Parenthood

My Favorite Hungryroot Foods & How to Get Kids to Eat Them

My Favorite Hungryroot Foods & How to Get Kids to Eat Them | Writing Between Pauses

You guys know I love Hungryroot. I’ve written about them a few times and as they’ve changed how they deliver food, I’ve grown to love them even more. Hungryroot is a great way to supplement your weekly grocery shopping with quick, convenient options. I wanted to share a few of my favorites, while sharing my tips for getting (slightly picky) kids to eat them.

If you want to try Hungryroot, you can use my promo code PAUSEKIDS for $25 off your first two boxes of Hungryroot; that’s $50 total! Click here to visit Hungryroot and sign up for your first box today. I promise, you’ll love it as much as I do.

1. The Superblend Salad Mix

Sometimes, you meet a salad mix that is just absolutely perfect. I have a love-hate relationship with salads in general; I find them delicious, but hard to make and eat. Plus, buying lettuce and all the ingredients for a great salad can be expensive—and it all goes bad so quickly, I can barely use it all.

I know this is not an attractive photo, but superblend salad + brown rice + ground beef is the perfect burrito bowl.

I know this is not an attractive photo, but superblend salad + brown rice + ground beef is the perfect burrito bowl.

Enter the Superblend Salad mix, which has a combination of (wait for it) Brussels Sprouts, Napa Cabbage, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Carrots, and Kale. It is…. perfect. When I tell you this salad mix works for everything, I mean it. Salads? Sure. Taco bowls? Yep. Coleslaw for tacos? YUP. In wraps? For sure. You name it, I’ll eat it. I’ve ever sauteed it for stir fry and it’s good that way too. It’s so freaking good.

And get this: even Forrest likes it. A sprinkle in his burrito (beans and rice only please, no cheese) (yes, he hates cheese) for a little crunch, or on his taco as coleslaw. He also likes a little sprinkled on top of his ramen when I make that at home, because he’s a cultured toddler like that.

But in all seriousness, this is a salad mix that isn’t droopy or plain; it has crunch, it has variety, it has flavor. It’s so, so good and perfect for using with kids. Like I said, it totally works as a coleslaw mix. A few suggestions: use on tacos, barbecue chicken sandwiches (!!!), or alongside fried (or baked!) chicken. Mix with ranch dressing and serve in a BLT wrap. There are so many ways to add this to the things you and your kids are eating anyway, for extra nutrition.

2. Superfood Almond Butter

A classic waffle topped with Superfood almond butter & syrup—this is Forrest’s favorite breakfast!

A classic waffle topped with Superfood almond butter & syrup—this is Forrest’s favorite breakfast!

We are bit peanut butter fans in our house—and swapping classic (aka sweetened, not very good for you) peanut butter has been a huge challenge for us. I’ve yet to find an almond butter that I love as much as I love JIF (and lemme tell you, I love JIF). However, Hungryroot’s Superfood Almond Butter is the closest thing I’ve found. Here are a few ways we love it in our house:

  • On toast with slicked strawberries or peaches on top

  • On waffles with syrup

  • In smoothies with banana

  • As a dip for apple slices in the afternoon

  • Mixed with oats as a crumble for pumpkin bread

  • Paired with local honey in an almond butter & jelly sandwich

  • On top of my morning oatmeal

  • Danny mixes a hearty dollop into his Kodiak Cake Flapjacks every morning before going to work.

This almond butter is just perfect. It’s not too sweet, but not too plain; it tastes like almonds without being aggressive; and it’s seriously healthy. It has almonds, chia and hemp seeds, coconut sugar, goji berry powder, and pink Himalayan salt. Honestly, it’s perfect. The packaging is also perfect because it’s easy for me to put the entire thing in my bag; it comes in a resealable tube not unlike a packet of baby food. It’s easy to dispense and great for traveling.

3. Brown Rice & Quinoa Blend

I am terrible at cooking rice (like, really bad at it), so these Brown Rice & Quinoa Blend 90-second pouches from Hungryroot are basically the answer to my prayers. Finding quick cooking brown rice, as well as quinoa, is like running a gauntlet, but Hungryroot pretty much took the baton from me and ran the entire race. They actually snapped their fingers, ala Thanos, and got rid of the race. These are perfect for nights where you have leftovers you need to use: leftover taco fixings? Make a burrito bowl. Leftover stirfry? Heat it up! Just need a quick dinner? Some brown rice and salad greens and call it a night! They are perfect.

Forrest loves rice and beans, so I pretty much can always make him happy with a scoop of homemade refried beans (just heat a can of low sodium black beans and mash with a fork, voila, homemade refried beans) and a scoop of rice. Add a few torn of tortillas (or even better, some of the Sprouted Wheat wraps from Hungryroot) and he is set. It’s a quick, easy dinner for a toddler who loves one thing and one thing only: carbs.

4. Energizing Green Juice

Personally, I love a green juice—the more vegetable-y, the better. And this one from Hungryroot really fits that description: it has cold-pressed cucumber, apple, celery, lemon, spinach, ginger, kale, mint, and parsley. It mostly tastes like cucumber water with a hint of lemon. If that doesn’t sound like your thing, go ahead and try it, you might be surprised.

