Three ways to thank teachers (or anyone) on National Teacher Day

Thank you note written by a child, thank teachers

Keep it simple.

Tomorrow is National Teacher Day – time to thank teachers! My oldest is in second grade and he wanted to write a real thank you note.

“But what should I say? I can’t just write thanks,” he panicked.

So I told him a thank you note is easy to write if you keep three things in mind: keep it simple, specific and special. My eight year old wrote a great thank you note following those guidelines, and you can, too.

Three keys

Simple: He didn’t use fancy words or phrases. He just used the word thanks.

Specific: He was specific about what he was thanking her for: being his teacher, teaching him things he didn’t know before second grade.

Special: What made this teacher special? Her sense of humor. He loved her funny jokes. Mentioning this special trait of hers is a great finish.

As you can see, there are small mistakes in his note and the lines aren’t perfectly straight. But no one (not even a teacher) is going to worry about those things when they are focused on the huge sentiment this letter conveys.

It’s important to me that my three children take time to thank teachers. I’ve learned that saying thank you is an important life skill, whether it’s between family and friends, a business and customers, or a non-profit and volunteers. I created Thanks! 100 Wonderful Ways to Appreciate Volunteersa guide that makes it easy to say thank you to anyone.


Is my child eating right?

As a parent, I often wonder, ‘is my child eating right?’ Is my 8 year-old getting enough calcium? Is my 5 year-old

Boy eating whole wheat bread

Boy cannot live on bread alone.

getting enough fruits and vegetables? Is my 3 year-old getting enough protein?

In our house, I’m not exactly worried about the amount of food they eat. They eat a lot. But are they are eating the right kinds of food?

I’ve often wondered how they would handle life if we suddenly faced food depravation. I’m really intrigued by the Live below the Line pledge. I think I could do it, and as a mom of three young children who tend to eat quite a lot, I think it could be a powerful lesson I thought, how would they react if I was only able to give them the minimum daily requirements?

Kids between the ages of 4-6 only need between 1,500-1,750 calories daily.

AGES 4-6 Sample Menu
Serve meals with 3/4 cup of low-fat milk; switch to water if your child is still thirsty. Have water or 100% juice at snacktime. Don’t exceed 6 ounces of juice daily.

1 small whole-wheat bagel spread with 1 tbs. nut or seed butter
1/2 cup fruit salad

1/2 turkey-and-cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread
Yellow pepper strips with 2 tbs. low-fat ranch dressing
1/2 cup sliced strawberries

2 oz. fish (such as cod or tilapia)
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
4 asparagus spears roasted in olive oil

1/4 cup hummus and 10 baby carrots
1 small box raisins

Menu from “How Much Does My Child Need to Eat?”

Does this seem like the right amount of food for a child ages 4-6? Would your child eat these foods?

We use My Food Notebook to track the foods my children eat with the goal of helping them 1. learn to try 2. realize tasting new foods is fun. Even though my to-do as a mom is already pretty long, I’m considering tracking my children’s eating habits for a few days and learning if they are getting most of their calories from healthy nutritious sources. Have you ever tracked your child’s foods to see where they are getting their calories? Or do you just eyeball it?




Will Wine Help? For Writers, Cooks and Moms

flow chart, wine, moms, writers, cooks

When in doubt, check this chart.


A toast to Moms (and dads)!

Something funny today! I offer this light-hearted look at some of the tasks that require both creativity and inspiration – and are made easier by an excellent glass of wine! I’m not talking about drinking to get drunk here.  I’m talking about stimulating the parts of our brain that delight in something complex, about appreciating the transformation of multiple ingredients into a new creation, about sharing in traditions passed down from generations, and about taking time to savor the beauty of the world around us.

As a mom, a writer and reluctant cook, wine represents all of those and more to me. I’m partial to reds myself. You?




Piano Practice

One of my children loves piano practice. My middle child often whines when I mention it. But when my middle child has played a particular song very well, he relishes the feeling of success.

