0 Cart
Added to Cart
    You have items in your cart
    You have 1 item in your cart


      Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude All Year Long

      Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude All Year Long

      Author: Carrie Myers

      November is Gratitude Month, which is an amazing reminder that there is always something to be thankful for. But what about the rest of the year? We tend to treat gratitude like it’s something we can use as a holiday decoration and then pack it away until the next year. But, gratitude is important to practice throughout the year. What do I mean by practicing gratitude?

      And why does practicing gratitude matter? Keep reading…

      Your Brain on Gratitude

      Your brain is made up of billions of cells. These cells have “arms” that reach out and attach to each other. This is how nerve pathways are formed. But these pathways don’t just happen by coincidence or chance. They’re formed when thoughts and actions are repeated.

      Can you say habits?

      So, if your habit is one of complaining, procrastinating, or having a generally negative attitude, you’ve created pathways in your brain. These then become your automatic go-to reactions to life circumstances.

      But the opposite works, too.

      If you start practicing gratitude and being thankful for what you have, what opportunities are coming your way (even if you don’t know what those are yet!), and who is in your life, you begin to change your brain. You begin to create new nerve pathways. This happens thanks to neuroplasticity—the brain’s amazing ability to adapt and form new pathways.

      As the saying goes, neurons that wire together, fire together (remember from biology class…your nervous system is like a little electrical system within your body). And it’s this wiring and firing that is the basis of neuroplasticity.

      Turns out, you can, indeed, teach your brain new tricks.

      This doesn’t happen overnight, though. It takes consistent practice—and practicing gratitude is one way to do this. And by practicing I mean being intentional and purposely taking the time each day to find what you’re thankful for, even when you’re having “one of those days.”

      Little Johnny wrote all over the wall—again? Be thankful you have walls for him to write on.

      Little Janie pulled the potted plant over on top of herself, got a bump on her forehead, spilled potting soil, broke the pot, and is now crying hysterically? Be thankful you have a child to comfort and snuggle with.

      As you practice this mindset of gratitude, over time, you will use the negative-centric pathways less, and they won’t be so loud and automatic. With that said, they won’t completely disappear either. I mean, if we only wore the proverbial rose-colored glasses, we wouldn’t be alerted to danger—like when your kid is reaching for that hot pan. Or a car pulls out in front of you.

      Some “negative” pathways are necessary to keep you safe. It’s when they rule your world that they become a problem.

      Here’s another amazing thing about gratitude. You can immediately feel its effects on your brain and body. This is not from the act of neuroplasticity, though, since that takes time. This is due to your brain’s neurotransmitters—those chemicals that make you feel one way or the other. In this case, we can thank dopamine and serotonin for that immediate feel-good, warm-fuzzy feeling when we practice gratitude.

      Making Gratitude a Habit

      Ready to give a gratitude practice a try? First a few reminders…

      There’s a reason this is called a gratitude practice. It takes practice to focus on gratitude. And if you’ve been drenched in negativity lately—or for most of your life—it’s going to take more practice and it will be more difficult—but still very doable (and worth it!).

      Remember, those negative pathways in your brain are well-worn. They’ve been your go-to. And forming new pathways takes time.

      My fellow VitaMom, Ashley, explains that the well-worn pathways are like highways. They’re fast and get you to your destination more quickly.

      Now think about bushwhacking a new path. You’ll need the right tools, it’s going to take time, and you won’t use that new path right away. But the more work you put into that new path, the more familiar it becomes to you and the more likely you are to use it.

      Speaking of which…

      If you’ve made Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer part of your identity, being negative feels safe, familiar, and comfortable—even if you’re miserable and know it. Being positive and expressing gratitude will most likely not feel good at first, despite the dopamine and serotonin boost. This is because those feelings are not familiar to you. They’re not “safe.”

      Now, we could go down a rabbit hole at this point, but we’ll save that for another time. For now, here are a few ideas based on Positive Psychology that you can start using today.

      Three Good Things

      There was a study published in 2005 that used healthcare practitioners as study participants. It was called the Three Good Things Intervention. Since then, its results have been replicated, which means their validity is strengthened (in other words, they’re more likely to be true).

      The reason this group was used was due to the high burnout rate among medical professionals. The gist of the study was to have them write down three good things that happened that day and what their role was in it.

