This post is sponsored by Disney Press. Thank you for supporting the companies that support this site!
I am raising a big fan of the Star Darlings series and we are so excited to giveaway an amazing prize pack today for a tween girl in your life. Today’s craft is to show you how to make a mini star cakes that you can prepare out of just 3 items from the grocery store. These cakes are easy enough that your kid can put these together and impressive enough to share with your friends.
Emily’s fangirl status of the Star Darlings series is truly legit because the #1 gift she wants to share with her friends are these books. They also are the books she has been taking to school each day to read during her reading free time. Is it just me or do you struggle with finding tween books that you can really get behind? These books are positive and minus the sass. I am all about girl power and positivity so I am thrilled that these have been such a hit in our house. I am also so happy she is sharing the same message with her friends.
As you may recall, we shared a really fun dreamcatcher we made together in honor of the first six books! Today we are sharing an easy craft your daughter can do together after she has read the books. Did you know that books 6-9 are out on store shelves now? Yay!
Not only have the next four books hit the shelves, but they also released StarDarlings Collection Volume #1 which is a brand new bind up book that includes the first three books in the StarDarlings series. You can learn lots more about the Star Darlings series on their webpage. They have also expanded their line to include a doll series and even an app to continue the positive messaging for tween girls. Cassie Comes Through, Piper’s Perfect Dream, Astra’s Mixed Up Mission, & Tessa’s Lost & Found are the new books keeping my daugher up late at night reading.
In honor of these sweet books, Emily & I have created an easy 3-ingredient star cake.
1 frozen prepared pound cake
2 tubs of frosting (you should only need one, but we offer the advice of two for heavy pourers- wink, wink!)
Star Cookie Cutter
Directions for Mini Star Cakes
1. Allow your pound cake to thaw for a few minutes and then, using a serrated knife, trim the top to level the cake. Slice the cake in half lengthwise. (I did this for my daughter, but she was able to do the rest on her own).
2. Using a cookie cutter, carefully cut out your star shapes and place them on a cooling rack with a cookie sheet underneath to catch the frosting avalanche.
3. Divide your icing into two microwave safe bowls and tint to your desired colors. Place the frosting in the microwave for 10 seconds. Stir the frosting and then place back in the microwave for another 10 seconds (or until the icing looks pourable).
4. Pour icing over the stars and finish with sprinkles. Allow these to harden and then eat your masterpiece.
There are a few great gifts I give myself in the morning. The first, is to rise an hour earlier than necessary to get in an uninterrupted hour of reading (BLISS!). The second is to always program my coffeemaker the night before so I wake up to a fresh brew (HEAVEN!). The third? Packing my freezer with smoothie packets that make creating a morning smoothie filled with greens and fruits incredibly easy and practically effortless (WINNING AT LIFE).
I posted about my make-ahead smoothie packets on Instagram and got a lot of questions about it. Something I have come to think of as a weekly routine really sparked a lot of questions about my recipe, what the smoothie looked like, and what to do for fruit substitutions. I thought it deserved its own little post because it has become a very vital part of my morning routines and sets a good foundation for healthy eating the rest of the day.
Not only does this strategy save you time in the morning, but it also puts ripe fruit to work and is a great way to utilize spinach before it goes bad making the most of every grocery dollar. I never waste a banana in our house or any greens anymore because they always have a home. If I have run out of frozen berries, I just add the rest of these ingredients into a packet and get them ready for my next grocery day when I can get the frozen fruit to add to it. As someone trying to reduce their food waste, this has been an awesome use for those often tossed items.
Also, if you buy smoothies regularly, you know they are not cheap. A typical smoothie around these parts (said in my best Midwest accent) is around $4-6. Even if bought weekly, that can add up fast!
Here were a few of your questions for me!
Do you store these packets in the freezer and for how long?
Yup, I recommend freezing in quart-sized freezer storage bags and making sure to push out any air in the bags to keep these ingredients as fresh as possible. I would recommend using these in one month for optimum flavor.
How many smoothies do these packets make?
I drink an enormous smoothie in the morning (24 ounces) and my daughter has the size I am showing you in the cup below and this packet with my recipe I have listed makes enough for that. For “normal” people, maybe it might make three, but this is my breakfast, people, and I’m a big eater. I got one of these for me to help make toting these in the car a little easier since I drink these on the way to the gym in the morning. I also have this giant water bottle from the same company and it has improved how much water I intake as well as my healthy smoothie habit for breakfast. I have been happy how they have held up (over a year now!) compared to some other insulated cups I have tried.