However, this makes an excellent non-dairy base for a smoothie. Forrest and I love smoothies; it’s our normal afternoon snack. Here are a few of my favorite smoothie combos:

  • A bottle of green juice + pineapple, watermelon, cherries, & a frozen banana

  • A bottle of green juice + 1/4 cup of canned pumpkin (you can freeze this in tablespoon size ice cubes and it makes a great ice base too!), ginger & nutmeg, a banana, and a little bit of honey

  • A bottle of green juice + strawberries, a frozen banana, and a big spoonful of the Superfood Almond Butter

These are our three absolute favorites. Even better is to make a smoothie then freeze into popsicle molds for a quick, super healthy popsicle on hot days. This is Forrest’s absolute favorite treat during the summer and being able to offer a healthy option with the energizing green juice makes it even better.

5. Red Lentil Fusilli

Do you find yourself making spaghetti, like, 3 times a week in your house? Sometimes, it’s all I want to eat; it’s all Forrest wants to eat; it’s all Danny wants to eat. It’s so quick to boil some noodles, crack open some sauce, and move on with my life. That’s why I love that Hungryroot now has some quick grain options—including plaintain luinguini! But my favorite is their Red Lentil Fusili; I’ve also loved lentil pastas, they are a great, easy swap and they don’t taste any different from regular noodles. But you get an extra dose of iron, protein, and fiber.

Obviously, you can pair this pasta with any sauce (we are partial to red sauce in our family) and your toddler will probably wolf it down. However, Hungryroot also has some great, kid-friendly sauces, like Superfood Tomato Sauce (a classic!), Beet Pesto, Chickpea Pesto, and Garlic Parm.

If you had told me a few years ago that I was regularly eating red lentil pasta with chickpea pesto sauce, I would have told you that that wasn’t possible; I was a tried-and-true box of pasta and jar of store brand marinara sauce lover. But this really is just a better option—and it’s delivered to your door!

Final Thoughts

Hungryroot isn’t just for adults, is what I want you to take away from this. If you want your kids to try new foods, and develop a love of some healthier foods, Hungryroot is a great way to do so. Plus, it’s just so easy to pick a few things and have them delivered to your door. No wandering through Whole Foods, trying to decide what to pick; no spending more than necessary. That’s why I love the subscription element; you pay the same price every week and get exactly what you want! These are just a few of my favorite items, but if you follow me on Instagram, you can frequently see what Hungryroot foods I’m eating every day.

Again, don’t forget you can use my code, PAUSEKIDS, to get $25 off your first two boxes—$50 total! You can also stretch those boxes over a month, getting one every other week, to see how often you would want a delivery.

Disclaimer: I am a Hungryroot affiliate, which means every time you use my code, I will receive a small kickback. Posts like this help Writing Between Pauses keep going! This post was written on my own and all viewpoints expressed remain my own. I just really love Hungryroot! If you’d like to learn more about my disclaimer policy, click here.

Real Mom Talk: Does My Child Need a Set Schedule?

Real Mom Talk: Does My Child Need a Set Schedule? | Writing Between Pauses

When Forrest was first born, I had this (slightly) bad habit of obsessively reading blog posts about baby schedules.

I would read first-person blog posts that detailed 3- to 4-month-old schedules. Articles about how to set a schedule for a baby. And everything in between. I would read about the pros and cons of feeding on demand, the different ways to setting schedules, certain schools of thought regarding baby scheduling.

As he got older, I started to get less obsessed with the idea that I was doing him a disservice of not having a very set schedule—but I still thought about it a lot. And I still tried to keep things regular. Thursdays were Grocery Store Days, followed by a walk in the park. Fridays were “Fun Days” where we might go to the mall, a book store, the coffee shop, anywhere.

Now that he’s in school, we do have a much more set schedule, some of which revolves around making sure we always do the same few things every single day (like washing our hands, going potty, picking up our clothes—you know, basic stuff).

I’ve always been told that kids thrive on structure: having a schedule is vitally important. But there is so much information out there about scheduling our kids: when is it too much? When is it too little? What if your kiddo gets bored? What if your toddler gets overwhelmed? How do you know what to do?

As I wrote in my blog post about TV time, I’m not an expert. I’m just one mom who thinks about these things… a lot. I’m always trying to make the “right” decision—and often, we don’t know what that decision is.

I do want to share what I’ve learned along the way when it comes to schedules, and then I’ll conclude with… are they really necessary? Or can we be a little more loosey-goosey with our kids?

1. The Infant Months

For me, having an infant was about one thing and one thing only: both of us surviving. That’s especially true of the newborn months.

When Forrest was a newborn, I was in the unique position of not really getting to experience those first 3-4 calm, sleepy weeks. The thing about newborns (as in, brand spanking new newborns) is they sleep a lot. Like… nearly all the time. If you’re at home and comfy, cozy during those times, it’s a really simple, beautiful part of your life. For us, we were still in the hospital for the first week; then, the second week we were running up to the hospital every single day for blood tests. Then, the third week we had mutiple doctor’s appointments still. (For my preeclampsia, I had three check up appointments to ensure my blood pressure had returned to normal and I was no longer leaking protein.)

We were all over the place those first few weeks, which meant it was so hard to know when the hell we were supposed to do anything. I was barely able to be home during the day and then I was essentially awake all night (following an incredibly strict feeding and pumping schedule 6 times through the night).

Looking back, if I had been able to have a more “normal” newborn phase, I definitely would have been able to keep a better schedule. As it was, I was frequently pumping in the car on the way to and from doctor’s visits, carrying a breast pump, multiple bottles, and a cooler every single place I went. God, it was exhausting!

This is all to say: for us, a schedule just simply wasn’t possible for the first month or so. And then, by the time he was 2 and 3 months old, I still felt absolutely frenzied. I was exhausted all the time, sleeping 4 hours or so every night, and still pumping. (I don’t think I will ever be able to convey simply how much I was pumping in those first months. And it didn’t even establish a good supply! Thanks, body!)

