Thursday, December 13, 2012

35+ Tips for Getting Young Kids to Eat Veggies

There's a post on Babycenter on tricks and tips to get your toddlers to eat veggies - with 258 helpful comments! I keep starting them and re-starting them, so I'm going to paraphrase the best tips here. My oldest will NOT eat a vegetable unless under the duress of threats and bribery - this post is not meant to be a commentary on the seemingly recent but vigorous hide-the-veggies vs. don't-hide-veggies debate. But if anyone's struggling like I am, and just want to get their child through belligerent food phases with their health still intact, here are some good ideas! I've added some links where a parent recommended a type of recipe.

1. Use cheese grater to grate frozen veggies as "sprinkles" onto food.
2. Make kids eat at least one bite of the veggie offered at every meal.
3. Hiding vegetables in smoothies. Naked Juice makes some great veggie/fruit smoothie combos if you want to take the easy route!
4. Cheesy omelettes with tiny veggies hidden inside. Try cutting them up into cute shapes with cookie cutters, to mix it up a bit.
5. Pumpkin bread, zucchini or sweet potato pancakes and bread and carrot/raisin muffins.
6. Steam fresh vegetables and then puree them with a bit of water and store them in little baggies in the fridge or freezer. Then put them in anything that can "hide" the color, i.e. put a whole serving of pureed spinach in meatloaf; put pureed cauliflower in mashed potatoes. The key is to steam it first, so it is cooked but retains all its nutrients and not put too much in each thing.
7. Kale chips
8. Make stir fries with a little olive oil, broccoli cut small, shredded carrots, frozen peas, zucchini, etc. Throw in a lot of low-heat chili powder and try to avoid salt and butter. They really cover up the taste. Or you can try a different texture -- broccoli and cauliflower bake up nicely on a Pampered Chef baking stone in the oven. Same thing with kale. Bake it until crispy... so good. And boiled carrots (use real carrots... the baby carrots have a strange texture when cooked) are a constant favorite at one mom's house.
9. Make veggie/fruit/yogurt popsicles. Blend a variety of sweeter-type veggies and fruits together with the yogurt, and freeze for a healthy after-dinner dessert.
10. Try sweet potato pancakes, pumpkin bread (use less sugar and whole wheat flour), and morning glory muffins with carrots.
11. Try an unusual combination - one mom mixed finely chopped broccoli with brown rice and crushed pineapple, and her toddler loved it! She does different combination like cut up chicken with mandarin oranges with rice, carrot, broccoli, and cauliflower (all veggies finely chopped up.) She also puts plain carrot baby food on her daughter's pizzas.
12. Mix veggies (like mashed cauliflower, broccoli, squash, and carrots - can all be pre-frozen, then thawed) with applesauce and see if your child will enjoy that more!
13. One popular method is pureed veggies in spaghetti sauce - try carrots, green peppers, parsnips, etc.
14. One mom can get her son to eat spinach quiche, a great high protein dish. She bakes a whole pie, cuts it into wedges, and freezes them as single servings. To reheat, she defrosts them then pops them into the toaster.
15. Try processing cooked veggies in a blender (or chopping them very finely by hand), mixing them with cream cheese, and spreading them on crackers.
16. Try adding brown sugar to carrots, or honey.
17. Buy frozen spinach, chop it up, and add it to pastas or scrambled eggs. Sneak shredded carrots into sandwiches.
18. Have a playdate where you ask moms to bring their child's favorite vegetable dish - easy way to try new tried-and-true dishes without investing your own effort into it, and kids may be more open to eating them if they see their friends doing so!
19. Quick and easy - give them frozen vegetables. Try a couple of spoons of frozen peas or frozen blueberries (make sure they're old enough for this not to be a choking hazard!)
