Hallowe’en Traditions

Halloween Traditions - Fresh Start Family WellnessNavigating a child’s food sensitivities can be challenging on a regular day.  Bring on a holiday, especially a food-centered holiday like Halloween, and things get even trickier. 

As parents, we’re inundated with mostly well-intentioned, but ultimately guilt-inflicting opinions from all sides.

  • It’s only one day, just let them eat the candy!
  • Just let your kid be a kid!
  • A little candy never hurt anyone!
  • You’re taking the fun out of Hallowe’en!
  • Halloween isn’t supposed to be healthy!
  • You’re being too strict!
  • You’re making candy a ‘forbidden fruit’ and making him want it even more!
  • Everything in moderation!


Of course, we want our kids to have fun and enjoy Halloween (and every other day).  But like anything related to food, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

So how do we approach Halloween in our house?

My goal *is* for my kids to have fun.  And I firmly believe that junk food does not have to be the key source of the fun associated with Halloween.

The kids and I get excited about planning costumes, and the idea of pretending to be someone else for the evening.  We do Halloween crafts, and anticipate the amazing decorations in our neighbourhood.

I surprise them with Halloween-themed foods – foods that are fun, *and* also nourish them for the upcoming busy evening and late bedtime.

On this year’s menu:

Halloween Traditions - Fresh Start Family Wellness


Monster Smoothies for breakfast: pineapple, mango, kale & coconut smoothies with spooky dollarstore faces on our glasses



Halloween Traditions - Fresh Start Family Wellness


Dirt and Worms for after-school snack: coconut avocado pudding with homemade grass-fed gelatin gummy worms



Halloween Traditions - Fresh Start Family Wellness


Spooky Tacos for dinner: the orange pepper “jack o’lanterns” held our taco meat and avocado cashew cream.



And leading up to the big day, we have a family meeting about the Trick or Treating plan, so that there are no surprises.

As much as I cringe when I read the ingredient lists of Halloween treats, my older son’s body is resilient enough to handle a few of these foods.  I’ve empowered him to read labels, listen to his body, and balance those foods that fuel our bodies with those that are full of junk ingredients.  He knows that he feels better when he doesn’t eat gluten and dairy, and knows that everyone should steer clear of foods with bright (fake) colours.  And, on Halloween night, he indulges in a handful of his Halloween stash, and then trades the rest in for a toy or a ‘cleaner’ food treat (e.g. a high quality dark chocolate bar).  He’s happy with this agreement, as am I.

But things are different for my younger son.  For him, the ‘in moderation’ and ‘it’s just a once a year’ theories just don’t fly.  If he ate even one of the dairy- or gluten-filled treats, then his eczema would flare up, he would have a sore tummy for days, and he would have a restless nightmare-filled sleep.  These foods would damage his sensitive digestive system, ultimately causing poor absorption of nutrients, a weakened immune system, and trouble regulating emotions.  If he had something bright-coloured, he would be wired for hours, after which he would have an epic meltdown which wouldn’t end until he was exhausted enough to crash and sleep.

For him, I can’t let him have free reign of choosing treats from his stash.  He is prepped in advance that he is welcome to collect lots of candy, but that there would only be a few things that were ‘okay for his body’, and from those, he could choose 2 or 3.

We went out Trick or Treating for an hour and a half.  My younger son skipped from house to house, chatted with the neighbours, ooh-ed and aah-ed over the decorations, and generally, had a blast.  And when we came home, he carpeted the floor with his treats and joyfully sorted through them all.  We chose a bag of plain chips and a juice box, and the rest went away.

There were no tears.  He was happy to indulge in these once-in-a-while foods.  And if there had been tears, I would have been okay with that.  From his perspective, it’s hard being different than most of his peers.  If he needed to grieve that he couldn’t open and eat the things in those shiny wrappers, then I would have supported him through that with empathy and a hug.  But I know that giving in and letting him eat those foods would have undone all of the healing work that we’ve accomplished, and that is DEFINITELY not worth it.

End result?  We had a GREAT Halloween…on *our* terms.

Once our eyes are opened to the effects that food have on the physical, mental, and emotional health of our kids, it’s impossible to put the blinders back on…even if it’s for a once-a-year holiday.  Please remember that it’s okay to tune out the unwanted advice, and block the unnecessary guilt.  Do what you know is best for *your* family.  

And if you need some help figuring out what the best plan-of-attack is for *your* family’s nutrition, I’m happy to help. 🙂

My tasty post-Thanksgiving healing ‘potion’: Bone broth

Bone Broth - Fresh Start Family Wellness

Bone Broth

Not only is this stuff super tasty, but it has SO many health benefits.  One of the key benefits of bone broth is its effect on healing the lining of the gut (aka “Leaky Gut”).

