How do I make my bread light and fluffy?

Musings on baking bread

Musings on baking bread

I’ve written previously about ‘Everything you wanted to know about baking bread‘ and it occurred to me today that it’s a little more process driven than ingredient focused. My journey making bread began because my daughter’s allergies precluded me buying bread (unless I wanted to pay $10 a loaf!). For a long time, I was making all our bread by hand which I found restrictive and time consuming (combined with the level of special needs care she required). I later moved, very happily so, to a Panasonic Bread Maker. That allowed me a little more time to experiment with ingredients and research.

I gave serious contemplation to buying a sourdough starter (sourdough is much easier to digest than commercial bread) but my daughter doesn’t like the tangy taste. I researched ways to make the bread I was feeding my daughter more nutritious. I also made myself more aware of the chemistry involved and how different ingredients impact hydration ratios and rising.

Supermarket bread is essentially refined white flour (so basic starch) with a token amount of other ingredients potentially added; Julian Lee wrote an excellent article in 2018 revealing commercial bread-making processes in New Zealand. At home, you can start with high grade (or strong) white flour but add extra nutrition into the mix.

Whole Wheat

If you can afford to buy stone-ground whole wheat flour then you can make some pretty fine bread. If you’re shopping at the supermarket then it’s sufficient to be aware that the wheat kernel is made up of bran (fiber), the germ (protein and nutrition), and the endosperm (a starchy tissue). You can probably guess which part white flour is made from!

At the supermarket you can buy strong white flour and also buy bags of wheat bran and wheat germ. Not only do these have different nutritional profiles but these also have different impacts on the properties of your bread. Wheat bran has a drying quality and may require additional hydration. Wheat germ will naturally make your bread moister and fluffier.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to make a loaf entirely of white flour. When baking, I usually have 70-80% of my ‘flour’ made up of white flour and then use a range of dry ingredients to make up the weight. This equates to 350-400g of white flour and 50-100g of other flours and seeds.

Wholemeal Spelt Flour

Wholemeal spelt flour has a high nutritional profile and is easier to digest. It also has less gluten so will produce a denser loaf and may require guar gum to help it bind.

Wholegrain Kamut Flour

Like spelt, kamut flour is lower in gluten and easier to digest. It’s a brand name for khorasan wheat and is an older variety of wheat. There have been small studies performed which suggest that kamut flour has health benefits (over standard flour) and may help to reduce certain inflammation markers. It’s important to remember that one of it’s other benefits is that it is an organic wholegrain flour (as opposed to highly refined bleached white flour).

Ground Linseed – Sunflower – Almond (LSA)

Whole seeds can make a loaf dense and the texture doesn’t appeal to everyone. It’s not necessary to pour heaps of whole seeds into your bread dough. You can add plenty of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids just by adding 2 Tablespoons of ground seeds to your bread dough.

Popular powerhouses of nutrition include linseed (flaxseed), sunflower seeds, almonds, and chia seeds. Quinoa is another but I found even small amounts of quinoa flour to have a noticeable taste in the bread.

You might like to rotate different seeds in order to vary your nutritional profile. The cheapest and easiest option is to alternate between ground LSA and ground chia seeds.

Gluten Free Grains

One of my favourite ways of making multi-grain bread is to use Red Mill Gluten Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal. If you’re picturing a cereal box with some puzzlement, it’s actually a mix of freshly milled whole grain brown rice, corn, buckwheat and sorghum. It’s a handy way of adding a broader nutritional profile to the loaf and is so finely milled that it doesn’t overwhelm the loaf. It’s weight-dense so you only need a small amount; it still produces a fluffy loaf and is incorporated into the texture without being obtrusive.

 

 

 

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Apple Cake

Apple Cake

Apple Cake

Miss 4 and I have been reading a series of picture books, the latest of which is “The Wolf who visited the land of Fairy Tales.” The wolf goes on a quest to collect a recipe and ingredients to make apple cake. The book has a recipe at the back which inspired me to invent our own version; it has more protein and added micro-nutrients than a traditional recipe. This is a light thin apple cake that reminds me a little of  Tarte Tatin.

If you have young children, this is great for school lunches. Alternatively, read the book during the school holidays (or anything that features baking, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ would work just as well) and then tie in the real world application with the story. Add in some dress-ups for acting out the story and that’s your morning filled!

