Oh hey--still here. It’s crazy how I can enjoy something like writing so much and still make so little time for it. This seems to be the theme of motherhood, I’ve found. As much as I preach putting on your own oxygen mask first, I have to admit that, when time is precious, I tend to choose physical activity and time with my girlfriends before my other hobbies (blogging being one of them, etc.). My guess is because it takes a lot of brain power and I feel like that’s not something I have a surplus of these days! All I know is that I hope a second maternity leave comes with a little extra writing time.
… Did I mention I’m pregnant? Numero dos is on the way and we are pretty stoked to announce it’s a boy! It’s the first grandson for both sides of our family and we couldn’t be more excited about it. That said, excitement isn’t the only emotion I’ve felt throughout this pregnancy. It definitely took me some time to wrap my head around the fact that we will soon be a family of four! I have also dealt with my fair share of mom guilt, especially knowing that Ayla isn’t really old enough to understand that she won’t be the queen of the castle anymore and is going to have to share her parents. As much as we try to explain it to her (and I do think she knows something is up) I know she doesn’t truly get what’s about to happen (and potentially thinks we’ve just changed the name for “bellybutton” to “baby”). And let’s be serious: she is going to be pissed. For a while, anyway. And then I’m hoping that she, ya know, loves her brother. I’ll keep you posted (but for real: do you think I should read at all into the fact that she wouldn't hold the pregnancy test or the sign for the photos above? It's fine, right?). That said, I’ve been working really hard not to dwell on that aspect of this life change. I really try to focus on the fact that we are so lucky to have a growing family and I know everyone’s heart will only grow with this new addition.
I was in denial for a solid month before Ayla started daycare. I just chose not to think about it. It seemed easier than dealing with how difficult it was going to be. But, inevitably, Ayla’s transition plan showed up in my inbox one day and I had to face reality: my maternity leave was over and it was time to hand my child over to someone else’s care. This entire period seems a little unfair: going back to work, sending your child to daycare for the first time and celebrating a first birthday--a glaring reminder that their infancy is somehow over. It’s a lot to process. You may not be surprised to learn that I cried every day for a week leading up to my return to work. It wasn’t the work part I was upset about; it was worrying about Ayla. Would she learn to sleep at daycare? Would they be able to meet her needs? Would she be happy? Did we make the right decision? Was she ready? Should I have extended my maternity leave and kept her at home for longer? Would she feel abandoned? All of these questions played on repeat in my head. But, inevitably, time marched forward, and before I knew it, I was dusting off my work clothes and putting my professional hat on after a year of messy buns and stretchy pants.
Ayla began eating solid foods at five and half months. We started with vegetables, slowing introducing each food group until she had tried most things by the time she was ten months old. I was thrilled that she seemed to be a great little eater, rarely turning down new foods that were offered (with the exception of broccoli). We primarily chose to follow the methods of baby led weaning, but threw a few purees into the mix as well. All in all, Ayla was exposed to numerous textures and flavours by an early age. She didn’t experience any obvious allergies or intolerances and we moved confidently forward, much to this nutrition nut’s satisfaction.
I have learned over and over again that, when it comes to babies, nothing lasts forever. If you’re going through a challenging phase, most of the time it will pass and you just need to put your head down and shoot for survival. Alternatively (and unfortunately), if you’re experiencing a good phase, learn to enjoy every moment… because there’s a good chance it won’t be sticking around either. Knowing all of this, I shouldn’t have been surprised when Ayla began to turn her nose up at most foods. It all began around 12 months (she is now 13 months). Trusty, staple foods were being left on her tray or thrown to the ground. Lunch time would result in very little food being eaten at all. Ayla began to create a rather short list of acceptable food items and before we knew it, we had entered the dreaded picky eater stage.
