4 Meditations Myths Debunked

Previously posted by Amitha Kalaichandran on Elephant Journal:

Meditation has become a hot topic of late, especially as most of us are trying to incorporate new habits into our lives for 2015.

However, there are many myths that come along with it.

Have you heard meditation is only for flexible yogis, for the religious, or that it doesn’t work for everyone? Here are four common myths debunked:

1. You have to be flexible.

Meditation isn’t about sitting in a full lotus pose. There are many types: walking, chair, or sitting with props supporting you. A little known fact: yoga (as we understand it, vis-a-vis the postures or asanas) was actually intended to help our bodies adjust to sitting in meditation. As such, meditation will become easier with practice, and the sitting practice (if this is your preferred method) might become easier with a bit of stretching or yoga incorporated into your routine.

2. It’s religious.

While all religions  have some type of meditation component (Buddhist, Hindu, Christian) meditation has recently taken a secular stream. Specifically, mindfulness meditation, and its derivative “mindfulness-based stress reduction” or “MBSR” is taught in an entirely secular way. So, it is indeed for everyone—not just monks or new age hippie folks!

3. It doesn’t work for everyone.

No such thing—at the core of mindfulness meditation for instance, is “non-judgment”—being aware of your thoughts (including those fleeting moments of “its not working for me” or “I am terrible at this”) is part of the process. Soon those thoughts become less frequent and attention can be cultivated to bring awareness into the present moment alone.

4. It requires a lot of time, over a long period, to be effective.

Research around meditation has exploded in the past few years. We now know that even 5 minutes a day could be effective, immediately. Overtime, our tendency to choose the “fight-or-flight response” (or “stress response”) to everyday occurrences becomes less frequent, and a sense of “calmness” becomes our default. MRI studies have corroborated this, with frequent meditators showing a increased prefrontal (executive functioning) cortical thickness in their brain compared to amygdala (our emotional area) activity.

So try to work your way up to 10 minutes a day, twice a day. Consistency is more important than the length of time, and keep in mind that you can try a walking meditation on your way to work, a mindfulness meditation on public transport, etc.

It’s 2015. If your New Years resolution (remember those?) was to be less stressed, take time for self-care and nourish relationships.

Meditation is worth a try—give it a week of practice, and see if you notice a difference!



Nutrition Tips for Vegetarian Kids

Vegetarianism is becoming increasingly popular, and many parents are choosing to raise their kids as vegetarians, either for religious or ethical reasons. Because kids are still developing, it is important that they get all the nutrition they need. 

Over at Pink & Blue, Amitha Kalaichandran lists several things to think about for children consuming a vegetarian diet, including what it means to be a vegetarian, non-meat sources of protein, the importance of fats, specific micronutrient requirements and general recommendations.

Click here to read the article.

Does the Summer Mean an Early Morning for Your Child?

Re-posted with permission from Alanna McGinn over at Good Night Sleep Site.

Experiencing a sudden early morning waking with your little one this summer? You may notice as the weather gets warmer and days longer, your little one is getting up earlier and earlier. A consistent early morning waking makes you scratch your head as you think you are doing everything right. Bedtime is early enough, daytime sleep is restorative, and you’re not being an obstacle by going in to help them fall back to sleep.

So what is with the early morning waking?

Our body has it’s own 24-hour internal clock. This circadian clock tells our body what time of day it is, which helps set our daily routine of eating, sleeping, and even going to the bathroom. Our internal clock is mainly run off of external cues from our environment with light being one of the main factors. Because of this, our rhythms can change annually. During the winter months days are shorter and darker, and our bodies go into a state of semi-hibernation where we tend to sleep longer hours. Our ancestors would sleep more during the colder months as it helped their bodies conserve energy when food supply was low. Once summer hits we tend to have shorter sleeping hours as the day’s get longer and brighter, and our circadian rhythms adjust to the annual season. So we actually sleep less in the summer but even as this happens we still need to respect our body clocks and our need for sleep. Unfortunately what ends up happening is we carry on with our short summer sleep schedules into the winter months when our bodies are needing more sleep and suddenly we have a chronically sleep deprived family unit.

What can we do?

When our little one wakes up early in the morning and you know that all of the basic sleep fundamentals are being practiced, the best thing you can do is just stick to their usual routine and your usual method. Consistency in the routine and the norm should remain as such no matter what season we are in. You may have to deal with an early riser for a few months but if your child is happy and content in their sleep environment there is nothing wrong with allowing them the chance to hang out on their own until mom and dad say it’s time to get up. Remember a natural wake time can be as early as 6am, even 5:30 am – shudder! So genetically there may not be much you can do to extend that wake time but it doesn’t mean you all have to get up at that time. In a perfect world we would want them to be sleeping until 7am, but they may never sleep until that time. They can though be happy and content in their room until 7am. Working on having them feel safe and secure in their environment and not needing you right away can be just as important as working on getting them the sleep they need.

While we may not be able to take full control of wake time during the summer months there are a few things that you can do to possibly extend that early morning sleep in

  • Install blackout blinds and cover up those bright evenings and mornings. Get that melatonin flowin’!
  • Use a white noise machine to mask early morning sounds like birds and traffic.
  • Stick with your child’s usual bedtime. Pushing it out later and later will only make those mornings get earlier and earlier. Trust me!

