10 Tips for a Healthier Lunchbox

 Healthy groceries

Research shows that children think more clearly, and perform better in school, when fed a steady diet of nutritious foods. According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live, “The foods children consume early in life…ultimately supply their brain power. A diet rich in vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts and seeds is the only way to ensure children get an array of phytochemicals, antioxidants, fatty acids, and other micronutrients to adequately supply their growing brains.” This means that moms like me can greatly influence our kids’ potential for success in school, by making healthy choices for their lunch boxes.

Packing snacks and lunches is also a huge opportunity to teach strategies for long-term, sustainable health. If children are at school for more than half their waking hours, then at least 50% of their dietary habits and preferences are being formed during this time. Every food you pack sends a message about what they should or shouldn’t choose to eat.

So, as you think about what you will send for lunch this year, remember that you are not just feeding your kids–you are also shaping their approach to lifelong wellness. Do your best to teach them how to create sustainable energy, and long-term health, with nutrient-dense foods. You, and your child, will be glad you did!

Here are a few strategies that work for our family:

1. Pack fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds first. Figure out what your kids like, and pack those healthy foods before anything else. Raw fruits and veggies have more nutrients than most other foods. Apples, bananas, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and pitted olives are some of my kids’ favorites. Let meats, dairy, chips, and sweets take up the smallest fraction of the lunch box, so that the majority of their foods are nutrient-dense.

2. Make it fun. My kids love to play what we call “The Rainbow Game”: pack fruits and veggies of every color of the rainbow except one, and tell your kids they need to report which one was missing when they get home. Use cookie cutters to create different shapes for fruits and sandwiches. Or create your own unique games to make them smile at lunch and snack time, when you can’t be there to do it in person.

3. Take your kids shopping! Empower kids with nutrition information, and encourage them to choose healthy foods at the store. Teach them how to read food labels, and let them decide what’s best (make sure to veto unhealthy choices with love). Keep a positive attitude, and let it be their idea whenever possible.

4. Start an ongoing dialogue about nutrition. Talk about the power of nutrient-dense foods, and why you make the choices you make for their meals. Ask your kids about the foods they ate at school. What vitamins and minerals were in your apple? Why were strawberries a healthy choice? If they don’t know, help them look it up. The more they understand the reasons behind your decisions, the more likely they are to accept them.

5. Save time with leftovers and prepared soups! Make sure you have a lunch-box sized thermos on hand, so reheated leftovers and soups stay warm until lunchtime. Get in the habit of doubling dinner recipes, so you have enough to send for lunch the next day. Boxed and canned organic soups can also be lifesavers, on days that you are short on time, or low on groceries.

6. Empower kids make their own trail mixes. Kids love to be creative! Make it easy for them to design their own trail mixes. Keep a variety of nuts, dried fruits, and gluten-free cereals on hand. A small handful of mini dark chocolate chips can make trail mix more palatable to picky eaters; it also adds antioxidants, and the sugar content is negligible.

7. Teach kids to choose water over sugary drinks. Milk and juice are high in sugar, and are therefore not good choices for kids that are trying to learn. And, of course, sodas and sports drinks are a big no-no. Kids that have too much sugar from these kinds of beverages at lunch, are bound to crash in the afternoon. Sugar also decreases their immunity, creates inflammation, and adds empty calories to their diet. Water is always best in the lunch box.

8. Don’t forget about healthy dips and stuffings. Kids love to dip and stuff foods. The trick is to give them nutritious options. Try to avoid ketchup and ranch dressing. Fresh salsas and bean dips, however, are great choices! Hummus is widely available, and comes in a variety of flavors. Nut butters are also a healthy option–try cashew, sunflower seed, or almond. Stuff baby bell peppers with hummus, and teach kids to dip and fill fruits with nut butters. You might be surprised how much they like it.

9. Forget the bread. Even if you are not allergic to gluten, bread is just not good for you. It is lower in nutrients than whole foods, and hard for the body to process. Why? Because wheat has been genetically modified so much over the years, that our bodies no longer recognize flour as food. It can create inflammation, sinus problems, insomnia, and stomach issues. If your kids insist on bread, try to limit how much you serve (maybe send half a sandwich instead of a whole, and double up on the fruits and veggies), and ask for gluten-free breads at your local store.

10. Put dessert in its place. It’s okay to send dessert to school, just not every day. Teach kids that dessert is a treat, to be enjoyed on special occasions, or sometimes just because! And remember, not all desserts are created equal. A piece of organic dark chocolate with cherries and almonds is always a better choice than a gummy bear with high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring.

