Teaching Kids to Be Independent: Not Everything Goes as Planned

Six parenting tips to help your kids make informed choices and the pros and cons of each one

Teaching Kids to Be Independent: Not Everything Goes as Planned

Teaching Kids to Be Independent: Not Everything Goes as Planned

When we imagine our kids as adults (it will happen someday, even if you think you'll be stuck in diaper land forever!), we see them as happy, healthy, and well-adjusted people. Hopefully, we haven't scarred them too badly and they come out of childhood with fond memories of that time mom and dad thought making them pose with a giant, deranged Easter Bunny in a mall was a good idea. We also hope they will have ability to make smart choices about important aspects of their lives. By giving them tools at a young age to make independent decisions, we lay the foundation for them to lead healthy lives. 

But what does that even mean? Every family has to figure out what it means to them, and in ours, being healthy goes beyond just preventing the flu. It means raising independent thinkers who think critically, are willing to throw themselves into new experiences, and learn to decide what will keep their brains and bodies strong and healthy. After all, we can't be with them 24/7, even if we sometimes want to be. My husband and I use six parenting tips to help our kids grow up to make smart choices when they're bombarded by outside influences. It's not foolproof, but following our own advice helps when we get bogged down in the parenting trenches.

1. Teach Kids to Make Informed Food Choices 

Why are we born with an instinctive desire for butter tarts and sweet chili and lime chips? When my kids were toddlers, I spent more time reading Nutrition Facts tables when grocery shopping than I spent showering in any given week. While my husband and I read these tables to understand what we're feeding our family, the kids watch us and learn to do the same. Because we're a French/English household, they see and hear us reading both sides of the packages. By reading the tables, we also get a good understanding of how much of a particular food they can eat by taking note of Serving Sizes and % Daily Value for certain nutrients.

The Government of Canada makes it easy to decipher what we need to know when reading Nutrition Facts tables and how to Focus on the Facts with a one-stop shop of info.

Paying attention to this info has also helped with our grocery shopping. It became easier for me to show my kids how to compare packaged foods and explain why we couldn't buy a box with only two servings when there are four people in our home. The Serving Size and % Daily Value info are super helpful to keep us on budget, too. Our kids learned to understand what carbohydrates (or glucides, because everything has to be read twice in our house) are, along with various minerals, vitamins, and other key nutrients listed on the Nutrition Facts tables. They also learned approximately how much of each they need per day to keep their bodies fueled for school and sports. The best bets are usually foods that combine protein, carbohydrates, fats, and some vitamins thrown in for good measure.

Pros: Kids will still reach for a bag of popcorn or pretzels (because who can resist??), but they'll also learn that consuming a package of 52 servings in one sitting is not cool for their growing minds and bodies. They'll then be more likely to make independent, informed choices about the nutrients they get when choosing a snack.

Cons: It’s all fun and games until reading Nutrition Facts tables becomes the game. There’s a favourite game in our kitchen and it’s called "Read All the Nutrition Facts tables in English AND French and Drive Mom and Dad Crazy!" The problem when encouraging kids to read and understand tables as part of your parenting strategy, is when it works so well, the kids become mini nutrition lecturers at the breakfast table when all parents want to do is let the first hit of caffeine sink in.

2. Teach Kids to Love Being Outdoors and Being Active

As we drove home from my daughter's riding lesson recently, we heard a commercial for a business college and she started talking about her future career choices. I asked if a business degree interested her and she said, "NO! I want to work outside not in a building." Okay, she's young, and she doesn't realize that a lot of what adults do to earn a living is done indoors, but in her mind, any time outside is good. We've been taking our kids hiking and canoeing since their only mode of transportation was the Baby Bjorn.

Full disclosure: I have moments, days, or weeks when my couch is more appealing than my running shoes, but then I crave movement. I've noticed our kids are the same. The key is finding ways to move every day because you want to. If parents are active, kids are active. It becomes their norm and it's a clear case of monkey see, monkey do.

Pros:  See everything above, and also breathing fresh air and not letting our muscles atrophy. But perhaps the greatest pro is that being outside is good for the brain. It's hard to stay stressed when you're hiking through a forest trying to keep up with your kids and the dog.

Cons: There's no sleeping in any more. Ever. 

3. Teach Kids to Help with Meals

Every mom knows that grocery shopping with kids is the second circle of hell, which is why a solo trip to the grocery store is almost like a mini vacation. We get away, we relax, we stop and smell the flowers. But there's another option: bring the kids along. 

