Archive for the ‘ Time for Fun ’ Category

Lessons From A Day of No Sugar

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Table-SugarWe did it! We survived a day of no sugar. Inspired by Eve Schaub’s new book Year of No Sugar, several of my colleagues and I shunned the sweet stuff on Wednesday, part of a national #NoSugarChallenge. That meant no table sugar, honey, agave, maple syrup, or any sugar in packaged foods. Sweet fruit and vegetables were still on the table.

While Eve and her family gave up sugar for an entire year, one day seemed like a manageable goal. But, for many of us, it was a tougher challenge than we anticipated, primarily because sugar is in so many foods—80 percent of products found in the supermarket in fact.

• Learn more about identifying added sugar and cutting processed food from your diet.

Here are our reports on what was easy, what was hard, and what we learned:

Laura Fenton, Lifestyle Director – So, I failed straight off the bat: I forgot it was no-sugar day and poured myself a bowl of cereal for breakfast (looking at the label after work, I saw that the brand contains both honey and molasses, a.k.a. sugar). But once I got to work and remembered my mission I had a steely reserve to resist sugar, including: Bagels, cookies at my cube mate’s desk, and jelly beans at my other cube mate’s desk. When I went for lunch, I actually looked at the label for the salad dressing to make sure it was sugar free (it seemed to be!) and said “no thank you” to the roll that was offered with my salad that was likely made with sugar.

Alexandra Johnston, Assistant Photo Editor – I thought by biggest struggle would be handling my after-lunch sweet tooth, but my sugar-free banana chocolate “ice cream” was amazing and it actually felt very indulgent. The rest of the day proved to be more difficult. I didn’t realize how many condiments and packaged ingredients actually had sugar in them. While I won’t be making this a permanent change at this time, it did open my eyes to the problem and I will be checking the labels more closely in the grocery store from now on.

Rheanna Bellomo, Editorial Assistant – I made it through breakfast, lunch, and dinner by making all my own fresh food (nothing processed) and snacking on a mango in the afternoon. What I found so funny was that once I settled in for the night with my book, the challenge completely slipped my mind and I had a piece of chocolate. It was so mindless! That’s what really stuck with me: the need to be more thoughtful about food.

Karen Cicero, Contributing Food and Nutrition Editor – It was a lot harder than I expected—and we are really careful about added sugar to begin with. Breakfast was easy (eggs & fruit), but when packing lunch, I remembered that our whole-wheat bread has one gram of sugar per slice and the peanut butter has a gram per serving. I couldn’t do much about that last minute so Katie had three grams of added sugar in her lunch. I had a salad for lunch, and made my own balsamic vinaigrette so it would be sugar-free. But I blew my sugar-free day when I mindlessly tried a piece of a granola bar that came in the mail for an upcoming story—that was about three grams of sugar. For dinner, we had whole-grain pasta with a fresh sauce I made with heirloom tomatoes and red onions. Overall, it was a really good reminder about how pervasive added sugar is in foods that don’t taste at all sweet, and how deliciously sweet and satisfying fruit is. I’m going to try to do it once a week–a la Meatless Monday, maybe this is Sugar-Free Sunday. Starting the week after Easter, of course!

Allison Berry, Editorial Assistant – My goal of cooking vegan was unsuccessful (I didn’t realize how complicated some of the recipes could be!), but I was able to eat vegan for the day, which I loved! The hardest part was passing up a morning bagel and cream cheese, but I was surprised to find that during the workday especially, my sugar-free snacks of fruit, almonds, and tea kept me going between meals. After dinner did get hard for me, seeing as a lot of the snacks I go for after dinner have added sugar in them. If definitely opened my eyes to what even having a cookie after dinner can do to your sugar intake. The habit I’ll definitely continue is snacking on almonds and fruit through the workday. I bought a 1 bag of almonds at the drug store and they’ve kept me full and lasted all week.