As odd as our experience was, I think most people struggle with schedules for infants. When Forrest was a bit older, we implemented the Play-Sleep-Eat routine, which is less a schedule and more just an order of doing things (to avoid associating eating with sleeping). We kept that routine from about 4 months to about 7 months, when we switched entirely to formula feeding (which gave me significantly more time to do things while he slept or played, instead of just frantically pumping).

2. Young Toddlers

As he got closer to a year, that’s when we started getting more of a schedule going. We would wake in the mornings, have a bottle (or once he was about 13-14 months, a sippy cup), eat breakfast, then play until naptime. Then after nap, we would go to the grocery store, go on a walk, and head home for lunch, then nap. That was pretty much our routine until he was about two or so.

Young toddlers (I would say this age group is whatever age your baby starts to walk until about 2 1/2) are really easy to schedule. In fact, I would say they need a schedule. They like the feeling of security it gives them. And I know for Forrest, whenever we deviated from our schedule, he was much fussier and struggled more to do just about everything. (And it should be said: some days we just had to deviate the schedule for whatever reason.) Here’s a little bit more information about why toddlers crave schedules and routines:

Creating a regular routine is an essential way to give toddlers the security of knowing “what happens next” in their day. It also develops the prefrontal cortex, the planning and executive function part of the brain.

(Source)

In short: getting a routine in place by 14-18 months will help your child be better at time management later, as well as helping them emotionally mature.

3. Preschoolers

Preschool age is usually considered about 2 1/2 to 4, so Forrest is right smack dab in the middle of it. Everything about schedules for young toddlers still holds true, but it’s important to deviate the schedule as they mature and grow older. Here is a sample of our usual day right now:

  • 6am, wake up and have milk

  • Breakfast

  • Play time

  • 8:30am, Forrest gets to watch Daniel Tiger

  • 9:30-10am, naptime

  • 11:30am, lunch

  • Forrest goes to preschool in the afternoon

  • After preschool, he’s allowed to pick a movie from our selection and watch it while I make dinner

  • 4pm, dinner

  • 5pm, play time

  • 6pm, wind down, read books, no TV or screens

  • 7pm, bedtime

That’s it. It’s very simple and easy to remember. And it should be said: no schedule for any one child is prescriptive. As I said, I’ve definitely fallen into the trap of looking up other toddler schedules and thinking, Am I doing everything wrong? The answer is, probably not. Fo thrives with this schedule and does really well. On days where he isn’t at school, we might spend the afternoon at the park or go to the library, it just depends. By age 3, some kids have given up naps entirely, depending on how well they sleep at night—however, Forrest just isn’t quite there yet.

Again, having a schedule helps kids stick to a routine and learn time management. However, Forrest is definitely at the age where he’s more likely to get bored—so I spend more time trying to think of creative things to do during playtime (like painting suncatchers, doing small lessons, and more). That’s a bit more active than during his younger toddler days, when he was content to wandering around with a spatula!

4. So Are Schedules Necessary?

Short answer: kind of.

The longer answer is that it very much depends on your child. It’s one thing to look up information and see that schedules help children mature emotionally and mentally—and it’s another thing to actually implement that! Some people, and of course, some children, feel too claustrophobic with a strict schedule! This is the problem with all parenting advice: it really is so intensely personal to your child. Just as we can’t prescribe a specific eating method to every child, it’s impossible to prescribe a way to keep your child occupied during the day—even if perhaps you desperately want to do so for a bit of routine yourself!

I think one thing to consider is to not think of it as a schedule—but as a routine. Having a set routine is different from having a set schedule, but both are very good for children. Doing the same few things every single day in the same order helps ground your child. Healthy sleep routines (such as bath-book-bed) can help encourage your child to sleep more soundly, because they know what to expect. The same goes for each day of the week! Forrest knows we go grocery shopping on Thursdays, he knows he gets to go to school on Fridays, and he knows he gets to go to the park on Saturdays. That’s just our routine!

Just as with all parenting blog posts I write, I feel like I ended this one rather wishy-washy as well. But it’s the truth: I can’t tell you whether your child needs a schedule or not. You know your child best. There is no harm in working on getting a set pattern to your day (especially if it helps you get things done as well!) and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out! No harm, no foul.

I’ll turn it over to you now. Does your child have a set schedule or routine? What does it look like? And what do you think, are schedules a necessity or too much?

My Tips for Packing to Travel with Kids for Spring Break

My Tips for Packing to Travel with Kids for Spring Break | Writing Between Pauses

It goes without saying: almost everyone loves the idea of traveling, but the actual traveling is hardly anyone’s favorite part of it. Moving from A to B, B to C, and C to every other letter of the alphabet definitely takes more patience than anything else.

Now add to that a child, who may or may not be old enough to understand patience (or might just not feel like it at that moment), and things get really sticky. I’ve written about traveling with young toddlers before in the form of everything I learned about taking a (mostly) solo road trip and my 4 tips from when we went to Disneyland (and drove the whole way).

We were just recently looking at our photos from our trip to Disneyland. It’s funny to think that was two years ago—and Fo looks so small in all the photos! He was a younger toddler then and now he’s a kid—and things are definitely different now.