Apple Cake

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Nuttelex (or dairy-free spread, or butter)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 fresh eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup flour, sifted
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1 Tbsp ground linseed
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup rice milk (or alternative)
  • 3 large apples, peeled and diced into small pieces.

 

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180’C / 350’F. Grease the sides and bottom of a round cake tin.
  2. Cream the Nuttelex (or butter) and sugar. Add the beaten eggs and mix.
  3. Gently fold in the baking powder, flour, wheat germ, ground linseed, and ground cinnamon.
  4. Gently stir in the apple pieces and fresh ginger.
  5. Stir in a little rice milk until the batter is smooth.
  6. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for 40 mins.

 

Alternatives

You can change the flavour profile in a variety of ways:

  • Add a splash of freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice.
  • Switch fresh ginger for ground ginger for a milder ginger flavour.
  • Increase the cinnamon to 1 tsp and add 1/4 tsp all spice + pinch nutmeg.

If your child is adverse to the apple being in chunks, consider experimenting with stewed apple or apple sauce. Keep an eye on your dry/wet ratios as this will have an impact.

Scones with Extra Goodness: Autism Mom

Enriched scones

Enriched scones

Miss 3 has a range of food allergies, intolerances, and sensory issues with food. To my great surprise, these scones were a massive hit with her. She will eat two of them for breakfast (or lunch) and prefers them without any kind of topping. They are light, fluffy, and tasty with only minimal amounts of sugar (so much healthier than store bought cake).

Her soy allergy means I have to do all our baking myself and she is now intolerant to  drinking milk but seems to cope okay if it’s baked or altered by probiotics (like yoghurt). She needs lots of calcium for her growing bones which is why this recipe is packed with dairy. The wheat germ helps to provide added protein (and is also a secret ingredient for bread and baking to help provide a soft, fluffy feel). The spelt and rice flour can be replaced by normal flour but for me it’s part of overall measures to have her on (a) a reduced gluten diet, (b) to have her grains as varied as possible, (c) to introduce as wide a range of macro and micro nutrients to her diet as possible.  Sometimes with autistic kids it’s about reinforcing the goodness in what they will eat rather than despairing about what they won’t eat!

Ingredients

DRY INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups plain flour (strong flour also works)
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup superfine white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 2 Tbsp ground linseed (or LSA)
  • 6 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, or maple syrup)

WET INGREDIENTS

  • 50-70g chilled butter
  • 1/2 cup (or 150g) natural or greek yoghurt
  • 1 cup water

Allergies: soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 200’C.
  • Sift the dry ingredients (the wheatgerm and linseed will mostly remain in the sifter and can then be poured in).
  • Grate in the chilled butter and rub the mixture till it resembles breadcrumbs.
    • Note: Grating is most important when making dumplings as the butter remains intact and melts during cooking; I do find it rubs in very quickly this way when making scones.
  • Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add yoghurt. Mix gently.
  • Add the milk (about 1/2 cup at a time) and mix. Add a little water if necessary.
  • Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Use hands to gently roll and pat the scones.
    • Note: I find it immensely helpful to have a little bowl of rice bran oil to dip my fingers in so that the mix doesn’t stick to my hands. It also allows for a smoother finish to the scones.
  • Bake for 10 minutes @ 200’C. Check the scones; bake for up to another 5 minutes.
  • Allow to cool on a rack.

 

Variations

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Butterfly scones

Butterflies, stars, cars, dinosaurs – whatever interests your child! Large plastic cookie cutters (i.e. the size of an adult’s palm) make wonderfully shaped scones that can help make these more appealing.

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and Cream Cheese scones

Add 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries and add wedges of firm cream cheese to the middle of the scone. (Miss 3 objected strongly to me combining ‘approved’ foods but I thought these were delicious!).

Feijoa Scones

Add 1/2 cup of thoroughly mashed feijoa pulp. Test the moisture / stickiness of the scones and add less milk if necessary.

Passionfruit Scones

Use passionfruit yoghurt (a good quality thick yoghurt like Puhoi or Piako). Consider drizzling passionfruit sauce or syrup on top.

Maple Syrup and Walnuts

Maple syrup has quite a mild taste so swap (and increase) the brown sugar for 5-6 Tbsp of maple syrup. Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup crushed walnuts. Consider adding a coffee icing.

Note: (1) Potential for nut allergy. (2) Great for adults but may not be suitable for toddlers (due to choking risk). (3) May not suit ASD kids due to the textural contrasts.