Sherry Huang, Features Editor – The two toughest times of the day were the afternoon (when I usually eat a sugary snack) and the evening (when I usually have dessert after dinner). After eating a few Craisins by accident (shoot, added sugar!), Jenna rescued me with a no-sugar-added protein bar for a snack. Dessert was a little pitiful – plain saltine crackers and natural peanut butter. I did feel slightly more alert and energetic throughout the day, so that was a bonus. Overall, the challenge was slightly easier than I anticipated, in part because it was just for one day, and there were no tempting treats lying around the office! I do confess to waiting until midnight to eat some cake, but I’d be willing to try avoiding sugar for a few more days…but maybe not consecutive ones.

Ruthie Fierberg, Editorial Assistant – It took some planning, but turns out I have a good amount of meal options that I typically eat anyway that are sugar-free. The main component of my meals didn’t deviate from my norm (eggs over spinach with some nuts for breakfast, a salad with black beans and an apple for lunch, banana for an afternoon snack, chicken and rice and a small salad for dinner with blackberries for dessert). What DID surprise me is how many of my condiments had sugar in them. I couldn’t have my usual salad dressing – I opted for lemon juice instead – and I couldn’t have barbeque sauce on my chicken – that actually has a LOT of sugar in it. I think in the future I will pay more attention to the “sugars” listing on nutrition labels and opt for things with less sugar, but I have no plans to go sugar-free for good. I like my whole wheat pastas and multigrain breads and even that barbeque sauce. The challenge was certainly interesting and eye-opening!

Madeleine Burry, Associate Managing Editor – The best part of the sugar-free day was the need to be thoughtful about what I eat: Does that salad dressing have sugar added? What about that bottled tomato sauce? I prepped for the day with lots of tiny containers of fruits and veggies (apple slices in one, cut up cucumber in another, and grapes in the last little tupperware), and was able to escape the kitchen without trying the cookies temptingly laid out on the counter, and make it through the treacherous three to five p.m. window, when I’m most vulnerable to lure of the sugary snack. Will I quit sugar forever? No way! I quit sugar for a month once, and midway through, life felt dark and dreary. A little sweetness is a good thing, and sometimes an apple just doesn’t cut it. But I will definitely try to be more mindful when eating, especially about the presence of sugar in foods I don’t think of as being sweet (like ketchup, instant oatmeal packets, dried fruit, and salad dressing).

For my part, feeding my daughter sugar-free meals turned out to be the toughest challenge. She usually has a low-sugar cereal for breakfast, but we decided on eggs and whole grain crackers for breakfast—not something I’d want her to have everyday. I left a list of sugar-free snacks for the babysitter, and it was a little humdrum: dried plums, more crackers, fruit, milk.

Participating in this challenge made me realize just how hard it is to not eat sugar throughout the day, especially for kids. Since all the grams of sugar – in cereal, chocolate milk, yogurt, and granola bars – add up, even if I feel like I’m feeding my daughter a “healthy” diet, it is still very sugary. My new goal is to step up my game and find some delicious, sugar-free options for her everyday diet.

Could you or your kids ever go sugar-free—even just for a day?

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Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image: Sugar on wooden table via Shutterstock

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Parents Tackles A Day of No Sugar

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Today, a few of us here at Parents are going sugar-free. That means no table sugar in our coffee, honey in our tea, or syrup in our oatmeal. It also means saying no to any processed foods that contain sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, fructose, evaporated cane juice, agave, or molasses, just to name a few of sugar’s aliases.

But, just because we’re saying no to a lot of foods, there are many others we can still say “yes” to including naturally sweet fruits and vegetables.

Many of us are also enlisting our families in this experiment. We were inspired by writer Eve Schaub’s new book Year of No Sugar, in which she, her husband, and her two small children cut out sugar – for a whole year. Schaub has declared today, Wednesday, April 9, the Day of No Sugar Challenge.

Why are we doing this? We each have our own reasons, but the fact is that Americans are drowning in added sugar. According to Robert Lustig, M.D., about 80 percent of items in grocery stores contain added sugar. We now consume an average of 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, about double what we should be eating.

• Learn more about identifying added sugar and cutting processed food from your diet.

Here is what my colleagues are saying about giving up sugar tomorrow:

Ashley Oerman, Assistant Editor: I’m doing this because I think I might actually be addicted to sweets. I think it would be a great exercise in impulse control (a study I just read said this could be genetic. I blame my ice cream-aholic dad).

