How to do stuff better

We consulted a posse of pros and rounded up 40+ expert tips on allowances, chores, healthy eating and more

Built-in help

Put the kids to work
They’ll thank you for it someday. Really. Involving kids in chores around the house is one of the best ways to build self-esteem and help them feel competent. Here’s how to kick-start their efforts:

Do let your little Molly Maid select the chores she’ll be responsible for from a “chore jar” at the beginning of the week. Don’t forget to throw in a fun chore like “lick the bowl after making brownies.”

Don’t load her up with too many tasks (you know how it feels to have a mile-long to-do list). To figure out how many chores are reasonable, divide her age by two and round up when needed, advises Tara Aronson, author of Mrs. Clean Jeans’ Housekeeping with Kids.

Make cleaning a breeze

Buy a big bottle of the white stuff
Distilled white vinegar that is, not wine. This uber-disinfecting natural cleaner costs less than a dollar a litre and boasts 1001 uses. If you don’t like the smell, add a few drops of your favourite essential oil to the mix.

Fabric softener Add ¼ cup to the rinse cycle (it’ll clean the hoses of your washing machine and remove soap scum at the same time).

Stain remover Attack spaghetti and ketchup stains with a half white distilled vinegar and half water solution.

Microwave cleaner Mix ½ cup vinegar and ½ cup water in microwave-safe bowl and bring to boil inside microwave. Baked-on food will be loosened and odors will disappear.

Baby toy disinfectant Get baby toys clean and germ-free by adding a good-size splash of vinegar to soapy water.

For more ideas, go to vinegartips.com.

Ditch the paper towels and feather duster
Nothing beats a good microfibre cloth for cleaning, says Reena Nerbas, a Winnipeg mom of four and author of House Solutions With Kitchen Secrets 2. These untreated, reusable cloths are made of millions of tiny fibres that are 100 times finer than human hair. One quick swipe lifts off dirt, grease and dust without using any cleaning chemicals.

Tip Look for good-quality cloths in the $15 to $20 price range. The price tag may sound steep but a good-quality cloth can last for several years.

Cut corners in the kitchen

Keep these two helpers handy
Busy cookbook author and Thornhill, Ont., mom, Dana McCauley relies on these simple tools to make kitchen chores easier.

• A Sharpie permanent marker is an indelible reminder to jot down the date on a freezer bag or cooking directions on a plastic container of bulk rice.

• With a good-quality electronic timer, you can help the kids with homework without worrying about the pasta turning to mush. It’s also useful for monitoring how long your little screen junkie has been playing computer games or watching cartoons. “For some reason, when an electronic device sounds the end of an activity, kids are less likely to argue,” says McCauley.

Increase fibre
Adults need 25 to 35 grams of fibre every day, and children over the age of two should have a daily intake of five grams plus their age (so a seven-year-old should be getting 12), says nutritionist Leslie Beck, author of Leslie Beck’s 10 Steps to Healthy Eating.

Try these simple ways to boost your family’s fibre:
• Replace white rice with brown rice, whole-wheat couscous or barley and serve whole-wheat pasta more often.
• Add some beans to ground meat dishes, quesadillas or salsa.
• Substitute up to half of the white flour in a recipe with whole-wheat flour.
• Add a sprinkle of bran, psyllium fibre cereal or flax seed (available at many grocery stores) to cereal, muffins or pancakes.

Reduce fat
• Blotting your pizza with a napkin can soak up around 30 calories and three grams of fat per slice.

For more ideas on healthy recipe substitutions, check out the Recipe Analyzer at the Dietitians of Canada’s Web site, dietitians.ca.

Put the mac and cheese on ice
Your kids love the florescent orange boxed stuff, but you feel guilty having it in the house. Keep everyone happy with this healthy cheese sauce from The Good Food Book for Families, which can be frozen in ice cube trays for easy last-minute meals.

1. Melt 1½ tsp of non-hydrogenated margarine and whisk in the same amount of all-purpose flour.
2. Add 1½ cups of milk, 2 cups of old cheddar, shredded, and 1 cup of Parmesan.
3. Cook over medium heat for five to 10 minutes, then toss with your favourite pasta and some steamed veggies (optional).
4. Pour extra sauce into ice cube trays, cover with plastic wrap and freeze. Transfer into freezer bags, label and date. A child’s portion of pasta will require two cubes of sauce. If sauce seems too thick, thin it with a little extra milk.

Tip Double the recipe and you’ll never be caught short.

Whip up a “home-cooked meal” in half the time
Lynn Roblin, a registered dietitian in Oakville, Ont., and co-author of Suppertime Survival, knows how to feed hungry kids in a hurry — she has four. On busy nights, she practices “speed scratch” cooking: combining healthy prepared or semi-prepared convenience products. Her favourite go-to combo? A deli chicken and frozen vegetables with a fresh salad.

S-t-r-e-t-c-h those dollars

Go generic
Many brand-name manufacturers produce generic brands (store brands) right out of the same factories, say Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic in The Shopping Bags: Tips, Tricks, and Inside Information to Make You a Savvy Shopper. So that expensive brand-name shampoo may have been made at the same factory as the more affordable no-name version.

Start that RESP
Why The average cost of a four-year undergraduate degree is a whopping $58,000.

Smart saving strategies
• Invest early and regularly, and stay invested, says Elena Jara, education coordinator for Credit Canada. “Don’t stress if you can put away only a small amount every month. It’s better to start small — even if it’s only $15 a month — than not at all.” Increase the amount as your budget allows. • Don’t try to foot the entire bill yourself. If your child’s grandparents or other relatives ask what they can get for her birthday, christening or bat mitzvah, suggest a contribution to her RESP.

