Author Archives: Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

7 Historical Warrior Princesses I Want My Daughter to Emulate

I only recently got a peek at what Americans call ‘Princess Culture’ and sort of connected why the little girls all wanted pink frocks that look like 17th century designs, like to wear tiaras and some of them demand that they get every toy they like. This behaviour seems to be a mirror of the ideology which so many little girls and their parents have been fed through Disney feature films and storybooks. But, this is extremely different from the concepts of royalty that we grew up with in Jamaica.

Although we are no longer a British colony, we’re still constitutional subjects of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and many citizens are fans of the pomp and circumstance that unfolds during state visits by members of the British Royal family. So, we appreciate the political post of ‘princess’ that a woman can hold: as the daughter or granddaughter of a king/queen (like Princess Margaret), or as the wife of a prince (like Princess Diana). In our minds, a princess is never a vain, pampered, sheltered snob with no work experience. Instead, we commonly refer to young females of noble (admirable and dignified) character as ‘Princess’ – based on our matriarchal society and the influence of Rastafari culture.

We have our own local (non-European) female royals in the roles of Beauty Queens, Festival Queens and Dancehall Queens, as well as Rastafari Empresses, Maroon Chieftainesses and Kumina Queens – all of whom are held to higher standards and honoured by the public for what they symbolise. In fact, any woman who dresses modestly, walks confidently and celebrates her natural beauty will often be greeted, “Good morning, Empress!” or “Greetings, Princess” by both men and women in the street; making it no surprise that both 2Face Idibia’s “African Queen” and Tarrus Riley’s “She’s Royal” have been big hits in Jamaica for years.

In contrast to our constitutional monarchy, we have the great legacy of an African Queen, Nanny of the Maroons, who is our national heroine. Queen Nanny was an Ashanti royal who was brought to Jamaica (sold into slavery), but she escaped from the plantation into the mountains before she freed other enslaved Africans and formed her own militant ‘nation’ within the nation. Queen Nanny’s leadership and superior military strategies were so imposing and unmatched, that the English soldiers and government were never able to defeat her. Instead, they sought alliance with the Maroons, offered peace treaties to them and gave the Maroon settlements political autonomy.

The legend of our Warrior Queen has inspired millions of Jamaican girls to be like Nanny – a powerful woman who leads, nurtures and fights for her people. She was my favourite national hero! It is in this tradition of honouring feminine nobility, that I call my daughter ‘Princess’. Not the Disney princess that waits for her prince to come rescue her from vane boredom, but a “warrior princess” like so many who have gone before us. Although I grew up admiring the leadership and strength of our Queen Nanny, I have also learnt of other Warrior Queens and Princesses who serve as powerful role models for young, black girls and women of today. Some of the militant royals that I want my daughter to emulate are:

Yaa Asentawa

  • Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother of the Ashanti empire (part of modern-day Ghana) who led the War of the Golden Stool against the British colonisers. When she saw the men of her empire whimpering at the threats of the invaders, she declared that she would defend her people to the death.

Photo of Queen Nzinga of Angola

    • Nzinga Mbande, Queen of the Ndongo & Matamba kingdoms of Angola, led a 30-year war against the Portuguese who were trying to colonise her people and expand the slave trade. She was never defeated in any of her military missions – even though her armies and weaponry were ‘inferior’ to that of the Europeans.


    • Amanirenas, was Queen Mother of the Meroetic kingdom of Kush. When the Romans invaded her neighbours and decided to tax her people, she led her armies into war against them. After 5 years of battling against the Romans, Amanirenas defeated them and forced them to withdraw the tax which had threatened the Kushite kingdom.


    • Taitu Betul, the Empress of the Ethiopian empire, founded the city of Addis Ababa and was a military strategist who initiated the War of Adwa when she discovered Italy’s plot to colonise Ethiopia. She led her own battalion alongside her husband, Emperor Menelik II, and the Imperial Army, defeating the Italians.


    • Hatshepshut, Pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt, came to power after her husband died and she reigned for 20 years. Not interested in invading other territories, she maintained peace during her reign and focused on securing economic prosperity for Egypt. She built and restored many monuments throughout both Egyptian kingdoms and is considered one of the most successful Pharaohs in history.


    • Amina Sukhera, was the Hausa Queen of Zazzau (part of present-day Nigeria) for 34 years. She was a fierce warrior who led the military in battles and expanded her kingdom by claiming other neighbouring territories. Her innovation led to the introduction of metal armour to her military forces, since her kingdom was known for excellent metalwork.


  • Elizabeth Bagaaya, the Princess Royal of the Toro Kingdom in Uganda, is a lawyer (the first East African woman to be accepted to the English Bar), and a Diplomat (at the United Nations). During her youth, she worked as a Model and Actress, paving the way for many black women in these industries. Today, she serves Uganda as their High Commissioner to Nigeria.

So, when you hear me call my little girl, “Princess” please remember these great African women: true royals who were fearless in the execution of their duties. Our little, black girls need to be fed the stories of black women who were models of leadership, courage, dignity, intelligence, diplomacy, entrepreneurship, compassion and beauty. These are the qualities of a princess – a woman of authority who earns respect and exudes an uncommon beauty – not like the ones you see in the fairytales.

Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

8 Popular Nursery Rhymes With Dark Meanings


My Grandfather had just arrived home from a long day at work and sat down in his favourite spot on the verandah. Of course, I quickly climbed into his lap to snuggle up with my book of nursery rhymes. He read them so eloquently, rounding his mouth as he carefully fed the rhythmic words to my ears. My eyes bounced in rhythm from the curvy letters to the colourful illustrations on the pages.

These are some of the earliest memories of my life – Grandpa reading nursery rhymes to me. So, it felt quite natural to hold my newborn’s tiny feet and recite, “This Little Piggy” – until I got to the part about a pig eating the flesh of a roasted cow! Why hadn’t I noticed before, that a roast beef sandwich was being consumed by another farm animal? I quickly changed the lyric to “roast yam” – since it’s a popular Jamaican dish and fit well into my family’s plant-based diet. But, I still had more of these poems and songs to scrutinise in the weeks and months to come.

Picking Apart Nursery Rhymes

A nursery rhyme is a traditional poem or song that’s designed for young children. The ones I grew up learning originated in Britain (since Jamaica was once a British colony) and they included riddles and proverbs. Some of them recorded historical events, English customs and superstitions, while others were tongue twisters,  memory aids and ring games. These nursery rhymes have effortlessly stayed with us for centuries because they are included in many early childhood school curriculums, and not without good reason. They are excellent tools to aid in optimal child development particularly because they are based in music and rhyme. Activities that include both music and rhyme will build your child’s spatial reasoning ability, which is the springboard for their success in the STEM fields. They benefit your child’s numeracy development, since many, like “1, 2 Buckle My Shoe”,  include counting and logic, like “As I Was Going To St. Ives”. The hearing or recitation of some of these songs and poems may be the first activity to introduce numbers to your little one, and most likely in a fun and entertaining way.