Sherry Huang, Features Editor: I have an irrational fear that I am addicted to sweets or the taste of sweetness. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I crave is something sweet. When 3 p.m. rolls around, I need a sweet snack, and after dinner, a meal is never complete without dessert (who cares about a cheese plate?). I would like to make (more of) an effort to curb the craving and resist my pull toward eating an excess of sugary, processed foods so I can start to gravitate toward more healthy, natural foods.

Karen Cicero, Contributing Food and Nutrition Editor: For my daughter, no chocolate milk in her lunch—water instead. No cookie or small piece of candy after dinner; it will be fruit! And I’ll be sure to make dinner since you don’t know what’s in the restaurant food!

Ruthie Fierberg, Editorial Assistant: So I’m a pretty healthy eater anyway – lots of fruits and veggies. I’d say it’s most likely going to affect breakfast the most – since I won’t be having cereal or oatmeal and probably opt for something more protein-y like eggs. In general, it will be tough not to eat processed foods. I sometimes eat a frozen meal or a veggie burger or salad with salad dressing for lunch, so I’ll have to check on that. But I really don’t eat too much sugar, so I’ll be surprised if one day of this is crazy challenging. (Famous last words.)

Laura Fenton, Lifestyle Director: A sugar-free day wouldn’t be a big challenge for most of my meals, but it would be difficult for me to pass up on treats, if they came in my path. I almost never say no to a cookie or a sweet, if it’s offered. [And, here at Parents, they’re offered a lot!]

Allison Berry, Editorial Assistant: Since I’ve always been curious about going vegan, I’m using this as a chance to try a couple of sugar-free vegan recipes I’ve pinned! Fingers crossed the goodies in the Parents kitchen don’t get the best of me…

Alexandra Johnston, Assistant Photo Editor: I’ve always been pretty good about not adding sugar to drinks or fruit but boy do I have a chocolate sweet tooth. Especially after lunch and dinner, I always love a bite (and sometimes more) of chocolate to feel like I’ve completed the meal. Tomorrow I’m hiding the cookies and candy and trying a Pinterest recipe of a frozen banana mashed with a bit of cocoa powder. I’m hoping the result will curb my appetite for chocolate!

Personally, I am going to miss sugar in my coffee the most. And, I’m nervous about finding a sugar-free breakfast my 8 year-old will like (I’m thinking of giving her a smoothie with milk, Greek yogurt, unsweetened almond butter, frozen grapes, and a banana). But, I’m excited to choose from all the delicious, sugar-free foods at our disposal: hummus and veggies, apples with unsweetened peanut butter, roasted sweet potatoes, pasta with quick homemade marinara, and chicken noodle soup, just to name a few.

Tomorrow or Friday we’ll report back and let you know how we survived our day of no sugar.

Will you say no to sugar with us today? Give it a shot, and let us know how you’re doing by tweeting us @parentsmagazine using the hashtag #NoSugarChallenge.

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Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image: Year of No Sugar book cover courtesy of Sourcebooks, Inc.

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Could You Give Up Sugar for a Day? Join Us As We Try

Monday, April 7th, 2014

A couple years ago writer Eve Schaub, her husband, and their two small kids stopped eating sugar — for a whole year. Not only did this mean no cookies, candy, or ice cream, they also discovered that many of their favorite everyday foods contained hidden sugars including some brands of bacon, crackers, yogurt, salad dressing, pasta sauce, chicken broth, tortillas, and even ketchup.

Schaub learned that the sweet stuff is everywhere, often lurking on food labels under names like high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup, honey, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, fructose, dextrose, glucose, evaporated cane juice, or molasses.

She chronicled her family’s journey in the upcoming book Year of No Sugar. And, now she’s organizing an event for the rest of us to test our sugar-free mettle, for one day only (phew!). Schaub has declared Wednesday, April 9, the Day of No Sugar Challenge. Several of us here at Parents are going to participate, and we’d love to have as many of our readers as possible join us.

But, first of all — why give up sugar at all?

To be clear, not all sugar is “bad.” Natural sugars in fruit and vegetables are fine. Because your apple contains fiber that counteracts its sugar content, your body remains balanced. But, dig in to packaged applesauce with its heaping teaspoons of sugar, and your body must produce insulin to battle it. All too often, this can lead to a number of problems ranging from sluggishness and irritability to diabetes and heart disease.

