Welcome to Educated, Common Sense Parenting! This is my parenting education/commentary blog. Start here and read About This Blog.

I believe too many parents today have let their children rule their households. Their children dictate their daily lives, demand every ounce of their attention and do not show any respect for their parents. This needs to change. The only way to do this is if parents start letting good old common sense start dictating their parenting practices and stop letting their children run the show. You're the parent. Act like one.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Chicken Fries!

The vast majority of kids don't argue when you put french fries in front of them. I mean, what's not to like? It's crispy, deep-fried goodness. I think my last requested death-bed meal just might be french fries fried in duck fat. But I digress.....although it is getting progressively better, my 17 month old rarely eats much of anything that's not in french-fry form: oven baked fries and sweet potato fries are a definite fave along with Veggie Straws that come in the Costco jumbo-mega bag.

All those are semi-healthy but lacking in protein and other nutrients...clearly :) So I decided to venture out a create a recipe that incorporated lean protein with the family favorite--fries! And thus, my friends, chicken fries were born. Don't offend me and automatically think of Burger King's chicken fries. YUCK!! MSG, deep-fried nastiness. You know me, semi-healthy is my motto!! :)

Give this a try. I can almost guarantee your little ones will like it...and you might even surprise some others. My very picky hubby commented, "Man, you should sell these!" :-) Brookey commented, "I love these cuz they're like chicken nuggets!" Buddy ate them dipped them in ketchup and then rubbed the ketchup all over his head. Overall, it was a very well-received meal at the Rooneys :)

Chicken Fries

2-boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into pieces OR 1/2-3/4 lb. pre-ground chicken
3/4 cup panko
1 large egg
1/2 cup flour
Oil (enough to coat the bottom of a large skillet)
Salt, pepper, seasoning

- Place chicken breast pieces into a food processor and pulse about 10 times until well-ground. Season with 2 teaspoons of sea salt. Add 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon onion powder OR a few teaspoons of pre-made seasoning such as Montreal.

- Place flour in a shallow dish. Beat egg and place in a separate shallow dish.

- Place panko in a third dish and season with salt/pepper or seasoning.

- With your hands, shape ground chicken into "french-fry"-looking strips. Dip in flour, then egg, then roll in panko. Place on a tray lined with waxed paper. Once you have them rolled in panko you can continue to shape them into more of a fry shape--they're easier to shape at this point. Repeat to make approx. 16-20 "fries."

- Coat the bottom of a skillet with oil (just enough to coat the skillet...this is NOT deep frying)

- Pan-fry chicken fries until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes each side.

- Serve with homemade ranch dip

**You can make these the night before or earlier in the day and just fry them up when you're ready. Just store them in fridge on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Let the Parenting Begin

Brookey is off to Kindergarten tomorrow. It might sound strange, but I feel like this is my last day of "easy" parenting with Miss Brooke. I know, there were the middle of the night feedings, sleepless nights, reflux/vomiting, potty training and everything in between and I'm calling all that EASY??! Well, yes. To me, that is the easy part of parenting. Feeding a baby, cleaning up puke and giving out M&M's to go pee in the potty takes very little brains whatsoever. I'm not saying all of that is not important--it is! And it's extremely hard work! It's labor intensive and physically exhausting. Actually, I am getting sleepy thinking about it...But as I sit here and reflect on those things as distant memories, I can't help to feel like tonight is my rite of passage--tonight I am truly entering parenthood. The part of parenting that takes more than sustaining your kid's basic needs so they can see another day. More than feeding, clothing and putting a roof over their head. As our kids enter the world of school, I feel like a teeny bit of childhood ends and a whole new, exciting world of friendships, social groups, test-taking and homework now begins.

We, as Educated, Common Sense parents always want what is best for our child. We might find ourselves agonizing over decisions like which school to send our kids to, public vs. private, which teachers they'll have or if so-and-so the bratty kid is in their class. Our "helicopter parent" generation wants everything to be just "so" for our kids. But as always, we have to put everything into perspective. As heartbreaking as it is, here are some things that we all need to realize in the midst of our agonizing over our kids and their school success:

- They will fail.
- They will have their hearts broken.
- They will have an awful teacher (or two, or five)
- Someone will dislike them.
- They will be wronged.
- They won't always be treated fairly.
- They will only learn about 25% of what they need to know for life in school. Most of the rest is up to you...and them :)

Might sound pretty pretty depressing at first but don't forget, all of these things happened to us, and unfortunately, will happen to our kids as well. We cannot protect them from everything. There is no perfect school. There are no perfect teachers. There are no perfect kids. There are no perfect parents. These imperfections are things we have to live with and they are all learning experiences. Someone said it more eloquently than I will, but the saying goes something like, "It's not the situation that matters, but rather how you handle the situation that really builds character."

