Cooking with Kids, Toddler Meltdowns and Workouts

Hi friends!

Last month I asked you guys to fill out a little reader survey for me and it really helped me as I was planning my content for the upcoming months! Thanks so much again to those of you who took the time to respond. The survey also had a place where you could write in questions you had for me or tell me about other topics you’d like me to write about.

I got a lot of the same questions from several of you so I rounded them up and did my best to answer some of them in one big post! Here you go!


{Squish – 17 months}

How do I get my kids into the kitchen with me?

I started bringing both of my kids into the kitchen with me from a very early age. When they were really little, I would wear them in the Ergo while I was cooking. As they got a little older, I would sit them on the floor and let them play with the plastic tupperware lids, bowls, pots and pans. Around age one, once they were solidly standing, I started letting them stand at the counter with me using our learning tower. I’d give them a bowl with some veggie scraps and let them play.

I think 18 months or so was the major turning point with Squish as far as actually being somewhat useful. At that age they can help you scoop and measure things like flour, mash things, stir with a big spoon etc. As they get older they can start to tear lettuce, chop with a plastic knife, scoop with a cookie scoop, peel veggies etc. Check out my Kitchen Tasks for Toddlers post for more age-appropriate ideas! Not sure what kind of kitchen stuff to buy? Here’s a big list of Kitchen Tools For Kids. It includes a lot of the stuff Squish uses and even a few things we don’t have but I wish we did!

For more ideas, check out this Kitchen Tasks For Kids post. But the most important thing is to just get them in there and let them have fun. Don’t worry about the mess. Don’t freak out if they spill some flour or add a little too much cinnamon to the bowl. Who cares if all the cookies aren’t exactly the same size or the vegetables aren’t perfectly peeled. They’ll get better with practice and they’re learning so much!

How do you handle toddler meltdowns and rough days with kids?

I wrote a post called How To Handle Toddler Meltdowns over the summer where I share how I handle meltdowns in our house. As I mentioned last week on Instagram, we are in the thick of the threenager stage with Squish and meltdowns are a regular occurrence around here. I admittedly lose my cool more often than I would like to, but it’s something I’m working on. I focus a lot on keeping my voice neutral and not outwardly reacting when he purposely tries to antagonize me. I also do a lot of deep breaths and counting to myself and am constantly reminding myself that he’s only three and he does not have all of the same communication tools that I do as an adult, so sometimes screaming and meltdowns are the only way he knows to get his point across.

If you’re a longtime reader, you may recall that his sister was a colicky baby and I spent the first 7 months of her life at home with a screaming baby and a young two-year-old. It was not easy. If you’re in a similar situation, you can read my tips here: To The Parents With The Colicky Baby.

I’m glad to be past the colicky newborn stage, but at the same time, Little Miss is now almost 14 months and is definitely entering a new stage of her own. She wants what she wants and when she doesn’t get it, it’s not pretty. So as we head into the next few months, I’ll be working on communication skills with both my kiddos at different stages and doing my best to keep us all sane.

As a mom, remember the importance of self-care, asking for help and giving yourself a break and cutting yourself some slack when things get tough.

How do you fit in your workouts during the day?

As some of you longtime readers know, we opened a CrossFit gym when Squish was 8 months old. For two years I pretty much had a built-in window to workout because I had to be at the gym almost every day. Was it easy dragging one, and then two, young kids to the gym once (sometimes twice) a day and trying to keep them out of the way and entertained so that I could coach and/or get a workout in? No. But I loved it. It gave me an excuse to get out of the house, work up a sweat and interact with adults every day. We closed our gym last July and since then, working out has been a bit more challenging for me.

We moved a ton of equipment into our garage so I have no lack of equipment. And when the weather was warm, most days a workout was doable because Squish could run around outside or watch his tablet in the garage with me and Little Miss could either sit in the playpen or take a nap.

Now that it’s cold, it’s not exactly realistic for me to drag two young kids out into a garage when it’s 6 degrees outside so that I can try to get a workout in. I’ve also been struggling with some injuries for the past few months in my hips and back. That’s been frustrating, made it impossible for me to lift heavy weights and all-around put me in kind of a funk.

Then about a month ago, I slowly started pulling myself out of the funk. As I shared on Instagram here,  I can be pretty hard on myself and I was having trouble coming to terms with the fact that I essentially had a whole gym just a few steps out my back door and most days I couldn’t even find the time to make it out there. So I took a step back and realized that 1) I’m not a failure 2) It’s ok if my workouts look different now than they did a few years ago and 3) I just have to do the best I can, when I can, with what I have.

