A week or so into his first term of kindergarten, my eldest son came home asking to listen to "balloon bellies." After some investigation, I came to understand that he was referring to a meditation. Specifically, a Smiling Mind breath meditation.
Considering Isaac's previous listening requests had consisted almost exclusively of The Greatest Showman Soundtrack and Scatman by Scatman John (honestly), I knew Smiling Mind must be on to something.
It turned out his class were undertaking a daily meditation practice after lunchtime, with the help of Smiling Mind. Isaac told me it made him feel calm and ready to learn ("and I've only fallen asleep ONCE, Mum!"). Cue: frantic downloading of the app and a personal mission to make this part of our lives.
When did you start meditating? What prompted you to start?<p>I started meditating just after becoming a mother, now almost 15 years ago! I think it was a combination of intense sleep deprivation and no longer having the energy to resist it after so many friends trying to rope me in that meant I just jumped into it.</p><p>I was busy building a business and adjusting to motherhood – and I had, for so long, said to my friends who recommended it I was 'too busy' to meditate. Of course I now know that is EXACTLY why I needed it and when it works most effectively – oh the benefit of hindsight.</p>
How long did it take for you to notice a difference in your mood/day/life as a result of meditation?<p>Almost immediately. Like anything you are training, making it a regular part of your life and embedding it into a routine it certainly compounds over time. However, I felt different within days of beginning. Even after quite a short session your body certainly feels different – I really notice this when doing our meditations in groups or with my family from our new families program.</p><p>Even if just five minutes, people come out of the meditations and there is a much greater sense of calm in the room.<br>In addition – it has been clinically proven that a positive impact can be felt as soon as after 10 consecutive days of 10-minute sessions. It really is unlike anything else that we all have access to, to help ourselves be at our best – I call it a gift!</p>
What does your meditation practice look like today?<p>Most days I try and meditate first thing in the morning as part of my routine which normally starts around 5am. I combine it with a number of rituals such as reciting of mantras, a session of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) with Brad Yates and an 'appreciation rampage' in a journal. My favourite meditations at the moment are loving kindness meditations, I find this helps me maintain more positivity and empathy throughout the day.</p><p>In saying that, some days not all parts of this routine go to plan, and that's fine too. I will then try and squeeze in a session at another time during the day. Like physical exercise we all fall off the wagon sometimes – it's just a matter of getting back on the next day, or as soon as we possibly can without beating ourselves up about falling off in the first place!</p>
Do you encourage your children to meditate? If so, how often and how do you go about it?<p>Yes I do, mainly at acute times when they really need it. They do some at school and the number one thing that is most crucial with young people meditating is not to force anything or liken it to any kind of 'chore' – it means they won't engage with it when they perhaps need it most.</p><p>They often do use sessions when they are going to sleep at night, a few months back we launched a sleep program so they definitely find that useful.</p>
Can you tell us about your career prior to Smiling Mind?<p>I have had my own business since I was 25 years old. I started out in Marketing + PR and founded an agency as my first business building this up over 9 years before selling to the Bastion Group in 2009. I then took some time off to spend with my boys and get more involved in my local community before starting Smiling Mind in 2012.</p><p>Since then I have predominantly invested in, advised and run ventures in the tech space and sold one business, Shout, to ANZ Bank.</p>
Can you share some details about your Thank You books?<p>I was working with a friend the year before I started my agency and she had the idea for the books and we decided to work on them together creating a series of six books each with original statements to friends, lovers and family members of things we should be grateful for.</p><p>They were published in 2004 and had an additional print run as they were so popular. I think it was my first foray into the importance of gratitude and saying thank you to people in our lives that mean so much. Now I try and embed that into my morning routine with my 'appreciation rampage' and our 'three great things' that we each talk about over the dinner table each night.</p>
What inspired the launch of Smiling Mind?<p>It was having the time to be more involved in my local community, in particular, the boys' primary school and noticing such high levels of anxiety for the stage and quality of life the young people were experiencing.</p><p>I caught up with James Tutton (now my co-Founder) and he asked what I was going to do next and I said I was working on the concept of a wellbeing app for young people, he was looking at programs out of Harvard and UCLA combining Mindfulness and education – so we decided then and there to combine our ideas and provide a truly scalable, accessible model and deliver a positive, pre-emptive mental health tool to as many people across the country (or world!) as possible.</p>
The merging of tech and mindfulness/meditation must not be an easy combination. What was the process like in the development of the app?<p>Meditation sessions are actually well structured to be recorded and delivered by technology – and the use of digital also means that we can ensure there is a good amount of personalisation and data capture.</p><p>In saying that, when James and I first pulled together the plan for Smiling Mind there were many people who believed that meditation should not be combined with technology. We certainly had more disbelievers than believers! We managed to have a few people who truly believed in our vision and we thank them still to this day, without them this wonderful tool would not exist.</p>
Can you tell us about the app and the organisation today?<p>As a not for profit with minimal Government and philanthropic funding until quite recently, I am constantly astounded at all the great things our team achieves with so little. We have had more than 4.5 million people download our application, more than 100,000 educators that utilise our platform and services and have started to secure more substantial funding which enables us to do more and build on the financial support that we have been able to develop from our Corporate Program.</p><p>We have made so much progress and, luckily for us, there is more and more focus on prevention in mental health which means we will only continue to grow, innovate and drive hard towards our goal of helping every mind thrive and reaching 5 million young people.</p>