20. Try the ready-to-eat puree packages found in baby food aisles. Ella's Kitchen and Plum Organics have fruit/veggie combo purees, which are easy on the go snacks. My 2 1/2 year old still enjoys these!
21. Give your child the same vegetable for 10-15 days in a row - start them out with 1 mandatory bite of the vegetable, and then increase it as they get used to it.
22. Grate up carrots or other veggies and melt them into cheese for cheese sandwiches.
23. Try vegetable burgers with cheese melted on top.
24. One mom found sweet potato patties in the freezer section, which can be microwaved and then topped with butter and a pinch of brown sugar to sweeten it up even more!
25. Another mom shared an Eat-your-veggies Casserole recipe: 24 oz of mixed frozen vegetables, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar, 1/2 cup butter (melted), 1 sleeve of butter crackers (crushed). Combine vegetables, mayo, and cheese. Mix well, put in a casserole dish. Pour butter on top, then top with crackers. Bake at 350 for 30 mins - reheats best in the oven.
26. You can find tiny mexican squash in most produce aisles - one creative mom cuts the top off of those, takes out some of the insides, and adds the following mixture: pearl rice mixed with finely chopped onion, garlic, green pepper and parsley plus mint (can be dried mint). She then adds in her own preference of spices and a tsp of light olive oil. She stuffs the squash and cooks them in tomato sauce. Her daughter eats them because they're so small, and she can hold them on her own. She also serves her daughter stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage, and spinach triangles.
27. One mom puts together "Dragon Juice" for her children: she puts a couple of handfuls of baby spinach or kale in the blender with apple juice and whatever other fruit (berries, bananas, etc.) is lying around. She mixed it up and puts it in a special cup. If she doesn't use spinach and it comes out purple (from grapes/blueberries) she calls it Dinosaur Juice, if it's red (from strawberries, raspberries), it's Fairy Juice. Her sons are really into dinosaurs, so she tells them that they have dinos in their bellies that need to be fed - some are meat eaters, others are plant eaters, so they need to put some of both types of food in there! Be creative with what your child is interested in.
28. If you have a powerful blender, and you're serving a food with a sauce or soup, blend some veggies in there until they're invisible.
29. Yo Baby makes some great 3-in-1 yogurt blends that have fruits and vegetables mixed in with the yogurt, such as a green bean and pear yogurt mixture.
30. Veggie Booty works for one mom - it's made with dehydrated kale, spinach, broccoli, soy flour, corn, and rice. I haven't tried these, but I would definitely check the sodium content on these.
31. Shelled edamame is a popular tip - boil them for a couple of minutes, or serve them frozen.
32. Try a vegetable soup, like minestrone.
33. Try a muffin tin meal - I put a couple of things I know my daughter loves in a 6-compartment muffin tin, and fill the other sections with different fruits/vegetables. Sometimes she surprises me and polishes off one of the "experimental" sections!
34. You can grab one of the "hide-the-veggies" cookbooks, like Jessica Seinfeld's or Missy Chase Lapine's - they have a lot of recipes for basics that kids love (like chicken nuggets, brownies, spaghetti, etc.) with vegetables cooked right in.
35. Some great recipes with veggies:
Healthy Chocolate Mini Muffins
Spinach Brownies
36. Put it on a stick! Tiny veggie kabobs on a toothpick are a fun way to introduce new vegetables to kids.
37. How adorable are these pizza pops? I would make these and have different veggie combos on each one!
Would love to hear anyone else's ideas!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pumpkin Crunch Cake