I thought for sure I had another year before hitting this phase of our lives that most mothers talk about. If I’m being honest, I was thinking maybe we would even avoid it altogether… you now… because I was using all of the right techniques and nutrition is "my thing". Spoiler alert: even if you think you’re “doing it right”, your child is their own person and will do exactly what they damn well please, whether you like it or not. And that is precisely what the universe is taking the opportunity to teach me, yet again. And one more note on "doing it right": we loved BLW, but Ayla’s current favourite foods are smooth or pureed. So if you went down the puree route, don’t worry too much about your baby having a “texture” issue later on. We are a prime example that it can happen either way.
So, how am I navigating this phase of Ayla’s nutrition journey? The biggest thing I do is try to keep my stress levels in check. It’s easy to be concerned about whether your child is getting all of the nutrients and calories they need when they seem to be surviving on yogurt and bananas alone. But trust that, if you remain calm, and continue to be their nutritional guide, they will get what they need. Even with a short list of acceptable food items, there are still little daily hacks that you can use to boost the nutritional profile of each meal. For example, as you may have guessed, one of the foods that Ayla is currently always down with is yogurt. Yogurt is a great food in and of itself. If you choose the right brand, it is high in fat, protein and probiotics. I flavour it with different foods so she continues to be exposed to various tastes (nut butter, unsweetened applesauce, mashed berries, cinnamon, etc.). I also always add a fat like chia seeds or hemp hearts. This is also where I toss in Ayla’s vitamins, like fish oil and D. So, although yogurt may seem like a simple food, it can be a catalyst for a ton of other nutrients. Another hack I use is adding things like grated zucchini and eggs to oatmeal! If you make your oats on the stove top, you can stir in an egg until cooked without changing the flavour or texture of the dish much at all. So, although Ayla doesn’t currently enjoy eggs on their own, I know she’s getting the benefits of this nutrition powerhouse in other ways.
The other main thing that we continue to do during this picky period is expose Ayla to a variety of foods. This can be frustrating, preparing food that you are fairly confident is going to be left on the plate. But I encourage you not to give up, because exposure is the only way they will ever have the opportunity to enjoy new food items. It may not happen tomorrow or even next month, but you can bet it won’t happen at all if they are never given the chance to try it. I try to choose foods that we are already eating for dinner and preparing anyway, or add simple foods to her plate like sliced cucumber or cheese (hey Ayla, remember when you liked both of those things three months ago? Good times). I am not a child-specific nutrition expert. My training is primarily rooted in adult nutrition. But I have done extensive reading on this topic, as it has definitely become a passion since becoming a mother, and the one word that comes up time and time again is exposure. Just keep at it. Build it and they will come…
Dave and I work very hard not to have any sort of an agenda during meal time (easier said than done). We serve Ayla a meal that includes a few (but not too many) flavours and textures, providing her with some choice. We try not bring many items of food to her mouth for her (even though we’re sure that, if she just got a small taste, she would love it!) and we try to keep the mood light. This may sound kind of dumb since Ayla is only 13 months old, but I am very confident that babies can read your mood and that she understands a great deal more than she can communicate to us. This is also just a practice that I hope we continue well beyond Ayla’s toddler years, in hopes that it will help her develop a healthy relationship with food. We eat as a family as often as possible so that she sees us enjoying a variety of foods and has proper eating behaviours modelled for her daily.
Finally, I try to keep in mind where we are in our lives right now. I just returned to work four weeks ago after a year of maternity leave, and Ayla began daycare. She cut her first teeth and has been hit with about 37 viruses since being exposed to so many new children (feels like 37, anyway). All of these things have the ability to drastically affect her appetite, which makes sense. I remember that she won’t have the same hunger levels every day, just like we don’t, and that’s ok. It will take time to fully adjust to our new routine, and once she’s accepted it as her new normal, we may see another shift in her eating.
So, that’s where we’re at! If you are experiencing anything similar with your little one, know that I feel your pain. It can be a huge source of worry and frustration as a parent. But know that you are doing great. Our children are not robots. They are likely still getting most, if not all, of what they need and their eating habits will probably change again before you know it. Remember the old saying: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Keep pushing forward, as I will be, and let’s all take a deep breath together….
Parents of picky eaters, unite!
