05 November 2018

a week with my instant pot (and a meal plan for you!)

Hey friends, it's been awhile! I am coming out of the haze of fall sports and trying to get back into the swing of meal planning. My kids have been eating a lot of nuggets. So it's time to get back on my game - that's the plan this week, at least. 

I've decided to spend an entire week with my Instant Pot. It's a busy mom's best friend, and I am maxing it out. I just shopped for all of the ingredients for each of the following recipes, which I'll serve up with a side salad and bread. Keeping it simple and kid friendly all week long!

Creamy chicken soup from EatWell 101 - this is perfect for fall! Rich and decadent, but still healthy. My kids love these flavors (I am switching out the sun-dried tomatoes for roasted red peppers!). Bread and salad and dinner is done.

We love this veggie lasagna from Pinch of Yum. I've made it many times in my crock pot, but I'm attempting it in the Instant Pot this week as a fun experiment. The key (I think) is adding about 1/4 cup of water to the bottom, along with the pasta sauce, to create enough steam. We LOVE this because you don't even miss the meat, and the texture of the kale is perfect and my kids don't even know they're eating so much healthiness.

Easy pulled pork - this is a family favorite. Served over rice or on brioche buns. My husband could eat this basically every single day. We switched to Stubbs BBQ sauce because we prefer it, and it doesn't have any high fructose corn syrup!

I know my kids are going to be obsessed with this pizza pasta. It's basically marrying their favorites into one steamy bowl of cheesy carbs. How can you miss?

We love all things teriyaki, so these teriyaki meatballs are right up our alley. Served with brown rice and salad, my kid will love these, and I feel good about them because they are fairly healthy and easy to whip up.

Do you have an instant pot yet? This is ours right here. And this is the pressure cooker I am dreaming of right here. Because eight people in a family means you might need two, right?

Ok, now I want to hear from you: what are YOUR favorite instant pot recipes? What's on your menu this week?

07 May 2018

a (fairly healthy) meal plan for busy families

Confession: last week was not my best when it comes to meal prep. I lost my luster for standing over the stove, my creativity in the kitchen had full on died, and my kids ate boxed mac and cheese for two meals within three days. The other day in there was frozen pizza. I threw in some apple slices and a side of peas to balance out some of the guilt, but I literally could not think of one single thing to make besides peanut butter and jelly and we were out of bread. Not my finest.

So last night I committed to actually meal planning for the week and getting all of the supplies. And by "getting all of the supplies", I mean ordering them online and having someone else load them into my car. I thought I would share, since I feel like we might all be in the same boat with the end of the school year looming and spring sports in full swing. Bonus: two of them are crock pot meals, one goes in the instant pot (with a crock pot version if you haven't taken the leap yet), and one is a sheet pan meal where you just throw everything in the oven. Basically, I meal planned a bunch of dinners that don't require very much of my time, because I don't have much!

We've tried all of these meals before, and they've gone over well with almost the whole crew. Hope your family enjoys!

I do a quick stir fry of celery, carrots, and broccoli to add in once the chicken is done. Add a side of rice and you're good to go!

I love this one so much. We use soft taco sized tortillas, serve guacamole, salsa, and sour cream on the side. A bag of our favorite tortilla chips, and some black beans. 

Every time I make this, my entire family raves. They LOVE it. I just add a salad and bread and you've got a complete meal that takes no time. I'll add in oven fried potatoes if I have time, but it's great without!

Crock Pot French Dip
I have made these so many times and they are always a hit. Again, just add a salad and it's the perfect meal. Throw in a side of roasted veggies if you want to bulk it up. It's so tasty and easy and a huge crowd pleaser!

Also on the menu if we need another meal (I'll often to a "leftover buffet" if there is enough from previous nights), I've got gnocchi as back up. We buy it in mass quantities at Trader Joe's because my kids love it. Add some marinara and parm, another salad, and another loaf of bread, and everyone is happy. (Salad and bread abound here.)

So, there's our week! Hope that's helpful for all of you trying to get food on the table for your own crew of crazies. What's on your menu this week?

02 May 2018

Disneyland tips and tricks and so many memories

After a few years of dreaming, we were finally able to take our family of eight to Disneyland over spring break. It was such a gift, and so many good memories were created. I grew up in Southern California, so I have such nostalgia and love surrounding my memories there, and I couldn't wait to experience it through the eyes of my six!

I took it to Facebook and asked or tips, tricks and Disney hacks, and of course! People had so many great ideas. I thought it would be fun to share a condensed version here, what worked for us, and what I would do all over again! And hopefully I will get to use them all over again, because we all got Disney fever... bad. Oh, to be sitting in sun with Dole Whip in hand. 

