Thursday, August 28, 2014

Special Dietary Needs: A Beginner's Guide for Parents

This post contains affiliate links.

Homemade cinnamon rolls are rising in the kitchen.  In about 45 minutes, they'll be ready to bake.  I can't wait to surprise my kiddos with them when they wake up this morning.  Sunshine and Bulldozer will be especially happy as they can enjoy them too.  Words can't express how much I enjoy moments when everyone in my household can enjoy a special treat together.

It's no secret that all of my kiddos have special dietary needs.  If you're not familiar with our "fun" stories, you are welcome to go back and read all about them HERE and HERE.  Bulldozer and Sunshine's diets are definitely a challenge, however Dinomite and Princess both have feeding issues also. Dinomite's are related to his autism.  Princess' issues are caused by food related trauma and neglect she endured before coming to our home.  No matter what the special dietary need is or where it came from, the initial process of dealing with them, in many ways, remains the same.  It is my hope that this step by step guide will help others who have children with special dietary needs that have just been diagnosed.  The process of change is a very daunting task and raises a wide range of emotions.

1.  Research-It would be so nice if there was only one word to define 'egg' or 'dairy' on an ingredients list, but that's not the case.  When it comes to foods your child can't have, take the time to research those specific foods for other names they may go by and/or places you may not expect them.  Remember not to leave out herbs and spices.

2.  Make a Date with the Grocery Store-With the list of foods that are no longer allowed in your child's diet, and your second list of other names those foods go by, arrange for a lengthy and solo trip to the grocery store.  Start by going around the outer edges of the store and slowly work your way to the center, reading the ingredients lists of as many items as you can tolerate at one time.  Note:  This process may take more than one trip.  Read ingredients lists on ALL items, including baking items.  You'd be surprised what's in them.  When you find an item your child can have throw it in your cart (if you have money on hand to purchase items), or start making a list in a notebook of everything you find. Write down the aisle or place in the store you found it.  It would not be a bad idea to take a picture of the item, if you're only writing a list as well. You'll learn to love the fresh produce, meat, and dairy isles for their simplicity.  Warning:  Your grocery bill may double, triple, or quadruple due to special dietary needs.  Plan accordingly for this in your budget.  Do not forget to read ingredients for cleaning supplies, laundry detergents and fabric softeners, make up, soaps, hair products, lotions, toothpastes, vitamins, medicines, pet foods, and/or anything else your child may come in contact with.

3.  Out with the Old and In with the New-Once you've purchased new "safe" items from the grocery store, as you are putting away your items, remove any old items that are no longer "safe" from your cupboards, shelves, freezer, and refrigerator.  This process is much more tolerable, when you're replacing foods at the same time.  Otherwise, you may end up on your kitchen floor, an emotional basket case.  (Believe me. I know.)  This may still happen, but it won't be as bad as it could be.  If it is safe to keep foods that are not allowed in your child's diet, take this time to reorganize cupboards, so that you have one specifically for your child's special dietary needs, that includes any special snack items etc. Make sure any unsafe foods will be out of their reach.  Any unopened food items you must disregard, consider donating to a food pantry or a family in need.  Delivering items to one of these places, will help you with your grieving process during this difficult task.

4.  Make a Menu-You've gone to the store.  You've purchased basic items/ingredients.  You may also have a list of other items you haven't purchased.  Now it's time to try to put a menu together for your child with special dietary needs.  Your first goal is to create a menu for 1 week, that includes three meals and 2 snacks a day.  You should be able to do this even without recipes. Consider meals such as grilled chicken, baked potatoes, and a simple vegetable, or rice and beans with a fruit.  If bread isn't a possibility, use crackers as a replacement and make little sandwiches.  There are a variety of alternatives to dairy, when it comes to milk.  The cereal and fresh produce isles in the grocery store are fabulous when it comes to snack replacements.  Try out your menu with your child for the week.  There is a definite difference between foods that your child can eat and foods that they will eat.  Your ultimate goal is to create a menu for your child that they will like.  Special dietary needs already take the fun out of eating.  You want to make meal time and snack time as enjoyable as possible.  Some kiddos prefer to eat the same foods day in and day out.  Be okay with this for now.  After all, for once, it makes your life easier. Once you've created a menu full of safe foods that your child enjoys, you should be feeling a little bit better about your own capabilities in dealing with your child's needs.

