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Helping Children Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

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By Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D.

Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

This is the time of year when social media, magazine and news stories and blogs (like this one) encourage us to reflect on the parts of our lives that we are most thankful for and to express appreciation for those who make our lives full. As a parent, my thoughts go immediately to my children. I am grateful to be sharing the experiences of life with them, and I hope that the things I say and do show them how important they are to me. As I write this post, though, I wonder what am doing as a parent to help them develop an attitude of gratitude.   

One place to start is to use the upcoming holidays as a reason to think about how much we appreciate our family members and help your children come up with ways to show them how much we value them. Although gathering with family members may be tricky this year due to pandemic-related health concerns, we can be grateful for the resources of the modern worlthat provide us with many ways to stay connected, even from a distance. Here are some ideas for preschool-age children that might inspire them to feel and show gratitude toward others. 

Art with Heart – Making art for others is an enjoyable childhood activity – not only do children get to create art, but they get to enjoy someone’s enthusiastic response when they receive it. I’m a big fan of process-oriented art in which the focus is on using materials creatively in an open-ended way rather than producing a specific set outcome. Instead of asking children to make a leaf wreath, provide them with a variety of materials and invite them to create something they think Grandpa would like. As they think about Grandpa, encourage them to reflect on what makes him so special, and write down what they say.  You can send Grandpa the artwork in the mail, take a photo and send it to his phone or ask your children to show the artwork to Grandpa over video chat. Include a note in which you share why your children think he is so special 

A Week of Warmth – Print out pictures of family members, turn them facedown and pick a new face from your pile each week. Start a conversation about that special family member in which you help your children reflect on how this person shows care and interest, what they do that your children appreciate and how your children feel when they think about that family member.  Each day of the week, have your children send a short video or text that they think will make that family member feel special. 

Sweet Treats – Invite your children to think of a kind of treat they’d like to make and who they’d like to send it toThis idea is a two-for-one – it has all of the benefits of a fun cooking activity combined with a way to show appreciation for family member far away.  When the family member receives the treat, ask that person to call (or start a video chat) so that your children can explain why they’re thankful for that person in their lives. Pro tip – Make a double batch so you can also leave one out to thank the mail carriers for what they do for your community, or make a triple batch and give one to your children’s teachers. 

Activities like the ones above help children pay attention to what they value about their family members and engage in age-appropriate ways to say, “Thank you for being in my life.” Combining conversations about how children feel with activities they can do to show thanks is the secret recipe for supporting children’s capacity for gratitude 

How to Prevent Meltdowns during the Holidays

family dressed for holidays working togetheron cookies

By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

What is not to love about the holidays? There are acres of food, the anticipation of celebrations, traditions and, in some traditions, gifts. From a child’s perspective, it is a winwin. Routines are thrown to the wind, the rhythms of the day (like, say, bedtime or school) are changed over to the holiday pace and, for those who may be quarantining or podding with family or friends this year, there may be guests visiting your home. There’s so much going on and so much novelty. When do we open presents, again?  

From a parent’s perspective, the holidays may feel like a seasonal conspiracy designed to precipitate that dreaded event in any parent’s journey: the meltdown. Parents may have trouble recognizing who their children become when put into the breach of the overstimulation the holidays can bring. The joy of big meals, the hubbub of shared traditions, the sharing of the home and toys and the need to get along with everyone may be too much, leading to tears, yelling, thrown toys and children showing their families that they can go full supernova when they fall apart, spectacularly. (Hey, these can make for some funny memories for years to come, or you may take videos to put aside to embarrass your future high school senior.) In some cases, they can be pretty upsetting or take a while to get past for some children.  
Fortunately, with all of this in mind, there is a lot families can do to prevent the meltdowns in the first place. With a little bit of planning, one can lower the risk of witnessing fruitcake made airborne in a fit of pique or hearing salty oaths muttered to a cousin or houseguest.  

When humans of any age are sufficiently stressed, it can challenge their ability to cope and absorb annoyances or inconveniences. For adults, we have learned to adapt and extend ourselves during the holidays to be at our most polite and on our best behavior (wellmost of us have). We have an enhanced ability to roll with the stresses and quirks of the holiday schedule, leading to our ability to engage in small (or big) talk, connect with our relatives and prepare and deliver on the celebrations. We can behave, usually.  