I am always looking for fun snack recipes for Ayla. I want them to have a good nutritional profile, but they also have to be tasty for her to show any interest. I had seen lots of cookie recipes that used chickpeas in place of flour and thought that sounded like a great place to start for a winning, healthy snack. But as I began looking around, I couldn't quite find a recipe that I was happy with. So, taking ideas from a variety of sources, I got to work on my own creation. Generally speaking, this hasn't worked out for me in the past, so when I gave my first batch the official taste test, I was shocked that they were actually quite tasty! And to make things even better, these cookies are packed with fibre, and are gluten, dairy and refined sugar free. But none of this mattered if the ultimate taste tester didn't approve. Luckily, Ayla gobbled them up! Huge mom win. I can't tell you how many hours I have spent in the kitchen coming up with what that I think will be great dishes for the babe, only to have her turn her nose up at them. I needed an ego boost.
What I love most about this recipe is that you throw all of the ingredients in a blender at once, making the prep work really quick and easy. You can have these cookies prepped and cooked in less than 45 minutes. They really do resemble the peanut butter cookie of my childhood, but with more nutritious undertones. I wanted them to be baby friendly, which means low sugar (natural or otherwise) but if you are making them for yourself or an older child, there a couple of alterations you can do to make them a bit of a sweeter treat. I used 2 tablespoons of 100% maple syrup as my sweetener, plus a banana. You could up the maple syrup for an extra kick of sweetness (perhaps 1/4-1/2 cup), as well as stir in chocolate chips just before scooping them onto your cookie sheet. Chocolate chips tend to go a long way in elevating most cookie recipes. The first batch I made definitely had a more "rustic" look to them. The second time around, I used damp hands to create more uniformed shapes and pressed down on the tops with a fork to resemble a more traditional peanut butter cookie.
Find the recipe and instructions below and let me know what your family thinks!
1 can drained, rinsed chickpeas
1 cup quick oats (or oat flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 ripe banana
3/4 cup natural peanut butter (you can swap out for another nut or seed butter)
2 Tbsp 100% maple syrup (more if you want a sweeter cookie)
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
Optional: 1/4 cup chocolate chips
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add all of the ingredients into your blender (minus chocolate chips, if using--stir in at the end) and blend until combined. The batter will be thick, so add water 1 tablespoon at a time as needed. Use a tablespoon to scoop the dough onto the cookie sheet and bake for about 25 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown. For a more aesthetic cookie, dampen your hands to shape them and gently press down on top with a fork.
I admit that I didn’t understand the excitement that offering peas and carrots to someone for the first time could bring until I had a baby. It was actually embarrassing how excited I was to start Ayla on solid foods. So when she began to show readiness signs, the nutrition wheels immediately began turning in my head. What should her first food be? Should it be a puree or finger food? How slowly should I introduce each new food? Do I want to hold off on anything for a few months?
I am a planner and a researcher at heart. I have always liked to have all of the information before I get started on a project, and I instantly become a sponge for knowledge. My favourite research topics are health and nutrition related, and over the years, I have done a lot of related reading. But when it came to the world of baby nutrition, I was a pretty blank slate. Sure, lots of basic nutrition principles apply to all of us, regardless of age, but I knew there was a whole world of baby-specific nutrition articles and healthy mamas to be inspired by for this chapter of my life.
The first step was to decide: purees or finger foods? There are arguments for both, but in the end I decided to go with… both. Just like nutrition “labels”, I’ve never liked to limit or pigeon hole myself into one category of eating. The same was true when it came to feeding Ayla.
I loved the concept of baby led weaning (or baby led feeding, as it is sometimes referred to) for several reasons. Because baby is in charge of what goes into her mouth and how much, it fosters a positive relationship with food from the very beginning. The self feeding method supports fine motor development and offers a variety of sensory experiences. Even though constant supervision is required, of course, it frees up mom and dad’s hands so they can eat at the same time. That means that family meal time can be established from the get-go, allowing parents to model eating skills at the dinner table.