Weight and Wellness with Dr. Flanders

Kidzie is very excited to have Dr. Daniel Flanders join our Medical Advisory Board. Dr. Flanders is a community pediatrician in Toronto with an interest in obesity, eating disorders, and nutrition. He is also the founder and director of Kindercare Pediatrics and Kid E-Care. You can read more about Kindercare here.

Obesity is a hot-topic, and for good reason. Over one-quarter of children are currently obese in North America, and this is often accompanied by an increased risk for chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The good news is that there are many initiatives in place – both in Canada and internationally – that are taking a multidisciplinary approach to this very common problem. We had a chance to ask Dr. Flanders some of our burning questions about obesity and children. Check out what we learned below.

Kidzie: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some of our questions! What is obesity and “overweight”? How do we define it for parents and children in a way that is easy to understand?

Dr. Flanders: The body is composed of different tissue types such as fat, muscle, bone, and water. Though children come in a variety of shapes and sizes, generally speaking, the average healthy child has a body composed of approximately 20% - 25% fat. When a child has a proportion of body fat that is much too low - for example 10% body fat - then that child is considered underweight.  If a child’s body fat composition is too high - for example over 35% - then that child would be considered obese. Overweight falls somewhere in a range between normal and obese.  Children in the overweight category are not obese but are considered to be ‘at risk’ for developing obesity.

Most primary health care providers do not have the equipment or expertise to measure body composition so they use body mass index (BMI - a measure of weight relative to height) as an estimate of body fat composition instead. Children with a BMI higher than 85% of their peers are considered overweight and those with a BMI higher than 95% of their peers are considered obese.

It is really important to keep in mind that obesity does not necessarily equal poor health.  Although obesity is a risk factor for poor health, many children are obese based on clinical measures but are perfectly healthy in reality.  Conversely, there are nutritionally unhealthy children whose weights would be classified as normal.  So one must always be careful to look beyond just the clinical numbers when assessing children for obesity. This would be best done in conjunction with a properly credentialed health care provider.

Kidzie: Why do you think obesity and overweight has become such a huge problem today? Is it simply an issue of poor food choices, or is the problem much deeper? Is there a genetic component?

Dr. Flanders: No one knows for sure why obesity rates are surging globally but there is no question that as a population, we are eating far more daily calories than we did a few decades ago. There are a number of proposed explanations for this, probably many of which are simultaneously at play:

  1. The nature and quality of the food we eat is changing. The degree of food processing (which strips foods of nutrients) has increased, the caloric density of foods has increased, and the amount of salt, fat, and sugar added to foods has increased.
  2. The way we eat is changing. Portion sizes have dramatically increased. The frequency with which families eat out or take out is increasing. The number of home-cooked meals (usually smaller portions with far less calories, fat, sugar, or salt) eaten as a family around the family table has decreased. Our tendency to drink sugar-sweetened beverages (such as soda, juice, and sports drinks) has increased.
  3. The marketing of our food is changing. Food manufacturers and retailers are developing ever-more powerful marketing strategies convincing us to routinely buy and consume their 'latest and greatest' food products.  These aggressively marketed foods are typically ultra-processed, low-quality and highly caloric. Worse yet, many marketing campaigns imply, or explicitly lead consumers to believe, that their products are healthful. In reality most are not.  
  4. Have our genes changed? There is no doubt that genetics plays a role in determining whether or not any given child will suffer from obesity. A better understanding of the genetics of obesity will hopefully one day inform the process of finding a solution. On the other hand, it is hard to use genetics, at least as we understand it today, to explain the sudden surge in global obesity rates over the past 2 decades.  Based on our understanding of genetics, gene mutations happen slowly and over multiple generations, not rapid-fire over a few years or decades. It is hard to imagine that a person born in the 1990s would have different genes coding for lesser willpower to make healthful choices than someone born 25 years later. Much more likely is that over 25 years our environment has evolved to render otherwise equivalent people less able to make healthful choices.

Kidzie: As a pediatrician, you and your team undoubtedly care for many children that may have challenges with their weight. What is a common question you get around healthy weight management? Where do you usually start from a management or counselling point of view?

Dr. Flanders: The most common questions, indeed, are around weight.  The challenge, however, is that focusing treatment and counselling on a child’s weight alone seldom helps and may actually make things worse.

I consider obesity to be the consequence of a problem, not the problem itself. For example, a fever is usually the consequence of an infection; treating the fever without addressing the infection will get one no closer to resolution. Similarly, obesity is typically the consequence of leading an unhealthy lifestyle, which is a collection of behaviors that, over time, gradually degrades one’s overall health. Focusing on weight reduction alone will not help. If one can identify and improve the underlying unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, then the obesity gradually resolves.  

So, in clinic, we guide the focus of discussion away from ‘weight’ and towards permanent lifestyle-enhancing behavior change.    

After a thorough assessment, we generally start treatment by establishing a care plan with the family. For younger children, this process tends to be negotiated between the care team and the parents, not the child; young children should not have to feel any burden of responsibility for their health.  For older children, the parents and the child usually share these responsibilities in an individualized and developmentally appropriate manner. Usually we counsel around health-promoting behaviour change in three spheres: nutrition (e.g. how to cut down on sugar intake), movement (e.g. how to add more exercise to one’s day), and wellness (e.g. strategies to deal with low self-esteem and bullying). We define short-, medium-, and long-term goals for each sphere, and then we begin by tackling goals, one or two at a time.    