Leaky Gut

This phenomenon has been making the news lately, and rightfully so.  Our intestines are designed to act as a barrier, letting the good stuff (nutrients from fully digested food particles) into the bloodstream, and keeping the bad stuff out (large undigested food particles and bacteria) out of the bloodstream, When damaged, the lining can’t work effectively.  Key nutrients are not absorbed properly, resulting in poor immune function, low energy, and general sub-optimal nutrition.  And those unwanted undigested foods and bacteria?  They are free to circulate around the body via the blood, causing a whole host of  issues.

What causes the gut to become ‘leaky’?

There are many different factors, most of which are very commonly encountered in our daily lives.  Food sensitivities (e.g. gluten), processed foods, stress, medications (NSAIDS, steroids,  antibiotics), toxins (BPA), and infections can all have a negative effect on the gut lining.

How do I know if I have ‘leaky gut’?

Unfortunately, an absence of digestive complaints does not mean that you’re in the clear.

Leaky gut can manifest as a whole slew of different issues such as skin conditions (e.g. eczema, psoriasis),  autoimmune conditions (e.g. Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis), mood disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression), or generalized inflammation (e.g. sore joints, headaches).

Based on these contributing factors that I listed earlier in this post, I’d hazard a guess that almost ALL of us have leaky gut.

In my case, I grew up with severe acne, for which I was prescribed dozens of doses of antibiotics.  I frequently took Advil or Aleve (both NSAIDS) for the chronic headaches that used to plague me.  I’ve experienced anxiety and depression, poor immune function (frequent sinus infections), and creaky ankles.  Addressing leaky gut improved all of these symptoms.

My younger son (aka “Little B”) was on antibiotics at 11 months for tonsillitis.  Even prior to that, his gut was likely damaged as an effect of *my* leaky gut (while I was breastfeeding him).  He has food sensitivities, and has experienced eczema, low energy, and behaviour/mood imbalances.  Healing his leaky gut is helping with all of these concerns.

How can I repair leaky gut?

The good news is that leaky gut can be healed.  It takes time, and effort, but pays off in spades.

We must reduce the triggers, and heal with food, lifestyle changes, and occasionally supplements.

Bone broth is a great starting point.  Full of amino acids, collagen and gelatin, it is amazing at healing and sealing the gut lining.  It tastes amazing, is  easy to make, and can be used in so many different ways (straight up in a mug, soup, stew, cooking pasta/rice/veggies, and adding to sauces, to name a few).

So plan ahead, and save the bones from your next roast chicken or turkey.  Your gut will thank you!

My post-Thanksgiving gift to you is my bone broth recipe (below).  
Want to chat more about leaky gut and how we can work together to heal it?  Let’s chat!

Bone Broth

2 pounds of bones ( ~ carcass from 1 whole roast chicken) *free-range, organic*

½ pound of chicken necks and backs (optional)

2 chicken feet (optional)

2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar

2 onions, roughly chopped

4 carrots, roughly chopped

4 stalks of celery, chopped

(Other veggie scraps)

2 cloves of garlic, lightly smashed

2 teaspoons sea salt

optional: other herbs and spices (black pepper, parsley, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, sage)


Place the bones in a stock pot, or large crockpot, and cover with (filtered) water.  Add the vinegar and let sit for 20 minutes.


Bring the broth to a vigorous boil (High setting on crockpot), and add the veggies and seasonings.  Reduce to a simmer (Low setting on crockpot) for 6-8 hours (24 hours if using crockpot).


During the first few hours of simmering, check for a build up of a frothy layer of impurities.  Scoop off with a spoon and discard.


When finished cooking, remove from heat, and let cool slightly.  Strain through a fine metal strainer.


Store in glass mason jars.  Store in the fridge for 3-4 days or freeze for later use (make sure to leave room at the top of the jar for the broth to expand when frozen).

*Freeze some in silicone ice cube trays or muffin tins for individual serving sizes/recipes*



My little Rockstar

This is Little B, the rockstar.  This morning, I came out of the shower to find him standing on a makeshift stage (stepstool from the bathroom), with his radio on FULL blast, tuned into some hard rock station.  He was doing a combination of air guitar (using the guitar on his t-shirt as a fill-in) and air drums, his little bum shaking in time to the heavy beat.

Little B's behaviours and a search for a root cause

This kid lives life out loud.

He brings so much joy to the house, and to those around him.  He is full of energy, has a wacky sense of humour, and is amazingly curious and bright. When he is happy, he is SO happy – giving endless cuddles and kisses, singing and dancing, doing silly voices to make his brother and I laugh.

