Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Easy DIY Hot Chocolate Bar

Easy DIY Hot Chocolate Bar

Snowy winter weekends get pretty boring for my kids (I mean you can only play outside in the freaking cold for so long, man), and I'm always trying to come up with projects they can do inside. My daughter's favorite is a DIY hot chocolate bar. (Okay, maybe it's my favorite too.)

I'll be honest with you guys: you can find a million variations of this on Pinterest, so this isn't some original idea I was brilliant enough to concoct. But there's no harm in sharing our ideas, right?

Here is a list of our go-to items. (And when we're out of them, we use whatever we have on hand.)
  • hot chocolate of your choice  
  • whipped cream
  • marshmallows
  • mini cookies
  • sprinkles
  • chocolate chips (butterscotch or caramel work too)
  • peppermint sticks
  • chocolate syrup
  • paper straws 

My kids love putting together their own hot chocolates. It's like a drinkable art project that tastes really delicious, and they are here for it.

Is it cold where you are? What are your favorite hot cocoa toppings?


Monday, January 20, 2020

A Spring Living Room Refresh

Spring Living Room Refresh Ideas
1. Mustard Cushion Cover ($5.99)   |   2. Marble Vase ($34.99)   |   3.  Rattan Basket ($49.99)   |   4. Wooden Plant Pot ($17.99)   |   5. Colorful Metal Tray ($14.99)   |   6.  Blue Fringed Cushion Cover ($14.99)   |   7. Charcoal Pom Storage Basket ($29.99)   |   8. Brass Framed Mirror ($34.99)   |   9. Green Glass Vase ($9.99)   |   10. Crinkled Cotton Throw ($49.99)   |   11. Round Wood Box ($17.99)   |   12. Magazine Rack ($24.99)

I know, I know. Spring is still two months away. We are also still (slowly but surely) DIY renovating our kitchen (update on this below), and I admittedly shouldn't be focusing on any other rooms right now. But when I know spring is around the corner, I always itch to change small things around in our living room so it feels a little fresher. The goodies you see above are some that I have on my 'possibilities' list, and they are (yay!) all under $50. I'd really like to grab #1, #3, and #8.

Quick kitchen update: So far, we have painted the walls (in both the kitchen and breakfast/eating area) and cabinets white, added board and batten to the island and painted it black, and replaced the black appliances with stainless. We still need to get new counter tops, add a black splash, replace the sink, and add cabinet hardware. It's really freaking expensive to renovate a kitchen, especially when the countertops and appliances have to be replaced, and we also don't have a lot of free time to work on it. But we're getting there! It already looks like a completely different space. The goal is to completely finish it by early summer.

Who else likes to pick up some new accessories to freshen up rooms for spring? Just me?


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

6 Easy Ways to Refresh School Lunches in the New Year

This post is sponsored by Sun-Maid®, but all opinions are my own.

I have a love-hate relationship with school lunches.

As far as the 'hate' part goes, it's somehow the one thing I forget to do during our hectic night time routine, and without fail, just as I'm finally ready to go to bed I remember I haven't made lunches yet. Then there is the monotony. By December, I'm so fried from a combination of work overload, the holidays, and the kids' activities that I'm on auto pilot with their lunches. I take the easiest route, throw in whatever we have, and pack the same thing everyday. And trust me, I hear about it from the kids. Sometimes I don't even need to hear about it, because their lunch boxes come home barely touched.

There is, despite all of this, part of me that finds putting together school lunches really fun. I enjoy the creative aspect of it. And after a couple of weeks off from making them over winter break, I'm feeling refreshed enough in general that my motivation to create fun lunches has returned. I've also  recently discovered a few simple things that make putting together inspired lunches easy, and if all goes well, I'll be able to carry this momentum through this second half of the school year. (Fingers crossed). Here is what works for me!

1. Create fun shapes.
My little ones are still young, but even if your kids are on the older side, it's amazing what a cookie cutter can do. I bought several different shapes to use on sandwiches, cheese slices, and meats. I'm telling you, my daughter will scarf down a star shaped PB&J yet bring home an uneaten regular square sandwich. It's amazing. (Bonus: you get to eat the pieces left over from the cookie cutters!) If you don't have a cookie cutter, it's easy to create a heart shaped sandwich with a knife.

2. Give lunch box raisins a sour punch.
Sun-Maid Raisins are a staple in most lunch boxes (since way back when I was a kid!), but when I discovered Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks at Target a few weeks ago and realized I could take the regular school lunch raisin up a notch (just like the lunches themselves!), I was stoked. As soon as my kids tasted them, they were stoked too! Made with whole fruits, Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks contain no added sugar, no synthetic colors, and are non-GMO and gluten-free. They're also genuinely delicious and have become a go-to, better-for-you snack for everyone in our house. My daughter and I love the Strawberry variety, and my husband and son are mildly obsessed with Watermelon. The flavor is natural tasting and perfectly subtle, but with a fun sour punch. And they're available now in the dried fruit section (and online!) at both Target and Walmart.

3. Kabob it.
Just like the star shaped sandwiches and cheese slices, if I give my daughter pieces of fruit on skewers rather than in a regular cup or bag, they're devoured. And kabobs can be made from endless types of food. They're actually quite fun to put together too. One of my son's favorite after school snacks is mini kabobs we made from O type cereals and Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks on toothpicks.

4. Make food smile.
In addition to creating fun shapes out of my kids' sandwiches, I like to give them an added bit of fun by making a simple face. Two Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks for eyes and a clementine orange slice mouth make a boring sandwich come to life. I also draw a happy face on a banana or orange with a marker and I'm telling you, it makes my kids so much more enthusiastic about eating their fruits and veggies.

5. Get the kids involved.
This is a win-win for me, because it solves the problem of me forgetting to make their lunches until right before my head hits the pillow, and because my kids tend to be more enthusiastic about choosing healthy foods and actually eating their lunches when they've helped prepare them. Essley gets a huge kick of cutting out her sandwiches with cookie cutters, and also loves choosing things like which flavor of Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks and what crunchy snack to include.

6. Switch it up.
I know what my kids like, and I know what foods are easiest for my to prepare, which makes it easy to fall into a school lunch rut. This ends up backfiring for all of us, because my kids get sick of eating the same thing everything, and I get sick of putting together cloned lunches. For the second half of the school year, I've been making sure to switch up their lunches everyday. This doesn't mean I change everything I include from day to day (star sandwiches and Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks  are everyday staples), but I change out at least half of the items and try to include as much variety as possible in a given week.

I hope these tips for refreshing your school lunches prove as helpful for you as they have for me! And if you have any other tips or ideas, I'd love to hear them.


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

I initially shared this recipe about four years ago, but I made them for the first time in a while the other night and was so smitten I had to share again. I have made several updates to take the yumminess up a notch, and guys, they are so good. Enjoy

serves 1

large sweet potatoes
1 cup black beans, rinsed
3/4 cup sweet corn
1/2 avocado
chili powder
black pepper
plain Greek yogurt

Preheat your oven to 400. Wash and dry your sweet potatoes and prick them each several times with a fork. Line a cookie sheet with foil and bake the sweet potatoes for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on size. While the sweet potatoes are baking, combine the black beans and corn, season with chili powder, cumin, and black pepper, and heat over medium heat. Dice the avocado. When the sweet potatoes are done, cut them in half lengthwise and place each one on a plate. Top with the black bean and corn mixture. Then layer on salsa, diced avocado, and plain Greek yogurt. Squeeze the juice of a lime over the tops, and sprinkle on some chili powder.

I'll be making these again tonight. Can't stop.