Give kids an allowance
Teaching kids the value of money helps curb the gimmes. “Don’t tie it to chores, grades or good behaviour,” advises Paul Lermitte, a family business consultant with Integrated Planning Group/Asante Financial in Vancouver and author of Making Allowances: A Dollar and Sense Guide to Teaching Kids About Money. “An allowance is strictly a teaching tool to help kids learn good money management skills.” He recommends 50 cents for every year of age. Looking for more allowance tips? Be sure to check makingallowances.com.

Do your math homework
Most of us spend more than 40 hours a week earning a living, but research shows that people spend less than 11 hours a year managing their money, says Lori Bamber, a financial advisor in Vancouver and author of Financial Serenity: Successful Financial Plan-ning and Investment for Women. Commit to spending at least half an hour a week on your financial fitness; for example:

• Research credit card rates and annual fees; if you can save, switch.
• Look for ways to reduce your monthly grocery bill.
• Compare banking fees; check out the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada’s cost of banking interactive tool at fcac.gc.ca.

Six money-saving websites — to buy or sell just about anything
kijiji.ca
craigslist.org
For free stuff:
freecycle.org
For deals, freebies and coupons:
redflagdeals.com
save.ca
canadafreebies.ca

Get organized

De-stress dressing
Beat the morning rush with the a hanging closet organizer, which encourages kids to plan their outfits for the school week ahead (no more hunting for clean sweatpants on gym day). “Not only can they store each day’s outfit, but they can also include undergarments, socks and shoes in each individual cubby,” says Oakville, Ont., certified professional organ-izer and mother of two Helen Buttigieg, who counts this as one of her favourite organ-izational tools.

Do the 27-Fling Boogie
Complete this assignment as fast as you can, says Marla Cilley, otherwise known as the Fly Lady — the Internet’s guru of cleaning and organizing. (flylady.com). Take a garbage bag, walk through your home and throw away 27 non-recyclable items. Next, take a box and collect 27 items to give away. Then take it to the car so you won’t rescue the items. (If 27 seems too daunting, start with 10.)

Tip Got two of something? Get rid of the least desirable.

Lower your standards
Who says you have to make the bed every morning or whip up desserts from scratch? Before starting any task, ask yourself, “How can it be shortened, eliminated or done less frequently?” advises Oakville, Ont., stress and lifestyle management consultant David Posen.

Body boost

Walk (run or bike) the walk
Studies show that when you and hubby are active, your children are three times more likely to be active too. It can be as simple as picking up a skipping rope while dinner’s in the oven and teaching your daughter some of those skipping songs from your own childhood. If you can’t remember the words, jog your memory at littlegirlskipping.com.

Clock those zzz’s
Most adults need eight to nine hours a night, while children need anywhere from 10 to 14 hours and teens, eight to 10.

How to get it Try a consistent routine. Just follow the 3 B’s: Take a warm bath (add a drop of lavender for extra relax-ation), read a book and settle into bed around the same time every night.

Fight portion distortion
Take the guesswork out of how many veggies, starches and proteins your family should be eating at mealtimes with this fun, eight-inch melamine plate; $9.95, 1-866-342-2328 or stepscount.com.

Win the cereal wars
Bewildered by all those breakfast cereals? Apply the five and five rule: Look for brands with five or fewer grams of sugar and five or more grams each of fibre and protein. That doesn’t mean your tot has to give up her favourite brand. Try mixing half a serving of her usual cereal with half a serving of the healthier stuff, suggests Daina Kalnins, a registered dietitian at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Keep informed
For reliable information on hundreds of children’s health topics, visit the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children’s website aboutkidshealth.ca. And when your curious little George asks, “What happens to swallowed gum?” or “What’s a booger?” send him to kidshealth.com/kid. This website never misses the mark when it comes to educating kids about every aspect of health and fitness.

Try these two easy home remedies
Flush stuffy noses with saline nose drops They’re great to help loosen the mucus so a young child can breathe, says Ari Brown, author of Baby 911. Add ½ tsp (2 mL) salt to 1 cup (250 mL) warm water. Squirt a few drops of the solution in each nostril.

A spoonful of honey Guess what? The sweet stuff soothes sore throats while fighting infection. In fact, a recent study found that giving sick kids (but not babies) a dose of honey before bedtime provides more effective relief than the most common over-the-counter cough suppressants (which aren’t recommended for children under four anyway).

De-frazzle family life

Apply the rule of 21
When you’re trying to teach your tot a new behaviour — to wipe her runny nose with a tissue rather than her sleeve, for example — don’t expect results too quickly, says Michelle Borba, author of 12 Simple Secrets Real Moms Know. “Research shows that learning a new behaviour usually takes around 21 days.”

Here’s how to make it stick:

Target only one behaviour Trying to make too many changes at once can be overwhelming.

Pass on the plan to at least one caregiver You’ll get faster results if you’re on the same page.

Track efforts in a calendar Seeing a gradual change will help keep you committed.

Watch out for the “backslide effect” Just before a behaviour changes, it sometimes gets worse. That’s just little Susie testing the waters, so don’t cave.

Try underscheduling for a change
“It is said that the Queen of England does this,” says Victoria life management expert Katherine Gibson, author of Pause: Putting the Brakes on a Runaway Life. “She divides her day into three (morning, afternoon and evening) and she will usually only commit to doing things in two of those time slots.” Before you or your child takes on any new commitment, whether it’s chairing a school committee or playing hockey, take a moment to ask yourself, “Is it good for me? Is it good for the family?”