Lunch Box News

Summer Fun and Games: You Could Be Your Kid’s Favorite Toy

Most children would do anything to have their busy parents get on the floor and play with them, especially in their early years. Credit: Getty Images

Pop quiz: What toy does your child most want to play with this summer?

It's a trick question.

Summer Fun and Games: You Could Be Your Kids Favorite Toy
"Believe it or not, you are your child's favorite play toy," family therapist, blogger and mother of two Amy Wickstrom tells ParentDish.

Wickstrom, a contributor to Working Mother, OC Family and more, also writes the blog More Than a Toy. She tells ParentDish it is important for parents to play with their children, especially during the summer when kids have more time and their hands and are crying out for parental interaction.

"Most children would do anything to have their busy parents get on the floor and play with them, especially in their early years," Wickstrom tells ParentDish. "Take 10 or 15 minutes to give them your undivided attention and interact with them and the toys they are playing with."

Need some suggestions?

"Do a family craft," Wickstrom suggests. "Run to your local craft store and pick out a craft to do with your child (such as building a bird house). Build enthusiasm for it by including your child in choosing what the craft will be, picking out the supplies together, learning about it more (for example, if doing a bird house, research different kinds of birds with your child and find out which birds visit your yard, etc.) and determining the time you will do it (simple crafts can be done in one sitting, but other crafts, such as building a model plane, could be done over several weeks during the summer)."

Some of the simplest games create the most lasting memories, she adds, such as hide-and-go-seek.

"One of my favorite memories as a child was playing kick the can and hide-and-go-seek with the other kids on my street," Wickstrom tells ParentDish. "Sadly, our age of technology often squelches a child's natural tendency to be outside and play with other children. Simple, all-time favorite childhood games are disappearing."

You can help combat that trend with a trip to the library, she says.

"Parents can take their kids to the local library to pick out a book and read it together there," she says. "Many libraries have special rooms just for children that are filled with toys and sometimes a stage with props for story time. This helps engage children in their imagination, have quality time with a parent and develop their reading skills. It also keeps them accustomed to old fashioned books instead of eBooks.

Websites such as have some other low-cost ways to build lifelong memories. Here are a few:

1. See a $1 movie. Many theaters offer summer movie programs for kids. If you're not so lucky, consider a movie day at home with a rental or streaming online video.

2. Hold Sprinkler Day. Delay your sprinklers for one day so they come on a little later in the morning. Then everyone can get in their bathing suits and jump through the sprinklers on a hot day. This also conserves water and reduces utility costs.

3. Go fly a kite. Check the 10-day forecast and look for a windy day in the coming week. Pick up a cool kite for the kids.

4. Make homemade Play-Doh. It's basically just water and flour. There are all sorts of recipes available online.

5. Build a "fort" in the living room. You remember this from when you were a kid. All it takes are some cushions and a sofa. If you want to get all fancy, you can use some large boxes and (with parental supervision, of course) some box cutters.

6. Go bowling. Bowling alleys often have special rates for families and will put out the bumpers so kids don't roll gutter balls.

7. Have a water pistol fight. Water pistols are often no more than $2. Pick up a couple and have a duel. If you want to make it a teachable moment, read up on the history and etiquette of dueling and make that part of the experience.

8. Hold Pajama Day. Stay in your pajamas all day.

9. Spend a day volunteering. There are lots of places you can volunteer and teach kids the importance of helping out. One idea might be the local Humane Society.

10. Have your kids come up with their own shirt designs, then have a custom T-shirt printing service print them up.

It’s So Hot Outside: Tips on Keeping Kids Safe in the Summer Heat

Yep, we know: It's hot out there. Like, really, really hot. Like, so hot you really don't want to step outside of your air conditioned bubble. But how much TV can you allow your kids to watch before you just break down and decide to brave the heat index and head outside?

Be sure you follow some expert advice on keeping your kids as cool as possible, WGN in Chicago reports.

It’s So Hot Outside: Tips on Keeping Kids Safe in the Summer Heat
"Young children are especially vulnerable to heat because they produce more heat at rest, they have a higher body surface area to mass ratio and they absorb more heat," Dr. Karen Sheehan of Children's Memorial Hospital, tells the TV station. "They don't sweat as well as adults. An adult and adolescent who are healthy, it takes about four days to get used to this type of weather, but for a kid it's about two weeks and that puts them at much more risk."

First up: the car. Just don't leave your kids in there. Even for a few minutes as you run into the store.

