Number 42

Wow. This is the 42nd blog that I’ve written. I love the number 42 – according to Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy , 42 is a magical number, and then, of course, there’s Jackie Robinson!

I also get to talk about one of my favorite subjects – living with teens! As school is upon us, here are two simple tips that may help both you and your teen manage the school year responsibly, successfully, and enjoyably.

  • Be connected: One of the best indicators of teens school performance is how connected they feel with their school. Parents and caregivers can help children connect by encouraging them to engage in a wide range school activities and create relationships with their teachers. Did you know that contentedness not only predicts greater school success, but is also linked to lower rates of sexual activity, suicide, violent behavior, and reduced alcohol, cigarette and drug use? Nice.
  • Stay connected: Many parents become less involved with school as the days of “classroom parent” end and kids get embarrassed, when with their friends, by that parting kiss or hug. But, the research is pretty clear that children do better in school and have more positive attitudes about it in their teen years when parents stay connected with the school. No, your teens won’t want you to go on the next field trip with them, but there are still lots of ways to show them you are interested in their world (after all, they spend an avg. of 7 hours a day there!) Here’s the short list, my next blog will explore them even more. 
  • Know their teachers
  • Communicate with the school 
  • Support your teen
  • Expect Success 


Until next time, enjoy the homework and the family! D 

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Living With Your Teen: Enjoying and Surviving the Challenge!

Okay, okay… enough with stress, and burnout and personal rants, and on to another favorite topic – living with teenagers! No, I am serious – I think parenting teens is  an amazing art that can bring both teens and their parents rewards and great fulfillment. For parents, it is a test of sorts of how we did with our toddlers, as the teen years can be thought of as the “second toddlerhood”. Once again youth are focused on themselves, and look at the world as if they are the center of the universe. The teen years are a departure from the developing maturity of the school age years, where children gradually learn how to see the world from a less ego centered place, understand that others in their families and lives have needs, ideas and opinions that may be different but are still valid, and progressively learn to do more for themselves and feel more accomplished.  Then the tweens and teens hit, and, at least for a period of time, the maturity of the earlier stage seems to fade, or perhaps just alternate, with the “toddler-like” focus of : “me, my, I do it!”

During the teen years the brain changes rapidly, with increasing development of the centers that help with emotional regulation and “executive functioning” for sound decision making. In fact, adolescence is considered the second greatest period of brain development. All this is occurring while youth are viewing the world from a more independent position, including freedoms to choose their friends, clubs, hobbies, etc. How they love to compare themselves and their families to others and self- righteously insist: “But everyone else can!”  and “How come we are the only  family who doesn’t…” (Hint- this is a ploy, don’t fall for it!) They have likely mastered their communication skills and clearly have more energy and stamina than adults when trying to get their point across or their desires met.  This is why thoughtful parenting of teens is so very important, as well as so very challenging. Still, it is an opportunity for amazing growth for both the teen as well as the whole family. And, you really have no choice but to go along for the ride!

Since being a student is the major work of teens, next time I’ll share a few simple tips on how to help teens take responsibility for their school and study habits… Then, on to more challenging topics about teens and decision making, risk taking, social networking and yes, even sex, drugs and rock and roll.  How fun!


Until then, enjoy the family! Denyse

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What Kind of an Investment is Unboxing?

According to the most recent data from the United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), the current cost for new parents raising a child to age 18 is $304,480. OMG. This is per child!  Well, I guess they can share that play gym and maybe even the set of blocks. But really, that’s a lot of resources into a single investment…

Of course, I can’t personally think of a better investment than building healthy children. And when I think of investing in children, I think of lots more than just dollars and cents. I think a lot about actual common sense – the way adults encourage and allow children to invest their time. And that is just one reason why I am so perplexed by the new phenomena of “unboxing”, which I guess according to the article I just read in the New York Times magazine section dated August 17, 2014, is not really so new after all!

My children are grown now, and although they too are consumers, we seemed to have escaped this “unboxing” craze. Unboxing is a practice where a faceless person, most often a set of well manicured hands, opens a purchased item while others watch the wrappers come off on-line. Here’s some more information for those of you who have been in the dark like me… “Unboxing is not so much a craze anymore as a genre – a manifestation of a new world of consumer expression.”  The author, Mireille Silcoff, goes on to explain that while Disney Collector is one of the largest players in “unboxing”, ranking between $2 and $13 million a year in advertising, one can find unboxings of almost anything on YouTube today. In fact, there are whole channels devoted to this, including haul videos devoted to watching teenage girls “squealing with delight as they unpack shopping sprees from vast shopping emporiums.”