Most of all, try to be grateful for the chance to influence your kids’ eating habits. It might feel like a chore, but trust me on this: teaching our children about nutrition is one of the most powerful ways we have to show them how much we care.

Let’s Talk About Raising Healthy Kids

When I was a little girl, I believed in fairy tales. That no matter what kind of trouble might find me, there would always be a hero rushing to my rescue.

As I got older, I realized that this is not how life works–no one comes to save us, we have to save ourselves…

Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.

I started having headaches when I was in kindergarten, and no one could figure out why. I visited doctors, changed my diet, and tried to get more sleep, but nothing seemed to help. I suffered a lot…loudly at first, and then silently, when people got tired of my complaints.

The headaches were relentless throughout elementary school, but I learned to hide my pain. I actually got quite good at it. As I got older, the headaches became more frequent, and new health challenges presented themselves–food addiction, depression, insomnia, and recurring sinus infections. I hid those as well. No one knew how much I suffered.

Until one day, I couldn’t hide my health problems any more. When I was 26, a near-fatal car crash left me with a dozen broken bones, and a long road to recovery. It was then, at rock bottom, that I finally realized that life is not a fairy tale, and the only way I would ever find happiness, was to rescue myself.

I spent most of my twenties recovering, and all of my thirties fighting my way to good health. My body healed from the crash, but a new challenge presented itself–autoimmune thyroid disease. I had to fight even harder, to get back on stable ground.

It took time, and a lot of hard work, but saving myself from a lifetime of ailments and injuries was the most worthwhile thing I have ever done. I learned how to control my energy, pain, strength, moods, weight, and illness with food and exercise. In the process, I traded my victim mentality for the commitment of a warrior, trusting the struggle, and seeking whatever it takes, to live life in balance.

I’m 43 now, and these lessons feel like some of the greatest blessings in my life! I am grateful for all that this crazy healthy life has revealed, and I feel called to share what really works with others, in every way that I can.

As a wellness coach, one of my favorite things to do is teach parents how to empower their children with the awareness, beliefs, and consistency that are essential for a healthy life. I call this approach “The ABC’s of Raising Healthy Kids”, and I will discuss how and why it works at Whole Foods in Atlanta (West Paces Ferry location) next Tuesday night, June 17th. Everyone is invited, there will be food, and it’s FREE!

Please plan to join me at 7 PM in The Cafe. Reserve your spot by emailing stephanie.watson@wholefoods.com, and let me know if you have any specific questions you would like me to address. As always, I am here to help, and appreciate your comments and feedback.

Image.

 

Yoga & Real Food With The Fam

 

ImageHappy summer! Did you start 100 Days of Crazy Healthy yesterday? It was a challenge for us to get started, because we were on vacation at the lake with some other families, but we did it! I was surprised that the girls really liked the tongue scraping and the lemon water. They have done sun salutations before, but it was really fun to practice them together with a family goal. I am also happy to report that I got up early to practice sun salutations with Hubby and the girls today, so we’re already done with Day 2. Yay!

No worries if you didn’t get to start the challenge with us yesterday. You can still start today, and make it 99 Days of Crazy Healthy! Start here. The point is to create new health habits, one day at a time, all summer long, so you will still benefit A LOT, even if you start one day late. To find the posts, type “100 Days” in the search box on my home page, or use the category cloud. I’ve posted the first 4 weeks so far, and will continue to post additional weeks as I get them written.

As you begin the journey, remember:

1) We already have everything we need to be healthy. No diets or trendy workouts needed, if we eat real food and practice resistance-based yoga every day.

2) Getting healthy is hard on purpose. Trust the struggle.

3) We are all leaders. Every choice we make informs the choices of the people around us. When we choose healthy habits, we inspire others to do the same.

4) Good health is the foundation for all of the other things we want in life, so we must make it a priority every day. Do whatever it takes to complete your mission.

5) You don’t have to do this alone. Invite a friend or family member to join you, and remember that I am here to help! Email any time with your questions.

Namaste,

Amber
Image

Dinner In 30 Minutes or Less: Ginger Lime Kitchari With Crunchy Veggies

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like spring can’t get here fast enough! Everyone in our house is longing for sunshine, flip flops, and the lightness that arrives with warmer weather.

This shift is becoming more and more apparent in my cooking, as I reach for lighter foods in the grocery store, and prepare more transitional meals for dinner. I like simple, convenient meals, which is why kitchari has become a staple for our family of five. It requires very little prep work, is ready in less than 30 minutes, and makes very little mess in the kitchen. Serve it up with roasted veggies, and we have a crowd pleaser for dinner, and leftovers for lunch the next day.