 

Extra Strategies to help with toilet training

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This is something of a personal issue for me since my 3.5 year old daughter has autism. She has twice shown an interest in toilet training and it was a disastrous affair since she simply lacked the interoception necessary to sense and control her bladder. At the time, she hadn’t been diagnosed and I simply accepted that she wasn’t ready.

I had researched toilet training by attending workshops, reading books, searching through blogs, and talking to other parents. I also wrote a series of articles myself which are aimed at neurotypical kids. These covered:

These are methods which will work for most families; however, some children need an extra level of support. For me, and others I know, it is because our children have special needs such as autism (ASD). Miss 3 struggles with sensory issues in a range of ways, including an awareness (and interpretation) of internal body signals such as the need to go to the bathroom. She’s not alone in this; many kids struggle with the leap from nappies to toilet for eliminating waste. Modern nappies wick away moisture and allow our little ones to stay comfortable without feeling a need to pause their play. We then place them in underwear and expect an awareness of being wet (sensory input) to result in a desire to be dry (perception) and a change in behaviour (action). In reality, these are all separate steps controlled by different regions of the brain and requiring different foundational skills; putting all of these together in a fluid and reliable manner is a complex change.

Extra Strategies to help with toilet training

Start by writing down all the challenges you associate with toilet training. Sort these into challenges for you (as a parent) and challenges for your child. Think about how you can address these challenges.

Write down goals for yourself and your child. Your long-term objective might be toilet training but there might be a number of short term goals that you need to address first (and this is where it comes in really handy that you’ve already written down all the challenges you need to work through).

Your child needs to feel safe and comfortable in the bathroom. It’s often a very functional room that adults spend little time in but the journey your child is embarking on means spending a lot of time in there. For those with autism and/or sensory issues, identifying triggers can be critical.

I knew my daughter didn’t like the bathroom but I thought it was because of associating it with nappy changing and discomfort as a result of very sensitive skin. I patiently worked as a detective to try and observe her behaviour and work out what she couldn’t tell me with words. One morning, I sat down with all the towels on the floor and struggled to find the right questions to elicit a response. I could see the progress in sensory integration and vocabulary work we’d been doing for months but she finds it impossible to answer general questions. At last I narrowed down my questions to ‘Which colour makes your body feel most safe and comfortable and still?’, ‘Which colour makes your body feel most muddly, shaky, and unhappy?’

Through a mixture of words and gestures, we were able to establish that a warm palette of soft sandstone and mocha were acceptable (as were accents of pink, white, and gold) but the jewel-like mix of towels in brightly coloured greens, red, and blue were highly upsetting. Other triggers, included the bright light (with the noisy ceiling fan powered by the same switch), the strong smelling soap, and the toilet paper (which to her felt like sandpaper).

I needed to identify which of these I could change (like the soap and towels) and which ones I could only minimize (like using the light in the adjacent room unless we were having a shower).

Sitting on the toilet requires both proprioceptive and vestibular skills; your child needs to be able to sense their body’s position in space and be able to balance. Consider sending time practising activities like naming which body part you are touching while they have their eyes closed, running, jumping, climbing, and walking on a balance beam.

The sensory feel of the potty or toilet seat is important. Some kids are happy balancing on an adult toilet seat, others are terrified by the feeling of space beneath their bare bum and the fear they might fall in. There are lots of options available on the market, my favourite is a cheap one – buying a toilet seat with an integrated flip-up junior seat.

Help your child understand how they need to be positioned on the toilet (and this requires modelling by a parent or sibling). Show them how they need to sit or move for each part of the process. For a girl, I’ve needed to teach her that her bottom needs to sit near the back, her knees need to be together, and her pelvis needs to be tilted down. I have a large textured sticker on the toilet seat (rear-middle) which she can feel with her hand to help guide her bottom. I also bought a super cheap mirror which we decorated together in colours she chose and which I hung opposite the toilet so that she could see herself and how she was positioned. The mirror also has the advantage of keeping her entertained!

Be aware that using the toilet is a complicated process; you can help your child by breaking down the steps into manageable tasks. Consider making a social story for potty training and putting visual reminders on the bathroom wall.

“Our sensory integration occupational therapist handed me pages of pictures showing the individual steps for using the toilet. Frankly, I felt overwhelmed. It’s such an automatic task that it hadn’t occurred to me how many micro-steps there are!”

