One Megacoolmama…

…with fun and healthy ideas for kids!

Bringing in a new elf!

It’s that time of year again when Christmas decorations go up and elf magic is in the air!  Yes, I am one of “those” families who participates in the beloved “Elf on the Shelf” shenanigans.  😉  My kids seem to be a little more vigilant of their behavior because our elf is watching, and I can’t help but notice they are a bit more joyful as well.  My two older children love finding their elf, Buddy, every morning in a different spot, sometimes playing a little trick on them or bringing them a little surprise.

The tradition in our household is that our elf comes the day after Thanksgiving, and my kids count down to this day starting the day after Halloween.  This is the third  year that Buddy has made his appearance in our house, and the excitement of his impending arrival hasn’t wanted not even a bit! My husband and I decided that it was time that Buddy got a companion this year since he has been on his own for a while.  Also, we felt that a sisterly companion would be appropriate since we do have a little girl in our household!

So, this year, Buddy showed up with a sister elf .  Obviously, we didn’t just stick her out there and confuse the kids by making them guess as to why another elf was invading our space.  I tried to come up with a creative way to introduce her, and I ended up writing them a poem from Buddy.  The poem explains that she is now part of our family and that the kids will have to name her as well.  Take a look for yourself at what I came up with:

elf on the shelf intro


The kids were ecstatic and surprised to find their beloved Buddy with a new elf!  Of course, we had to give her a name, and the two older kids decided on “Annie Sunshine”- I think it has a nice ring to it!  Traditionally, our elf brings the kids a little surprise the first night he is in the home for the season, and this year was no different.  The elf duo gifted each child with a chocolate advent calendar, a special candy (no candy for the little guy- still too small!), and the movie “Home” for the family to watch.  The kids are looking forward to a month full of little surprises and fun with their brother and sister elf, and I don’t think my daughter stopped talking about how much she loved Annie all day!  Totally worth it!

Check out some pics of our elves’ first night arrival and of our little ones enjoying them the morning after!

Buddy, our elf, with candy, calendars, a movie, and a letter for the kiddos!

Buddy, our elf, with candy, calendars, a movie, and a letter for the kiddos!


Annie Sunshine, our sister elf, hiding behind the advent calendars to surprise the kids in the morning!

Annie Sunshine, our sister elf, hiding behind the advent calendars to surprise the kids in the morning!


The kiddos with their elves and their loot!

The kiddos with their elves and their loot!


Do you have an elf at home?  What are some traditions you do with yours?  I would love to hear from you!

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“Little Monster” first birthday party


The birthday boy enjoying his first taste of cake!

The birthday boy enjoying his first taste of cake!

My little guy recently turned one, and I wanted to focus his party on a theme that had not been overdone. Also, his birthday is on Valentine’s Day, so I wanted to make sure that I was making a clear separation between the holiday and his birthday.

The “Little Monster” theme came to mind when searching through Pinterest, (of course, where else?).  I wanted to try and do as much as I could myself in the way of decorations and to use as many scrap materials around the house as possible when doing it.

After a while, I was starting to drive myself crazy with all of the cute Pinterest-y things I was finding, hoping that I would find the time to do everything…yeah, didn’t happen!  However, I think we still pulled off a pretty cute Little Monster Party, and I did it by just focusing on a couple of main things instead of trying to make every single little detail perfect.  And, guess what?  I got lots of “Great party!” comments on the way out!  I would say that is a success!

I am sharing with you a few of the activities, foods and decorations that I did for the Little Monster party.  Feel free to use any of the ideas for your own Little Monsters!



-Tissue poms with pasted on eyes.  We hung a few and stuffed a few into buckets for centerpieces for the tables.





tissue pom decoration

-Homemade birthday banner.  I used scraps of card stock that I had leftover from my scrapbooking days, and went with the colors I had most of- blue, orange, green, purple and yellow….those ended up being the main colors of the party!  I drew and cut out the letters and just pasted everything with Elmer’s glue.  I used a paper hole punch, strung some yarn through, and voila!  I plan on using this banner in years to come and just switching out the “1” with a different number!

photo (22)

-Big wall monsters.  I used big butcher block paper and colored paper plates for the eyes and claws/teeth.  I cut out the shapes, colored where necessary and taped to the walls and doors!

door monster





wall monster

wall monster

-Hanging monsters.  These little inflatables I bought from Amazon and were a cute touch.  I hung them from the light fixtures in the kitchen and dining room and had another one just floating between tables.  Super cute and lasted the entire party!