Now, thinking of all we are spending to raise and help grow healthy children (304,480 per child!), the same children who will ultimately be the ones to make critical decisions for the world of the future, I can’t help but wonder what we are investing in when I read these lines from a conversation between parent and child about the You Tube video titled: Play Doh Chef Cookie Monster Letter Lunch Learn the ABC Alphabet With Cookie Monster Play Dough, which has logged some 40 million hits. Here goes: 

Parent: Wouldn’t you rather watch a real Cookie Monster video?

Child: No, no Mommy. I like the toy. I like the hands on the toy.

Parent: Why?

Child: Because I like it. A lot.

Okay – I guess I am on a rant. And maybe I am just old fashioned. But it makes one wonder about our current investments, doesn’t it?


Until next time, enjoy the family! Denyse


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How to Avoid Overload and Burnout? Start by Slowing Down

This morning while browsing August’s issue of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, I read something that caught my attention –  big time : “If we are to care for ourselves and  our families and do our best work, we must slow down. S……….l……..o………w  D………o………..w………..n.”


In our culture, this seems almost an oxymoron. You know how we are measured (and also have begun to measure our children) by how much we accomplish? And you know how it all has to be done RIGHT NOW? Well, forget about it!

Dr. Anne Fabiny, editor in chief of the Health Watch says:  “It feels almost impossible to slow the pace at which we race through our days. The author continues, “The human brain has not evolved to multitask; research has shown that when we decide to do too much, we lose accuracy and efficiency. You simply cannot be productive by working more and sleeping less, and you most certainly cannot learn and remember new things if you are tired and worn out.”

Whether it be pressure to do MORE or QUICKER work at the job or in the home, we have at least SOME control over these demands. Right? By opting out of one or two “have to’s”, and really paying attention to what you are doing  – one action at a time, we get the gift of self-care. This is not a selfish act. You know… You can’t take good care of others until you first care for yourself. But it’s so hard! Parents are so out of practice.  So… this week I’m going to try to behave more like my children, because they surely know how to practice self-care! I’m going to be active with long periods of rest. Lie on the couch more.  Daydream.

Until next time, slow down and enjoy the family, even more! Denyse

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After School is Time to De-Stress

As most of us recognize, school is a very different institution than it was when you and I were growing up. Children have greater expectations placed upon them, and often face an extended period of homework after the school day.  Add time for sports practice, music lessons, after school care, simple chores and work outside the home when older, and you can see how children have little time to un-wind and de-stress. That is why the HOME is such an important resting ground.

Research tells us that children do best when they take a break between school and any after school work or events. Outdoor time with physical activity is one of the best ways to take a break and re-energize the body and mind. It is also important for children to refuel with a healthy snack.

Because home work and chores often lead to tears when left to the last minute, it is helpful for adults to work out an acceptable schedule and choose an appropriate work space with their children ahead of time.  You might say “It will be helpful to choose some time between when you get home and before we have dinner to do your work. When would work best for you?” And, “Would you like to work in your room, the den, or at the kitchen table before dinner”?

Finally, it is important to build in some quiet time for children to just BE with their family each day. If possible, structure the evening so that there is time to refresh after dinner and any evening chores.  If you can agree to turn off all screens and phones (yes, even yours), you may discover that a lot of de-stressing can occur with just a little “family time”. Play a game, go for a walk, talk about your day, read together, do a puzzle… the list can be endless once you give yourself permission to turn off and RELAX!

Until next time, Enjoy the family! Denyse


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Back to School is Not Just For Children

Back to School is Not Just For Children

Okay, it’s that time of year again. The flip flops and lemonade pitchers have been replaced with new sneakers and juice boxes. The drive in movies (yes, there still are a few around) and yard work replaced with sports practice and home work.  While there is definitely a marked transition for children from the “lazy daze” of summer to post Labor Day September, there is also the need for a re-shifting of parental practices. Here are a few gentle reminders to help your family, both children and adults, get a head start on the new school year.

  • Even before school starts (yup, still have a few days to go), choose an appropriate bed time, start tonight, and stick with it.
  • Select a container or chosen space for each person in the family to store their school and work supplies. That way, when Johnny says, “Mom… I can’t find my…”  you can remind him where it is supposed to be.
  • Create a calendar to mark schedules clearly; assign a color for each member of the family and check it regularly to avoid scheduling mishaps.
  • Talk with your children about where and when they want to do their after school work. This could include assigned homework, household chores, paid work for older children, etc. Help them define a quiet place and times that will work well for them and you.
  • Have healthy snacks ready for when you all get home and make a commitment to have a family meal together, at least five times a week.
  • Model an appropriate work ethic for your children. Ideas might include reading after dinner instead of watching TV, organizing your paperwork or household tasks for the next day, asking someone for help if you get stuck on a problem, and/or registering for a class or workshop to help you be the best parent you can be!
  • Work with your children to have things in place for the morning “rush” – book bags packed, breakfast cereal on the table, clothes selected, etc.
  • Go to bed at the times selected. While you can’t make a child fall asleep, you can expect them to be ready for bed and quiet until the morning comes.

