The Benefits of Playdates for Autistic Children

For children with autism, it can be a challenge to make social connections with peers. For their parents, helping these children learn to play with others well is a common challenge. But like most things in life, children with autism can improve their skills for playing and socializing with practice.

Which is a wonderful thing, because learning to play does more than keep a child busy for an hour or two. In fact, play helps children build important skills that will help them succeed and thrive throughout their lives.

What are these skills that we can build through play? Here’s a look at some of the ways autistic children benefit from play dates.

Play is a “safety zone.”
Playtime is a place where children can try out different things, such as life roles, without consequence. This lets them explore what they see in the world around them.

Boosts confidence.
Autistic and typical children alike gain confidence through play. Because they have worked things out in this “safe zone,” they are able to more confidently engage in real-world situations.

Improves ability to interact with new people.
Warming up to new people can be especially challenging for kids with autism, but play dates provide a great way to help your child start getting to know new people regularly. With time, this has been shown to make meeting new people easier for autistic children.

Practices important social skills.
This includes social expectations such as sharing and taking turns, which are instilled early but can be challenging for kids with autism to act on.

Helps identify social skill deficits.
When your child has play dates, observe how the children interact. Notice where your child seems to struggle, get stressed, or have trouble interacting appropriately. This can be a great way to learn how to help your child grow even more.

When arranging play dates, plan ahead to give your child time with many different kinds of peers, both autistic or other special needs, and typical kids. Engaging with typically abled children is important for learning age-appropriate social skills.

You can help your child prepare for play dates by talk about what to expect several days in advance, and again shortly before the other child arrives. Put away any toys that your child may not be ready to share so they don’t cause an issue, and to start, stick to activities your child knows well and enjoys—s/he is already doing on new thing! Shorter play dates are better to start, even just 30 minutes or shorter, to help your child adjust.

Over time, your child will become more comfortable in play dates, and be able to do more. Along the way, they’ll build important skills that will help them make friends, adjust socially, and live happy, full lives.

What To Look For in Dog Food

What you feed your dog is one of the most important health decisions of dog ownership. A dog’s food heavily impacts its energy and overall health. But there are a lot of factors to consider. The right food for your dog depends on size, age, activity level and other special needs your dog may have.

But when your dog is well-fed, he is set up to live happy and healthy, with fewer health complications. Here are some tips to find the right food for your dog at every stage of life:

Puppies’ growing bodies have special nutritional needs. How well their food meets those needs can shape the dog they grow into and influence their healthy over the full course of their lives.

Look for ingredients that support growth and energy—because they’re growing so quickly, puppies need more of both per pound than adult dogs do. That means protein and carbs. A good kibble for puppies also includes healthy fats, which boosts a dog’s ability to absorb vitamins.

Improper or imbalanced nutrition in the puppy stage could negatively affect bone and joint growth, which could lead to long-term health issues. This is especially important for large dog breeds because they grow so rapidly as puppies.

Always feed growing dogs a food that is specifically designed for puppies. If your dog is a small or large breed, look for one specifically designed for that breed type. Also, make note of the instructions on the dog food to be sure you feed your dog the appropriate amount for its age, weight and size—under-feeding can leave your dog’s growth stunted, while overfeeding and lead to obesity, which can increase risk for joint and skeletal issues

Once your puppy has reached is full size and is no longer growing, it is time to switch it to an adult dog food. This is important for meeting your full-grown dog’s health needs for weight management, oral care, activity level digestion, and more.

For good adult dog nutrition, look for protein for muscle support, and carbs for energy and fiber. Healthy fats continue to be important too, supporting skin and coat health, energy boosting levels, and enhancing taste.

A food that helps your dog get its needed vitamins and minerals will keep its body strong and working properly. Stick to a dog food made for your dog’s type if it is a large or small breed or has other special needs.

As dogs age, their metabolism slows and their activity levels go down. As this happens, dogs’ need for calories and fat goes down.

Dogs eight years and older have a higher risk for a number of health issues including obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, dental disease, degenerative hip and joint disease, and more. They’re also more prone to digestive irregularities. Stick to a dog food created or seniors to help your dog get the appropriate nutrients, and if your dog has a health issue, look for a food that can help address it.

Senior dogs may also start to lose their appetite. If you notice your dog eating less, talk to your vet about potential health issues and look out for signs of discomfort, such as difficulty chewing. Consider ways to make the food more palatable or easier to consume, such as adding a little water to dry food to soften it and reduce digestive issues.

What You Feed Your Dog Matters

A dog’s nutrition needs can vary significantly based on its size, age and activity level. To make sure your dog is getting the health support it needs from its food, always check that the food’s intended consumption matches your dog’s life stage, and make note of any special needs it has.

