece. The whole thing comes off when you change and is laundered as one piece. They can take awhile to dry. The size of the diaper and level of absorbency are generally not very flexible.
OsoCozy All-in-One

OsoCozy All-in-One

  • Pocket Diapers: These diapers have an outer cover with a pocket or sleeve built in. The insert goes into the pocket, at which point the diaper stays together as one piece. The insert is removed when you launder your diapers and replaced when dry. These are very easy to use, and you can customize the type/thickness of insert that works best for you. These are very common and easy to find, and are the cloth diapers I’ve found most people like best.  BumGenius, Fuzzibunz, and Thirsties all make popular pocket diapers. Generally if you find homemade diapers for sale on etsy, or cloth diapers for sale on zulily, they are pocket diapers.
Fuzzibunz Pocket Diaper

Fuzzibunz Pocket Diaper

If you are interested in reading even more about types of cloth diapers, and their various pros and cons, you can check out this fabulous website. Fair warning, when I first encountered it I kind of went down a rabbit hole. I couldn’t stop reading her various information about cloth diaper products that I’ve never used before: http://soeasybeinggreen-blog.com/types-of-cloth-diapers/

My Recommendations

I have tried dozens of types of cloth diapers. My first were the old fashioned prefolds with pins, back when my baby sister was in diapers. While working with infants and toddlers in an NAEYC accredited early childhood center, I had the chance to see almost every type of cloth diaper under the sun, and I quickly learned which brands worked best for the majority of kids and families. Here’s my two cents:

BumGenius

BumGenius diapers are the best of the best. I like the BumGenius 4.0 One Size Diapers. They have options to fasten with snaps or the hook and loop (velcro) closures. I like both. They are a pocket diaper, which means that the insert comes out for laundering, and is stuffed back into the diaper before use. These make up the majority of my stash.

bumgenius

Pros: BumGenius diapers have a versatile, adjustable fit, which means the same diaper can fit on a 3 month old and a three year old. They stay secure even on mobile children, they are easy to put on but not easy for a child to remove themselves. BumGenius diapers have minimal leakage. They are the least leaky cloth diapers I am aware of (comparable to disposables in my experience, if they are changed ever 2-4 hrs). These diapers come with two inserts each, so you can customize the size for smaller babies or heavy wetters. The BumGenius pockets are favorites of people who don’t like cloth diapers, and these were the preferred diapers at the child development program I worked at, because they are so similar in style and function to disposables.  It is easy to take it off of baby and throw the whole thing into a diaper pail, without having to come into contact with the contents in any way.  If your partner is at all squeamish about cloth diapers, these might be a good choice. They also stand up well to washing, drying, and occasional bleach use.

Cons: They are more expensive than some other brands, running 15-25 dollars per new diaper, but they have a higher resale value and longer life as well. They are fairly thick, so they take up a fair about of drawer or diaper bag space, and add some puff to baby’s bottom (which can be nice when they are in the falling-down-often stage). I think it’s worth it because they are absorbent and don’t leak.  The inserts are microfiber, which are lightweight and help keep baby dry, but they are more prone to odor retention and aren’t as absorbent as some natural fibers. Because these are pocket diapers, there is an added step of re-stuffing the diapers before use. It takes very little time and effort, but is something to be aware of.

See their website for diagrams, pictures, and more details about their great diapers: http://www.bumgenius.com/

gDiapers

gDiapers are another brand that we love and regularly use. They are pretty different from the BumGenius pocket diapers. Here is how: gDiapers consist of three parts. There is a super absorbant insert, which goes against baby’s bum and is made of fleece and hemp, there is a waterproof  liner that holds the insert and keeps moisture from leaking through to the outside of the diaper (like a hammock), and there is a cute cotton cover, which secures the diaper around baby and creates a snug fit around the waist and legs. gDiapers are unique in that they have a hybrid option. The company website can explain in further detail what the specifics and limitations are, but basically, they make both cloth and disposable diaper inserts. The disposable inserts they make are free of harmful chemicals and are fully compostable, or they can be flushed down the toilet!