I needed a relatively quick dessert I could whip up for company, and had been dying to try this recipe I had found on Pinterest. Good. Stuff. And best of all, super easy:

Pumpkin Crunch Cake (adapted from

1 box french vanilla cake mix (others have apparently used spice cake mix and loooved it)
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 cup butter, melted (that would be two sticks of butter - yeah!)
Ice cream (optional, for serving)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottom of 9x13 pan. Mix pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Pour mixture into pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix over mixture and top with pecans. Drizzle melted butter over pecans - be sure the dry cake mix is covered by butter (any uncovered parts will stay as dry mix!) Bake 50-55 minutes. Serve hot, and a la mode!

Stores in refrigerator if the pan is not immediately licked clean.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pinkalicious Preschool Learning!

Ah, Pinkalicious. I'm so conflicted on these books - I feel as though the lesson is brief and on the last page, and all the bad behavior on the preceding pages isn't quite wiped out. Still, whatever keeps the girls interested in learning and busy during the day is a good thing! We spent about a week doing activities, but there are so many more out there that I think another Pinkalicious week is in the works!
I'm breaking this down into learning activities, just-for-fun activities, and food/snacks:

Learning Activities:
3. Sing songs about pink! I found a very cute one at Mama Made it For You  - she also has other pinkalicious-related crafts and activities!
4. And even more printables:
5. M&M math - I still have a horde of pink M&Ms I bought around Valentine's Day, and we use those to do addition and subtraction problems - and a right answer results in a mouthful of M&Ms!
6. Read the books with color-coded smoothies - the creative mom at Color Wheel Meals came up with 3 delicious smoothies to go with Purplicious, Pinkalicious, and Goldilicious:
Fun Activities:
1. Make crowns - these are FANTASTIC, but require some prep work:
2. Play with pink streamers and dance to music!
3. Get the day started by waking on and decking yourselves out in pink!

1. Pink pasta lunch - you can either add some food coloring to noodles that are boiling, or you can make pasta colored with beets! Love this one featuring Animal. I had found some pastel striped bowtie pasta at World Market that I used for the occasion, combined with "pink" sauce (a marinara/alfredo mix.)
2. Fruit wands - thread different fruits on a skewer, ending it with a slice of star fruit!
3. Strawberry Cheesecake Crackers
4. Pinkalicious Muffin Tin Meal - so cute!
5. All-Natural Pink Milk from One Hungry Mama
6. And - naturally - make pink cupcakes!

Pirate Day! Preschool Activities and Learning

There's a sliiight chance that I'm having more fun planning these activities than the girls are having doing them, but it's definitely up for debate! I love finding just the right activities/printables to go with each day. I'm seriously lacking in the creativity department myself, so am utterly thankful for all the crafty and imaginative parents out there who share their secrets!

For the printables for Pirate Day, I specifically looked for Jake & The Neverland Pirates printables, since that show is what got my daughter interested in Pirates to begin with. The Disney site has some cute pages.
As does the awesome mom at the 1 Plus 1 Plus 1 Equals 1 blog. Her pack is geared towards kindergarten aged children, but I was still able to use several of the pages for my 4-year-old.

We started off the day with my daughter doing some of the activities in the printables, while I prepped for the days activities. We then sat together and had her cut out the pirate patch and bird from the Disney/Neverland Pirate pack. It also helped her establish her pirate name, which was either Big Lani The Kindhearted or Sneaky Lani The Sneaky Snook, depending on whose crew she wanted to join!

After we got her set up with that, we made a pirate hook hand, using tin foil, duct tape, and a solo cup. First I jabbed a thick hole in the bottom of the cup, and covered around the hole with duct tape. I then made a hook out of wadded up tin foil, and put the end of the hook through the solo cup, which I then taped down with criss-crossed duct tape. I've seen some on-line where the cup was painted black, but my kids (and their lazy mom) preferred the red cup, so we went with it!

She already had a compass, a periscope, and a magnifying glass in her playroom, so we gathered all those items and set off for our pirate treasure hunt around our home. Apparently it's super easy to make an authentic looking pirate map. That is, if you budget more than 20 minutes to do it. I poured some tea on a crumped piece of paper, then set it outside to dry - it just came back soggy and dirty looking. Ah well, authenticity is overrated:

Since my handwriting resembles chicken scratch, this is how it went: We left the Great Ship ________ (insert last name) and headed out past the Mysterious Mushroom Patch, and around Baby Butterfly Tree (which consisted of several butterfly hair clips on various points of the tree, and gold bangles underneath and in the branches - treasure!!) We then went around the house to Walk The Plank - a 2x4 I set up behind the driveway. If they were older, I would have set it up on some bricks, but this was about all my almost-2-year-old could handle. They then had to pass the Gate of Riddles - our back gate, where I asked a "riddle".

Why are pirates called pirates? They just arrrrrrrrgh!

