Neufeld’s Six Stages of Attachment and What They Mean for Bedtime Part II: Stages 4 to 6

Neufeld’s Six Stages of Attachment and What They Mean for Bedtime Part II: Stages 4 to 6

Knowing Gordon Neufeld’s Stages of Attachment has allowed me to anticipate my children’s needs better over the years, and has helped me understand their behaviour better too, something that can be very powerful and reassuring amidst the uncertainty and challenges of parenting! Applying these stages to sleep, this article explores what each stage looks like, and what parents can do to support each stage.

Why Motherhood Can Feel Front-Loaded

Freepik home visit living room floor baby-playing-with-wooden-car_53876-70985.jpg

As we move rapidly towards the end of July I find myself trying to squeeze as much summer leisure time in as I can. Most recently this meant celebrating my three-year-old niece's birthday and spending three nights camping locally. The first night was spent camping alone, a tradition I started last summer when we realized that my youngest wasn't looking exclusively for me when he stirred in the night. As a work-from-home primary parent, prioritizing me has been something I've had to work hard on. And I don't think I'm the only one.

I believe that part of the reason it is challenging for many moms to prioritize themselves is that very little is static in the early days of motherhood and the needs —at times unpredictable, and at other times seemingly unrelenting— are high. Regular plans are often not realistic, and elaborate get-aways are rarely in the cards. Things can feel so busy in the early days of parenting that even finishing a cup of coffee or tea or completing one key task like laundry can take all day. Needs from our wee ones are aren't always easily met by others including our partners.


When my three children joined me for the second two nights of camping, I reflected on the idea that parenting, like sleep development and regressions, is not an even, predictable balance of self and mothering. The early years of parenting are HEAVY on the giving side: our babies need everything from us. It is hard to etch out solo time, down time, and veg time. However, as time (and infant development) progresses, there are shifts towards independence -at night, during play, and during transitions to activities and other caregivers. Over time, emotional development, weaning to solids, and a shift in the need for physical contact lead to an ever widening circle of loving caregivers. And an ever widening possibility for moms to more easily step away for a break.


Nights away to camp by myself (something I never would have considered before becoming a mother) are now possible because of infant and child development —and I relish this time by myself. And when we see each other afterwards, I love the reunion: the hugs, the excitement in sharing stories of things that happened when I wasn't there (a novel thing for a stay-at-home parent!). I cherish both sides of this: the time to be alone, and the time to re-connect. I cherish it in a way I wouldn't have, had I not been aware of the front-loading of motherhood in the early years.

I’m certain I will look back as a mom of teenagers and see the limits to this outlook. It may be that parenthood is front loaded in physical and instrumental ways (feeding, dressing, comforting in arms, soothing, etc), but later the emotional needs continue to be high, even if kids begin to master making their own lunches and doing the laundry themselves. There is no question, however, that the first three years of motherhood, in particular, are intense.


Is there some holy grail of mother-self balance in these early years? Perhaps. But what matters more than finding that perfect balance is finding a balance that feels do-able right now. Things will change. My boys will need my physical help less over time. A one day night away might turn into three. There will be fewer requests for help with laces. They won’t ask for my help in sliding down the fireman’s pole at the playground. And until then, finding ways to fill our own cups, to take a breath, to pause, and to rest is challenging but so very important.

There will be times when even my kids’ burgeoning independence will shift and they will need more —it’s an uneven trajectory towards adulthood. Being open to meeting their needs now leaves me feeling more open to it all —it leaves me feeling more open to saying “yes” and dismissing the myth that meeting a need prevents independence. And it leaves me feeling glad that I was able to lean into parenting in the early years —to meet the need with little doubt that this is what will support our ultimate goal: to raise confidence, happy, and self-aware adults who make a positive difference in the world.

As my three become increasingly independent, I can see how they are emerging with a sense of firm self-assuredness, even when faced with less than ideal situations that crop up from time to time. They know what feels right in the world because they have been supported in feeling right in the world as infants. Feeling right in the world comes from having needs met. Independence may be a highly valued characteristic, but feeling right in the world as a young child is about dependence, trust, and security. And it starts with leaning into what is happening right now.

