Louise Sloan

Kids, McDonald’s & Nutrition: Are We Gonna Start Seeing McBroccoli?

April 18, 2012 at 2:23 pm , by

One Sunday afternoon winter before last (did we even have a winter this past winter?) my son, then 4, and I went ice-skating in Bryant Park with a friend and her son. It got to be dinnertime and we were just leaving the rink. To save time, we decided to stop by the McDonald’s in Times Square before we hopped on the subway. We fed the kids on the train and then raced home, trying to get them tucked in ASAP.

“But we haven’t had supper!” Scott protested when I started talking about pajamas and tooth-brushing.

“Yes we did,” I replied. “We had McDonald’s on the train, remember?”

“But that’s not good for your body!” he replied.

He totally had me there. Once again, my own instruction used against me. But those facts may be ever-so-slowly changing. McDonald’s is working to alter its bad-for-you image, and one step they’ve recently taken is to include apple slices with all Happy Meals. In addition to the fries. OK, so your kid probably shouldn’t be eating fries except maybe once every fortnight. But the reality is, millions of people eat at McDonald’s, and suddenly all those kids are getting one more serving of fruit per day. It may not be brown rice, black beans and broccoli (one of Scott’s favorite meals, I kid you not), but it’s a positive move. When Hellman’s moved to using cage-free eggs in their mayo, I imagine that life got better for a whole lot of chickens. When a gigantic company makes a small change for the better, it can make a big difference.

McDonald’s is currently sponsoring a contest where 10 lucky kids age 8 to 11 get to fly to the London 2012 Olympic Games. Two of them—the grand prize winners—will become honorary “Happy Meals Chefs” and get to work with McDonald’s executive chef Dan Coudreaut to “help him in the creation and testing of new, nutrition-minded Happy Meal choices,” according to spokesperson Elizabeth Egerstrom. You have to make a video of how your family makes mealtime fun while making healthy choices, and upload it to the contest website.

Speaking of Happy Meals, it makes me pretty happy to think about the lecture Scott would probably treat Chef Dan to, about nutrition. And his ideas for healthy Happy Meals, which probably would include Mcblack beans and Mcbroccoli. Luckily for Chef Dan, it’ll be three years before Scott can enter the contest. But your kid could, if you hurry. Contest ends tonight at midnight.


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Ladies’ Home Journal Goes to Pot!

March 13, 2012 at 10:43 am , by

Today, the April issue of LHJ hits newsstands, and with it comes reefer madness! In the “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” column, everyone’s favorite since it launched back in 1953, the problem in the marriage is that the wife, a successful working woman, gets high on pot every day. In the margin at the top of the page, we show the results of a poll that we did on attitudes toward medical marijuana: the majority of our readers (60 percent) approve.

We’ve just done a dramatic redesign to make Ladies’ Home Journal much more cutting-edge and fun. But have we gotten, uh, a little too groovy? In short, what were we smoking?

Actually, this is hardly the first time we’ve covered illegal drug use. Way back in 1963, we ran a feature in which Cary Grant talked about the amazing experiences he had on LSD. It was before all the risks were known and it was part of a medical experiment, but still! LHJ? Who’d a thunk it?

The reality is, Ladies’ Home Journal has a long history of covering the reality of women’s lives and current trends, even when it’s controversial. Back in 1906, we endorsed sex education as a way of preventing sexually transmitted disease—an idea that some people still disagree with. Since then we’ve covered everything from housewives struggling with drug addiction (1971) to moms struggling with raising gay teens (2010). Our readers have always been plugged-in, modern women, and we’ve always provided them with content that keeps them informed and up-to-date.

So, yeah, we’ve come a long way since the “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” of ’53 in which one husband’s quote was, “Nancy could learn a lot from some of the secretaries in my office. They know how to be sweet and feminine.” Yikes! Very Mad Men, while the “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” for April 2012 is admittedly closer to Weeds. Still, it’s very much in line with our editorial tradition.

Reactions to our March issue, the first of the current redesign, have been positive: “Looks fabulous and reinvigorated. Love it!” one reader tweeted. “Great job, y’all,” another reader wrote us via email. “Was thrilled to see my old favorites were still in there,” she said. We seemed hipper, yet still the LHJ she loves. The real story is that we were always pretty hip. Your grandma probably did subscribe to Ladies’ Home Journal, but we’ve never been a grandma magazine. We are up-to-the-minute and ahead of the curve—and have been, for a very long time.