And then there are the other times.  The times when that pendulum of extreme emotions is swinging in the other direction.

The joy is replaced with an intense frustration.  The silly voice is now an angry one that asks the same question over and over and over again, not truly listening to the answer.  The dancing has switched to the flailing limbs.

Every child experiences a scope of emotions.  And most kids move in and out of these emotional extremes fairly quickly, and a trigger (hunger, exhaustion, frustration, jealousy) can usually be pinpointed as the root cause.

For Little B, I believe that his root cause is a bit more complex.  My Mother’s Intuition tells me that there’s something else going on.  Something deeper, at a physiological level.  Something that needs to be addressed and healed.

What is that root cause?

That’s a mystery that I’m still working to solve.    I know it’s linked to his food sensitivities, as well as his ‘leaky gut’, dysbiosis, and his bizarre skin condition.  There are likely some environmental triggers, and some underlying genetic predisposition.  I am working to join the dots, and am grateful for my education and experiences, both in the Pharmaceutical world and as a Holistic Nutritionist.  I am also blessed to have a team of holistic practitioners by my side, and an MD that is open-minded and curious.

It’s a long, overwhelming journey, but it’s a journey that I’d like to share with you.  It is my hope that our challenges, and our learnings, can help others who are facing similar hurdles.

With much love and empathy,


Dairy vs. the watch

Often, clients are reluctant to remove “suspect” foods from their diets, as they insist that they aren’t reacting to them.  While it’s true that some people have obvious, dramatic reactions immediately after consuming a food   (i.e. digestive upset), most people react in much more subtle ways.

I (somewhat reluctantly) gave up gluten and dairy while breastfeeding my son.  The positive effects were quick and quite dramatic for him – his gassiness decreased, his moods improved, and his eczema faded away.  I didn’t notice any obvious effects on myself, but stayed strict with the diet while nursing him.

When he fully weaned, I found myself being drawn back to my old favourites, like crusty bread, pasta, and cheese.  Over the Easter holidays, I indulged in quite a few foods that contained gluten, dairy, and refined sugar.  At the time, I felt a bit guilty, but truly didn’t expect any repercussions.

Yikes, was I wrong.

Things that I had taken for granted as being ‘healed’ in my body, returned with a vengeance.  Acne, daily headaches, anxiety, cold sores, sinus congestion, bloating, exhaustion….they all arrived within days of my feast-on-inflammatory-foods.  It took me by surprise, and I didn’t put two and two together until about a week later.  The ‘icing on the cake’ was my full-body swelling.  My watch, which used to be loose, is now doing this (see pic) to my wrist, and is so tight that I can’t  wear it.

swollen wrist

Oftentimes with foods, it’s a ‘hindsight is 20/20’ situation.  We have no idea how poorly we are feeling/functioning, until those symptoms disappear, and then return again (when the foods are reintroduced).  This, for me, was a wake-up call that I need to go back to my stricter ways with dairy, grains, and sugar, as I don’t want to feel (and look!) like this anymore!

Yes, cheese still tempts me.  But next time it’s calling my name, I’ll just take a look at this photo for a much needed reality check!


Pickle praise

I get excited about odd things.  Like the fact that my little guy ate a pickle at dinner tonight.


Why was this rave-worthy?!

First of all, he’s a selective eater…and it’s always encouraging when he tries a new food.

But the main reason is that this wasn’t just any ol’ pickle. It was a pickle prepared by the traditional method of fermenting.  And given the concerns that I have with little B’s digestive and immune systems, this new food is definitely cause for celebration.

Now-a-days, most pickles are prepared by simply plunking the cucumber in vinegar, and letting it turn sour.  But the old-fashioned method was to preserve seasonal produce by immersing it in a salt water brine, and letting it sit for a few weeks…during which time it would ferment.

During the fermentation process, lactobacilli (“good” bacteria) break down the natural sugars in the food into lactic acid.  The lactic acid, in turn, helps to prevent the growth of the “bad” bacteria, thus preserving the food.  This lacto-fermentation also increases the vitamin and enzyme levels of the food, improves its digestibility, and provides a great source of Probiotics.

In a nutshell, fermented foods are chock-full of nutrients, aid with digestion and absorption, help to regulate pH, and help fuel our immune systems.  (And let’s not forget the importance of research that shows a critical link between gut health and brain health.)

So for someone like little B, who has gut imbalances (which manifests as eczema flare-ups, food sensitivities, digestive issues, and weakened immunity), I am THRILLED to add fermented foods to his daily menu.