Hope this helps the transition for all of you. Until next time, Enjoy the family! Denyse

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Eat small, frequent meals and snacks to keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady. Going more than 4 to 5 hours without eating can lead to fatigue, low concentration, and headaches.

Keep some easy, convenient meals on hand. Avoid living entirely on snack foods, as they usually won’t energize you as much as a real meal. Try healthy frozen entrees, bean soups, peanut butter or cold cut sandwiches, ready-to-eat tuna and chicken salads and other convenient foods. Bring part of your meal to campus if you can’t get home for lunch or dinner.

Avoid sweets and sugary foods. Stock your room/apartment with healthier snacks. Too much sugar can lead to energy crashes and weight gain. Limit sugary drinks (soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, etc.) to one 12-oz drink per day.

Instead of candy or sodas, grab these healthier, energy-sustaining snacks:

•Small sandwich

•Carton of low fat yogurt

•Fruit with 2 Tbsp peanut butter

•1/4 cup trail mix or nuts

•100-calorie pack of popcorn

•Frozen fruit juice bars

•Fat-free pudding

•Protein-rich nutrition bars

•Baby carrots with hummus

•String cheese

•Tuna salad on whole wheat crackers

•Vegetable soup

•Oatmeal made with milk

Choose meals and snacks that include protein* as well as carbohydrate.** Protein helps keep your energy levels steady. For example, snack on peanut butter and fruit instead of just juice and crackers. Top your pasta with grilled chicken strips or tofu rather than have pasta and sauce alone.

* Protein foods: beans such as pinto, refried, black, chick peas, lentils, dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, peanut butter, soy protein powder, tofu, soy hot dogs/burgers and water-packed tuna.

 ** Carbohydrate foods: whole grain breads and cereals, pastas, rice, starchy vegetables such as corn, potato, sweet potato

  • Avoid overdoing caffeine. Caffeine gives you immediate energy, drop in energy later on. Caffeine in the late afternoon and evening can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
  • Water, water, water! Include a glass of water with all your meals and take a few water breaks during the day.
  • Resist the temptation to eat in front of the TV, while reading etc. You’ll get more satisfaction and pleasure out of your food if you can pay attention to what you’re eating! You may also be able to stop at the first sign of fullness and avoid overeating.
  • Don’t leave home without breakfast!

If you can’t eat breakfast before leaving the house, here are some healthier fast food options:

•Egg burritos and wraps, especially those with veggies

•Egg and bagel/English muffin sandwiches (avoid the biscuit, bacon and sausage)

•Whole grain bagel with light cream cheese and skim milk

•Low fat bran muffin and skim milk

•Fruit and yogurt parfait with granola

•Trail mix and skim milk

Don’t forget fats. Fat helps food to stay in the stomach longer, giving a greater sense of satisfaction and preventing hunger soon after meals. Diets too low in fat may trigger cravings. Make sure you include healthy fats into your meals and snacks. Good sources of healthy fats include: canola, olive, peanut and safflower oils; nuts, nut butters, seeds; avocado, flax seed oil, salmon, mackerel, and sardines. Avoid saturated and trans fats.

Until next time, enjoy the family and good luck in college J  Stefanie


Source: University of Georgia Health Center

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Back to School with a Healthy Lunch

With a rise in the number of overweight children, parents need to be extra vigilant when packing their children’s lunches. From their first day in kindergarten through the last day of their senior year, children need nutritious lunches with fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy products to maintain good eating habits that will last for life and even improve their attention span and academic performance.

I like to involve my son in picking out the foods he wants before packing his lunch. This can help you find out what they like, and if they feel a part of the process, they should be more prone to eat it.

Ensure that your children have a variety of foods in their diet that includes whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Use this opportunity to visit and learn more about nutrition and healthy choices in each of the food groups that are easy to eat.

I know that my son doesn’t have a lot of time to eat, and he doesn’t want to spend his 20 minutes getting his food ready.  I will usually cut, peel, and slice fruits and vegetables in advance, or buy them ready-to-eat, like baby carrots, sliced apples, raisins, and grapes.  Beverages should be low in sugar and high in nutrients and rather than packing a soda or juice, I place a little bottle of water or a small container of low-fat milk in his lunchbox.

Creative food suggestions for a healthy lunch box:

  • Cut apples and sprinkle them with lemon juice to prevent browning. Add peanut butter on the side for a healthy dipping snack. Celery goes well with peanut butter, too.
  • Use different kinds of breads and sandwiches. Use a pita, a bagel, a roll, or a wrap instead of plain bread, but remember to stick to whole grains.
  • Put vegetable soup in a thermos on cold days.
  • Let your children pick their favorite low-fat yogurt. Add granola to it for a whole-grain crunch.
  • Include sliced cheese for dairy, and pair with whole-grain crackers.
  • Add healthier desserts like trail mix, dried fruit, granola bars, fruit crisps, Jell-O, or low-fat pudding.
  • Don’t forget about safety. For younger children, be sure that the sizes and shapes don’t cause a choking hazard.

