Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Berry Parfaits, and How Children Succeed

Here's a simple treat that was Part II of Lila's birthday celebrations, this time with her classmates and teachers in the daycare center. When I mentioned that I was bringing treats to Lila's class, it led to an interesting discussion with two of my quilting friends (both of whom happen to be much older than me).You see, they assumed that I would bring in cupcakes with frosting and sprinkles and I had to explain that we're in an era when cupcakes (and other sugary treats like cookies, candy and juice) are banned from her school, along with nuts (allergy concerns) and grapes, popcorn (choking hazards) among other things. And you can just forget about the frosting and the sprinkles.

My friends rolled their eyes a little- no cake for kids; that's just sad, they said. I could almost hear them sighing in relief that they raised their kids in simpler times before the food police came into power. Listen, I get what they're saying, and I also get what the school is trying to do. Being a parent or a teacher is a tough job because you're always trying to strike a balance and do the right thing (without there being any consensus on what the "right thing" is).

Desserts in moderation, to be enjoyed on special occasions- I'm completely on board with that, and my child gets to enjoy sweet treats. You bet I'll bake her a cake for her birthday. Rather than labeling foods as "good" and "bad", I hope to help her develop a positive relationship with food. Rather than banning sugar and thereby making it a "forbidden fruit" that she seeks out when she's away from my supervision, I try to encourage a taste for wholesome food so she ends up preferring it to the processed stuff.

I also understand that we live in an environment that is saturated with cheap, sugar-laden food, and in light of there being classroom celebrations almost every day, I completely appreciate that the school administrators try to point parents towards treats that are relatively nutritious and safe for all the kids to eat. They are trying to disengage the equation of sugar=fun.

So this is the treat that I came up with. It meets all the rules and is a sweet treat all the same. I made parfaits, which is a rather posh name for something so simple.

To start with, you need some vanilla yogurt and some nut-free granola. Both can be store bought but are simple enough to make at home. These are quantities for 12 parfaits.

Vanilla yogurt: Stir 2 tbsp. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla extract into 3 cups plain whole-milk yogurt.

Nut-free granola: Toss 1 cup oats with 1/4 cup raisins, 1 tbsp. maple syrup, 1 tbsp. olive oil and a pinch of cinnamon and salt. Spread on a greased baking sheet and bake at 300F for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Let it cool.

To assemble the parfaits, simply layer fruits, yogurt and granola as shown in the picture. Any ripe fruits will do, but I used strawberries and blueberries because they are Lila's favorites. I used mini round food containers (found in every supermarket). They have a 1/2 capacity which is just perfect for a toddler snack and are transparent which makes for nice-looking parfaits because you can see the layers. They can be sealed shut for transport and I found to my great delight that these cups fit perfectly into a muffin tin for safe, upright transport to school! And I was able to freeze the empty muffin tin before putting in the cups so they stayed cold on the ride over. Yes, I'm channeling Martha Stewart here.

The berry parfaits were enjoyed by the kids and the teachers and it was very sweet when Lila came home with a paper birthday crown and said over and over again, "Teacher singeth happy birthday Lila".



Image: Goodreads
On the same subject of parenting, I read an interesting book recently- How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough. The book asks the question, what factors go into making a child grow into a successful adult? And it turns out that while cognitive skills- language, math, pure IQ and thinking ability do matter, what matters even more is character skills such as self-control, curiosity and the ability to deal with failure and to persevere.

To me, this book was interesting from two perspectives: One, as a parent, how do I cultivate these meaningful character traits in my child? Two, how do we as a society establish educational programs so that children from all backgrounds can succeed and grow into more productive citizens? The book has no magic answers but it contains interesting research, case studies and plenty of food of thought.

Many parents are obsessed with academic success, starting with that baby Einstein nonsense in infancy. (As an aside, I always roll my eyes when I see a car with a "My kid is an honors student" bumper sticker and I always snicker when I see the one that says, "My dog is smarter than your honors student".) I am fairly sure that my kid will learn to read, write and count sooner or later. I'd rather help her develop a strong sense of ethics and self-discipline and mental toughness.

Books like these are complex so I am noting down three take-home lessons for myself. By the way, if you can't get a hold of this book, here's a good summary.

1. Strong parental nurturing in early childhood is strongly correlated with character development. So hold your babies and bond closely with them. Be warm and responsive to your little ones. Babies who are securely attached learn to cope with stress and this benefit lasts for a lifetime.

