Sometimes I wonder if it just seems like the topics I’m interested in are becoming mainstream because I live in a sheltered “wellness bubble”, as I like to refer to it as. I surround myself with other health and wellness junkies and it can appear that the vast majority of the population is living a somewhat similar lifestyle to my own. Luckily, something eventually pops that beautiful bubble and I am faced with the reality that, of course, this really isn’t the case at all. Although I do believe more and more people are taking steps to lead a healthier lifestyle in general, there is still such a long way to go in terms of educating the masses on important health related issues and lifestyle choices.
It took me a while to even start this post because of its scope. Low-tox living has been at the forefront of my mind lately, but there is just so much to say about it and so much ground to cover, that the idea of writing about it seemed daunting. Too big. And you know how I have a tendency to ramble on… I want to say it all, but that would mean writing a book, not a blog post.
So I decided the best thing to do was pick one area of focus per post and today I am choosing clean beauty.
When I first began to detox the body and our home, I started with food. I slowly switched out conventional foods for organic ones and made the added cost of quality, chemical-free foods work for us because it was deemed priority. That was many years ago now. However, one of the last things I did was switch out my makeup for clean, chemical-free (or at the very least, highly reduced) products. And I’m probably not alone in this. Women become particularly attached to their beauty potions and lotions. We have specific brands and products that we’re loyal to and have been using for years. Letting go of that relationship and stepping outside of the comfort zone of knowing what gives you your desired look is a little scary. And, quite honestly, can leave you a little grumpy. I think it took being bombarded with daily messages of clean beauty before I finally uncrossed my arms, rolled my eyes and said, “Fine!"
As we start to settle into life as a family of four and find our daily rhythm, I’ve created a weekly routine for myself that I’m pretty happy with. I’m getting in regularly scheduled workouts (which, if you read my last post you know is a non negotiable for me), spending quality time with my family, and focusing on this blog and my own studies--all activities that I would classify as some of my favourite things. Maternity leave in Canada: it’s pretty sweet. It allows you time to really lean into the things you love. And it’s not to say that I don’t enjoy my job, but there’s nothing quite like making your own schedule and being really picky about how you spend your energy. A structured 9-5 doesn’t quite allow for the same flexibility.
Last week, I was hyper aware of how level I felt. And by level, I mean blood sugar wise. I wasn’t craving sweets the same way I have been known to (not saying I didn’t have my daily dark chocolate. Because I did. Let’s not be ridiculous). And I was just feeling super satisfied by all of my well thought-out, real food meals. I was motivated in the kitchen to create nourishing dishes for my family and feeling more creative when it came to our meal prep. Just because I am a health and nutrition enthusiast, doesn’t mean my level of enthusiasm is consistent. Like anyone, it ebbs and flows and from time to time, I fall into a rut. Sometimes life gets away from me and my planning isn’t as top notch as it needs to be, or I have a difficult time coming up with new and interesting meals that also meet my nutritional standards.
I began to wonder why, exactly, I was feeling this way. Why is it that my eating habits are better at certain times than others? When I really sat with this, I came to the conclusion that my eating habits are strongly correlated with my overall life satisfaction. When I feel fulfilled and generally happy, as well as minimally stressed (at least in a negative way), my food intake and eating patterns are optimized. Reflecting on periods of my life when I am not as satisfied by my daily routines, have less satisfaction by my close relationships, etc., I noted that my eating habits are more likely to stray from my ideal standards. There is an obvious emotional connection.
There is a lot of talk about sugar and its negative effects on our health. From diabetes to heart disease, to obesity, the laundry list of reasons not to consume too much is never ending. Personally, I haven't baked with regular white refined sugar in a very long time. My guess would be years. I do, however, like to use natural, unrefined sweeteners like maple syrup (my favourite) and honey. I will also choose something like coconut sugar and dates--both which have a lower glycemic index than refined sugars. Ayla is at an age where, if dessert is on the menu, she is offered it. It isn't contingent on whether or not she ate her main course, and often I will actually serve it at the same time! Limiting labels creates less emotion around what she is eating and helps her develop a healthy relationship with food. Although we don't eat dessert every night, I do like to experiment with baking (obviously), so it's important to me that I am offering her desserts that are made with real ingredients and are low in sugar most of the time. Of course, we have the odd treat not made at home and fully enjoy it. I don't deprive her of that, but it's certainly considered a special occasion. When we are home, I have the power and responsibility of offering nourishing, whole foods.
Sidenote: please bear with me with as I experiment with developing my food photography skills. I am not a photographer, but am enjoying trying new things and learning as I go. If you have any tips, please feel free to send them my way!