My Life With A Celebrity Chef (Age 5)

March 8, 2012 at 1:06 am , by

“If you speak to me disrespectfully one more time, you will not be allowed to cook for a week,” I told my son in my best dispassionate, Dirty Harry “Go ahead, make my day” voice. His babysitter, who was on the way out the door, shot me a “WTF” look. I was threatening a 5-year-old with the terrible punishment of not being allowed to cook dinner for a week? Were we in Bizarro World?

Um, I guess so. I don’t know—it’s just the way things are these days at my house. My kindergartner has always loved to cook (check out the video of him making pancakes at age 1 and my blog post about his surprisingly good radish soup), but lately he’s become downright obsessed. And more than that, Scott’s suffering from, shall we say, a slight overabundance of self-esteem? It’s like I’ve suddenly become Bill Buford, author of the wonderful memoir Heat, which is about spending a year working in Mario Batali’s kitchen, getting schooled—and yelled at—by the famous chef. Scott, of course, is Batali.

“Most kids my age don’t know how to cook, but I’ve practiced a lot so I can,” he’ll say proudly. “That’s right,” I’ll reply, watching as he expertly cracks and scrambles eggs or slices up some potatoes with a disposable plastic knife and sautées them in olive oil with garlic, fresh herbs and a touch of freshly ground black pepper. (His idea.) But then I’ll come up against his inner Batali. I’ll give him some basic guidance or I’ll hand him an ingredient, and he’ll rebuke me: “Mom. I’M THE CHEF. Chefs don’t have people helping them!” Oh my goodness, the tone! I tell him that real chefs actually DO have lots of people helping them. And that he is not to speak that way to his mother. What I don’t tell him is that real chefs often have the same imperious attitude. They’re just a little older and wield a lot more financial power over their kitchen companions.

Night before last he had a bit of a come-uppance. Read more

Is Happiness A Skill?

February 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm , by

I was originally hired to be LHJ’s “psychology editor,” and over my four years here, much of my work has been about improving happiness and coping with stress. In fact, the first article I worked on was called “5 Habits of Truly Happy People.”  I joked at the time that after a few months on the job I’d end up being oh so enlightened. But you know what? Lately I’ve realized that I have picked up a few ideas that  help me through the hard times. Here are a few LHJ-article  tricks I’ve been using—all of which have a lot of university research proving that they’re effective. Plus two thumbs up from this test driver!

Do fun stuff. Sure, you need to take your problems seriously, eat your vegetables and keep up with the news. But not every minute of the day! Take time to click on that cute or funny Facebook link. Watch or read something that makes you laugh (here’s our article on how laughter releases stress), or indulge in some escapism. I’ve most recently been transported to the English countryside, watching Downton Abbey on my iPhone on my subway commute, and reading Plan C, an e-book that came out last week (see photo) that Vanity Fair‘s James Wolcott accurately called a “breathless romp.” The heroine, dressed in expensive stilettos, teeters back and forth between fabulous Manhattan apartments and celeb-filled cocktail parties, exchanging gossip and witty banter with her equally fabulous BFFs—about as far from my NYC life as you can get. Though my reality—being the single working mom of a five-year-old—does help increase the fun factor, I gotta say (check out our article on the psychological importance of play)—there’s usually a game of chase or something silly I can engage in the minute I come home at night.

Think happy thoughts. Even small ones, like, “The Chrysler Building really is beautiful.” Or, “my bum hip isn’t bothering me too much today.” Look for something to enjoy in the moment (for tips, read our mindfulness article), or something to look forward to, something that you’re grateful for, or find a happy memory and dwell on that. These small thoughts add up, boosting your mood and at least temporarily interrupting that endless loop of negativity.

Hug somebody. Thank goodness for my snuggly schoolboy! But if you don’t have a five-year-old or a husband or a friend handy, a pet will work just fine. The benefits of touch are well-documented, and can sometimes really work wonders, as “The Cuddle Cure,” a pet story I edited, demonstrates.

Get some exercise. I know, sounds like broccoli. But wow, does it work. It’s as close to a psychological cure-all as you can get. After 20 minutes of lifting heavy weights, whatever my heavy load is always seems a lot lighter. Hmmm. I think it’s time for a gym break.

What’s your favorite “happiness skill”?

They Really Do Grow Up Too Soon

December 14, 2011 at 12:30 pm , by

When my son was a newborn, I had moments—usually when I was feeling particularly happy and in love with my boy—when sadness would rush through my body, instant and palpable, like a jolt of adrenaline, and my eyes would fill with tears. It wasn’t the baby blues. It was the realization that life is short and fast and finite, and that these moments that were giving me such joy were fleeting, never to be recaptured. I’m guessing that my age—I was 43 when Scott was born—had a lot to do with it. I’ll bet 25-year-old moms are a lot less likely to draw a straight line between Goodnight Moon and mortality.