2. In adolescence, in contrast, coddling a child and protecting them from failure is not the right approach. They should learn to take risks, face failure, analyze why they failed and learn from it. Interestingly, children of very affluent parents who grow up facing no adversity are more likely to be maladjusted teens.

3. Steep the child in a culture of good character. Treat these traits as being as important, or even more important, than getting good grades.

That's it, friends. Have a wonderful week and see you in a few. Oh and don't forget to share your favorite parenting wisdom in the comments. We can all learn from each other.

43 comments:

  1. Love the berry parfaits, great idea! My daughter's preschool only tells parents to bring "healthy treats". Sadly, this still translates into sugary treats from some parents and it irks me. I feel like the culture here revolves a lot around candy pretty much year round. We were struggling with a health issue with my daughter for over a year from 2 to 3 years of age. She is over it now but we never found out what triggered it. I tried to keep her away from candy and anything else that contained artificial colors and flavors to see if that was the issue. I learned a lot in that year and our eating habits have changed for the better because of it. I pretty much bake/cook everything from scratch. But, it's so hard to explain to a 3 year old why she can't have sugary cereals or the continuous supply of candy from school or birthday goody bags. Now she's 4 and has a clean bill of health but, like you said, candy is forbidden fruit for her now. She will ask for it everyday and I try to keep healthier alternatives at home to indulge her once in a while. Annie's, Yummy Earth and Unreal are some brands that make candy without artificial coloring etc. But, not sure how to break her obsession with wanting treats all the time.

    -Anu

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The thing is that "healthy" is a completely subjective term and no one can agree on what it means! You are so right that we are absolutely saturated in a culture of cheap, highly sweet foods and humans being what they are, it is too easy to get hooked on to sweet food. Personally, I'm concerned much more about the sugar than the artificial colors but I understand what you mean. We need a culture shift. People around here seem to get it, thankfully, many parents I know will serve hummus/veg sticks and whole grain crackers and fruit rather than cookies and candy. And goody bags tend to contain no food at all- instead they have bubbles, stickers, crayons, temp tattoos.

      Delete
  2. Loved reading Lila's happy reaction, it meant so much to her :-) she must really love her teachers and they love her too! I loved your idea of freezing the muffin tins and using it as a carrier. The parfait makes a simple and delicious treat. :-) Kudos to you for coming up with something that meets all the rules and still gives the taste buds a fun time (crunchy+creamy+sweet+fruity+flavorful = amazing!).

    I am not a parent so what I am about to say is what has worked for me as a child :-) I think communication and frequent expression of love and attention not only strengthens family bonds, it makes us happier individuals and happier individuals make a happier world. While I wonder how adversities would affect each teen differently (turning some better, some bitter) I do support allowing them to have different experiences and to make their choices while learning to deal with consequences. I remember I still needed my share of hugs from my mom to cope the struggles while growing up. I could feel all my stress dissolve into her hugs, her food nourished my soul. I needed her just as much as I needed her as a child...only my needs and the times changed.

    - Priti

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Priti! Lila does love her teachers and is super attached to them. I'm so thankful we found a good school.
      You are so right that the need for parental support and unconditional love does not diminish as a child grows. What the book was emphasizing was that an older child should get to solve their own problems because that's how they learn. As an example, I know of parents who do their child's science projects so that they will get impressive grades, and they are doing their kids a great disservice.

      Delete
    2. Oh yes! I agree.

      Nupur, I just read all the comments and your replies to them and couldn't help admiring your patience and sanity to answer each comment with so much love. Thank you for doing this. One of the reasons your readers long for your posts is because you spread a little bit of sunshine into every readers life, you make everyday things seem like so much fun. Seeing a new post from you makes me just as happy as meeting a much loved friend and your replies to my comment feel like a warm hug. Thank you so much for being so awesome!

      - Priti

      Delete
    3. Priti- I so appreciate everyone who takes the time to read this little blog, and they are the ones making my day!!

      Delete
  3. haha- your post couldn't have come at a better time..I was just thinking about how to strike a balance between telling my son not to do certain things with not restricting him too much from exploring his environment. He is 9 months old and very curious and adventurous and quite naughty with a mind of his own. I like the idea of common sense parenting and I love your focus on strong ethics and self discipline. And I totally agree with the strong parental nurturing. Currently I try, even when I say no, to give him a reason as to why he shouldn't do something etc.. I find that he's much more cooperative when my voice is cheery and loving (?) than if I sound a bit annoyed.