When we first had Forrest, it felt like we might never be able to travel again. Even just a trip to the mall felt like I needed to pack an entire army—and if we did travel anywhere, it felt like I had to pack up my whole house and just take it along. We ended up at our destination with bags and bags and bags of stuff for just a few days! And don’t get me started on the pain in the ass it was to take along all my pumped milk, plus my pump, plus formula, plus bottles… I still remember trying to label the tops of my expressed milk to take in the car on our first spring break road trip after having Forrest, pumping in random parking lots throughout the 9 hour drive there, and much more.

I’ve definitely been able to streamline things as Forrest has gotten older, especially when it comes to packing. I thought I’d share my tips for how I keep everything organized in the car. If you’re planning to travel (for the first time or the 100th time) with kids this Spring Break, this one is for you.

1. Invest in Boxes

The best decision I made before going to Disneyland nearly two years ago was buying 2 clear packing containers. They are about a foot deep, measuring 12 inches by 10 inches at the lid. They aren’t super big, but they aren’t teeny tiny either. I used them to pack supplies for Forrest on our trip and so they would be easy to stack and see inside of.

When I tell you I use these every single road trip now, I’m not joking! They make it so easy to keep supplies together. I tend to keep all our travel stuff in one of them; that includes things like sunblock, our emergency kit, some non-perishable emergency snacks, and things like that. I also keep the small DVD player we use in the car for Fo in that bin as well, just so I always know where it is!

2. Everyone Gets One (1) Bag

I’ve definitely made the mistake in the past of packing In a way that doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, like packing one bag for clothes and one bag for makeup. In general, I know if I need more than one suitcase, I’m probably overpacking and need to talk to myself about what I’m doing.

Overpacking is a great way to ruin your spring break (especially the traveling portion), so our rule now is: everyone gets one bag, even Forrest. He gets one bag for clothes and toys. That keeps us from overpacking and means we have room for everything else we need, or any souvenirs we might pick up on our trip.

3. Keep Snacks Contained

My husband Danny and I are very big on travel snacks. It gives us something to do as we drive (especially on a long road trip) and also makes it easy to keep Forrest occupied (“throw him another snack”). I know this isn’t the healthiest way to travel, but honestly, what’s the fun in having a super healthy Spring Break? (Ok, there might be some fun in it.)

We often have this issue of snacks getting absolutely everywhere in the car: bags of candy in the glove box, bags of chips open in the backseat, you know the drill. Suddenly, I need to vacuum my car really bad.

We designate one spot for snacks in the car (as well as where we store extra drinks and water) and really stick to it now. This keeps me from absolutely feeling like I’m losing it and also keeps the car clean. We usually choose the space behind the passenger seat, as it’s easy for Danny to get out and grab (as I usually drive).

4. Think About What You’ll Need Access To

Have a DVD player for your kiddo? Keep movies within arm’s reach of the passenger seat.

Know you want to drink lots of water? Keep water bottles handy within reach.

Pack your car so that you have access to the things you know you’ll need to grab as you drive—and don’t worry about the rest. Charging cables and extra battery packs can be kept in the glovebox or console; books can be kept in door pockets. Pack accordingly.

5. If you’re stopping midway, think of what you’ll only need for that night.

We often have a bin (throwback to item one on this list!) that is just things we need for at night. Oftentimes, we break up long drives with a stay overnight along the way—traveling with a toddler, it’s just easiest for us. We don’t want to totally unload the car, so we usually just take what we need: our bags, our snacks, and the overnight bin (as well as anything valuable, like laptops). That means leaving in the morning is way less hectic as we don’t have to repack the entire car.

6. Remember a Trash Bin

All those snacks, as well as stops along the way, wiping faces, and more… you need a trash bag. I usually grab 4-5 plastic Target bags and stow them in the car, then we use this as trash bags through the drive, throwing them away whenever we stop. It just makes it so much easier to keep the car clean if you have a specific spot to put trash.

3 Quick and Easy Valentine's Day Crafts for Kids

3 Quick and Easy Valentine's Day Crafts for Kids | Writing Between Pauses

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and if you’re like me, you kind of forget Valentine’s Day exists until it’s, well, a day away. You, like me, are probably racing to the Dollar Store for whatever Valentine’s you can find for your kids, or yourself.

I love doing holiday crafts with Forrest. It’s a great way to use up a little time during long days. Plus, it’s a little more heartfelt than a store bought Valentine. I’ve collected a few of my favorite crafts from Pinterest—as well as one we’ve done ourselves recently!

1. Love Canvas

kids valentine's day love canvas

Supplies needed:

  • 1 small-to-medium sized canvas (I found them for $1 at the Dollar Store!)

  • Acrylic paint in the colors of your choice

  • Paintbrushes

  • Masking tape

  • Sharpie

I made these with Forrest for his grandparents a few weeks ago (hopefully, his grandparents in Idaho have received theirs and this is not a spoiler!) I found canvas at the Dollar Store, as well as some acrylic paint; so the cost for making 4 of these was only about $10. That’s pretty good!

I started by making a heart out of masking tape on the canvas, then I let Forrest go to town painting. We used red, pink, and white paint on both paintbrushes and round sponge dabbers. He really liked using the sponges. Next time, I want to do heart-shaped sponges and see if that helps him a little more! I wished I had a little bit of blue paint, because he kept asking for purple. But they turned out beautiful!

When they were dry, i peeled off the masking tape, then drew phrases on (Love You! or just Love) in pencil, before tracing in black Sharpie. They turned out so cute!