Do you blend these with milk or use a milk substitution?
My stomach can’t process a lot of dairy so I use unsweetened almond milk in mine. I do use Greek yogurt though (either vanilla or unsweetened) and that doesn’t seem to bother me. You can definitely use milk, soy milk, or coconut milk if you would prefer. I’m a big fan of the flavor of the almond milk!
Can I make these without spinach? I don’t think my kids will drink these if they are green!
I just want to show you how very slightly these are tinged with green when you only add a cup or so of spinach to them. Additionally, if I am really concerned an extra handful of frozen blueberries cancels out all other colors so sometimes if I am really generous with the blueberries, these look more blue.
Are you using frozen spinach? Frozen berries? What does the spinach look like when it is frozen?
Here is a packet that has been frozen for three weeks and this is what it looks like. The spinach is fresh spinach (I don’t want to hassle with the frozen stuff- personal preference), the berries are frozen, and the bananas are fresh. I like to cut the bananas in half to help them break down a little easier in the blender. As you can see, the spinach looks almost the same as it did when I threw it in there.
The bananas may brown over time, but they will still taste the same. As rapidly as we go through these though, I have rarely even seen that happen.
By freezing these fruits and veggies, you eliminate the need for ice in your smoothie which creates a much creamier consistency and a smoothie that holds together longer. Sometimes I will make these in the morning and pop one in the fridge for my daughter for her afternoon snack. It always looks just like I had just made it. When I add water or ice, it tends to separate and grosses her out.
Should I flash freeze any of the ingredients?
If you aren’t familiar with flash freezing, I do this a lot with foods for our freezer. Typically, I fan whatever I am freezing out on an open parchment paper lined cookie sheet, freeze just until frozen, and then toss in a bag.
I experimented with this and here is what I will say about that. You can cut the bananas in half and flash freeze and they will stay separated, making it easier to pour into your blender and it is really great. It’s an extra step though. My lazy freezer routine is to cut them in half right in the bag, freeze (where they tend to fuse back together) and then smack the bag as hard as I can on the counter until they loosen from each other while I listen to the political crap insight on NPR. It’s kind of like a therapy session. You can do it whichever way fits your lifestyle best.
What kind of protein powder do you use? What can I use if I am vegan or dairy-free?
When I was dairy-free, I experimented with a lot of terrible protein powders so I can honestly tell you this is the only brand that I really liked that was plant-based. Now that I’m not dairy-free, I just purchase the store brand protein powder at our local grocery store in a vanilla flavor. Like I said, we had to try a few before we found the ones we liked best and I always try to keep my eyes peeled for a sale to maximize the savings. The goal is to keep this as a frugal routine for us.
What kind of blender do you have?
I have had the same blender for probably eight years or so and, unfortunately, they don’t make mine anymore. When mine bites the bullet, I will probably invest in this one because I have heard they last forever. In order to blend up these fruits, you really need to have a high powered blender though. If you have a $20 blender, it will burn out your motor. I say this because I did it. Twice. Invest in a good blender and it will more than pay for itself, I promise you!
I can’t eat bananas. Do you have any recommendations for substitutions for my smoothie?
Do your kids really like these? My kids are really picky!
They really do and so do I. My daughter was a terrible breakfast eater, like her mother, and I worried a lot that she wasn’t eating enough to be fueled for her day at school. This is what she “eats” and she stays full until lunchtime. If she is running late, it is something that can be finished while she waits for her bus. Fun straws are always a great addition to this morning treat especially when first pitching this idea to your kids. She says it tastes like a milkshake.
For me, it’s been an incredible way to get fueled before I workout. Working out on an empty stomach isn’t a good idea for someone with low blood sugar. Eating something too heavy made me feel like I was going to be sick. These smoothies are a great option to be fueled without a lot of heaviness in my stomach. Sometimes I drink half and pop it in the fridge until I get done exercising and finish the other half when I’m done.
I hope these tips are helpful and I hope you love these as much as our family does!
As our schedules become busier with activities, I have found that I have been gravitating more and more towards sheet pan meals to feed our family. The beauty of a sheet pan meal is that, when lined with foil or parchment paper, these meals of meats and veggies prepared on a cookie sheet not only hold the power to be prepared with minimal effort, but they also are prepared with minimum clean-up too. I am not the only one loving sheet pan meals though, as I noticed at our local library that this sheet pan suppers cookbook was out on the shelves this winter and I can’t wait to check it out and dive into some of those recipes in our own kitchen. Who knew sheet pan meals were so trendy this year?
