5 indoor gardening activities for toddlers

Sharing a meal with your family is a wonderful way to come together at least once a day. However, involving your toddlers in a bit of rainy or winter day indoor gardening is an ideal way to spend some quality time together and teach them about the food they eat.

As far back as I can remember, my parents have had a garden. Every spring they would till the soil, create their rows, and plant a variety of summer crops: beans, potatoes, lettuce, radish, carrots, onions, pumpkins, squash, zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, and more. In the autumn, they would diligently harvest the fruits (vegetables) of their labor; can it, bottle it or store it in the root cellar; and all winter long we would enjoy the vegetables they grew. Even today, many years later, their summer garden is a sight to behold.

Kress - Nice to have in the kitchen!
Kress – Nice to have in the kitchen!

Sadly, I did not inherit the green thumb of either of my parents. I do, however, appreciate the flavors, freshness, and quality of home grown vegetables. There is nothing more satisfying than biting into a ripe tomato you grew yourself.

As a condo dweller, finding a place to plant a garden can be a bit of a challenge. But I was determined to give my children, if not the garden experience of my childhood, then at least an appreciation of what it takes to grow the food we eat and how it differs from what you can buy at a supermarket. I decided to create our own indoor garden using a couple of metal shelves and some LED grow lights for indoor plants I found online.

(NOTE: I turn the lights off when my kids are working around the lights just to avoid them staring directly at one of the lights for too long.)

To introduce gardening to children, here are five ways to get them involved and their hands a bit dirty, which they of course will stick in their mouth at some point; the hazards of playing in the dirt!

1. First, plant some seeds!

Planting seeds is an easy task that is very tactile. My kids love to touch things and watching them poke seeds into the soil is great fun. Initially, I suggest planting seeds for vegetables that grow quickly, such as lettuce, radishes, or green onions. It helps keep young, easily distracted minds focused when there is something to see as soon as possible. Also, don’t plant everything on the first day. Spread out the planting so there aren’t long gaps waiting for things to change.

For older children, maybe ask him or her to select a preferred vegetable and get them excited to grow their own. My oldest loves snap peas, so he’s planted a half dozen seeds and we’ll see how they do this year.

Tomatoes that have just begun to sprout!
Tomatoes that have just begun to sprout!

2. Keep track of the growing

Have the plants grown? Are they bigger? What has changed? Ask them to feel the soil: is it dry? Damp? Do the plants need water? What colors do they see? It’s a great way to develop your child’s vocabulary and senses. Keep a small log book of what’s happening with the vegetables and maybe ask your toddler to draw a picture or two, if they are so inclined.

3. Repotting as things grow

Have I mentioned how much my toddlers love to mess around in the dirt? Repotting was definitely a hit. I laid old newspaper down on our hardwood floor and brought in some potting soil. I demonstrated how to fill a new pot with the soil and off they went. It was kind of like watching them on a beach, only the sand was much browner.

Once the new pots were full, we worked together to transfer the seedlings to their new homes. Each plant got a name and both of my toddlers got a bath. It was great fun and there were lots of giggles as they dug around in the dirt.

4. Harvest your garden

The moment of truth: did anything grow? Of course! Maybe not as much as we hoped, but there will still be something. The first crop up for us was lettuce so we harvested some, snacking away pretending we were rabbits. We are still waiting on some of the bigger vegetables but they are coming along. I especially enjoy watching my oldest discover how things grow and change. Currently he’s fascinated by tomatoes (why are they green and not red, Daddy?) and beans; we have to check them every day now.

Celery adds a bit of a crunch to any salad.
Celery adds a bit of a crunch to any salad.

5. Make some seed storage bottles

Indoor gardens you can keep going all year long, so storing seeds isn’t as big of an issue. However, I’ve been working on seed storage bottles with my toddlers as gifts for their grandparents. It’s an interesting way for a child to share their gardening experience with their grandparents and tell a story. My parents are already planning to dedicate a small corner of their own garden for the kids to grow vegetables from their seed storage next year.