“One game we play is ‘What’s under my bum?’ She stands with her eyes closed while I put a tiny plastic animal on a chair behind her. I guide her into sitting and she has to try and feel which side the toy is, roll her pelvis, and reach with her hand for it. She thinks it’s hugely funny; more than a game, we’re building skills she will need for the toilet – sitting, balancing, and movements associated with wiping.”

Help your child understand how using the toilet will fit into their daily routine; for instance, needing them to sit on the toilet as soon as they wake up in their morning. Communicate what your expectations are and consider making a poster about how the toilet fits into their daily routine. Some parents find it helpful to use a digital timer or a smart watch with vibrating alarms (like the FitBit) to help remind children to take regular toilet breaks. Teach kids phrases like ‘pause my play‘ for going to the toilet; this is less frightening (and less likely to cause a power struggle) then ‘stop’ as it means they can return to their task after sitting on the toilet.

Create an elimination diary so that you can get a feel for how often they are eliminating; this is incredibly useful for identifying patterns. You may also want to seek advice from a nurse if they are regularly holding urine for 6-8 hours or have no bowel motions for four consecutive days or more. Constipation can become a vicious cycle when combined with dehydration and anxiety; it hurts when they eliminate and so that makes repeating the experience seem like a bad idea! There are great articles on how to help strong willed children who may have anxiety around bowel motions; this one includes a template for an elimination diary. These child friendly resources from Continence Foundation of Australia explain how the bowel and bladder work and can be helpful to support discussions.

Think about your stance on motivations vs rewards. A motivation is something that encourages your child to do something (a behaviour or action), a reward is something that comes after an action is successfully completed. Often parents use rewards for toilet training, this may include everything from stickers to jellybeans. Instead, consider creating a special toilet treasure box as a motivation for sitting on the toilet and tying reward charts to keeping underwear dry (rather than eliminating waste). Be consistent with your child that the treasure box can only be played with while sitting on the toilet.

An ideal treasure box will have a lid and can be decorated with the child’s name and any potty party theme you are using. It’s a good idea to include several books (including at least one relating to using the potty / toilet). Give careful thought to your child’s interests and sensory needs. Try to include a few small toys they can choose at the shop; pictures they can look at; things they can manipulate with their hands; things that make sounds. Get inventive!

“We found a dog toy that looks like a rubber zebra and makes a hilarious laughing noise when it’s squeezed hard enough.”

“She has a few princess dolls that sit on their own potty while listening to the music from a wind up jewellery box.”

“We got one of those dinner trays with a bean bag base, painted the top black and added white lines. He zooms cars around the race track.”

Find underwear they feel comfortable in. It’s a big step moving from nappies to something which feels completely different; this is even more true for children with sensory issues, sensitive skin, or eczema. Some children find it helpful to have a breathable material, no elastic, and to be seam free. Lulu Funk is one such online retailer specializing in New Zealand made underwear for sensitive bottoms.

Accept that accidents will happen. They do and sometimes in the most ridiculously awful of places; remember that if you are calm and matter of fact about it that your child stands a better chance of internalizing this without getting weighed down by shame. It can also be helpful to focus on praising them for keeping their underwear dry (rather than focusing on eliminating in the toilet).

“One exercise we did was to bring out a favourite soft toy, two identical pairs of underwear, a bowl, and some room temperature juice. Elmo put on some dry underwear and a pretend Elmo did a ‘wee’ in the other underwear. We practiced touching ‘dry’ and ‘wet’; I talked about how sometimes it can be difficult to feel warm wee when the weather is really hot. I froze the wet underwear and later we practiced ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ again.”

It’s a good idea to teach your child where they should touch their underwear to check if they are wet or dry; boys are often wet higher at the front, whereas girls tend to be wet lower down.

Consistency, consistency, consistency. Having worked out your game plan, share it with everyone else involved in your child’s toileting. It helps to have teachers at daycare, kindy, or school following the same methods and routines as at home (as much as possible).

Decide what success looks like to you. It can be easy to assume that every family has an easy time toilet training but I promise you that there are plenty that struggle. As adults, we may have a reasonable expectation of using a toilet 100% of the time whereas lots of young kids simply get excited or distracted and forget. Think about your child’s developmental age, temperament, and the challenges you wrote down. Success may involve focusing on a single micro-task and then adding a second step once that has been reasonably mastered. Remember that the long term goal is not only to help your child master a skill that gives them another step towards independence, it’s also about helping them to feel positive about themselves and successful along the way.