Kidzie: What are some things that your clinic is involved in that are innovative.

Dr. Flanders: Over the course of my career, I have developed an ever-growing concern about not only the medical/physical predispositions and adverse outcomes of obesity, but the mental health ones as well.

Obese children are more at risk of suffering from social stigma, bullying, depression, low-self esteem, emotional eating, and discrimination. Not only does obesity predispose to these, but many of these conditions are well known to cause or worsen obesity.  There will be little, if any, success treating obesity if the mental health piece is not adequately addressed.

This Fall, our Kindercare Pediatrics Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyle program will be piloting a new treatment program that will strive to address not only the physiological, but equally the psychological aspects of our patients’ obesity experience.

Kidzie: What are some common barriers to attaining a healthy weight?

Dr. Flanders: The biggest barrier is that our current environment stacks the odds highly against success when it comes to enabling children to lead healthier lifestyles.  Children and their parents are overwhelmed, day-in and day-out, by relentless incentives to eat poorly and live unhealthily.  Until our politicians and public health organizations initiate meaningful change in this regard, I am not optimistic that these barriers will be surmountable.   

Kidzie: If there is one piece of advice that parents can follow with respect to preventing overweight and obesity, what might that be?

Dr. Flanders: The most important thing that parents can do is to ‘keep a healthy home’. Although many environmental factors are leading to health erosion in our communities, your home can be a safe-haven from this. In a healthy home, the cabinets, pantries and refrigerators are filled with high quality foods like fresh/unprocessed fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, whole grain breads/cereals etc. Absent are poor quality ultra-processed foods laden with added salt, sugar and fats.  This isn’t to say that kids should never eat items such as cake, cookies, candy, or chocolate, but ideally these items are kept out of the daily meal and snack rotations; they are served less often, for special occasions, and ideally out of the home.  Keeping a healthy home also means preparing foods ‘from scratch’ and eating together as a family at the family table more often than not. Keeping a healthy home also means limiting screen time,  cutting down on sedentary behaviours and jumping on multiple opportunities to be physically active.  Finally, a home can only be healthy if those living in it feel safe, free from bullying and stigmatization no matter their weight, shape or size.  

Kidzie: Thanks so much Dr. Flanders!

UTEST Incubator

By Amitha & Adrienne, Co-Founders of Kidzie

We are excited to announce that Kidzie was recently accepted into the UTEST incubator in Toronto. UTEST is a joint initiative between the University of Toronto and MaRs Innovation for early-stage companies to gain mentorship, office space (in MaRs) and the opportunity to pitch for seed funding. It was a competitive process and we are pleased to join a few other companies in this years cohort. 

Amitha & Adrienne

Amitha & Adrienne

How Much Physical Activity is Recommended for Children?

By Dr. Angelo Belcastro, Guest Blogger & Kidzie Wellness Advisor

Dr. Angelo Belcastro, PhD, is a Professor and Chair of the School of Kinesiology & Health Science at York University, Chair of Healthy Active Kids Canada, and the Director of “KIN Kids: Children’s Guided Active Play Program,” associated with the Pediatric Exercise Science Laboratory at York University in Toronto Canada. He is a Kidzie Wellness Advisor for Physical Activity, and you can learn more about his work here.

As a physical activity researcher and the Director of KIN Kids Children’s Guided Active Play Program, parents often ask me questions around appropriate physical activity guidelines for children. Recommendations for appropriate amounts of physical activity for children in the Canadian population, including pre-and school-age children and youth, have been developed by several organizations and agencies. The Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) Physical Activity Guidelines, in conjunction with The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) has provided the following recommendations, which I often reference for parents:

  • For health benefits, children aged 5-11 years and youth aged 12-17 years should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. This should include:
    • Vigorous-intensity activities at least 3 days per week.
    • Activities that strengthen muscle and bone at least 3 days per week.
    • More daily physical activity provides greater health benefits.

By necessity, it is important for parents, grandparents and caregivers to recognize when children are (or are not) participating in moderate-to-vigorous and/or vigorous physical activity alone. To support families, PHAC has provided descriptive definitions and examples of what it means to be doing moderate and/or vigorous physical activity.

These include the following: 
a) moderate-intensity aerobic activity that makes you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. You should be able to talk, but not sing - examples of moderate-intensity physical activity include walking quickly, skating, bike riding and skateboarding. 

b) vigorous-intensity aerobic activity that further increases heart rate. You will not be able to say more than a few words without catching a breath - examples of vigorous activity include running, basketball, soccer and cross-country skiing.  

The challenge for families is to ensure their children are participating in at least 60 minutes of daily moderate-vigorous physical activity.  Unfortunately, the recent Canada Health Measures Survey indicated that only 7% of Canadian boys and girls are achieving this level and amount of physical activity. One of the most common reasons parents provide is that the concept of moderate-vigorous physical activity is unclear.

To overcome these challenges the our KIN Kids Program makes use of today’s technological advances (motion sensors, heart rate monitors) to quantify and record the level of moderate, vigorous and inactive time for families according to recommendations for the child’s age and gender. 