For infants to children of school age, shifts from the normal patterns of sleep, shifts in meal and snack times and new surroundings or company may lead to them becoming crabby and more emotionally fragile. Whether you are hosting a celebration at home (via Zoom or in person) or whether your family is traveling afar to stay with others, I counsel families to bring some routines and special times with you to support your children emotionally over the holidays. There are some key ways to keep them on track and help them be more likely to hold it together. Have a go bag ready to go this holiday season. 

Are you worried about your picky eater not eating well and getting hangry? Bring his favorite snacks or food items. For my daughter, energy bars and some fruit were a handy goto that kept her smiling and willing to roll with whatever life threw her. 

Are you concerned your child will become edgy if she sleeps poorly? Bring the items that may optimize sleep in a busy time, including a noise machine (or app on your phone), noisecanceling headphones and some favorite books, and create a dedicated space you can escape to for siestas and downtime.  

For older toddlers and schoolage children, alone time may be as important as nap timeGiving children a chance to be on their own or just with their siblings may allow them to recharge and be ready to reenter the holiday fray.  

Preparations to head off meltdowns can start before the holidays themselves begin. I advise that parents talk with their children of all ages in a way that is right for their ages and stages, and give the children a sense of who is coming and what will happen. Keep the dialogue going, and even have them help get decorations or items ready for family members or guests. Praise them for their good work and, in the process, plant the seeds for their enjoyment of this busy time of year.  

For children who may hit the point of no return, there may be some lastminute techniques to head off a meltdown. Keep an eye on the clock, and be mindful of people or situations if you think your child may be having difficulty with them. Like a coach on the sidelines, consider having them take a moment in a quiet place to let them talk through what they are feeling or why they are upset. Redirect and distract them if you think it may help—bust out some crayons or head outside for a walk or a romp to work out the feelings physically if time and weather allow. Take time or make time if you need to. Like us adults, children may have an overflow of energy, but they are just better at playingusing their imaginations and dispelling that frustration. 

You might do all of that. Chances are, you do a lot of this consciously and unconsciously in your daytoday already, but even the most attentive and vigilant parents may find that, in spite of all of their preparation and research, meltdowns may happen anyway. If they occur, do what you can to help yourself and your children leave the crowded area and find some private space. Give children time to emote, and be supportive—it can be tough when you are a child and things don’t go your way. If necessary, delay a return to the bigger group and make some intimate fun – read a book together, sing a song or cast a spell and send those bad feelings packing. If your children are willing to talk about it, let them know that meltdowns happen and, like holidayscan be pretty intenseand it is okay. After a while, they too shall pass, and life will get back to normal.  

A Whole New Digital World

child with mom and tablet
By Helen Hadani, Ph.D.
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, most parents worried about how much time their young children were spending on screens and how often they were engaging with digital technology. With many schools shifting to remote learning and most afterschool activities canceled, children’s technology time has increased by leaps and bounds. So, what are parents to do? 

Instead of swimming against the current, try embracing a different perspective of the digital world and seeing the potential of technology to strengthen skills that we know young children need—creativity, collaboration, motivation and persistence. A recent paper from the Bay Area Discovery Museum titled Tech Time with Purpose offers a new way for parents to examine the myriad of digital games and programs out there for children. The paper uses the museum’s CREATE Framework, which stands for child-directed, risk-friendly, exploratory, active, time for imagination and exchange of ideas, as a guide to the digital world for young children.  

Child-directed learning leverages your children’s natural curiosity about the world around them and allows them to explore (i.e., get into everything) with minimal adult involvement. View technology as a way for your children to express their creativity by painting using a tablet (that way, they don’t get paint on your kitchen table), building a world in Minecraft or recording a story on a smartphone. 

As a parent, it is hard to watch your children struggle or even failbut exposing your children to risk-friendly environments encourages them to try new things and builds confidence. Digital games allow children to take risks without serious consequences. For example, apps like FlummoxVision or PeppyPals Sammy Helps Out provide an opportunity for children to practice social interactions without the stress of trying those skills out in public.  