gDiapers come in different sizes- S, M, L, and XL (as opposed to the BumGenius, which come in one adjustable size). I didn’t start using them until my daughter could wear the mediums. I didn’t want to buy the smalls because I figured she would outgrow them quickly (they are good for up to 14 lbs). The mediums have some stretch and flexibility. It says they are good for 13-28 lbs, but I know people who have used when their baby was as light as 10lbs, and continued with them until their child was over 30lbs- and hopefully we’ll be close to potty training when that time comes! Some people have told me these are their favorite newborn diapers though, so it might be a worthwhile investment to get a few small covers.

gDiapers

gDiapers

Pros: These diaper inserts are the best I’ve found. The fleece layer is soft and moisture wicking against baby’s bum, and the hemp is unbelievably absorbent. The hemp is also odor resistant, and I have not experienced any lingering odor at all- which sometimes does happen with microfiber liners. These diapers have a trim fit, and much less bulk than any other cloth I’ve tried. It almost looks like baby is wearing thick training pants. When you change baby, you stick the wet insert into your diaper pail or wet bag, and keep using the liner and cover (unless they are very wet or soiled). This means less laundry, and less bulk in your wet bag if you are out and about. The cotton cover has a nice, natural feel, and the colors are really adorable. Along with being less bulky, these diapers are more breathable. We’ve found them to be a great option when baby has a rash.  The hemp inserts, covers, and liners are all very small, so a day’s supply can easily fit into a diaper bag. They are a really nice choice for travel. Having the flushable/disposable/biodegradable insert as an option has also been very nice for travel, or for days when there is no clean laundry. Because you re-use the covers, you don’t need to purchase as many. Lots of people say that 6-7 covers is all you need (as opposed to the pocket diapers, where you launder ever diaper and insert with each use). Some people love that these diapers fasten in the back. Now that I have a little squirmer, I do find them easier to put on. The “hook and loop” fasteners (like velcro) are the sturdiest and best quality I’ve ever seen. If you have a kid who unfastens their own diapers, these are supposed to be the most impossible to remove. The covers and liners also dry super quickly.

Cons: You have to touch the wet insert when you are changing baby. It’s not a big deal – I use my cloth wipe to scoop it up. And you should be washing your hands after every change, regardless. They are a bit more leak prone than some of the pocket diapers- I have not had success using them as nighttime diapers, and there was a learning period of a day or two before I got the hang of how the inserts should fit into the liner. Because they are so trim, depending on your baby, gDiapers may need to be changed a bit more frequently- 2 hours is fine, but 3.5 hours is the max I’ve gone without getting a leak. The hemp inserts, while super aborbant, also take a bit longer to dry in the dryer. I’ve never tried line drying, but imagine it would take a full day or more. Some of the cotton covers seem prone to fading with lots of laundering. I’ve noticed it with the gray in particular (It shouldn’t be necessary to bleach them, but if you do, obviously they will fade). Depending on when/how you use these, you may need to buy a few different sized covers. The inserts however, are the same for the M, L, and XL size, so you don’t need to replace the entire system.

So much more info (and sales and package deals) on their great website and through their facebook group: http://www.gdiapers.com/

Other Popular Options:

I have heard lots of great feedback about Alva cloth diapers. I have had good experiences in the past with Fuzzibunz, which are pocket diapers with adjustable waist and leg gussets (a unique feature). They work well on smaller babies, and babies with very small bottoms or skinny legs. With my particular baby, for some reason, they were prone to leaks and rashes.

Getting Started. Trying and Buying Your Cloth Diapers:

Ok, so, you are intrigued. You want to give cloth a try. But where to start? If you plan to go all in and want an entire set of cloth diapers, and you don’t plan to do laundry every day,  you will probably need 20-30 diapers total. That allows for some in your diaper drawer, some in your diaper bag, some dirty ones in the pail, and some in the laundry. I usually wash diapers every 2-3 days. This prevents me from totally running out, and keeps diaper stains and odors down.

If you know what kind of diaper you want to use, you can search online and often buy a whole set at a discount from distributors. Amazon and Target actually carry a wide variety of cloth diapers, which you can add to your registry, or track in case they go on sale.