If that one makes you cringe, here are more (that will most likely do the same).
Past the gate, we waded through Crystal Waters (i.e. our pool) then around the back of the house to the Fairies Hideaway, where X marked the spot. Along the way, treasure (i.e. more jewelry) was to be found at the various spots. Fairies Hideaway was a bush with a gap in the middle, where I hung bead necklaces
 and glittery scarves, and the treasure was a green bowl full of pirate coins I had snagged from Party City:

The treasure was guarded by fairies from the Safari Ltd Fairies Toob (which were new, and by far the hit of the day!) Afterwards, in an unplanned act of piracy, my daughters threw all the gold coins and jewelry in the pool. Skip that activity.

We ended Pirate Day with an appropriately piratey snack inside, goldfish crackers and orange slices with pirate sails. I can't find the link for the printables with the pirate sails, but this one has some great party printables.

Other ideas for snacks include Pirate Jewels - fruit on a stick or one of the cocktail picks that look like swords, and a tropical smoothie.

I had also planned to set up an aluminum foil river, much like this one, but the heat kept climbing on a hot Florida day, and the treasure hunt was all this hot (not in a good way!) mama could handle! Another website has the river and added waterfalls, which I think would be fantastic for next Pirate Day!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chocolate Chip Muffins with Shredded Zucchini & Apple

Chocolate Chip Muffins with Shredded Zucchini and Apple
Adapted from

Makes 24 mini-muffins along with 3 larger muffins, or 12-14 large muffins

3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground flaxseed meal (optional)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 c. vegetable oil (I use Smart Balance)
1/4 c. milk
1 Tbsp lemon juice (1/2 a fresh lemon, juiced)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 medium zucchini, shredded
1 medium apple, shredded
1/2 c. mini semisweet chocolate chips

1. In a bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and flaxseed.

2. Combine the eggs, oil, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Mix well. Stir into dry ingredients until just moistened. Fold in zucchini, apple, and chocolate chips.

3. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

I refrigerate these, although they would freeze well too.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bananalicious Bread

I've been seriously craving banana bread ever since we returned from Jamaica a couple of weeks ago - the resort had the BEST banana bread, and the best mangos, so every morning I'd have banana bread and mangos for breakfast. Perfection.

I found this recipe - titled Banana Banana Bread - on Allrecipes, then found a Pinterest link to the blog For the Love Of Cooking, which had an adaptation of it, adding vanilla and cinnamon - winner!!

Banana Bread

1/2 c butter, softened
3/4 c brown sugar
2 eggs
2 1/3 c mashed overripe bananas (I used 5 small bananas)
1 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and coat a 9x5 loaf pan with oil. I whipped out my new cast iron bread pan, which is fantastic! 
In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs, bananas, and vanilla, then beat until well mixed. 
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg, and mix well (by hand). Add flour mixture into banana mixture and stir just until moistened - do not over mix, or the cake will become very dense. Pour batter into the loaf pan, and bake for 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Super Easy Spicy Chicken & Onions

I love, love, love meals that I can pull together using just fresh meat and pantry staples, and this is one of them. I originally found this somewhere as part of a Chicken Fajitas recipe, but have only ever made the chicken, which I typically serve with rice pilaf. If you can't handle spices, maybe skip the chili powder!

Spicy Chicken and Onions
Serves 4

1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp lime juice (fresh is best - it would be the juice of 1 lime)
1 lb chicken tenderloins, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 onion, sliced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and marinate in refrigerator for at least 2 hours (can be up to overnight.) Cook on a grill pan until done, adding a bit more olive oil at the beginning, if necessary.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken

Mmmm, butter chicken.