Do you want to get your family started with fermented foods?
Check in the refrigerated section of your grocery store for traditionally-prepared pickles and sauerkraut (brands like Bubbies), Kimchi, or Kefir.

And if you’re ready to learn more, and want a hand-hold to make your own fermented foods…let’s chat!

The Gingerbread Fiasco

Growing up, our holiday celebrations included many food traditions.  Platters of Christmas cookies, a homemade gingerbread village, hot chocolate with marshmallows and a candy cane stir stick.  So many great memories…and traditions that I would love to share with my own kids.

But when you have a child with food sensitivities, navigating day-to-day meals is challenging enough.  Holidays?  Unfortunately, it is easy for some of the joy to be bulldozed by stress and guilt.  Sorry, kids, we can’t go to the family gathering because the menu would be too tempting to a carb-loving (and carb-sensitive) 3 year old.  Hot chocolate?  No Timmie’s drive-through; it has to be made at home, with dairy-free mix and almond milk.  The cookie that our friend gave you?  Yes, it’s beautiful…and oh-so-tempting.  But if you ate it, you’d be sick for days.   Social gatherings are chosen carefully, and usually require food to be brought from home.

I’m not sure what nudged me to take a risk last week.  I don’t recall if it was a childhood memory that surfaced, a Facebook photo that flashed by, or maybe a display in the grocery store.  But the guilt hit: my youngest had never joined in the tradition of making a gingerbread house.  Being sensitive to dairy and gluten, the store-bought kits wouldn’t fly.  So, breaking our grain-free streak, I bought gluten-free graham crackers.  Carefully carving them with a knife, I stuck them together to form a makeshift house with dairy-free icing.  I had already planned on using some ‘weird, my-Mom-is-a-Nutritionist’ toppings like raisins and dried cranberries.  But the guilt, combined with my love of food, convinced me to buy a few candies as well.  Off to the bulk store I went, to get a tiny sampling of some dairy-free treats.  There.  Now things seemed more traditional, and the guilt was momentarily eased.

The boys had a blast decorating the houses; it was such a joy to watch their faces.  Memories and photos?  Check.

gingerbread house


And then came the aftermath.

Little B had sampled a few of the candies, and munched on one wall of the house.  Within a half hour, complete chaos hit our house.  He was spinning in circles, fidgeting non-stop.  Talking so quickly that he was interrupting himself, often with pure nonsense, rather than words.  He would be happily laughing and singing one minute; the next he was lying on the floor in a full-blown tantrum.  This continued until he finally collapsed into a restless sleep, an hour later than his usual bedtime.

And…food dyes are now added to the list of forbidden foods.

It broke my heart to see him reacting so strongly like that.  And my heart broke again the next day when he repeatedly asked why he couldn’t have any more of his beloved gingerbread house (which, by then, had been tucked out of sight in the compost bin).

Cancelling get-togethers, avoiding restaurants, spending a small fortune on speciality flours and ingredients, and altering family food traditions.  I admit, it can be easy to get stuck in a “woe is me” cycle.   It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and isolated.

Knowing that these emotions will easily fester if I let them, I remind myself to breathe and release the self-pity, guilt, and frustration.  To look at my son’s sweet face and remind myself why I go to this extra effort.

Time to brainstorm a *new* family tradition.  A creation made from fruit?  A hand-painted cardboard gingerbread house big enough to play in?  I’m not sure yet exactly what next year’s celebrations will entail.  But I do know that with some extra effort, a little creativity, and lots of love…we can create a family celebration that allows *all* of us to focus on the joy of the season.  Do I miss all of the treats?  Honestly, yes.  And, I also know that, even for this foodie, a smile on my (healthy, pain-free) child’s face is much more delicious than any edible treat.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

The Man with the Violin

As I strive to be more mindful, it becomes obvious that kids don’t need any reminders to live in the moment….they are already there. Unfortunately, they are pulled out of that precious moment far too often, as we rush them from place to place, and activity to activity.

We have a beautiful book from the library right now: The Man with the Violin, by Kathy Stinson. It’s based on the real-life experiment in which famous violinist Joshua Bell performed, anonymously, in a busy Metro station. Sadly, the only people that really paid attention were the kids. And sadder still…their caregivers were pulling them away in a hurry, rather than following their lead and stopping to soak up the gorgeous music.

This illustration, from the book, is SUCH a great visual of mindfulness in action. The upper (blank) stripe is the mother’s vision. And the lower (colourful) stripe is the child’s vision.

Mindulness - The Man with the Violin www.freshstartfamilywellness.com

Life is busy.

AND, we can still live mindfully in that busy life.