-Monster fruit.  I drew faces on some clementines and bananas, and then I used a chip tray to arrange green grapes and blueberries with a big eye in the center.  I used, once again, a paper plate and marker for the eye.

monster fruit tray

monster fruit tray 2

-Monster pretzels.  My sister helped me out here!  We took rod pretzels, dipped them in white chocolate, covered with colorful sprinkles and then stuck an edible eyeball on them.  So cute and a nice sweet/salty treat!

monster pretzels

-Monster mix.  For the sweet table, I had two buckets of Monster Mix (as seen in the far right and left buckets in the picture above).  One was a bucket full of colorful jelly/sugar candies, like gummy Jolly Ranchers and LifeSavers, jelly beans, and gummy SweetTarts.  The other bucket was full of M&M’s.  I had little striped cupcake paper wrappers out for the little ones to fill with candy.  The sweet table was a big hit, especially with the option to fill the cupcake wrappers from the buckets!

-Monster lollipops.  Yep, ordered these from Amazon, too!  Something simple, but added just the right touch to our little sweet table.


-Adopt-a-Monster.  The goodie bag for the kids at the end of the party was a little monster that they could adopt.  I ordered a couple of bags of cute little monster dolls from Amazon and created an Official Monster Adoption Certificate that each child could fill out and take home with the monster of their choosing.  The kids loved being able to adopt a monster; as a matter of fact, I think my niece snagged three! 🙂

-Make your own Monster.  All I did here was make copies of a monster body parts template that I found here.  The kids cut out body parts, colored them and pasted them on their monster bodies.  It kept kids busy and creative at the same time!

-Monster labels.  I just printed these out, cut them, and left them on the table for the kids to do as they pleased with them.  Some used them as labels for their adopted monsters, others used them to give monster names to themselves, and others stuck them on their cups.  Just something a little extra to go with the theme.  🙂


We had a great time celebrating my little guy’s first birthday, but all of these ideas were just a fun addition to what made the party the most special– the people, of course!  We are blessed with amazing family and friends, and were are grateful to be able to celebrate our children’s milestones with the people we love most!

first birthday

Oh, and CAKE!  Lol…I almost forgot the cake!  To serve the guests, we just ordered a blank sheet cake from Costco, and I decorate it myself–not too shabby, eh?  And, the special birthday boy’s smash cake was ordered from a bakery by my house.  Loved it! (and, yes, those are Monster cookies you see in the background!)



monster cake



Thanks for reading!  Hope you can use some of my ideas…I would love to hear some of yours in the comments below! 🙂


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Dark chocolate chia seed pudding

dark chocolate chia pudding

I generally eat very healthy, but sometimes I will get a craving that just cannot be ignored!  Since I started living a more “clean eating” lifestyle, I have found some ways to satisfy my cravings, yet still stay away from nasty ingredients and chemicals in processed food.  One of those ways is by whipping up a batch of my Dark chocolate chia pudding every once in a while!

This dark chocolate chia pudding is SUPER easy to make and tastes amazing!  Once you try this, you will never want to go back to the icky Jell-o pudding stuff!  And, you are getting the superfood benefits of chia seeds–omega 3’s, antioxidants, protein, and fiber…not to mention tons of vitamins as well!

Try this dark chocolate chia seed pudding the next time you have a sweet tooth or the next time your kids ask for a snack.  You will love the gooey crunchiness of the chia seed and the dark chocolate flavor.  Plus, you won’t feel bad after eating it!