    I've been browsing your archives searching for age appropriate parenting books- any recs?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OMG this age is really something- it seems I have been saying "don't" thousands of times every day in the past year to my child! Literally every single thing she does is crazy and dangerous :) so what can one do?
      You are so right about the loving and calm voice yielding better results. But I admit I struggle with this sometimes! Here's an article that I liked: http://tipsaholic.com/help-your-2-to-3-year-old-listen/

      Delete
  4. My kids are going through a stage of being obsessed with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I wanted to surprise them with a cherry cheese parfait one of these days. What a coincidence that you have posted this!

    I love your writing style and the person you are. I think the most important thing to help children succeed is to role model what we want for them. Respect, tolerence, kindness, empathy.. I think you are doing a beautiful job there.

    Oh, in line with what Priti has said, an absolutely important ingredient for every happy child is unconditional love. What a gift that is! If you know that you are truly loved for the person you are, even by just one person, it helps you to believe in yourself and grow into the person you want to be. Young adults who don't believe in their self worth and scope out their life according to what society expects them to rather than what they want are usually missing unconditional love.



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OMG I loved that movie as a child! Haven't thought of it for years. Is there a parfait in it- I've forgotten. You know, I have the best of intentions but parenting a toddler uses up every bit of my patience :D But I am determined to give this my best shot.

      Unconditional love and knowing that your parents are in your corner- yes, I can think of no better recipe for raising a child.

      Delete
    2. Truly scrumptuous, your truly truly scrumptuous. Scrumtuous as a cherry peach parfait! :)

      Delete
  5. Children grow and learn at their own pace and pressuring them to achieve is only going to create its own set of problems. As a new mother I sometimes worried that my child wasn't achieving milestones like some other children of my acquaintance. He didn't crawl when he was 'supposed to' and I worried about that. My mother advised patience. Let him do things in his own time she said and I took a step back. He crawled when he was ready and once he achieved this milestone,the little guy was up and running! I try to expose him to new activities and encourage him to try new things but I don't force or push. He has a mind of his own and I know he will decide to do something new when he is ready. Last year I tried to get him to start swimming lessons and do Taekwondo. He refused so I backed off. This year he told me he was ready so you can be sure I signed him for both classes as fast as I could manage and thank goodness he loves them. I have friends who force their children into everything and I don't get that. Life will be pressured enough later. Why place these burdens on children so early in life.
    As parents we make mistakes every day. I often kick myself when I have shown my exasperation and yelled or been impatient but I try harder next time to not do that. The best you can do is keep trying and remember to enjoy life with these fascinating little people. They grow up way too fast.
    As for food, my kid goes to a great school but despite their advice on what foods a child should bring, I still see parents sending sweets, packaged cakes, juice and so on. I wish the school would take a tougher stance on that. I don't like playing the role of judge and jury but someone tell me why a child needs to bring potato chips or sweet cakes to school for a snack? Don't get me wrong, my child gets sweet treats. I bake for him and I let him have a doughnut or icecream at the weekends. He loves plain milk chocolate so I buy the little fun size bars and when he wants one he gets it. He eats a good portion of fruit every day and we have never added sugar to his oatmeal and yoghurt with the result that he loves plain yoghurt and eats oatmeal with a tiny pinch of salt in it. He doesn't crave sweets daily because he knows he gets his little treats from time to time. He has never liked any cereal other than oatmeal and that's just fine with me. The only exception is strawberry jam. The kid can't live without it and he gets some on his toast at breakfast. I can't deprive him of his jam and I either make my own or buy very good quality stuff. They have to live a little!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your mother is very wise- every child is indeed unique and demanding that they "perform" on schedule and on command is so tedious for both parent and child.
      Like you, I find myself yelling occasionally despite my best intentions and have to remind myself that the next moment is another chance to get it right :)
      And yes, there's nothing like free play to grow a healthy brain and mind. The tight scheduling of extracurricular activities for little ones is a terrible idea. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!!

      Delete
  6. Hello Nupur,

    Those look like lovely treats.. will try my hand at these..

    A takeaway on parenting..

    Instead of telling our little ones how pretty they are (good looks), start early and appreciate them for their values - say for their honesty, because they shared their toys, respected elders, accepted advice. It helps to build character early, and we set the right precedent, when we praise the child for character as against their external features (which when all is said and done are beyond ones control).

    Sorry - possibly I sound like I am lecturing.. but I think this is a very important thought in the superficial world that we live in today..