The World Health Organization recommends limiting daily sugar intake to 9 teaspoons for men, 6 teaspoons for women, and 4 teaspoons for children. A typical breakfast of cereal and juice can rack up 11 teaspoons—that’s nearly four times the amount your kid should have in an entire day! Clearly, we need to cut back.

On top of this, sugar does not satisfy hunger. Instead, it can make you hungrier (or “HANGRY”) and more moody once your blood sugar drops.

So how did sugar get in virtually everything we eat in the first place?

Sugar used to be a condiment, sprinkled lightly onto food. Now, sugar has become our food. According to Robert Lustig, M.D., about 80 percent of items in grocery stores contain added sugar. This is because a majority of the food we eat is processed, which requires refined sugar to be palatable.

One of the best examples of this is flavored yogurt. Often considered a health food, yogurt can actually be pit of hidden sugar. Traditional yogurt is strained, sour milk—it’s supposed to be tangy. “Who gave us the notion to add fruit-flavored syrups to make it sweet? The food industry, which wants to sell more,” says Dr. Lustig. “No doctor would suggest that.”

Learn more about identifying added sugar and cutting processed food from your diet.

I’m already thinking about what my 8 year-old daughter and I will eat on Wednesday. Surprisingly, I think breakfast will be the toughest challenge. With no honey or maple syrup, oatmeal just won’t be the same. The vast majority of packaged cereals are out. Virtually any bread I buy at the grocery store has sugar in it, so no toast. I will probably make us a smoothie with milk, banana, unsweetened yogurt, frozen fruit, and unsweetened peanut butter. Eggs are another possibility.

Does this one-day experiment seem like more trouble than it’s worth? For a minute. But, then I remember that sugar doesn’t really belong in every single food we eat. I’ve come to crave the taste so much that any meal without something sweet seems like it’s missing something. I want to prove that I have power over my cravings. Because, really, we should be able to make it through just one measly day without sugar. Right?

Would you ever give up sugar, even just for a day? If you’re game, join us on Wednesday: Tweet to @parentsmagazine using the hashtag #NoSugarChallenge.

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Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

Image: Year of No Sugar book cover courtesy of Sourcebooks, Inc.; close up on fruit salad via Shutterstock

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Can Kids See Captain America: The Winter Soldier?

Friday, April 4th, 2014

By Chelsea P. Gladden, BreezyMama.com

There’s something to be said for getting lost in the fantasy of being a superhero for both young boys and girls alike. And, well, let’s be honest: adults, too. In fact, the recent influx of franchises has been successfully catering to the PG-13+ crowd versus the younger set and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is no exception.

Returning with his shield in hand for this sequel based on Marvel’s 1941 comic book series, Chris Evans is back as the titular character in a film geared more toward the mature audience. That being said, know your child and their tolerance for the darker, scarier moments. Personally, my 8-year-old caped crusader aficionado was by my side and declared,  “It was awesome!”

As a fan of The Avengers film that combined Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Captain America into one very entertaining movie, I did have some expectations of the latter’s headlining turn. Though definitely fun, it didn’t quite live up to the 2012 major blockbuster. The special effects are amazing and the action is non-stop, but I did get lost at times trying to follow the plot. However, it was enjoyable overall, including watching Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce and the return of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

Starting off where The Avengers movie left off, Captain America finds himself once again trying to adjust to the “modern world” – always making for some amusing jokes. When the S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised, our hero is re-teamed with Scarlett Johansson, reprising her Black Widow role. Though the duo also soon join forces with the welcome addition of Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, the Winter Soldier proves to be a formidable villain.

In fact, there were moments where the new ‘bad guy’ appeared suddenly, which my son and I found startling. “Things were popping out of nowhere”, my son told me afterwards.

“So was it too scary?” I asked him.

“No… I liked it,” was his response.

One particularly intense scene has Samuel L. Jackson’s character blocked in his car by several police vehicles ambushing him with gunfire. Though the bulletproof car temporarily protects him, this was the point when the Winter Soldier appeared that my son noted was particularly “freaky.”