From a young age, children conduct experiments and engage in exploratory play to learn more about the world around them. Children as young as preschool age can practice basic coding skills in a playful way using coding programs like ScratchJr or drawing a path to direct Ozobots.  

Technology gets a bad rap for being a sedentary activity, but certain digital technologies can encourage children to be physically active. Try digital games like Dance Dance Revolution or Pokémon GO to get your children up and moving.  

 Children can spend countless hours pretending to be superheroes or turning cardboard boxes into spaceships or castles. Certain digital technologies can take time for imagination to whole new levels by promoting creative exploration and original thinking. Children can bring their ideas to life in makerspaces by using digital fabrication tools like 3D printers and laser cutters to build a 3D model of an airplane or rocket.  

While technology has a reputation for isolating people, some digital technologies provide opportunities for children to exchange ideas with others and provide a new outlet to express themselves. For example, in a time when visiting friends and family members is difficult because of the pandemic, using Skype or FaceTime can be great for connecting with friends and family memberswhether they live down the street or across the country. Apps like Marco Polo and Voxer can model how technology can enhance relationships.  

 

Choosing Toys for Little Ones

testing-blog-graphics-6By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

When I was a boy in my home state of New Jersey, we often stopped at roadside diners where I would stare gobsmacked at the delights posted on menus that went on for days. “Your eyes,” my dad liked to say, “are much bigger than your stomach.” He was right, of course. I’d order some big special, take only a few bites and leave piles of food behind.  

So it was when I became a parent. This was AFTER I had finished pediatric residency, mind you, so I was supposed to KNOW THINGS about choosing the right toys for my oldest when he was born. Going to the toy store or looking at listings online was like the diner all over again. I was inclined to buy the things that LOOKED great, without really thinking whether they were the best choices. So, when I showed up with a really cool LEGO Star Wars setup for my 18monthold, my wife was very much in the right to give me some sideeye. I reflected that I may have brought home a kit far past his developmental level and, even worse, might have allowed him to swallow up to 148 separate small pieces. Indeed, what was I thinking?  

Let’s learn from my mistake. When choosing a toy for an infant or toddler, it pays to keep a few simple ideas in mind   

  1. Keep it simple.  
  2. Build on what they love.  
  3. Go age appropriate.   

Of note here for this pandemic year, I am not inclined to recommend that folks buy additional tech or screenbased gifts for children, as I think we should be inclined to get our children outside, off the couch and away from screens to the extent that it is safe and possible.  

Keep ISimple.  

If anything, many households suffer from an overabundance of toys and playthings. I recommend gift shoppers avoid buying items for children at any age that might lead to what we might think of as the LEGO problem: toys with too many pieces or toys that are too complicated for the child. Do you really want the parents of the giftee to be stepping barefoot upon an item from a science kit at midnight? Remember, we often muse as adults that children love to play with the boxes of pricey items more than the toys inside them. Let us learn from that example and seek to offer up toys that tend not to have accessories that can be lost, misplaced or swallowed.  

Instead, consider a teething toy for an infant, a simple box with a latch a toddler can sort and dump stuff from or even an oldschool Nerf hoop for a preschooler. Ask yourself how easy it is to use and how much it will add to the clutter factor. This leads us to our next guideline. 

Build on What They Love. 

Think about the ages and stages of the apples of your eye. What enchants them and might keep them delighted over a long period of time?  Babies are easy. It is hard to go wrong. The world is full of things they love to grasp, squeeze and use to make noise. As a parent, I advise wellmeaning uncles and aunties to go light on the battery-operated stuff or noisemakers. They become annoying before they are out of the box. If it is a child you know well, then think about items that would allow the child to pursue a passion, such as sorting and packing activities for toddlers (consider a series of measuring cups or resealable plastic bins) or balls and wheeled carts for any active startingtowalk children. For children approaching their second birthday, think about simple items that will allow them to engage in pretend play. Consider kitchen items, sidewalk chalk and play cars and trucks. Don’t forget an often overlooked item in the 21st century: books. Therein lies a trove of opportunity as these gifts will go on giving long past the holidays as children reread them and share them with their families (or steal moments under the covers with a flashlight). 