Parents can also opt for other ways to ensure an appropriate amount of moderate to vigorous activity time, such as:

  • Encourage family activities to get active 
  • Get them to skateboard, bike or run instead of getting a ride
  • Have them rake the leaves, shovel snow or carry the groceries 
  • Encourage them to dance to their favourite music
  • Replace computer and TV time with something active
  • Take kids to the playground or to the park to play
  • Reduce screen time

Quantifying the type and amount of physical activity a child participates in is essential to answering the question above - when do you know how much physical activity is enough to improve children’s health and fitness?



How a Registered Dietitian Can Help

By Registered Dietitian, Paula Ng, Guest Blogger & Kidzie Wellness Advisor

Paula Ng is a Registered Dietitian who works in a variety of different areas in the field of dietetics, including paediatric dietetics.

So you’ve probably heard about dieticians, but who are they really? What do they do, and where do they work? And more importantly, how can a dietitian help with my child’s health and wellness?

These are just a few of the many questions I receive as a Registered Dietitian (RD), and hopefully this article will give a little insight into the world of dietitians and answer some of these common questions.

What does it to mean to be a dietitian?

Registered Dietitians (RDs) in Canada are uniquely trained food and nutrition experts. They are the recognized experts in translating scientific, medical and nutrition information into practical healthy meal plans and helping individuals, their families and communities to access nutrition for health.  

Only individuals registered with the provincial regulatory body in which they practice can use the titles dietitian, Registered Dietitian, a variation or abbreviation or an equivalent in another language. The law protects these titles and the corresponding provincial College's Registrar of Dietitians maintains an updated list of RDs in practice. 
Standards to become and work as a dietitian include: 

  • an accredited 4-year or equivalent degree with appropriate courses in sciences and human nutrition, administration and humanities; 
  • an accredited dietetic internship or equivalent supervised practical training; 
  • successful completion of the Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination; and,
  • registration with a provincial regulatory body

 Where do dietitians work?

As health professionals, Registered Dietitians provide nutrition services in a variety of settings, such as: 

  • hospitals 
  • community health centres 
  • family health teams 
  • home care, hospitals 
  • long-term care homes 
  • diabetes education centres 
  • public health departments 
  • sports and recreation facilities 
  • food industry 
  • academic and research settings 
  • private practice

How do dietitians fit into the big picture?

Collaboration with clients, caregivers, and other health professionals is central to dietetic practice whether the RD works in a private practice or as a member of a health care team with health professionals such as medical doctors, nurses, pharmacists and social workers. Together, they manage nutrition for health promotion, disease prevention, and treatment of acute and chronic diseases. 

How can dietitians help my child’s health and wellness?

In paediatrics, RDs can help with food sensitivities, allergies, problematic picky eating behaviours, eating disorders and nutrition related diseases like diabetes and obesity. In fact, this is a large part of my role at a large primary care paediatrics clinic!

Many parents search online for nutrition or diet information. I recommend verifying online information with your physician or RD to ensure the advice provided is appropriate for your child. You can access the services of an RD by consulting your physician or other primary care provider, by searching online for a “Registered Dietitian” in your area or by going to www.dietitians.ca and clicking on “Find a Dietitian.” 

Free and reliable nutrition information is available through Eat Right Ontario, “Ask a Dietitian”. This service provides a direct link to Registered Dietitians to answer your questions. Call 1-877-510-5102 or visit www.eatrightontario.ca.

Phew! That’s a lot of information – hopefully this clarifies some of the most common questions parents have around dietitians. Happy eating!

Adapted from:

What to expect when you visit a Registered Dietitian (2014)

About Registered Dietitians (2014)

Dietitian - A Protected Title (2014)

Do the MedRec 1-2-3!

By Pharmacist, Victoria Siu, Guest Blogger & Kidzie Wellness Advisor

Victoria Siu, RPh, BScPharm, PharmD, is a pharmacist with a passion for community- based healthcare. Victoria practices primary care, home care and transitional care planning throughout the GTA. As a clinician, researcher and advocate for medication management, Victoria helps individuals and their families manage to transition home safely after their recovery at Bridgepoint Active Healthcare. Follow Victoria on Twitter here.

School is out for the summer, pens and paper tucked away until the next school year and kids are at play in the community. For this reason, summer is a good time for parents to pick up a pen to update their child’s list of medications in case of an emergency. This is especially important for kids who are regularly taking medicine and need supervision by caregivers either at home, day camp or overnight camp!

Although visits to the hospital and emergency department are uncommon; the rate of bad reaction to medications and preventable medication mistakes in hospital are not uncommon; up to 6% and 10% respectively. In fact, data from a pediatric hospital reported that children under age five had a four times greater risk of medication errors.

While your child is in the hospital, your health care team needs to know what medications your child takes at home. But a number of confounding factors often lead to nurses and physicians gathering an incomplete medication history that turn into ordering medications that are not appropriate. 

You can help keep your child safe during unexpected visits to the hospital by preventing these mistakes from happening!

Parents can prepare to help reduce medication errors by being part of a hospital process called Medication Reconciliation (MedRec). The purpose of a MedRec is to provide an accurate and complete record of medications being taken. In turn, the list can be used for writing medication orders when your child is admitted, moved to another unit, or discharged. MedRec is a simple process that should be completed by healthcare professionals and double-checked by parents within 24 to 72 hours of entering a hospital.