    Have a great week!!

    Meenal

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meenal- I so agree with you! In fact my 2 yr old startled me by looking into the mirror and saying "pretty girl". It starts early!

      Delete
  7. Belated Happy birthday Lila! I am enjoying a vacation in India so I missed wishing her on time. Homemade Parfaits are such a thoughtful and healthy treat!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Nikita! Have lots of fun on vacation!!

      Delete
  8. Nowadays even kids are expected to be a model "student " or "athlete" or "extra curricular talented",nobody wants to appreciate a normal and loving kid!I'm also bringing up an 18 mnth old and yes values are to be imbibed into her heart more than any other material wealth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You said it, sister. Here's to all the regular kids and regular parents who are just trying to do a good job every day.

      Delete
  9. Those parfaits sound amazing. I was amazed to hear that all sweet sugary food is banned at Lila's nursery - quite different to Sylvia's where parents take in cakes (but not nuts, popcorn, and I think there are other things I can't remember). One teaching from there I like is that they talk about sometimes foods and always foods. It is a really good way to talk to Sylvia about food she can have and that which she can't.

    The book sounds interesting - I have often had the conversation in the workplace that you can always train someone but it is hard to develop attitude if it is not there in the first place. I am already quite aware of making sure that sylvia takes some risks because she is very risk-averse - but it is hard because there are so many cautions every which way I look

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL I was a very cautious kid myself- still am! No, but the risks that the book mainly discusses are about making choices in life, eg. instead of choosing a "safe" career where one is assured of money and status, taking a risk and trying an idea that may fail but may be quite revolutionary if it succeeds. If a child is taught to fear failure, they never feel like being bold and trying something out of the box.

      Delete
  10. Happy Birthday Lila! parfaits was a neat idea nupur.
    My daughter just turned three and her world is surrounded with pinks and purples and princess stories (We dont tell her about these). My comment is something similar to made by 'anonymous' above. I have stopped saying" Look how cute /pretty you are?" to any kid. I instead say, " Your dress is great" or something like that. I strongly believe that girls should not be raised with a notion that they will succeed if they look better.
    I encourage my little girl to be with me in the kitchen, doing simple chores ( soaking beans, giving her a small hunk of bread dough or just watch me from her step stool). I think learning to cook is a very valuable skill that promotes health, saves money and benefits earth.
    Uma

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OMG the whole princess thing is nauseating, my kid is too young for it but I know it is coming. And words carry a lot of weight, so I applaud the way you're trying to focus on more meaningful traits than cuteness. Cooking is definitely something I do with my little one. She "helps" and of course everything takes twice as long but we have fun in the kitchen.

      Delete
  11. Berry parfaits look so yum! I love the preschool ideas and recipes you post. Please post more like these!
    Unfortunately, our school does not have any control on sugar. Midas are even given Oreos for snack! But because of restricted sugar in our house, my son does not crave for such treats.hopefully his palate continues to stay that way!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OK oreos for snack is possibly the worst idea ever. I'm glad your son has access to wholesome food at home. But one can't help feel sad about the kids who get nothing but oreo and the likes both at school and at home.

      Delete
  12. Thinking of day-care treats is such a problem but you came up with a nice solution Nupur.
    I guess I have no profound parenting insight. I feel I am so frazzled most of the time with work and commuting that I just trust my gut instinct and common sense with bringing up Mehuli and jut try to be affectionate and patient with her. I do plan to encourage her to read a lot, see and experience many different things so that she can be interested in cultures outside her own. Also want her to be aware of her Bengali- Indian heritage so she can enjoy Some of the wonderful food and books we grew up with... I'm sure we will both learn things along the way.
    Arpita.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Arpita- I only work 3 days a week and my commute is less than 10 minutes so I can't even start to imagine how busy you must be with the long commute and full time job. I think you should give yourself a giant pat on the back. Common sense and gut instinct and love is all one needs.

      Delete
  13. Did I miss Lila's birthday ? And she is talking now ? I must have missed a lot of updates. Happy Happy Birthday to her and lots of love and happiness always.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She's talking pretty much non-stop. It is quite entertaining! Thanks SO much for the sweet wishes!!!

      Delete
  14. *Midas* = Kids.
    Not sure why my Ipad corrects even mundane things!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL because midas is a much more common word than kids!

      Delete
  15. My parenting wisdom: everything will take six months longer than you'd planned. And I would love to know your bit of parenting advice--please do share!