2. Paper Plate Unicorns

These are from one of my favorite craft blogs. Paper plate unicorns! I have about 1,000 leftover paper plates from parties over the years and honestly, I’m trying to get rid of them in a mindful way. This is a genius craft. It would be particularly good for playdates or preschool classes. Perhaps minus the glitter!

3. Fingerprint Heart Trees

This is another great craft for sending to grandparents or family who live far away, because it is a small piece of your toddler or child. I love how these fingerprint trees look and they use just paint and probably a lot of patience. They would look beautiful framed in a gallery wall as well. The best part is that you could really switch up the color scheme for any holiday.

Should My Toddler Watch TV?

Should My Toddler Watch TV? | Writing Between Pauses

When I took Forrest to the pediatrician back in October for his 3-year well check, this is the question his doctor asked me, more than once: “does he watch a lot of TV?”

My pediatrician, bless her, is an advocate for reduced screen time. She probably asks this of every single parent she encounters every single day and, most likely, it gets very annoying after a while. And she probably also knows that most parents fudge the answer a bit.

Are you curious about what I said?

My answer was this: “He watches some.”

Ok, you’re right, I danced around the answer.

She gave me a knowing look and a nod and then asked if I had any concerns I wanted to talk about. Right back into the appointment.

But I knew it, she had me pegged. I was a parent who let my kid watch TV—and probably too much TV. Is there anything worse?

TV time is a controversial subject among pediatricians and mom groups. There are lots of differing opinions on whether or not TV is a good or bad thing—or even perhaps just a neutral thing. On one side, you have people saying that screen time can effect children’s vision (I agree), can cause ADHD (um, maybe a bit less), and just shows plain laziness on the parents part (hm, definitely disagree there). And then, on the other side, you have the “I watched TV my whole childhood and I’m fine” group (but… are you fine?).

And in between, you have me. And probably you, if you’re reading this.

If you’re like me and buy arguments on both sides, you might still find yourself overwhelmed by what to decide to do. Should I let my toddler watch TV? Or should I be a one woman show every single day? (Ok, that’s an exaggeration.)

I am by no means whatsoever an expert when it comes to children and screen time. But I wanted to write down some of my very own beliefs and thoughts about TV and my toddler—in the hopes that it helps other parents. Because I think when we learn from actual parents (and not just experts, not just data), we’re more likely to find an answer that is more nuanced than just yes or no.

What’s the Harm in a Little TV?

Do you want to know what else happened at my son’s 3-year well-check? After my pediatrician asked about screen time, she asked if I had any concerns.

And I did!

Here’s what I asked: “I have noticed that my son sometimes feels the need to fix when other people are upset. He wants everyone to be happy and gets quite upset if he feels others are sad, mad, or just having a bad day.”

Our pediatrician thought on this for a few minutes (as she took his temperature, checked his reflexes, and had him do an eye test). Then she told me something really important: “Did you know most children don’t show empathy until around the age of 8? They understand when other people are sad before that, most of the time, but what your son is showing is empathy. Which is very developmentally advanced.”

So, on one hand, I felt I’d been outed as a screen time monster. And the, 5 minutes later, she was bringing me paperwork about raising a gifted child.

Then, I told her about his drawings.

Forrest has been drawing people since he was about 2 and a few months. He started drawing circles, with rudimentary dots for eyes and a jagged mouth. Then, he started adding arms and legs, ears, hair, and smiles. I took pictures on my phone and showed them to his pediatrician.

She was, again, impressed. Drawing people, especially with properly placed facial features and arms and legs, is developmentally something that happens closer to the age of 5. I got more pamphlets; I got told to definitely limit screen time and have him listen to music or foreign language tapes instead.

This isn’t my way of saying, “He totally watches TV and he’s a genius!”

Instead, this is my way of saying that maybe the answer isn’t totally black and white. There is lots of evidence to show that too much screen time can cause shortened attention spans, as well as damaged eyesight—especially as studies have started to expand to include toddlers who use tablets specifically.

So, About Tablets

Forrest has never used a tablet. Really, never. Well, my mom might let him play on her iPad once and a while. But he’s held my iPhone maybe 7 times in his life (and usually when we were somewhere and he was very tired) and we don’t even own tablets ourselves. He sometimes plays on my computer, when I’m trying to work and get up for a moment, only to turn around to him pretending to type.

By and large, Forrest’s screen time is primarily our actual TV. And we’re one of the few people left in the world, it seems, who pay for cable (or in our case, satellite).

Here’s my opinion (and again, this is just my opinion, just my method as one parent out of millions trying to make sense of all the information out there): TV time is fine, but tablet time is not fine.

Many parenting experts actually say they prefer that toddlers use tablets because it is more interactive screen time, versus TV, which is a form of passive screen time. While I’m not a parenting expert (again), I can’t help by disagree. I’ve seen my son’s friends use tablets in grocery stores, in restaurants, at playdates: they stare at it passively, watching YouTube videos, skipping video after video. Kids are smart and they learn negative behaviors really fast. As well, using a tablet can effect your posture bad: I mean, I only use my cell phone and I’ve noticed a definitely change in my posture that I have to actively correct. Tablet use has also been linked to poor eyesight; the blue light, especially on young, developing eyes, can be particularly damaging.

I don’t think tablets are the worst, but from what I’ve read, I find them the most scary. Did you know that it was only recently that Apple started insisting that apps alert you when they are recording the screen as you’re using it? I mean, as in, within the past few days. That means, some apps have been recording our usage in terms of video recording. Sorry, but that is wild! Some apps seem fun for kids, but are just dangerous. And don’t get me started on how much messed up stuff is on YouTube Kids! There are graphically violent videos on YouTube Kids pretending to be Peppa PIg. At least when I turn on the TV and put on Sesame Street, I know it’s Sesame Street, you know? And also I know Forrest isn’t going to buy $30 worth of apps because he’s smarter than me.