According to the Pediatric Medication Reconciliation Collaborative, MedRec has three steps; 1. LIST medications used at home, 2. COMPARE home medications to hospital orders, 3. RECONCILE any medication changes or discrepancies that have been made in hospital.  


Create an accurate list of all medications including prescription, non-prescription (over-the counter), herbal supplements, vitamins and complementary and alternative regimens that your child is taking at home. Key information for the list includes drug or product name, purpose, dose and strength, how frequently it is given and how it is administered; such as by mouth, puffers, topically etc. Read more here.


Ask your health care team, like the pharmacist, physician or nurse at the hospital about medications ordered for your child as soon as possible following admission, unit transfer or discharge. Compare information about drug name, purpose, dose, frequency, duration and how drug is administered with your prior list from home. Read more here.


While your child is in the hospital, the health care team may need to make some changes to the medications your child takes. If you have any questions, ask your healthcare team especially about medication changes; such as new additions, adjustments or discontinuations that have been made to ensure changes were made intentionally and not by mistake. Read more here.

MedRec is a simple but effective three-step process that helps make the health care system safer in many ways. It reduces the chance of your child having a bad reaction to, or mistake with medications. It gives health care providers an accurate list of medications your child is taking. Most importantly, it gives parents a chance to make sure they understand their child’s medications.

Now as a MedRec informed parent, routinely checking whether a MedRec has been completed by health care providers in any health care setting can protect your child from medication-related accidents.

Four Summer Book Ideas for Kids

Summer is a great time for running around on a grassy field, climbing the jungle gym, splashing through sprinklers and roasting marshmallows by the campfire. But summer is also a wonderful time for reading.

Over at the Huffington Post, Amitha Kalaichandran writes:

Summer is a great time for reading. In fact, encouraging child literacy is a very key part of healthy child development. We also know that reading is a great option to avoid excessive screentime; children under the age of two should have no screentime at all, and limited amounts as they get older.
— Amitha Kalaichandran, Huffington Post

In her article, Amitha shares with us her pick of four childrens' books for the summer with a focus on valuable lessons and wellness. Read the article and see her list of books here.

7 Tips for a Safe and Kid-friendly Summer

Summer is often a child's favourite time of year, when the sun is shining, the grass is green, there are lots of fun things to do and everyone is playing outside. Keeping a few safety tips in mind can go along way in keeping your children safe. A recent Huffington Post article gives us 7 priceless tips to keep in mind this summer. Read about these tips in detail, after the jump.

Summer is almost officially here — the weather is finally warmer, school is almost out and most of us are gearing up for a season full of fun activities. Yet summer is also the season where accidents, particularly in children, are more frequent. May of these accidents can be prevented and a number of pediatric advocacy groups and children’s hospitals have created information around prevention strategies.
— Amitha Kalaichandran, Huffington Post

More #kidzievoices - The 'Job' Series

About #kidzievoices: Back in April, we had the opportunity to chat with various parents at a child-friendly café in downtown Toronto as well as at a child-focused community centre in Scarborough. Over the next couple months, we will share with you, through our #kidzievoices project, what each parent had to say. Our hope that it will both inspire you as well as make you feel like part of a much greater parenting community. 

What's the hardest thing about being a parent? "...It's a full time job."

What's the hardest thing about being a parent? "...It's a full time job."

How does it feel to be a parent? "...like I have the hardest but most rewarding job in the world."

How does it feel to be a parent? "...like I have the hardest but most rewarding job in the world."

#kidzievoices Continued

About #kidzievoices: Back in April, we had the opportunity to chat with various parents at a child-friendly café in downtown Toronto as well as at a child-focused community centre in Scarborough. Over the next couple months, we will share with you, through our #kidzievoices project, what each parent had to say. Our hope that it will both inspire you as well as make you feel like part of a much greater parenting community. 

What's the hardest thing about being a parent? "Being worried all the time...is my baby ok? Am I being a good mom?

What's the hardest thing about being a parent? "Being worried all the time...is my baby ok? Am I being a good mom?

What's the hardest thing about being a parent? "Eating soup & soft food all the time!"

What's the hardest thing about being a parent? "Eating soup & soft food all the time!"


Back in April, we had the opportunity to chat with various parents at a child-friendly café in downtown Toronto as well as at a child-focused community centre in Scarborough. Over the next couple months, we will share with you, through our #kidzievoices project, what each parent had to say. Our hope that it will both inspire you as well as make you feel like part of a much greater parenting community. 

How does it feel to be a parent? "It's perfect! One of the greatest experiences in life."

How does it feel to be a parent? "It's perfect! One of the greatest experiences in life."

How does it feel to be a parent? "Life's greatest blessing. Sometimes joyful. Sometimes vulnerable."

How does it feel to be a parent? "Life's greatest blessing. Sometimes joyful. Sometimes vulnerable."

Introducing #kidzievoices

Blog post by Amitha & Adrienne, Co-Founders of Kidzie

Charles Dickens once wrote “how paramount the future is to the present when one is surrounded by children.”  Indeed, whether you are a parent, teacher, or anyone that works with children, we are reminded with every interaction that the world we are creating now is essentially what will be left as our legacy, for future generations.