Nursery Rhymes may also be used as memory aids, because they are repetitive and predictable; and mnemonic rhymes like “Thirty Days Hath September”, are still used by adults to recall common info from day to day. Yet, the most obvious benefit (and my primary reason for sharing nursery rhymes with my baby girl) is the development of literacy and language skills. Children’s poems and songs are filled with new vocabulary, rhythm, pitch and literary devices, like alliteration (e.g. “Peas Porridge Hot”), onomatopoeia (e.g. “Old McDonald”) and rhyme (e.g. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”). 

So, you may come across the ideas that children who have memorised 8 nursery rhymes by age 4, will become excellent readers and spellers. Though the exact amount of rhymes is probably irrelevant, the connection between rhyming activities during early child and reading skills during school years, is clear. There are more benefits that can be derived from feeding our little ones these songs and chants, but we also know the words and backgrounds of some of these catchy rhymes aren’t all kosher.

Sinister & Negative Rhymes

Many of Britain’s traditional nursery rhymes are said to have sinister backgrounds. Some are thought to be satires about periods of political or religious upheaval,  while others are the retellings of local scandals. I’ll go over a few of the possible tales that generated some of our favourite rhymes:

Peter Peter Pumkin Eater – A jealous husband kills his wife and stores her dismembered body inside a hollowed out pumpkin shell after he was unable to keep her control her promiscuous and adulterous behaviour.

Lucy Locket – A bar maid dumps her pocket sugar daddy, but gets into a brawl with another prostitute after the latter takes him on and brags about her fortune in finding him.

Ring Around the Rosie – Millions of children die during the pandemic called the Black Death. There are so many bodies that burials are too burdensome, so they are collected and cremated amass. The ashes blow everywhere.

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary – A zealous queen tortures and slaughters subjects who chose a different religious denomination from her, filling her garden graveyard with them.

Georgie Porgie – A court gentleman has affairs with the wives of other gentlemen of the court, and sometimes his exploits are not consensual or welcomed by the women.

Three Blind Mice – The ‘bloody’ queen found out that a trio of men did not approve of her religious persecution and decided to treat them to her specialty of torture and death, for their lack of vision.

Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe – Although there is a political backstory, the plain reading is still disturbing. Since she is unable to care for her many hungry children, she gives them flavoured water and ensures they feel the weight of her hands.

Jack & Jill – Some point to the beheading of a King and his Queen, while others refer to the King’s request for an increase in the liquor tax which was denied. The sly monarch responded by halving the volume of a Jack (2.5 fluid ounces) and, inadvertently, a Gill (2 Jacks or 5 fluid ounces).

If you do just a little research you may find supportive arguments for these backstories and also arguments declaring they are just pure, nonsensical lines. There’s a Jamaica proverb which says, “Ef anoh soh, a nayli soh” which translates to, “If it isn’t the truth, it’s very close.” So,  it is up to each person to decide whether these verses are coded historical narrative, covert protest and propaganda, or feel-good tunes to aid a child’s learning. Either way, rhymes and music are key tools for child development. So, we can either sift through the rubble and teach our little ones the old British nursery rhymes we approve of, or opt for other rhythmic songs and poems that will just as easily do the job.

Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

23 Animated Series That Have Black Lead Characters or are Set in Africa


The last time my daughter saw black people, aside from her father and I, we had driven for two hours to attend a birthday party hosted by another Jamaican expat who lives here in Japan. As a black child in Japan, she will be constantly conscious that she is of a different complexion, ethnicity, nationality and culture than all of her friends. I want her to understand that being different doesn’t signify that she is deficient — just different. I also want her to find belonging and build her social identity in her ancestry and cultural heritage. I want her to be confident in who she is and proud to be identified by the colour of her skin. Yet, I know that I will have a major role to play in how the process, as she shapes her racial identity; and I know that both racial consciousness and cultural confidence are key elements in the social development of black children everywhere.

When I was a child I never saw many cartoons on TV that featured mostly or completely black characters. However, this was not a significant factor in how I viewed myself or the world, because persons of African descent account for more than 90% of Jamaica’s population. Nonetheless, the only memory I have of a black cartoon was the movie,  Bébé’s Kids – which my brother, sister and I loved – simply because all the main characters were black. I’ve since come to understand that many African-Americans disapprove of that film – so, I won’t be including it in my recommended list ? Now, my daughter is growing up in ‘homogenous’ Japan, where most of the other foreign residents are of either European or Asian ancestry. It just happens that the English-language media here, is heavily influenced by the American media and pop culture, making it is very easy for a black child to absorb the negative subliminal messages that are prominent in American mainstream media. So,  clearly,  I was at a loss as to what kind of edutainment I would be able to show to my baby girl. Since she is a toddler, we introduced her to nursery rhymes and she took a liking to the very musical preschool videos from the Mother Goose Club. Although the lead character is a African-American woman, I found myself searching through their Youtube Channel for all the videos that featured black children or adults. This is because,  I definitely want her to see herself in the images and sounds that we use for playful learning time.

My searching has lead me to a treasure trove of vibrant, entertaining and educational material. Many of these cartoons have their own Youtube channels or websites, where you can check out the episodes before buying the DVDs. Some of them are still being aired on television and others are streaming online (for e.g. on Amazon or Hulu). I hope you’ll find some favourites for your little one, as I have for mine.

Animated Series:
Tinga Tinga Tales
Description: Tinga Tinga Tales is a British, American and Kenyan children’s television series, based on African folk tales and aimed at 4 to 6-year-olds.
Available on Amazon, Hulu and Netflix

Description: 12-year old Cornelius Fillmore (voiced by Orlando Brown), a juvenile delinquent with a record, was caught raiding the school’s new chalk shipment. He was arrested and given a choice by the safety patrol officer who caught him, either help him solve another case or spend the rest of middle school in detention. Fillmore decided to help out and he eventually decided to join up with the safety patrol.
Available on YouTube

Jungle Beat
Description: Jungle Beat is a fun, family friendly series of CGI animated, self-contained, dialogue-free, 5 minute episodes focusing on different animals and the bizarre situations they encounter in nature. From the firefly who is afraid of the dark to the giraffe with a stiff neck, this wholesome series aims to entertain and delight young kids and their families.
Available on Amazon

Static Shock
Description: Fifteen-year-old Virgil Hawkins, harassed at school by a dangerous bully, is transformed by a powerful gas mutagen into a master of electromagnetic energy and decides to use his powers for good … as a superhero.
Available on

Bino and Fino
Description: The Bino and Fino Nigerian educational cartoon was created to give parents looking for genuine African educational content for their children to watch more of a choice. Created by Adamu Waziri, a Nigerian animator and produced by his Nigerian based animation company EVCL, Bino and Fino is an African educational cartoon about a brother and sister who live in a modern day city in sub- Saharan Africa. In each episode Bino and Fino, with the help of their friend Zeena the Magic Butterfly and their family, discover and learn things about the world. The show is for children mainly between the ages of 3 and 6.
Available on YouTube,