My favorite kitchari recipe is the one I learned from Ayurvedic Chef Meredith Klein at Pranaful, during her Spring Cleanse last year. It was a life-changing experience, and I highly recommend checking out her next cleanse, which starts on March 16th, 2014. Learn more here.

The best thing about kitchari is that my kids love it, and beg for seconds. As a mom, there’s not much better than serving comforting, medicinal foods that make my family happy.

If you have not made kitchari before, some of the ingredients might look unfamiliar. Mung beans are available in the bulk food section at Whole Foods, and at farmers markets. The spices should be available at most grocery stores, but if not, you will definitely find them at Whole Foods as well, or online.

I hope you enjoy this meal as much as our family does! It’s delicious and nutritious. Just the thing to help us brighten up for spring.

Namaste,

Amber

Springtime Kitchari

4 T. coconut oil or ghee

2 t. cumin seeds

2 t. mustard seeds

2 in. piece of ginger, grated

2 c. drained mung beans (rinse & soak overnight before cooking)

1 1/2 c. organic rice

1 1/2 t. turmeric powder

2 t. sea salt

8 c. water

Juice of 4-6 limes

sliced avocado

chopped parsely for finishing (optional)

Sautee oil, mustard, cumin and ginger over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until seeds begin to pop (1-2 minutes). Add rice and beans, and sautee another 2 minutes.

Add water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and add turmeric and salt. Cover and cook 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rice and mung beans are soft.

Add lime juice to taste, and serve with sliced avocado and parsley.

Serves 6-8.

Sweet & Sour Carrots

10 whole organic carrots, rinsed, dried, and sliced in the food processor

Juice of 2-3 lemons

1 T. local honey

1/2 t. sea salt

cracked black pepper (optional)

Slice carrots in a food processor, using the slicing attachment, or by hand. Transfer to a baking dish and add juice and 1 T. local honey. Carrots should be only slightly sweet. Roast at 375 degrees until carrots start to soften, but are still crunchy, 7-10 minutes.

Serves 6-8.

Sweet & Salty Green Beans

4 c. french beans or regular green beans

1 T. maple syrup or organic coconut sugar

sea salt to taste

Rinse beans, and toss with syrup and salt. Roast at 375, until beans turn bright green, but are still crunchy, 7-10 minutes.

photo copy 42

When Kids Don’t Eat Their Lunch, It’s Not About The Food

My friend, Cindy, has two precious young boys who adore her, but don’t always love the healthy lunches she packs for school. Feeling frustrated by their ever-changing attitudes, she reached out for a little help with “packing a week of healthy lunches the kids will actually eat.”

At first, it sounded like she was asking for a list of foods, and maybe some recipes, but after a few emails back and forth, it became clear that Cindy’s lunchbox challenge was not about the food at all. It was about something much bigger.

The conversation turned to psychology. We talked about how, just like adults, kids can have complicated relationships with food. Their beliefs, preferences, and actions are colored by every experience they have ever had with food….from nursing, to first foods, to yesterday’s snack. It’s essential to keep this in mind, as we teach our kids about nutrition. What we send for lunch, is not as important as how our kids feel about the experience before, during and after their lunch break.

So, keeping this in mind, here are some ways that we can help our kids embrace their healthy lunchbox:

1. Set boundaries, for yourself and for your kids. Talk about them often, and stand your ground. As much as they may protest, kick and scream, the one thing kids want most from their parents is boundaries. They need to know that you are in charge. Because, how scary would it be, to be a kid and be in charge? Unlike your kids, you have the experience, knowledge, and tools necessary for leading your family in healthy habits. So, be the leader your kids want you to be…explain what is acceptable and what is not, and enforce the rules with compassion, love and grace.

2. Let it be their idea. Clean out your cabinets of foods you don’t want your kids to eat, and take them shopping for better choices. Stick to the produce and health food aisles, and ask them to pick what they would like for snack, lunch, etc. Fill the cart with brightly colored fruits and veggies first. Ask which whole foods they like best. Which new foods would they like to try? Teach kids how to read labels. And give them opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned, by asking questions about what they chose and why. Encourage them to be leaders at the lunch table, by talking about what your family values about food. Most of all, have fun, be inquisitive, and enjoy the journey.