I originally found this recipe on Next time I'll let it slow cook longer, or may be cut up the pieces of chicken smaller (bite-sized should work well). The chicken wasn't too flavorful inside, but once I broke it apart with some naan and let the delicious sauce work its way in, dinner was gooood :)

Slow Cooker Indian Butter Chicken
adapted from
1.5 lbs chicken tenderloins, cut into bite sized pieces
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
One medium diced onion
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp curry powder
2 tsp tandoori masala
One tsp garam masala spice mix
One Tbsp curry paste
6 ounces pureed tomatoes 
15 green cardamom pods
13.5 oz  coconut milk
7 oz yogurt
Salt to taste
Cilantro (optional)

1. Combine the butter and vegetable oil together in a large frying pan or wok and heat until the butter has melted. 
2. Add the chicken, onion, and garlic, and cook on medium heat for around ten to twelve minutes, stirring constantly.
3. Add the curry powder, curry paste, tandoori masala, garam masala, and tomatoes and stir to combine.
Pour the mixture into the slow cooker.

4. Lightly crack the cardamom pods with the back of a knife or a light pinch between the fingers. To make their removal easier, you can add them into the slow cooker in a cheesecloth bundle. 
5. Add coconut milk, yogurt, and salt to taste, along with the cardamom pods. 
6. Cook on the low setting for 5-6 hours. Remove cardamom pods and garnish with cilantro before serving.

Delicious served with naan and yogurt! 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quick & Easy Tornado In A Jar

I needed a quick activity to distract the girls after a fight broke out over princesses and castles (as most fights do), so I pulled up a DIY tornado in a jar from Pinterest. My original link didn't open up, so I googled it and found this recipe for it - we made our tornado pink, as all things should be:

Tornado In A Jar (from

1 Glass Jar
1 tsp dish soap
1 tsp vinegar
butter knife
food coloring (optional)

Fill jar 3/4 with water. Add dish soap and then vinegar. Add food coloring. Stir rapidly with butter knife, and then pull out - your tornado should appear!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chicken Seekh Kebabs

I've finally resigned myself to the fact that my entire family prefers Pakistani/Indian cooking over all else. Resigned, because ever since I got interested in cooking, that's the one cuisine I never really bothered with - I always watched my mom cook, and she never followed recipes (I NEED a recipe), and part of me also believed (believes) that I'll always compare my dishes to hers and find mine lacking! My husband has always wanted me to try Pakistani dishes, but I've always resisted, until recently - maybe it's because of Pinterest, but I know feel ready to conquer all things! I had actually found this recipe about a year ago, and tucked it away for future use. Huge. Hit. I made it last Wednesday, and my husband asked if I could make a double batch asap! My 2-year-old loved it too, so I'm sold. My picky preschooler ended up eating naan and yogurt, surprise surprise . . .

All in all, with a food processor on hand, this was a fairly easy dish to put together. The kebabs turned out very tender and flavorful!:

Chicken Seekh Kebabs
Adapted from

1 lb ground chicken
2 small onions
4 cloves of garlic
small piece of ginger (or 1 tsp minced ginger)
1/2 bunch of cilantro
1 large egg
1/2 c breadcrumbs
1/8 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp each of garam masala
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cardamon powder 
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin powder 
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
 1/2 tsp lime juice
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, depending on your spice level)
1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I use Smart Balance)

1. Put onions garlic, ginger and cilantro in food processor, process until well minced. Add chicken and process again until the entire mixture is pasty. 
2. Add breadcrumbs, spices, and eggs and mix well. Put in refrigerator for at least 30 mins. 
3. Using metal skewers, form the kebabs around the skewers. They'll be soft, so won't necessarily keep their form unless you're holding them. Slide them off and put in a long dish. 
4. Heat vegetable oil in a grill pan, and fry up the kebabs in batches. Takes about 15 mins for each pan of kebabs. 

I served these with mint chutney, naan, and yogurt. 

**These spices can be found in most grocery stores. The original recipe calls for 3/4 tsp amchoor (dry mango) powder, for which I subbed the lime juice, and 1/2 tsp black salt/kala namak. I've made the recipe with those original ingredients, and it's delicious either way! When using the black salt, I leave out the regular salt. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Parmesan Roasted Potatoes

These are GOOD! Easy, perfectly cooked, crisp, delicious. I have another parmesan potatoes recipe I'd been using, but bits of it always burned - not with this one! We've had this twice in the past week, and both times they roasted perfectly! This is another recipe I originally found on Pinterest, and the original post is at

Parmesan Roasted Potatoes

4 medium potatoes scrubbed and diced*
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a large ziploc bag, combine all ingredients except the potatoes. Shake to mix, then add in the diced potatoes, and shake, shake, shake until they're well coated.