How to Keep TV Interactive

This leads me back to why I prefer TV. Even though parenting experts say that TV time can be too passive (that is, just sitting and watching versus learning, writing, and drawing), again, I disagree. I think it really depends on the shows.

Forrest watches about 3 hours of TV a day. I try to keep it less that that, but truthfully, some days he definitely gets more (depending on how much work I need to get done). And I heavily control what those 3 hours consist of. I fought hard against letting him watch Paw Patrol, for example but one day last summer, Danny let him watch it. I don’t think Paw Patrol is a highly educational show and it doesn’t invite interaction.

What shows do invite interaction? We like Daniel Tiger, Sesame Street (of course), Team Umi Zoomi, and Little Einsteins. Two of those shows aren’t even on anymore, so we primarily watch them on DVD. All of those shows are educational, teach valuable lessons, and invite kids to interact as they watch—and learn. One channel that we watched a lot when Forrest was little was Baby Connect, a channel I found in the 800s on our TV; I don’t know how common it is, but if you can find it on your TV, I highly recommend. It has some foreign language shows that have been dubbed (like a Welsh show about a tractor), as well as lots of singing, counting, and color naming. I always joke that Forrest knew all his colors, numbers, and letters by 18 months because of Baby Connect.

Is This the End All Be All?

Obviously, no. I’m not a parenting expert. I’m just sharing the decision I’ve made for our family to help us survive. I think if you can get by without TV, more power to you! That’s amazing! Forrest plays while he watches TV; I’d say he actively pays attention to TV maybe 50% of the time. But he often needs a higher level of interaction than I can provide, especially in the middle of the day when I’m working, and so, TV becomes a lifesaver. But if you’re like me and just trying to make the best decision, this is the best advice I can give you: if you feel like it isn’t working, or you notice things happening in your child’s behavior, then there is no shame in seeing if less TV will help.

In December, I started noticing Forrest whining, crying, and throwing tantrums way more than usual. I dialed back his TV watching a lot—and I mean, a lot—during Christmas break and it made a huge difference. We started listening to music instead and he loved that.

Here’s a rundown of my tips:

  • As many hours as their age: Forrest is 3, so I try to limit him to 3 hours of TV per day. Usually, we listen to music until Daniel Tiger comes on (which is an hour), then nap, then in the afternoon, he gets to pick a movie or TV show to watch.

  • Interact with them: As they watch TV, ask questions. “What is Daniel doing?” “Does he look sad?” I have found that it works best for me to watch at least part of it with him.

  • Give them other activities to do: I make sure that Forrest has lots of activities to do throughout the day when I need to work. Stickers, lots of crayons and paper, and lots of books. I also try to stop what I’m doing and play with him a few times a day.

So, I turn it over to you: do you let your toddler or preschooler watch TV? What works for your family?

Product Review: LittleHippo Mella Toddler Alarm Clock

Product Review: LittleHippo Mella Toddler Alarm Clock | Writing Between Pauses

Sleep is, as most parents know, a precious commodity.

When Forrest was first born, I didn’t sleep for days. I don’t say this to scare new moms, or to brag, or to participate in the strange “well, I sleep LESS!” Olympics that sometimes occurs between parents. It’s just a fact, but I don’t think I’m alone in it. I was induced into labor on a Tuesday, slept exactly 3 hours then went into labor for 7 hours, then Forrest was born. And from the moment he was born until about 72 hours later, I didn’t close my eyes once. Nurses were in and out of our room; there were hearing tests and blood sugar tests and medications for me and uterus massages for me. Then there were jaundice tests and heavy whispers between nurses. I took my first shower and went 20 hours without peeing because of the preeclampsia medication, which was another worry. I swelled again.

All-in-all, I didn’t even sleep much the first time I told Danny I absolutely needed to close my eyes and not get up for a few hours. I slept about 45 minutes, then woke up to pump and feed Forrest again, carefully removing him from the jaundice space bed he was inhabiting at that moment.

Sleep didn’t get much easier. For the first 9 months of Forrest’s life, we fed on demand not out of choice (although many parents do make this choice and that’s absolutely fine for them), but because Forrest’s late preterm status, low birthrate, and early struggle with jaundice and feeding had set him back, weight wise. I wanted him to catch up, his pediatrician wanted him to catch up, and that meant waking up every time he woke up and feeding him.

Friends, he woke up every 2 hours every single night for 9 solid months. And for 6 of those months, I was also still pumping every time he ate. So that meant waking up, feeding him for 20 minutes, putting him back to sleep next to Danny, getting up, getting my pumping equipment, pumping and massaging for 30 minutes, cleaning up, storing milk, mixing up formula and milk for the next feeding, sanitizing my pumping equipment, and then going to bed myself… then being woken up maybe 40 minutes later to do it again.

Again, I’m not writing this to scare anyone. This is just the way it was for us. It’s just something we had to do. But it wasn’t fun. I was absolutely miserable, barely sleeping, gaining weight at a rate that is still somewhat alarming, and irritable as all get out.

When we decided to sleep train at 9 months, it was for two reasons: firstly, I was having such bad anxiety that I had developed burning mouth syndrome, a syndrome where your mouth feels constantly dry even though you are producing saliva; and secondly, Forrest had finally reached a growth percentile that our pediatrician was happy with.