3. Let kids plan the meals. Would your kids be more likely to eat meals that they chose themselves? Ask them to help you make a lunchbox plan for the week. Remind them of the boundaries (75% fruits and vegetables, more color than white foods, or whatever your rules might be), and see what they come up with. It’s okay if their plan isn’t exactly what you hoped for the first week…pack it anyway. This is a process, and it takes time! The following week, challenge them to increase the nutrient density of their meal plan by adding more fresh foods, colorful foods, etc. Do it again the following week, and every week after, until you are both satisfied. It won’t be long before you both feel better.

4. Get creative in the kitchen. There are a lot of simple, yummy, healthy foods your kids can create on their own. Set out bags of nuts, dried fruit, and seeds, and ask if they’d like to make a trail mix for tomorrow’s lunch. Set out bowls of chopped fruit, and invite them to make a fruit salad to pack. Or maybe they would like to make cinnamon spiced apples with you? Or healthy no-bake cookies, made from oats, cinnamon, raisins and honey? The options for simple recipes are endless, and preparing food together is a great way to connect with kids.

5. Practice non-attachment. Does it bother you when your kids don’t eat their lunch? Do you get rattled when they say they like humus one day, but not the next? From our perspective, as parents, these are really frustrating experiences, especially when we are trying our best to instill good habits (and we don’t want food to go to waste). However, from a kid’s perspective, this is just part of the learning process. They are figuring things out, and it takes time. This is why it’s important to take a deep breath and try something different, when things don’t go as expected. And remember, it’s not just about the food with kids, it’s also about your relationship with them. The less attached you are to outcome, the less of a power struggle it will be, and the more the conversation can be about the right thing to do, instead of what Mom wants him or her to do.

So…if like Cindy, packing healthy lunches feels like one big struggle, loosen the reigns a little. Remember that teaching kids good habits is not a linear process. It’s complicated, but with a little intention, and a lot of love, we can inspire our kids to become the healthy eaters we always hoped they would be.

photo copy 27Me and my picky eaters, ringing in the new year at the beach

The A-B-C’s of Raising Crazy Healthy Kids

1503293_10202971599273913_792128419_nI have three daughters, ages 6, 8, and 9, who love to dance, swim, practice yoga, shoot hoops, play soccer, and invent healthy snacks.  They know that food and exercise can be medicinal, and love to talk about our crazy healthy adventures, with anyone who will listen.

I think this is why people ask me all the time, “How do I teach my kids to be healthy?” The way they say it, it sounds like it’s the hardest thing in the world.

And with good reason, because it is hard to teach kids to be healthy. But not in the way you might think.

It’s not hard because kids don’t like healthy food. It’s not because kids don’t like to exercise. And it’s definitely not because kids resist change.

It’s hard because we often expect our children to do as I say, not as I do, and it almost never works. The reality is that, if want to raise healthy kids, we have to be the change we hope to see in our kids. We have to earn their respect by doing the things that matter, and remember that we are teaching them, with every decision we make.

While some might think this is bad news, I actually think it’s the best news ever. Because being the change we hope to see in our kids is as easy as A-B-C:

A. Practice AWARENESS. Pay attention to how you eat, what you eat, where you eat, and why you eat. Question your behavior a lot. Figure out what you enjoy about getting healthy, and practice it often! Because the truth is that kids learn more from our actions than our words. Remind yourself every day that you are your child’s role model, mentor, and guru, and you have to act the part, if you want them to believe that their choices matter.

B. Examine and share your BELIEFS about food and exercise. What do you think it takes to get healthy, and stay healthy? Are you sure? Decide what you believe, and then talk to your kids every single day about it. Not in an organized, “I’m going to teach you a lesson” kind of way, but in casual conversation. Share stories from your journey, both failures and successes. And ask their opinion a lot. What should we buy at the grocery store today? What percentage of our dinner came from the earth? Why does that matter? Most of all, have fun with it, and seek to understand what your kids enjoy about food and exercise.

C. Be CONSISTENT. Pick two or three healthy habits that you want your kids to embrace, and add them to your daily routine. For me, it’s drinking a large glass of water with lime when I wake, practicing yoga (even if only for 10 minutes), and eating lots of vegetables. It doesn’t matter what we do, as much as it matters that we do it every single day. Start small, pick goals that are reasonable, and stick to them, no matter what. Think about what you want your kids to say about you when they grow up: When I was a kid, my mom always _______. This is where you should start.

The truth is that it’s not easy to teach kids to be healthy, but it’s always worth it, and these ABC’s help a lot. As you work on yourself, enjoy the journey and trust the struggle, because what you want most for your kids, is waiting on the other side.

Have you liked My Crazy Healthy Life on Facebook? Join our community for more insights, tips and conversations about this crazy healthy life!