Description: Dr. Arthur Bindlebeep is the head of the family and a high school teacher. He and his wife, Norma, try to be model parents while learning a few things from their three children: 16-year-old Angie, 12-year-old Roy and 6-year-old Katherine and their dog Guinness. At the same time, Arthur’s own parents, Lester and Louise, still have some lessons for him.
Available on Amazon

Description: The half-hour series features young mummy Tutankhansetamun (based on real-life Tutankhamun and usually called “Tutenstein” as in the title) who is awakened about 3, 000 years after his accidental death and now must face that his kingdom is gone. Cleo Carter is 12 year old African American girl who enjoys Egyptology. After chasing her cat, Luxor, she accidentally brought Tut back to life.
Available on Amazon

The Proud Family
Description: “The Proud Family” follows the adventures and misadventures of Penny, a 14-year-old African American girl who’s doing her best to navigate through the early years of teen-dom. Penny’s every encounter inevitably spirals into bigger than life situations filled with hi-jinks, hilarity and heart. Her quest to balance her home, school and social lives are further complicated by friends like the sassy Dijonay, Penny’s nemesis LaCienega Boulevardez, her loving, if not over-protective parents and her hip-to-the-groove-granny, Suga Mama.
Available on YouTube, Daily Motion

Tsehai Loves Learning
Description: Tsehai Loves Learning is an Ethiopian childrens TV show. The characters are puppets and animated characters speaking the local language of Amharic.
Available at

Doc McStuffins
Description: The series chronicles a six-year-old girl named Dottie “Doc” McStuffins who decides she wants to become a doctor like her mother. She pretends to be a doctor by fixing toys and dolls. When she puts on her stethoscope, toys, dolls, and stuffed animals come to life and she can communicate with them. With help from her stuffed animal friends – Stuffy, Hallie, Lambie and Chilly – Doc helps toys “feel better” by giving them check-ups and diagnosing their illnesses with “The Big Book of Boo Boos”. Each 11-minute episode includes original songs.
Available on Amazon and Disney Junior

Happily Ever After: Fairytales for Every Child
Description: Each episode details a classic fairy tale, but in the style of greatly different cultures with characters voiced by famous actors, comedians, singers and political activists of varying cultures, backgrounds, and ethnicity.
Available on Amazon

Little Bill
Description: The stories are based on Bill Cosby’s Little Bill book series, set in Philadelphia and feature Bill Jr. learning a lesson or moral. It was developed through research and in consultation with a panel of educational consultants.
Available on Amazon

Abeba and Abebe
Description: Abeba and Abebe is the first ever animated series to be made in Ethiopia by and for Ethiopians. It is aimed at an audience of 6 – 12 year olds
Available on YouTube

Animated Short Films:
The Legend of Ngong Hills
Description: The Ogre, who has a habit of attacking the Maasai Village, falls in love with the beautiful young maiden Sanayian. Based on a Maasai folktale, this animated short film produced by the Apes in Space studio in Kenya won a 2012 African Movie Academy Award for Best Animation.

Sule and the Case of the Tiny Sparks
Desscription: In a young African girl’s quest to learn the meaning of the proverb – Great Fires Erupt form Tiny Sparks – she seeks guidance from the proverb detective, Sule.

Bouba & Zaza Protect the Earth
Description: A cartoon based on UNESCO Dakar’s children’s books collection.

Wayans Family Presents: A Boo Crew Christmas Special
Description: It is Christmas time in “Boo” York, and D-Roc, Dee Dee, Chad, Slim and the entire Boo Crew discover the true meaning of Christmas.
Available on Amazon

Koi and the Kola Nuts
Description: In this humorous African folktale, Koi wants the villagers to honor him as befits the son of a chief. But unless he can accomplish three impossible tasks, he will end up in the cooking pot instead. His problems begin with a scrawny Kola tree, and they end when three unlikely new friends who help him find his rightful place in the world.
Available on Amazon

Animated Feature Films:
Kirikou and the Sorceress
Description: Drawn from elements of West African folk tales, this movie depicts how a newborn boy, Kirikou, saves his village from the evil witch Karaba. It was so successful that it was followed by Kirikou et les bêtes sauvages, released in 2005, and adapted into a stage musical, Kirikou et Karaba, first performed in 2007. Another followup, Kirikou et les hommes et les femmes, was released in late 2012.
Available on Amazon

Kirikou And The Wild Beast
Description: The film is a sub-story to Kirikou and the Sorceress rather than a straight sequel. The movie is set while Kirikou is still a child and Karaba is still a sorceress.
Available on Amazon

The Princess and the Frog
Description: With a modern twist on a classic tale, this animated comedy is set in the great city of New Orleans. Featuring a beautiful girl named Tiana, a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again, and a fateful kiss that leads them both on a hilarious adventure through the mystical bayous of Louisiana.
Available on Amazon

The Proud Family Movie
Description: Penny goes on a family vacation to the tropical Legume Island instead of celebrating her 16th birthday with her friends. It turns out the island is full of mysteries and Dr. Carver lures them in hopes of stealing her father’s secret formula and take over the world.
Available on Amazon

The Golden Blaze
Description: The bond between son Jason Fletcher and father Gregory Fletcher, known throughout their town as “The Fletcher Flops”, strengthens after an accident with one of Gregory’s inventions grants him the superpowers of Jason’s comic book hero, The Golden Blaze.
Available on Amazon

Mommies, do you have any animated shows to add to the list?

Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

Didan Ashanta

About Didan Ashanta

Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

Why Mothers Can Never Be Fathers

Editor’s note: The Baby and Blog writing team shares a variety of views on the role of a father in the household. Here, our writer Didan expresses her view.

FD 2011

Yes! I’m a Daddy’s girl and I hope my daughter grows up to be a Daddy’s girl, too. The bond between a man and his child is the greatest form of empowerment and protection a child can have. I wear the features of my father’s face and have duplicated his strong personality, too. Since I learned to walk,  I was trailing him around the house and messing with his tools – wanting to do whatever he was doing. My Daddy and I would often stay up late watching movies and every Kung Fu movie would close out with the both of us play-fighting: fists flying and feet leaping through the air. He even took me to work with him, on a number of occasions. A man who is rarely at a loss for words,  he taught me the art of holding an engaging conversation; and I’m a fierce debater – my analytical and persuasive skills honed by many sessions of arguing topic after topic with him. From my earliest years, I could see how my Daddy was smitten with Mommy,  and how he seemed to dissolve into sorrow whenever they were separated for too long. These observations helped to formed my standards for love and defined my understanding of devotion. The invaluable and irreplaceable force that my father is in my life, cannot be described in any of the languages that I’m familiar with. I know, that being fathered is an unequalled experience,  that children yearn for and treasure; so I could never understand how any woman could consider herself a worthy substitute for her children’s Dad.