"We've only had our in-car thermometer in for about 20 minutes, if that," Jessica Choi of Safe Kids Illinois tells WGN. "We've already got a difference of 10 degrees. Its 10 degrees hotter in the car than it is outside."

Next: Keep kids away from open windows, especially on upper level floors.

"If you need to open windows, open from the top down," Amy Hill, injury prevention manager at Children's Memorial, tells WGN. "Also, move furniture away from the windows so kids can't crawl on top and fall out. That's what happens most often, people don't think about the couch being near the window. They crack the window for some circulation and the kid climbs up and falls out. It's a huge problem in Chicago."

And, as always: Don't take your eyes off a child playing in a swimming pool.

"It's important for parents and caregivers to remember that babies and toddlers can drown in one inch of water," Hill tells WGN. "Empty all buckets, containers and wading pools immediately after you are done using them."

Kids Eating More and More Meals Away From Home

People used to complain that kids eat too often in front of the television instead of at the family dinner table.

Have no fear. Researchers have found kids rarely eat at home at all.

They get their nutrition (if you use the word "nutrition" loosely) from fast-food restaurants. And they're going for the large fries.

Kids Eating More and More Meals Away From Home
Coincidentally, there seems to be this obesity epidemic in the United States.

Research in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association points to the increasing amount of food kids take from fast-food restaurants, as well as food that comes fully prepared at grocery stories.

"Overall, this study highlights the continuing rapid shifts in the sources of food for children in the United States -- both where it's eaten and where it's prepared," Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, tells Medical News Today.

"These results underscore the need to deepen our understanding of food preparation and consumption patterns, and further pinpoint where research and programmatic activity should focus," he adds. "The differences in energy intake by eating location revealed in this analysis demonstrate that eating location is an important factor in the diet of American children."

Popkin says American children increased their daily calorie consumption by 179 calories between 1977 and 2006.

His study found that it is linked to a rise in calories consumed away from home -- estimated to be an increase of about 255 calories per day.

In 1977, he estimates kids consumed 23.4 percent of their daily calories away from home, compared with 33.9 percent in 2006.

5 Summer Vacations Your Tween Won’t Hate

What tween wants to go on a family vacation when she could stay home and text her pals? Not to mention, avoid the sheer humiliation of being seen with her parents in public.

But we asked travel experts to offer up trips that will guarantee even your hardest-to-please tween will crack a smile -- or two. We've got five options to consider when planning your next adventure.

1. Pick a theme, any theme. Tweens like to feel as if they have control over their own destiny, and letting them choose a vacation itinerary that appeals to them makes everyone happier.

Jeff Siegel, author of "RelationTrips," the true story of his quest to see every Major League baseball field in the country, along with his son, tells ParentDish choosing a theme for your trip that interests both you and your child can not only reduce the number of complaints you hear, but also will bring you closer together during this dicey phase of their lives.

"Brainstorm about common interests shared by family members," Siegel advises. "This can take a few hours or a few weeks. Consider surfing the Web for ideas or placing a suggestion box in the kitchen. Then hold a meeting to choose the official theme."

2. Get on your bike. Biking is experiencing something of a Renaissance these days, and, thanks to the Tour De France, your tween is certain to love the idea of a trip that not only taps into a popular sport but also allows for a lot of room to change your mind -- for which tweens are notorious.

"The days are designed for ease and flexibility, so each member of the family will enjoy the perfect amount of activity," Dede Sullivan of DuVine Adventures, a company that arranges bike tours abroad, tells ParentDish.

3. Take them on the grand tour. Gone are the days when parents used to send their children on a grand tour of every country in Europe, but, with planning, you can still take your kids abroad for a week or two.

Tweens are the perfect age to deal with the air travel required to get to the Continent, and they are also ripe to get the most out of their exposure to other cultures.

"In our experience, kids ages 7 to 16 are ideal for traveling on family adventures (abroad) that include everything from hiking and biking to river rafting and sea kayaking," Edward Piegza, president and co-founder of Classic Journeys, a tour company, tells ParentDish. "And right in the middle of that ideal age spread? The what-have-you-done-for-me-lately tweens."

Piegza says part of the equation for happy family travel is making sure the plan includes something for everyone -- even the grown-ups. After all, it's your vacation, too.

"As a parent, I personally can vouch for the joy of sharing hydrofoil rides and peering into a volcano alongside our tween sons on the Amalfi Coast," he tells ParentDish. "But that's not to say my wife and I don't welcome the chance to spend time with the other grown-ups on tour, whether it's lingering over a gourmet meal or wine tasting or taking long, leisurely walks that would only make the kids antsy."