So for now, I’m focusing on short, intense workouts….most of which can be done inside, with a dumbbell, kettlebell or bodyweight…and I squeeze them in while the kids are playing or watching tv. As much as I’d love to join another Crossfit gym and get to a class every day, it just doesn’t realistically work with our schedule…or my body…right now. So last week I joined a kickboxing gym called 9Round to try something different. It’s a 30-minute circuit workout and there are no class times. So far it’s been challenging, while still feeling ok on my hips and back.

So my plan is to try to get there one morning before hubby goes to work, one evening while hubby puts Squish to bed and then Saturday mornings, and then continue to do a couple at home workouts per week as well. If you’d asked me a year ago what I thought I’d be doing to workout in January 2018, this is definitely not what I would have said. But you know what? That’s ok! Life happens…and the best you can do is react, adapt and make it work.

How do you structure your days, plan activities, find activities?

I always find it kind of amusing when people ask how I structure our days because most days I feel like I’m just running around like a chicken with my head cut off…but I do think that the past few months we have finally reached a point where our days do have a little bit of structure. Two days a week Squish goes to school for 3 hours in the morning. If I’m lucky, Little Miss will take a nap for at least part of that time. I try to use at least one of those mornings to cook and photograph recipes for the blog. Sometimes I run errands, because it’s way easier with just one kid.

The other mornings, I try to capitalize on alone time with Squish in the morning. He wakes up at 7. She wakes up sometime between 6 & 8. He eats breakfast immediately after getting up, and then watches a couple show on PBS. I try to have the TV off by 9. She usually goes down for a nap by 9:30 and then we hopefully have 60-90 minutes of just Squish and I. I try to do something educational or creative here – arts and crafts, practice with letters or numbers, cook something etc. Then she gets up and we either go somewhere (ie run an errand, go to the library, etc) or play at home. Then it’s lunch time. After lunch we play a bit more and then he goes down for a nap. Little Miss and I play and I try to encourage her to play with stuff her brother doesn’t let her near when he’s awake.

She eventually goes down for a nap as well and I work furiously on the computer or take more photos for the blog. They both wake up, snacktime, then the witching hours. I’d say currently 3-5pm are the toughest. Squish wants dad to come home and is typically most out of control at this time. And she’s usually her crabbiest. Sometimes I try to save fun activities for this time of day to distract everyone and avoid chaos. Sometimes dad comes home at 5 and we’re all laying on the floor crying.

Then we make dinner, eat, try to squeeze workouts in, etc. She goes to bed around 6:30 and he watches a show and goes to bed around 7:15-7:30. Then I work more and collapse into bed.

As far as activity ideas, you can check out these Indoor Activities For Toddlers and 10 Cheap Toddler Activities posts to get you started. I get most of my inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram stories. If I see something that catches my eye on either, I usually just screenshot it and then add it to a list of ideas I have on my phone. Occasionally, I also check out library books with craft ideas and kids ideas and take pictures of some of the pages that catch my eye.

On Sundays, I try to scroll through my screenshots and lists and have a few ideas for things I want to try during the upcoming week.

How do you accomplish so much with kids underfoot/How do you run a business from home with kids home?

Like I mentioned previously, for a lot of my blog related stuff, I really try to squeeze it in when they’re sleeping. Early mornings, late nights and naptime. Over the summer, I also had a babysitter one morning per week so I could go to Starbucks and work on my computer. That being said, there are definitely times when I need to get stuff done and one or both of them are awake. The first thing I do I give them an area. We have a pretty open floorplan downstairs so initially, that just meant gating off the stairs to the upstairs and the stairs down to the family room. Once I’m confident they won’t fall down the stairs, I do let them wander. My number one tip is this: Let them be. Let them cry. Let them explore. Let them make a mess. You are not responsible for entertaining your children 24/7.

Let me reiterate the part about letting them cry. Yes, I let my kids cry when they’re upset. Sometimes I share videos of them both screaming on social media and I wonder if people are judging me for standing there taking a video instead of comforting them. Now obviously if they are hurt, or extremely worked up, I will go to them immediately. But if they’re just crying because I won’t let them eat a cookie. Or because I won’t let them watch TV. Or because they’re in a bad mood, then you better believe I do occasionally tune them out and let them scream, carry on and work through it themselves while I cook dinner or send a couple emails.