The Single Mother’s Misperception
In 1957,  Edith Clarke wrote the book “My Mother Who Fathered Me”,  based on her studies of West Indian family patterns. In the decades since it’s publication, the expression has been frequently used and widely accepted as a description of the struggles and accomplishments of many single mothers in our society. But, when asked to explain what is meant by this phrase: “a mother who fathers”, the usual response is, “she did everything – wash, cook, clean, house, clothe and feed us.” In essence,  such a mother was usually left to be the sole caregiver and provider for her children; and she often ended up bearing all the financial burdens of the household. But, it is rare, if ever at all, that you will hear this sash of honour being placed on a mother who received sufficient financial support from her child’s father. That’s because our society has led us to believe that the purpose of a father is to provide the tangible resources: food, shelter, clothing and material possessions, for their offspring. Unfortunately, many women have deliberately restricted the father of their children to the sole duty of making financial contributions – because they themselves did not experience an involved father and they imagine that the only thing they lacked in their childhood was that extra income. But,  money is definitely not all, because even though there are more women are in the workplace today, we seem to have more poverty,  juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, promiscuity, violence against women, child abuse and other social ills,  since the ‘nuclear’ family gained two incomes. Is it possible, that many women, who feel empowered by their ability to generate an income and feel affirmed by the champions of gender equality, have intentionally or unintentionally stifled the optimal development of their children? Have they ignored the indispensable role of their male co-parents and disregarded the intrinsic need a child has for a relationship with his/her father?

The Hats of an Involved Father
Research in various countries has shown that children who have a relationship with an involved male parent are smarter, more emotionally intelligent and have better social skills – among other things. They make better choices as adults and are less likely to suffer from mental health issues or addictions. But what exactly does a father do – beyond bringing home the dough and securing the home – to impact their children in such a significant way?

  • Provider – Dads often define their self-worth by their ability to give their children all the things they need and want. But, beyond the tangible resources like food and shelter, fathers also teach their children about responsibility, independence and resource management through the way they handle money and the family’s expenses.
  • Protector – From childproofing the home for a toddler and handling external threats to their safety to monitoring his teenager’s whereabouts and controlling the activities s/he gets involved with,  a father defends his children and guards them from harm. The sense of security he provides is larger than his physique and is felt even when he is not in his child’s presence.
  • Playmate – The high-energy, physical frolicking that Papa is known for, is rarely matched by Mama, since his wild romping usually pushes limits and involves lots of rough-and-tumble. These impromptu wrestling matches and launch-into-space tosses into the air are key to brain and muscle development. But, more importantly, these sessions of roughhousing teach children to manage their emotions, improve concentration and thinking skills.
  • Pilot – As head of the family (and the final authority), Daddy determines the family’s mission/priorities/focus and he guides his children based on his life principles. He doesn’t just lay down the law and enforce discipline; he is a role model,  who allows his children to learn about consequences and even acknowledges his own mistakes. A father helps his little ones with school work, but he also helps them to solve problems and make decisions through the various ages and stages of life.
  • Philosopher – Through daily conversation and time spent together, a Dad passes on a lot of life lessons to his children. He helps to shape the way the see the world – the way they love and the things they think are worth fighting for. He moulds their minds with both his words,  his silence and his actions. Using his reasoning, his morals and his conduct,  a father prepares his children for facing and managing the realities of life.

Fathers who co-parent effectively also have a healthy and positive relationship with the mother(s) of their child(ren) – even if they don’t live together and even if they’re not having a romantic relationship with each other. An involved father shows affection to and is considerate of his child’s mother. He assists with the responsibilities of childcare and housekeeping. He affirms his partner and appreciates the role she plays as a mother. He treats her with respect and never speaks negatively about her. An involved father models a healthy male-female relationship for his children as he interacts with their mother. His son will learn how to be kind to women and to honour them, while his daughter will learn how she is to be treated by a man. By the way a father relates to and interacts with his child’s mother,  he makes mothering a less hectic and a more joyful experience.

It’s important to note that a father doesn’t have to live with his child to be involved in an effective way. In fact, your child’s ‘father’ doesn’t even need to be the biological parent to fill the Daddy shoes – ask any adopted child. So, if your child’s biological father is not willing or able to fill the shoes of a father, the role may be played by other males your child relates to for e.g. uncles,  grandfathers,  step-fathers,  older cousins,  family friends,  teachers or mentors. The man who becomes the father-figure in your child’s life just needs to be committed to the relationship, emotionally attached and willing to invest himself in the nurturing and development of your child. But, even after looking at all the arguments, statistics and research data about the relevance of fathers, some mother’s will still want to cite single-mother success stories: children that came out of female-headed, single-parent homes, but made a name for themselves. However,  even those successes are often tied to the intervention of or inspiration from a father-figure in the lives of these young persons. Nonetheless, if a child can accomplish great things with an absentee father,  can you imagine what could have been achieved if the mother-father balance was not damaged?

Whether we are living with and loving our child’s father or we’re separated and settled on keeping it that way, there are steps we mothers can take to respect the role of fathering and to honour the involved fathers in our lives. To facilitate our children’s experience of being fathered, we will need to make the commitment to:

  • Share the domestic affairs and child-rearing responsibilities with our partners.
  • Set aside times for our child and his/her father to spend together.
  • Separate our marital and parental roles – some men are better fathers than lovers.
  • Solve problems and make decisions together,  since two heads are better than one.
  • See the documentary, “Biology of Dads” to understand why fathers are important.

    As we praise mothers for their endless sacrifice, let us also heartily acknowledge the priceless and essential contribution that the involved male parent makes to his child; because at the end of the day, parenting is not a competition but a collaboration. That’s why a mother can never father a child.

    Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

    10 Childhood Experiences I Want to Replicate For My Daughter


    As my tiny princess journeys towards adulthood, I’ve come to realise that, in spite of my lofty aspirations and idealistic expectations, she will become who she wants to be. It is a hard pill to swallow, but we have to admit that even if we stick to our parenting guns, our children will still choose their own paths and establish their own values once they become adults. Much of who we are as adults, is not so much about what our parents drilled into us, but the product of all of our life experiences. In part, we are the product of our memories – the ones that we made growing up that live with us every day.

    Now, that Mwalimu is exploring the world and creating her own memories, I often contemplate on how I should go about interweaving my own specially-orchestrated events and activities into her equally valuable interests and inclinations. A long time before I even placed ‘having a child’ on my list of things to do, I had scratched down a list of some cherished memories from my childhood that I would want to share with my child(ren). On that list, I had recorded the experiences that I believed really shaped who I am today. Whenever I read through them I actually feel like I have my own version of ‘the good, old days’ to talk about. LOL. Maybe you have some of those memories, too! The kind that make you smile to yourself and forget where you are. The ones that don’t need photographs or video recordings to help you recall all the fine details. Well, those are the kinds of memories that I want to duplicate with my daughter:

    1. Reading Programme/Library Camp
    Some of my earliest summertime memories, were of long, sunny days spent in the local library of my father’s rural hometown. We could borrow loads of books during the weeks of the summer and had many exciting activities that allowed us to share what we learned. The programme helped me to develop a love for books and respect the power of the written word. The exploration of books showed me that I could live a hundred thousand lives through the pages I turned, and that there was an exciting and diverse world outside the borders of my island home.