What do you think has been the key to the success of Smiling Mind?<p>The fundamental 'why' and purpose of the company. At the heart of it, James and I started Smiling Mind as we want everyone to have the opportunity to be their best selves. We have both always been so grateful for the part meditation has played in our professional and personal lives and wanted young people to be able to have exposure to the same gift from as early in their lives as possible.</p><p>Even if you do not do it every day, once you have been exposed to it I truly believe you feel the difference when you don't do it. And it's a tool that you will always have in your back pocket and will inevitably find yourself calling on.</p>
What has been the most challenging period thus far in the creation/growth/maintenance of the business?<p>Definitely funding. James and I never wanted to profit from Smiling Mind and wanted accessibility to be at the heart of the organisation so it made sense for it to be a not for profit structure. However, this has been challenging noting that it is tech-led and many of the funding sources for not for profits have taken a while to understand the delivery model and the fact that the organisation is a platform is a huge advantage.</p><p>Probably also forming the right team for growth has taken us a while also – but we are certainly there now and have a very special group of individuals working with us that will take Smiling Mind to the next level.</p>
You’ve built this incredible platform - that is key to so many people’s well-being - while raising three children. How have you managed the juggle?<p>Life is a juggle, sometimes a struggle, sometimes brilliant. That's the whole point. I have just rolled my sleeves up and done whatever I needed to do at whatever time I needed to do it. The joy is in the journey, and that will rarely go smoothly but that is by far when I have learnt the most about myself and life in general.</p>
Do you employ the notion of "the village” when raising your children? If so, where do you look to for help?<p>For sure. Well definitely my parents, I would not have survived without their help with the boys. But equally my friends in the local community and at the boys' school – always helping with lifts to various sporting or school commitments, sleepovers or just generally keeping an eye on each of our wayward teens.</p>
What does an average morning look like for you?<p>In short – early rising is the key followed by a form of gratitude expression, meditation and general mental health/ positivity activity to set me up for the day. I also have two dogs so walk or run them and do some form of strength and conditioning if I can fit it in.</p><p>Lemon juice in water and herbs (yuk but good for me!) from my Chinese doc – then its usually the school run, or if it is Matt's week with the boys, straight to meetings/ the office getting my take away coffee on the way. That's my favourite part of the morning as I go to lots of different places and really enjoy connecting with the person behind the counter/coffee machine and really tasting and enjoying the coffee they make me!</p>
What about evenings?<p>These are hectic on the week I have the boys – most days I have to play Uber-mom taking them to various commitments and then straight home to prepare dinner. I use a combination of my own sourcing and Hello Fresh so on the nights I have a lot more running around I can prepare a quick, healthy meal without thinking too much about it!</p><p>The boys will often have a mate for dinner which I love and really encourage – anyone is welcome! So then I will tidy up, organise things for the next day and even though the boys are teenagers I still tuck them in. The time I have with them is precious so I have just kept doing it until they tell me it's uncool (I am sure that wave is coming!)</p><p>If it's my solo week I will catch up with friends, go to the movies, enjoy a date (!), read a lot and always have a family dinner on the same night each week which is a ritual we all love and is central to our family rhythm and connection.</p>
Do you have any vices?<p>Of course! Wine would definitely be #1, closely followed by any kind of cheese and chocolate.</p>
Do you feel mother’s guilt? If so, how do you tackle it?<p>I used to but never do now. Hell no! Life is too short to feel bad. I have learnt this serves no one, especially not me or the boys. They know I love them more than anything, I am always here for them and everything in between is just noise.</p><p>I certainly make an effort and always choose flexible work options to make sure I am present when I want and need to be, aside from that I want to show them how to make the most of life and all the opportunities you have.</p>
Aside from meditation, how do you look after yourself?<p>I exercise daily, short bursts of 20-30 minutes but make sure I do something every day and this has been working much better for me than trying to get to the gym for an hour class. I do yoga a few times a month and make sure I get a massage about the same amount each month. I swear by Blys – they come to your house and the massages are always fantastic.</p>
What are some of the benefits of meditation when it comes to our children?<p>Meditation is a form of attention training so it certainly has a large impact on the ability to focus and be more productive. However, there are so many other benefits – increased levels of empathy and connection with others, increased ability to regulate emotions and a general feeling of wellbeing. Oh and of course a really important one – improved sleep!</p>
At what age can our children start a meditation practice? How do you suggest we start?<p>This year Smiling Mind launched an ELC program so young people can start as young as 4 years of age. But starting at any age is perfect – it's never too late.</p><p>Best way to start is with An Intro to Mindfulness on the Smiling Mind app. This way you can slowly build up your daily minutes and be walked through the process and benefits.</p>
What other ways do you encourage mindfulness in your home?<p>We always sit down for dinner together with no distractions, this is a mandated time to be together and talk about our day. I also remove phones at night and don't allow them back until the boys are 100% ready in the mornings, bags are packed, etc. And if I give them a lift anywhere phones are away, otherwise, they can catch public transport and be on their phones all they like (this one works well!).</p><p>I also love flowers and candles and both visual and physical ways to make the home environment as peaceful and appealing as possible.</p>
Classic boots. Gorgeous mules. Are there any more coveted styles of shoes in a mother's wardrobe? We don't think so.
Coveting the perfect pair is one thing. But finding them is another entirely. Which is exactly how Brigitte Sharp felt when she decided to launch her range of direct to consumer luxury footwear – Lou.