3. Empty and arrange potatoes in a single layer on a greased baking sheet.

4. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring once in the middle. Serve warm.

*I use small golden potatoes, like Dutch gold or small Yukon potatoes, and cut them in quarters, or smaller - they cook up fantastic!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dinosaur Day! Preschool Learning Activities

We're usually drowning in princesses, so it's a wonderful thing that my 4-year-old has been increasingly interested in dinosaurs. Still, she resisted Dino Day as soon as she heard about it, until I promised a jam-packed day o' fun:

It was easier to find dinosaur-related preschool activities on-line than it had been for our Doc McStuffins Day, so I printed off several types of learning printables. There are a ton of sites that pop up when you search for dinosaur preschool pack, but here are a few I looked at (I pick and choose which pages to download based on my 4-year-old's individual interests, and what she needs to work on):

Lani completed those while I prepped for our other activities. My original plan had been a fossil dig in the backyard - I bought a bunch of plastic dinosaurs (I think skeletons would be a little creepy for my little one), but, in the midst of a particularly sweltering hot Florida summer day, couldn't bring myself to try to find enough dirt patches in our yard to dig up and bury them in. In the end, I made a makeshift sandbox from a under-the-bed storage box and a pack of sand I had ordered in anticipation of the real sandbox we may eventually get. The dinos got thrown into the box of sand, and that box was one big hit! They spent a substantial amount of time sifting through the box, squishing their toes in it, trying to pour out the sand, etc., etc. We followed it up with some non-themed time in the sprinkler to wash off all that sand! I had also frozen some dinos in blocks of ice overnight, along with a few other toys, and let them play with "excavating" them from the ice. That got old fast, since my two are not particularly patient!  

Next up was a dinosaur snack that I had gotten the idea for from Pinterest. I think the pinner had named it "Pteradactyl Park", but there was only a photo uploaded, no link for me to give out. Using that as inspiration, I used a piece of styrofoam, covered it with plastic wrap (to keep the "sand" still edible), and laid crushed graham cracker crumbs along the bottom. I then planted wooden skewers of fruit into the styrofoam, and decorated the whole thing with some of the excavated dinosaurs. The girls LOVED it, and ate the fruit faster than I've ever seen them eat fruit before!

Our final activity was a playdough volcano. I told Lani about some of the theories of dinosaur extinction, including an Ice Age and volcanos, but she was waaaay more interested in seeing how the volcano was goin to play out. We didn't have nearly as much playdough as we needed to make the whole volcano (this took place before I discovered how ridiculously easy it is to make large batches of playdough at home), but this was by far the biggest hit of a pretty popular day! This is the site from which I got the instructions:

Their volcano is *much* prettier than mine, but I'm pretty sure it didn't matter . . . anything that can keep a 4-year-old entertained for over an hour is gold on a tray!
All in all, this day was a huge success. I've tried to have some other themed learning in the meantime, but I've found that when I stretch activities/themes out over a week, the end result isn't as exciting. I think one jam-packed day (maybe two) a week, is best. The rest of the days are filled with splash pads, beach days, and everything else that summer should be about!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spicy Chipotle Chicken and Rice

Definite hit in our household - eaten by everyone! The original recipe says 4 servings, but I think it's closer to 6, especially with a side of steamed veggies:

Spicy Chipotle Chicken and Rice (adapted from Everyday Food)

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1.5 pounds total)(I've also used about 1.5 lbs chicken tenderloins - see below.)
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced (use 2 if you have less of a heat tolerance)
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced large
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice, like basmati
  • Lime wedges, for serving (optional)
  • Chopped cilantro leaves, for serving (optional)