4. Pitch a tent. There's just something special about sleeping under the stars. Going into the wild for family fun ensures that you have to unplug from all your phones and gadgets and actually talk to one another.

You don't have to limit your trip to a tent and a campfire, either. With a little research, you can plan a trip that includes plenty of outdoor adventures, from whitewater rafting to ziplines in the forest to rock climbing and hiking.

5. The last resort. When all else fails, even the grouchiest tween will have a hard time resisting the idea of an all-inclusive tropical resort. Pools, beaches and all the tropical mocktails you can drink make for a relaxing vacation for the whole family.

A resort vacation also lets tweens have plenty of alone time, without causing too much angst for their parents. Kids can wander the confines of the resort to their hearts' content without getting into trouble.

Some resorts, such as the Montage Laguna Beach in California, even offer structured fun for your tween -- sans parents. Activities including kayaking, snorkeling and extreme scavenger hunts make the days fly by -- and they let you relax poolside while someone else entertains your kid.

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Sneak Veggies Into Your Kids Meals

Can't get your kids to eat their veggies?

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have a cunning plan. They suggest you discreetly add broccoli, zucchini and all that other green stuff to kids' meals.

Reuters news service reports their research found kids get more vegetables that way. And, while most of us might detect puree of broccoli on our macaroni and cheese, the little rubes don't even seem to notice the difference.

"We think of it as not deception, but recipe improvement," Barbara Rolls, one of the researchers, tells Reuters. "In this group of kids, we got most of them meeting their daily vegetable requirements -- that's pretty amazing."

Although the study was done in day care centers, researcher Maureen Spill tells Reuters parents could easily pull the same stunt at home. All they need is a blender.

Rolls says the technique can even work on older but equally stubborn children ... like husbands.

Sneak Veggies Into Your Kids Meals
Adding pureed vegetables into adults' meals meant they ate more veggies and fewer total calories, she adds. Most of them couldn't taste the extra veggies, either.

According to Reuters, researchers fed prepared meals to 40 kids ages 3 to 5 one day a week for three weeks. The meals looked the same each day -- zucchini bread at breakfast, pasta with tomato sauce at lunch and a chicken noodle casserole at dinner.

One day's worth of meals was prepared normally -- with a typical veggie in each entree. On the other two days, researchers added pureed cauliflower, broccoli, squash, zucchini and tomatoes to triple or quadruple every dish's dose of vegetables.

After each meal, researchers weighed the food to determine how much kids ate. The preschoolers were also allowed to eat non-doctored side dishes and snacks during the day -- including fruit, cheese and crackers.

Compared to the day when they ate standard meals, Reuters reports, kids almost doubled their total vegetable intake on the day they ate high-vegetable dishes.

"I would urge parents to try to get vegetables into their kids' meals wherever they can," Rolls tells Reuters. "This is an additional strategy that you put on top of exposing kids to real vegetables, eating the vegetables with the kids, (and) being persistent in exposing them to vegetables."

Kids are Like Scientists, and Not Just Mad Ones

"Experiment. Make it your motto day and night. Experiment. And it will lead you to the light." -- Cole Porter

We commonly refer to something simple as mere child's play.

Kids are Like Scientists, and Not Just Mad Ones
However, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University say there is nothing "mere" about child's play. Children are actually performing complex experiments.

They are little scientists, Wired magazine reports.

To prove just how scientifically children approach their work, researchers gave a group of them a toy that lights up and plays music when the child places certain beads on. When children didn't know which beads would activate the toy -- what scientists call "ambiguous evidence" -- they tested each variable in turn.

Laura Schulz, a professor at MIT, tells Wired it's like someone trying unsuccessfully to open a door with a key.

"You might change the position of the key, you might change the key, but you're not going to change both at once," she says.

Researchers say their study begins to "bridge the gap between scientific inquiry and child's play."

Remember that the next time you find flour scattered all over the kitchen. Scientific discovery can be messy.

When New Mom Can’t Breast-Feed, Dozens of Women Help Out

Eva van Dok Pinkley, a Brooklyn, N.Y., actress and magazine researcher can't breast-feed her newborn because she had a double mastectomy last year.

No matter. The London Daily Mail reports 25 women are pumping and donating their breast milk.

When New Mom Can’t Breast-Feed, Dozens of Women Help Out
"What they are doing, it's not easy to do," van Dok Pinkley tells the newspaper. "I'm just stunned at the amount of trouble that they are going through for me. I think of them and what they have done and give thanks."