Aside

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way

ZiZi climbed off the bus with this tucked under her arm yesterday afternoon:

photo copy 15

Her lips and teeth were blue, and she was chewing a wad of gum that was way too big for her mouth.

With a goofy smile on her face, she said, “Guess what Mom?”

“You won the estimation game at school?”

“Yes! There were 96 gum balls in the jar, and I guessed 94! I gave some away on the bus, and I had a few, so there are 72 left.” She was so proud of herself, and clinging to her prize. 

All I could think was, “How am I going to get this mood-altering candy away from her? It’s hard enough to be an 8 year old girl with red hair, without a bunch of sugar and chemicals messing with your brain.”

I tried to bargain with money. I think it’s a much more appropriate reward than food, and she usually takes the bait. But not this time. The gum was a novelty–something she consumes a few times a year–and she wanted to enjoy it.

“There’s a lot of sugar in that gum, and you know sugar affects your moods. How about I’ll trade you a dollar for the whole jar?”

Blank stare.

“Two dollars?”

Nothing.

“How about a Beanie Boo key chain for your backpack?”

“Can I have the $6 Beanie Boo I want at Richard’s?”

I had to draw the line. Six dollars would have sent the wrong message.

“No, honey, I think that’s too much.”

And then, I remembered that our dentist had a dish of Spry Gum, last week when we visited. Spry is non-GMO, has no artificial colors, artificial preservatives, GMO or carcinogenic sugars, or artificial flavors and it is made with Xylitol. Also, the manufacturers claim it cleans our teeth as we chew.

I still don’t think that chewing gum is a good idea–it messes with our body’s ability to produce digestive enzymes–but I decided Spry Gum was a much better option than big blue sugar-coated gum balls .

“How about I buy you some of the Spry Gum you loved at Dr. Goldstein’s last week. It’s a healthier choice than sugary gum, right?”

“Could I have fruit flavor?”

“You can have any flavor you like! But I get the sugary gum with the blue dye.”

“OK, Mom that’s fair.”

As soon as we got home, I fired up my laptop, and together we ordered 100 pieces of Fresh Fruit Spry Chewing Gum.

41vLEhSED0L._SX425_

Here’s the thing, though…I will only offer it once when it arrives. I feel like the less I offer treats, the less my kids expect them, and the more balanced they can be in their diet. Our rule is no more than one treat a day, and I work hard to make sure we stick to it.

In doing so, I’ve learned that it’s best to rarely offer treats, BUT oblige within reason, when asked. My kids receive so much sugar outside the house, that it’s impossible to stick to our “one treat a day” rule, if I offer sweets at home. So, I keep candy and gum of sight, which usually keeps it out of mind. This is how we deal with Halloween candy, Valentine’s candy, birthday party goody bags, and other sweets that come into our home unexpectedly. I also make a point of asking a lot of questions about school each day, including whether they had any candy, cupcakes or other sweets. They are good about telling me the truth…I think because we have always talked this way, and they know I only ask because I truly care about their well-being.

When ZiZi asks for her gum later this week, I will oblige, if she has not had any other treats that day. Afterwards, I’ll put the gum up on a shelf, until she asks for it again. She will remember the day after, and maybe the day after that, but at some point ZiZi will forget about the gum. When she does remember, or if I need a semi-healthy treat for her, I will pull it back out when it serves a purpose.

I wanted share this story with you, because I think it demonstrates a fundamental belief about this crazy healthy life. We always have options to be healthier, and where there is a will to make a healthier choice, there is a way to make it happen.

Have you liked My Crazy Healthy Life on Facebook? Join the conversation…we would love to get healthy with you!

Let’s Start A Wellness Revolution


1294399_10202258839095354_1217924449_oPeople always ask me, “how can I teach my kids to be healthy?” The answer is simple: be the change you want to see in your kids. Kids value what their parents value. The way I see it, we must put the oxygen masks on ourselves first, if we want this generation to grow up healthier than the last.

This is why I volunteered to chair the Wellness Committee at our neighborhood elementary school this year. I think it’s a great way to rally our community around a shared goal.

In the past, we had a small committee that put in a lot of hours to execute Wellness Week. For the 2013-14 school year, however, we have a committee of 70 parents and faculty members, who have been asked to commit a total of 10 hours of volunteer time, between September and May. Most of their responsibilities can be scheduled at their convenience. I am hoping that this will be the key to our success: rallying a lot of leaders around a common cause, making it convenient to participate, and creating new opportunities to engage with students about what it means to be healthy.