Until next time, enjoy the family!    Stefanie


Source: Virginia Cooperative Extension

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Quick and Easy Meals Using the Freezer

Things you will need~

Your choice of freezer-safe containers- heavy plastic bags that seal, plastic containers with tight fitting lids, aluminum foil and plastic wrap, or a disposable aluminum pie pan and heavy plastic wrap.

  • A permanent marker in a dark color
  • Masking tape
  • Notepaper
  • Pen or pencil

Keep it safe~

Most frozen foods will last 3 to 6 months.

When re-heating your freezer meals in the microwave, please use microwave safe containers. Some of the plastic containers we use to freeze foods in are not safe for the microwave.

Making freezer meals~

  • When you are cooking, make extra to freeze. Casseroles and one-pot recipes usually work well. Many soups and stews are also good freezer foods.
  • When the recipe is cooked, spoon into your freezer container. Seal the container leaving a small amount of air space.
  • Mark the container with the date, the number of portions and the name of the recipe.
  • On your notepad write down the date, the number of portions and the name of the recipe.
  • Keep the notepaper on your freezer door to remind you what is inside. The next time you want a meal that only requires heating-up check your list to see what you have.


Until next time, enjoy the family!   Stefanie

Vegetable Chowder


3 tablespoon(s) butter

1 large onion, diced (about 2 cups)

2 medium red bell peppers, seeds and ribs removed, diced (2 1/2 cups)

1/2 teaspoon(s) dried thyme

3 cup(s) milk

4 medium (about 2 1/2 pounds) baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

8 ear(s) corn, kernels removed (about 4 cups)

Coarse salt and ground pepper

1 1/2 pound(s) green beans, ends trimmed, broken into 1-inch pieces (about 6 cups)

Hot pepper sauce (optional), for serving



In a Dutch oven or 5-quart pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion, bell peppers, and thyme; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.  Add milk, potatoes, and 5 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, covered, until potatoes are almost tender, about 8 minutes.  Stir in corn, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer until corn is tender, about 3 minutes.  With a slotted spoon, transfer 3 cups of the solids to a blender; puree until smooth. Return to pot; add green beans. Bring to a simmer; cook until beans are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Season again with salt; serve with hot pepper sauce, if desired.

Source: University of Connecticut/University of Rhode Island Family Nutrition Program, Senior Nutrition Awareness Project.

Recipe from: Martha Stewart


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Basic Steps in Assembling, Freezing and Thawing Sandwiches

The same basic steps may be followed for assembling most frozen sandwiches:

  1. For sandwiches where the filling might soak into the bread, spread a thin layer of soft butter or margarine to the edges of the sides of bread that will be the “insides” of the sandwich. DO NOT use melted margarine or butter. NOTE: Bread that is at least a day-old may be slightly firmer and easier to spread.
  1. Make your sandwiches “assembly line” fashion, completing one step for all sandwiches before moving on to the next step.
  1. A quick way to freeze sandwiches is to:
    1. Place them in zip-top/self-sealing type plastic sandwich bags, labeling the bag with the date and type of sandwich. Squish out as much air as possible before sealing them.
    2. Lay them in a single layer in the freezer on a cookie sheet or other flat surface and freeze them for about an hour until they hold their shape. Then place the sandwich bags in a larger freezer-quality bag, such as a gallon freezer bag. Squish out extra air before sealing. The thin sandwich bags aren’t satisfactory for maintaining food quality during longer-term freezer storage.
  1. Use frozen sandwiches within 1 to 3 months for best flavor and quality.
  1. Thaw individual sandwiches in their sandwich bag or other wrapping in the refrigerator. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to eat them.
  1. To keep perishable sandwich foods like meats and cheeses cold, pack them in an insulated lunch bag or lunch box; include a small frozen gel pack. Or, if there’s a refrigerator available, store perishable items there upon arrival.
  1. Add tomato or onion slices, lettuce, a squirt or dab or horseradish, pickles, etc. just before eating sandwiches. A small container or snack-size plastic bag of these add-ons can be packed with a sack lunch.

Until next time, enjoy the family!  Stefanie


Source: Alice Henneman, MS, RD, University of Nebraska Extension, Lancaster County


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  • Blog Authors

    Denyse Altman Variano

    Denyse has had the pleasure of working with children and families since the birth of her first child. Currently responsible for the Family and Consumer Sciences program area at Cornell ... Read Full

    Stefanie Hubert

    Stefanie manages all nutrition programming at Cornell Cooperative Extension Orange County. An avid cook and advocate for health and wellness at all levels, Stefanie enjoys ... Read Full
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