Today’s sheet pan dish features Ranch Pork Chops with Vegetables and has already been eaten a record four times this month. I am a big fan of these pre-cut parchment paper squares for easy clean-up and I can find all of these ingredients for this meal at ALDI, which is a bonus since I hate shopping at multiple grocery stores. Although the ingredients couldn’t be more simple, this recipe is packed full of flavor thanks to the convenience of a ranch dressing packet. If you are avoiding those for any reason (like sodium), you can also make your own DIY Ranch Dressing Mix to cut down on the salt.
Although we loved this dish enough for it to be repeated four times, the main reason why I tested it so much was because I wanted to get the right level of doneness to both the potatoes and the meat. I found that by giving the potatoes a 10-12 minute head start, I got better consistency on the potatoes while not drying out the meat and green beans in the process. Throwing the potatoes in the oven first also gave me that ten minutes to prep the rest of the ingredients while they were cooking. Basically, as soon as that timer goes off, I’m ready to throw on the next layer. I rely on center cut pork chops, on the bone, for a flavorful chop that consistently is done within 30 minutes. Resting this chops on top help add moisture and flavor to the veggies nestled underneath.
A fresh sprinkle of parsley adds a beautiful fresh flavor to this dish and some affordable color to the top.
Not only is this a great weeknight winner, but it also reheats beautifully, saving us on money spent on lunches out. I try to package a couple of meals up for my husband and I when cleaning up.
Did I mention less dishes when cleaning up?
Now you REALLY know why we have already eaten this four times.
I hope you love this sheet pan meal as much as we do!
A practically effortless pork chop sheet pan meal that feeds six people!
6 (8-ounce) pork chops, bone-in, ¾-inch to 1-inch thick
1 pound yellow or red baby potatoes, quartered
1 pound green beans, trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 (1-ounce) package Ranch Seasoning and Salad Dressing Mix
5 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Quarter potatoes and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil, ¼ of the Ranch dressing packet, and two minced cloves of garlic in a large bowl. Pour in an even layer on sheet pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
Meanwhile trim green beans and place in the bowl you used for tossing the potatoes. Toss the green beans with ¼ of the Ranch dressing packet, one tablespoon of the olive oil, and one clove of minced garlic.
Remove potatoes from the oven and pour prepared green beans on top. Add pork chops and drizzle lightly with olive oil and finish by sprinkling with the Ranch packet. Season with salt and pepper.
Place into oven and roast until the pork is completely cooked through, reaching an internal temperature of 140 degrees F, about 25-30 minutes. You can finish by broiling for two to three minutes, if you desire a more charred flavoring to your meal.
Serve immediately, garnished with parsley.
Do you love sheet pan meals too? Let me know what your favorite sheet pan dishes are in your kitchen!
This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend what I love- pinky promise!
I have tried and tried and tried to create a delicious gluten-free meatloaf, but have failed on countless occasions. We have had hard-as-a-rock meatloaves and runny meatloaves and gummy meatloaves and dense meatloaves, but nothing has ever been delicious…until now.
When all else fails (oatmeal, gluten-free breadcrumbs, no breadcrumbs at all, fresh gluten-free breadcrumbs, etc..), you just have to go to the experts. To me, there is no better resource than America’s Test Kitchen and The How Can It Be Gluten-Free cookbook had a meatloaf recipe in it that had a really unusual binding agent that yields a fluffy and delicious meatloaf without the gluten. You know what makes it even better? It is just a standard ingredient you would find at a standard grocery store that you might even have in your pantry. You mean, no fancy pants gluten-free ingredients that cost an arm and a leg? Well, heck, sign me up!
If you don’t have meatloaf pan like this, they offer an affordable alternative to create a loaf that isn’t swimming in grease. Simply place a standard cooling rack on top of your cookie sheet and then tear pieces of foil, roughly the size of a loaf pan) to lay on top of your cooling rack. Spray with cooking spray and then use a skewer to poke holes to drain the grease from the loaf. All the grease then goes to the cooking sheet, helping the loaf to hold its shape.
Once you have shaped your meatloaf, you can cover it in half the sauce you have made. This sauce is sweet and I have discovered my family prefers just a can of tomato sauce on top with a little shake of garlic salt for a more Italian flavoring. You can do either, but I definitely found that this sweet sauce hugged and set well on this meatloaf, even when reheated later for delicious meatloaf sandwiches.