The response to our new programs has been overwhelming. Of course, we had a little bit of a head start, because we live in a community that already values good health. Why not give them a chance to share their enthusiasm for all things healthy, within the school?

I spent a good part of the summer and the entire month of September thinking about how we can teach healthy habits on a $500 budget. It made me realize that we don’t need money to inspire our kids to create healthy habits. All we need is relationship capital, a platform to share what we love, and a small investment of time.

The programs we are adding to our school this year are so simple, that I think that every school in America could adopt them. It’s time to start a Wellness Revolution, and it begins by engaging our kids in more healthy activities.

Here’s whats working for us, that might also work for your school. It’s been awesome watching parents and teachers get fired up about wellness…it’s such a reminder of how connected we all are!

Most of our activities have been consolidated into a single week that we call “Wellness Week”, but you could do them at your school, any time during the year:

1. Healthy tips during morning announcements. We have parent volunteers sharing healthy tips during morning announcements each day this week. I created scripts for the parents who wanted them, and asked the parents who are subject matter experts create their own. Some of the topics are 10 Ways To Eat More Veggies, 10 Healthy Breakfast Foods, Breathing Exercises, and Stretching Exercises. This is one of our moms, leading yesterday’s healthy tip, which was a mindfulness exercise.

photo-11

2. Healthy games on the playground. Parent volunteers are leading fun exercises during recess, every day this week. Our recess runs 11 AM-1:30 PM, so there are two 75 minute shifts. School is closed this Friday, and we have two campuses, so this requires a total of 16 volunteers for 75 minutes each (2 schools x 4 days  x 2 shifts). Each day is a different game. Yesterday was Simon Says Exercise, today is Silly Animal Walk Races, tomorrow is Yoga, and Thursday is Freeze Dance. I don’t think it matters what games are played, as long as the parents have fun leading them!

1378618_10151678057956500_412069767_n

3. Healthy snacks in the classroom. We created a healthy snack list, and asked parents to pick a day to share a healthy snack with the entire class, each day during Wellness Week. This is such a simple, but effective way for parents to role model healthy habits!

4. Teacher gifts. We printed labels that say “Happy Wellness Week!”, stuck them to a LARA BAR, and placed one in each teacher’s mailbox. This was the only thing I spent money on for Wellness Week. If you want to save money, you could skip the treats, and print a healthy recipe, or simply write each teacher a note that says Happy Wellness Week! It’s the thought that counts.

578714_485126144928192_1537931442_n

5. Walk To School Day. This does require some coordination, for safety reasons, but it does not cost money. Tomorrow is National Walk To School Day, but you could plan one of your own at any time. To encourage participation, we have a local vendor donating T-shirts, and our parent volunteers will work with our crossing guards to ensure safety for all children. It’s a great way to teach kids that walking can be fun!

6. Create a Wellness Ambassador Program. This is what we are doing outside of Wellness Week, to keep the conversations going all year long. I recruited volunteers from each of our 52 classes, who will lead a healthy activity in the classroom six times during the school year. Our volunteers will use standardized lessons that I am creating, but your school might want to just ask parents to make smoothies in the class, lead stretches, or help kids create and stick to a “Wellness Resolution” (like a New Year’s resolution!). It is the volunteer’s attitude and enthusiasm, more than the activities, that matter most.

7. Ask the faculty what they think. Invite teachers and administrators to meet with you monthly, or bi-monthly, to help shape wellness initiatives for your school. Seek to understand how wellness initiatives might help them be more effective in their jobs. Our teachers are required to teach health lessons, so our ambassadors can actually take some of the weight off their shoulders, if we plan our lessons in ways that support them. You might be surprised by how new healthy intitiatives can create win-win experiences for everyone in the school!

The more we invest in our own health, talk about our disciplines, and make our efforts visible to our community, the faster we will shift what our community values. We don’t need to spend money to create a healthier culture, we just need to take a stand for what we believe, practice what we preach, and bring everyone we know along for the ride.

Namaste,

Amber

photo-13

The Thin Line Between Selfish And Selfless

The hardest thing about being a wife and mother is figuring out where you end, and your family begins. It’s like, as soon as two become one, and then two becomes three, four, and five, we wake up and realize that we are only one fifth of the person we used to be.

We have new loves, and the things that we used to love are suddenly the source of our greatest guilt.

We feel bad for sleeping in. We blame ourselves for not doing enough for our families. And we squeeze time with our friends into the spaces between loads of laundry, grocery shopping, and carpools.

This is not me complaining–I know I am blessed. This is me observing that moms have a hard time defining boundaries.