Can you tell us about your career path to date?<p>My career path has not been a linear one. After graduating from university, I lived in Chicago and worked as an analyst for a commercial finance company. I quickly learned that finance was not my calling, and after years of dreaming about moving to New York City to work in the fashion industry, I quit my job and moved the following summer. I applied for every fashion assistant role I could find, and after much persistence and a bit of luck, I was offered a position in the women's production department at Marc by Marc Jacobs. I was completely green and had no clue what production even was, but I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity, so I immediately said yes! It was a complete whirlwind, and I had to learn everything on the job. I was very fortunate to work with senior leaders who had amazing experience and knowledge. Working at such an established company gave me a very strong foundational training.</p><p>After 4 years at MJ, I was ready for a new challenge and craved a more hands-on role. I accepted a position overseeing product development and production at Cushnie et Ochs, which at the time, was a very small, young brand. I worked directly with the co-founders and designers through every stage of the product life cycle. Sampling and production was exclusively done in New York City, so the exposure I received through working with the best factories, pattern-makers, and suppliers was invaluable.</p><p>After another 4 years working with Cushnie et Ochs, my husband was offered a job in his home town of Austin, Texas, and we moved down here just over 3 years ago. Although I had always loved Austin, it was a bit of a culture shock in the beginning. I decided to start consulting, since it would allow me to keep doing what I loved, but with a more flexible schedule. I worked with so many unique, young brands, and it forced me to step out of my comfort zone, producing products that I ordinarily wouldn't have if I stayed in NYC. Getting to know the founders of these independent brands, who stayed true to their own vision and aesthetic, inspired me to finally branch out and build a brand of my own.</p>
Did you always know you wanted a career in fashion?<p>Yes, although back then, I didn't understand what having a career in fashion meant. When I was a kid I would steal my mom's fashion magazines and become completely immersed in this glamorous world that felt so foreign to me, growing up in the Midwest. </p>
What inspired the launch of Lou?<p>When I became pregnant with my daughter, Simone, I thought a lot about the kind of role model I wanted to be for her. I had been feeling a bit burnt out with consulting, and I was craving a more creative outlet. The same day Simone was born, my grandmother passed away. Having two significant life events occur on the same day made me fully understand how beautiful, but also how fragile, life is. It's what ultimately gave me the courage to start my own business.</p>
What is your vision in Lou and the shoes you create for the modern woman?<p>When designing Lou's debut collection, I wanted to create shoes that were timeless and elegant in design, without sacrificing comfort or quality. I like to experiment with contrasts, finding the balance between minimal embellishment and rich texture, or a masculine aesthetic with a feminine twist. More than anything, I wanted to develop shoes that would become cherished items in a woman's closet. The shoes you reach for time after time, because they're a seamless addition to your wardrobe. </p>
How would you define your own personal style, and how does this play a role in the creation of Lou and your shoes?<p>I lean towards a more minimalist, clean and classic style. I also love menswear-inspired pieces. Lou is an extension of myself, so my personal style has definitely translated into the brand. I chose the name Lou because it's the casual, boyish nickname of Louise, which is my daughter's and my middle name. </p>
How has becoming a mother changed your approach to business?<p>Motherhood has made me more purposeful, and I value my time much more. As a business owner, this has made me a more efficient worker, because if I'm not working, I'd rather be spending time with my family. Becoming a mother has also made me think more about the future, and the future my husband and I want to provide for our children. It's now very important to me to build a company that aligns with my values and vision. My goal is to achieve long term success, not quick, fleeting success.</p>
What about style? Has becoming a mother shifted the way you dress every day?<p>Becoming a mom has inspired me to embrace uniform dressing. Before I had my daughter, I had more time in the morning and evening to choose and style an outfit. Now, I'm always on the go, and I reach for what I know will work with my body and my daily schedule. It's still very important to me to maintain my personal style because we all want to leave the house feeling great about how we look. That's one of the reasons I love fashion. It can transform your attitude and have an emotional impact on your day. Clothing is our armor.</p>
What is the outfit you reach for on a day to day basis?<p>I'm expecting our second child early in the new year, so to accommodate my growing mid-section, I reach for one of two outfits – my form-fitting knit dresses in neutral colors, or my black jeans paired with a bodysuit. I've learned that sticking to a monochrome palette and showing off my bump is more flattering for my body type. Pre-pregnancy, I loved a great pair of high-waisted pants or vintage denim.</p>
If you want to look slightly more elevated, what changes do you make to your outfit?<p>To add a bit of polish, I like to add structure to a look. Lately, I've been reaching for my double-breasted blazers as a finishing touch. During the workday and when I'm with my daughter, I like to keep my jewelry simple, but if I have a meeting or plans that evening, I accessorize with gold jewelry. Of course, I think footwear is the easiest way to elevate any outfit. My Simone boots and Eva mules are on constant repeat in my wardrobe.</p>
What’s your favourite way to style your mules?<p>I love styling my mules with denim or a cropped trouser. I think the juxtaposition between a feminine mule and a more casual pant gives the outfit an interesting twist. The mules add a bit of polish without looking overdone.</p>