Additional Resources:

Gordon Neufeld, “Bring Relief from Alarming Feelings and Build Resilience” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH-yCqFgEjo

Colleen Drobot, “Understanding the Sensitive Child from the Inside Out”, https://neufeldinstitute.org/understanding-the-sensitive-child-from-the-inside-out/

Discipline -Five Ways to Use Connection To Get Cooperation

Discipline and managing toddler tantrums are pretty common parenting topics! After sleep and feeding, discipline just might be the most frequently asked question of parents with young children.

Parenting, discipline, and co-regulation are things that invariably weave in and out of any conversation families have with me about sleep, feeding, and development. Even when discipline and regulation are not the key challenges, they are inevitably part of the solution. How empowered we feel about parenting, and how available strategies are to us "in the moment" can make a BIG difference.

Taking One for the Bees: Why Leaving the Dandelions Is Good For Our Health

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This article was published last month in Pelham’s local paper “The Voice”. In it, I talk about the environmental impact of lawn care, but also tap into the challenge many of us have as parents in balancing our priorities and values with “keeping up with the Joneses”. It can also be difficult as a mom to balance out how to manage the every day to do lists with the big picture of environmental responsibility. In this rare case, doing less is actually a good thing!

Sleep Training Part 2: Sleeping Through the Night

Sleep Training Part 2: Sleeping Through the Night

What is consolidated sleep? At what age do babies start sleeping through the night? This article reviews one research study looking at sleep consolidation and includes suggestions for seeking support if consolidated sleep is a struggle for your little one.

Sleep Training: Misinformation, Misunderstanding, and Missed Opportunities

How we interpret the science of infant sleep can have an impact on how we are able to trust our instincts. Our hearts and our minds can align if we ask ourselves the right question: “How can I support my baby’s sleep development?”.

Nightweaning: Evidence and Experience

Artist: Grace Laidlow. Shared here with a donation to the artist.  Art in the Public Domain.  https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/cn/view-image.php?image=211133&picture=

Artist: Grace Laidlow. Shared here with a donation to the artist. Art in the Public Domain. https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/cn/view-image.php?image=211133&picture=

When nighttime sleep has been a challenge for breastfeeding mamas, many will turn their attention to the question of whether night weaning from breastfeeding will lead to a better night’s sleep.

After all, it makes intuitive sense that, as Jay Gordon suggestions, if the diner is closed, there’s no point waking up for a midnight snack.

In this article, we will take a look at what we know about night weaning and explore what may work to support night weaning in an evolutionary and nurturing way.

In addition to exploring strategies for night weaning, I’ll indulge in a bit of storytelling, too, as I share my night weaning experiences with my three children. Most of the suggestions below assume that you are considering night weaning a baby over 12 months of age, and that your toddler is bed sharing with you, or are continuing to room share with you: the effort of continued night feeds for a child down the hall makes it likely that toddlers who are sleeping in their own room are already weaned. Also, night weaning before 12 months has special considerations that include development and growth that I won’t cover in this article.

The challenge for some parents (though not all) that emerges in the toddler years is that as parent longing for some personal space goes up, so does toddler restlessness, acrobatics, long lazy latches, and nighttime nibbling. Nipples get sore, heads get kicked by flailing toddler arms, and toddlers go through periods of increased feeding for comfort, emotional connection, nourishment, and more —nothing close to the straight trajectory towards natural weaning that we pictured when we first imagined natural child-led weaning. It can feel like a return to the early days of feeding, except kiddo is three times as big, and waaaay more active. Parents who are nursing a toddler through the night probably recognize some similarities with nighttime at the 7 to 10 month mark too —a typically challenging period of time for infant sleep.

As decisions are made about if and how to night wean, it can be helpful to keep two questions in mind: what are you reasons? And what are your goals?

I want to emphasize that when we, as parents, have decided we are “done” and want to end the nursing relationship, it is ok! Sometimes this is out of frustration, fatigue, being “touched out”, or wanting some flexibility through the night (to work, to rest, to be alone). As decisions are made about if and how to night wean, it can be helpful to keep two questions in mind: what are you reasons, and what are your goals. The answers to these questions will help guide your actions, and will also help you evaluate things, and change course (subtly or significantly) if what you are doing doesn’t align with your goals. Your goals, of course, may change too!