To store seeds they first need to be dried. After harvesting, spread the seeds you want to keep on a newspaper to dry for a week or so. Once they’ve dried, pack them in airtight containers and store in a cool, dry location. We are planning to store ours in mason jars and place them in our storage room in the parking garage.

I’ve enjoyed creating this gardening space for our family and sharing it with my kids. Maybe I don’t have a green thumb, but maybe one of them will develop one. If not, I hope they will at least learn the basics of how plants grow and have a bit of fun along the way!

Do you have any fun or engaging indoor gardening activities you enjoy with your toddler? Send me a message; I’d love to hear about it!

Five Physical Activities For Toddlers

Five Physical Activities For Toddlers

My two toddlers are a handful and keep me on my toes. If it is quiet in my house, then either they are napping or there is trouble brewing! However, even though your kids may be ‘active’, they need a variety of physical activities to help them develop.

Kids running around, playing and doing ‘stuff’ is a great start. Some children are self-motivated to play and explore. Other children, like my youngest, crave direction and tasks to help them bring out their playful side.

To keep my twosome active and busy, I have a variety of physical activities I use throughout a week. Here are five of my favorites.

Teddy goes everywhere…

1. Visit a local park
The first way you can give your toddler a great workout is by simply going to a local park. Walk with them, start a simple game of hide and seek, stomp in puddles, have a picnic, climb rocks, enjoy the playground (if there is one), and so much more. Recently, we went to the park and made paper airplanes. We folded and painted, then we climbed to the top of a hill and let them fly. My two had lots of fun simply up and down the hill fetching the planes so I could throw them again.

2. Indoor obstacle course
Another fun way to exercise your toddler is great for a rainy day: create an indoor obstacle course. Use cushions, chairs, and other objects that challenge your kids to problem solve. Set it up so there are options to go under, over, or around different parts of the course (mine eventually started going through the obstacles, so I had to get creative using boards with a bit of foam on them. You can also use old boxes and connect them by cutting holes on the sides. Whatever you can do that will get them to move their little bodies in different directions safely.

Being silly with the obstacle course…

3. Ball games
Another popular activity in our house is ball games. Start with rolling a ball across the floor and watch how they respond. Usually kids will try to emulate what you do and will try to roll it back. Make it fun and surprising. As they get comfortable with a moving ball, try bouncing it or kicking it (obviously, do this outside or in a playroom… remember to create boundaries). Next, get a nerf basketball net or a small hockey net and show them how to aim or put the ball in the net. Eventually, work up to a game of catch (or, as happens in my house, chase the ball while giggling hysterically).

4. Dancing
Put on some toddler-friendly music that has an easy-to-follow beat, and dance with them. Some kids are born with a need to dance and others need to be shown, but I’ve yet to meet a toddler who won’t dance to the right music. Although perhaps not kid-friendly, my oldest has latched on to ‘Uptown Funk’ and dances around singing it without the music!

5. Swimming
Not only is swimming fantastic exercise, it is a vital life skill and a great way to bond with your toddlers. Early swim lessons help build a foundation towards a lifetime appreciation of the water, as well as other sports and physical activities. If you, as an adult or supervisor, need a little help teaching your child to swim, you might want to pick up a DVD or book such as Waterproof Kids. It helps parents update their water safety awareness and provides techniques on introducing kids to water progressively. If you are using your own pool, be sure you keep it clean with proper chemicals and a pool vacuum to keep your little ones from getting sick.

Bonus: Visit a farm or a zoo
This is somewhat akin to visiting a park, but it engages your toddler’s brain, especially if the farm or zoo allows children to touch the animals. My two love visiting our local petting zoo so they can visit all their favorite animals (my oldest has named the youngest goat, “Goaty”). Here they can explore, touch, and get dirty without a lot of stress. It’s a fun morning or afternoon escape for everyone.

Ducklings at local petting zoo
Ducklings at local petting zoo

Finding activities to help your toddler grow and develop isn’t hard, but it does take a bit of creativity. What I love about all of the ideas above is that it is shared time between parent and child. Not only are we building up our kids but we are developing a stronger bond with them.

What activities do you recommend for your toddler? I’d love to hear about them.