What about your boots?<p>Now that the weather has cooled a bit, I've been pairing my boots with a midi-length slip dress. For day, I'll throw a cozy sweater over the dress, and for evening, I'll add a vintage blazer.</p>
What does a typical morning look like in your home?<p>During the weekdays, we follow the same routine to be able to get out the door on time. My husband wakes Simone up around 7am while I take a quick shower and get dressed. Then I feed her breakfast, pack her lunch, and try to grab a bite to eat for myself. We're out the door by 8:20am and on the way to school. On the weekends, we try not to over-book ourselves. The whole family is up around 7:30am (thankfully, my daughter is a great sleeper!), my husband makes us coffee while I feed Simone, and we then go on a long walk around the neighborhood.</p>
What brands do you gravitate toward?<p>For accessible pieces, I love Frankie Shop and vintage Levi's for denim. For designer brands, I've been inspired by Bevza, Bottega Veneta and Khaite. When I have some free time, I love hunting for vintage. Austin has some amazing local vintage shops.</p>
Who or where do you look to for style inspiration?<p>I'm inspired by strong, confident women. I love looking at old photographs of Lauren Hutton and Diane Keaton from the 70s, and Winona Ryder from the 90s. Photography has always been a source of inspiration for me, and lately, I've been reaching for books about Man Ray, Peter Lindbergh and Helmut Newton.</p>
How do you make the juggle work in your family - between work, motherhood and everything else that life entails?<p>The Libra in me craves balance, but I've come to realize it's not always possible to achieve. Some days are better than others, but it's a constant struggle. I have an amazing partner in my husband, Spencer. He is a very hands-on dad, and he's also my biggest support system. I would never have been able to balance being a new mom while creating Lou without his encouragement. I also lean on my girlfriends for solace or when I need a good laugh! Having a tight community of women around me has been a constant source of support. </p>
Do you feel mother guilt? If so, how do you overcome it?<p>There are times, yes. Society places a lot of pressure on women, especially mothers, that it's almost impossible not to. I overcome it through the understanding that for me to be the best parent I can be, I need to first and foremost, be a healthy and fulfilled individual. I'm lucky in that I enjoy my work. Having an outlet through work is very important for my mental well-being, which then translates into me being a better mother. As women, it's important that we not place judgement on other women. We are all operating under different circumstances and trying to do our best with the resources we've been given. </p>
Who inspires you?<p>My daughter and the women in my life. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing my friends achieve their own success or watching them enter motherhood. Whether in their personal or professional lives, watching the women in my life overcome challenges with such grace and courage is endlessly inspiring. Experiencing life again through my toddler's eyes has been such a wonderful gift. It makes the struggle of new parenthood and start-up business life worth it.</p>
Where do you see Lou evolving in the future?<p>In the short term, I'm focusing on expanding Lou's footwear offering. For the future, I envision Lou evolving into a full, sustainable accessories brand that includes handbags, as well as vegan leather options. Our footwear is exclusively made in the US, specifically Los Angeles, and maintaining luxury-level quality is at the core of Lou's brand ethos.</p>
'Mum, I'm bored'…it's probably the phrase we've all heard one too many times since we started socially distancing and relegating ourselves to our homes. And when your every suggestion is met with a 'no', it can be all too tempting to just surrender to the appeal of an iPad...
But Gabbie Stroud, bestselling author of Teacher and now her newest release Dear Parents, believes we need to empower children to create their own fun. And yes, that might mean messy, complicated, needs-to-be-cleaned-up fun. Hear her out.
Dear Parents is available for purchase here.
Term Three, Week Four. Saturday...<p>Dear Parents & Caregivers,</p><p>So, this morning, Sophie piles into bed with me, her long, lean body stealing more doona than it's deserving of. She's talking and talking and I'm listening and listening, my ears nearly bleeding with the effort. After finishing a detailed recount of her dream, she asks what we're doing today.</p><p>'I've got lots to do,' I said. 'So you and Liv can just have a play.'</p><p>'Can we play our devices?' she asked hopefully. 'We haven't had them in ages.'</p><p>My girls love to have time on devices. They play games together, meeting up with each other online to construct and create new worlds. They also like to watch YouTube, online TV and movies.</p><p>And, let me tell ya, for a long time there I loved it, too. When everyone was glued to their device, the house was quiet. The house stayed tidy. I was free to do the things I wanted. It felt like everyone was happy. But I've been reading lots about this and I've discovered it's a pseudo kind of happiness. The same kind of happiness that only addiction can bring.</p><p>For this entire year, I've limited my girls' time with screens. We still watch movies and TV but, when we do, we do it together. Occasionally I'll let them watch some YouTube on the TV while I'm in the kitchen. Olivia still does some homework on the computer, and sometimes they'll ask to use their devices to make a movie or play music, but other than that screens are gone in my house. (What happens at their dad's house is up to him.) And you know what? They've hardly missed them.</p><p>This morning though, when Soph did ask to play the iPad, it took me a minute to answer her. I had a mountain of school work waiting to be completed. Devices would mean a blissful, quiet house for me to work in. I thought maybe I could set a timer— allow them an hour. But then I felt like a complete cop-out. I remembered letters I'd written to you about choosing The Path of Least Resistance. So I made the effort to step up.</p><p>'No,' I told Sophie. 'You've got so many other things you can do. You don't need devices. Remember how I told you: devices aren't good for your beautiful young brain, so we're not going to be using them.'