This meatloaf is so light and who would ever have guessed that instant mashed potatoes is what keeps it so light and fluffy? It’s an incredible loaf that holds its shape and is full of flavor thanks to the delicious sauce that compliments this fluffy loaf perfectly. We served this dish with a big helping of oven roasted brussels sprouts, a side that has grown to be a family favorite!
I hope you will enjoy this recipe in your house as much as we had and now that I know what a great binder instant mashed potatoes are, this will be a pantry staple for our family! Thank you, America’s Test Kitchen, for making our family so darn happy!
A perfectly light meatloaf with the most surprising binding agent! Try substituting the sweet sauce with tomato sauce for an Italian kick!
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
2 large eggs
½ cup milk of choice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons gluten-free Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
⅓ cup potato flakes
⅓ cup minced fresh parsley
1 pound ground pork
1 pound (85 percent lean) ground beef
Adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Fold heavy-duty aluminum foil to form a 9x5-inch rectangle. Center foil on a wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Poke holes in the foil with a skewer (about ½ inch apart). Spray foil with vegetable oil spray.
Stir ketchup, sugar and vinegar together in a bowl and set aside. Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for 5 minutes.
Whisk in eggs, milk, mustard, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Stir in potato flakes and parsley. Add pork and knead with hands until thoroughly combined. Add beef and continue to knead until uniform.
Transfer meat mixture to foil rectangle and shape into 9x5-inch loaf. Brush half of ketchup mixture over meatloaf. Bake meatloaf in preheated oven 40 minutes.
Brush meatloaf with remaining ketchup mixture and continue to bake until center of loaf registers 160°F, 30 to 35 minutes. Let meatloaf cool 15 minutes before slicing.
This post contains affiliate links. I only recommend what I love!
This post is sponsored by Lingham’s Hot Sauce. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this site!
Sloppy Joes are nothing fancy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love them. When my husband and I were in high school, we would hit a local deli each week where he would enjoy a good old-fashioned sloppy joe sandwich and I would indulge in a flaky spinach & feta croissant as a special treat. When you have been with your partner as long as I have, almost every memory, every dish, and every life moment is laced with each other. I always think of those lunches when I make this dish for him, these high school moments that later shaped my life and family.
We have held steady and true to this classic sandwich over the years, but this week I’m partnering up with Lingham’s Hot Sauce and thought it would be fun to switch up this classic comfort food in their honor. My husband, a lover of traditions when it comes to the classics, was not too sure about my Sloppy Buffalo Joes idea, but after one bite of these delicious sandwiches, we all agreed that this was just as good as the classic version and a fun gourmet twist on a cafeteria staple.
Lingham’s Hot Sauces were new to me, but have actually been around since 1908! They come in a variety of flavors from garlic to ginger and they offer an extra hot variety for those of you that like your hot sauce with an extra kick. Their original hot sauce is absolutely divine and the closest I have tasted to homemade from the supermarket. It has a complex flavor on the tongue that at first tastes sweet and then the heat travels through, just like an experience that you get with a good glass of wine.
The sauce is thick and requires a good shake before you use it since they don’t use any bulking agents, something the brand really is proud of. The best part for this gluten-free gal is not only is it gluten free is that it is 100% all natural, verified non GMO, Halal and Kosher…
Oh, and did I mention you can find it at Walmart stores nationwide? Yay!
Sloppy Buffalo Joes are a healthier take on a big plate of buffalo wings as we get back to more balanced eating in the new year. This sloppy joe mixture consists all white ground chicken meat, garlic, diced onions, diced celery, and diced carrots. Next is a spicy sauce layer with our Lingham’s Hot Sauce (feel free to go Extra Hot on this one!), tomato sauce, chicken broth, and a worcestershire sauce finish. Once this cooks down together, it has that perfect balance of sweet and spicy, just like the hot sauce we added and I love that there is a healthy serving of veggies in these for my kids!
The thing that really brings this whole thing together on this sandwich are those finishing touches. Blue Cheese crumbles are sprinkled on top and the addition of a toasty bun completes this deliciously sloppy joe treat. The creaminess of that blue cheese really adds balance to the spicy sauce on this.
I usually avoid the gluten-free buns, but have discovered that a gluten-free bun slathered with a tiny bit of butter and then toasted on a hot cast iron skillet improves the flavor of these 100% for me. Of course, you could also serve this delicious filling stuffed in a sweet potato or over a big pile of brown rice.