      What they found was that when Three Good Things was practiced, participants were happier, more resilient, and experienced less burnout.

      Some interpretations of the study also say participants slept better. I’ve been using this tool myself at bedtime to help me fall asleep faster. I’ve been practicing it long enough now that I often don’t make it to good thing #2 or #3.

      You can use the same intervention on yourself. Writing it down helps to solidify it more in your brain, but if you don’t have the energy for that at bedtime, focus your thoughts on 1. What went well today? And 2. What role did I play in it?

      This is especially great if your mind tends to start “Rolodexing” on that hamster wheel as soon as your head hits the pillow. If your thoughts start drifting away from gratitude, just bring them back to the center of your brain and heart.

      While I often don’t get to what my role was (again…zzz), if you can do it, give it a try. It might help increase your confidence when you realize that you have more control over many situations than you might think. And, you might start looking for ways to improve situations that you previously thought were out of your control.

      Hence, why Three Good Things helps with resilience. When you realize you have some level of control over something you didn’t think you had any control over—even if that “thing” is your attitude—you become more resilient in those situations.

      Letter of Gratitude

      Who would you like to thank today?

      We often get so wrapped up in our lives that we forget that we didn’t get here alone.

      Writing a letter of gratitude telling someone how much you appreciate them and what they do not only gives them warm fuzzies but also brings you a shot of happiness, as well.

      The Gratitude Letter is another evidence-based Positive Psychology tool that has been shown to increase positive emotions—for both the giver and receiver.

      According to Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the Gratitude Letter tool, “affirms positive things in your life and reminds you how others have cared for you—life seems less bleak and lonely if someone has taken such a supportive interest in us. Visiting the giver allows you to strengthen your connection with them and remember how others value you as an individual.”

      Think of someone you haven’t thanked—maybe have even taken for granted—and write them a letter expressing your gratitude for them. The letter does not have to be long. Take about 10 minutes to write it.

      Here’s the part that is tough for some—deliver it in person.

      If that’s not possible, give them a call or have a video chat.

      The first time is always the most difficult, especially if all this gratitude stuff is new to you. After you’ve done this once and see how it positively affects the other person, you’ll start thinking of others and over time, thanking people and telling them how much you appreciate them will become second nature.

      Keep a Gratitude Journal

      Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated. Get a notebook and make it a habit each day to write down at least one thing you’re thankful for and why.

      The “why” and the “writing it down” are what will help you make this a habit more quickly.

      The more senses you get involved, the more cemented into your brain this will become.

      When you write something down, you’re using touch and sight. Now speak it out loud. You’ve added speech and hearing. Lean into how it feels to express gratitude. You’re going to want more of that feeling (unless, of course, it feels uncomfortable because you’re so comfortable with feeling negative about everything).

      Why include why you’re thankful for your gratitude?

      It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’m thankful for the roof over my head,” but when you get to the deeper reasons why you’re thankful for that roof, it means more and it helps bushwhack that new pathway more quickly.

      Start a Gratitude Jar

      Gratitude isn’t just for adults. The earlier you teach your children to practice gratitude, you’re helping to form those pathways in their brains—which means you’re giving them a solid foundation for adulting.

      Make gratitude a family affair.

      A fun way to integrate gratitude into your family is to start a gratitude jar. Keep paper near it and encourage your kids to write at least one thing they’re thankful for each day, including other people and why. The jar can be opened at the end of the week and read as a family. Or save it for “those days” when everyone needs a reminder to be thankful.

      The Bottom Line

      People who practice gratitude tend to be happier, healthier, and more resilient than people who don’t. Practicing gratitude does not mean being oblivious to potential danger, sadness, or grief—nor does it mean having to deny when your kids or spouse are driving you crazy.

      It simply helps pivot your mindset from one of lack and always focusing on what you don’t have to one of abundance and being grateful for what you do have.

      For those situations where you can’t find anything to be thankful for, consider the lesson you can take from it and apply it to your life.

      Practicing gratitude takes consistency and time. Before you know it, noticing the good will come more naturally. And who knows? You might even find yourself being thankful for those hard times because that is where your growth happens.

      Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

      Back-to-School Lunch Ideas

      Author: Ashley Wentworth

      It’s back-to-school season which means many of us are fretting about what to send in our kids’ lunchboxes, myself included. Unless your child takes advantage of the school meal program for all of their school meals, planning and packing lunches can be daunting. It seems like a constant battle between sending foods that support them during their long school day, and ones they’ll actually eat.

      Here are a few ideas to help make packing for lunchtime easier.

      Pack Enough Food

      My first tip is to pack enough food. Many schools have time for a snack/breakfast in the morning in addition to a normal lunch period. This basically means packing enough food for two meals, especially if your child has a small breakfast at home or doesn’t eat before school. 

      Having enough food to eat supports their energy, concentration, learning, and growth. I know if I’m hungry I usually am not productive and have poor focus and concentration. Our kids are no different. Being hungry can also cause irritability (hello, hangry!) and is distracting. 

      Use School Programs

      Take advantage of your school’s snack and meal offerings. Some states have adopted universal free school breakfast and lunch meals which is a no-brainer to help with your budget. Look over the menu together with your student and pick out some items or meals for them to try.

      Make It a Joint Effort

      Include your child in the planning and packing process for their school meals. Have them help you come up with some items or meals they might like to have for the week or over the next few weeks. You can include these on your grocery list and then have them available. 

      Some families have kids pack their own lunchbox each day. 

      Offer Options

      Pack plenty of food and a variety of options. This will give them some different things to choose from. I know I don’t know what I want for lunch right when I wake up in the morning. Include items from all of the food groups, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fiber, and fun foods can all be part of a school meal. 

      Try to help your student explore which foods help keep them full and satisfied during their day. 

      Kids go through phases of liking things and then not wanting them for a while, just like adults. If their tastes change, try to go with the flow and pick some new or different items to try. 

      Make It Easy for Them

      Kids often do not get a lot of time to eat lunch in school. Make it easier for them. For example, send oranges already peeled. Slice up apples. Have everything ready to eat so they don’t waste time peeling and cutting and end up with no time to actually eat.

      Handy Lunchtime Tools

      • Bento boxes are great with helping to include variety. There are many different compartments to have fun with. It also saves space to help include more food instead of containers using up the space.
      • Small cooler/ice packs are great to help keep things that need to be refrigerated stay cold during the school day.
      • We use our thermos a lot! We pack soup, macaroni and cheese, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, and more. 
      • Cookie cutters can be used to make food items seem more fun and appealing. Cutting sandwiches, cheese, or anything into shapes automatically makes them more desirable to little ones. 
      • I’m not sure about you, but I absolutely hate having a million plastic, zippered snack bags floating around the kitchen and the lunch box. We love our reusable snack bags! They certainly help save money as well. 

      Ditch the Guilt 

      When we think “processed” we usually think unhealthy, prepackaged food. But truth be told, most of the food we buy at the store is processed in some way. It’s ok to send processed convenience foods like dried or canned fruit for example. Fruits and vegetables don’t have to be fresh for every meal/snack. If your kids like them and eat them, it’s a win! 

      Food Item Ideas

      • Sandwiches!
        • Wraps 
        • Open-faced sandwiches 
        • Pinwheels
        • Sliders
      • Fruits and vegetables, canned, cooked, fresh, dried, freeze-dried, or frozen 
        • Write notes or draw pictures on bananas and oranges to make them fun
        • Try different cuts to keep things exciting—sliced, cubed, or cut into fun shapes
        • Send some kind of dip for fruits and vegetables if your child likes it better this way. We love mixing yogurt and peanut butter together for a quick fruit dip! Hummus, salad dressings, yogurt, or whatever your child enjoys.
      • Leftovers from dinner
      • Cheese—cubed, sliced, or string
      • Popcorn
      • Pretzels
      • Crackers
      • Nut butters if your school allows it, Sunbutter if not
      • Deli meat and cheese rolls 
      • Muffins or breads 
      • Yogurt
      • Homemade Lunchable style items

      There are no rules when it comes to packing meals for your kids. Choose foods they like. If it seems like they are getting bored with things, try something new. Almost anything can be sent as a school meal—think outside the (lunch) box. Happy back-to-school!