You read that right, and I'm mostly sane when I suggest it. Now that the kids know how to read Nutrition Facts tables (see tip 1), start with a plan and give your children options.

  • Ask your kids to choose two out of a possible four meals.
  • Have the older kids write the grocery list, or enter it into your shopping app.
  • Give each kid a task once you arrive at the store: finding the healthiest options based on Nutrition Facts tables, choosing items that meet the certain recipe requirements, loading the cart, or bagging the groceries.
  • Once you've brought home the ingredients and the groceries are unpacked, the kids can help prep the meal. Little hands can wash vegetables while the older kids can help peel or measure out ingredients.

Pros: There's a method to teaching kids to help in the kitchen. In the beginning, it will take you twice as long to get anything done, that's unavoidable unless you have Stepford Children. Once they get into a routine of helping to choose meals, finding the ingredients, and prepping, you'll be serving up meals that won't have 1/2 the table turning up their noses and going on hunger strikes.

Cons: Grocery cart accidents and flour explosions in the kitchen are a given.

4. Give Kids Chores

Are you tired of coming home to a kitchen, or living room, or THE ENTIRE HOUSE looking like this:

Besides getting the kids to help with meals and grocery shopping, they can take on other chores too. It's better for everyone's health (or at least a mom's mental health) if there aren't dirty socks piled up on the floor and if the recycling is taken out before it spills across the kitchen. I assign age-appropriate tasks for my two. They don't always toe the line, and I sometimes have to remind them again and AGAIN before things get done, but generally they clean their rooms, empty and reload the dishwasher, vacuum, water the vegetable and flower gardens, and mow the lawn.

Pros: Hopefully, they'll remember to apply these lessons when they have their own places and in the meantime, we get to live in a house that doesn't look like a struggle occurred in every room.

Cons: There was that time my son mowed the lavender along with the lawn, and watering the garden once became a full out water fight for two days.

5. Teach Kids to Care for Pets

I'm a firm believer that every home needs a pet and preferably one with whom we can snuggle with and walk. When we lost our last dog, we all cried for days; now that our new pup has joined the family, there's a definite change in mood. He's the unofficial calmer of nerves and protector against monsters under the bed. Sure, a pet is work and lots of moms think the responsibility will inevitably fall on them. It will, I won't lie, but it won't last forever and there is also a lot kids can do to pitch in. Eventually, they'll take on more and more responsibility. When kids are little, they can take on watering or grooming the dog/cat/pony/fish and as they get bigger, the kids can become household dog walkers and pooper scoopers.

Pros:  When kids care for an animal, they learn responsibility without being hit over the head with a lesson book. My daughter cares for her pony without being asked because she knows it's what's expected and the pony depends on her. 

Cons: Letting 4-legged animals into your life means never leaving the house without having fur stuck to your clothes. 

6. Teach Kids to Travel

We love travel for what it teaches us about ourselves and the people we meet. It was one of our greatest wishes that our kids would learn to love it too. So we did what we could to foster that feeling. The key to raising kids who are explorers is to bring them along on expeditions small and large; even a hike close to home counts as an expedition when kids are young. We’re only limited by budget, time, and health when it comes to discovering new places. Travelling is trickier when there are two kids with shorter legs trying to keep up with mom and dad, but it’s still possible if you want to do it. It will even add to future travel stories.

Look through magazines, travel sites, and maps together and ask the kids to pinpoint their favourites based on categories you all agree on: adventure, relaxation, sports, food. Once you start, you’ll be well on your way to making a family travel wish list.

Pros: It’s gratifying to realize you’ve raised kids who are confident enough to explore someplace completely new. When my husband and I had our first child, we worried our frequent trips would stop, even as we vowed to keep trekking to as many places our budget would allow. We kept our vow and we’re now raising kids who have the urge and courage to explore, with or without mom and dad.

Cons: They won’t write or text home nearly as often as you want them to because they’re too busy exploring. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to troll them on Instagram or Snapchat and follow along on their trip, or you could just be stuck with receiving one missive in a 10-day span.

Some of my favourite and proudest moments happen when I see my kids figuring out they have the wits and tools to decide to do (or not do) something for themselves.