5.  Find Recipes-Unless you and/or your child prefer to eat the same things every week, you're going to want to expand your meal options.  Do NOT go out and spend money on special dietary needs cook books unless you have previewed and sampled more than half of the recipes in the book, and enjoy them.  There are so many alternative ways to finding recipes that are free.  You've already just spent enough money on groceries after all.  Consider reaching out to friends and extended family.  Give them a list of your child's dietary needs and ask if they have any recipes that fit the bill.  Note:  It may be easier to give them a list of what your child can eat vs. what they can't.  Add some extra incentive by giving a prize to the person who has the most recipes that will work.  (This proved to be one of the best ways for me to find recipes.)  Do you know someone who has subscriptions to magazines that include recipes? Ask if they can save the magazines for you, after they're finished reading them.  Go through them and see if any of the recipes will work.  (This was one of my favorite methods.)  Search the internet.  There are so many sites out there with fabulous recipes. Pinterest is overflowing with recipes.  My biggest issue with internet and Pinterest searches is that unless you know exactly what you're searching for, the process can be extremely overwhelming, and can only remind you of what you're missing, not what you can have.  I just went searching for pumpkin recipes last week and ended up in tears.  Apparently "pumpkin" was too vague.

6.  Plan for Time to Cook and Bake-Unless you can afford a personal cook or have unlimited monetary resources, you will need to spend time in your kitchen cooking and baking for your special dietary needs child.  Whether you take one day and prepare 20 freezer meals, or cook individual meals each day, the time commitment will be the same.

7.  Have a Back Up Plan-There will be days when you don't feel like cooking or baking, or when you just won't have time.  Find at least two easy to prepare meals to have on hand as back up.  If your child is in school, you will need to have back up treats ready for parties, holiday, and birthday celebrations at school.  When my kiddos did go to school, we used to keep a lunch box there with nonperishable treats, just in case someone brought in cupcakes or another surprise treat without prior notice.

8.  Ensure Safety at Meal Time for Your Child-I was raised in a home where all of the prepared dishes were placed on the table as we sat down at meal time. They were passed around or dished out by my mother.  Everyone used the same serving spoons and knives.  In our home this is not possible.  The food either remains on the stove or set up on our kitchen island, away from the table.  Each dish or component of the meal has it's own spoon, fork or knife, to ensure no cross contamination.  In some cases, dishes are prepared on separate counters to ensure safety.  We have four children in our family, all with different special dietary needs.  In order to ensure each kiddo is receiving the proper food and remains safe at meal time, I color code everything.  Dinomite's plate, bowl, cup, and silverware are blue.  Bulldozer's are green.  Princess' are pink.  Sunshine's are purple.  One could even go as far as color coding fabric napkins and serving spoons if needed.  (I'm almost to the point that I need to do that.)  Other ways to do this would be to code things by character or pattern design.  When putting away left overs, you can do the same thing using color coded container lids etc.  In our home, everyone has only one set of dishware and silverware that is cleaned by them individually after every meal.  This helps cut down on cross contamination as well.

When it comes to sitting together at the table for dinner, be sure to place your child with special dietary needs in a seat that will be safe for them.  The best place would be between two responsible adults or between two empty seats.  As they get older and are more aware of their own special dietary needs, you may be able to place them next to understanding and supportive siblings.  If it's possible for everyone to eat the same thing as your child with special dietary needs, this task may be a little easier.

9.  Find a Cake Recipe and Alternatives to Baking Ingredients-I have a notebook of my most used and needed recipes.  At the top of this list is a safe cake/cupcake recipe for my kiddos with special dietary needs.  Whether it be for alternative cupcakes I need to bring to a birthday party they've been invited to, for their own birthday celebration, or other special occasion, you will need a recipe.  Finding your favorite cake/cupcake recipe will take a little time, and taste testing, but you will find one.

We've been baking from scratch for a while now and had to come up with alternatives to a lot of ingredients.  You may find others that work for you, but I wanted to share what we've learned.  In most baking recipes you can use water in place of milk.  Oil can be used as an alternative to butter, margarine, and/shortening almost always.  If oil can't be used, Fleishmann's Unsalted Margarine has no dairy.   Olivio Coconut Spread has no dairy or soy.  Both are great for baking!  When baking recipes call for eggs, you can use pumpkin, banana and/or Ener-G Egg Replacer. When not using eggs you will want to stick to cupcakes, small bread loaves, cookies, and brownies/cakes cooked in pans 9x9 inches or smaller. If you don't, the middle of your cake or treat will not cook through. An alternative to baking powder (for those who can't have corn) is a combination of baking soda and cream of tarter.  (One teaspoon of baking powder is equal to 1/2 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter.)

10.  Find 1 to 2 restaurants that have safe menu items for your family-Set aside a few hours to read the menus and allergy information for restaurants located in your area.  Some may not have menus and information online.  In those cases, make a few phone calls, or go visit the restaurants with questions prepared.  Do not forget to ask about cross contamination issues and packaging processes.  Once you find a couple that may work, test them out.  Call ahead of time.  Let them know you're coming.  Give clear an precise instructions about what your family will need, in order to ensure the safety of your child with special dietary needs while there.  You may run into individuals who do not understand special dietary needs.  Try not to take it personally.  When concerned about this, always request to speak with the manager or owner.  If this approach doesn't work, then you know, this restaurant will not be a safe place for your child.  It may take time to find a place your entire family can enjoy, but it will be worth it.