There are also programs for you to try out a variety of new cloth diapers and see what you like. With these trial kits, you pay a deposit, receive a variety of cloth diapers to try, use them, and then return them after a set period of time, at which point you get money back. Jillian’s Drawers is a website with a trial system: http://www.jilliansdrawers.com/products/clothdiapers/tryclothfor10/tryclothfor10

Lots of moms find deals on entire sets of cloth diapers on ebay or craigslist or through shop and swap groups.  These are usually heavily discounted and contain at least a few different types. There are cheaper, non-name brand versions of most styles of diaper, and while the quality or fit may not be as good, you can get an idea about whether you like an all-in-two or an all-in-one, etc.

There are also cloth diaper co-ops, where groups of Moms order diapers and baby supplies together to get them at a cheaper rate. I’m in one, and it’s awesome! You can search for these in facebook.

If you are the crafty type, you can even try making your own diapers or covers. There are tons of patterns available online, and many work-at-home moms have their own Etsy shops selling their cute handmade creations.

My advice is, look at the options, think about what features are most important to you, then get your hands on some diapers and see what appeals to you.  I think if you give it a try, you will be really happy with the results!

Also, keep in mind, this is not an all-or-nothing arrangement. For many families, it makes sense to use disposables some of the time. Some families use them when their babies are very small (I used biodegradable disposables until my daughter weighed 12 lbs and had a good fit from my BumGenius pocket diapers). Some families prefer to use disposables at night, or when their child is with another caregiver. Do what makes sense for your family. At this time, I am cloth all the way- even when I travel or am hiking. But I also know that I need my diaper system to be functional and it shouldn’t feel like torture, so if I need to be flexible in the future I will. Even if you use cloth for just the first year, or some of the time, you will be saving money, making a great choice for your baby, and helping our planet. In the end, that’s my goal. I want to show my baby a peaceful, loving lifestyle, and help preserve the planet so that she can enjoy it with her children some day.

Coming soon: Cloth Diaper Gear (wetbags, sprayers, cloth wipes, etc.), Laundry Routine, and Problem Solving Common Issues

Why Choose Cloth Diapers? (part 1 of 4)

I recently got an invitation to enter a contest for “a year’s supply of diapers”. This invite featured a baby sitting in front of stacks and stacks of disposable diapers. The fine print specified that the winner would receive 2,500 disposable diapers. My jaw just about hit the floor when I read this number. That is a CRAZY amount of diapers.

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image courtesy of red tricycle

I took this as a sign from the universe, that I should share some basics about cloth diapering. In my career(s) as a doula, preschool teacher, care provider, and Mom, I learned that lots of families have thought about using cloth diapers, but in the end they have found the process to be confusing or intimidating, or they don’t feel that they have the time to try different types or do the research.There are so many products, and if you’ve never put one on a baby, or never thought about the logistics, I can see where you might get overwhelmed and just buy the disposables. Easy. However, cloth diapering is not rocket science. And there are lots of benefits that make me feel so happy about the choice to use cloth. That’s right. I’m happy about changing diapers.

I would love to de-mystify the process and share what I’ve learned and what works for me, and hope I can answer any questions as I go. Maybe this will help you feel confident enough to give it a try. Because there is so much information and I want to present it as clearly as possible, I will be doing a series of posts addressing the ins and outs of cloth diapering. Today, I want to talk about why I made that choice in the first place.

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image courtesy of BumGenius

bumgenius

image courtesy of BumGenius

Why choose cloth diapers for your baby?

Here is a short list of reasons that people, including me, choose cloth diapers… ok it actually isn’t a short list. There are just SO MANY great reasons:

  • Cloth diapering is better for baby. Cloth diapers do not contain the chemicals found in disposable diapers. Every diaper is different, and there are some brands that are more natural or “better” than others. They are all made with chemicals. Wood pulp, bleach, dye, corn, plastics, perfume, etc. Cloth diapers are made of… well… cloth. Cotton, hemp, or synthetic fleece, you have many choices. When you pick up a baby wearing a cloth diaper, it smells like a sweet baby. Your baby won’t crinkle like when you squish a plastic and paper diaper, and it doesn’t smell like corn or perfume.
  • Temperature. Although some people may consider them to be bulkier, cloth diapers actually keep baby’s bum and body slightly cooler than disposables. It makes sense when you think about it, since a disposable diaper essentially wraps your baby in a layer of insulation and plastic, as opposed to natural fibers.
  • Cloth diapers are cute. They really are. Gone are the days of bulky plastic pants. Today’s diapers are trim and fitted. They come in tons of colors and prints, and there is nothing cuter than a little baby with a tush wrapped in fun fabric. And ok, I admit, there is very little that’s exciting about changing a terribly messy diaper- but choosing a new fun color at least jazzes things up a bit.
  • Cloth diapers are less wasteful. Let’s talk numbers. If you cloth diaper 100% of the time, and you don’t want to do laundry every day, you might need a set of 30 cloth diapers. That will last from the newborn stage, until your child is potty trained (let’s just say that happens sometime around age 2.5 yrs… although many of us know that it can be later than that). If you use disposables 100% of the time, your child will use around 6,000 diapers in that time period. When a disposable diaper is full, it at least doubles in size. Let’s think about how much space 6,000 dirty diapers would take up. I don’t want to use up that much of our planet to store my kid’s poop and pee.
  • Cloth diapers are better for the environment. Aside from the issue of disposing of those 6,000 dirty diapers- disposable diapers are created in factories. Every single diaper that is created results in some level of industrial waste. It takes water, chemicals, human labor, and excess material waste to make each diaper, as well as the packaging it comes in. This is something most people don’t think about. Industrial pollutants are terrible for our planet, and for the communities where factories are located. Even if your cloth diapers were made in a factory, they don’t contain as many chemicals and harmful components as disposables. And you are buying 20 or 30, not thousands. The carbon footprint in so much smaller.
  • Cloth diapering is more economical. Yes, a set of cloth diapers is expensive to buy at first, and you have a nominal recurring cost of extra laundry. But in the long run, if you use disposable diapers on one baby for a little over two years, you spend much more buying disposables week after week than you do on a set of cloth diapers. The cost is just spread out over a longer period of time.
  • Other people can buy all of your diapers for you, saving you additional time and money! I registered for cloth diapers, and I received almost a whole supply. As a result, I didn’t have to purchase very many at all. There is no way someone is going to give you 6,000 disposables. And if they did, where would you put them?
  • Cloth diapers are the gift that keeps on giving. You buy one set. Your baby uses them, and one fine day, after you’ve done sticker charts and baby sign language and clapped and cheered  while looking at toilets full of pee, your baby doesn’t need diapers anymore. Congratulations, they are potty trained. Now what do you do with the cloth diaper stash? Well, if you plan to have another child, or more children, you can keep using them. Instead of saving you from using 6,000 disposable diapers, your stash can be re-used. I know families who have used a set of BumGenius diapers through three children. That saved 18,000 disposable diapers! (Even if you got a good deal and those 18,000 disposable diapers cost about 30 cents each, that would be a total diaper cost of 5,400 dollars). All done having babies? Guess what…those cloth diapers are STILL going to give back to you. You can sell them. Lots of moms are really into collecting different types of cloth diapers to try, or getting more of their favorite brand. Some people even specialize in refurbishing used cloth diapers and reselling them. These people will scoop up your used stash and pay back some of your initial investment. Depending on the brand, print, and condition, you can easily sell them for 30-50% of their initial price, and you might even be able to get back 60-75% of what you paid. You can sell them on craigslist, or through a variety of facebook groups and online diaper swaps.
  • You are always prepared. I will never “run out” of diapers in the middle of the night, or have to run to the store just to grab a pack of diapers. I have all the diapers I will ever need, in my house. If I am close to running out, I can wash some.
  • Cloth diapering is easy. And it gets easier all of the time. In the past ten years or so, the process has been made simpler than ever before. You don’t have to use pins or fold fabric into a special shape. Putting a cloth diaper on your baby is just as simple as putting on a disposable diaper. And there are handy tools that I will get into later, that solve some of the problems people have had in the past.

Have I convinced you yet?

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Coming soon:

The Many Types of Cloth Diapers, Where to Buy, and Which Ones Work Best

The Nitty Gritty Details: How to Launder Your Diapers, Cloth Diaper Gear, and Common Issues or Problems

Owl Babies: Crafts and Story Time

This week in preschool I planned a nocturnal animal theme. Bats and owls are always favorites as Halloween approaches, but I like to talk about the habitats and behaviors of the animals rather than focus on making holiday decorations.