    2. Eco Tour
    One summer, my parents took us for a cruise on the Black River Safari, a mangrove on Jamaica’s south coast, and took a picture of me as I stood on the outer ledge of the vessel and petted a crocodile’s wet nose! Our tour guide told us all about the ecosystem that existed in the watery habitat and how the destruction or preservation of the environment impacted the animals, plants and eventually, the people who lived nearby. It made such an impact on me that I have since developed a passionate hatred of littering and take the practice of recycling very seriously – all because someone showed me how every living thing is connected.

    3. Penpals
    When I was in high school, IYS Penpals were the trend. We all had at least one penpal in some faraway land. Some of my schoolmates have even travelled to their writing pal’s home country or hosted the penfriend in their homes. I think just the process of exchanging thoughts about our lifestyles and cultures with boys and girls our age, who were different ethnicities, living in different countries and who often spoke different languages, allowed us to appreciate diversity. In today’s world of social media and instant messaging, letter-writing and cross-cultural awareness has become almost non-existent. But, I think emails and video-calls are a great way to connect children in different worlds.

    4. Farming
    My grandparents lived on a big farm and had other lands for planting produce and grazing their cattle and goat herds. Plus, my parents’ rural roots meant that our suburban backyard and front garden were host to fruits, veggies, herbs, birds, cats and dogs. From the slaughtering of chickens and collection of their eggs, to the planting of leafy greens and the harvesting of pimento berries, from a tender age, I was given the first-hand knowledge of where my food comes from. Today I can fully appreciate real, whole foods and completely understand the dangers of genetically modified organisms and the chemical-laden, artificially-preserved products that line our supermarket shelves.

    5. Outdoor Camping
    I really value survival skills and I think it’s because I never passed up the opportunities to hike into the mountain ranges and forestry lands with my local boys’ brigade while I was a teen. We learned how to forage for food, build fires, set up tents, and identify helpful versus poisonous plants. We were even trained to camouflage ourselves when threatened with danger and to exist without electricity and piped water. You never know when the luxuries we enjoy today will become scarcities and we will have to thrive nonetheless.

    6. Compassionate Giving
    My siblings and I regularly had to sort through our books, clothing and toys to identify any items we had not used in the previous months and prepare them for ‘free-cycling’. Yup, we had to give them away! Then, of course these donations weren’t just packed into boxes and left at the Salvation Army. Nope. Our parents would take us to one of the many Children’s Home and have us spend time playing with the children who we were giving the items to. On some of these visits, we took our friends along, so they could also play with children who were orphaned, abandoned, living with HIV or disabled. I always feel warm inside when I remember these trips, because I learned to respect others who were differently-abled or disadvantaged.

    7. Writing Projects
    During her high school years, my mother grew to love writing poems and letters, and she seemed to think her children should fall in love with words, too. So, I always had notebooks for writing assignments my mother gave me: letters to my relatives, book reports, poetry for special occasions, essays on various topics. This practice developed a skill that proved very useful in college and still generates an income for me today. But, more importantly, I feel very comfortable expressing myself in black and white.

    8. Nature Walks
    The soul is renewed when we step away from the hustle bustle and mentally escape into the wonders of the unprocessed outdoors. Mommy would have us lay down and look up at stars on a clear night, or examine the unique patterns on the variegated leaves of a croton plant. She’d often call our attention to the voices of birds in the early morning, and encourage us to admire the way the sun would paint orange, pink and purple hues across the evening sky.

    9. Theatre
    One of my earliest memories was of forgetting “M is for Manger…” in a choir solo part I was performing as a pre-schooler. Over the years, I sang solos and in choirs, performed spoken word pieces, choreographed dances, and got into character on many stages around the world. I was never famous for my stints in the theatre house, but this world allowed me to build my confidence and respect the instruments that my voice and body are, while learning to work cohesively with my fellow performers on productions.

    10. Housekeeping Chores
    We always had housekeepers who kept our home in order, but our parents would still make up a ‘Duty Roster’ and have us make our beds, polish the furniture, do the dishes, tidy our rooms, rake the yard, water the plants, feed the animals, and even make some of our meals. When we protested and claimed that we’d grow up to earn enough money to hire someone to do our chores, my father rebutted that we wouldn’t know whether the job was well done unless we knew how to do it ourselves. Today, I’m still doing the chores myself!

    I want to duplicate these memories for my little girl because I want to help her enjoy her childhood days, just as much as I did. But more importantly, I think these experiences and activities will help to build some character traits and personal values in her, that I don’t think I could with just talk or walk. Maybe you have some of these same memories in your mind’s cabinets, or even some better ones. Either way, I hope you will take the time to jot them down and make the effort to share these experiences and activities with the princes and princesses in your life.

    Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

    10 Healthy and Delicious Dessert Recipes

    You’ve just completed a hearty meal in a fine restaurant and the waiter returns with the menu, inviting you to try their decadent-looking desserts. Dessert or no dessert? This is the question that many of us mothers struggle with on a daily or weekly basis; we want to provide treats to satisfy that innate desire for sweetness, but we also have to struggle against the all too common sugar addiction and its accompanying diseases.

    Today’s Sugary Habits 

    We don’t need to look very far to observe the dangers of feasting on ice cream and cake. There are kindergarteners on insulin for type 2 diabetes, obesity is becoming more prevalent among elementary school children and teenagers are being hospitalised for heart disease and stroke.

    The times have certainly changed; our eating habits and our food choices have deteriorated, and now we’re paying  the price. School canteens, corner shops,  and quick-service restaurants have become regular features in our daily lives,  having replaced home-cooked meals and fresh foods. These businesses provide us with shelf-stable,  readily-made and pre-packaged desserts loaded with genetically-modified ingredients,  synthetic preservatives, artificial flavours and unnatural colours. These individually-wrapped novelties are mass-produced and high-fat, high-calorie and sugar-laden with little to no nutrients,  even though they bear the same names as the lovingly-prepared,  wholesome desserts we enjoyed as children. Additionally, these treats are sold very cheaply and marketed,  not as once-in-a-while bites, but snack items to enjoy between meals. Ice cream sandwiches are munched during TV time,  sticky donuts and hand-held pies are served for breakfast. The average child can consume a handful of chocolates and caramels in half an hour without anyone batting an eye.

    Cooking Dessert the Old Fashioned Way

    When I was a child in Jamaica,  we had desserts for special occasions; Easter buns and Christmas cakes during the respective holidays,  sugar buns and rock cakes at special events, and my grandmother’s homemade puddings and pone whenever we had good sweet potato and corn harvests. Whenever my mother had time on the weekend, she tolerated us tangling her feet in the kitchen while she ‘rubbed up’ batches of pineapple-upside-down cake,  orange cake or baking sheets of warm,  flaky plantain tarts. When things were hectic, a scoop of rum n’ raisin ice cream or a small bowl of strawberry Jell-O was our Sunday afternoon delight.