Toward the end, Captain America and the villain are face to face, “in the ship and it was falling,” my son points out, and he got very squirmy during this moment of combat that was another specific point in the film he thought was very scary. But when I wondered if my son would see the movie again he answered, “Yeah… Definitely!”

Speaking of violence, there is quite a bit, including physical fights with characters punching one another, as well as lots of gun shooting. Thankfully, the blood and gore were at a minimum as was the sexually explicit content, with one very mild kiss.

In the end, your budding superheroes ages 8-10 will enjoy the ride as long as they have their brave shields in tact to take on the scarier scenes. Watching with my son was a true treat, making it all the more enjoyable to be lost in the superhero fun.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens in theaters everywhere  4/4/14.

Grade on a scale of superhero films: B

Rated PG – 13, 136 minutes. Lots of guns and fighting.

Watch the below sneak peek trailer for a preview on what’s to come and to gauge whether your children are ready for the action:

Download our superhero mask template to help your little one transform into Super Kid!

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Image: Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

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Television: Check Out a New Clip From Turbo FAST

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

One of my favorite children’s movies last summer was Turboa fast-paced adventure about a snail who dreams of racing in the Indy 500. The film is full of humor and heart that kids and adults can enjoy—and who can resist Samuel L. Jackson as the voice of a snail?

So naturally, I was excited when DreamWorks released five episodes of the animated series Turbo FAST (that stands for “Fast Action Stunt Team”) on Netflix during the holiday season. Picking up right where the movie ended, the show is full of crazy stunts, thrilling races and all sorts of new challenges for the wacky group of friends. Now, the next batch of episodes will be released on Netflix tomorrow, April 4. Take a sneak peek at what’s in store with this exclusive clip from an upcoming episode:

Plus, families can prepare for the release with the viewing party kit, which offers instructions for creating a racing obstacle course, coloring pages, trading cards and more. (Personally, I’m looking forward to trying the instructions for creating your own taco stand!)

Is your family planning on watching Turbo FAST?

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Dinner in 30 Minutes: Fat Chance?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Healthy and quick have always seemed to be on different playing fields when it comes to dinner. But pediatrician and dad of two Robert Lustig, M.D., has spent 16 years trying to change that—all while treating childhood obesity and studying the effects of sugar on the body. In his latest book, The Fat Chance Cookbook, he provides more than 100 delicious and wholesome meals for families to prepare in 30 minutes or less. Still not convinced? Every recipe was vetted by high school students in home economics classes—if they can do it, so can you!

Dr. Lustig recently shared his secrets for cutting sugar in baked goods and convincing kids to eat spinach.

The main premise of the book is that not all calories are created equal. Can you tell us why that’s so important?

It goes without saying that 100 calories from a cookie are not equal to 100 calories from spinach. Your body uses and stores fuel—calories—very differently, depending on the quality of those calories.

I’m often dubbed “anti-sugar,” but I hate that. I’m actually anti-processed food. As a society, we are eating too much processed food, which contains a lot of added sugar to make it more palatable. Most of us are not consuming enough real food, which has fiber to balance its natural sugar content. We are way over the threshold on sugar and need to return to real, fresh food.

I highly recommend the TED-Ed series on hidden sugars and the food industry called Hiding in Plain Sight. It delves into the larger issues and helps parents make better decisions while grocery shopping.

What do you think is the root cause of the childhood obesity epidemic?

We are consuming all the wrong things. We need more fiber, more Omega-3 fatty acids, more micronutrients, less sugar, no trans fats. I remember when sugar used to be a condiment, not a dietary staple. It’s okay for sugar to flavor food, but not be your food. With this cookbook, my message is that you can prepare real food fast. And not one recipe includes processed ingredients.

If parents aren’t counting calories, what should they be doing?

Look at labels. More importantly, buy food without labels like fresh produce. Then determine how much added sugar or trans fats there are in the labeled foods you’re purchasing. Look for sugar hiding behind one of 56 pseudonyms like corn syrup, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose; the list goes on and on.

Be wary of health claims on the front of your favorite products. The rules governing statements like “hearty-healthy” and “low-fat” are bizzare and less strict than you’d think. Typically, if there’s a health claim on an item, you should probably ignore it and check its nutritional value and ingredients list.

