News: family dinner

23 Gifts That Won't Fit Under the Tree But Are Going to Be Huge Hits

By Dallas Stevens

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11 Expert-Recommended Autism Apps for Kids

By Gen Cohen

These 11 apps for kids with autism are designed to support emotional and social needs.

By Melissa Willets via parenting.com

Using apps for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be useful for learning and social development, according to Dena Aucoin, M.Ed., the Assistant Academic Chair in the Educational Studies program at Kaplan University.

"[They allow] for learning to take place in many environments, which helps aid in generalization of the attainment of skills," she told Parenting.com. "For example, if we are only teaching the skill of greeting others in the classroom, we may see less success when attempting to greet others at the grocery store."

More from Parenting: 11 Books for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

"[They] can be helpful to provide visual supports, to provide structure, a schedule, and language or pictures to facilitate communication," adds Patricia Aguayo, MD, MPH, Medical Director Autism Services, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Hospital for Special Care. She explains the most important thing to consider when choosing an app is what the specific needs of the child are and what your goal is for introducing it.

Aucoin adds, "Anyone can make an app so do a little research. What company is presenting this app? Are there supportive applications that go along with it? Is it credible? These considerations can help in making choices that fit the need."

Aguayo urges parents to use an app in collaboration with the school team.

"It is important that everyone involved in the child's life is consistent and use the same app or device," she says.

More from Parenting: Behavior Training Helps Families Cope with Autism More Than Education

She recommends two books to help parents narrow down their app options:

But here are 11 autism apps for kids that our experts recommend trying:

1. First-Then Visual Schedule

This app provides visual schedules to help with transitions and decrease anxiety. "First-then support can offer children of most intellectual and language abilities to understand what is expected of them, and what will come next, or what the reward will be," explains Aguayo.

Cost: $9.99, available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android.

2. iPrompts

"iPrompts is a highly recommended app for supporting organizational skills, setting expectations for performance, and setting up subtle supports and reminders," says Aguayo. Users can create and modify visual schedules, as well as use a countdown timer with picture supports to indicate how much longer a task or activity will last.

Cost: $49.99, available for iPhone and iPad.

More from Parenting: Why Dental Care for Your Special Needs Child Is So Important

3. Autism Track

This app is brought to you by the creators of iPrompts and is designed for parents of children with ASD to help them track data. "This customizable data tracking tool allows parents to easily track behaviors, interventions and symptoms in one place," says Aguayo. "Behaviors and symptoms can be rated, as well as particular medications and their doses, diet changes and therapies. Parents can also review trends in their child's data and share these data with school and medical providers to inform treatment planning. This app is especially helpful for children with challenging behaviors, psychiatric conditions or both."

Cost: Free to $9.99, depending on the version, available for iPhone and iPad.

4. Learn with Rufus

"This app uses a child-friendly character to teach emotion words, facial expressions associated with emotions, and to identify emotions in others," Aguayo says, and it may also help with the development of language, communication, and social skills.

Cost: $4.99, available for iPhone, iPad and Android.

5. E-Mintza

This customizable, bilingual app is designed for augmentative communication using a family's own pictures. Aguayo says it's free, but time-consuming to set up and customize.

Cost: Free, available for Android.

More from Parenting: Mom Recycles Military Uniforms into Weighted Vests for Kids with Autism

6. Stories2Learn

"S2L offers parents and educators the ability to create personalized stories using photos, text, and audio messages," explains Aucoin. "These stories can be used to promote an individual's literacy, leisure, as well as social skills." The app supports reciprocal play, non-verbal communication, playground and school rules, turn taking, and more.

Cost: $13.99, available for iPhone and iPad.

7. Model Me Going Places 2

"[This] is a great visual teaching tool for helping your child learn to navigate challenging locations in the community. Each location contains a photo slideshow of children modeling appropriate behavior," says Aucoin. Locations include the hairdresser, mall, doctor's office, grocery store, restaurant and playground.

Cost: Free, available for iPhone and iPad.