Often, breastfeeding parents feel that night weaning will reduce night waking. That connection is quite murky —I could find no evidence to support this idea in the literature, though certainly there are some children for whom this is true, anecdotally. I would suggest that in terms of sleeping through the night, it be approached more as a developmental skill, and one that may or may not be impacted by night nursing. However, despite this, moms may still feel a strong pull towards night weaning for their own physical comfort, and their desire for some bed boundaries and personal space. These are important things to honour!

There may be sweet spots that, developmentally, can make it better “timing” —these generally happen between Plooij and van de Rijt’s popular “Wonder Weeks” in addition to other frameworks of developmental jumps. However, timing isn’t everything —your needs are factors here too.

Before we delve into how to night wean, let’s take a peak at what we know about night breastfeeding.

Research doesn’t tell us much about weaning. And research tells us even less about night weaning. What do we know? We know that:

  • up to 1/3 of a child’s nutrition at 12 to 24 months of age can come from night feeding (WHO, 2015);

  • breastfeeding beyond the first and second year of a child’s life is recommended if it aligns with what a family feels is appropriate (CDC, 2014); and

  • night weaning can be among “the most logistically and emotionally challenging” aspects of weaning (Cuniff & Spatz, 2017, p.93)

  • Night feeding and bedsharing are highly correlated

What does that mean for moms who are ready to night-wean? It can be gradual. It can be your decision. And it can be difficult. But, as with many parenting situations, being difficult doesn’t necessarily mean it is not the right decision. Weigh the benefit and draw backs, be flexible, and be gentle with yourself. This, like so many other aspects of parenting, requires flexibility and an open mind.

Weigh the benefits and draw backs, be flexible, and be gentle with yourself.

Here, then, are some insights for those who have decided to nudge things towards night weaning.

One of the more popular suggestions for night weaning parents is Dr. Jay Gordon’s nighttime weaning process (Gordon, 2002). For kiddos above the age of twelve months (and more than likely 18 months and older) who are ready, his process can work well. However, in practical experience, these steps can be difficult, and distressing especially at a younger age —there are gentler, more developmentally-guided approaches. Likely, if his approach (some of which are incorporated in the suggestions below) is not working, it is not good timing: pause, re-evaluate, and try again. It is ok to stop, and wait for a better time. Other strategies that can feel more respectful, flexible, and gentle, are included below and are drawn, in part, from Elizabeth Pantley’s book, “No Cry Sleep Solutions".

I don’t remember many of the details of weaning my first born. I know there were portions of the process that were not easy. And there were a few re-starts, and pauses, and “try agains”. My toddler would rather have nursed, but I don’t recall the transition being an exceptionally difficult one, and the glorious indulgence of a bed I could stretch out in was pure bliss—a welcome focus on my needs after the intensity of the first year and a half of parenting, was nothing short of amazing.

With our second, I was glad to be done with night nursing by about age 2, motivated by my own worthwhile need to have my body be my own at night. It is not a decision that I regret, though I do know there are 101 different choices, options, strategies, and nuances that can make night weaning look different for every child, and every family.

We chose what we felt was best for us, with a great deal of flexibility, and our eye on the big picture: night weaning would happen eventually whether we promoted it or not. A bit of nudging in that direction was just fine. And assertive communication from our toddler was worth evaluating and re-evaluating: was our expectation of him reasonable? Was it best to wait a bit longer? Does this feel right?

We did play some musical beds during this period: sometimes my spouse was the one cuddling our weaning toddler at night, and we did not balk at changing the plan from night to night (or part way through the night!) if what we were doing was not working well for any one of us.

Night weaning generally falls into the “can do, but don’t have to” category of parenting decisions. Weaning will happen over time, even if you do nothing in particular to nudge it along.

By toddlerhood, parents are adapting to the assertive and big emotions from toddlers who don’t (can’t) always have their needs or desires met in precisely the way they would like them to be met: no matter how much they want to, they cannot run across the road, smash a glass on the floor, or hit their sibling. Night weaning, however, generally falls into the “can do, but don’t have to” category. Weaning will happen over time, even if don’t do anything in particular to nudge it along. If the timing is right for you, it’s a matter of balancing needs, and moving flexibly and sensitively towards your goal.