-1/4 cup chia seeds

-1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk (or other milk of your choice)

-2 tbsp. organic coconut sugar

-2 tbsp. dark chocolate cocoa powder


1.  Mix the coconut palm sugar and cocoa powder together in a small bowl until there are no big lumps.

2.  Add the chia seeds to the bowl and mix well.

3.  Pour in the almond milk and stir until blended.

4.  Let sit for five minutes and stir again.

5.  Repeat the stirring and sitting process for about 20 minutes.

6.  Either enjoy right away or refrigerate for later!

Makes one large serving or two smaller servings.

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Encourage a love of reading in your kids this Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day is such a beautiful holiday based around the concept of love.  Show your little ones some love this year by fostering a love of reading in them!  By no means does this mean that you have to go out and spend tons of money; great books are cheaper than you think! (click on the pictures of the books for prices)

I will be showing my little ones some “book love” by giving them a cute Valentine themed book.  I have readers at three different levels- 2nd to 3rd grade level, Kindergarten level, and picture-book level (baby).  I plan on gifting them these books with a book light to encourage them to read anywhere they please- our reading niche, their beds, the floor, the car….you name it!  I know they will love using their new lights with their new books; anything to make reading novel to them is keeping it interesting as well!

Below are some of my personal recommendations for great Valentine’s Day books for the little ones, according to age group:

1.  Baby/Toddler-

Llama Llama I Love You

Sturdy book for little hands that grab.  Cute, short and sweet!  Also a classic!


My Fuzzy Valentine (Sesame Street)

Babies love to feel the fuzziness in this book.  Once again, short book, but perfect length for the really little ones.


2.  Ages 3-5 (preschool)-

Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool

Pete the Cat is a favorite with kids in this age group, and they will love seeing how Pete has a change of heart on Valentine’s Day.  Complete with a poster and stickers, too!


Happy Valentine’s Day, Curious George

Curious George is a classic, and the little ones will enjoy reading about his adventures on one of the happiest days of the year.  The book also comes with pull-out flaps, making it even more entertaining!


3.  Ages 6-8-

My Weird School Special: Oh, Valentine, We’ve Lost Our Minds!

A humorous twist on Valentine’s Day, involving a duel over a special valentine– great for the “big kids”!


Little Critter: Happy Valentine’s Day, Little Critter!

A pull-the-flaps book that will keep the littlest “big kid” entertained.  And, who doesn’t like “Little Critter”?  🙂


4.  Ages 9-12-

Mad Libs in Love

There are several versions of Mad Libs for Valentine’s Day, and what could be more fun?  I remember that I used to LOVE doing these with my sister when I was little…who am I kidding, I still do!


The Candy Smash (The Lemonade War Series)

An age-appropriate book based around a series of candy hearts that keeps appearing in a sixth grade classroom.  The kids in the book are set to find out who has a crush on whom and learn how difficult keeping a secret really can be.  So entertaining!


Did you have a favorite Valentine’s book growing up?  Were any of the above characters favorites in your household?







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“One-derful” first birthday gifts

first birthday gifts


In our family, we LOVE a good party!  Lately, there have been a lot, especially with all of these babies turning one!  Next up on the list is my little guy, who will be turning one very soon– oh, where does the time go?

Recently, we had the pleasure of attending our nephew’s first birthday party, and I knew right away what I wanted to gift him.  Since I have had three kids, I know what we have enjoyed receiving, and I know what things have made their way to the basement after a few days.  It occurred to me that not everyone knows right away to give to a one year old.  They are in a weird stage where they are too old for rattles, but too young for some of the more popular toys.  And if you don’t have kids or it has been a while since you have had one that small, it may be difficult finding just the right gift.

The list below is sure to make any one year old (and their parents) happy.  Of course, only you know the personality, beliefs and background of the family, but I have either personally received for my children or given all of the gifts below, and they were a hit!


1. LeapFrog Fridge Phonics Magnetic Letter Set

We have owned a set of these for 8 years now (the same one)!  Having one for that long and having it still work is something to attest to its durability.  This has been one of our favorites because it keeps the baby close to me in the kitchen since it goes on the fridge, and I am ALWAYS in the kitchen.  Also, toddlers and preschoolers are reminded of the sounds that go with each letter.  One of my favorite all-time gifts, EVER!