Traditionally, I have found brownies one of the easiest desserts to make gluten free. It isn't difficult to find a flourless version of this tasty treat. However, I was really on the hunt for something low-sugar as well, and sometimes that can make things tricky. However, once I started looking around at a few different recipes, I was confident I could create what I was envisioning. And sure enough, the result was this decadent, fudgy, chocolate dream brownie. Bonus: I made it without any sugar!
Having a baby is all kinds of wonderful and brutal mixed up into one crazy shitstorm of a few months. What do you think? Did I describe that accurately? It’s such a unique and complex experience that is difficult to describe accurately in a few lines. When you become a mother, there’s a lot of talk about survival. And, let’s be honest: that’s what it can be about many days--just getting by. That said, after having my second baby a couple of months ago, I feel better equipped to handle the ups and downs of newborn life and am pretty committed to creating a life that looks a lot more like thriving than surviving. I want to share my own lessons learned and tips to thrive through these crazy days in hopes that it can help other new moms live even a little above that survival baseline and maybe even create a life with her baby that she always envisioned.
#1 Get your feeds in and manage the daytime sleep
This is probably my most specific tip and may not win me any popularity contests depending on your parenting style or school of thought. But I’m ok with it, because I can honestly say that this rule helped me stay sane with both of my babes and, because of that and the nature of this post, I can’t not share it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love baby sleep. And I don’t just mean babies that sleep (although, ultimately that is what we’re aiming for here). I mean I love learning the ins and outs of baby sleep. There is a boatload of literature and resources on this topic and it can be difficult to figure out how you want to approach sleep and how to get your baby to actually do it. But, a common thread I’ve found amongst most sleep resources and professionals is this: have your baby consume most of their feeds during the day. I’m no expert, but this screams logic to me. If your baby consumes the majority of their food during the day, they are less likely to be asking for it all night long. So, I always suggest starting there. Feed every 2-3 hours. Now, this inevitably affects daytime sleep. Sometimes, in order to ensure your baby gets in all of their feeds, you have to wake them from naps (gasp!), thus also controlling their daytime sleep. And here’s the thing: another concept that makes sense to me is that a baby who sleeps all day long will, at some point, sleep less during the night. I know this is the part of my belief system that doesn’t always sit so well with every parent. But, hey, this is my blog. And because I want to provide something really practical and actionable, here’s a rough daily feeding schedule that I used with both of my children from very early days (once they had reached birth weight after that initial loss), and spoiler alert: both of my kiddos have always been awesome night sleepers. By no means are they perfect, but they’re really good. I’m not saying that this is why… but I’m also not saying it’s not. If you’ve never done something before, and you don’t have anyone to tell you where to start, it can feel like driving without a road map. A schedule gives you a starting point, and thus, a little bit of confidence.
Six weeks ago, we welcomed the fourth member of our family earth side and, needless to say, we’re pretty smitten. Austin Andrew Mundy arrived on December 22nd at 6:58am, weighing 7lbs 6oz. We didn’t have a “plan” that we were hoping would pan out when it came to the birth of either of our children. It was really about getting in there and seeing what felt right, and, of course, making sure baby was safe and happy. That said, we had a few ideas of what could happen this time around, based on some consistent family history. Myself, my mother, and my grandmother were all born at home due to precipitous birth--in other words, an extremely fast labour. So, with this top of mind, although we were hoping to make it to the hospital before delivery, we had a soft home birth plan… you know… just in case (it involves a lot of shower curtains).
We had planned a family Christmas celebration with my inlaws, which included a full weekend of events and a sleepover party. I had been experiencing inconsistent contractions here and there in the days prior, so we threw the hospital bags in the car, prepared for anything. Around 5pm on Saturday, while sipping Perrier and snacking on horderves, I started to notice some light cramping in fairly regular intervals. Looking back, I’m not sure why I wasn’t concerned that I wouldn’t just pop my baby out in the bathroom of his Grandparents, given all of the discussion that had taken place around this possibility. I guess my intuition told me otherwise. As the evening progressed and contractions increased, it was clear that I would, in fact, have the full labour experience once again. But for how long was still unknown. I wasn’t even convinced it was really happening. However, around 6pm, I looked at my sister and said, “I think I’m in labour.”
The postpartum experience, health choices during pregnancy and the authentic share
The other night, I had a scheduled call with my naturopath which left me in a very reflective state (our appointments have a habit of doing that). We talked about a few interesting topics and I thought I would share some of our chat here, including my own reflections on our conversation. And, for anyone interested, I’m going to provide a little preggo update in terms of my nutrition and activity during T3.
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.