I know I do. And I’ve talked to enough mom friends to know that I’m not alone.

This is why I am such a huge proponent of yoga for moms. It helps us accept that taking care of ourselves is not selfish…it’s actually the most selfless thing we can do.

Yoga keeps us grounded in reality. Regular practice teaches us to observe our thoughts, determine which ones are valid, and reject the ones that are false. It also makes us stronger, wiser, and more flexible…literally and figuratively.

We ultimately learn to flip the question. Instead of:

Is it selfish to take time away from my family to work out?

we find ourselves thinking:

How could I not work out? My family needs me to live a long, happy, healthy life.

We must put the oxygen masks on ourselves first, if we hope to support our families when they need us the most.

The truth is that sometimes I still feel guilty asking for a hall pass to go to yoga. I am thankful, however, that yoga has taught me to observe that thought, without reacting to it. It comes and it goes, and reminds me that choosing to fortify myself is the most selfless thing I can do.

IMG_9149 copyMy girls are the reason I practice yoga every day…

so I can be the fun mom who wants to ride the Alpine Slide in a dress!

All I Really Needed to Know About Parenting, I Learned On My Yoga Mat

When I discovered yoga in 1998, I was 27 years old, newly married, and several years away from having kids. I took my first class at a health club, in hopes that yoga would relieve stiffness that lingered, after breaking a dozen bones in a near-fatal car crash.

I believed that yoga could help me feel better, but I never expected that it would teach me most of what I needed to know to be a good parent. It is the ancient philosophies behind yoga, as well as its regular practice, that have helped me become more of the mom I always hoped to be. Here are just a few of the many important parenting lessons yoga has taught me:

1. Be present. Without awareness, yoga becomes just another workout. If I lose the mind/body/spirit connection, I miss the best parts. The same holds true for parenting. It’s important to look kids in the in the eyes, and tell them we are happy to see them. Ask questions, and stay engaged as they reply. This connectedness deepens our relationship, and builds their self-esteem.

2. Focus on what it feels like, not what it looks likeWhat we feel is more important than what we look like in yoga. Similarly, our kids will always remember how we made them feel, more than what life looked like, when they grow up. They won’t remember whether our nails were done, if the house was messy, or if their clothes were ironed…they will remember how it felt to live with us. Was family life peaceful? Accepting? Encouraging? Focus on making home feel like love, more than anything else.

3. Balance happens when we are strong on the inside, and soft on the outside. Set the foundation, hold onto it, and let go all at once. This is how we sustain balance poses on the mat. Likewise, as a parent, it is just as important to be sure of ourselves, as it is to be flexible with our kids. We must strengthen ourselves first, so that we can tend to the evolving needs of family, with grace and equanimity.

4. Taking breaks doesn’t make me weak, it makes me stronger. On the yoga mat, it is essential to honor my body. If I ignore cues to rest, my practice falls apart. The same is true with my kids. I love spending time with them, but I become less rational when we are together for days on end, without a break. Recognizing the need to put myself in “time out” (i.e., “child’s pose”) helps me as much on my mat, as with my family. Once I reconnect with my inner strengths, I can return with better perspective, and more of myself to share.

5. The transitions are just as important as the poses. Some yogis spend up to half of their practice time in transitions. Connecting the poses with grace is essential. As a parent, it is easy to get wrapped up in the big moments–the sports games, recitals, and birthday parties–but don’t forget to find value and beauty in the everyday experiences.

No one said it would be easy, but the promise of reward for hard work is significant, in both yoga and parenting. The word yoga means “to yoke”, and refers to the uniting of the mind, body, and spirit. When we parent children with the intelligence of all three, we discover that parenting can be the greatest yogic practice of all.

Happy National Yoga Month!

Amber

yoga parenting
Yoga with my babies, and Shelby The DAWWWG, circa 2008
Aside

How Sweet It Is: Strawberry Picking at Mercier Orchards


This is my crazy messy family:

IMG_3056

Their fingers (and clothes) are stained with strawberries, after an amazing morning of strawberry picking at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, GA. We had a great time last Saturday, playing in their strawberry fields.

Mercier is a family-run business in the North Georgia mountains, with a wide variety of fruits that are grown as naturally as possible (our guide told me they only spray calcium and water on the fruit to keep pests away, and called it “pretty close to organic”). We have picked cherries at Mercier in the past, and have picked wild blueberries and blackberries elsewhere, but this was our first experience picking strawberries.