Go age appropriate. 

Don’t be seduced by the grandeur or wow factor of a big purchase. I have made these mistakes in my parenting career. Just as you would not buy a twowheeler for a twoyearold (I hope), we should be guided by the recommended ages on the box or packaging of any toy. These recommendations are made with careful consideration for the safety and appropriateness of the ages and stages of each child. Buying a puzzle recommended for children five and up for a threeyearold may lead to frustration or even a child choking on puzzle pieces. Fortunately, that leaves PLENTY of room to run for the toy shoppers out there. I do find that reviews on Amazon and other sites (e.g., ToyInsider.com) can be helpful as you do your diligence about the safety, quality and suitability of many toys. 

In addition, one can do some additional reading, including materials from the wellregarded authorities at the American Academy of Pediatrics (one such example ishttps://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/What-to-Look-for-in-a-Toy.aspx). For further inspiration and insight about what makes a toy both desirable and timeless, make your way to the Toy Hall of Fame and get lost there (https://www.toyhalloffame.org). 

When you have made the right choice, the gift wrapping is off and the new item is there on the living room floor, why don’t you get down on your knees with your sondaughterniecenephew or best buddy and share the fun?  

 

Managing Gift Expectations

child with gifts

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Why shouldn’t our children see the holiday season as the high point in a year awash in retail celebrations? It is in everything they see, hear, and taste, starting after Halloween. What’s a parent to do in the face of this tsunami of acquisition? Is there any kind of life jacket that is helpful as the tide of consumption rises around your family?

Spend a few moments in your own head about what you want to convey to your children through your own behavior about this event, especially the relationship between giving and receiving. Then share it with your partner and see where they are on this issue. Are there any values or beliefs about the holidays in your ensuing discussion that are not related to consuming? If so, that’s a good place to start an actual conversation with your kids.

Most holiday traditions mix sacred and secular elements which are sometimes hard to reconcile, but it’s worth a try if you are going to help your children (and you) keep their sanity in the coming weeks. Asking for their holiday wish list sets the stage for disappointment and budget-busting in most cases, often amounting to online retailers having more power than the parents. Asking if they need your help with their holiday giving lists helps set the stage for more of a balance, and is often a good place for them to learn from your behavior.

Five Ways to Teach Children about Gratitude

grateful child

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

No matter how many place settings there were to accommodate three generations of Pruetts at our Thanksgiving Feast table, everyone had a seat at the grown-up or kids’ table. Every celebration I can remember began with my father−a pastor by trade−telling everyone to hold hands and, starting with the oldest, share one thing for which they were grateful on this day. It was hard to be patient, sitting there, mouths watering, and wondering what you were going to say when it was your turn. In this simple act, we learned that gratitude was what made this meal different from all others. I was amazed year after year by how seriously everyone took this charge. Answers ran from sacred to profane, but the lesson was clear; families thrive on gratitude.

The Holidays are an important opportunity to affirm values that most parents hope (or wish) their kids were developing naturally. The bounty of family life−so obvious on the dining room table−is less obvious to our younger children, and most of them need a little help seeing the connections between what we share as a family and how we feel about belonging to that family. While children seem to have a natural drift toward empathy, even compassion, feeling grateful for what they have is a harder sell. Grown-ups need to place this high on their agenda, along with plenty of patience for this sapling graft to take hold. Before you start, think about why this matters to you and how you got that way. Share those thoughts with your partner, and make a plan about how to sell gratitude as a family value to your children, as it is one of those desired human values that does not always unfold naturally, as our children grow.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Regularly express your own thankfulness verbally. (We are very lucky to have grandma nearby. I’m thankful to have a son like you in my life. Your dad made that so easy for all of us.)
  • Express gratitude behaviorally. (Take a casserole to a neighbor who has been kind or needs some extra help for whatever reason−even better if the children help you make it. When the hand-me-down toys end their cycle, make a Goodwill run with the children in tow.)
  • Make generosity part of your family’s routine. (When seasons change, collect clothes from everyone’s closet to donate or take canned goods to the local soup kitchen.)
  • Take the children along on community fundraising activities, runs, walks, etc. Explain to them why this matters to you. (Make sure they meet the organizers and understand the purpose; if it’s personal, it’s remembered)

Consider this: regularly planned simple activities can make children feel useful and appreciated as givers, not takers, which is the antidote to gratitude). These are the roots of self-esteem, not reward or praise.