To help my children practice piano more, and get that great feeling, I often use behavior charts to encourage them to do the desired action (practice) and get the desired results (a feeling of pride) and that helps build the new habit. You can download the pdf of one of the two versions we use – free!

New Habits

It’s not easy to develop a new habit – whether it’s exercising, eating healthy, or using manners! Many times, the best way to build a good new habit is by rewarding yourself for practicing.

We work hard to help our children acquire good habits. Just recently, we saw some reward for our hard work when our somewhat picky eater asked – unprompted – “what does mustard taste like?”

We were thrilled! This showed us that our consistent, positive practice of asking our kids to try new foods was starting to sink in. He doesn’t have to love everything, but he should be able to try. Each new food that goes in his copy of My Food Notebook results in two rewards: pride in himself and praise from his parents.

I’m pretty sure my kids won’t be concert hall musicians, but they still need piano practice. Because it’s not about whether they play like a pro, but whether or not they can work hard at something, get good results and be motivated to try.


Choosing the Right Format (For Picky Eaters!)


Fun size fro-yo!

Fun size fro-yo!There are lots of ways to help picky eaters try new foods. One trick is to introduce food in a different format. Myyoungest thinks he likes yogurt but he never eats is out of the container. He insists I buy it, but if I serve it in the yogurt cup he takes one bite and will not finish it. Instead of wasting the food, I switched up the format.

There are lots of ways to help picky eaters try new foods. One trick is to introduce food in a different format. My youngest thinks he likes yogurt but he never eats it out of the container. He insists I buy it, but when I serve it in the yogurt cup he takes one bite and will not finish it. Instead of wasting the food, I switched up the format.

I offer it in smoothie form – and no, this doesn’t take a lot of work! I grab some blueberries (perfectly frozen from our CSA box) or diced peaches, a splash of orange juice, some honey and scoop the yogurt into the blender and whip a super-easy smoothie. He drinks every drop. I shared this idea on my 30 Second Mom page!

I also change the yogurt into a frozen treat for a quick bedtime snack. I found this idea on Pinterest but I added my own snazzy twist: before I froze them I added rainbow sprinkles. My kids cannot resist rainbow sprinkles. When I presented yogurt dots they disappeared as quick as ice cream and were actually easier for him to scoop up. Have you ever noticed how tough it is for little kids to scoop into ice cream with plastic spoons?

Just because your picky eaters won’t eat food in one format doesn’t mean the food is off the menu. Blend it, freeze it, chop it, roast it – the key is to not give up!! (And when they try it, don’t forget to keep track in My Food Notebook!)

What food do you eat in one format but not in any other??




Homework for Writers

Writer's Digest magazines

Great info for writers

There are many excellent books, blogs and conferences available to writers. One resource I find particularly helpful, especially in my fiction writing, is Writer’s Digest magazine. My writing partner recently gave me a hefty stack of back issues bulging with funny articles, useful tips and excellent revision guidance, not to mention the lists of agents just waiting for that next best-seller to land on their desk!

In order to gain what knowledge I could from each issue, I have embarked on a self-directed learning course. I read an issue in one sitting, take notes, and publish the notes on my blog. This helps me because I can refer back to my notes if I’m looking for something specific. This helps you because you can get a quick overview of each issue and decide if you want to research a topic deeper. If you read a post and want more info, just let me know! I can either send you the issue or send you the complete article.

Homework for Writers Links

Here are the issues I’ve already covered:

September 2010 – The Big 10 Issue

September 2011 – Best Selling Secrets

October 2011 – Get Your Agent

Gardens: Great Idea for Picky Eaters

Planting the seeds of healthy eating

Planting the seeds of healthy eating

Growing a Good Eater

Growing a Good Eater











Even if you live in an apartment with no yard at all, you can grow food in containers and help your picky eater learn to try new foods.

I loved reading about a study from Australia that showed school children who participated in gardening and cooking classes were willing to try new foods and make healthier choices.