More from Parenting: How to Make Flying with a Child with Autism Easier

8. The Social Express

This online interactive program addresses core deficit areas standing in the way of school, social, and life success for kids with social learning challenges. It uses "highly interactive and visual presentation" and animations to encourage children to practice social skills in an interactive way. According to Aucoin, this app "employs rich graphics and audio and offers a high degree of quality in every aspect of the app."

Cost: Free for version II, monthly and annual rates available for iPad.

9. Cognoa

Dr. Clara Lajonchere, former VP of clinical programs at Autism Speaks, helped to develop the Cognoa evaluation tool, which not only identifies autism in kids, but also tracks a child's behavior and milestones for doctors and teachers. "Features include expert-recommended activities, which can help autistic children who have issues with fine motor and sensory, socialization, tantrums and more," she says.

Cost: Free, available for Android and Apple products and online.

10. Pictello

Pictello is a simple way to create visual stories and talking books, explains Aucoin. "Each page in a Pictello Story can contain a picture, a short video, up to 10 lines of text, and a recorded sound or text-to-speech using natural sounding voices." The app can be used to teach social skills or to help kids remember events, and supports non-verbal children in communication with others. Better yet, stories can be shared with other Pictello users and even non-users.

Cost: $18.99, available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

More from Parenting: New Autism Research: Social Struggles & Increase in Diagnoses Explained

11. Dreampad

This unique app uses a pillow with embedded transducers that play relaxing music through vibration to induce relaxation and sleep. A study on kids with autism conducted by Dr. Sarah Schoen of the SPD Foundation concluded all 15 participants showed improvements in sleep initiation, duration of sleep, reduction in night waking, and improved daytime behavior.

Cost: the pillow is $169, and the accompanying app is free; available for Android and Apple devices.

Check out Assistive Ware and I Get It apps for more apps that support autistic children. Parents should also note that while not specifically created for kids with ASD, developers, such as Toca Boca, Oceanhouse Media, Duck Duck Moose and Spinlight Studios are consistently developing apps being used in treatment settings.

But Aguayo wants to caution parents: "It is also important to keep in mind that, just as with typically developing children, electronics can become an obsession, and their use for breaks, reinforcers, and during free time should be monitored and limited. Apps, even those that can help children with ASD, should never replace real-world interactions and interventions that help to develop social and communication skills in natural settings."

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7 Reasons to Eat Family Dinner Together

By Gen Cohen

Research shows that sharing dinner as a family improves teenage behaviors, increases toddler vocabulary and teaches kids to eat healthier. Check out these benefits of eating with family:

By Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D. via parenting.com

Over the last 20 years, dozens of studies have confirmed what parents have known intuitively for a long time: Sitting down for a nightly dinner is good for the spirit, the brain and the body. Research shows that shared meals are tied to many teenage behaviors that parents pray for: reduced rates of substance abuse, eating disorders and depression; and higher grade point averages and self-esteem. For young children, conversation at the table is a bigger vocabulary booster than reading aloud to them. The icing on the cake is that kids who eat regular family dinners grow up to be young adults who eat healthier and have lower rates of obesity.

As a working mother, who has learned by trial and error with my two sons and husband, and as a family therapist, who asks every family about their dinners, this is what else I've learned:

1. It doesn't have to be daily.

You don't have to have dinner every night to reap the benefits. It could be breakfast, a weekend brunch, a take-a-break-snack at night or a combination of these. And there's no magic number. The point is to make a commitment to a family meal where everyone sits down to share food, have fun and talk about things that matter.

2. Play with your food.

With so much of our play now conducted online, adults and children have lost the opportunity to play with real objects that can be touched, smelled and transformed. So play together. Cooking is an activity that still involves our senses and our hands, and it is something we still can do together. You can set out salad fixings and have everyone choose vegetables to create faces, trees and cars. Play with taste by slipping in a new flavor or spice and asking everyone to guess the ingredients.

3. It's doable.

Despite parent's hectic work schedules and kids' busy extracurricular activities, it's very doable to have nightly dinner. The whole process of cooking and eating together can take just an hour (less than 30 minutes to cook and the average meal is 22 minutes*), and that hour is transformative. If we still planted vegetables, played instruments for our entertainment and quilted on the front porch, we might not need family dinners, but it's the most reliable time of day that we have to connect with one another. When kids feel connected to their parents, it's like a seatbelt on the potholed road of childhood.