</p><p>'Ughhh,' she moaned. 'I'm bored already. I've done all my toys.'</p><p>'What about Barbies?' I suggested. 'You could put clothes on them all. They're always naked with their legs poking out of their basket. They look so cold and uncomfortable.'</p><p>'Nah,' Soph said. 'Liv won't play that with me. She's gone off Barbies.'</p><p>'Alright,' I said. 'What about cafés? You could get the little toy stove out and all the pretend food? Use the soft toys?'</p><p>'We did that last weekend,' she said.</p><p>'A jigsaw puzzle?' I said. 'Colouring? Drawing? You could play outside on the trampoline? It's going to be a nice morning.'</p><p>'I've done all that.' She rolled over and pressed her face into the pillows, exasperated.</p><p>'Alright,' I said, trying to take her problem more seriously. 'Let's really think about some things you haven't played with in a while.' I paused and thought of all the toys in the cupboard. All the stuff that hasn't been touched. 'You could get out that clay you got for your birthday?' I suggested. 'Or you could do the paint-by-numbers pack that Nanny Judy bought you? What about that Meccano set from Christmas last year? You could make a car!'</p><p>Sophie looked at me, her face sceptical.</p><p>'But you always say those things are too messy,' she said. 'Plus I need help with that car set.'</p><p>'Yes,' I said, realising the trap I had set for myself. All of those activities were indeed messy and complex. She would need me to invest in her play if it was to be a sustained experience that lasted more than five minutes.</p><p>'That's okay,' I said, feeling an embarrassed kind of light dawning. 'You can do those things. It doesn't matter about the mess. We'll put down that plastic tablecloth. You can work on that. And I can help you pack away.'</p><p>'Really?' Her face lit up. 'Could I make that bath bomb kit I got for my birthday?'</p><p>'Yes,' I said, swallowing down reluctance. 'You know what else? There's a packet mix for chocolate slice in the pantry cupboard too. You could make that if you wanted to. You're old enough to do that now.'</p><p>'I'll help you,' said Olivia, wandering into my bedroom and slipping under the covers. 'And did you say we could do painting? Crafts and stuff? Mum, could you show me how to do that stitching project?'</p><p>It was a cold realisation I had there in my lovely warm bed this morning: how often do we put our kids in front of a screen, or restrict their play, because we want to keep our homes and lives clean and simple? How much are we palming off to schools and teachers because it's too hard and too messy to explore at home? Is this another facet of The Path of Least Resistance? Are we parenting in some kind of coma?</p><p>I had a lucky childhood. A farm is an incredible place for a child to grow and learn and discover. I was always allowed to help with the gardening, the wood-cutting, the sheep-shearing, the fence-checking. I remember playing in Dad's shed while he repaired something nearby. I loved making things with a dab of putty or winding the handle of the vice to crush an old can. I loved digging for vegies, hammering nails, opening gates, collecting kindling, picking mushrooms. I was learning and experiencing, discovering and exploring. My folks never stopped their work to play with me, but they let me tag along with the work they did.</p><p>When I wanted to play in my own way, they always made space for the things I wanted to do. I wasn't allowed to do 'anything and everything', but my folks encouraged me to play independently. They didn't try to control or contain my play. If I wanted to wash my dolls' clothes, or make mud pies, or build a cubby, or create a town from cardboard— I just did it.</p><p>'What are you doing?' Mum would ask, passing me on her way to the clothesline or the wood heap.</p><p>'I'm building a trap,' I might say, or:</p><p>'Making new clothes for my doll.'</p><p>'I'm designing a house for a frog and I'm gunna put a real frog in it.'</p><p>'I'm making a racetrack for these cars.'</p><p>'I'm digging for gold.'</p><p>'I want to paint this piece of wood.'</p><p>'Alright,' Mum would say. 'Go for your life!' And then she'd give a heap of stern instructions like: 'Don't use my good sewing scissors' or 'You have to do that outside' or 'Make sure you put those buckets back in the laundry.'</p><p>'And you must promise me you will pack everything away,' she would always say. 'You must clean up your mess!'</p><p>'I will, Mum,' I would say solemnly— the thought of packing up at least a hundred miles from my mind in that moment.</p><p>'Alright, then, go for your life, love!'</p><p>It makes me laugh now to remember how she would say that. Go for your life! And I'd feel encouraged. Empowered, even, to play and experiment and explore and have fun.</p><p>I could occupy myself for hours. My play would become creative, building momentum and morphing from washing dolls' clothes to washing rocks, where I'd clean all the stones I could find in our garden and along our driveway. Water on soil would lead to mud pies and I'd open a bakery, creating rows of decorated 'cakes' and 'pastries'. I'd imagine a cash register and customers. Good ol' Dad would always play along, arriving home from the paddocks to buy a few pies, paying for them with twigs before he went into the house for his real dinner.</p><p>My own kids are missing out on this. I curb their play to games and activities that are clean and neat and easy for me to manage. They play fairly well, but I'm often required to prompt them along when one game ends and another needs to begin. My clean, neat play doesn't give them enough scope; I need to let things get messy and let my kids be kids.</p><p>I'm not suggesting we need to play with our kids all the time— God, that would probably kill me. I'm not a huge fan of playing with my kids. In fact, I don't think it's a parent's role to play with their kids. When you're kicking around at home on the weekend, I don't think it's your job to keep them occupied or entertained. I'm all for regular family games together, such as board games and throwing the frisbee, colouring in together or a competitive round of cards! But I think kids should play in their own ways— on their own, and with their siblings and their friends— and parents can join in as appropriate.