First up, let's talk booking your trip. We did a whole package deal through Costco and it was so worth it! Park hopper tickets (which includes early admission to the parks), hotel, character dining, gift cards - it made it all so easy, and not as expensive and time consuming as piecing it all together ourselves. There are tons of hotel options. When we went a few years ago, we stayed at a local hotel. This time we opted for the Disneyland Hotel and it was PERFECT. Super close to the park, amazing pools, Disney magic sprinkled everywhere you go. Definitely worth it. We had breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen, which was a great way to get to hug the characters without crazy lines, and a good way to fill the kids up for the whole morning. Thankfully it came with the hotel package, or the sticker shock may have caused us to keel over. And we even met a couple of characters wandering around the hotel, happy to pose with our kids and sign autographs (seriously anything to eliminate lines at the parks). 

We got up early each morning and got to the gates about 20 minutes before they opened. One of the best tips I got from one of my favorite friends: if you're walking to Disneyland through Downtown Disney, do a Starbucks mobile order before you leave your hotel, swing in and grab coffee and bagels (it took less than a minute!) and have a little picnic in line. It was awesome! Again, one less line and coffee is like the perfect morning combo.

Now let's talk food. If you have spent any time looking for advice, you will hear it again and again: pack food and bring it in because food in the park is expensive. This is true, it can be pricey. But also, there are so many snack carts and fruit stands, that you don't ever actually have to buy an entire meal at a sit down restaurant. Ideally, pack some sandwiches and bottles of water and bananas, and then also enjoy the food there because everything is DELISH. Our family favorites: Mickey beignets, churros, Dole Whip, treats from Pooh's Corner, corn dogs, and Frozen Lemonade. There were so many things we wanted but didn't have a chance to try. Most servings are huge, so even our family of eight could share three full sized meals and then have room for treats. If you are staying near Downtown Disney, the sandwiches at Earl of Sandwich are huge and tasty, and my husband and I shared nachos from Tortilla Jo's and couldn't even finish them (and that was after walking all day with six kids and being totally famished). So, plan ahead by bringing in your own snacks and h2o, but also plan to treat yourself - it's part of the experience!

Let's talk rides. Without a doubt, get the Disneyland App on your phone. You can see what the current wait times are for each ride, when and where you can see specific characters, where the nearest restroom is, and where to find your favorite treats. You will definitely want to get FastPasses for your favorite rides, and there are two ways to do that. You can go to the rides and pick up FastPasses for later in the day, but when they're gone, they're gone. You can spend a lot of time running to and from rides grabbing passes, and they will only give you so many per ticket at a time. OR you can pay an extra $10/day per person and get a MAXPass on the app. You only need the MaxPass for people who will want to ride on the big rides, so if you have kids shorter than 42", skip it. I bought them for all of us on the first day like a dummy and then realized the only thing I could FastPass for my girls was Roger Rabbit and really, that's not the most amazing ride. Do kids under 42" even know who Roger Rabbit is? The MaxPass is RIDICULOUSLY awesome because you reserve rides and times right on your phone. Pick the busiest rides first because those passes go the quickest. As of today, that would be Guardians of the Galaxy, Spring Racers, and Indiana Jones. Also at the top of my kids lists: Matterhorn, Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. We got those multiple times. It's awesome because you can reserve passes at Disneyland OR California Adventure from anywhere in either park and not have to run around in hopes of snagging one. Cannot emphasize enough how awesome this option is!

If you have little ones, but you still want to go on the big rides, make use of the rider swap option! Stand in line together - one of you will go on the ride first, then when they get off, you hand them your kid(s), and take your turn with no extra wait. Disneyland wants it to be fun for grown ups, too! A few rides also have "single rider"options with MUCH shorter wait times!

If you have kids in different age brackets, or with different interests, or you just have a lot of them, like we do: divide and conquer. We spent the first two days in groups - one of us would be with the older three, the other with the younger three, experiencing different things. Then on the last day, after we'd done everything everyone wanted to do, we spent the day as one big group on things we all could enjoy together (mostly the boat rides: Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, etc.). No one felt pressure to do anything except hang out and re-ride their favorites.

My biggest encouragement is to just enjoy the magic. Yes, there will be lines, and the app is great for seeing where things are moving a bit more quickly. But don't spend too much time racing from one end of the park to the other, soak up the fun in every Land. When you're tired or your little ones need to sit for a bit, hop on It's a Small World (again), or Pirates of the Caribbean or the Storybook boats (fun anytime of day, but at night they are so enchanting!). Think of fun games to play with your kids in line, and don't be afraid to take breaks.

And on that note, TAKE BREAKS. Nick and I were talking about how Disney has the potential to be the perfect storm: parents that have spent a boatload of money and want to get everything they can out of every minute, and kids that are overwhelmed by all of it and totally exhausted. Going back to the hotel for a nap or a swim is perfect in the middle of the day when the parks are busiest. Calling it quits earlier in the evening can be worth it if you are there for multiple days. Rest when you need to rest. We walked 23 miles in three days and that was with a lot of breaks, so pace yourself!