  1. In a large Dutch oven, wok, or heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Working in batches, brown chicken on both sides, about 6 minutes total; transfer to a plate.
  2. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion and saute until soft, about 5 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot.
  3. Add garlic, cumin, and chiles; cook until garlic is soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until tomatoes begin to break down and release their juices, 3 minutes. Stir in 1 cup water and return chicken and any accumulated juices to pot. Cover, reduce to a simmer, and cook 25 minutes.
  4. Remove several pieces of chicken and stir in rice, making sure it is completely submerged in liquid. Replace chicken, cover, and cook until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 25 minutes more. After 25 mins, check on rice - if some bits seem uncooked, stir well, cover, and leave for another 10 mins. Serve with lime wedges and cilantro if desired.
*Variation: I used chicken tenderloins, which I cut up into bite size pieces after cooking them (so after step 1.) This makes Step 4 a little harder, since it's harder to push the chicken to one side to add the rice, so when I do this, I add in about 1/4 cup more water to ensure the rice cooks through. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Doc McStuffins Day! Preschool Learning Activities

I had such grand plans for the summer - weekly themes, around which I would plan learning activities, trips, crafts, etc. So with almost a month into the summer, I've done 3. Not 3 weeks, 3 days. But good days! The rest of the summer is flying by in a haze of splash pads, beach trips, dance camps, and mama's chores/work.

The first of the three days was centered around Doc McStuffins - I love that new cartoons that come out are so aware of breaking gender stereotypes, and of teaching. For those who don't know Doc McStuffins centers around a little girl who looks out for the healthcare needs of her stuffed animals (and also happens to have a mother who is also a doctor.) My 4-year-old, despite the ongoing princess obsession, has very frequently expressed interest in the medical world, and loves Doc McStuffins. A week-long theme seemed a bit long, so this was a day-long theme. The night before I began, I ran across a Doc McStuffins printable preschool pack! I love the parents who create these and share them with the world! This is from Super Mommy To The Rescue, who was my hero that day:

After starting off the day with a few of those activities, we proceeded to set up a triage area in the playroom - several stuffed animals lined up on a diaper changing pad, and all the Fisher-Price medical kits came out, as well as some real gauze (which Lani LOVED) and tape. We talked about some first aid procedures, and then walked through some animal ailments. Even my 22-month-old got into this, giving Boots (from Dora) a full exam! This definitely was the most popular activity of the day.

Afterwards, we watched and danced to The Skeleton Song on YouTube (also a huge hit) and made Skeleton Bones for a snack - just pretzel sticks with mini marshmallows on both ends, dipped in candy coating (although white chocolate probably would have been more delicious.) Honestly though, I think Lani enjoyed making them infinitely more than eating them.

We ended the day with a few more activities from the preschool pack, and then Lani proudly showed off her new doctoring techniques when daddy got home!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cheesy Mexican Rice with a Kick!

*Finally* found a great mexican rice recipe, although I wish I could work around the Rotel canned tomatoes! I'll be experimenting with fresh tomatoes/peppers and update if I find success - but this was so popular in the house that I'm reluctant to mess with it!

Cheesy Mexican Rice from (who adapted it from Paula Deen)

2 tablespoons butter 
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice 
1/2 cup chopped onion 
1 jalepeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced 
2 cups chicken broth
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes with green chiles 
1/2 teaspoon chili powder 
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (can also use Monterey Jack)

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the rice, onion, jalepeno, and garlic. Cook until the rice is browned and vegetables are tender. Stir in the broth, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender, about 15 to 17 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and cheese and transfer to a serving bowl. 

**If you only have a 10 oz. can of tomatoes, add about 1/4 cup water as well, so the rice doesn't dry out

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

Father's Day - so of course, I have a brunch demand. Not from my laid-back husband, but from my 4-year-old, who was demanding muffins from the moment she woke me up at the crack of dawn. So I jumped onto Allrecipes and made these, which were a big hit! 

Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used Smart Balance)
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas (I used two medium sized bananas)
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips


In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, combine the egg, oil, yogurt and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in bananas and chocolate chips. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups, or silicone cups, two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 22-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.