Keeping an open and flexible mind allowed me to use our toddler’s room for night weaning. The time spent with him at bedtime and through the night helped me figure out what parts of night weaning were workable, and what parts needed tweaking. There were many missteps (the bruise on my forehead from a sippy cup thrown in frustration by my toddler being one of them). My “in the moment” goals around night weaning shifted depending on how tired I was. What felt most important to me was to honour the ebb and flow: to know that I was not “giving in” if I chose to breastfeed him, and to know that weaning would happen eventually. Night weaning when mama is ready, but baby isn’t quite on board, is an exercise in respecting everyone’s needs, and finding solutions that work best under the circumstances.

With our third, I needed to be on medication that, based on multiple sources, required weaning. It was, quite frankly, an awful process for both of us, as neither of us was ready: I had had my intentions to night nurse for longer than I had the other two, and the sorrow and frustration we both felt with early weaning was heavy. If you are experiencing a similar situation, Dr. Jack Newman’s International Breastfeeding Clinic is a highly recommended resource for working out the necessity of, and the details of, weaning due to medical/medication needs, particularly with the closure of Sick Kids’ Mother Risk organization. If night weaning is not your personal goal, but appears to be medically necessary, gathering all the support you can to make a workable plan. This may include strategic, professionally-supported timing of medication, as well as validation of your feelings through this process, and practical strategies for paving the way.

Nurturing strategies can be applied to make the process of weaning smoother.

If night weaning is necessary, know that sometimes there are factors beyond your control, and that you have many other nurturing strategies at your disposal for maintaining a strong bond with your baby, even if circumstances (medical or otherwise) lead you to night wean before one or both of you are ready. Know as well that if night weaning is right for you, these nurturing strategies can be applied to make the process of weaning smoother, and respects the emotional well-being of both you and your baby.

If night weaning is chosen for your own well being, know that that is an important reason in and of itself. Night weaning before a child is ready can be challenging, and pulling in all the supports and strategies you can is important, too.

The following are some strategies to consider when night weaning your toddler.

Strategies for Parents Who Feel “Done” with the Nighttime Feedings:

  1. Reflect first. Is this feeling like a permanent shift in your feelings around nighttime nursing? Or is this feeling a blig in the road? Are you doing this for you (great! If it’s not working change it. Your priorities and preferences matter!) or is there pressure from others? I use a nighttime weaning readiness checklist with clients to explore this further.

  2. Eliminate barriers! Reflux, excema, tummy issues, and respiratory difficulties (apnea, environmental allergies, stuffy noses) can lead to frequent night nursing to relieve discomfort. Addressing these issues, and resolving them as best we can, paves the way for meeting night-time weaning goals. Occasionally something as straightforward as a diet change or fresher air in the bedroom can improve sleep, and make night-time weaning easier.

  3. Change it up: the bedtime order of breastfeeding and cuddles may not have a huge impact on overnight feeding, but it can help some parents feel that they are moving in the right direction. Toddlers may wake up sooner when they first shift away from nursing to sleep (we don’t really know —and some toddlers coast right through to the usual next wake up). Regardless, with the right routines in place, and an approach towards flexibility and gradual separation of nursing and falling asleep, your toddler may surprise you with their readiness.

  4. Close up shop: in the early days of breastfeeding, nursing shirts and button pajamas make it so much easier to breastfeed. If you are looking to wean, a change of clothes may be helpful. By switching to pull over shirts you’ve created a mild inconvenience; not enough to dissuade a child who continues to need the breast at night (physically or emotionally), but enough that a child that could take it or leave it might decide it’s not worthwhile. Button-up pajamas on backwards never appealed much to me, but by the time I was ready for nighttime weaning, the buttons on my pajamas were so loose that I may have seemed to have a flashing (no pun intended) neon sign that said “no need to knock: the door is already open”.

  5. Different space, different parent: Shifting primary parent at night to your partner, and potentially to a different room (a twin mattress floor bed in a toddler-proof room, for example) can allow for some musical beds. For a toddler who is ready, the different caregiver and different environment can make the shift through night weaning easier. A favourite sippy cup of water might help too, and expressed breastmilk in a bottle may help bridge the change.