We cannot guarantee our kids will be happy every moment. We can't guarantee they'll have Ms. Smith the seemingly perfect 1st grade teacher. We can't guarantee everyone will like them. We can't ensure that mean kids won't say hurtful things. But what we can do is attempt to teach our children how to handle these situations. We can teach them right from wrong, instill in them a desire to succeed, how to treat others, how to handle adversity, and overall, what Gary Ezzo would say, "Teach them how to be a child who is a joy to be around."

How do we do that?? I have a few ideas on things but really, this is all just the beginning for me--actually raising and child and not just sustaining their basic needs. Hmmmm...those middle of the night feedings aren't sounding half bad now.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sweet Potato Fries

Another kid-tested recipe! Actually, Will-Tested. You have no idea how ecstatic it makes me when that child actually eats something. With this recipe, he ate at least a whole sweet potato in one sitting. Of course, it had to be in french fry form. What kid won't devour a fry?? I am beginning to think I need to work on some other "fry" recipes....chicken fries, tofu fries, green bean fries??! Stayed tuned! :)

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

2-medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4" strips
1-tablespoon olive oil
1-tablespoon salt
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Cut sweet potatoes into quarter inch strips. Put strips into a large bowl and toss with olive oil and salt.

Spread sweet potatoes in an even layer on sprayed cookie sheet. Generously spray the tops with cooking spray (this is a key step to ensure them are crispy on the outside).

Bake at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, flipping once. Fries should be slightly browned, slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Serve with ketchup...of course!!!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Parent Now, Friend Later

Gary Ezzo's book Childwise: Parenting your child from 3 to 7 years outlines several guidelines or "principles" to parenting children in this age group. Each one of these principles is outstanding, however one of my favorite is Principle #2: Use the strength of your leadership early on and the strength of your relationship later.

Young children, especially those under 2 are almost solely led by the power of your authority. You are the one who dictates what they'll eat, what they'll wear, how long they'll stay on the blanket, how long their bath will be and so forth. Children at this age simply do not have the cognitive reasoning skills to make solid decisions at this age.

As children get older, you may begin to give them more "freedoms" and decision making authority if they have demonstrated they are ready to do this. For instance, you may let them choose their own clothes because you have taught them to make logical choices in this area--you can't wear a sundress when it's 25 degrees and snowing.

As children get older, it should be our goal to parent by the power of our influence, rather than by the power of our authority. I think we all know teenagers, or we can remember from our own teenage years, that parent screaming and yelling at you [aka: trying to assert their authority]. And this produces what from a teenager? Eye rolling? Extreme frustration? Profanity? Depleted sense of self worth? All of the above?

Ezzo puts the stages of parenting into a "sports" metaphor which made it very clear to understand, although note that I have changed his analogies slightly...

Phase 1: "Leadership"
Birth to age 6
This is the time when you assert your authoritative (not permissive, not authoritarian) role as a parent. You set clear limits and and have fair, logical consequences. You set boundaries. This is the point where you need to let your child know that YOU run the show. You child cannot control you.

To put it in a sports analogy, pretend this is the phase where a player comes to you knowing NOTHING about the game. It is your job to teach them the basics. But if you can't control the child, will you be able to teach? Will they be able to learn?

If you have this phase down, it plants the seeds for future success throughout the other phases.

Phase 2: "Coaching"
Age 7 to 12

Ok, so the kid knows the basics of the game now. They know they're supposed to hike the ball and try to get it into the endzone. They know they're not supposed to use their hands in soccer. Heck, given the great coach/leader you are, you might have even taught them some fancy plays like a Hail Mary or Statue of Liberty. Now it's your job to continue their finesse, continue to run plays, train in the weightroom--and pulling them aside at certain times when they do something wrong and help led them in the right direction again. You're not teaching them the entire game--you already did that. They get it. Your role is now slowly moving from more of a teacher of the game to a coach. They still have a lot to learn, they still need your coaching. That's OK. You're still on the practice field.