    Since treats were not a regular part of our diet, if we wanted something sweet after dinner, we had to make do with freshly picked fruit or baked nuts. Or, instead of drinking plain water or limeade with the evening meal,  we might get to guzzle down homemade fruit juice.

    When I think back to my childhood desserts, I think of homemade goodies – not the stuff from the supermarket shelves or pastry shops. My mother and grandmothers always knew exactly what went into their baked goods and sourced high quality produce to create them. I can’t help but agree with medical professionals and nutritionists who’ve been saying that we, the new generation of Mommies, need to return to real, whole foods.

    Planning for Dessert

    The strategy of meal planning and pre-cooking can be applied to desserts – especially if you reserve dessert for a special/Sunday night dinner. Even if you decide to satisfy your sweet tooth on a daily basis, fruit-based desserts are an excellent way to get yummy tummies without the guilt or dietary ills. You’d be amazed at how fresh fruits can be transformed, quite quickly and easily, into freezer pops, ice creams, sorbets or slushies without giving you any extra work. By searching out some whole  food, plant-based recipes,  you can discover dishes that are easy for children to make and allow for them to enjoy something sweet without the adverse effects of excess sugars, fat or refined carbohydrates.

    Healthy Dessert Ideas 

    The following list of whole food plant-based desserts are a great place to start. If they become regular features in your family’s meal plans, you will certainly be decreasing the amount of ‘products’ in your diet and increasing the amount of ‘produce’ you consume. Here’s to healthy and delicious desserts,  for your family and mine:


    1. Mint-Melon Sorbet Recipe here


    2. Raspberry Lime Freezer Pops  Recipe here


    3. Peanut Butter-Banana “Ice Cream” Recipe here


    4. Vegan Chocolate Banana Mousse Recipe here


    5. Dairy-Free Chocolate Bars Recipe here


    6. Raw Strawberry Peppermint Cheesecake Recipe here


    7. Coconut Cream Pie Recipe here


    8. Vegan Strawberry-Banana Cupcakes Recipe here


    Vegan Cinnamon Rolls Recipe here


    Vegetarian Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipe here

    Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

    Striking the Balance Between Parental Role and Children’s Rights


    Recently people have questioned some of the lifestyle choices I’ve made or intend to make for my child. An old schoolmate asked about my whole-food, plant-based diet and whether or not I plan to ‘force’ my baby to eat the same foods that I do. And just yesterday, while on a video call with me, an older relative expressed a mixture of shock and horror at what she thought were locs growing at the back of my little one’s tousled head. Others have expressed similar concerns, informing me that a child should be free to choose their diet and hairstyle, and that parents shouldn’t impose these kinds of decisions because the children don’t understand why their parents are making the choice. But I believe that only independent adults can make lifestyle choices, because children don’t have any inborn worldviews or the resources to design their living conditions.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, the choice of which fruit to have for breakfast or what colour t-shirt to wear to the park are not within the same class as choices that reflect a person’s moral standards, habits and values. For example, my parents’ lifestyle dictated the way our home was run, the activities I participated in, and the cultural tastes that my siblings and I acquired. Since they were the ones caring for me, they decided what neighbourhood we lived in, the spiritual community we fellowshipped in and the childcare services we used. Their worldviews informed their decisions and as they groomed us for adulthood, they shared the experiences and philosophies that had shaped their lives. In the same way, my lifestyle will determine the choices that I make for my child – and that is perfectly fine! In fact, this is the way it ought to be, since the right to choose comes with responsibilities.

    The Role of a Parent & the Rights of a Child

    If we are to make the best lifestyle choices for our children it’s essential that we understand the role we play as parents. We may even need to modify or redesign our lives to create the most suitable environment for our kids to develop in. A parent who understands the complex task of raising a child will be aware of the following responsibilities that facilitate the child-rearing process. Every parent must:

  • Provide for their child’s basic and daily needs — food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, recreation, etc.
  • Protect their child from harm, whether physical, psychological, sexual, or negligent.
  • Pilot their child towards the social norms and knowledge deemed healthy and beneficial for both the individual and the society.
    But, even as we make choices for and direct the lives of our children, we must always be aware that they are individuals with rights, and we must be careful to distinguish between guidance and dictatorship. We should never become so restrictive in our attempts to set boundaries that we don’t offer any real choices or take away freedom of expression — even if the expression is one of disagreement. It is also important to be conscious that as our children mature and take on more responsibilities, we should begin to decrease the restrictions we place on them and allow them to face the consequences (both positive and negative) of their actions.

    The rights of our children are intrinsically tied to our responsibilities as parents, and as such, we are expected to allow them:

  • Individuality, by respecting their distinction from other family members and from others in wider society.
  • Information, empowering them to make informed decisions out of an awareness of the options available and their consequences.
  • Intentionality, by encouraging them to thoughtfully develop preferences and give reasons for the choices they make.
    If these rights are respected, a child won’t just be a mindless robot, but will develop into an empowered and conscious adult.

    Respecting Others and Their Choices

    As independent adults, making our own lifestyle choices and determining the way our homes and families are run, we may be tempted to think that our way is ‘the right way’ and grow intolerant and even disrespectful of other people’s choices. But we must resist the temptation to impose our beliefs on other people or ridicule their choices – especially in the presence of children. At the end of the day, our own children will become adults that make choices different from the ones we made for them. When we get to that place in life, we’ll have to accept that maybe some of our choices weren’t the best.

    Mommies, how do you tread the balance between making choices for your children and allowing them independence?


    Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.
    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

    Why I Never Ask Childless People About Having Kids


    I really enjoy being a Mommy! The fact that there is a person who has little bits of my husband and I, mixed and matched into a bundle of cuteness, is just eternally delightful. As she unveils more and more of her personality, I see some of her Daddy’s charming mannerisms and my endearing quirks. It constantly blows my mind that I have the opportunity to watch a human being develop, from conception to adulthood. It is surprising how many things we take for granted about our daily life that were once major challenges and significant milestones. Being a parent allows me to appreciate and celebrate these moments. But there is a hefty price, paid daily, to enjoy these precious moments. As parents we invest all of our resources into the life of this tiny human being. We use all the knowledge and experience we have to build our little ones up to be leaders who will make a difference in their time.

    In my teen years, I wasn’t infatuated with mommyhood or the wonders of parenting. In fact I never had a fondness for babies or children. As a young adult I always kept a plan A, B, C and D for contraception, as did many of my friends. We had accepted society’s programming to prioritise academic and professional pursuits, and we preferred to channel our resources into maintaining comfortable lifestyles. Full-time jobs and part-time studies were cushioned by spa days, fine dining, all-inclusive resort vacations and frequent flyer miles. We knew this routine didn’t necessarily conflict with being a parent, but we also knew they weren’t the best worlds to combine. We never had to look very far for a steady stream of complaints and lectures about the disadvantages of parenthood, and how easy and uncomplicated our lives were. We received random warnings from elders who thought it best to postpone childbearing until one’s place in society had been established.