5 Ways to Calm Holiday Stress

stressed mom holding new born baby

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

It seems a given that the holidays will be overdone yet again this year. Kids are only young once, right? After the year many families have had, who wants to cut back? Furthermore, parents have their own ideas and images about how the holidays should or should not go, and if there are two parents, it is unlikely that they are identical ideas and images. Throw in a limited budget and visits with extended family and things can get pretty exciting/tense pretty quickly. Most of us tend to focus on keeping our kids and their schedules – especially of the young ones – under some kind of control to limit the damage and hurt feelings that frequently accompany this overdoing. But the most effective way to calm holiday stress is to manage our own. Kids will learn far more about staying calm when we get there first.

1) Manage your own expectations. Perfect holidays do not exist in real time. So expect some happiness, delight, surprises, disappointments, fatigue and the occasional meltdown. Tell your kids to expect the same. Families are just like that during the holidays, even when they are at their best.

2) Make a list. Well ahead of time, sit down and make a list of holiday things you’d like to do or achieve, then cut it in half and proceed. One or two special events spread out over two days, with a generous dose of hanging out and ‘just being time’ (as our teenagers labeled such inactivity), is a pretty good pace. Get some sleep with the time you save instead.

3) Accept help from others. Remember, you have already yielded on perfection as a goal. So let people bring some food and distribute chores on the bigger events. People old and young typically love being useful, even it adds to the chaos.

4) Watch the sweets, fats (kids and grown-ups) and fermented spirits. Your (and your kids’) tensions can all be exacerbated by lousy dietary indulgences, not to mention the guilt and the weight gain, which only add more stress. Having fewer of them in the house or apartment to begin with tips the scales toward success.

5) Get out of the house and exercise (kids and grown-ups). It helps to repair the damage to routines and relationships by freshening the internal and external environments. Once, when I was in 5th grade, my parents (who were not typically jokesters) actually faked a power outage between the main holiday meal and dessert, just to get everyone away from the TVs and out of the house for a while. It was one of our favorite holiday gatherings ever. Lesson learned.

Preventing Screen Brain for Children Over the Holidays

Toddler Looking at Screen

By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

As in changing any behavior, one might anticipate howling protests prior to separation from devices from children or teens. The equivalent of the primal yawp, or NOOOOO!. I advise parents to be steadfast and clear, and define the limits (no screens means…zero screens), and make these borders non-negotiable when possible. Pushback from the peanut gallery may amount to carryings-on, kvetching, complaining, loud grousing, grumblings, mumblings and bitter statements meant to be overheard. I’d recommend meeting these with the professional cool of an airline attendant sharing a long delay. “We apologize for the hardship, but let’s do the best we can to work together to make the journey enjoyable…” is the vibe I’d go for. Whinging is best ignored, quote the law and move on. Kids will eventually follow.

Card play, board games, or lively ‘parlor game’ type activities, like pictionary or team based activities can get kids out of their grouchy headspace and distracted (or dragged) and into the shared activity. In the case of my kids, this could sometimes take a round or two of play,  to clear the cobwebs and distraction of getting back to their device. Like many kids, they didn’t always want to, but they should be committed to a reasonable amount of time to engage that feels sufficient (15 minutes), and soon enough they moved on and got lost in the game. During such evenings, I’d argue, that ALL screens are best valet parked for the duration, and at least for the evening.

 

How to Limit Children’s Sugar Intake During the Holidays

young girl eating donut outside winter

By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

As the holidays come upon us, and the cornucopia of delectable desserts and candies and sweet offerings become ubiquitous from late October through Valentine’s Day, consider the following strategies on managing how much is too much for young children in terms of junky food and sugary snacks.