The true test if a dish is a success is if the leftovers are eaten in our house. Not only did our whole family love this, but they begged to eat those leftovers the next day. This one is going into our regular meal rotation and I have a feeling if you try it, it will go into yours too. What a fun spin on an old classic!
Be sure to pick up some Lingham’s Hot Sauce to add that perfect balance of sweet and spicy to your dishes!
This post is sponsored by Airheads. Thank you for supporting the companies that support us!
Are you a skilled decorator of cakes? I wish I was, but I am not! I have never been good with fondant decorating and have always found the flavor lacking. Thankfully, there is a delicious substitute lurking in the candy aisle that you can mold & shape into whatever your heart’s desire is. Did you know Airheads candy can add that decorative touch to your cake decorating in just a few easy steps?
Today’s tutorial shows you how to transform Airheads into the perfect crown cake topper in just 5 easy steps. Wouldn’t this be a great princess cake? The best part is that, unlike fondant, it tastes sweet and delicious and will be a crown worth fighting for when those slices are dished up. For those with food allergies, it is also peanut and gluten-free! Yay!
Airheads (I used Blue Raspberry, Cherry, & White Mystery for my crown)
Mini cookie cutters- metal or plastic, I used a heart with a jagged edging
Cake (we picked ours up in the bakery section of our supermarket)
Pull out 3 cherry Airheads and line them up in one long line, slightly overlapping the edges. Place these between two sheets of parchment paper and roll with a fondant roller to smooth out your seams. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect because we will be adding a dot detail to camouflage any flaws on the crown. Set aside.
Microwave a white mystery Airheads for 3-5 seconds and then roll them out between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a mini heart shaped cookie cutter, press the cookie cutter firmly into the white mystery Airheads and pull up. Push the heart shape out gently and then place it upside down (with your heart tip pointing up) to create your crown points. Do this all the way around, layering one heart between two hearts as pictured. Feel free to microwave and re-roll the Airheads to get as many hearts as you can out of each one. Press these firmly into the crown and continue layering until you get to the end.
Bring one end of the crown, to the other to create your shape. Using your fingers, gently rub the seam in a bit to create a smooth finish. Set your crown aside.
Grab your Blue Raspberry Airheads and pull off small sections of the candy and roll between your hands until you have created a dot shape. Take the dot and press firmly into the crown, spacing it as evenly as possible to add a decorative detail to finish.
Place the crown in the refrigerator until it is time for your cake so it can harden up a bit and to help it keep its shape. Once it is cake time, remove from the fridge and rest it on the top of your cake. How easy is that?
I’m so excited that October is here so we can began diving into all things pumpkin! Today I am over on the Kenmore blog sharing a super easy snack for your kids created with just a few pantry staples that you can whip up together to celebrate Fall. Aren’t these the cutest? My kids loved these pumpkin hand pies with big glasses of milk for their snack this week!
*This post is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the companies that support this site!
Gluten-free and game day parties? Oof. Not fun, friends, not fun at all! I have learned a lot about social engagements like this though and know the best defense to any social gathering is to carry around my own dishes and drinks so I never go hungry or thirsty again. You will rarely see this girl without her own food!
Game day food is delightfully rich and comforting which is why I love it so darn much. Today I wanted to create an appetizer that echoed those feelings of comfort and what could be more comforting than a pile of homemade meatballs? This meatball sub appetizer is gluten-free, but I promise you would never know it. It’s got everything I love in a meatball sub simply minus the bread.
I’ve made meatballs a lot over the years (here is one of our favorite dinner dishes that we created together using my standard meatball recipe), but this was my first time trying to create a meatball without the addition of breadcrumbs or panko. With a blend of turkey sausage and ground turkey, I then mixed in fresh parsley, parmesan cheese, a little tomato sauce, and two eggs to bind it all together. I have a cookie dough scoop that I used to make sure all the meatballs were roughly the same size (and so they would fit on my toothpick).
These meatballs are a little more delicate without the breadcrumb binder so I baked them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet so that they would lift easily and not fall apart. Not only does this help the meatball hold its shape, but it also helps cut down your kitchen clean-up time. I would call that a game day win!
Canned crushed tomatoes, garlic, salt, and a dash of sugar yield a vibrant sauce to nestle this appetizer in. I have tried a million different brands of canned crushed tomatoes over the years and I swear by the Great Value brand ones at Walmart. I don’t know why, but it always yields the best pizza sauce for me! I try not to use anything else.