    On the other side of things we dealt with nudges from parents wanting grandchildren, siblings wanting nieces and nephews, family friends and co-workers who warned that our spouses would have illegitimate children because we were depriving them. But rarely did any of these ‘nudgers’ take note that we, the childless, weren’t interested in what they were selling. These ‘well-wishers’ never considered the level of contentment we had, with all the things going on in our lives. They never genuinely inquired about our personal goals or paid attention to our priorities. We were made to feel that the sum total of our existence was how many children we produced.

    Because we were choosing to postpone childbearing, the nagging was easy to shrug off. Not so for those who are suffering silently as blow after insensitive blow is dealt to their wounds of infertility and loss. There are couples who have agreed to build a life together, knowing they won’t be able to conceive, and they shouldn’t be forced to disclose their circumstance to anyone. And there are couples who have suffered silently through miscarriages or still-births. It doesn’t matter what angle you take it from, any conversation about childbearing is a discussion about a person’s reproductive health and sexual activity. And, though it might not be perceived as such — the reality is that it’s a blatant intrusion into a very private aspect of an individual’s life and a couple’s relationship. You just might be crossing the line if you bring up the topic of childbearing uninvited.

    Although I completely adore all the wonderful ways my daughter has transformed my life, I haven’t forgotten that I was happy before she came into my life. I would never want to change being a mother, but I am still very conscious of the joys of childless living. My childless friends don’t have to share their time, money and attention. They are free to pursue any and all of their passions (school, career, hobbies, fitness, etc) without any reservations. They don’t have to share their spare time or surrender intimate moments to juvenile interruptions. They don’t have the lifelong responsibility and psychological bond of obligation to a child.

    We should respect everyone as an individual — giving them the right to choose (or not choose) parenthood, and the privacy to discuss or conceal their choice or circumstance. As parents who hope to raise respectful and compassionate children, we need to model an acceptance of diversity; because the reality is that not everyone can, should or desires to have children. When you’ve fallen in love with your baby, it’s very easy to assume that every woman wants to or is able to have children. But motherhood shouldn’t lead one to harass or nudge. The most important thing we can do for our loved ones is support their interests and priorities — whether they include children or not.

    Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

    10 Toddler Toys That Can Be Made from Household Items

    Many of us subscribe for weekly updates on our baby’s growth from the moment we know we are pregnant. These email campaigns highlight the various physical, social and emotional milestones we need to look for, while giving us tips on how to encourage our little one’s development. Have you ever wondered why parenting websites provide you with these updates every week? I think it’s another way to remind us that our bundles of joy won’t stay ‘tiny’ forever! LOL. Every day that my princess wakes up, I have to brace myself for something new that’s usually worth celebrating. Suddenly, I’m packing away clothing that she just started wearing. And I certainly can’t keep her interested in the toys that captured her attention months ago. So all this growing and changing can easily burn holes into Mommy & Daddy’s pockets if we don’t take frequent reality checks and reorganize our priorities.

    The reality is that your baby is going to grow up. For the first 2-3 years, it’s going to happen very quickly. There are many expensive toys that will only get used once or twice; and there are many odd (and seemingly boring) objects that your little angel will develop strong sentiments for. During this special time when your baby grows from newborn to toddler, you need to identify toys and activities that are fun and encourage their development. Yet,  perhaps most importantly, you need them to be free or low-cost. Some great ways to get toys that are free or low-cost are to get crafty and repurpose used items around your home. You can decide whether to use odds and ends you find around your home or to invest a bit of money in some craft supplies to feed your toddler’s growing interests.

    Photo Source: Get Creative With Kids

    1. Rattles from Plastic Bottles
    My daughter received one as a welcome gift from her 5-yr-old friends. They used an empty plastic bottle filled with beads, buttons, a bell and some colourful bits of paper that they decorated with strips of colored tape. You could also make an Edible Rattle by filling the botle with puffy snacks.

    2. Old Electronics
    An old remote control,  calculator, or computer keyboard can be cleaned up with all the hazards (small parts, batteries, etc.) removed. You might find that your little one will be less inclined to bang away at your working and newer electronics if they have their own Toy Laptop.

    Photo Source: U Create

    3. Bowling Set from Empty Plastic Bottles
    Whether you decide to paint them or fill them up with colored water, your empty plastic bottles can be transformed into a miniature bowling set.

    Photo Source: Thrifty Fun

    4. Tops from Old CDs
    Those old CDs that you got for various devices and software would be so much more useful if you converted them into a homemade top. Just a few marbles and bottles caps are needed. You can have your tiny tot decorate them with some paint or crayons and they’ll have fun spinning away.

    Photo Source: When Hippos Talk

    5. Fabric Square Dispenser from Old Cloth Dispenser Box
    If you’ve ever shreaked at the sight of a baby emptying the container of wet wipes or creating a new layer of carpet by pulling facial tissue after facial tissue out of the box,  you will certainly appreciate cutting up some fabric squares and packing them into an empty wipes dispenser.

    Photo Source: Lilla A Design

    6. Activity/Busy Board from Old Hinges, Latches, Bolts and Keys
    This is a wonderful way to keep your little one occupied for quite a while and it can be made using simple scraps you have around the house or from knick-knacks you could pick up at your local hardware store. They can be simple and composed of hinges, latches, bolts and keys. They can be very detailed with steering wheels, bells,  light bulbs and switches, or have doors that lead to mirrors, chalkboards and velcro-attached blocks.

    play kicthen 2
    Photo Source: Vintage Songbird

    7. Play Kitchen from Old Dressers and Cupboards
    I never imagined a homemade kitchen for toddlers until I walked into my daughter’s play group one day and saw her ‘cooking away’. After I finally put away my camera, I examined the set up and realized that any old piece of furniture could find new life as a baby kitchen with a bit of paint and minor remodeling.


    8. Sensory/Discovery Bottles from Old Plastic Bottles
    A plastic bottle Glitter Globe will keep your little one fascinated as he watches the sequins, beads and ‘magic dust’ float around. With discovery bottles, the possibilities are endless.

    Photo Source:

    9. Jingle Bell Ankle Bracelets from Elastic Cords, Beads and Bells
    Forget the fancy sneakers that light up and play music when your baby walks in them. With just a little elastic and some bells and beads, you’ll soon have bracelets that can be worn indoors or out on the town to make your tiny tot dance until she drops.

    Photo Source: Minie Co

    10. Guitar from Old Shoe Box
    If you have a little musician and would prefer to build his first set of strings, all you need are an old shoe box, some rubber bands, and thumb tacks. Then,  decide if you want to keep it simple or get really fancy.

    The sky is the limit on homemade toys. It all depends on how much money you’re willing to spend on craft materials and how handy and artistic you are. It is completely fine to be a ‘cheapskate’ and give your little one a box with ‘airplane’ or ‘racecar’ written on the front. By the time it becomes crumpled and tattered, your toddler will have discovered some new skill or interest that allows you to toss their ‘bullet train’ or ‘helicopter’ into the garbage.