Top 6 toddler-approved smoothies

top 6 toddler-approved smoothies

If your toddler is anything like mine, they are constantly on the move, into everything, and are already rebelling against authority. Before I became a dad, I swore my kids would not be fussy about the food they ate; I would introduce them to foods early and then they would eat everything. Fast forward to today and I will admit to begging my oldest to just eat a little bit of a new food.

How is it they can be so cute and stubborn at the same time?

Getting creative with food for toddlers doesn’t have to break the bank. Sometimes it just needs to come in a different form, like a smoothie or shake. I read about making smoothies for children in a magazine a year or so ago. They are easy to prepare, tasty, and are good for your toddler on the go (when are they not “on the go”?). I’ve experimented with a number of options and thought I’d share my toddlers’ favorites.

Toddler approved smoothies

Banana & Strawberry
Banana goes very well with strawberries. For this milkshake, you’ll need 250 grams of strawberries, 2 ripe bananas, and half a liter of whole milk. Crush and blend both fruits to form a puree, then add the milk. Add ice and the mix to a blender to bring it all together. For a special treat on a warm summer afternoon, you can substitute a scoop of ice cream for the ice.

Pineapple
This is one of the tastiest smoothies for kids of all ages. To make this smoothie you’ll need a cup of fresh pineapple (substitute canned if you can’t get fresh), ¼ cup of frozen pineapple and orange juice concentrate (or just orange juice if you can’t find the mix), ½ cup of vanilla yoghurt, ¼ cup of water, and a couple of ice cubes. Add to a blender and mix until frothy. I will sometimes add in a tablespoon or two of honey depending on the sweetness of the pineapple.

Raspberry & Orange
Another tasty combination my toddlers love and so simple to make. Take a cup or frozen raspberries, a cup of orange juice (freshly squeezed or with pulp), ½ a cup of plain greek yoghurt, and blend it all together. Once it’s blended taste and adjust the sweetness with some honey or agave syrup.

Banana and oat smoothie
I will admit, this is based on a recipe from Martha Stewart. But it is a great morning option when no one wants to sit still. For this you’ll need a ¼ cup of rolled oats, ½ cup of plain greek yoghurt, a ripe banana, ½ cup of whole milk, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, and honey to taste. Combine it all in a blender and serve.

Apple
It’s like apple pie in a glass! To make this, you’ll need 1 large apple (peeled, cored, and chopped into chunks), ½ cup of milk, 1/3 cup of plain or vanilla yoghurt, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, and honey or agave syrup to taste. Blend together with a bit of ice to make a delicious afternoon snack. Throw in a small handful of almonds or almond powder for a bit of added protein.

Berries & Spinach

Berries & Spinach
Sounds horrible, right? This is an energy packed smoothie that my toddlers just love. I will warn you: dress them in something you don’t care about staining! You’re going to need 2 large handfuls of baby spinach, 2 cups of frozen mixed berries (look for something combining fruits like: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and blueberries), 1 cup of plain greek yoghurt, 1 cup of almond or coconut milk, and honey to taste. Blend together and serve with wet wipes handy! It’s a great way to get your toddlers to eat spinach. I like to use this recipe when we’re heading out to the park for the day. It’s a great pick-me-up for my toddlers.

There are plenty of other combinations but these six are my “go to” smoothies. I’m going to be trying out some more vegetable dense smoothies in the coming months, so I’ll hopefully have an update to share later.

What are you favorite smoothies for your toddlers? If you have any tips, I’d be interested in trying them out!

9 healthy foods your toddler will love

Finding healthy foods for your toddler can be challenging, but there are some foods that I’ve found work well for my kids.

When I first became a father, I had no idea how challenging food would become. I figured, “buy food, children eat.” Simple, right? Too simple, it turns out. Kids, or at least mine, quickly develop preferences just like adults. Yesterday, they loved yoghurt, but today they’ll have nothing to do with it. What will they prefer tomorrow? Who knows!