Is it excessive to sequester them to the kids’ table, where they might only access kale chips and dried fruit? Perhaps.

What is most important is stepping back for a moment, and thinking holistically. How many sweet or junky (and no doubt, delicious) foods or drinks do children consume on a typical day? Parents should have a sense of what a child eats. Keeping a food diary for 2 to 3 days may provide an informative snapshot towards that end.

For those kiddos who consume a larger amount of sweetened drinks, candy and junk food (say, several times a week), their parents may want to be more mindful and more vigilant in general, and work as a family to define what is reasonable. Resources like myplate.gov offer some nice resources to start that conversation. And, I’d reckon, a fair number of families may find that their children take in more sugary calories than they think.

So what to do for the holidays, then? A more pragmatic and sustainable approach of limiting sweets and sugary foods tends to eliminate free-range access to candy dishes and cabinets of findable goodies. Simply, don’t buy or leave these items around. They will be found!

Rather, during holiday gatherings, when the breaking of bread and sharing of food becomes a focal point of many family bonding sessions, buy them then, and perhaps in less mega quantity than wholesale brands would have you think you need. And, for the day or two that friends and family are about, set some ground rules and ease up a little. Perhaps if a child finishes a reasonable portion, then they earn a reasonably portioned dessert. Keep it conversational, and children will engage–and even cherish–times when the treats are allowed, and they are given a little liberty to indulge. Done thoughtfully, perhaps sharing that ‘special rules apply’ on these special days, children will understand. Limits will be set. Goodies will be had!

Bon appétit!

How To Get Your Little Ones To Try New Foods

Toddler trying new food

By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Getting toddlers and preschoolers to try new foods, or say, eat their vegetables (gasp) is about as easy as getting a newborn to sleep on a schedule or getting a teen to do her chores without being asked a second time. Until they’re 10-12 months or so, children will usually try foods of all types and tastes and textures with gusto, having little fussiness or particularity about texture or taste. In truth, some families have toddlers who are excellent consumers of what is put before them and will hoover up whatever morsel of protein or carbohydrate put within reach. For a lot of parents, however, they find their children, around 12-15 months old, tend to become picky or even avoid healthy foods they previously ate with relish (the condiment or the enthusiasm, as it were). So how do you get your little ones to eat their fruits and veggies before they subsist wholly on the orange food group (mac ‘n’ cheese, cheese puffs, chicken nuggets, etc.)?

Children do require some number of fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, there are great articles (with tables and grids!) to help guide you on your journey. Toddlers should eat two to three servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Portion size for this age group should be about a quarter to half what the grown-ups at the table are served. Toddlers and preschoolers should be offered about a quarter to half a cup of canned or fresh fruits and the number of tablespoons of vegetables for every year of their age.

Correspondingly, children should be served protein two to three times a day and carbohydrates (think snacks!) up to six times a day.

How do you get children to eat broadly, though? In my practice, I counsel parents expressing concerns about picky eaters in their family to offer one new food with two well-established foods to their child’s regimen. For example, if you know your daughter likes pasta and chicken, serve those as usual and add a portion of a new vegetable to her plate. We established early in our house that you at least have to try it, one bite or taste. Research shows that most children will take to a food after up to about a dozen tastings (for some super picky or rigid eaters, such as those on the autism spectrum for example, it may be many, many more times). Set kids up for success by discouraging snacking or tanking up on beverages before mealtime, and try not to feed them when they are too tired or too hungry. Also, keep mealtimes positive by involving kids in food prep and getting enthusiastic in the craft and presentation of food. This may cultivate interest and curiosity which can lead to the development of a more adventurous palate.

Never force feed or go to war about making your child eat. Everyone loses. Don’t hesitate to contact your child’s primary care provider if you have concerns that he or she has issues around eating. It happens. It can be a quirk particular to your child, a temporary age and stage issue that will be outgrown, or it can be a marker (rarely) of a child with extra sensitivity to food tastes or textures, or food allergies. If you aren’t sure, ask. Best to be reassured and unstressed. Food is an everyday thing best enjoyed and not worried over!