23 February 2013

Toddler Activity: Water Color Painting the High Chair Tray

Being a stay-at-home mom might be fun, but it can be tough coming up with ideas to keep Nerd entertained when she has a 5-minute attention span. This idea was inspired by a friend who is the mother of twin boys. She posted photos on Facebook of her sons using water colors to paint the inside of their bathtub. The boys were stripped down to their diapers, wielding their brushes proudly as they summoned their inner Picasso. It looked like so much fun.

As much as I loved the photos, I couldn't see Nerd painting the inside of the tub quite yet. If she climbed out of the tub, I'd have to chase a slick and smudgy child down the newly-painted hallway where she'd surely leave purple footprints and finger streaks.

Not happening. So after finishing her breakfast one morning, I set her up with a new case of Crayola watercolors and a cup of rinse water--to paint on her high chair tray. She was "locked in" to her seat, so she wasn't able to make a getaway. And she was already smocked in her waterproof bib. Once I showed her how to wet her brush, apply color to the bristles, and smear it across her tray, she was sold. We spent roughly 20 minutes "painting" her tray.

Playing in the cup of the "rinse water" was more about watching the smoky clouds of color seep off the brush than the importance of cleaning in between colors. They'll "get it" one day. Today, they'll squeal each time the water changes color.

This activity will be easier for toddlers who have learned how to hold eating utensils.

Dipping the brush in each color was pure toddler entertainment.

Now, toddler activities aren't always the smiley-happy-fun-times that some mom bloggers make them out to be. Every lesson teaches a child limits. Mommy's limits, mostly, but children learn their own limits, too. Nerd likes to grab everything and put it in her mouth, so I had to use a lot of "no ma'am" when the brush/water cup/paint tray made it up to her lips. It frustrates Nerd when I draw that line in the sand, but it's better to start now than wait until she's 10. But overall, it was a fun activity with my daughter and one that required minimal cleaning. We've had high chair art class twice more since the first one earlier this week, and each time is a little more fun.

Here are a few things I'd recommend if you do this activity:

  • Use masking tape or suction cups to secure the water cup to the tray. Once Nerd felt resistance in trying to pick up the cup, she quit trying. That means it didn't end up near her mouth, and she couldn't knock it over.
  • Also use masking tape to secure the paint tray to the inside of the case it came in. Nerd wanted to go Incredible Hulk on the flimsy strip of paint pots, bending it this way and that. Again, having to say "no" to her when she did this was not her favorite, so I didn't give her the chance to do it with subsequent painting sessions when I taped the strip down inside the case. That means less frustration for her!
  • Keep a wet rag nearby. I used it to wipe up each masterpiece once the tray was covered in paint. And since the paint is water-based, it will come out of your rag (just in case you're emotionally attached to it). It's also handy to wipe your toddler's hands and face when you're all finished with the fun.
  • Offer multiple ways to transfer the paint. The paint brush is cool, but there are other options to get the paint from pot to portrait. I showed Nerd how to use her fingertips to make prints--both on the tray and on the backs of my hands. Q-tips, cotton balls, and sponges would be awesome alternatives.
  • End the activity when they're over it. Don't force it. They're only toddlers, and once they've mentally checked out, it's in everyone's best interest to just clean up and move on to the next thing...outside of the high chair. :)

17 February 2013

Baby Bites: Chicken Noodle Soup

Nerd is pretty easy to please with most of the soup recipes I make for her, but chicken noodle seems to be a favorite. I made this on the fly one dreary, cold day since I had time, vegetables, and leftover garlic roasted chicken from a previous meal. This meal was quicker to make than I anticipated. It made enough to require some of it be stored in the freezer. I'd like to think it was the addition of zucchini that made it a winner in Nerd's book, but it was probably all those noodles that made her love it.

Good for the toddler soul.
Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, scrubbed and chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup roasted chicken (I used breast meat), chopped or shredded
  • 4 cups homemade chicken stock (if you don't have homemade, use low-sodium chicken stock)
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked cut spaghetti
  • 1-2 cups water
  • a hearty pinch of each: black pepper, dried thyme, dried basil

Directions:
Heat the olive oil in the bottom of an enameled cast-iron pot on medium-high. Add the onion, carrot, celery, zucchini, and garlic, and allow to sauté until translucent (3-5 minutes). Carefully pour in the stock. If you feel it looks a little low in liquid (depending on how well it covers your sautéed veggies), add 1-2 cups water. Not only will this help stretch the recipe, it will also cut the already-low sodium content. Your baby doesn't need a super salty soup!

Add your roasted chicken, spaghetti, and herbs/pepper. Bring to a boil for roughly one minute, and then throw back the heat to low. Give it time to simmer until the pasta is just past al dente. Serve warm. Goes really well with crackers. We serve Nerd the Ritz Hint of Salt crackers with hers.

Alternatives:

  • For my vegetarian moms: Use low-sodium veggie stock and substitute the chicken with another protein, like tofu or a favorite legume. I can see lentils or navy beans being a tasty choice.
  • Don't have time to roast a chicken? Pick one up at your local grocery store that has already been roasted for you. Stick with the chickens that aren't marinated in lots of overpowering flavors. They will throw off the flavors in your soup and could possibly add extra sodium or MSG (check those labels!). A simple, plain roasted chicken will do.
  • Can't find cut spaghetti? Use another small pasta variety, like alphabets, ditalini, or stars. That, or buy regular spaghetti and break them into smithereens!
  • On a gluten-free diet? Swap out the spaghetti for a gluten-free pasta or sub with brown rice. Then you can change the name to chicken and rice soup. ;)

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