      Five Tips for Easing Back into Schooltime Routines

      Five Tips for Easing Back into Schooltime Routines

      Author: Carrie Myers

      If you’re like many families, summertime means the loss of a normal routine and schedule. So, when back-to-school time inevitably rolls back around, those first few weeks can be rough—unless you’re prepared. Here are a few tips for easing into a new school year.

      Wrap-Up Summer School Projects

      If you neglected to go through your kids’ backpacks from last school year, now might be a good time to do so. Hopefully, you won’t find their summer reading list or some other summer project that’s supposed to be completed by the upcoming school year (and hopefully you don’t find that the stench you’ve been smelling is some critter they brought home and were supposed to take care of over the summer!).

      Do School Shopping Early

      This is especially important if you tend to procrastinate. Get school supplies, backpacks, lunch boxes, and any clothes and shoes well before the start of school (like two or three weeks before). This cuts down on the stress of last-minute shopping—and increases the chances of getting the colors and themes your kids want (unless you hate that cartoon character they’re crazy about, in which case, feel free to procrastinate).


      Don’t wait until school starts to begin some sort of routine. Summertime often means later nights and sleeping in—at least sleeping later than during the school year. Two or three weeks prior to school starting, set a time for bedtime—and announce it early—like the previous week, but also early on in the day that you’re starting it—and remind them often throughout the day so that no one can say you didn’t tell them (little do they know, we moms know all their tricks).

      How to set the earlier bedtime is up to you, but it definitely does not need to be all or nothing. Depending on when you’re beginning the earlier bedtime, try starting with 30 minutes earlier for the first few days and then add up from there. Just beware that they may have trouble falling asleep at first, since they’re bodies have adjusted to staying up later. This is where the bedtime routine comes into play. What do they normally do during the school year? Bath, brush, read—or something along those lines? If they’ve gotten out of that habit, now is the time to reinstill it.

      On the other end, if they’ve been sleeping in, start setting alarms and practice getting up and getting “ready” in the morning. If you don’t want them to consider you a total summertime buzz-kill, allow weekends to stay on summertime.

      Ease New School Year Jitters

      Whether your kids will be in a new school this year, or you have a child who does not deal with change well, ignoring their anxiety will not make it go away. Start talking about how they’re feeling, answer any questions they might have, and start them on their new routine so that it becomes familiar to them.

      Contact the school and their new teacher and ask if you can all do a meet-and-greet the week before school in their classroom. This will increase their familiarity and help them feel safe going there. If the child is in middle or high school, ask for a tour of the school and a meet-and-greet with their teachers. If they’ll be using a locker, ask if they could get their locker assignment and locker code or combination so they can practice opening it without trying to figure it out with the pressure of other kids and bells going off (I literally still have this recurring dream at least once a year that I cannot remember my locker combo and the bells are going off, I’m late…ahhhh!)

      Make Sure You Still Squeeze in Fun

      Summer is short enough, and the purpose of preparing for school is not to shorten summer even more. Even with easing back into a schedule and routine, be sure to add plenty of end-of-summer activities and family time (or downtime if summer has been all go, go, go). And while I do not recommend planning your family getaway for the last week of summer, if that is your thing, being prepared beforehand will be imperative!

      Here’s to a safe, healthy, happy school year!

      We’d love to hear your tips and what works for you! Drop us a line!

      Road Trip Snack Secrets, According to a Dietitian (and VitaMom)

      Road Trip Snack Secrets, According to a Dietitian (and VitaMom)

      Author: Ashley Wentworth

      So in all honesty, that title basically reads “my favorite road trip snacks.” If you’re headed out on the road with the family or friends, car snacks are a must! Read on to find out my secrets to staying satisfied and avoiding hangry meltdowns when you’re away from home.

      Whenever I leave the house, I bring snacks! If I’m only going to be gone a short time I’ll just take a granola bar. But if I’m going to be gone for a few hours, or going on a day trip or a long vacation, you best believe we’re loaded to the hilt with snacks—or even small meals. 

      Funny story: I once got my carry-on bag searched at security at an airport because of all of my snacks—a lot of them had twist ties that must have looked suspicious in the x-ray machine. My bag was literally filled with food and a few books. 

      You can still have balanced meals and snacks but, in my opinion, road trips and vacations are not the time to obsess over healthy food choices—it’s a time to enjoy with your friends or family, be in the moment, and make memories. Choose foods that help give you energy for your trip and let you have fun, too.