Stories still to come

I was so thrilled to have two of my seasonal pieces published by Spinoff Parenting in the lead up to Christmas. They were about tips and strategies to help ease the pressure and navigate the challenges of Christmas  for kids with autism and kids in general. I’m aware the website has been fairly quiet since (although the Facebook page is still ticking along) and it’s not due to a lack of ideas when it comes to writing. If I could have some telepathic decoder capture the articles I write while driving the car that would be brilliant!

During the school term I have 3-6 hours per week away from Miss 3 (who has a variety of special needs) and although that time is mainly spent running errands or undertaking domestic tasks that cause her sensory distress, sometimes I can squeeze in some writing as well. Those precious hours are also a much needed pressure valve to release some of the tension from being constantly with a little person who studies my every facial expression,  who is incredibly sensitive to emotional undercurrents and needs me to project happy calm 16 hours per day, and requires enormous amounts of support for everything from emotional self-regulation, to being comfortable in her body, OT work, communication, self-care, and play.

During the school holidays this turns into no hours per week and her anxiety being hugely escalated by the disruption to our routines. The summer holidays mean that not only is kindy on holiday but so are all of our other support staff (from occupational therapist to doctors). Events like severe summer storms can cause massive sensory distress and trigger several days of almost constant dysregulation that is exhausting for both of us. She sleeps in my bed because it gives her a sense of stability and security.  We use a lot of social stories and visual communication to talk about our plans for the day. There’s an increase in alternative communication: selective mutism, echolalia, and needing repetitive (and repeatable) scripted dialogue exchanges.

It all adds up to is me investing my energies into my daughter and storing story ideas (like nuts for the winter) for when I have more time. What I want to write about this year is the importance of embracing the new year with a growth mindset, how to encourage and develop character (rather than content) in our young children, how the Danish / Scandanavian parenting and schooling model compares to the NZ / UK / USA model and why we should consider adopting it. I also want to write more gardening and cooking pieces. I’m particularly interested this summer in the exploring the economies of a kitchen garden as well as taking a look at making use of vegetable parts that sometimes end up on the compost (like carrot greens, radish leaves, and squash blossoms).

Show love to your kids at Christmas (even when you’re exhausted)

Tantrums leading up to Christmas

I wrote recently about what it’s like parenting a child with autism at Christmas and I find myself continuing to reflect on the challenges different families experience at this time of the year. One of the topics under discussion in parenting forums this week is ‘Should children be punished for bad behaviour leading up for Chistmas?’, more specifically, should they be threatened that Santa is watching and won’t give them presents?

One side of the argument, is that children should be told that Santa (or a designated Elf on the Shelf) is watching and will punish children by leaving them a lump of coal (or a potato) in their Christmas stocking if they are naughty in December. Others suggest spending Christmas morning in bed and refusing to give out presents until 4pm (or a few days later) once children are suitably chastened. Some suggest that each time children are really naughty, a present is removed from under the tree and the child has to give it to charity.

My heart goes out to parents who are exhausted and struggling at the end of a long year, wishing for some much needed rest for themselves to recharge batteries, and all of the stress (logistical and financial) that planning Christmas involves. The reality, however, is that we need to constantly put on our superhero costumes, dig deep for forgotten reserves of energy, and remember that our tiny egotistical bundles of dark energy are exhausted children struggling with a see-saw of excitement, fear, change, and emotional confusion. They are also tired at the end of the year; they are tired from growing, from learning, from trying to keep their emotions in check, and they are likely to explode at home because that’s where they feel safe to do so. They are trusting us to love them unconditionally (even if it’s through gritted teeth).

Stop and have a think about what may be triggering your kids to explode. Are they tired? Are they hungry? Are they eating a lot of ‘seasonal treats’? Are they excited about school holiday adventures but then lashing out at the end of the day (or the next day)?

School holidays mean that all of their usual structure has suddenly disappeared and that can be as frightening as it is exciting. Talk with them about what routines are going to stay in place (i.e. will television still be restricted to certain times of day, will bedtime still be at the same time, will parents still be working on certain days). Come up with a visual planning chart for the school holidays and talk with your kids about any planned activities, holidays, play dates, or family visits. Make a list of activities they can do at home (or cut them up in strips and have them pull them out of a hat).

Talk to them about any expectations you have: to spend time reading a book each day, do an art activity, spend time outside, and play quietly with toys? Some kids might feel more comfortable having their free time largely unstructured, while others may thrive on digital timers and structured activities for at least part of each day.