Phase 3: "Game Time!"
Age 13-19

Yep, we hit the dreaded teenage years. This is game night. Your child is now officially in the game and your role is the coach. Now as a coach on the sidelines, you can still call plays, still huddle during timeouts and give a few pointers. But you can't stop the game and say, "You know Billy, you are supposed to try and hit the ball when you step up to homeplate. Then you try to run around the bases." By game time, I would hope to God that you had already taught your kids the basics!! The training period has passed and here is the scary part: this is the time when you see how good of a job you did training and coaching.

Ever hear an interview of a losing head coach who says, "We were just out-coached?" You can't let this happen to you. We can't fail our kids in the leadership and coaching phases, because once it's game time (age 13+), there is not a whole lot we can do completely change a "player." Ezzo says, "How well you coach your children will determine how well they run the plays of life."

Each of these phases rests upon on another. Your child will not accept your coaching if you didn't do a good job as a trainer (setting limits, establishing authority). They will only listen to your coaching if you established yourself as a leader (a parent, not a friend). And most important, they will only play well and make good decisions in the game of life if you were a good coach and leader.

Do you see how that works? Do you see how if a good foundation is not set from the beginning, yelling, screaming and lecturing your teenager will never work? A child has to be open and willing to accept your coaching on game day. You do this by establishing yourself as a good coach. This is not to say that your teenager will always respect you and listen to what you have to say (not to mention, LIKE what you have to say!). But you will get much further with your kids down the road if a solid foundation is established.

Before I forget, here's the last and best phase, in my opinion...

Phase 4: Friendship

A few years (maybe more!!) down the road the player comes back to visit his coach. They sit down, have a cup of coffee and they two begin their new relationship. No longer as player and coach, but as friends. This is the end goal, I think, and every parent's hope. To sit down with their grown children someday and have a true friendship and closeness with them. I think too many parents want to rush this step much, much too early. I like how Ezzo's puts it: "Too many parents try to cash in on this friendship early...but with so many things, if we spend it now, we may not have it later."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Healthy Cupcakes?

I am no Betty Crocker. But with a little help, I can scrape by and bake something my family will (usually) eat. In this recipe, I used a store-bought cake mix. Store bought cake mix is not the healthiest thing you can eat, I will admit that. It has additives (but no MSG!!) but usually they compose 1% or less of the ingredients. So it's not horrible. The sugar content is not awful--about 11 grams/cupcake. And if you choose to use the mix and doctor it up as I have, you get a balance of super healthy ingredients to cancel out the sugar and additives. It's all about balance!!

You'll notice there is tofu, yes, tofu in the mix that takes the place of 2 eggs. Flax seed is also added to take the place of oil. In fact, flax seed can be used in place of oil in most recipes. The rule of thumb is 3 tablespoons of flax seed = 1 tablespoon of oil. Flax is a good source of fiber as well as OMEGA-3 oils.


Healthy Cupcakes
1-Boxed Cake Mix (I used Betty Crocker Strawberry--Brookey's pick!)
1- Egg
1/2-package silken tofu (about 7 oz)
1/3-cup ground (or milled) flax seed
1/2-cup water

Preheat oven to 350. Line cupcake pan with paper liners. Beat cake mix, egg, tofu and flax with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Add water and beat on high another 2 minutes until well mixed. Fill cupcakes holders until 2/3 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes until done. Serve plain for with cream cheese frosting (recipe below).

Cream Cheese Frosting
1-package low fat cream cheese
1/2-cup powdered sugar
1-tablespoon milk
1-teaspoon vanilla
Food coloring (optional)

Let cream cheese soften to room temperature. Beat cream cheese, sugar, milk and vanilla with an electric beater until smooth and creamy. Add a few drops of food coloring for fun!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chemical-Free Ranch-Herb Dip

Before I give you this recipe, I have to warn you about how I write recipes. I am visual, not mathematical. I don't like measurements. That's why baking is extremely tough for me! I'm more of a person who mixes a bunch of yummy stuff together...then tastes, adjusts, tastes, adjusts... until it's perfect to my liking.

I expect you to do the same when making this Ranch-Herb dip. Add more of the herbs you like, use less of what you don't like. Play with the flavors until it's perfect for you and your family.