      Bringing foods from home can also save you time and money (um, yes, please!). Planning ahead will help you avoid stopping sixteen thousand times at convenience stores or fast food restaurants because you’re all hungry at different times or can’t find what you want. 

      Logistical snack secrets 

      Here are my logistical snack secrets for your family’s next road trip.


      We always go to the grocery store a day or two before we’re heading out with a list of snack items we want to bring. Having a plan helps us avoid forgetting someone’s favorite snack—and the impending meltdown.  

      Bring things you know most everyone in the car will like. It’s great to bring healthy foods like fruits and vegetables—as long as they won’t go to waste. Packing foods you hope your family will eat—but know they probably won’t—just presents you with wasted space, food, and irritable people on your hands (no thanks!). So, if your family doesn’t usually enjoy grapes (or whatever) then, don’t bring grapes on your road trip.

      Stick with What You Know

      Road trips are not usually the best time to try new, healthy recipes or foods (hello, upset tummies—and frequent, inconvenient bathroom breaks). Bring your tried and true snacks and foods. You can always try new things on the road if you feel like it, just go easy to avoid “vacation belly.” 

      Think Variety

      Bring a variety of items. Include things from all food groups to keep people satisfied, including sweet treats. I never go on a road trip without chocolate of some type (Mom Tip: Keep the chocolate in a container that will catch any melted chocolate if it gets left in a hot car!).

      By bringing a variety of foods, it also allows you to make small meals out of snack foods so you don’t have to stop as often to find somewhere to eat.

      Stay Cool

      Bring a cooler for things that need to stay chilled and bring a separate bag of shelf-stable items. We always take both! Letting things that need to be refrigerated stay at car temperature usually makes things not as tasty and can be dangerous—and another cause for upset tummies. Putting shelf-stable things in the cooler can cause them to be damp or get stale. I know it seems like a lot of space for food, but trust me on this one. 

      I like to use freezer packs instead of ice in our coolers when possible. They are so much easier to deal with than having to worry about stopping for ice all the time and it keeps things clean and dry. If you don’t have a way to re-freeze the packs though, by all means stay safe and use ice.

      Bottoms Up

      Don’t forget your fluids! Pack plenty of water to avoid paying for overpriced bottled water at convenience stores. If you’ll be away overnight or longer, a 5 gallon water jug with a pump is a total life-saver. Plus, you’ll avoid all the space and waste of plastic water bottles. If it will be hot, consider using sports or electrolyte drinks to help with electrolyte replacement. Using electrolyte powders can help save on cargo room. 

      Think Outside the Box

      Just because foods you like aren’t considered “snack” food or road-worthy, doesn’t mean you can’t bring them! You could easily figure out a way to make oatmeal (thermoses are great!) or bring a bowl for cereal if those are things you enjoy. 

      Also, don’t forget a trash bag of some sort for all the inevitable wrappers—they hopefully won’t get stuffed between the seats this way! 

      Another tip—bring baby wipes, wet wipes, or something to clean off sticky fingers!

      Bring On the Snack Ideas

      Here are a few of my family’s favorite road-trip snacks to give you some ideas of what can be packed.

      • Cheese: string, sliced, cubed, etc. 
      • Pretzels, chips, tortilla chips, crackers, etc.
      • Dry cereal
      • Peanut butter crackers
      • Pre-popped popcorn
      • Granola bars, protein bars, etc.
      • Nuts
      • Trail or snack mixes
      • Nut butters
      • Hummus or other dips
      • Yogurt
      • Salsa
      • Fruit: fresh, canned, freeze-dried, and/or dried
      • Sliced veggies
      • Hard boiled eggs
      • Cottage cheese
      • Bread and things to make sandwiches like deli meats or nut butter and jelly
      • Meat jerky 
      • Chocolate and other treats you and your family enjoy. Choose packages that are individually wrapped or small portions to make them last longer. 
        • Chocolate covered nuts and pretzels are some of my favorites

      Bottom Line

      There are no rules! Bring whatever you like. Make sandwiches ahead, make pasta salads, etc. Choose what fits your likes, wants, and needs. Snacks are one of the best parts of a road trip—have fun with them!