Van Dok Pinkley got pregnant last September after a battle with breast cancer so intense she had given up having children. She had abandoned hope after miscarriages, failed fertility treatments and then her cancer.

When she and her husband, Stuart, finally found out they were having a baby, she knew she couldn't breast-feed. So she began doing research on the Internet.

After consultations with doctors and lactation consultants, the Mail reports, she began asking for donations from other expecting mothers at her yoga studio, via email lists and through friends.

Among the women who responded was Kristi Guigliano, the mother of an 8-month-old boy.

"The first time Eva and I met, it was a very emotional thing to, first of all, have found someone so perfect, so close and so in need of the milk," Guigliano tells the newspaper.

The Mail reports the women are either ongoing donors, one-time donors or soon-to-be moms who have pledged milk if they have some left over.

"When they told me what they were doing, I thought, 'Only in New York,' " Stuart Van Dok Pinkley tells the Mail.

Only in New York? Not really.

In 2009, ParentDish reported on Robbie Goodrich, a widowed English professor in Marquette, Mich. When his wife died shortly after his son, Moses, was born, more than two dozen women shared their breast milk with the infant.

Pregnant Moms Who Use Mouthwash Not as Likely to Have Preemies, Study Finds

"Floss, floss, floss!" You've been commanded by dentists for years to heed that advice. Now, it may be time to add "mouthwash, mouthwash, mouthwash!" to your oral health routine.

Lunch Box News - Pregnant Moms Who Use Mouthwash Not as Likely to Have Preemies, Study Finds
A new study finds pregnant moms with gum disease have a better chance of delivering full-term babies if they use mouthwash while they're expecting, Reuters reports, as pregnant women with periodontal disease have more premature babies than moms with healthy gums.

Researchers found when women used an alcohol-free mouth rinse, the risk of early labor seemed to be decreased by three-quarters, according to the news service.

Reuters notes staff and funding from the study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, came from Procter and Gamble -- a company that makes mouthwash.

The study doesn't draw specific conclusions, but Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat, lead author and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, tells the news service dental care is crucial.

"They need to use a soft toothbrush and floss the right way," wrapping the floss around the tooth, she told Reuters in an earlier interview. "The first goal with almost all dental disease is prevention, prevention, prevention."

Teacher Reinstated After Blogging That Students are ‘Whiners’

A teacher in suburban Philadelphia blogged that her students are "rude, disengaged, lazy whiners."

No doubt. They're high school students.

Lunch Box News - Teacher Reinstated After Blogging That Students are Whiners
But can anyone be that honest and remain employed? Natalie Munroe has defied the odds. Reuters news service reports the English teacher will return to face a fresh crop of rude, disengaged, lazy whiners in the fall. She might just select different adjectives.

Munroe was suspended with pay earlier this year after her comments ("My students are of out of control," she blogged) turned parents into a chorus of scorched cats.

Although school officials have reinstated her, Reuters reports Munroe has misgivings about returning to Central Bucks East High School on Aug. 30. She had to be escorted from the building in February.

"She wants to be an effective teacher and does not know what environment she will be going back to," her lawyer, Steven Rovner, tells Reuters.

Meanwhile, Munroe is blogging again. This time, Reuters reports, she's outlining the sequence of events that led to her return. She whines (uh, make that complains) she had to contact the district five times about returning and portrays the phone calls as unpleasant.

Not that it will keep her out of the classroom. She would just prefer a different high school.

"She's a teacher and will be glad to be going back to the classroom," Rovner tells Reuters. "As a teacher, she is like a celebrity now. Emotions would not be as high if she went to another school."

Tooth Fairy Latest Victim of the Economy

Cutting back on cable, new clothes and trips to the gas pump are all indicators of a bad economy, but when the Tooth Fairy starts shorting kids, you know things are serious.

The Denver Post reports U.S. kids are getting an average of $2.60 a tooth these days, compared with $3 a year ago, according to a recent survey by Visa. For those who don't like math, that's $.40 less than last year -- but still a heck of a lot more than we used to get, when a quarter was considered a score.

Lunch Boxes News - Tooth Fairy Latest Victim of the EconomyThorton, Colo. fourth grader Alicya Rodriguez tells the Post she gets a $1 a tooth. She may want to have a word with the Tooth Fairy. The average amount traded for teeth in the West is $2.80, while kids in the East get $2.10, kids in the South get $2.60 and kids in the Midwest get $2.80.

"The survey gives parents the opportunity to start talking with kids - even pretty little ones - about money management," Jason Alderman, Visa's senior director of financial education, tells the newspaper. Read more...

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