If you’re at home with the kids, take the opportunity to try changes to diet. Put them on a wholefoods diet as much as possible and avoid anything with artificial additives and preservatives (they have a cumulative effect in the body, especially in little bodies, and can have a big impact on behavior). Drink water and milk, eat lots of fresh fruit, make salads, do home baking. Ditch the muesli bars, chips, and cookies, and make smoothies, carrot cake, or flourless pancakes.  Help get the kids involved in meal planning, supermarket shopping, meal preparation, and gardening.

We spend eleven months of the year taking responsibility for our parenting decisions, lets not shift the blame to Santa just because Christmas is approaching. If you want to factor Santa into discussions with your kids then try shifting the discussion from a negative / blame framework to a positive one; instead of threatening coal, try saying something like ‘Mum and Dad and Santa can see how hard you’ve been working all year and it seems like you’re tired and struggling at the moment.” Talk with them about the things they like about themselves and feel they are doing well, and also about the things they feel are difficult. Praise them when they are doing things well.

Consider giving only a few small presents from Santa that they can play with before the main gifts are unwrapped. Maybe I’m selfish but I want my daughter to be thrilled that I’ve spent time saving up and planning her main present rather than thinking it’s magically appeared from Santa’s workshop! Knowing that their main presents have come from family reinforces an understanding of being loved.

Spend time in the lead up to Christmas talking about what it means to your family. In some parts of the world, it’s a time of beautiful lights, decorations, and fattening foods because the outside world is pitch black most of the day and covered in snow (which might look pretty on Christmas cards but is icy and cold most of the time). It’s a little bit different when Christmas is celebrated in the middle of summer with blue skies and sunshine! Even if you’re not celebrating the birth of Christ, talk about why you are giving gifts as a family. Talk about celebrating all the good things you have, the things you are grateful for, and the people that you love. Maybe you could make a gratitude jar, flower, or tree. Older kids might like to keep a gratitude journal for the holidays (bonus – it also helps them practice their writing!)

Step away from the commercial aspects of the holidays, help them to make their own Christmas cards, make Christmas crackers, and write letters to friends they’re going to miss over the holidays. Encourage them to think about others by choosing something they like to eat to donate to a food parcel collection, or by mowing the lawns for grandparents, or washing cars during church service.

Tell them every single day that you love them.

 

For more helpful strategies – consider attending a free Incredible Years Parenting Programme which provides useful strategies for play, praise, academic, social and emotional coaching, positive reinforcement, limit setting, natural and logical consequences, problem-solving and effective communication skills.

Are sunflower seeds good for me?

Sunflower-seeds-picture

What are the nutritional benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflowers make a beautiful addition to gardens in the summer and a great science project for kids but are their seeds also an overlooked source of essential nutrients?

What are the benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamin E, copper, B vitamins like thiamine, selenium, magnesium, fiber, folic acid, and more. They are a source of essential fatty acids; especially linoleic acid and oleic acid. Additionally, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of  amino acids (especially tryptophan) which make up the building blocks of proteins, B Vitamins, phytosterols, and more. They are also a source of healthy polyunsaturated fats which your body needs.

What is the nutritional breakdown of sunflower seeds?

SunflowerSeeds-Nutrition

Can sunflower seeds help improve my health?

As well as helping maintain your body, sunflower seeds are are most highly correlated with boosting cardiovascular health thanks to their ability to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and to prevent hypertension.

Since they also contain minerals like magnesium and selenium, you may also find they help with ‘growing pains’, leg cramps, and tension headaches.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This makes it popular for warding against everything from heart disease, to helping with IBS, or with chronic inflammation as the result of multiple allergies / intolerances.

In my case, I have a child with multiple allergies (from grass pollen, to dust mites, to food), and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and autism (with associated digestive / gut issues), so anything I can include in her diet that helps with inflammation is great!

What are easy ways to include sunflower seeds in my diet?

You could buy them coated in chocolate or dusted in flavourings (like sour cream and chives) but that’s off-setting their health benefits with other calories and additives! Here are some healthier (and still easy!) ways to eat sunflower seeds:

 

Coping with Christmas | Autism

Santa

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

If you’re the parent of  a special needs child and the thought of Christmas has you reaching for a glass of wine, don’t worry, not you’re alone! This time of year the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) parenting forums are full of questions, advice, and those needing a safe space to share that they’re struggling after yet another Christmas meltdown. It’s a tough time of year for many families and children; end of term / year fatigue from school, exams, financial stress, family obligations. Let’s face it, as awesome as Christmas is, it comes with special stress for those organizing it.