I, by nature, am not an anxious person. That was, of course, until Dave and I decided to start trying for a baby. Suddenly, I was ridden with anxiety and self doubt--a feeling that was very foreign to me. It was one of the first “goals” in my life that I could not achieve simply through focus and determination. There was, of course, the obvious act necessary to make a baby that I could participate in, but beyond that… I couldn’t will my body to conceive the moment I was ready. It became quickly apparent that a Type A personality was not going to play in my favour when it came to making and raising babies. The root of this? Control. Or lack there of, I should say.
I am writing this from a very vulnerable place and it is not something that I am fully comfortable with. To shine light on a time when I felt out of control and less capable is, in fact, a very uncomfortable thing for me to do. I think as women, but particularly as mothers, it can be hard to show others that we battle with self doubt and mental health. For some reason, we feel there is this expectation to be Super Woman at all times. But, from everything I have learned through this experience, I can say with confidence that every mom feels this way at some point in her journey, if not on the regular. It is my hope that, by sharing my story, I will help other women climbing similar mountains know that they are not alone and that, with time, and maybe a little help, this too shall pass. You may feel weak, but you possess endless amounts of strength and wisdom. Know how I know? Because you are a mom. And no one can love or care for your child like you can. No one can know and understand their needs better than you. You are a mother. And that is synonymous with strength.
I recently shifted the focus of Eat.Move.Live (the name of this blog) from ‘Nutrition and Lifestyle’, to the more general term of ‘Health and Lifestyle’. Not that health in the general sense hasn’t been important to me in the past, but since becoming a new mom, a few events have really ignited my passion for a holistic approach to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Since the beginning of my journey into nutrition, my interests have broadened to include physical and mental health, and an understanding that this is achieved differently by everyone. I hope that I can capture my ongoing journey through posts on nutrition, but also mental health, life as a mom, finding balance, supporting Ayla's optimal health, and more. If you have any topics you would like to see me write about, please shoot me an email or comment below!
Baby's come with a lot of stuff at the best of times. So you can imagine that packing for a two month trip with our 4 month old presented a few challenges. Dave and I had many conversations about what to bring and what to leave behind prior to leaving. We read online blogs by families who had done similar trips and gathered the opinions of friends and family members with children. Our goal was to ensure we had everything we needed, but nothing more. Here’s what we decided on:
Baby Bjorn Travel Crib
This was absolutely essential. We needed to ensure Ayla had a comfortable place to sleep no matter where we were. I also liked the idea that she would have a consistent bed, despite the fact that we would be staying in several different locations. It doubles as a pack and play and is worth the extra cash. This crib comes with its own carrying case and, as our travels continued, we learned to take full advantage of this feature. When leaving each destination, we would add all of Ayla's sleeping essentials to the bag, making for an easy bedtime set-up when we arrived at our next accommodation (think: pj's, sleep sack, diaper, wipes, stuffy, etc.).
Baby Bjorn Carrier
This was an absolute must-have for us. Ayla loves being toted around on our chest. She can stretch out and see everything that’s going on around her. She spends more time in the carrier than in her stroller. We use it every single day. It’s also great if you’re visiting a city that isn’t overly stroller-friendly (think: lots of cobblestone).
Jolly Jumper with doorway clamp
For us, the jolly jumper was an absolute must. Aya is a very active baby and happiest when jumping. Sanity saviour for mom and dad! Shout out to my sister in law, Kim, for sourcing the door clamp version from Once Upon a Child for $20. It’s super light-weight and easy to pack.
Even if you don’t plan to rent a car, if you are taking a taxi from the airport, you need a safe way to transport your baby. If you do plan to rent a vehicle, it’s possible to rent a car seat through the rental company. Personally, we wanted the peace of mind knowing that we had a carseat that Ayla was comfortable in and met our own safety standards. We did, however, leave the base at home, opting to use the seat belt technique to secure it in the backseat.
Since we were planning on such a lengthy trip, we decide that taking our full size, Uppababy stroller was important. Ayla would be spending lots of time in it and we would also use it to carry things like groceries home from the store. However, with an older baby and/or a shorter trip, a more compact umbrella stroller may be more suitable (and easier to transport). Most airlines will give you the option to check your stroller at bag check, or take it with you to the gate. This is nice if you're well organized and have arrived with lots of time to spare before boarding. You can comfortably cruise the terminal and baby may even have a pre-flight nap.