Here at Kidzie, we are committed to helping parents access credible health information, as well as keep updated on specific tips related to children’s health and well-being. We know that in order to create the best app we can, one that is accessible to everyone, we need to continually engage parents from all backgrounds, cultures, and parenting styles.

We had the opportunity to do just this last month, at a child-friendly café in downtown Toronto and at a child-focused community centre in Scarborough. 

It was incredible to chat with moms and dads – all who want the best for their children – about some of their experiences around parenting.  Lets just say that we learned a lot.  Parents filled out their personal answers to two questions we asked: “How does it feel like to be a parent?” “What’s the best thing about being a parent?” The answers will inspire and uplift, while also being relatable.

Being a parent can be tough, but still incredible rewarding.  Technology has made things easier in some ways, but difficult in other ways, particularly as it relates to information overload. All of that said, some of the simple moments around parenting – such as time shared doing an activity, chatting with a child about their hopes and dreams, and just being a role model for a balanced life, can be the most rewarding.  It is incredible how, now matter where you come from, parenting is universal in many ways. 

Dickens was certainly right – being surrounded by so many children, not to mention their parents, really helped cement why we are on this mission to create the best possible app we can – to make life a little easier, happier, and healthier, one child at a time.

Over the next couple months, we will share with you what each parent had to say. And we'll call this our #kidzievoices project. Our hope that it will both inspire you as well as make you feel like part of a much greater parenting community. We’ll start off with our first two!

What's the hardest thing about being a parent? "Questioning if you are doing the right thing for your child."

What's the hardest thing about being a parent? "Questioning if you are doing the right thing for your child."

How does it feel to be a parent? "It feels like I've given birth to my heart."

How does it feel to be a parent? "It feels like I've given birth to my heart."

5 Questions with Dr. Jenkins

Kidzie is very excited to have Dr. David Jenkins join our Medical Advisory Board. Dr. Jenkins is a world leader in nutrition and is currently Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Toronto. You can read more about his work here.

We had a chance to ask Dr. Jenkins some of our burning questions about nutrition for children and here’s what he said!

Kidzie: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some of our questions! Lets get started. This is one of the biggest questions we get. In general, what are the top 5 healthy foods children should consume more of?

Dr. Jenkins: 

  1. In general I think plant foods are important. We are learning more about the benefits of a “plant-based diet” in adults as well as children. 
  2. Increasing fruit and vegetable intake. 
  3. Legumes (e.g. beans). Options for alternative “sandwich” spreads such as  hummus instead of other types of processed spreads are a good way to increase legume intake, and therefore a source of protein and fiber.
  4. Increasing intake of nuts, for those that are not allergic. There is emerging evidence now that shows that nut exposure early in life might prevent nut allergy in later life.
  5. Barley and oats – these are alternative grains that can be used in stews and breakfast cereal, and help keep children “full” for longer.

While not a food, physical activity is also an important part of any diet or lifestyle recommendation. Kids should be encouraged to get out and play, choose activities that they enjoy to get their body moving.

Kidzie: Great advice! Now there is a lot of discussion around glycemic index and glycemic load. In fact, you founded the concept of the glycemic index that paved the way for a new understanding of nutrition! What is the difference, and why is it important for every parent to be aware of these concepts when choosing healthier options for their children?

Dr. Jenkins: Glycemic index is independent of the amount consumed, that is, it is a fixed number that is based on the rate of carbohydrate release from food, compared to a control food (e.g. glucose or white bread) – a high index means a faster rate of carbohydrate release. Glycemic load is the product of the glycemic index and the quantity of the food consumed. For instance, if the glycemic index of a white potato is 80 and the amount if 15g, the glycemic load is 80 x 15g. This is useful to know as the load of seemingly healthy foods that have a low glycemic index in a regular serving (e.g. half a cup of baby carrots), when consumed in large quantities through many servings, can near the glycemic load of smaller quantities of other foods (e.g. a few pieces of candy).  

Foods such as barley and oats have a low glycemic index and in one serving provide a low glycemic load that may not lead to a measurable rise in blood sugar, while preventing blood sugar from falling too low during the day. They thus are a source of continuous energy throughout the day. In general, unprocessed foods (e.g. barley, bulgar, tabouleh salad, sweet potatoes)) are lower on the glycemic index. Fruits such as berries, apples, oranges, tangerines, are also lower on the glycemic index and in adults have been shown to be associated with improvements in blood pressure, blood sugar, and possible weight maintenance and weight loss in overweight individuals. These are all morbidities that we see more of in children these days.

Kidzie: As a researcher, what is the biggest change you have seen in nutrition advice over the last 10 years?    

Dr. Jenkins: Undoubtedly the biggest change is that fat has been taken off the “bad list” – and that we have distinguished between different types of fat. The trans fats and the animal saturated fats are considered harmful, and so we have recommended against consumption of these fats in high amounts. Vegetable fats such as olive oil and nuts are thought to be healthy, given they represent monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. So it comes down to understanding that fat doesn’t “make you fat” necessarily, and that it is important to choose the right source and use it appropriately. The bottom line is to put oil (e.g. extra virgin olive oil) on your food (e.g. vegetables) after cooking, and avoid deep frying it.