The girls got a kick out of paying for their baskets at the country store, and riding the hay truck through the orchards full of apple trees, cherry trees, and blueberry bushes, until we got to the strawberry field. When they climbed off the truck, got down on their knees, reached for, and bit into their first strawberry…warm, juicy, and fresh off the vine…their big bright eyes got a little brighter, and a smile grew across their face. And I knew, in my heart, that, for the rest of their life, they would always remember the taste of warm strawberries in the North Georgia mountains. We were making memories.

IMG_3025

The strawberries were delicious, but I what I loved most was getting down in the dirt to find our treasures. Being close to the earth is good for the soul. The best strawberries were usually buried under the biggest, brightest green leaves, which added an element of surprise, and joy, to the experience.

“Look at this one, Mom, it’s huge!”

“What about this one, it’s even bigger!”

DSC_5359

I’m pretty sure we ate more berries than we took home, and we definitely had a great adventure together as a family. We also gained a new appreciation for one of our favorite crazy healthy foods. We talked with the farmers who tend to the fields, and learned how strawberries get from the farm to our table. It’s one thing to talk about “eating from the earth”, but actually meeting the people who grow our food, pulling their berries from the vine, and savoring the sweetness in the field, reminded us all how blessed we are to live this crazy healthy life.

*For more about My Crazy Healthy Life, like us on Facebook, and follow us @crazyhealthy on Twitter

Healthy Family Fun at Chantlanta 2013


My husband is incredibly supportive of my yoga practice, and the crazy healthy habits that it inspires. He is pretty open minded about it all, and truly enjoys practicing yoga. Unfortunately, we rarely have time to explore yoga together, now that we have three kids ages 8 and under.

Which is why I really wanted to take him, and the kids, to Chantlanta 2013 this past weekend.

Chantlanta is a two day yoga festival at Druid Hills Baptist church (yes, a Baptist church!), in Atlanta’s artsy Virginia Highlands neighborhood. It’s a cultural event, full of asana, meditation, drumming, and kirtan. The classes and performances are kid-friendly, and almost all are free (donations are happily accepted, however, with proceeds benefitting an amazing organization called The Learning Tea).

A perfect way for a dedicated yogini to spend a Saturday with her family, right?

Truth be told, I was a little hesitant to ask hubby if we could spend our first free Saturday afternoon in months chanting and practicing yoga. Our kids rarely have a weekend off from their extracurricular activities, and I knew there were a million other things he would probably rather do. Not because he doesn’t like yoga and kirtan, but because it is less familiar to him than it is to me, and unfamiliarity breeds resistance. So, ironically, I resisted asking if we could attend Chantlanta, because I feared his resistance to the idea of trying something new.

Thankfully, yoga teaches us that resistance can actually serve us in our pursuit of happiness, if we learn to recognize it, and overcome it.

So, that’s exactly what I did. I asked hubby if we could hang out at a yoga festival, on our one free Saturday afternoon. And of course, being the open-minded person that he is, hubby happily obliged.

After lunch on Saturday, we piled in the car, and headed over to The Highlands. What happened when we got there was awesome:

We practiced Grounded Yoga with our kids…

photo copy 12

…our girls made new friends…

Image

…and we all took a Double Dog Dare.

Image

After yoga, we sat on cushions on the floor of the sanctuary, and sang with our kids…

Image

…and when the spirit called, the kids got up and danced with beautiful scarves…

Image

and it was really, really fun.

I tried to see it all through my children’s eyes. The yoga, the dancers, the drummers, the unfamiliar songs. They embraced it, and let themselves get carried away. It was beautiful. Joy in its purest form.

Afterward, we went to the artists’ market, where everyone was super friendly, and incredibly generous with gifts for our girls. The girls came home with sparkly beaded keychains, and a beautiful handcrafted necklace, kindly offered to them by the vendors (thanks Natural Healing Stones and Vista Yoga!). We also ran into old friends in the yoga community, and made new friends as well.

As we were leaving, we literally bumped into Krishna Das (remember the kirtan article I wrote a few weeks ago?). I couldn’t believe it! Such a surprise and honor. I’ve been listening to his music for over a decade, so it was a thrill to finally meet him.

The entire day was perfect, and, in hindsight, I can’t imagine what there was to resist.

That’s how it always is with resistance. It seems like the hardest thing in the world to overcome it, but after we do, it makes perfect sense.

So, once again, I am reminded that this is the real yoga. Choosing possibility over attachment. Committing to the path less traveled. And believing that it really does make all the difference.

Special thanks to my friend, Stan Holt, and everyone else at Swaha Productions, for organizing Chantlanta 2013!