I’m able to stay more solidly in the present since those first days—no more wallowing in the poignancy of it all—but I have to say, it really does go by way too fast, just like the cliché says. In our September issue, we ran an essay on this fleeting nature of childhood called “The Long Goodbye.” It really struck a chord with readers, staying on our “Most Popular” list for many weeks. I’m not surprised: What parent can’t relate? And it’s a beautiful piece. If you missed it—or if you’re one of the many readers who loved it—here’s a video of writer Melissa T. Shultz reading it, with lots of adorable photos of her son. Get your tissues, sit back and enjoy. If you’re in the throes of holiday shopping and stress, this ought to help you get back to the spirit of the season.


Teach Your Children Well (because your words may come right back at you!)

November 4, 2011 at 2:38 pm , by

“No, I don’t wanna have radish soup, it sounds yucky!”

I’m sorry to report that was me, talking to my five-year-old son—not vice-versa.

Granted, I was a bit tired. It was the end of the day on a Sunday, after a weekend that was nonstop activity. Our last outing had been to a healthy food event at a local public school. My friend Jen is a big advocate of local and sustainable food, and she’d invited us to join her and her kids to the event, featuring a performance by her uncle Tom Chapin, a singer who was debuting his new kids’ album, Give Peas a Chance, all about healthy eating. There would be exhibitions about making veggie smoothies, composting and raising chickens in your backyard.  I figured it would be a fun outing with good music (it was), the boys would have fun playing, and maybe Scott would learn stuff. But me? I’m already an adventurous eater, well-versed in healthy options, I thought. I read “Chick Lit,” this month’s LHJ article on backyard chickens. My mom’s been composting forever. I had nothing to learn.

Enter the radishes. (For more of the story and an easy recipe, read on.)

Read more

Is Recess a Waste of Time?

October 21, 2011 at 3:15 pm , by

I have what is known in the parenting business as an “active boy.” Let me break it down for you in layman’s terms. It’s Sunday morning. You’re sick as a dog. Your 5-year-old son is delightful and well-behaved, showing much concern for your well-being, even asking if a kiss would help. Fast-forward to after he’s been sitting quietly for four hours, watching videos and playing with trucks while you sneeze miserably into your pillow, and your well-behaved young man is starting to turn into… Satan. He can’t behave, can’t focus; his mood goes to H-E-double-hockey-sticks. So you scrape yourself out of bed and take him out so he can run around. Problem solved; Satan vanquished.

So naturally, when I was looking at schools, recess was top of mind. Last I checked, teachers don’t generally enjoy teaching Satan the sort of kid that my son becomes when he’s been sitting quietly for half a day. Scott is usually well-behaved and loves to learn. But he’s got to move every few hours. All kids do, the experts say, and studies show it not only improves their behavior (duh!) but actually helps them learn. As a mom of an active boy, I know that if my son doesn’t get enough exercise, it will set him up for academic failure, plain and simple. I wasn’t surprised to read a recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that 4 out of 5 principals feel that recess has a positive impact on academic achievement.

I’m the psychology editor at LHJ and similar studies about adults and exercise are always coming across my desk. Basically, daily exercise helps stabilize your mood, it relieves stress and makes your brain work better—in addition to all the other health benefits. The evidence is so compelling that businesses are trying to find ways to basically bribe their employees into exercising, so as to have a healthier, more productive work force. I know I work better if I get some exercise around lunchtime. Yet many schools, with parents’ blessings, are cutting out recess entirely, feeling that it’s a waste of time that should be spent on academics. Meanwhile the kids get antsy, more are labeled “ADHD,” and they all stop learning as efficiently. Never mind our childhood obesity epidemic!

Because of what I’d read about schools ditching exercise in favor of more academics, I was afraid I’d run into school administrators who were anti-recess. Not at my son’s school! PS9 is a cash-strapped New York City public school with a high-poverty student body, in a time where meeting higher academic standards is do-or-die—schools that don’t perform are being shut down. But in her address to prospective parents, one of the major points made by the dynamic principal, Sandra D’Avilar, was about exercise. “Kids have got to move,” she said. Amen! She probably also realizes that if recess has any effect on test scores, it’s a positive one.

What I didn’t realize is that having a pro-exercise principal is only half the battle. Read more