Understand that real food has the answers: the fiber in your apple balances its natural sugar content. Use whole, fresh ingredients and everything improves.

Okay, so how does a busy family get a wholesome dinner on the table while running to sports games, after-school clubs, and PTA meetings?

I know exactly where parents are coming from. I have two girls, a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old, so we shuffle between soccer practice and debate team. We’re always running, but somehow my wife or I find a way to get a real-food dinner on the table every night.

Our trick: stocking the pantry and freezer. I keep a lot of options in my freezer, including chicken breasts and steak. Don’t be afraid of weekend prep. It saves so much time to cook something up, store and save it, or even freeze it for later.

Cindy Gershen, who developed the recipes in the cookbook, is stellar at using leftovers. Because of her, we were able to include tips for how to do that in the book.

What are the first few steps to make toward a better family diet?

You have to build it in slowly. It takes forethought, planning, and trips to the supermarket. It takes a little time, but it doesn’t take a lot of time. Plus, it’s typically cheaper! Start by simply planning a week’s worth of meals ahead of time and prepping a few sides over the weekend.


Which recipes are best to start with?

My favorite weeknight recipes are Quinoa and Black Bean Burrito Bowl (page 214), Brown Rice with Lime and Cilantro (page 225), and Joe’s Scramble (with homemade sausage, green onion, mushrooms, spinach, and parmesan cheese; page 142). Some may sound lengthy, but the active time of every recipe is 30 minutes or less.

And my overall favorite recipe in the book is Polenta Patties with Sautéed Greens, Poached Eggs, and Basil Salsa (page 143). But that’s more for weekend brunch, and it’s slightly elaborate.

Temptation can be hard to battle. Do you ever treat yourself?

My wife loves to bake, but when she does, she cuts the sugar in every recipe by a third. That sounds crazy but it works, and it tastes better! Without being sickeningly sweet, you can taste the other ingredients like nuts and dried fruit.

Our anniversary is coming up and we’re going to a French restaurant. We’ll definitely have dessert and we’ve planned for it: we haven’t had dessert all week!

My kids know that on weekdays dessert is a piece of fruit. If it’s the weekend, then we’ll talk about treats. And the thing is, it doesn’t bother them. They don’t feel like they’re missing anything.

Growing up, were your kids ever picky about fruits, veggies, or other healthy options? How did you work around it?

Of course they were picky. I just had to keep at it. Sure, it’s a pain to keep serving up spinach, but you have no choice. It can take 13 tastes of one savory item before a toddler will like it. Sweets only need introducing once.

But don’t give in! The problem perpetuates when people opt for the easy answer: letting their kids eat refined carbs. Then those same kids become picky eaters who won’t eat anything but processed food.

Putting the effort in is hard, finding the time and where-with-all is hard, but life is hard and raising kids is hard! In the end, it’s all worth it.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

Images: Mother and happy child via Shutterstock, The Fat Chance Cookbook cover courtesy of Hudson Street Press, Healthy and unhealthy food on scale via Shutterstock.

Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid

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World Premiere Video: Rockabye Baby Does The Clash

Monday, March 31st, 2014

We always get a kick out of Rockabye Baby, which takes music you love as an adult (from The Beatles to Jay Z to Pink) and plays the tunes out on xylophones and bells. It might sound like sacrilege but turns out to be music that appeals to your infant without you getting “Twinkle Twinkle” stuck in your head, which is a blessed relief.

They have some 60 titles at this point, with each CD selling for about $12 to $17 and also available for download on iTunes. There are single MP3s for about $1.30, including Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. (I know it’s probably inappropriate but the picture of their signature bear, blurred, cracks me up.)

Today they are taking us back to London in 1980, presenting a first look of their video for The Clash’s London Calling, done Rockabye-Baby style. Play your newborn The Clash without risk of raised eyebrows, or show your toddler this gentle little one-minute video for a minute of screentime that won’t grate on your nerves.

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Meet the Woman and Toy Creator Behind Melissa & Doug!