It becomes a parent’s responsibility to encourage your toddlers to try new tastes and textures while keeping in mind that a young body needs healthy, nourishing foods to help them grow. This doesn’t have to mean feeding them just vegetables, but mixing in a diet of proteins, carbohydrates, vegetables, fruit, and dairy. I also believe that kids need to be exposed to nuts (both ground and tree nuts) as early as possible in life, principally because nuts are an excellent source of protein but also because I want to avoid nut allergies. Thankfully, neither of my kids have shown any sign of nut allergies or any other allergic reaction.

Here are some healthy foods I’ve found work well with my toddlers:

Low fat Greek yoghurt

raspberries & greek yoghurt

This type of yoghurt contains bacteria that is known to boost immunity and help in digestion. Also, it has double amount of protein and less sugar than other types of yoghurts. To make the yoghurt a bit more interesting, I mix in some fresh fruit, homemade jam, or honey to add a bit of sweetness or tanginess.

Blueberries

Blueberries contain a rich mix of vitamins and minerals — iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and vitamin K — that help with bone growth and important for young bodies that are growing! They are also a great source of vitamin C and help young bodies with digestion.

Milk

Milk helps toddlers with their growing bones.

I’ve tried to reduce my toddlers’ intake of milk, but there is no denying the benefits the proteins and calcium bring. Proteins aid in building the tissues in the brain while the calcium in the body is used in strengthening of the toddler’s bone and also the teeth.

Fibrous Fruits

kids love fresh strawberries
Toddlers love fresh strawberries!

Apples, Bananas, oranges, strawberries, raspberries – whatever is in season, I try to have plenty on hand. Rather than snacking on junk food, I hand out apple slices or orange wedges whenever one of my toddlers gets ‘hangry’* or asks for food.

* SIDENOTE: I discovered recently that my oldest’s meltdowns were mainly caused by hunger (low blood sugar, perhaps?). Kids can tell you when they’re hungry, but they don’t understand when their body needs a bit of a pick-me-up. So, if one of them is getting a bit whiny or bursts into tears over something trivial, I put some fruit in their hands (or a bit of toast) and get them to sit for 5-10 mins. I’d say 90% of the time, that helps pull them back together.

Eggs

Eggs from the local farmers market
Eggs from the local farmers market are great fuel for an on-the-go toddler!

Eggs are rich in proteins and vitamin D. Vitamin D is useful to the toddler’s body since it helps the body in absorbing calcium. Eggs are also fun because they can be served in a variety of ways. My youngest is a big fan of ‘soldiers’, dipping pieces of toast into a soft-boiled egg. Of course, there is a bit more cleanup afterwards…

Cabbage

It may seem like an odd food to choose, but cabbage can help trigger enzymes that clean out toxins in the body. It is also a great finger food and provides an interesting texture when it is raw. Or I can make some sauerkraut or coleslaw to mix things up and play with the flavors.

Salmon

Salmon contains lots of great omega 3 fats and is also known to improve brain development. Mercury is always a question in salmon (especially farmed salmon), so I try my best to only get my salmon from a fish monger I trust. I think the benefits outweigh the risks, but you’ll need to be the judge for your own kids.

Black beans

Get toddlers to eat black beans in a variety of ways
Dress up black beans in a variety of ways to please everyone in the family.

Rich in proteins, fiber and calcium, black beans offer a lot to a growing toddler. It is also another food that can be served in a variety of ways, so it keeps it interesting for my children. I can have beans as a side, mixed into a salad, as part of a stew or vegetarian chili, and so much more.

Cinnamon

My dad used to make me toast with a bit of butter and cinnamon every morning before he went to work. It’s a memory I’ve cherished and so I love that I can pass this on to my kids. I’ve read that cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar, but I just enjoy this bit of shared experience. I will also sprinkle a bit on an apple slice, again to change the flavor a bit and keep food interesting.

Toddlers are at an interesting point in their development. They are just starting to develop their own set of preferences and opinions, so it can be challenging to get them to eat healthy foods. I find this especially true once they start going to preschool and are interacting with other kids. I try to mix up the foods I offer, mainly through seasoning or style of preparation. This way I can keep my weekly grocery shopping consistent but still offer a healthy variety to my increasingly persnickety toddlers.

What are some foods or seasonings you find work well with your toddlers? I’d love to hear about it.