I also believe it is 100% worth it to bring or rent a stroller if you have kids 5 and under. They get tired, there are big crowds, life is easier on wheels. You can rent from a local company, but we decided to get one right at Disney and it was great.

SOUVENIRS. Your kids will want them, and every ride ends near or just outside a gift shop specific to that ride. A lot of people give the advice of getting some souvenirs before you go and tucking them away to hand out throughout the trip. This is great advice unless you have kids like mine that just mostly like the act of shopping and spending my money. The VERY BEST advice I got regarding this is to let your kids know before you even enter the parks on the first day of your trip that you will not be buying anything until the last day of your trip. They are welcome to window shop and get an idea of their favorite item and on the last day they will be allowed to pick something out within a certain budget. THIS SAVED MY SANITY. I mean, for real. Because they change their minds about eleventy billion times and they never stop asking, so it was so easy to tell them to just store it up in their mind until the last day. And it totally worked, and even after all their lavish dreams, they all ended up picking things relatively inexpensive and small and to me, that was victory. 

And here is the most important tip of all: ENJOY IT! Disneyland is truly magical. There is so much to see, do, eat, and take in. Don't miss it. If in doubt, go. If you think your kids are too little, they probably aren't. There is something for every age to enjoy. And if they don't remember it, isn't that just an excuse to go again? Make a plan of what you want to do and see (and eat), but hold to your plan loosely as you fill up on all the magic.

We had the most amazing time, even with crazy Spring break crowds and long lines... it was priceless. Here we are a month later, still talking about our memories, each of us so excited for the next opportunity to go. Go, enjoy, eat lots of treats, and say hi to Mickey for us!

11 February 2018

DIY Valentine treats and FREE printables!

I have five kids with Valentine's parties in two days and I obviously haven't gone to Target to buy cards. Because my kids were off all week for conferences and because I don't take six kids to stores all at once because I really like my sanity, I wanted to see what I could do from home. So I came up with these little printables, made a few clicks on Amazon Prime for little cellophane bags and candy, and voila! 

Extra bonus: my boys aren't disgusted by the ooey gooey sentiments on most cards. 
"I am NOT giving any cards away that say love or cute or anything." Mmmmkay.

I thought I'd share the love, and give you guys free printables if you're in the same boat! My girls are giving away little baggies of animal crackers, two boys are doing m&m's, and one is doing Smarties! They each get a role in filling the bags and signing their name and everyone is happy. 

Just fill each little bag (ours are Wilton 4x6"), fold over and staple shut. Cut labels and fold in half. Have your kid sign the back before attaching to the baggie with another staple. An easy and fun project for your next Valentine's party that you can do together!

HERE are the printables for each!

Happy Valentine's Day!

26 January 2018

quick and easy blueberry sunshine muffins

Something I've discovered over the last six months is that I LOVE using my essential oils in the kitchen. Part of that might be because I don't actually have to plan ahead and have ingredients on hand - I mean, let's be real. It's so easy to bump the flavor up in your favorite dishes with so many amazing options. Like these blueberry muffins! If I wanted the same amount of orange flavor that I get from four drops of my orange vitality oil, I would have to zest two oranges. Which is fine if I have oranges, but I didn't this morning. So I whipped out my little bottle of sunshine and bam! Done.
I've been challenging myself to get out of the cereal rut with my kids - something a little more filling and nutritious to start their days off right. Bonus if it's warm and cozy, too. And this recipe fits the bill!
These are my Blueberry Sunshine Muffins and they are delicious! They're also easy to whip up, which is awesome (because complicated isn't my thing), and perfect if you have little helpers. The addition of Cinnamon Bark Vitality is not only tasty, it helps even out blood sugar levels, so that there isn't that dreaded midmorning crash - your kids will make it all the way to snack time 😉
Here we go!
Blueberry Sunshine Muffins
serves 12
one cup rolled oats
one cup 2% milk
one tablespoon apple cider vinegar
one cup all purpose or whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
4 drops Orange Vitality 
1 drop Cinnamon Bark Vitality
1/4 cup avocado or coconut oil
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Either line a muffin tin with paper liners, or spray with cooking spray. (Trader Joe's has coconut oil spray and it's my favorite.)
Put the vinegar into your one cup measuring cup and fill the rest of the with milk (you're essentially making buttermilk), then add in a cup of oats and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Add the beaten egg, your vitality oils, and the oil to the milk/oat mixture and whisk gently. Add to the flour mixture and stir just until all the ingredients are mixed. Gently fold in the blueberries.
Pour evenly between your twelve muffins tins and bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Voila! A sunshiney, comforting, mostly healthy way to start your day!
And if you're into nutrition info, each muffin has about 150 calories, 6g of fat, and 3g of protein.

*if you don't have vitality oils yet, never fear! sub the zest from two oranges and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.