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Imagine if your job was to think up the next big children’s toy. For Melissa Bernstein, co-founder of Melissa & Doug, it’s just another day at the office. As the ideas person at the toy company (her husband Doug helps with operations), she’s responsible for overseeing the design process of the products your little one adores. Though the company began humbly in Doug’s parents’ garage 25 years ago, today it’s a major toy manufacturer, with more than 250 products launching in the next year. Parents chatted with the mom of six to see where she gets her inspiration (take a guess!) and what it’s like running her own business.

P: How has being a mom influenced your toy ideas?

M: I’m always watching how my children play and what they enjoy. They test every single product we make, and a lot of times really help hone the idea and help improve it throughout the process. I told them I never want them to just tell me they like something because I’m their mom, so they are very critical. Many toys they’re just kind of like, “Eh, they’re OK.” I know when we have a winner because they’ll react a lot differently.

P: Are there any specific products that were inspired by your children?

M: In our house, role play has always been a favorite activity. That inspired costumes they can try on and become other characters. They also love food preparation and serving, and that inspired a lot of our pretend cooking and cleaning items, like our Let’s Play House line and Order Up Diner set coming out next December. Another thing that our kids love to do is make play food in the sand. I used to take tupperware containers and old spice jars from our house to the sandbox, and they would make sand cakes and pies with water. The lack of fun activity-based sand toys sparked us to create items where you can actually make sand food, like ice cream cones and pizza.

P: If you had to pick one favorite toy you’ve made in the last 25 years, what would it be and why?

M: For me, it’s our coloring pad because I love taking something that’s out there already and improving upon it. I was never a fan of coloring books. Many of them are so thick you can’t lay them flat on a table or counter, making it hard to color. When you go to rip out a page, it leaves this jagged edge. I also found the grey newsprint paper not very nice for getting colors to pop. Since the images are printed on both sides of the paper, when you use markers it bleeds through and you lose one of the images. The other thing I never liked about coloring books was that my kids could never find an image they wanted to color and would end up arguing over the same one or two pictures. About five to seven years ago, we created a coloring pad that was actually a bit larger than a coloring book. It faces horizontally, so there’s more surface area in front of a child. It’s printed on white bond paper, so the colors stick out. Plus, the images are printed on one side so there’s nothing to bleed through and the pages are easy to rip out because of the binding at the top. Most of all, we created the images in conjunction with children, so every single picture on every single pad is 100 percent child-approved. They will be just as excited to color that 50th page as they are the first.

P: How did you and your husband come to realize the toy business was where you wanted to be?

M: Three out of four of our parents are educators, so we always were instilled with an educational philosophy growing up and really loved children from the beginning. When we decided that we wanted to do something on our own, children was pretty much the first thing that came to mind. We were both like, “Kids, we got to do something with kids.”

P: What helps you two maintain a good working relationship?

M: Believe it or not, for years we actually shared the same desk. That’s how close we’ve been! We are really fortunate to be two halves of a complete circle. We’ve always focused on different parts of the business. Because we’re dealing with separate areas, we can ask each other what we think of an idea and be somewhat objective because we’re not standing over each other every day. Without the support of each other to help us through, I can’t imagine making it through the last 25 years.

P: What tips do you have for other moms looking to start their own business?

M: Don’t let fear get in your way. Everybody told us not to do it. People thought our business wouldn’t work because we were not only creating toys, but also doing a lot of things counter to what was being done. We just listened to our hearts and never really thought about what people said because we knew we were doing the right thing. Follow your dream before it’s too late. Yours is probably just as good as ours, if not better. The first idea we started with isn’t what we’re doing now. We morphed along the way by listening to the market and reacting to what’s going on. As long as you’re open to listening and making changes, you’ll find your way.

P: Your company was founded on the principle of educating children. What makes you so passionate about that issue?

M: When we started it was all about nurturing minds through simple play. Then technology came into the picture. While it’s an amazing tool for society and our business, it can disrupt children’s creativity and their ability to problem solve on their own. Now moms like me are struggling to make sure their kids aren’t tethered to technology 24/7. That’s what keeps us coming into work everyday, this mission to really promote parents to connect with their children through play.

PS Ready to get creative with your kid? We’re rocking these pom-pom flowers in our Parents office!

Pom-Pom Paper Flowers
Pom-Pom Paper Flowers
Pom-Pom Paper Flowers

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