</p><p>But I realised this morning, when I very nearly trod The Path of Least Resistance, that I need to enable messier, exploratory, risky, child-directed play, just like my parents did. I need to let go of keeping my house clean and keeping on top of the housework and keeping the kids quiet. And I need to let them play in that noisy, creative, grubby way without supervising the shit out of them! Kids need those wonderful, disgusting, wild and crazy opportunities for play.</p><p>Refracting from this idea, I can see other ideas— little spots of colour and dots of shadow that might be connected. I'm wondering if maybe schools are trying to pick up the slack of so much of this clean, timetabled parenting that we're doing these days. Our schools are bringing in chooks and worm farms and meditation and growing food and recycling projects and all these other things . . . almost in an attempt to fill the hole that we've created at home.</p><p>This also makes me think about 'parenting styles' and childrearing 'methods'. If I asked my mum what parenting style she adopted, she'd probably say, 'Oh, I think a pretty good one. You all turned out alright.' I'd hazard a guess that the act of parenting wasn't something Mum ever gave much thought to. It's not that she was parenting without thought, more that she was just busy getting on with it. Doing it, you know? Raising her kids and working the farm and getting to each of her part-time jobs.</p><p>Today it seems that we're more conscious than ever about every aspect of our lives. We're hashtagging our best selves and discussing the virtues of quinoa and mindfulness . . . We're aware of our parenting, talking about it in real life and on forums, posting pictures on socials, reading articles online, yet we're living it so unconsciously, handing our kids an iPad and letting them completely detach themselves from reality.</p><p>Gabbie</p>
I'll admit that when I reached out to Boob to Food's Luka McCabe, I did so somewhat selfishly. Mourning the imminent conclusion of breastfeeding my last baby, and somewhat confused about conflicting research around weaning (despite him being my third child), I thought Luka might be able to shed some light.
And wow, was I right. With a business – and a movement – known as Boob to Food, it makes sense that Luka is an expert in all things weaning. The registered midwife and nutrition student is passionate about feeding mothers and children, believing that if good foundations are set at an early age, bad habits (and preventative diseases) can be avoided later in life.
Perhaps most pleasingly for the confused among us, Luka is not a steadfast proponent of baby-led weaning or purees, but rather, taking an approach that suits your family and your child best. As long as it's nutrient-dense and enjoyable, Luka approves.
How do our babies’ nutritional requirements evolve in the first 12 months of their lives?<p>Breastmilk (or formula) will meet your baby's nutritional requirements for their first 6 months. At around the 6 month mark, your baby will start to require some extra nutrients that your breastmilk or formula no longer completely meets, such as iron, zinc, vitamin D3, DHA, calcium and choline. Did you know that between 6-12 months your baby actually requires more iron than an adult male!</p>
Research always seems to be changing about when to introduce solids (4 months? 6 months?). What’s your view and why?<p>Funnily enough, the guidelines were actually changed back in 2002 by all the leading health organisations; the World Health Organisation, Health Canada, American Academy of Paediatrics, Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the UK Department of National Health. All these leading organisations recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed (or formula-fed) for the first 6 months, with complementary foods accompanying breastfeeding until 2 years.</p><p>The guidelines are there for a reason, and should be taken as that – a guide! The reason why 6 months is recommended is that is when MOST babies would have met the 'developmental signs of readiness'.</p><p>It is MORE important that you look for your baby meeting the signs of developmental readiness rather than waiting for a specific age, as these are the indicators that your babies delicate digestive system is ready to tolerate solid foods. These include:</p><ol><li>Your baby being able to sit relatively unassisted (no props).</li><li>Are actively participated in meal time: ie. can turn their head away to notify you that they have had enough food, can help to hold a spoon or self feed, move their head towards the food and are interested in meal time and what you're eating.</li><li>Have lost their 'tongue thrust' reflex – which usually is gone by around 4 months; which is a reflex that helps prevent choking where the tongue automatically pushes solids out of their mouth once they hit the tongue.</li><li>Baby is developing a pincer grasp; they may not have mastered this yet, but babies will start to practise picking things up with their thumb and forefinger as opposed to a whole hand grab.</li></ol><p>Most babies would have met these signs of readiness somewhere between 5.5 and 6.5 months!</p>
What foods do you suggest starting our babies on?<p>My whole philosophy on baby food is to make it as nutrient dense as possible. Our babies stomachs are so small, yet their nutrient needs are quite high. They especially require high amounts of iron, zinc, vitamin D3, and healthy fats/omega 3/DHA. I also like to include probiotic rich foods such as fermented foods. Unfortunately many of the highly marketed baby foods do not meet these requirements; or are fortified with synthetic nutrients to meet these needs which are not as easily tolerated by babies. I focus on what may be considered strange foods, but the foods that really 'pack a punch' with each mouthful. Foods such as organic liver, other grass fed meats, organic chicken, egg yolk, bone broth, bone marrow, fermented foods such as sauerkraut brine and of course, lots of wonderful vegetables and some fruit. Fish (especially sardines) are a favourite of mine, however fish should be introduced a little later, around 8 months when baby has been tolerating other non allergenic foods with no issues.</p>