    Oh, I tend to be very suspicious of the simpler times argument--most of the time, it's about a lack of awareness of what people outside one's particular circle were going through back then. I love your fair and balanced take on this, Nupur!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm with you on the simpler times argument. But I will say that when it strictly comes to sugary foods, the last 3 decades have seen food companies becoming more and more ruthless and cupcakes becoming as big as the heads of babies!

      I have no parenting advice except perhaps this one: slow down. We all need lots more rest than we think. Overscheduling leads to tiredness and meltdowns (for me, but yes, also for the kid).

      Delete
  16. Nupur, I love, love, love your blog and look forward to new posts every Monday. But I respectfully disagree about those "My kid is an honors student" bumper stickers. As a former honors student, I know there are many more meaningful accomplishments, but if my son ever becomes an honors student, I would still put that bumper sticker on my car. Why? Not to try and impress strangers, but because I think it would give my son a boost that his mother would want to brag a little about his achievements. It never occurred to me to roll my eyes at those stickers, I always thought it was for the kids.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading my blog! :)

      I thought a little bit about why I have that instant, visceral distaste for that bumper sticker and I think I understand why. To me, it represents conditional love, and I feel downright sad thinking of kids who have to try hard to achieve things constantly so their parents can brag. Now, this reaction is my own perception, I am sure it is right in some cases and wrong in many others. So to each their own :) For my part, I'll remember your comment next time I see the bumper sticker and try not to be so judgey :)

      Delete
  17. Belated happy birthday to Lila! The parfaits look really fab. I plan to make these for a party next week so a quick question if you don't mind :) I noticed that you used regular whole milk yogurt. Does adding sugar and vanilla not make it too "runny" for a parfait? I plan to make these ahead of time, maybe even a day before, so is it better to use greek yogurt instead?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know, these take literally two minutes to assemble so I would avoid making them ahead of time. Because when fresh fruit and yogurt is mixed and stored, I find that the fruit goes "off" quickly.

      I don't think adding the sugar and vanilla will really change the texture of the yogurt.

      Delete
  18. hi Nupur,
    Belated birthday returns to Lila :-) Looks like she had an awesome birthday..
    I totally agree cheap sweet candy treats easily available to kids in school. It takes a lot of effort to educate a child to make them understand the concept of moderation. My son is 10 now, but when he was little, I usually had evenings as snack time where he could pick one sweet/junk and one healthy treat. Like for example, he could pick a candy and an apple or a cup of milk with some chips. But that was the only time he could munch on such treats. This continued until about 4 years, soon after I enrolled him in sports. As he progressed in sports, his coach told him to eat protein rich meals to have strength and stamina to play longer and build endurance. Gradually, the candy/junk has replaced healthy protein shakes :-) Now, even with sweet treats from school, he pops one candy sometimes during snack time..
    Regarding parenting tips, my 2 cents. Spend quality time with kids to read a book, play a board game, take a walk, work in the garden, cook together, sing together and these make an excellent way to bond and build a healthy relationship with your child and we can continue to nurture and build on these into their teens and beyond. I do all this with my boy and we have a blast :-)

    Thanks,
    Meena.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Meena- that's a good way to do it, by offering some choices. I love what you said about spending time together doing fun things!

      Delete
  19. I wrote an account on my experiences in converting a picky eater to a food enthusiast. Today she eat moderate amount of fried bitter gourds too. http://blog-e-zine.blogspot.in/2012/01/picky-eater-vs-acquired-taste.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great article, Chandrima! How true that our tastes evolve through life and every stage in a child's development offers new challenges and opportunities.

      Delete
  20. Parfaits look wonderful! I'm sure the kids enjoyed them. About parenting, my daughter is only 7 months and I can certainly say that I'm much more patient now. But my patience is tested every single day - It's the dreaded nap time :D No matter how sleepy my DD is, she won't sleep (it's been a couple of weeks since it started) and nap times have become really frustrating for me. So I keep reminding myself that no matter what I am not taking my frustrations out on her. I always talk to her in a very calm/happy tone but at times it drives me nuts and I talk to her in a raised voice. The moment I do it I feel like giving myself a tight slap. It was nice to read all the comments!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amruta- I have one of those too, a child who does not like to sleep no matter who much she needs it! The exhaustion and sleep deprivation of the early months can really drive you batty! Best wishes to you and your little girl.

      Delete

Thank you for taking the time to say hello!