Of course, I would prefer if they were happy and entertained instead of laying at my feet screaming, so here are some other things I do:

  • Get them involved. With Squish I let him help me as much as possible. Whether it’s with cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. Anything where I can give him tasks to help, typically makes him happy.
  • With Little Miss, Cheerios and babywearing were my big saviors when she was younger. From about 6-12 months, usually either wearing her in the Ergo, sitting her on the floor with a bowl of Cheerios or giving her access to a drawer full of plastic cups, tupperware etc or letting her play in the pantry would keep her entertained on a good day.
  • TV. Yes, my kids watch TV. Well, Squish does. Little Miss has shown literally almost no interest in the TV at all since the day she was born. Squish, however, loves TV and yes he watches it. I keep it limited pretty much to shows on PBS and youtube channels with nursery rhymes, songs about colors, shapes etc (Little Baby Bum is a favorite youtube channel). I try really hard not to rely on TV as a babysitter for him but yes there are times when I turn it on just so I can get him to sit still and stop screaming so I can get something done.
  • Activities. Coloring, stickers, painting, play dough and other activities that he can do at the counter in the kitchen while I’m in there doing food prep have also been good.

How do you handle Squish’s chronic constipation?

This is something we’ve been battling since he was born. We still haven’t found a perfect solution. For probably a year and a half he took Miralax every day. I’ve finally reached a point where I really don’t want him on it daily anymore but we’re still searching for a manageable solution. Currently I do my best to limit dairy in his diet. He doesn’t drink cows milk and I try to really limit cheese and yogurt even though he loves them. He loves water, luckily, so I encourage as much of that as possible. We also give him Culturelle Kids Regularity (2-3 packets per day mixed with a little applesauce) and Natural Vitality Calm Specifics Kids (a magnesium supplement) to help him go regularly. It’s still a work in progress, but we are finally having some success with the combo of those two products.



How do you decide what’s for dinner every night?/ How do you throw dinner together on the fly?

This was definitely the most frequently asked question, so guess what? I decided to write an ebook about it! I worked really hard on my vacation last week to get the content finished and I’ve hooked up with an awesome designer who is currently working on making it look pretty for you guys to read. If all goes as planned, it will be ready by the end of the month so stay tuned! In the ebook, you’ll find things like:

  • The 4-step process I use to plan dinners on the fly
  • Thoughts about how component food prep can be helpful
  • A list of pantry, fridge and freezer staples
  • Some simple sauce recipes
  • My staple spices
  • Theme night ideas for inspiration
  • Grocery store product shortcuts
  • No-recipe meal ideas

And more! So stay tuned for that!

What are your favorite packable lunch ideas? 

As you probably know, I don’t currently have to pack my lunch. Neither of my kids are eating lunch at school right now. AND my husband works just a few miles away and comes home for lunch. So we don’t do a whole lot of lunch packing right now. However, that hasn’t always been the case. When I went back to school to become an RD, right around the time I started this blog, I packed my lunch for a solid 4 years. I even used to share my lunches in my very early blog posts.

So, I’m a little out of practice, but a few years ago, I shared a roundup of 50 Packable Lunch Ideas (that I updated recently) and some Healthy Packable Lunches For Kids. I also shared some salad topping ideas. So hopefully those posts are helpful. And as soon as Squish starts longer school days I’ll be sharing his lunches as well. Some of my more recent recipes that would be good for packed lunches are:

  • Broccoli Slaw Salad in a Jar
  • Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad
  • Spicy Chicken Pitas
  • Mediterranean Turkey Spinach Salad
  • Instant Pot Shredded Hummus Chicken
  • Spicy Salmon Cornmeal Cakes

How do you budget for real food?

I think I wrote a post about eating on a budget years ago but I’m sure it’s woefully out of date so here are a few tips:

  • Eat less meat. Plant-based protein sources tend to be much cheaper than animal proteins
  • Buy in bulk (but only if you’re going to use it. Buying a 20# bag of something could save you money but only if it’s something you’re going to use and can use before it goes bad
  • Shop the sales. Meal plan to make multiple meals using ingredients that are on sale. Also keep a well-stocked pantry and stock up on non-perishables when they go on sale.
  • Shop in season. Don’t buy fresh blueberries in January if you live in Ohio. They’ll be more expensive and not as fresh.
  • Compare unit costs not prices. Don’t be fooled by sale prices if they’re for items of different sizes. You might not actually be saving as much money as you think.
  • Make things homemade: bread, condiments, sauces, trailmix, broth etc.
  • Consider store brands vs name brands.

Posts coming soon on other highly requested topics:

  • How To Handle Picky Eaters – I’m collaborating with a fellow RD mama who has some GREAT tips for picky eaters to share with you guys coming in February
  • Why I Serve My Kids Different Meals Than I Eat – sooo many requests for this one so I shared it here last week!
  • My RD Mindset – some of the shifts in my mindset in my first 5 years as a Registered Dietitian, thoughts on body kindness, health at every size, diet culture, . Coming soon!

If you have more questions you’d like me to answer, let me know! Email me, leave a comment or DM me on Instagram!




Get my free Table Talk email series where I share bite-sized nutrition information about carbs, protein, and fat, plus bonus information about snacks and sugar!