It also poses an extra stress on kids with autism. There is familiarity in comfort, routine, and the familiar. Christmas means change in the home, kindy / school, shopping malls, supermarkets etc. Suddenly there are decorations, Christmas music, and images of this guy in a red suit everywhere. There are crowds, noise, and other sensory evils (like balloons). There are also likely to be a slew of invitations to parties, parades, shared meals, family gatherings etc.

Find a quiet time before the Christmas season to reflect on what Christmas means to you personally, and to your family. You may want to have a family gathering where you talk about what Christmas means to you all and each choose one tradition that you think is really important. Obviously, the bigger your family is, the more negotiation this may involve! I think one advantage for me as a single parent is that I can unilaterally make the choice to put Miss 3’s needs first and miss out on a lot of the Christmas celebrations that I would otherwise enjoy. It’s not always so easy for those with conflicting demands from a partner or where there are neurotypical (NT) siblings who have events they want to be part of.

Christmas events

If your autistic child is old enough and verbal enough to discuss Christmas events with, involve them in planning which events to be part of and which events to skip (and always have a back up / escape plan that will let you leave early and keep your child’s self-respect intact).

Keep in mind that Christmas parades, parties, and concerts are not only a variation to routine but can involve huge amounts of sensory input. You might want to aim for a smaller, local events rather than the biggest one in the city centre where tens of thousands of people will attend resulting in roads and bus services being blocked / hugely disrupted.

Clearly identify the change in routine and pre-warn them. Show them photos of where you are going and what to expect. Consider creating a social story to help them understand the sequence of events and what will be expected of them.

If they have sensory issues, take along items that will help them feel more settled (whether that’s a weighted toy, a fidget toy, or noise-cancelling headphones).

Restrict the number of events that you attend. It’s easy for them to accumulate in the weeks leading up to Christmas; remember to include in your calculations any Christmas celebrations / pageants etc. at kindy / school, church, etc. as well.

Christmas countdown

For young children, you may want to start preparing them for Christmas as early as 01 Nov (depending on their age). I started introducing Christmas books and cds (from the library) early with Miss 3 to help her get comfortable with the concept before it started at kindy. I didn’t want her anxiety to be triggered or for her to feel excluded because the other kids knew who Santa was or recognized popular Christmas tunes and she didn’t.

I would have been quite happy to put up our miniature Christmas tree the week before Christmas; instead, it went up mid-November to ease her anxiety. They sang a song about Christmas trees at kindy and she started an anxiety attack that all the trees she loves outside kindy would be stolen and turned into Christmas trees; this transferred to a fear our Christmas tree would be stolen from storage. Long story short, we drove across town the next day to collect our tree from Nana and Poppa!

Think about a visual method for counting down to Christmas. You might want to do an advent calendar (some families do) , or download an app, or simply mark off days on a Calendar.

Christmas Presents

Most ASD kids do not like surprises; pre-warn! Here are some ideas from different parents:

  1. I discuss Christmas presents with my son and give him a budget. He researches what he wants and tells me. He knows exactly what he’s getting for Christmas and is happy that it’s exactly what he wants!
  2. I buy my daughter one present for Christmas. I tell her in advance what I’m saving up for and show her pictures. Santa gives her a few small items in her santa sack as unwrapped treats to eat (like chocolate and an orange).
  3. I wrap all the presents but for my autistic child, I attach photos of what’s inside. They still enjoy unwrapping them but they’re more comfortable knowing what’s in them. Their siblings have the choice of photos too.
  4. I take photos of everything before I wrap them and then let my daughter choose if she wants to open them as a surprise or point to items on my phone and then be handed the presents in that order.
  5. I’m getting my child a bunch of small practical gifts (like sensory items, or craft activities, or a sea shell to represent a beach visit) and am going to let them open one thing each day from when kindy ends. They’ll help to give us something to do each morning to cope with the change of routine and it will make Christmas Day less overwhelming.
  6. Remember to warn relatives if certain items are likely to cause sensory issues. You may want to ask them to pre-wash clothes and remove tags for instance.

 

Christmas Day

Wonderful and exciting though Christmas Day is, it can also be overwhelming and carry with it a range of expectations.