4. Try new activities and share talents.

Dinner can be a great place to try out new behaviors. A family dinner is like an improvisatory theater performance. The family shows up night after night, and as a group they can try out new ways of interacting with one another. Or, one member's behavior can set off a cascade of others. For example, a family might agree to refrain from making any negative comments at the table and see what happens. Or, a teenager might be invited to make a family dinner or to create a musical soundtrack for the meal.

5. Share your family history.

The dinner table is the best place to tell stories, and kids who know their family stories are more resilient and feel better about themselves. Most inspiring are lemonade-from-lemon stories, stories about adversity where a lesson is learned, or negative events that transform into something good. Stories help us make sense of the world, and they help kids connect to something bigger than themselves. Tell stories about yourself and other family members when they were the same age as your children. Tell stories about romance, first jobs, immigration, how names were chosen, a childhood pet, a favorite recipe or kitchen disaster.

6. Stay connected.

Table conversation is one of the richest language experiences you can provide for your children. When else do we sit and talk for several minutes, offering lots of comments and explanations on one topic? Try asking questions that go beyond, "How was your day?" For example, instead ask everyone to tell a rose (something positive) and a thorn (something negative) about the day, as well as a bud (what you wish will happen tomorrow).

7. It's good for you, too.

Rituals like dinner, which punctuate a world that often feels frenzied and out of control, are good for adults, too. Knowing that one part of your day is going to unfold in basically the same way, day after day, is comforting.

So, I'm ringing the dinner bell and inviting you and your family to come to the table. Dinner is more than a feeding station. Food will bring the family to the table, but it's the conversation and stories that keeps us there. In an hour, you can create comfort, fun, play and meaningful conversation—one meal at a time.

Anne K. Fishel, Ph.D., author of "Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids," is the director of the Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate clinical professor of psychology at the Harvard Medical School. She is the cofounder of The Family Dinner Project and writes the popular blog "Digital Family" for "Psychology Today." You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*Ramey SL, Juliusson HK. Family dynamics at dinner: A natural context for revealing basic family processes. In Families, Risk, and Competence, Lewis M, Feiring, C. (eds.) New York: Rutledge, 1998.

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21 Pool-Party Pastas the Kids Will Love!

By Gen Cohen

 

 

21 Pool-Party Pastas the Kids Will Love!

Pasta salad is a staple at summertime pool parties, picnics, and BBQs. But after your first few batches, you start to get a little bored by the dish, and so do your kids! Kick it up a notch with these tasty (and healthy!) recipes that highlight the season's best ingredients. From "cool" mac and cheeses to colorful pasta salads, these pasta and macaroni salad recipes for kids will have your little ones asking for seconds without a sweat!

1. Grilled Ratatouille Pasta Salad

Grilled Ratatouille Pasta Salad

Got leftover grilled vegetables? Turn them into this tasty pasta dish from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

2. Macaroni Salad With Chickpeas

 

 

Macaroni Salad With ChickpeasMacaroni with a kick of protein: what could be better? Unlike most macaroni salads, My Whole Food Life's healthy dish is a great option for meatless Mondays!

Source: My Whole Food Life

3. Confetti Pasta SaladConfetti Pasta Salad

Loaded with seasonal veggies like cherry tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers, Peas and Crayons' confetti pasta salad will become a pool-party staple.

Source: Peas and Crayons

4. Whole-Wheat Pasta Salad With Feta and PeasWhole-Wheat Pasta Salad With Feta and PeasClever Carrot's kid-friendly pasta salad actually tastes better the longer it sits. The whole-wheat pasta is a filling option, and the pea shoots give it a nutritious crunch.

Source: The Clever Carrot

5. Chicken Pasta SaladChicken Pasta Salad

Two summertime classics — pasta salad and chicken salad — come together to create one tasty dish.