From the puppy stage to adulthood to your dog’s silver years, make sure your dog’s food is designed to meet its specific health needs. Follow these simple tips, and you’ll set your dog up for a long and healthy life.

25 MORE Winter Comfort Food Ideas

Winter is the time of year when everyone wants some comfort food!  When the weather gets colder, the wind begins to howl and the snow starts falling, most people want to reach for the kind of food that warms them up from the belly out and makes them feel like they are back at home again.

Check out these 25 ideas for your next winter comfort food craving, and get ready to enjoy the best foods of the season!



Layer up some noodles and cheese with vegetables or meaty filling for a hearty winter meal.


Fried chicken

Although perhaps not the healthiest comfort food around, fried chicken is a great way to warm yourself up on a cold day.



It does not matter how you prepare them—potatoes are always an excellent comfort food.  Baked, mashed, or sweet potatoes in a casserole are all good choices.


Beef stew

Combine beef with broth, red wine, and carrots to complete this classic comfort meal.


Tuna casserole

This is an inexpensive way to feel better when the cold weather has you down.


Tomato soup

Perhaps everyone’s favorite classic comfort food, tomato soup pairs well with any main course.


Biscuits and gravy

This traditional Southern United States classic combines warm, fluffy biscuits with white gravy made from sausage drippings.


Macaroni and cheese

Try this kid-friendly dish when you want something warm and gooey to satisfy your craving.



A bit like beef stew with noodles in it, stroganoff is a hearty cold weather classic.


Sausage and peppers

Throw together this simple Italian dish of peppers filled with tomatoes, rice, and cheese.


Meat loaf

Another affordable option, meat loaf is easy to make and even easier to enjoy.


Homemade burgers

Make your burgers from scratch at home to keep out the unwanted greasy ingredients you might find in fast food restaurants.


Chicken pot pie

A creamy chicken pot pie with a warm, flaky crust is sure to lift your spirits during the wintertime.


Pork chops

Cook up some pork chops in the stove or skillet to create a home cooking favorite that is sure to please the whole family.



Another traditional Southern United States staple, cornbread is the first step toward making your own turkey stuffing at home.  It is also great on its own with some butter melted on top!


Potato soup

Mix up a pot of potato soup and load it with bacon, chives, and cheese to soothe your spirits and fill your stomach.


Chicken and rice

Serve a warm piece of baked chicken over a pile of seasoned rice and you will feel the comfort in no time.



Despite its spicy nature, gumbo is a great way to unwind with a soup filled with hearty proteins and tasty veggies.


Clam chowder

Have this warm and soothing soup along with bread, sandwiches, or clam cakes, or enjoy a big bowl all on its own.


Corned beef and cabbage

Cook your corned beef and cabbage in the slow cooker to enjoy the aroma all day long.


Roast turkey

Of course, roast turkey has become a traditional holiday entrée, and with good reason!  Eating a piece of warm roast turkey during the cold months warms up the body and the soul.


Shepherd’s pie

Layer cooked ground meat with peas, corn, carrots, and mashed potatoes for this traditional and oh so simple dish.


Chocolate drop cookies

Chocolate, peanut butter, and dry oatmeal are the only ingredients you need for these classic cookie treats.


Chocolate brownies

Nothing says comfort like a batch of brownies served straight out of the oven with ice cream on top.


Pumpkin pie

Grab a slice of this holiday classic with a little whipped cream to round it out.




The next time you find yourself longing for comfort food, reach for one of the items on this list.  You’ll be glad you did!

Tips For Training Your Dog

Are you training a new dog? Stuck with a problem behavior you are having trouble correcting? Read on for some tips to help you effectively train your four-legged friend.


Consistency is the Key

Arguably the most important element in training a dog is consistency. Dogs, like small children, do not do well with mixed signals, and if you are inconsistent your dog is likely to get confused and to not understand what you want them to do. It is also a good idea to make sure that as many family members as possible are using the same training methods. That way, your dog will always know what is expected of them from your entire family.


Patience, Patience, Patience

Always be patient with your dog. Sometimes it is tempting to get frustrated or angry, especially when the dog is misbehaving, but in the long run this does not help the learning process any at all and could actually frighten the dog. Furthermore, behaviors take time to change. Do not expect your pup to have all their commands down quickly. Training a dog takes time. Behaviors that are natural for dogs such as jumping, biting and digging will take longer to correct.


Think Positive

Positive reinforcement is important for any good training routine. Dogs do what works. If sitting when asked, staying and giving a paw will get them a treat, a longer walk, a favorite toy or affection, then they will do it. Be sure to liberally reward your dog when they do something right. You likely have no trouble punishing behaviors you do not like. However, rewarding those behaviors you do like is sometimes harder to remember. Be genuine and sincere with your affection and praise. It is even okay to be a little bit over the top. Make sure your dog knows that you like what they are doing, and they will be much more likely to repeat the behavior.