What’s Your Favorite Game Time Recipe?
Are you feeling inspired? Do you have an incredible dish that everyone looks forward to on game days? Walmart happens to be running a GameTime Recipe contest and would love for you to post a photo of your favorite game time recipe on Instagram or Twitter using #WalmartMVPContest. By doing this, you will be entered to win a trip to LA to go to the YouTube studios to have a pre-Superbowl party and create content with some big YouTube stars. How cool is that? Read here for all the official rules! Need some inspiration? Check out all of the great GameTime Recipes that have been posted!
In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy this gluten-free game time creation I have created for you!
This is a post from our diy/craft contributor, MJ.
For the first time ever, I’m packing lunches for three kids – which means three drinks, three sandwiches, three treats, and three sets of complaints! Like any parent, I strive to pack healthy and tasty meals that the kids can enjoy in the middle of their days, but oftentimes my best attempts fall short of their hopeful stomachs.
So now that our trial and error efforts have failed, and I’ve talked it over with my children, we’re proud to recommend these three ideas that have helped turn our lunchtime fails into lunches that leave only the crumbs behind.
1. Ask your children what they want and give them the tools to make good decisions.
Before we head upstairs for bedtime, I ask each child what they’d like for lunch. Sometimes we have what they want, sometimes they ask for food they shouldn’t have, and sometimes they have NO ideas. To avoid the headache, I created this Lunchbox Helper!
Food choices are separated (roughly) by food groups, and my children are able to make smart choices for themselves (eg: see that fruits and vegetables should be a part of every meal!). It’s also come in very handy for grocery prep. My children can add their own ideas to the sheet and mark off what they’d like to pack for lunches and snacks, and we can know in advance what we need to have in our pantry!
2. Organize ingredients in a place they can pack for themselves!
Lunchbox Helper lets your children see and select what they want to eat, but let’s take it to the next level and have them pack their own meals. In our home, we have all the good stuff on the lower shelves where small hands can reach exactly what they need. In the pantry and in the refrigerator, all the fruits, veggies, grains and goodies are at child height.
I love how Amy organized her space so that an entire lunch can be gathered up from the space of a few drawers. No confusion means less work and less hassle for everyone!
3. No matter how the food tastes, send them off with your love notes.
When my oldest started in full-day Kindergarten, I sent her off with a note in her lunchbox. As she mentioned that she sometimes didn’t know what to talk about at the lunch table, I started adding a joke to those notes. Over the years, these evolved into illustrated notes with the drawing sometimes being much funnier than the corny joke!
Through a wonderful partnership with The Land of Nod, my illustrated jokes are now reaching hundreds of lunchboxes! Just a few months ago, my Lunchtime LOL Notes went on sale as a full pack of 180 jokes for every day of the school year. It’s been such a treat to hear how parents and children alike are enjoying these notes and turning any menu into a time for giggles.
I’d love to hear your ideas! What works for packing lunches in your family? Any great foods to suggest?
If I had to point a finger at where I began to realize the beauty in make-ahead meals, I would point it to my bag of chicken I cook each week for our family. This small kitchen tip truly takes just a few moments of effort to have a container full of prepared meat for sandwiches, wraps, or to be eaten on it’s own with veggies and fruit to round out the meal. The best part is that with my easy technique, you can prepare chicken in bulk for your week right from it’s frozen state.
For our family of four, I prepare three pounds of chicken each week (one frozen bag of chicken breasts from ALDI, to be exact!) and we usually plow through these three pounds by Wednesday or Thursday of the week. I never have any leftover because it is my go-to for making wraps for my husband to take for his lunch and it is the go-to for my kid’s busy activity nights. I started making a habit of taking the chicken out first when I brought in my groceries and getting it roasting as I put the rest of the food away. For five minutes of prep work, it has saved us at least a hundred bucks a month if I had went with my impulse to just run out and grab something at Panera instead of preparing a meal at home.
My secret ingredient (and this is no endorsement- just a HUGE fan!) is this Mrs. Dash Tomato Basil Garlic seasoning mix. The picture is a bit blurry, but you get the idea. I found it in the spice aisle and it makes such a fantastic dry rub on the chicken that it tastes as good as anything you would get in a restaurant. Since it is salt-free, I layer on the salt just the way I like and this helps to enhance the flavor of the chicken.
Now that you know the secret, I encourage you to try this technique as your first baby step towards the make-ahead meal life.