Today was owl day. We sang owl songs made the cutest ever pine cone owls. You know it’s a great day when every single child does the art project. I love using natural materials to inspire the little sprouts (foam stickers are my enemy). For this craft we used pine cones, cotton, feathers, leaves, beans, and straw. The only pre-made items were the buttons, egg cartons (for the nests), and glue.

I showed a few children how to pull apart the cotton and stick it into the pine cone cracks – then as more children joined the art table, I asked the children who were already working to show the newcomers the first step. There was this great sense of leadership, cooperation, and discovery, as they made their baby owls together. The most magical part of this art project was watching the way the child started out casually handling a pine cone- then, as it transformed into a little baby owl, they began to cradle it gently in their little hands, like a fragile living creature. It was like magic, watching how each child had magically transformed an everyday object with their imagination!

During our project, if a child seemed hesitant or lost I might encourage them by asking what they needed. If they responded that they didn’t know, I might suggest “well, how will this little owl see?” and when they replied “eyes!” I might ask “What can we use for eyes?”. There was an amazing level of diversity in the baby owls that they made. One child scavenged the art bins for googly eyes. Another picked through all of the buttons until she isolated a couple of jewels to use. Some children used feathers (from my chickens, of course!) for wings, and others used leaves. Their processes amaze me, as usual!

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They were inspired by our reading- one of my all time favorite books. Owl Babies. The whole time they were crafting their adorable owls they were telling me which owl from the book it was. So I came home and discovered that there is an animated version on YouTube! Then I discovered they have these for almost all of my favorite books. It’s like Reading Rainbow on demand! The little literacy loving child within my heart is ecstatic.

Perfect Play Dough

Back to school. For me, that means welcoming two new batches of preschoolers to the farm. The little sprouts love sensory activities, and there is nothing quite like a fresh batch of play dough to keep little hands busy. It is called “play” dough for a reason. Little sprouts should be  using it to play and have fun. I encourage them to mush it, squish it, mix it together. If they get excited about pressing leaves into it to see the imprints, and the dough gets dirty in the process, go for it! This stuff isn’t gold- you can always make more.

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Here is my favorite recipe:

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon alum OR cream of tartar (I prefer alum, but cream of tartar can be easier to find. They are both in the spice aisle of your grocery store)
1 3/4 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons oil

Optional:

scent and color

Play dough is a great tactile sensory experience- but adding other sensory elements makes it that much more intriguing for little ones. I believe in the power of scent to change mood- I love to add lavender oil to my play dough. Peppermint, and cinnamon are other nice options for older kids- in my experience they need to be able to understand that the dough is not for eating before “dessert” type scents and flavors are added. When it comes to colors, a little dab will do ya. A few drops goes a long way. Having two different colors that the kids can mix and experiment with is always nice. Good old fashioned food coloring is the easiest, but liquid watercolor, or natural food colorants can also be added. I try to avoid adding food dyes to things that kids will be eating- but since this is not a food recipe, I don’t mind at all. The vibrant hues and ease of the droppers are very handy.

Directions:

1 Mix flour and salt in a large bowl.

2 Heat water. It should be steaming. A full boil is not necessary.

3 In a glass measuring cup, mix alum, water, oil, and color and add to the flour/salt mixture. Stir until slightly cool.

4 Knead well. Invite your little sprouts to help you (test the temperature first!).  Add flour as needed until it is no longer sticky.

5 Store in an airtight container. Nobody likes crusty dough.

I like to toss the play dough every couple of weeks, for two reasons- the first being, that it gets GROSS. Kids are living petri dishes, and those little hands are conduits for all types of germs and bacteria. During cold and flu season, if I notice lots of sneezes, I sometimes discard the dough after one class. In my own home, because it’s being played with by the same little sprouts over and over, play dough gets a slightly longer lifespan. The second reason I like to toss it and make a new batch is this: kids thrive on variety. Changing the color, or the scent, or letting them add glitter or bird seed to change the appearance and texture of the dough makes it that much more fun!