Travel high chair
Kim also suggested that we purchase a travel high chair, as Ayla would be approaching the age when she would begin eating solids. This would be a nice way to include her in meal time and get her familiar with the idea of sitting at the table with us. In the end, we were so happy that this ended up on our packing list, as Ayla was clearly ready to explore solids several weeks before we were scheduled to return home. We found ourselves embarking on the journey of baby food a little sooner than anticipated! We ordered this one from Amazon and have been happy with it so far. It’s also great to bring along to restaurants that may not provide you with a high chair. The only downfall of these types of chairs is they are very difficult to clean on a daily basis. We ended up disassembling it every few days and throwing it in the washing machine. For this reason, I am excited to get home to our (very) inexpensive, plastic Ikea version!
White noise machine and baby monitor:
Ayla was used to sleeping with a white noise machine at home, so bringing it along was an easy decision. It would help recreate a familiar sleep environment, no matter where we were in the world. As it happened, our Airbnb in Valencia, although beautiful and in a great location, tended to be a bit noisy at night. There were restaurants and bars just below our apartment which drew a crowd in the evenings. We were happy to have the white noise machine drown this activity out and help Ayla have a peaceful slumber. Our monitor was a must-bring as well, since her room wasn't always in hearing distance of the common area where Dave and I would spend our evenings after she had gone to bed.
Lotions and potions
We chose to bring Ayla’s regular diaper creams with us, because we were comfortable with the ingredients and knew they worked. For day-to-day use, we like the brand, Earth Mama Angel Baby and for any signs of diaper rash, we’ve had excellent results with Matter Company's nappy ointment. Once in Valencia, we sourced out a great organic spot that had tons of awesome baby products and stocked up on a couple of things for the remainder of our trip. Still, creams and soaps were easy to pack and I have no regrets bringing along our favourites. We did, however, run out of our regular baby shampoo, but spotted Waleda, another trusted brand from home.
What do we wish we had brought?
The only item we truly missed in a few of our destinations was a baby bath. Ayla isn’t strong enough to consistently sit up on her own in the tub, making it difficult to hold her and bathe her simultaneously. We made do by one of us getting into the tub with her and acting as a human baby bath. Really not a big deal, and kind of a nice mother or father-daughter moment. That said, finding a very light, portable baby bath would be ideal if taking a long trip, possibly like this one. Otherwise, we would probably recommend just making do. Alternatively, you could purchase an inexpensive solution upon arrival that you don’t mind leaving behind.
What can you leave behind and purchase when you arrive?
This would really depend on where you are traveling to, but as we are hitting very well established European cities, here’s what’s on our list:
Diapers: bring enough to get you through your flights and the first day or two. Otherwise, they are easily accessible at the local grocery store or pharmacy.
Wipes: these are also available at the grocery store and we found a brand we were happy with at the local organic health food store. We did, however, make sure we brought a couple of packs from home to get us by for a few days.
What do we wish we had left at home?
Travel Bassinet: One of the things we were a little concerned about was Ayla sleeping on our overnight flight. She slept well in her crib at home and we weren’t sure if she would sleep on us on the plane (or if we wanted her on us the whole time!). We didn’t purchase a seat for her (not necessary for children under two), and thought a bassinet would offer us a bit of insurance should she want to lie down. We had the bulkhead seats, which provided a bit of additional leg room and some space to put the folding bed. In the end, there wasn’t a lot of room for the bassinet at our feet, comfortably. Plus, as mentioned in my previous post, she fell asleep on me during takeoff and I was too nervous to make the transfer in fear that she would wake up. Of course, we had other flights booked, but none with the extra space for a baby bed. Ayla was also rolling around in her crib at night, so it didn’t work as a full-time sleeping solution throughout our trip. In the end, although it would have been hard to anticipate earlier, we didn’t need the bassinet. That said, it was inexpensive and very lightweight. So if this is something you could see yourself using, it’s a fairly low-risk purchase.