When and how do you suggest introducing foods that can be more allergenic (like nuts, etc)?<p>The current allergy guidelines recommend that all the top 9 allergenic foods (egg, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, dairy) be introduced and frequently given between 6-11 months as studies have shown that earlier introduction (prior to 1 year) is reducing the prevalence of food allergies to these foods. I recommend following my food guides, which meet the current allergy guidelines whilst also taking into account your babies delicate digestive system. For example, a food like egg yolk can be given at 6 months, but dairy should be left until closer to 10-11 months and started with a fermented dairy or high fat dairy thats easier to digest such as milk kefir and butter.</p>
How quickly should we introduce new foods?<p>You can introduce the foods at whatever pace you like! The only foods I say to go slow on are the top allergenic foods, where I recommend giving them seperate to any other new foods, and to be given every few days for at least 3 exposures.</p>
What are your thoughts on purees vs finger foods?<p>To be honest, I think both have their place. Unfortunately it seems like baby led weaning (BLW) aka finger foods, has taken quite a cult like approach; where I have even seen on some BLW facebook groups mothers being banned for even mentioning a spoon or puree. This makes me sad, because even though I personally like BLW, its not for everyone. BLW can cause feelings of stress for some new mothers, especially those of us who are a bit anxious. This can then cause mealtime to be a very stressful experience for both mother and baby; as baby will mimic our feelings around food and may even portray aversions to food because of it.</p><p>My kids were both fed with the combination method; where they were fed some purees, and then moved onto finger foods. My son was on puree for about a month, and my daughter didn't even last a day until she declared BLW was for her (she would not, and still will not have a bar of someone feeding her).</p><p>I do think that if you are spoon feeding/puree that you should introduce SOME finger foods by 9 months of age. Food is so much more than just nutrients, and its a real experience for baby; learning about different textures, smells, colours and flavours – all of which are quite hidden in puree foods. You can do this by adding some foods you're comfortable with alongside babies puree for them to play with and explore, or place some of their puree on their highchair tray to mush around and explore!</p>
How do we manage the choking/gagging risk with finger foods?<p>Finger foods should be prepared appropriately for baby by:</p><ol><li>Making the foods 'finger' shaped (similar size to your index finger) which allows baby to grasp like a handle and take bites.</li><li>Remove any stringy bits/skin.</li><li>Make sure the texture is quite soft, foods should be able to be squashed by your babies tongue and palate. To test this, see if you can squeeze the food between your index finger and thumb easily.</li><li>Meats offered in strips and slow-cooked/poached.</li><li>Do not offer any round foods like cherry tomatoes/grapes. These need to be quartered. Choking occurs when something is completely blocking the airway. The airway is round in shape, so just keep that in mind when offering foods, and if in doubt – just cut smaller!</li></ol>
How important are solid foods in the first 12 months? Is it more about textures and tastes, or is there a real nutritional need?<p>Both! Babies have incredibly high nutrient needs; most will be met by breastmilk or formula, but they do have a need for certain nutrients, primarily iron/zinc. But it is also all about the experience, and making it an enjoyable experience for all.</p>
At what point do solid foods take precedence over breastmilk/formula when it comes to nutritional requirements for our children?<p>After 12 months, however that is not to say that foods shouldn't be nutritious until that point!</p>
If our babies start to take more interest in solid foods than breastmilk/formula, should we worry?<p>This can be very common, and is a good sign your baby is a good eater! However, like I mentioned in the previous question, breastmilk or formula should be the priority until atleast 12 months. If you are finding your baby is prioritising food, I would try and space out the milk feeds and the solids; offering the milk feeds first. For example, breastfeed upon waking, then wait an hour or two to offer breakfast, then in another couple of hours offer a breastfeed before lunchtime, and offer lunch an hour later etc. This is so that baby is hungrier at milk time than they are at solids time!</p>
Conversely, if our babies show no real interest in solid foods, should we worry!?<p>This can also be very common, and for some babies it can take until 9ish months to become interested in their meals! If your baby is over 9 months and still not showing any interest I would just mention it to your health care provider.</p>
How often should we be feeding our babies food? Should we think of it as simply breakfast, lunch and dinner?<p>Every baby's needs will be different, some babies will start with 1 tsp a day, others with 3 meals a day! As long as the solids foods are not displacing breastmilk/formula feeds before 12 months there is no right or wrong.</p><p>Just a couple of things to be cautious of however, is that breastmilk does not contain fibre, so if you introduce too much food too soon on their delicate digestive system, that can be a lot of fibre to learn how to digest; which can often lead to constipation. So, start slow, and follow your babies guide if they want more, then you can offer more! The key word here being 'offer' – so baby is in control of how much they eat!</p><p>As a general rule:</p><ul><li>6-7 months will usually have 1 meal a day, sometimes skipping a day.</li><li>7-9 months 2 meals a day</li><li>9-12 months 2-3 meals a day</li></ul>
When should we start thinking about family meals and eating the same foods?<p>I personally think that meals should be eaten as a family from the very beginning; and that baby can simply have some, or all of what we eat (depending how well you eat of course; generally having babies can be the catalyst for our own healthy eating journeys!) For example, if you are having a roast chicken and vegetables for dinner, just make sure you cut some of the vegetables in a safe eating size for baby and do not add any salt to those! If you are a gamily that eats a lot of dairy/gluten at dinner time then your baby may not start to eat your foods until 12 months + once all the top allergens are introduced.</p>