Adjusting to life with a child who has special dietary needs takes time.  I've explained the most basic steps when first starting out, but it's still hard.  There is a grieving process to it.  If your child is an infant, starting out is much easier.  If your child is older, not only will you be dealing with your own grieving process, but their's too.  Be patient with yourself and with your child.  You can do this!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mermaid Unit w/ Free Printables

This unit has been designed for use with the book:  The Tail of Emily Windsnap, by Liz Kessler.  Each day, while the kiddos eat their lunch, I read aloud to them.  It has been a fabulous experience for everyone.  Today we finished our latest novel (the one mentioned above).  All of us enjoyed the action packed adventure.  Even though it was about mermaids, it definitely kept the boys engaged.  The book is recommended for older kiddos, but mine had no problems following along with it.
This post contains affiliate links.

Here's what's on our shelves this week:

Ending Consonant Sounds
 The kiddos will use the glass beads as markers when selecting the missing ending consonant.

Source:  I created this printable as part of the Mermaid Unit Language Printable Pack 1. For your free copy, click on the link at the end of the post.

 After reviewing the phonograms used in this activity, the kiddos will place the picture cards over the matching phonogram square.  Words are printed on each of the picture cards as a control.

Source:  I created this printable as part of the Mermaid Unit Language Printable Pack 1. For your free copy, click on the link at the end of the post.

Making Bracelets with Spelling Words
Last week I was thrilled to find letter beads at our local dollar store.  I couldn't resist using them as part of this unit.  The kiddos will spell words with the beads provided, stringing them as they spell.

Source:  I created this printable as part of the Mermaid Unit Language Printable Pack 1. For your free copy, click on the link at the end of the post.

We also continue to work on cursive letters using our sand tray.

Odd & Even Shell Counting
 After playing with the shells for a bit (because they always do), the kiddos will use the shells as counters to determine which numbers are odd and even, placing under the correct label.  The kiddos do fabulous with this!

Source:  I created this printable as part of the Mermaid Unit Math Printable Pack 1. For your free copy, click on the link at the end of the post.

When I asked Dinomite what type of activities he wanted on the shelves this week, he mentioned how much he liked patterns and that we hadn't practiced them in a while.  I made this just for him.  The kiddos will use the pictures to complete the patterns.

Source:  I created this printable as part of the Mermaid Unit Math Printable Pack 1. For your free copy, click on the link at the end of the post.

Coral Reef Addition
 The kiddos will use the Safari Ltd. Coral Reef figures as counters and purple glass beads as markers when answering the questions on each card.

Source:  I created this printable as part of the Mermaid Unit Math Printable Pack 1. For your free copy, click on the link at the end of the post.

Subtracting Treasure
The kiddos will use coins as counters and "diamonds" as markers when answering the questions on each card.

Source:  I created this printable as part of the Mermaid Unit Math Printable Pack 1. For your free copy, click on the link at the end of the post.

Science & Culture:
Possible Reasons for Shipwrecks
 Anything weather related is sure to be a big hit with Bulldozer.  The kiddos can simply match up the cards or play a memory game with them.  These cards were a big hit!

Source:  I created this printable as part of the Mermaid Unit Science & Culture Printable Pack 1. For your free copy, click on the link at the end of the post.

Shipwrecks Around the World
 This is by far my favorite activity on the shelves this week.  Jason and I researched a few (10) shipwrecks in history.  Each shipwreck has a picture card and a fact card.  The kiddos match the cards and then find the body of water where the wreck occurred, using the map provided. This activity has been a great way to review our five oceans!

Source:  I created this printable as part of the Mermaid Unit Science & Culture Printable Pack 1. For your free copy, click on the link at the end of the post.

Painting Cloud Formations
The kiddos will choose a cloud formation of their choice and paint it using the blue paper and white paint provided.

Source: I created the Cloud Formation Cards. For your free copy, click HERE.

Visual Arts:
Curved & Straight Lines
 The kiddos will create the lines on the cards using the string provided and then sort them properly.

Source:  The free printable for this activity can be found at Montessori for Everyone.

Mermaid Art
I was unsure of how this activity would go, but to my surprise it's VERY popular and all of the kiddos have been very successful.  Bulldozer blew me away with his new cutting abilities.  The kiddos cut out a merman or mermaid (cut off hair to create merman) and glue it on to the blue paper.  Then they decorate the merman or mermaid using the crayons, glue, glitter, and sequins provided.