Cut to 6 months later and we were all happier. Forrest was finally meeting developmental milestones at the right time instead of towards the lower end of normal. We were all doing a lot better. And truly, we slept great for a long time.

Until February of this year. You see, it was in February that Forrest climbed out of his crib for the first time. He had been (and truly, continues to be) a rather stellar sleeper. Sleep training changed our lives and Forrest thrives on the routine that sleep training gave him. He goes to bed at 6:30 and while his wake ups have always been a bit early, we got 10-12 solid hours out of him most of the time so we couldn’t really complain. But once we switched him to a toddler bed, we struggled with him climbing out of bed, waking up far too early, or just doing random things in the middle of the night (like collecting toys and books into his bed).

We made it work for a long time: letting him play at 3:30 in the morning, hoping he would crawl back into bed eventually and sleep; letting him get up and run around in his room even though we knew he was beyond exhausted. However, when he did these things, my husband slept fine—but I would be awake, watching him on our monitor at 2 or 3 in the morning. I just couldn’t sleep knowing he was awake.

Finally, during the summer, I purchased the LittleHippo Mella Toddler Alarm Clock. We set it up and started using it around July or August. At first, we didn’t see much of an improvement. Sometimes, Fo still woke up at 4am and decided it was time to party. He was still young enough that he didn’t really understand the “rules” of the clock. It’s only been in the past month or so that we’ve seen a huge improvement.

The LittleHippo Mella Toddler Sleep Training Alarm Clock

It’s been in the last 2-3 months that Forrest has been staying in bed through the night really well, but waking up really early. Part of this has been reducing the amount he naps and adjusting his bedtime. These are things that can be really challenging; I get 2-3 hours every evening to work out, prep for lunches the next day, blog, and answer emails, as well as do any cleaning around the house that I can’t get done with Forrest around. So giving up another little chunk of that time has been hugely challenging.

However, the Mella has been a huge help for us. Here’s how Mella works:

MELLA uses colors and facial expressions to teach your kids when it’s time for bed and time to wake up. Half an hour before it’s time to wake up, MELLA will glow yellow, signaling it’s almost time to start the day. When MELLA turns green, it’s time to wake up!

Basically, you set a sleep time in the Sleep/Wake setting. Sleep time for us, it’s 6pm so that Mella is “asleep” when we bring Fo to his bedroom. Then, you set a wake up time; for us, that’s 5:50am, which is later than Forrest ever sleeps. However, Mella glows yellow 30 minutes before the “wake up” time to indicate play time. So if you’re ok with your toddler waking up 30 minutes early and playing, that will most likely wake them up. However, the yellow and green colors are very similar to each other, so Forrest has a slightly difficult time telling the difference. We set this wake up time later so that he can simply get up when Mella glows yellow.

I love how cute Mella is; the little face on the front is especially helpful for Forrest because, even though he struggles with the yellow versus green light, he knows when Mella is awake versus when she’s sleeping. And now that he’s old enough, he understands that when Mella is asleep, he needs to be in bed.

LittleHippo Mella Sleep Setting
LittleHippo Mella Awake Setting

Mella also has a nightlight option; the front face will glow a variety of colors (you choose your preferred color) for 30 minutes until your child falls asleep. This is a nice idea, but the light is actually quite bright! Forrest has a star night light that he prefers. As well, Mella works as a sound machine too, with a set of 3 sleep sounds. We have a separate sound machine (so many machines in our son’s room at this point); however, the sound machine we have is notorious for burning out, so it’s nice to know we have an easy replacement for when it goes.

The Mella clock has really helped us start to sleep more in the mornings. Forrest finds it easy to understand now. I would say, if you’re looking into this clock, your child should be at least 3 before they are able to understand it effectively. That might vary child-to-child, but 6 months ago, he didn’t always “remember” the rules about Mella, even if he could talk about what Mella looked like.

Mella also has a battery back up, so if the lights go out, it is still running. Forrest always sleeps through the power going out, but we worried about maintaining his routine even through that. We like that we can also move Mella around without worrying about resetting everything!

If you’re the parent to a toddler or preschooler that has been waking up earlier and earlier each day, the LittleHippo Mella alarm clock is an investment—at $50, it’s not the cheapest alarm clock out there. But it has been a huge help to us recently. So much so, that I worry about it breaking! It has helped us to get more sleep, especially in the last few weeks.

Inspiration Sunday: October 28

Inspiration Sunday: October 28 | Writing Between Pauses

Happy Sunday!

October always feels like a very long month, which is good because it’s my favorite month. But as we get closer to Halloween, it starts to click in just how long this month is. Forrest has been asking nonstop to go trick-or-treating; the concept of days is still a bit strange to him, but I made him a little calendar and we cross off each day to Halloween now. He’s so excited to experience Halloween, which makes me so excited because I’ve always wanted him to love Halloween as much as I did and do! He gets to have a Halloween party at school this week, so I may have gone a little wild and made goodie bags for the other kids in his class.

This all leads me to the point of this post: what do we do when we get to a big event we have been beyond excited for?

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For me, I always feel a bit ho-hum and let down after big events. A prime example is my wedding; I planned, I excitedly looked forward to, I had fun on the day and then, the next day… there were no big to do lists, no things to check, no plans. I’m somehow to works best by always having something to look forward to, a deadline to hit, and when I don’t, I find it hard to focus my energy. That’s why I liked being pregnant so much; I knew my body was working towards something very specific. That’s a little bit why I struggle with eating regularly and working out the way I know would help my body; I don’t have anything that I’m specifically working towards.