When I conducted a Lunch and Learn for Farm to Table, I shared this information and talked about the importance of helping our children grow food, choose food at the grocery store (and by that I mean fresh produce, not their favorite sugary boxed cereal) and prepare food at home. Each of these opportunities to encounter healthy whole foods turns something unknown into something familiar and increases the willingness of the child to try it. And as your child tries new food, don’t forget to help them keep track in My Food Notebook. Kids love sharing their opinions knowing their  input matters!

Here are the details of the study:

A group of investigators from the University of Melbourne and Deakin University recruited a total of 764 children in grades 3 to 6 and 562 parents participating in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. The program model is embedded in the school curriculum and includes 45 minutes per week in a garden class with a garden specialist and 90 minutes per week in the kitchen with a cooking specialist. The program is designed to give children knowledge and skills in environmentally sustainable gardening along with the skills to prepare and cook 3- or 4-course meals based on available fresh produce from the garden. Different dishes prepared each week included handmade pastry, bread and pasta, salads, curries, and desserts.

According to Lisa Gibbs, PhD, principle investigator, one of the major themes that emerged from the study was children eating and appreciating new foods. She said, “The program introduced children to new ingredients and tastes, and within a short time almost all children were prepared to at least try a new dish. Teachers at several schools also reported that they had seen a noticeable improvement in the nutritional quality of the food that children had been bringing to school for snacks and lunches since the program had been introduced.”

Petra Staiger, PhD, co-investigator from Deakin University added, “Data and class observations also suggested that the social environment of the class increased children’s willingness to try new foods. This included sitting down together to share and enjoy the meal that they had prepared, with encouragement to taste but no pressure to eat.”

From the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

Stick it to Picky Eaters

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 3.28.59 PM At the Farm to Table Conference in Pittsburgh last month, I spoke with many parents looking for ways to encourage their children to try new foods. So at my workshop, “Kids’ Tasting Party” I introduced a concept that works wonders for us: serve food on a stick.

I taught kids and parents how to make pizza on a stick and discussed how the basic ingredients can all be grown or purchased from local farms and dairies. Kids can make pizza on a stick by themselves and easily vary the ingredients.

Serving food on a stick is more fun for many kids and adults. I spoke with a dad after the workshop who asked me how he can get his three-year-old daughter to try new things. I suggested a tactic we’ve used at home: present bite-sized portions on toothpicks. His eyes lit up and he laughed, “Of course! She’d love that!”

Screen Shot 2013-03-25 at 3.30.29 PM

Two tasting party attendees, a brother and sister, came up twice to make pizza on a stick. Their mom grabbed a copy of My Food Notebook for each of them because she wanted proof they and eaten tomatoes! I reminded her that My Food Notebook works best when kids record their new foods in their own handwriting.

Pizza on a stick is really a simple caprese salad, but the use of the word “pizza” is more familiar to children. When you want your kids to try something new, definitely make it fun and as familiar as possible. And don’t forget to try new things yourself!

Picky Eaters by Nature?

Is your child genetically a picky eater?

At the Farm to Table Conference in Pittsburgh on March 22 and 23, I talked with a lot of parents about their little picky eaters and how My Food Notebook worked for us. We discussed many strategies that help kids try new foods and a big one that came up often was that parents need to try new foods, too!

Do as I do!

Do as I do!

Recent research from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill conducted by Myles Faith, an associate professor of nutrition at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, reports that genes make some kids more fearful of new foods.

I’m willing to bet many parents will read a headline on this research, maybe skim a few lines and say, “Oh well, my kid is genetically picky” and think they are off the hook on getting their child to try new foods and eat healthy.

But Faith’s research also shows “Some children are more genetically susceptible than others to avoid new foods. However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t change their behaviors and become a little less picky.”

You know what one of the most meaningful ways these food neophobes can learn to try new things? When their parents also try new things.

The debate over nature versus nurture is old, and false. Whatever our genes predispose us to be or to do is important but certainly does not decide our fate, because we (and our genes) do not exist in a vacuum. We exist in families and society that offers a large variety of nurturing, some good and some bad. In this case, even if your child’s genes make them more fearful of new foods, their environment, and what they see their parents doing, can help them learn to try.

There are lots of other ways to help picky eaters and I’ll be sharing more in coming posts!