Easy Rum & Coconut Oil Caramelized Bananas


Easy Rum & Coconut Oil Caramelized Bananas

A great dessert does not have to be complicated. These Easy Rum & Coconut Oil Caramelized Bananas will be a favourite with all of your family | YMCFood |

What's a person who has a sweet tooth to do, especially when she's sworn off baked goods (at least temporarily... or this week anyway) in order to fit into a favourite pair of jeans? Find an alternative that includes fruit with a dash of healthy coconut oil for good measure. This is another one of those childhood recipes I grew up on. Mom made it for us when we'd begged and begged for dessert that wasn't yogurt. And it reinforces everything I learned from her about real food: good does not mean complicated.

Short of befriending someone who's heading to Jamaica sometime between now and when Canadian temperatures reach 25ºC - and finagling an invite to join them - let's just crack open a bottle of quality rum and drink it.

Or cook with it.

Now, I'm not advocating feeding our kids alcohol-laced food, but the beauty of cooking with rum (or wine, or brandy) is that the flavour remains while the alcohol evaporates. It's a win-win for anyone who wants to add an island flavour to a simple dish.

A great dessert does not have to be complicated. These Easy Rum & Coconut Oil Caramelized Bananas will be a favourite with all of your family | YMCFood |

Easy Rum & Coconut Oil Caramelized Bananas 



4 bananas, sliced in quarters
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon dark rum (quality counts)
2-3 tablespoons liquid raw honey
French vanilla ice cream, 1-2 scoops per person 

A great dessert does not have to be complicated. These Easy Rum & Coconut Oil Caramelized Bananas will be a favourite with all of your family | YMCFood |


 Slice bananas in half and half those again.

 Heat coconut oil over medium-high heat in a skillet. Once the oil is melted, place bananas over top the coconut oil.

 Sear bananas approximately 2 minutes per side so that they're golden brown. Once you flip them over, drizzle the rum over the bananas. Remove from heat.

 Drizzle honey over warm bananas. Serve ice cream (if you're not off sweets like other people) and top with bananas. 

Serves 4

Bon appétit!

A great dessert does not have to be complicated. These Easy Rum & Coconut Oil Caramelized Bananas will be a favourite with all of your family | YMCFood |

 RELATED: Baked Banana Egg Rolls with Caramel-Rum Sauce


Creamy Stove Top Mac & Cheese


Creamy Stove Top Mac & Cheese

Stove Top Creamy Mac & Cheese

Here's a secret: even food writers come down with cooking fatigue.

Look up cooking fatigue and a picture will pop up of parents who ARE DONE. We've worked all day — either in the home or out of it — maybe our kid hasn't slept for the 2,465th day in a row, our nipples are cracked from a poor latch (ignore this one, dads) and there isn't enough Lansinoh in the world to fix it, and we've lost track of what our seven year-old will eat this week. It happens.

While whining about it works for a while, we all know what we signed up for when we became adults — I've done this countless times — and everyone still needs to eat. That's when I turn to the easiest, fastest recipes that will fill a hole and leave enough for lunch the next day. Put this one in the file marked Desperate And Hungry.

Make this super cheesy and creamy stove top mac and cheese that's guaranteed to be a favourite, quick weeknight dinner for the family.


250-300 grams macaroni pasta
5 slices thick cut bacon, cut into 1cm strips
3 green onions, chopped
2 cups hard Italian cheese, grated (I used Grana Padano)
2 cups aged white cheddar, grated
1 - 473mL container 15% cooking cream
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup red wine
pepper, 3-4 turns of peppermill

Make this super cheesy and creamy stove top mac and cheese that's guaranteed to be a favourite, quick weeknight dinner for the family.

Make this super cheesy and creamy stove top mac and cheese that's guaranteed to be a favourite, quick weeknight dinner for the family.


  Cook bacon in skillet over medium heat, turn it over gently. As bacon cooks, boil pasta in a separate pot until pasta is al dente, drain, rinse, and set it aside.

  Once bacon is partially cooked, add green onions and continue cooking until onions are softened. 

  Push the bacon and green onions to the side and deglaze skillet with red wine. Allow to simmer 1 minute and stir in cream, milk, cheese, and pepper.

  Allow the cheese to melt, stirring gently, and add cooked macaroni. Stir and simmer over low to medium heat another 5-10 minutes.

  Serve with a large salad.

Makes enough for 4-6, with enough for lunch the next day.

Bon appétit!

Make this super cheesy and creamy stove top mac and cheese that's guaranteed to be a favourite, quick weeknight dinner for the family.

RELATED: Store and Serve Cheese Like a Pro!