    Ladies, which of these toys would you attempt to make? Have you made your own toddler toys before?

    Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.

    No More Wasting and Overspending: 15 Essential Meal Planning Tips


    During high school, I did a course called ‘Home & Family Management’ and I learned all sorts of practical and useful things like how to clean kitchen a stove and refrigerator, how to make a budget and spend wisely. I really enjoyed writing out menus and creating meal plans, but, my teachers never grabbed the opportunity to show us the connection between the content in our textbooks and real-life. Since I’ve had to manage my own home, I have referenced my old textbooks, on a number of occasions, for the guidelines and strategies that make my life a little less insane. The fact is, we all have to eat and manage our homes, but most of us have a hard time figuring out how to keep the tummies fed, stay within our means and not waste time while we’re at it. Most days, you’ll find yourself going from the fridge to the cupboards to the counter, trying to decide what to make or you’ll end up grabbing last minute meals on the road, which are usually costly, unhealthy or both and this cycle keeps repeating when you don’t have a plan.

    Planning your family’s meals is an easy, time-saving, budget-friendly and healthy process that every home manager should master. It requires just a few minutes of brainstorming and a quick inventory of your kitchen cupboards to start off. Once you’ve selected the meals you want to prepare, you can shop for the needed ingredients and then just follow the menu plan. Choosing your daily meals in advance is easy, because you already have a history of your family’s food likes and dislikes. Plus, you know what dishes you can make well and enjoy making. The menu planning habit saves time because you will not spend time wondering what to cook, wandering around the store because you don’t have a list or making repeat visits to the grocery store to pick up ingredients you suddenly ran out of. You will also save money by using up the ingredients you already have at home and buying only what you have planned for. More than anything else, properly planning your meals will ensure that your family is eating healthy, balanced meals, that you have lovingly prepared.

    Planning Your Menu
    1. Make a list of your family’s favorite meals, or meals you know how to prepare.

    2. Once you’ve made the list, take a look at your kitchen/pantry to see what ingredients you already have in store, then choose the dishes you can prepare based on those ingredients.

    3. Once you’ve decided on that, get a calendar or notebook and choose which days you plan to make which dish. Start with just 7 dinners and once you’ve made it through a week successfully, you can plan for 7 breakfasts and 7 dinners. As you come up with new meal ideas, rotate weekly menus to add some variety.

    Shopping From Your Menu
    Having checked your cupboards and refrigerator for what you already have on hand, make a grocery list of the ingredients you will need.

    4. When making your grocery list, try to determine which items you’ll want to purchase weekly, bi-weekly and monthly. This will help you to spread the cash around appropriately. Then, you can plan to buy the staple items in bulk, e.g. whole grains, cereals, dry and canned beans, nuts, dried fruits, pasta and spices.

    5. Try to reduce or eliminate the amount of heavily processed and packaged foods you buy – to save money and improve your health.

    6. Choose locally-grown and seasonal produce, because they will be the freshest and most nutritious. If your menu plan has shredded cabbage as a side salad, but you get to the grocers and realise that romaine lettuce is on special, it is perfectly fine to switch things up if the savings are significant. Just be careful to stick to your list (don’t waver too much from the original plan) and avoid buying on impulse.

    7. If your supermarket or green grocer delivers items, ordering online is another excellent way to cut down on the time and money spent.

    Cooking From Your Menu
    8. The most important thing to do when cooking from a menu plan, is to use the perishables first. If you got a deal on lots of fresh produce, try to portion, package and freeze them for using later. Otherwise, you end up with spoilage.

    9. Practice stock rotation: Don’t pack all the new groceries in the front of your cupboards while the older items get pushed to the back and eventually go bad.

    10. Try cooking in batches and storing meals in the freezer. It doesn’t need to be a month’s supply of bean stew, but if you can make two or three dinner’s worth of stew and pack them in separate containers for freezing, then you will have dinner ready in 10 minutes on those nights you’re too busy to cook. If you get around to it, you can also pre-pack and, even flavour, your cereals for breakfast. For example, serving oatmeal for breakfast 4 days a week doesn’t have to be boring if you’ve flavoured it with cinnamon and brown sugar, dried apples and walnuts, peanuts and raisins, or coconut flakes and ginger. Besides, if you cook enough for two or more nights, you can announce that you’re serving ‘rechauffé’ (a French cookery word which basically means ‘left overs’). Rechauffé doesn’t just mean re-heating the dish you ate the night before, because you can always take a dish and ‘remix’ it. This means, a main dish that was fried, can be simmered in some barbecue sauce and served as a brand new dish the following night.

    11. If you’re a bit lost for ideas, browse the internet for an avalanche of menu plans and recipes. But remember that it is best to start with things you already cook on a regular basis. This is an example of 7 dinners I would make for my family, and these dishes are pretty easy to make once you have a plan. Aside from the Chow Mein (stir-fried), all the dishes are ‘boiled’ or tossed in the oven:

  • Lentil Stew with Polenta and Garden Salad
  • Pasta Bolognese with Garlic Bread and Steamed Broccoli
  • Chow Mein with Potato Salad
  • Lentil Stew with Jasmine Brown Rice and Tomato Slices
  • Curried Tofu with Roti and Steamed Broccoli
  • Creamy of Pumpkin Soup with Baked Bean Sandwiches
  • Spinach & Eggplant Lasagna with Mashed Potato and Garden Salad
    12. If you don’t know how (or don’t want) to make 5 or 6 different main dishes for the week, serve the same main dish and just switch up the starchy side dish and veggies. Some of the options for sides include:

  • Rice: Long Grain, Brown, Basmati, Jasmine, Saffron.
  • Pasta: Spaghetti, Macaroni, Lasagna & Noodles: Lo Mein, Soba.
  • Starchy Vegetables: Potato, Sweet Potato, Yam, Breadfruit, Cassava, Plantain.
  • Flatbread: Roti, Wrap, Bammy, Pita, Tortilla.
  • Meal: Polenta, Fufu, Ugali, Dumpling.
    13. To make things easy, decide on nightly themes, for example: soup on Saturdays, pasta on Wednesdays, and left-overs on Mondays. If you enjoy foreign cuisines, try Asian stir-fry or African stew nights.

    14. Plan for nights off, whether you go out to dinner, get take-out delivered or just have rechauffé.

    15. In planning for leftovers, choose dishes that you’ll want to ‘Cook Once and Eat Twice’ or dishes that you’ll want to ‘Fix then Remix’, e.g. a side dish of rice turned into a main dish of fried rice.

    Once you master these tips, you’ll feel comfortable to try new dishes and increase your repertoire in the kitchen. Then you’ll wonder why you weren’t planning your menus all along.

    How do you do your meal planning? What challenges do you face with it? What tips would you add to this?

    Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.

    Didan Ashanta

    About Didan Ashanta

    Didan Ashanta is the author of "Jamaican Green Smoothies" and a LifeDesigner who blogs about eating your way to vibrant health at A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in the Tokyo, Japan with her husband and 3-yr-old daughter.