I always stress a bit how to not pass on this trait to Forrest, because, in general, it’s kind of a difficult one. Having to always set deadlines for myself to tasks so I don’t just languish on something is really challenging. So we often take to Forrest about how exciting things can be every single day, instead of just on days of big events. I try to make him excited for our regular days, by doing crafts and activities and lessons, having him help make dinner, playing games, or learning about chores—but still, I can tell he is just plain more excited for Halloween and he wants the days to hurry up so we can get to Halloween already!

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The most challenging part of being a parent, for me, is looking at the big picture. It can be a pretty dismal way of looking at things, to be always focused on what positive traits I’m passing on: I want him to be tidy, like I am, and not prone to being messy, like Danny is, but I don’t want him to be obsessive about it, like I can be. When I reduce my parenting to purely “passing on positive traits,” it can get really overwhelming. And ultimately, Forrest is going to pick up what Forrest picks up!

It is more important for me, as a parent, to work on the things I can change; this shows Forrest, more than anything, that nothing is set. It’s ok to change and it’s ok to adjust your behavior and work on the things you need to improve. A lot of people are so set in their ways because they think their negative personality traits are set in stone; but that’s just not true! My indecisiveness isn’t set in stone; I can choose to work on it, to not get decision fatigue, and to have the confidence to take charge.

So whether Forrest feels let down after Halloween or not, I know I need to let him have that feeling. It's ok to feel that way. But I know it is more important for me to allow him to feel that way, but then also show him ways to keep moving forward, even after a big, exciting day.

This is a bit different of an Inspiration Sunday post. It’s been something I’ve been mulling over for the past few months. And moving forward in my 30th year (!!!) on this planet, I know it’s time to start really working through all these things. What’s inspiring you this week?

Things I Love: October 20

Things I Love: October 20 | Writing Between Pauses

Well, it’s here. It’s arrived.

Today, I’m 30 years old.

When I was a teenager, 30 felt ancient. You always watch movies and it seems like by 30, most people have their shit together—and the people who don’t really, really, really do not have it together, but are actively working to get it together. Prime example? All the FRIENDS characters were in their mid-20s in the pilot episode (25-27, roughly).

Your 20s are supposed to be for finding yourself, getting it together, and setting yourself up for success in your 30s.

But what if you are staring down at being 30 and feel like you don’t have any of the pieces of your life just right?

I realize it sounds a little crazy for a parent to write that. Shouldn’t I, as the keeper of a small child, who depends on me, have it all figured out? Shouldn’t I have a plan?

The other day, I had a moment where I really, truly had a panic attack about turning 30. I can’t really put my finger on why I suddenly felt desperately, horribly afraid of turning 30. Most days, I spend my time on autopilot: I get my work done, I take care of Forrest, I make dinner, I clean the house top to bottom nearly every week. It feels like I’m stuck on a clock.

Writing this blog has been a huge way for me to keep “a bit of myself” as I descended into motherhood. Writing about beauty products and how I use them is freeing. And I want other mothers to feel free as well, to remember that it’s ok to take care of yourself alongside everyone else.

But on Sunday, I looked in the mirror and I thought, “I don’t know this person.”

I started reading blog posts and articles about turning 30, about being a mother, about self-care after 30 and realizing that my crisis isn’t specifically unique. But it is my own.

When I had Forrest, it felt like I was swallowed. Like “motherhood”—the big behemoth of motherhood—swallowed me up whole. For a long time, I didn’t really know who I was outside of being a mother. My days are dominated by Forrest and Forrest’s needs. I’m not resentful about it anymore; I’ve managed to regain a little bit of my foothold and feel like me.

But the woman I see in the mirror isn’t… me anymore. We all change as we age, but there is something about this change that feels particularly unwelcome. I don’t look older necessarily (I can thank my round face for that one), but i just don’t look like myself. I think this said it best, from an article called “What I Learned About Self-Care After 30”:

I was so consumed with being selfless that I never stopped to take care of myself, and it pretty much came to a head all at once.
I was nearing the end of my 20s when I looked in the mirror and barely recognized myself one day as I got out of the shower. I used to love doing face masks, getting my nails done, making sure my hair was cut, but most importantly, feeling good about myself and the way I presented myself to the world. That all had kinda stopped. Instead, I was staring back at a tired, overworked mom who hadn’t gotten a haircut in a whole year and couldn’t remember the last time she had a pedicure or even plucked her eyebrows. I felt horrible, and it pretty much got worse from there.

Remember how I mentioned that I hadn’t gotten a haircut in three whole years?

3 years! I went 3 years without a haircut! Without doing basic maintenance on myself.

I’m not quite as freaked out about turning 30 today as I was a few days ago. I’m still the same person I was then.

It is hard to compartmentalize my life: to be a blogger, a writer, a professional, and a mother. I am all of those things at once, but sometimes… well, most of the time, being a mother trumps them all. I will abandon blog posts, I will leave work early, all for my child. Because that’s my job. But is leaving myself last on the list—running myself ragged, not taking time to see my friends or do things I enjoy—part of that too?

It’s not. My goal for turning 30 is this: to start taking time to really focus on myself, to let myself become a person I recognize again, and to dedicate time to being the best mother, professional, and blogger I can be. Not just one.

Things I Want to Stop Doing

This is a bit of a different Things I Love isn’t it? I started out writing it fully intending to transition to my usual TiLT posts… but I’d rather leave it at this. I hope you all have a wonderful Saturday!