What tips do you have for setting up really good eating and food habits from an early age?<p>Eat as a family whenever possible around the table.</p><p>Eat the same food as your children, so that meals aren't seen as 'kids and adults' foods.</p><p>Don't shy away from certain flavours because you don't think your baby will like them; eg sardines! Most babies will surprise you and love them the most!</p><p>Introduce these strong flavours and foods early (not when you have a cheeky 2 year old)!</p><p>Don't put any emphasis on eating some foods over the others – for example; don't demand your child eats their broccoli over eating the other foods on their plate. Because, kids like to do the opposite of what we suggest!!</p><p>Talk to your kids about the benefits of the foods they are eating; eg. we eat liver because its high in iron and gives us lots of energy; or we eat sauerkraut because it helps our bellies, we eat fish because it helps grow our brains!</p><p>When your kids are old enough, let them help you with cooking and making the foods! Having an involvement with meals really increases the chances of them eating it!</p><p>Grow your own food with your kids – might be a pipe dream for a lot of us, but even having a couple of pots with herbs and letting your kids be the ones to care for them, pick them for meals etc may increase the chances of them eating these herbs!</p>
Are there any things you suggest we don’t do with our babies when it comes to food?<p>If you can, try and keep mealtime as relaxed as possible, so choose a feeding method that suits your family that causes the least anxiety (spoon, combination or baby led weaning).</p><p>Try not to force feed your baby, which can often occur with spoon feeding. Remember, your job is to offer your baby food, if they are turning their head away and indicating they have had enough, then respect this. This respect will in turn develop healthy eating patterns and self regulation in the future.</p><p>Don't offer unsafe size/shape/texture foods that would pose a choking risk.</p><p>Just because you don't like a food, ie liver or sardines, don't project that your baby will not like that food also! They like to surprise us with their expansive, non biased palates! Stick to whole foods over packaged and processed foods.</p>
What are some of your favourite meals for babies? Any go-to recipes?<p>I like to keep baby food pretty simple, some pan fried organic liver strips, steamed vegetables with ghee and egg yolk, bone marrow stew, sardines and avocado mash, bottles of nourishing bone broth, chia pudding, gelatin gummies.</p><p>These recipes are from my new book being released soon, called Boob to Food. This book was created out of a need in the market for a book that incorporated both information about the how/what/when of feeding babies, and also nutrient dense recipes to complement this information.</p>
Beef and Marrow Stew<p><em>Appropriate age: 7 months +</em><em>Benefits:</em></p><p>This meal is comforting, nutritious and delicious for the whole family. The bone marrow adds a rich source of gelatin, collagen, zinc and iron; all vitally important for your baby.</p><p>Ingredients:</p><ul><li>2 TBSP ghee or coconut oil</li><li>1kg beef shin (bone in), trimmed and cut into</li><li>big chunks, bones reserved</li><li>1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped</li><li>2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3 inch</li><li>finger-shaped chunks</li><li>2 celery stalks, trimmed and roughly chopped</li><li>1L bone broth</li><li>400g can organic whole/plum tomatoes</li><li>1 sprig of rosemary</li><li>1 sprig of thyme</li><li>1 bay leaf</li><li>1/2 bulb of garlic, peeled</li><li>1 stick cinnamon</li><li>2 TBSP grass fed collagen</li><li>1 tsp rice flour</li></ul><p>Method:</p><ol><li>Preheat the oven to 180C (365F). Heat 1 TBSP of ghee in a large cast iron pot over medium heat.</li><li>Add the beef chunks in small batches to not overcrowd the pan, and brown until caramelised all over.</li><li>Remove the beef from the pot and place in a small bowl, heat the other TBSP of ghee and gently fry the onions for 5 minutes, then add the celery, garlic and herbs and fry for a further 3 minutes.</li><li>Add the beef back to the pot with any juices in the bowl, the reserved bones, the cinnamon stick and the tinned plum tomatoes. Pour in the bone broth and bring gently to the boil. Cover with a double-thickness piece of tinfoil and a lid and place in preheated oven for 3 hours.</li><li>The beef is ready, when it can be broken up with a spoon, at which point remove the pot from the oven and using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat and carrots into a bowl.</li><li>Using tongs, spoon any bone marrow out of the bones into the pot, stir and strain the stew through a sieve into a large saucepan. Discard the solids from the strainer.</li><li>In a small bowl, mix the rice flour with 1 TBSP of cold water then add to the stew with the collagen. Stir until dissolved and bring the stew to a simmer to let it thicken slightly.</li><li>Once simmering, transfer the meat and carrots back into the stew and stir to combine.</li><li>Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.If spoon feeding, you can blend the stew in a food processor or with a hand held blender until completely smooth.</li></ol> <h3><em>Spirulina Banana Mash</em></h3><p><em>Age appropriate: 6 months +</em></p><p><em>Benefits:</em></p><p>Incorporating spirulina is a great way of increasing the nutrient density of your baby's food (and your own) and a great plant-based alternative for iron for babies on a plant-based diet. Spirulina is a complete protein, high in iron, calcium, zinc and beta-carotene. Spirulina is also a prebiotic food, which helps feed the good bacteria in the gut.</p><p>Spirulina is quite strong in flavour, so I recommend starting with a small amount. It is easily incorporated into meals, sprinkled onto baby's foods, or added to smoothies and sauces.</p><p><span></span>Ingredients:</p><ul><li>1/2 ripe banana</li><li>1/4-1/2 tsp organic spirulina</li></ul><p>Method:</p><ol><li>Add banana to a small bowl and mash with the back of a fork.</li><li>Add spirulina and mix through. You can increase the amount of spirulina as your baby's taste develops.</li></ol><p><em>Notes: For BLW finger food, cut banana into finger safe shaped pieces, and sprinkle with spirulina to serve.</em></p><em><br></em>
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