Kidzie: How can everyday parents advocate for better nutrition in schools and in places where children frequent (e.g. community centers, sports facilities)?

Dr. Jenkins: There are many ways they can be involved in advocacy. For instance, getting to know individuals on the school board and various school committees who make decisions about food choices, such as ensuring that fresh fruit is available. It would be great to see old practices come back – such as home economics classes, where children can learn about preparing and cooking healthy foods from a variety of cultures. 

Kidzie: Finally, as a parent of 2 healthy grown children, what was your biggest challenge in encouraging your children to eat healthy foods when they were young? And what advice would you give to parents now?

Dr. Jenkins: Children are social animals, who like to go out and eat with their friends, some of whom who might not be eating “healthy food” and might be more taken with brightly colored synthetic foods and drinks. As a parent it is difficult to discourage them given the social aspect of food. When my children were younger, my wife and I would always try to keep healthy foods at home. Now that our children are older, they have a different response to food, and are often more conservative than we are in choosing healthy foods. So, my advice would be for parents to role model healthy eating habits and allow for treats occasionally. And don’t give up as they might end up outdoing you!

Thank you so much, Dr. Jenkins!

Early Bedtime and Bedtime Routines for Your Toddler

By Alanna McGInn, Guest Blogger

Alanna McGinn is a Certified Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant and Founder of Good Night Sleep Site – a Global Pediatric and Family Sleep Team. She provides free child and family sleep support through her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She invites you to join her sleep community as she works towards Good Night Sleep Site’s mission of a healthier rested family unit. For more sleep tips please visit Good Night Sleep Site.

What if I told you there are steps you can take to eliminate nightly bedtime battles before you even leave your child’s bedroom? Part 1 of Toddler Sleep Help explains how practicing an early bedtime and consistent bedtime routine can help eliminate common bedtime struggles associated with toddler sleep issues.

Try an Earlier Bedtime

It’s understandable in today’s society that we are putting our kids to bed later and later. Your picking up from daycare/preschool, coming home from work, sitting down to dinner and before you know it it’s 9:00 pm. It’s important though that we make more of an effort to get our toddlers to sleep earlier to avoid putting down an overtired child. Overtired children with too late a bedtime can give you bedtime battles, night wakings, and even early morning risings. Sometimes all it takes is shifting that bedtime 15-30 minutes earlier and suddenly your child accepts sleep much easier.

Practice a Consistent Bedtime Routine

Having a consistent bedtime routine where you practice the same thing every night helps prepare your child for sleep. Children thrive off of routine and this can be practiced at any age. Think about it for a minute – don’t you have your own nightly routine to help prepare yourself for bed? Give yourself 30 minutes before your child’s set bedtime to allow enough time to have a nice relaxed routine where your focus is to calm your child and get him ready for bed. This is a great opportunity as well to get some attachment time in with your little one that you may have missed out on during your busy day. Keeping the bedtime routine in a consistent environment, like his bedroom, will help in the preparation for sleep.

A typical toddler bedtime routine can include:

  • Bath (doesn’t have to be every night.)
  • Story time
  • Diaper or potty
  • Brushing teeth
  • Bedtime song
  • Cuddles

Have your child pick out his own lovey or comfort item that he can bring into bed with him and then try and leave the room before he falls asleep. This way when he wakes up throughout the night he’s not wondering where you are. A fantastic sleep gadget which is a great introduction to any bedtime routine is a behavior modification light.  It’s not only great for helping him get excited about bedtime but it encourages him to stay in his room until your set time to get up in the morning. Make it fun! Program the light and sit on the bed with him and wait for it to turn on. Communicate with him and get him excited about it.

Early bedtimes and bedtime routines need to be practiced consistently so that your toddler adapts to it easily and quickly. Here is your challenge, should you choose to accept it. For the next week – that’s 7 days, 6 nights – give my tips a try. Bump up bedtime 30 minutes earlier than usual and practice a nice calming bedtime routine, and report back here to let me know how it goes. Practice these steps consistently and you will see progress. Good luck!

Should I Give My Baby Probiotics?

By Kids Nutritionist, Aviva Allen, Guest Blogger

Aviva Allen is Toronto's leading Kids' Nutritionist specializing in helping parents deal with their picky eaters.  Aviva helps children and their families establish healthy eating habits through her nutritional counselling practice located in midtown Toronto. Aviva is also the founder of Healthy Moms Toronto, helping connect like-minded moms throughout the GTA.

In my nutrition practice, one of the most common questions I receive from parents is “Should I give my baby a probiotic supplement?”  To answer this question, let us first have a look at what probiotics are and when they may be most beneficial to our health. 

Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, may confer health benefits on the host.  We often associate the use of probiotics with promoting digestive health, however, new research also shows benefits to our immune health.  This is not surprising considering that our gut may play a role in immunity.

When a baby is born, they are considered to be microbiologically sterile and the colonization of bacteria in an infant’s intestines begins immediately after birth.  The types of strains that a newborn’s gut microflora is composed of will be influenced by a number of factors including the circumstances of the birth (vaginal birth vs. c-section, home vs. hospital birth) and what the infant is fed (breast milk vs. formula) as well as the use of antibiotics in the gestational period, during labour or when given directly to the infant. 