First, let’s take an honest look at our schedules, our children’s extra curricular activities, our huge To Do lists.  Let’s see if we can’t whittle it down to the essentials, and let some things GO.

Perhaps one day I’ll be brave enough to post a picture of the main floor of my house.  It is perpetually cluttered. Lovingly lived-in. 😉  It used to stress me out, and I used to be embarrassed to have people over.  Not anymore.  Now, I’m almost proud of it.  I know that I’m making a conscious choice to spend more time down on the floor playing with my kids, or outside, exploring the forest.  I’m making the choice to soak up those little moments that fly by so quickly.

Today, try to leave some time for spontaneity.  Make some pockets of time for wonder and joy.  Try to give your kids the time, space, and flexibility to linger a moment longer and appreciate the world around them.  And then follow their oh-so-wise lead and join them.  Live through the eyes of a child, and see how your mind calms and your heart opens.

Let’s take a deep breath, and aim to switch our field of view from blank, to colourful

Brain fuel for back to school

It’s almost that time of year again.

Time to say goodbye to our slower-paced days of summer, and hello to busy mornings and the dreaded packed lunch.  Although I’m going to dearly miss the extra time that I’ve had with him this summer, I am grateful that my school-aged son loves to learn, and is looking forward to starting Grade 3.

Brain Fuel for Back to School - www.freststartfamilywellness.com

Flashback to first day of SK for my smiley guy.

His morning challenge will be to ignore the Lego and focus on getting dressed.  And mine will be to prepare and feed him a nourishing breakfast…one that he’ll actually eat and enjoy.

Although quick and convenient, standard breakfast foods like breads and cereals don’t provide the nutrients that kids need to get them through a busy day of learning.  (Did you know that some kids’ breakfast cereals contain close to a ¼ cup of sugar per serving!?!)

Children’s  growing bodies and active minds require the proper type of fuel in order to set them up for a successful day of learning and playing.  A breakfast full of healthy fats and protein will give them sustained energy, and help them stay alert and focused.




Eggs are an amazing breakfast food – scrambled, in an egg ‘muffin’, poached with some avocado sauce.  Mmm.  Unfortunately, my son doesn’t agree with my “mmm” assessment of eggs, and will only eat them if they’re hiding in a recipe.  We’ve compromised, and I’ve found a pancake recipe that is grain-free, full of healthy fats, fibre and a good source of protein….*and* is voted “mmm” by both of my kids.  I hope your family enjoys them as much as we do.

Coconut Pancakes

4 eggs
1/4 cup coconut flour
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 pinch cinnamon

1 pinch sea salt
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup coconut milk (full fat)

Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium sized bowl, and let them sit for five minutes. Heat up some coconut oil or butter in a pan, and heat over medium heat.  Pour approximately ¼ cup of the batter in the pan, and allow each side to brown before flipping it over.

(Based upon a recipe from Mark’s Daily Apple)

A few tips:

Coconut flour: once tricky to find, it’s now much more readily available.  Look for it in the baking aisle, or the gluten-free section of your regular grocery store.  I’ve seen it at Longo’s and Fortino’s.  If you want to ‘test-drive’ it, then look for it at Bulk Barn.

Coconut milk: this recipe uses the FULL fat coconut milk (from a can).  Give it a shake or a stir, to make sure you’re mixing up the liquid and the cream.  Store the leftovers in the fridge for more pancakes, baking, or smoothies.

Honey: local, unpasteurized honey is the best.  Grab some from the natural section of your grocery store, at the Health Food Store, or better yet…at Farmer’s Market.  Full of beneficial nutrients, it’s in a whole different class than that stuff in the bear-shaped bottle.

Fun extras: We occasionally throw in a few dairy-free chocolate chips (Enjoy Life brand), or top the pancakes with some fresh fruit and a drizzle of real maple syrup.


Seed library!

What a fantastic idea!  My local library has initiated a SEED library – ’borrow’ some veggie seeds, then ‘return’ them by sharing your saved seeds the following year.  They have a variety of seeds available, and many resources to help you with taking care of the plants, and saving the seeds.

Growing your own veggies isn’t difficult – and the results are amazing.  Fresh, nutrient-dense, super delicious produce – and you can’t get more ‘local’ than your own backyard!

Little B devouring peasGet the kids involved.  They’ll have fun planting and watering, and will be so proud to harvest their crop.  And you never know…they just might try some new-to-them veggies.  Last season, my choosy toddler would race me to the garden patch so that he could get all of the shelling peas!

Check out their seed catalogue here.

And if you don’t live locally…give your own public library a nudge to start a project like this!

Happy gardening!!