  6. Shorten the meal: Keeping the nursing time to shorter and shorter intervals can still give toddlers the comfort they seek from the breast, while reducing how long they are on, and giving them the opportunity to adjust to coming off the breast before falling asleep. Your toddler will let you know loud and clear if they are ready for this! Adjust the interval if it’s not working as well as you hoped.

  7. Shorten the hours: Choosing a window of time when the diner is closed can work well for some kiddos. Some parents have “closed” one breast, and have found that the lower flow of the other breast has led rather smoothly to less interest in nursing.

  8. Use language to bolster your plan! Sometimes as parents we forget that our words, and tone of voice matter. In addition to reading picture books about night weaning, and explaining what to expect (in clear, simple words), having a short phrase to say at night as you unlatch or as you turn down a request for nursing, can have a profound effect. Not only is your voice one of the nurturing nighttime tools you have, but the combination of your simple, and soft words, with your actions can help move the process of night weaning forward.

  9. If it’s not working, it’s ok to pause, and re-evaluate. Sometimes timing is everything. I know how challenging it is to set your mind on something, and then have half a dozen other factors completely knock over your carefully laid plans: two year molars, a move to a new room at daycare, family vacation, and illness, can all make your dream of a night without nursing seem impossibly difficult to achieve. Pause, re-evaluate, and try again. No parent should feel they need to continue night nursing when they feel “done”, but it is ok if it is a jerky walk to the finish line: be gentle with yourself through the ups and down, and look at the trajectory over time.

As with all stages of childhood and motherhood, weaning is a natural and expected part of the mother/child relationship. As babies become older there is a shift more towards balancing the needs and intentions of both mama and babe. It is ok to move towards night weaning when you are ready. And like so many other aspects of mothering, it is a dance: with some back and forth, a shift in who is “leading”, and the occasional toe might get stepped on! You are both on the dance floor together, but sometimes mama gets to pick the next song.

RESOURCES:

Picture Books on Weaning/Night-Weaning

Havener, K. (2013). Nursies When the Sun Shines: A little book on night weaning.

Susan, M. & Low, H. (illustrator) (2018). A Time to Wean.

Saleem, J. (2014). Milkies in the Morning: A gentle night weaning storybook.

Parent Books on Night-Weaning

Wessinger, D. et al. (2014). Sweet Sleep: Nighttime and nap time strategies for breastfeeding families.

Gordon, J. (2002). Good Nights: The happy parents’ guide to the family bed (and a peaceful night’s sleep!)

Pantley, E. (2002) The No Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night.

Plooij, F. & van de Rijt, H. (2010). The Wonder Weeks: How to Stimulate Your Baby's Mental Development and Help Him Turn His 10 Predictable, Great, Fussy Phases Into Magical Leaps Forward.

Online Resources

Bonyata, K, Flora, B., & Yount, P. Night Weaning, www.kellymom.com.

Sears, W. & Sears, M. Night Weaning: 12 Alternatives to the All Night Toddler Nurser. www.askdrsears.com.

Peer Reviewed Articles

CDC (2014).

Cunniff, A., & Spatz, D. (2017). Mothersʼ Weaning Practices when Infants Breastfeed for More Than One Year. MCN, The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, 42(2), 88–94. doi:10.1097/nmc.0000000000000310  Accessed online June 13, 2019.

World Health Organization (2015).

Camp Cooking: "Feeding With Love and Good Tents"

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Camp Cooking: How to Feed the Kids with Love and Good Tents

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE BOOKS...

...about how to feed children is Ellyn Satter's "Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense".  Her approach to a healthy division of responsibility for feeding children is a classic, and guides me in more than just meal preparation.  But sleeping in tents doesn't mean saying bye to good sense.

After weeks of camping with my three boys over the past two summers I've figured out a few things about what to make us for dinner and how to handle the groceries and refrigeration.  How to have freedom and fun with food, while not giving up on the wholesome ingredients my kids need to feel their best.  In the summer spirit, I'm taking a break from infant development and infant sleep blogs to throw a few ideas down on paper about daily life for camping families: what to feed the kids and family.

A few assumptions:  I'll assume that meat is on your menu (because if it is not, you can ignore that advice). 