The combination of these factors plus the current state of the infant’s health will determine the need for a probiotic supplement.  For example, is the infant experiencing gassiness, colic, reflux or constipation?  If there is a family history of allergic conditions such as asthma, allergies or eczema, probiotics may also be beneficial.  A recent study published in the British Medical Journal, stated that the:  “the probiotic seemed to prevent atopic sensitisation to common food allergens and so reduce the incidence of atopic eczema in early childhood…Administration of probiotics in early life may have a role in the prevention of atopic sensitisation.”

If a need for probiotics is identified, then the next things to consider would be which one and how much?  Different strains or probiotics will offer different benefits. The Canadian Pediatric Society published a position paper in 2012 on the use of probiotics in children and notes that:  “The efficacy of probiotics is both strain- and disease-specific, and any probiotic must be provided in adequate amount. Physicians need to be more aware of the differences among probiotic preparations, and government agencies should be involved in regulating the viability and composition of probiotic products.”

An infant’s digestive tract will contain unique strains of bacteria compared to that of an adult so they would require an infant-specific probiotic supplement.  In my experience, a probiotic formula containing multiple strains of probiotics is ideal, but there are often times when a specific strain can be more beneficial.  It is always best to consult with a healthcare practitioner who has knowledge in this area to determine which specific strains or formulas would be most beneficial for your baby.  

The Importance of Physical Activity

By Jane Thornton, Guest Blogger

Jane Thornton, MD, PhD (Sports Medicine), is an Olympian and World Champion rower for Canada, and a resident doctor in primary care. She works in Switzerland and Canada as a clinician, researcher, and global advocate for physical activity in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease. Jane is also an Athlete Ambassador for Right to Play.

Childhood obesity. Sitting disease. Too much screen time. New phrases that didn’t exist for previous generations are now household words… and frankly, they are all a little scary. According to the WHO, physical activity levels start declining from the age a child enters school. Fewer than 20% of kids worldwide are sufficiently active by the age of 13-15 years old.

In Canada, it’s even worse. Ninety-four percent of Canadian children do not meet the minimum physical activity guidelines (60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day), according to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. 
It’s enough to make you want to bury your head in the sand and avoid the subject entirely.

I get it.  As an adult, getting enough exercise, or staying “physically fit” (whatever that means) is tough enough - and sometimes downright confusing. We are constantly being told to modify our lifestyles before they kill us, but no one really tells us how, unless it’s the rah-rah chant of a personal trainer who seems to have been born fit.  We hear a lot about the obesity epidemic, especially in children... but what can we do with extracurricular programs being cut, and suburban sprawl forcing us into cars and buses instead of walking or biking, and most of us – adults and children alike – spending too much time sitting, watching screens?

It can feel overwhelming to know where and how to help our kids move just a little bit more. And even if we manage to motivate ourselves enough to nudge them off the couch, not everyone feels instantly destined to trade in their iPads for running shoes.

As a former Olympic rower who represented Canada for a decade, I have to make a confession here: I hated gym class too. 

I was the last one picked for teams, and totally uncoordinated; so much so that for high jump they even had to remove the bar so I could somehow scissor kick myself onto the mat. I passed the ball to the wrong team, I couldn’t touch my toes, and I dreaded any time someone told me to try and ‘run’. I couldn’t even jog around the block! 

But a major shift in my life happened when I turned 14 years old. I had settled into a routine I had grown to love – coming home after school to potato chips and hours of computer games. Then I was introduced to the sport of rowing – not by desire but because we had to drive my best friend to her first Learn-to-Row practice. Another spot became available. I don’t know what prompted my mother to sign me up, or me to accept – but that very moment was likely the most pivotal of my life.

I started to row, and I hated it: the hard work, the constant being-bad-at-something feeling. I was out of shape and technically terrible…but something inexplicable kept me coming back. I had traded chips and a computer for exercising with friends in nature. Pretty soon, my grades improved, my health improved, I started eating better, my social circles widened, and I became motivated to strive for higher goals. All out of almost nowhere - such was the power of physical activity for me as a teenager.

My story isn’t typical, I know. But the changes that come with physical activity are. Sometimes called the ‘miracle pill’, exercise confers a host of benefits on mental, physical and emotional health – giving kids a second chance. It is proven to improve grades, concentration, and our immune systems, while preventing depression, diabetes, and many chronic diseases.

As doctors, we don’t always do a good job in talking about exercise with patients. The excuse is often lack of time or compensation, or lack of belief in their patients’ ability to achieve the prescribed goals… but when you ask patients, 4 out of 5 want exercise advice from their doctors.  We can do better.

I often encourage people to begin by learning what they can on their own. To start, it may be helpful to check out this site from the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology.  For more in-depth information, the Canadian Pediatric Society has a great statement here.  Always ask your doctor, especially if you have specific concerns – enough people asking may turn the tide on our hesitancy! 

No matter how old your child is, there is hope. While periods of inactivity, too much screen time, and being under- or overweight are not exactly ideal, many of the deleterious effects can be reversed or decreased by simply becoming a little more physically active. 

While true behaviour change is multi-faceted, every time we stand up and take action for our kids’ physical fitness instead of remaining sitting, it is worth it. We just may surprise ourselves and start enjoying it, too! Happy exercising.