Source: The printable for this activity can be found at Cute Baby Crafty Mom.

Check out the kiddos' work.
Dinomite's work.
Bulldozer's work.  Check out his newly found counting skills!
Princess' work.
The kiddos continue to practice playing the piano and singing.

Physical Education:

Practical Life/Sensorial:
Putting on a Life Jacket
 The kiddos will practice putting on their life jacket and buckling it.

Mermaid Puzzle
 The kiddos will practice putting together this mermaid puzzle.

Ocean Lacing Cards
 The kiddos will lace one of the cards provided.

Mermaid Sensory Bin
 The kiddos are thoroughly enjoying our new sensory bin.  Dinomite requested one this week.

Rainbow Sand Art
The kiddos will practice their pouring skills while creating rainbow sand art.
Here are the kiddos' first sand art creations from today!  They had a lot of fun making them.

For those interested in the free printables, click on the links provided.

Next week we'll be studying South America.  We are a week behind due to the kiddos being sick this past week, but hopefully we'll catch up sooner than later!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sea Turtle Activities for Tots w/ Free Printables (KLP Linky Party)

This post contains affiliate links.

My original plans for this week's tot activities included mermaids, the ocean, and the beach.  However all four kiddos have been sick, and we haven't done much of anything.  As I pulled out all of my ocean and beached themed materials, the many sea turtles we have acquired over the years stuck out at me.  What a wonderful way to talk about the ocean and the beach all in one unit!  I'm very pleased with how it turned out. Sunshine LOVES animals and enjoys learning about them.  Choosing an animal a week has a been a great way to work on colors one at a time, in hopes that they may eventually sink in.  This won't be the case every week, but for this month it's worked out great!

T is for TURTLE
In this activity, Sunshine will glue the green squares on to the "T" for turtle.  She's not a fan of gluing, but I'm hoping with practice she'll enjoy it more.  If she refuses to use the glue stick, I plan to introduce a liquid glue with a paint brush, as I know she loves to paint.  Once she "paints" she can press the green squares on top of it.

Source: I created the printable for this activity as part of my Sea Turtle Activities for Tots Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Counting with Turtles
Sunshine did such a fabulous job counting her sharks last week.  I think I finally found a way that works with her after several failed attempts.  In this activity she will count out sea turtles to match the amount on each card.  If you don't have sea turtle figures, the printable provides paper copies for you to use, or the option to match the number of turtles with the written number, by separating the cards.

Source: I created the printable for this activity as part of my Sea Turtle Activities for Tots Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

The Life Cycle of a Sea Turtle
I'm leaving this activity very open ended for Sunshine, as I'm unsure how much she'll understand.  First, I'll present the life cycle of a sea turtle using the cards, and showing her the actions of the sea turtle with the manipulatives in the sensory bin provided.  After, I'll show her one card in the life cycle and see if she can show me the same action using manipulatives in her sensory bin.  If she appears to understand more, we'll work on sequencing the cards.  If she doesn't seem to understand much at all, the sensory bin will provide loads of fun.  In the printable there are two sets of cards provided, one with numbers and words, the other without to be used for a variety of activities.

The sensory bin was made using blue glass beads (be sure to supervise 100% of the time) and homemade sand play dough.  For turtle eggs I've used dried white beans.  Turtle figures came from Safari Ltd. sets we have at home.

Source: I created the printable for this activity as part of my Sea Turtle Activities for Tots Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

Tweezing Sea Turtles
Sunshine will use the tweezers to transfer the foam sea turtles from one bowl to the other.

Squeezing Out the Water
Sunshine has very weak muscles in her fingers and hands. In this activity she'll work on strengthening muscles as she practices squeezing the water out of the sea turtle sponge provided.

Sea Turtle Lacing Activity
I've never tried lacing cards with Sunshine before.  She loves fine motor tasks, especially ones that require her to take things in and out of small spaces.  I'm hoping she'll enjoy it. If it's too hard, we'll move it aside and work on something else.

Source: I created the printable for this activity as part of my Sea Turtle Activities for Tots Printable Pack 1.  For your free copy, click on the link at the bottom of this post.

For those interested in the free printable pack, click on the link below:

If you're looking for other fabulous ideas when studying the ocean, Anastasia from Montessori Nature has a fabulous free printable pack with an adorable ocean activity included!  Click HERE to check it out!

Welcome to the Kids Learning Printables Linky Party!

co-host Montessori Nature

There were so many great printables linked up over the last two weeks. It was so hard to choose only three features.  I don't know how I managed to do it.  Check out these fabulous ideas!

Here's how this works!

1.  Link up to 3 educational printables for kiddos.  Free, paid, and giveaway printables are welcome.
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1.  Visit all posts.
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