I'll also assume you are not camping in a group and aren't combining resources (because, again, you can ignore my advice and combine kitchen tools and menus as a group).

I’m assuming, as well, that you are car camping. Overnight canoe- or hiking- trips are wonderful adventures, but I’m focusing here on families who are venturing into camping with kiddos, rather than those with a lot of experience back-country camping.

And last, I'll assume you are trying to pack minimally: pots will get reused in the same meal, tools will tend to be multi-purpose or really worth the space. There is something really liberating about only having what you need.  What you don't have (or what you forget) will usually have some adequate substitute that will make you feel like a powerful pioneer woman, or like a “social connection seeker”, asking the next campsite over if they can lend you a lighter or pair of scissors.

So, here are a few basics:

  1. Bring the right tools, but no extras. Your car will be full enough with sleeping bags and a tent and pillows. Pay attention before your trip on what tools you use for what meals and start a list: Vegetable peeler, tongs, sharp knife, can opener, flexible cutting board --there are work-arounds for all of these, but they are also quite handy items that can make your trip go more smoothly.

  2. The exception to “bring no extras” is propane or fuel for your stove. Bring more than you need or know where you can get more. Until you get used to how much fuel you need, it may be better to have extra for next time than to run out. If you are a large group or are camping a long time, consider getting an adaptor for your stove so that you can hook it up to those large white propane canisters that you use with your backyard barbecue. Note: on windy days you will go through fuel much much faster.

  3. Eat meat early in the trip; focus more on vegetarian meals leading up to pack-up time or grocery trip day.

  4. Two smaller coolers (one for meat, one for veg) may be better than one large one. Also, I find a full cooler with block ice is very difficult to take in and out of the car safely: dividing your food into smaller coolers may help you when it comes time to tuck the coolers away for the night.

  5. Put your cooler in the car. I have occasionally partially 'locked' the cooler under a picnic table bench but that was in campgrounds where there were no seasoned racoons or skunks. Or bears. Better to be safe and still get breakfast in the morning than to attract unwanted guests. This general philosophy applies as much to urban car camping as it does to isolated backcountry camping.

  6. Check the plug on your cooler to ensure it is secure: a puddle of water in your car in the morning, or ants in the drained cooler is no fun. A trip to the home improvement store for silicone is no fun either but it will work if your plug breaks off and you need to McGyver it. (Not that this has happened to me).

  7. Opt for block ice if you are going for more than a day or two. The ice lasts much longer.

  8. Keep meals simple but nutritious. There's lots you and the kids may want to do while camping, and fueling your bodies well will help!

  9. Pay attention to what your family eats as you plan your trip. You may find that some of your regular meals are easily made while camping. Others can be modified.

  10. Don't sweat the normal routines. If bedtime snack is a major theme in your house, know that when camping the kitchen will literally be closed when you close up your car for the night. Many kids have an amazing ability to adjust to limits in choices and restrictions because the camping environment just doesn't support what can happen more easily at home. For those kiddos who have a difficult time with changes in routine, keep it simple and pay attention to the key rituals (is it the type of food they focus on, or is it something else like one on one time with you that is the clincher?).

MENU IDEAS:

BBQ PIZZA 

Sautee onions, peppers on a fry pan.  Add small stir-fry size chicken (or meat alternative) on pan.  Remove from pan.  Pan-heat soft tortilla shells (gluten free, regular...whatever fits your family's diet) with gouda (or alternative), barbecue sauce, the chicken and veg until cheese is melted.  Slide off onto places, cut into triangles, and eat.

PASTA:

Cook your pasta of choice in large saucepan.  On a separate burner (or afterwards if you don't have two burners free), saute onions, peppers in fry pan with oil.  Add ground beef or alternative, stir until cooked.  Strainers are nice but you can also adequately drain pasta with oven mitts and the lid on, and a slow pour down at ground level.  A bit of grass is usually ok :)  Empty pasta into a large bowl.  Put beef mixture into now-empty saucepan and add tomato sauce.  Heat.  Add into drained pasta.    Pasta can be cooked ahead of time if time will be tight for dinner.  