  1. Discuss in advance what the schedule will be for Christmas Day. Consider creating a social story  so that they know what the order of events will be. For instance, when do they open presents? When will meals be? What food will be served? Are family coming to visit? Are you driving to visit family?
  2. Identify correct etiquette for receiving a gift. Teach them to say Thank You. Explain rules and expectations; i.e. “Sometimes we receive presents we like. Sometimes we receive presents we don’t like. We should say thank you for each present we receive.”
  3. Give them a list of everyone they will see Christmas Day. Help them think about how they will greet each person. Do they want to give Grandma a hug? Do they want to just wave at that funny smelling Great Aunt they only see once a year? Make sure that extended family understand how important consent is (at any age) and that it is entirely up to your child if they want physical contact. Help your child to understand it is important to greet each person (with a wave, or eye contact and saying hello) but that it is up to them whether they want a hug / cuddle.
  4. Use a portable timer / clock / watch for visiting other people’s houses and make sure you leave at the time you have pre-agreed with your child (to avoid a meltdown). If necessary, have the family take two cars so that you can leave early if your ASD child isn’t coping.
  5. Make sure there is food they will enjoy eating on Christmas Day. It’s all very well wanting a traditional roast with all the trimmings, but if this is something your child won’t eat then don’t force the issue on a day that is already stressful for them! If they want to eat a plain cheese pizza, or seaweed and crackers, or a marmite sandwich + apple, then let them. Make sure they are included and have the option of trying other foods but have food they are comfortable with as well.

Making Christmas Cards & Decorating Christmas Trees with Children

Christmas Tree Cards

Decorating Christmas Trees

Christmas Crafts for kids

I posted recently about making our own Christmas Crackers (bonbons). I also like making our own Christmas cards. It’s nice because it’s an activity in itself and you can theme it around your children’s skills / ages. Christmas stickers or stamps are good way place to start with toddlers; or save their paintings through the year and turn those into cards!

Christmas Tree cards

This year, I decided to print a Christmas tree template and trace around it on a sheet of green felt. I also picked up a shiny bag of beautiful decorations that included everything from stars, to shells, to butterflies, to Christmas greetings. I wanted to make Christmas tree cards that would let Miss 3 be creative and feel involved.

Christmas Tree cards

Christmas trees and decorations

Ingredients

  • Green felt
  • Stickers / glitter / craft shapes
  • Card stock / paper
  • Scissors
  • Craft Glue / P.V.A. / glue gun
  • Blu-tak
  • Baking paper
  • Double sided sticky foam squares (like for scrapbooking)

Directions

  1. Create a Christmas tree template on paper / cardboard. Trace around it on green felt and cut out all of the trees that you need. (An adult will need to do this for toddlers / preschoolers; older children may be able to do all of the steps themselves).
  2. Blu-tak the felt onto a large sheet of baking paper. This helps keep them in place while busy little hands decorate them and also raises them off the paper a little in case the glue soaks through.
  3. Glue the decorations onto the trees. Craft glue will need to set over night, whereas a glue gun has the advantage of setting almost immediately.
  4. Make plain cards by folding the card stock / paper. Once the glue is dry, use the double sided sticky foam squares to attach the trees to the cards. These have a nice effect as they raise the tree slightly and make the cards look a bit prettier but you can just as easily glue the trees on if you wish.
  5. Ta da! Now you have a beautiful collection of cards and each one is unique.
Decorating Christmas Trees

Decorations on Christmas Trees

 

Make your own doll clothes

Make your own doll clothes

Kimono inspired ‘Frozen’ look

How to inspire your child’s imagination

Miss 3 (ASD) used to hate her dolls wearing clothes; I simply wasn’t allowed to dress them. I think it’s because she has a sensory processing disorder and I guess she assumed the dolls would find clothing as uncomfortable as she does. Then we read This is my dollhouse by Giselle Potter; it’s a great picture book that values imagination and creativity over money. It’s also a good reminder to parents that children don’t inherently need store bought items to be happy in their play (and for those with special needs, commercially made dolls clothes may cause anxiety of failure due to being too fiddly).

How to make your own dolls clothes (cheaply and easily)!

Consider buying some short pieces of colourful ribbon from a local crafts emporium (and let your child help pick), some scraps of fabric (handkerchiefs will also work), and some colourful tape – Kmart is great for this.

You can also make your own necklaces and headpieces for the dolls using simple elastic and beads, again from somewhere like Kmart or a crafts store, like Davids Emporium.

Making clothes this way means that you can change outfits cheaply and easily each day! Having a doll fashion show is also a calming activity for filling a rainy afternoon.

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