Learn to Listen

 Listening is an important skill in any relationship. If your dog seems uncomfortable with something you are asking them to do, that is a clear message. Do not force your dog to do something that they are uncomfortable with. They have their reasons. As a human, you may not understand what those reasons are, but it is important to respect them. You can always try again later. Just because they are not comfortable at this moment does not mean they will always be uncomfortable.


These tips may seem basic, but their value cannot be underestimated. If you build a good relationship with your dog now, you are likely to have less incidents of bad behavior. Furthermore, your dog is much more likely to listen to you when you ask them to sit instead of chasing the mailman or jumping on the guests the next time you choose to entertain. Even more importantly, a well-trained dog is a loyal companion who will be at your side for the rest of their life.

Choosing a Multi-Vitamin

Our bodies need their fill of over 40 nutrients each and every day to perform at their best. Are you hitting all those quotas? Most of us don’t manage to get our fill on all of them on our own. Where our day-to-day diets fall short, a multivitamin can help pick up the slack.

The Center for Disease and Control (CDC) reports that about 40 percent of adults in America follow this advice and take a multi-vitamin daily. And yet, a 2010 Consumer Reports study indicated that 56 percent of adults expressed concerns about what was in their multi-vitamin.

With so many multi-vitamin options out there, how do you choose the one that’s right for you? Don’t leave your health to guesswork—consider these factors when choosing a multi-vitamin.

Needs differ by sex
There are some significant differences in men and women’s health needs, particularly from 18 to 50 years old. Women in their child-bearing years require more iron and folic acid than others. Men, on the other hand, need higher doses of several vitamins and minerals, but significantly less iron. For this reason, a mult-vitamin specific for your sex is best.

Don’t hide your age
Many multi-vitamins are designated by age group—kids, adults, and seniors. Be sure to take a multi-vitamin designed for your age group, as our bodies need different things at different stages of life. Kids’ growing bodies need lots of vitamin A, B, C and D, as well as calcium and iron. After 50, the body’s ability to absorb vitamins D and B12 slows down, something multi-vitamins for seniors can help address. 

Check the ingredients
A multi-vitamin doesn’t hold much value if it’s missing the nutrients you need. Always check the label to make sure it’s got high levels of everything your body needs.

Don’t go overboard
Go for a multi-vitamin with 100 percent of your daily recommended intake of as many nutrients as possible (some nutrients like calcium and magnesium rarely include 100 percent because it would make the pill too large). But never go for a multi-vitamin that goes beyond the daily recommended intake amounts—in large doses, some nutrients can become toxic. 

Consider diets and conditions
Individuals on a diet that cuts out entire food groups (such as vegetarian or carb-free) are more likely to be deficient in certain nutrients, as are those on a diet limited to 1,200 calories a day or fewer. Certain health conditions can also cause your body to have an increased need for certain nutrients, including cancer, diabetes, pancreatitis and others. Be aware of any special needs your body has.

Check the source
Vitamins derived from whole foods are better for the body than synthetic ones. How can you tell? Just look at the ingredients list for phrases like “derived from citrus fruits.”

Unlike food, a longer list of ingredients is better for a multivitamin, indicating a wider range of nutrient sources. If you want to take your multivitamin purity an extra mile, look for vitamins derived from organic and raw foods. 

The Best Source of Nutrients is Food

Always remember, the best source of nutrients is always natural ones—your food. Don’t use a multi-vitamin as a crutch; use it to fill the gaps where a balanced diet falls short. Follow these steps and you can take a multi-vitamin with confidence that your body’s needs are being met.

25 Comfort Food Ideas to Get You Through Winter

Sure, we all try to eat healthy most of the time, but sometimes those dark, cold winter days pile up. When that happens, you need that special warmth that only a true comfort food can offer.

Here are 25 of our best ideas to munch and enjoy. Click the link for a recipe for each.

  1. Macaroni and cheese
  2. Grilled cheese
  3. Mashed potatoes
  4. Loaded baked potatoes
  5. Corn chowder
  6. Potato soup
  7. Chicken noodle soup
  8. French onion soup
  9. Chili
  10. Chicken pot pie
  11. Beef stew
  12. Cornbread
  13. Roast beef
  14. Onion rings
  15. Meatloaf
  16. Oatmeal
  17. Fried chicken
  18. Lasagna
  19. Baked beans
  20. Tomato soup
  21. Swedish meatballs
  22. Chicken and dumplings
  23. Baked ziti
  24. Fettuccine alfredo
  25. Chocolate chip cookies

The next time winter cravings hit, you’ll be ready to strike with some of the season’s tastiest and most satisfying foods. Bundle up and bon appetit!