TACOS:

Cook ground beef, chicken strips or alternative ground protein as you do for pasta.  Add taco seasoning (we ditch homemade and bring the Ol' El Paso stuff for camping).  Slice avocados and cherry tomatoes, cut some lettuce, and get out the shredded cheese or alternative.  Bring a jar of salsa, whatever taco shells (or romaine lettuce wraps) you like to eat, and !Ahi Esta!, you've got a meal!  

BREAKFAST:

Either keep it simple: favourite cereal, with milk.

Medium grade: instant or quick oatmeal with nut butter, raisins and seeds.

Or heavy duty: Scrambled eggs and pre-cooked bacon.  You can cook the bacon the night before or when you first get up.  Chop extra peppers and onions the night before to add to the omelette, and hopefully you have extra cheese too.  Bacon is messy, and I tend to avoid it when camping.  I recommend buying eggs in plastic cartons or using the camp coleman-style egg containers: cardboard gets soggy in coolers.

You can also pre-mix the dry ingredients for pancakes and add eggs and liquid when you are preparing breakfast.  Bring nut butter, jam, syrup, or honey.  Or all four!

LUNCH:

We approach lunch as a light, cold, picnic-y meal so that you can make it quickly, pack it in a backpack, or graze between swimming, playing frisbee, or relaxing.  Of course, any dinner ideas work for lunch too if you are hanging around the campsite at lunch time.

Bring romaine, croutons, and Caesar salad dressing; use left over beef, chicken, or other protein from the night before (requires making extra or having kids that are too busy having fun to eat all their dinner --this happens a lot to us while camping).  Store extra meat in sealed container in cooler.

Prepare humus, tortilla chips, guacamole, cucumber, peppers, cauliflower, baby-cut carrots, and any other vegetable that will fit in your cooler.

Have nuts, seeds, raisins, and other trail mix options for hikes, or for hungry tummies while you make lunch.

Bring cold cuts if you eat processed meat.

Have easy warm meals for cooler days: instant or quick cook oatmeal with nut butter, macaroni and cheese (even if you forget the butter and milk), hot dogs if you have a barbecue, canned soups.

SNACKS and DESSERTS:

Bake muffins and cookies ahead of time.  Bring graham crackers, good chocolate, and marshmallows for S'mores.  I've tried the 'prepackaged' S'mores and they were very stale.  Perhaps that is not always the case, but it's not an experiment I want to run again!  If you have kids that are greatly affected by sugar or who go to bed too early for a fire, consider S'mores for after breakfast: for kids, the memories will be great whether the special camping rituals are after sunset or during the day.  Marshmallows can be cooked over a barbecue if there is a fire ban or if smoke allergies are an issue (Mother Earth will thank you, though I do know how lovely a crackling fire is for the camping experience).

If you like kitchen hacks while camping, consider lining a cardboard box with foil and place coals or hot bricks in the bottom to make an oven for baking.  

PACKING YOUR KITCHEN KIT:

One of the pleasures of camping for me is the isolation and (even if urban camping) my expectation is to avoid stores unless absolutely necessary.  As a result, I do my best not to forget anything critical.  And usually I manage that!

Some things, for me, are a must.  Others are an indulgence.  Take what you need, create a bit of a buffer, and leave the rest at home.  Usually, as long as you have the basics, you can make do missing a thing or two.

take a deep breath, and Have fun.

Camping for our family has meant an immersion in simplicity, a realization that our family priorities sometimes are at odds with our modern life, and that having nothing to do is a big blessing. There can be pressure to think that we need to plan our time. Limit your planning to getting there, and let the rest take shape. Let the experience (rained out barbecue, and leaky tent included) be an exercise in letting go, and giving nature her due: we try to control so much in our lives, that taking a deep breath and accepting what comes can be a welcome shift.

If you’d like to learn more….

Join me June 29th in St. Catharines for a presentation that is part slideshow (photos of Ontario and American Southwest camping with our kiddos), part how-to (more menu ideas, kit lists, and lessons learned), and part environmental imperative (a perspective on environmental illness, including guidance for preventing Lyme Disease).

Sign up here to be on the RSVP list for June 29th (you will also receive my weekly newsletter) or email me at heather@heatherboyd.ca to RSVP.

Let’s get camping!