Some notes
- Garlic: Raw garlic goes a loooong way in this recipe. I put in one clove when I made it once and Brooke pronounced the dip, "disgusting." It's delicious to a garlic-lover like me, but for kids, you might need to tone it down. You can substitute a sprinkle of garlic powder instead.

- The recipe below is for Ranch-Herb dip. You can easily thin it out and making it into a dressing by adding buttermilk or regular milk in at the very end.

- This recipe does not taste like Hidden Valley Ranch from the bottle. Sorry!!! My quest in finding alternatives to MSG'ed food doesn't always mean it will taste exactly like the "real thing." My goal is to provide healthy alternatives that are fresh & delicious. :) If you have ever had the BBQ Chicken Salad from California Pizza Kitchen, the dip tastes along the lines of that dressing.

Homemade Ranch-Herb Dip
1 cup low-fat mayo
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
Salt (to taste)
1 splash of Worcestershire Sauce
1 clove garlic (optional, can substitute w/a little garlic power)

The Herbs (use measurements as guidelines only)
1/4 cup of flat leaf parsley (roughly chopped)
1/4 cup chives or scallions (roughly chopped)
3 tablespoons of basil leaves (roughly chopped)

Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate for one hour or more to allow the flavors to marry. Serve! It's SUPER the next day!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fresh & Healthy

I find trying to cook fresh, healthy meals for my family extremely fun. To me, it's a challenge! Anyone can pop a frozen meal into the oven or order pizza, but it takes time, patience and effort to make healthful meals (that your kids will actually EAT, that is!). But isn't that what parenting is all about: time, patience and effort? I think we could all use those three things at any point in time when raising our kids!

I don't consider myself a health nut, by any means. If the kids are at a birthday party, I don't ration cake intake or freak out if their goody bag is filled with candy. We have Pizza Fridays and sometimes when Daddy is out of town, we'll even have ice cream for dinner! And when we go on vacation--forget about it! I just can't stress about every single morsel of food my kids take in, at every moment of their lives--that wouldn't be very educated, common sense-ical, now would it? But what I can do--for the vast majority of time when we're home and on our regular schedule-- is ensure what my family eats is as fresh and healthy as possible.

But what does "fresh" mean? Fresh cooking, to me, simply means that when you look at your grocery cart (if you do 1-2 big shopping trips each week), at least 25% of what's in there should be from the produce section. Fresh fruit, veggies, herbs. If you don't plan healthy meals ahead or have some healthy meal ideas in mind when you enter the store, you will never hit the 25% mark. It much easier to load up on processed and canned foods. Fresh cooking also means meals are, for the most part, prepared from natural--not processed--ingredients.

Believe me, I like a quick and easy meal as well as any other parent in town. My time is precious. However, if you do any label reading at all on packaged foods (frozen lasagna, for instance) you realize that you are eating more "chemicals" you can't pronounce rather than real, actual food. Now, whether are not all these "chemicals" or additives will really "kill you" or to the extent to which they are unhealthy, I will leave up to the scientists and dieticians. I just use my educated, common sense that tells me it's a much better idea to feed my family real food vs. foods laden with additives.Food companies can't develop a good enough flavor with regular ingredients, so they have to use a chemical to make or "enhance" their product. That's weak.

Since MSG (Monosodium glutamate) is my personal villian, I've been reading labels a lot more in an attempt to knock it out of our diet. Once you start reading labels, you will be shocked at what foods have MSG! Here are some...just to name a few...

Breakfast Sausage (Jimmy Dean and others)
Chick Fil a Sandwiches (my fave!)
Most any "flavored" potato chip (i.e BBQ, Sour Cream and Onion)
Knorr's Powdered Vegetable Soup Mix (Spinach Dip STAPLE! Hello!)
Onion Soup/Dip Mix
Ramen Noodles
Ranch Dressing (ARG!!! I was so mad--Brookey LOVES Ranch!)
Most Canned Soups

For the most part, my kids have tried pretty much all of the above "food" items....and love them. Rightly so!! They are yummy! I would have never gotten through college without my $2.49 case of Top Ramen! But the list above is not "food"--basically it's chemicals, passed off as food.

I have been taking it upon myself to find healthy, fresh alternatives for some of these most-loved items. The first one I tackled was Ranch dressing since it's a family favorite. I will post my version of "Ranch" in the next post. Until then, start reading labels...remember, LESS ingredients=less chemicals=a much more fresh & healthy diet for your family!