Source: Circle of Moms user Robin Bunker

6. Southwestern Pasta SaladSouthwestern Pasta Salad

Packed with protein and veggies, Two Peas and Their Pod's fiesta-inspired salad is great as a side dish or main course. To avoid a soggy salad, serve the dressing on the side.

Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

7. Pesto Pasta SaladPesto Pasta Salad

If you want to sneak some extra veggies into your tot's pesto pasta salad, substitute half of the basil with spinach.

Source: POPSUGAR Food

8. Orzo Salad

Orzo Salad

Orzo makes a great, light alternative to traditional pastas.

Source: Circle of Moms user Nicole Diffenbaugh

9. BBQ Macaroni Salad

BBQ Macaroni SaladMel's Kitchen Cafe kicks up traditional macaroni salad with kielbasa, peppers, and BBQ sauce.

Source: Mel's Kitchen Cafe

10. Avocado, Shrimp, and Pasta Salad

Avocado, Shrimp, and Pasta Salad

A great lunchbox or picnic dish, Good Cooks' avocado pasta salad is easy to make and bursting with flavor. Try making different variations by substituting chicken for shrimp or using seasonal vegetables throughout the year.

Source: Good Cooks

11. Tricolor Pasta
Tricolor PastaKids will be able to taste the rainbow in Mel's Kitchen Cafe's vibrant pasta salad.

Source: Mel's Kitchen Cafe

12. 5-Ingredient Pasta Salad

5-Ingredient Pasta SaladEverything you need to make Gimme Some Oven's simple salad is probably already in your pantry and fridge.

Source: Gimme Some Oven

13. Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

Thanks to its tangy taste, Sunny Side Up's pasta salad is sure to be a dish everyone will enjoy. Try adding your own twist using fun-shaped pasta.

Source: Sunny Side Up

14. Gluten-Free Pasta Salad

Gluten-Free Pasta Salad

Kids with or without a gluten intolerance will devour Keep It Simple, Keep It Fresh's gluten-free creation.

Source: Keep It Simple, Keep It Fresh

15. Crab Pasta Salad

Crab Pasta Salad

Take advantage of the season's fresh seafood, and whip up this crab-filled salad.

Source: Circle of Moms user Sarah Schroer

16. Sunbutter Noodles

Sunbutter Noodles

Shh, don't tell the kids that these noodles are actually strips of zucchini. Oatmeal With a Fork's sunbutter noodles fill the kids with nutrients without them knowing!

Source: Oatmeal With a Fork

17. Pasta With White Beans and Tomatoes

Pasta With White Beans and Tomatoes

The Clever Carrot's simple pasta recipe has seasonal favorites like arugula and white beans for creaminess.

Source: Good Life Eats

18. Home-Style Macaroni Salad

Home-Style Macaroni Salad

Peas and Crayons' home-style macaroni salad is Summer's version of your little one's favorite dish. It directly translates to creamy, cheesy goodness with a (healthy) catch.

Source: Peas and Crayons

19.Crazy Delicious Pasta Salad

Crazy Delicious Pasta SaladWith ingredients like fresh vegetables and Summer sausage, we can understand why Keep It Simple, Keep It Fresh dubbed this a crazy delicious salad.

Source: Keep It Simple, Keep It Fresh

20. Pasta Salad Skewers

Pasta Salad Skewers

Thanks to Cooking With My Kid, your child can enjoy pasta salad on the go!

Source: Cooking With My Kid

21. Fruity Pasta Salad

Fruity Pasta Salad

Who said pasta salad can't be a dessert? Western Gardens' sweet salad highlights Summer's best produce — fruit!

Source: Western Gardens

 

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Take the Heat Out of the Kitchen! 20 Summer Crockpot Recipes

By Gen Cohen

Crockpots are a cold-weather essential, but if you're accustomed to putting your slow cooker away from April to September, you may want to reconsider. These 20 easy summer crockpot recipes do what the grill cannot, allowing your dinner to cook itself while you head off to work, summer camp carpool duty, or whatever else the day has in store From pulled pork to vegetarian lasagna that lets you put all of that seasonal squash and zucchini to use, you're guaranteed to find a few great summer crockpot meals ideas to get your family through the second half of summer.

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