So, there are our baby packing essentials. I hope this list of must-haves comes in handy when planning your next big family adventure!
Valencia will be our longest stay in one city. We really wanted to find a place where we could settle down and live like the locals. We spent many nights pouring over books and travel blogs, before finally deciding that Valencia was the perfect spot. As the third largest city in Spain, it was not only beautiful, but less touristy than Madrid or Barcelona. It was less expensive than a prolonged stay in Italy or France, but offered culture, comfort and warm days by the ocean. So, knowing little more than that about the city, we rolled the dice and booked our stay.
We would be flying overnight from Toronto to Valencia with a four hour layover in London, Gatwick. We made it through check in and security with a happy baby. Goal one: achieved. Next on the list was to put Ayla in the stroller and walk around the airport until she fell asleep, as it was her usual bedtime. No such luck there. I quickly become accustomed to things not going as planned. Looking back, it was probably best that I learned this lesson so early in our travels. Maybe it was because we were on such an exciting adventure. Maybe it was because I knew I had Dave by my side to tackle the parenting tasks as a team, but I quickly became far more relaxed in my ways (i.e. I took the type A personality traits down a few notches, to everyone’s relief, I’m sure).
We booked the bulkhead seats, with the plan to place a small travel bassinet at our feet in which Ayla could sleep during the flight. However, during take off, she had to be in my arms. She, of course, fell asleep before the plane left the tarmac and I didn’t have the confidence to make the transfer without waking her. So, there she slept for seven straight hours. This wasn’t the most comfortable for mom, but I was just happy not having to apologize to the passengers around us for a crying baby in the middle of the night.
We made it to London at 4am Toronto time. Ayla woke when it was time to get off of the plane, but we lulled her back to sleep with a walk in the stroller a couple of hours later. Things couldn’t have been going smoother, and Dave and I were breathing a pretty big sigh of relief. The next flight was only a couple of hours, and Ayla slept for about half of it. She was happy to cruise the aisles in my arms the rest of the time. I was exhausted from my own lack of sleep, but more than happy to oblige if it meant a happy baby.
What do you say when your husband suggests taking leave from work, renting out your home, and moving somewhere else in the world for a couple of months to join you on maternity leave? I admit, when Dave posed this idea, I thought it was a bit of a pipe dream. I responded with muted excitement over the prospect, but figured it was too good to be true. It was, most likely, not something we could pull off.
Fast forward two months, and I, of course, am writing to you from beautiful Valencia, Spain.
If I have learned anything in the last decade, it is to never underestimate my husband’s ambition. He has big dreams and will do anything to make them happen. I’m just the lucky one who gets to go along for the ride. We are both ambitious in our own rights, but his crazy dreaming paired with my practical sensibility make for a great team in so many ways. Traveling together is no exception.
Unlike our past travels, this trip would be different in a few ways: first and foremost, we would be bringing along our four month old daughter, Ayla. I can’t tell you the number of sleepless nights I had about this. So many worries that were quickly forgotten, beginning when she slept for seven straight hours on the flight over. Time change included, it was all downhill from there. Ayla has proven to be a very chill travel buddy, and super resilient in all ways imaginable.
Secondly, we planned to be away for two months, a far cry from a simple week’s vacation. Two months as an adult is one thing. Leaving with a four month old baby and returning with a six month old is something completely different. There were many things to consider, including clothing sizes, developmental changes, and the introduction of solid foods. Despite these considerations, among others, we decided this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Before we knew it, flights were booked and AirBnbs confirmed. We were headed to Europe for two months to live as a family of three!
First stop: Valencia, Spain.
Next, find out how we managed Ayla's jet lag and encouraged her to become a pint-sized travel bug, all while maintaining a schedule abroad.
p.s. we're vlogging this journey! Check out The Mundy Family on YouTube and subscribe (Yes, I am now a blogger and vlogger--exhausting social media as my creative outlets)