2. VTech Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker

This walker was my oldest son’s first birthday gift from my aunt and uncle and has remained a favorite for all three of my children!  I love the versatility of it- it can be used as a walker or the front can be taken off and put on the ground as a floor toy.  Lots of activities to keep them busy, too!


3. Cloth blocks

I LOVE big cloth blocks!!  The little ones love stacking, but really love knocking things down!  These Melissa and Doug blocks are perfect for stacking, knocking down, throwing, chewing, and learning something in between!  Obviously, a big plus here is that there are no sharp edges or heavy blocks to hurt the little ones while they play.


4. Big chunky puzzle

Little hands love big pieces!  And this one is adorable!  Three chunky pieces with big knobs is perfect for the one year old.  And the bright colors are catchy!  Make this even more educational by practicing the sounds and names of the animals as your little one places them in the puzzle.


5. Forward facing car seat

Right between the ages of one and two is when most parents start transitioning their children to forward facing car seats.  This Graco one (shown above) is one of the highest rated ones and would make an excellent gift for parents (especially first-time parents who don’t already own car seats from previous kids).  I would love to get one of these for my kid’s first birthday!  Check out my post on the best and highest rated forward facing car seats on the market.


6. Play kitchen

This Step 2 Play Kitchen is one that we have owned for four years now.  My kids starting playing with it from about 1 1/2 years of age, and they are still playing with it at 7 and 5.  The baby, who will be one very soon, even joins in on the fun!  He loves the sounds that the stovetop makes (frying and bubbling) and all of the doors and compartments.  My older two love pretending that they are working in a restaurant, frequently serving up bread, veggie soup, and sandwiches of all sorts!


7. A Radio Flyer Wagon

During the spring and summer months, a wagon is a very nice piece of equipment to have, especially if you want to frequent any outdoor places like zoos and parks.  This Radio Flyer wagon is FIVE stars on Amazon, and with good reason.  It provides shade for your toddler, comfortable seating, and storage space.  Everything you need for a nice ride with your toddler!


8. Little Tikes Junior Play Slide

This is probably one of the best investments we have ever made in a toy– no joke!  We have had this miniature slide for going on eight years now, and it is still going strong!  As a matter of fact, it has endured the elements of all seasons, and we can just wipe it clean in the spring and be ready to use it!  This provides tons of fun for your little one, obviously VERY supervised and on a softer surface (grass worked just fine for us!).


9. Water table

A water play table is sure to provide hours of fun for your little one.  I am not sure what it is about the simple fact of putting water out to play, but little ones love it!  And this table makes water play a much more interactive experience, with all of the twists, turns, and loops that the water could take.  This has been useful as a hot-day toy, filled up with the hose outside.


10.  Gift card

Amazon Gift Card in a Tin

Everyone loves Amazon because there is just SO MUCH selection!  If you know that the person is an online shopper, an Amazon gift card is the way to go.  And, they have so many cute little tins that you can choose from to hold the card, too!

Etsy gift card

This is one that I got for my sister-in-law, the trendsetter!  She loves everything small business and custom-made and purchases tons of clothes and accessories for her baby on Etsy.  With an Etsy gift card she can find something unique and that she really loves.


11.  Subscription box service

I have used the subscription box service for BluumBox, and I have absolutely loved it!  All of the items I received in the box were awesome quality and unique (Some items I have received– a cute tuxedo bib, a keyring/board book for infants, full size Playtex bottle, dishwasher rack for bottle parts, pacifiers, soft washcloths, etc).  There was such variety, and I loved being introduced to products that I may not have discovered otherwise.  This is the perfect gift for any parent/toddler, especially ones that enjoy discovering new things but just don’t have the time to go searching around for the newest and best of everything!


Hopefully, you can find at least one option of the above that will make your special one year old (and their parents!) happy.  Happy shopping!





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“Super Bowl” of Chili- Beef, Turkey and Vegetarian Recipes

Super Bowl time in Chicago is synonymous with cold weather and heartier meals.  If hosting a party at your place, here are a few versions of a hearty and healthy classic chili recipe that you can make ahead and keep warm until kickoff.  The use of an all-natural slow cooker sauce made entirely of vegetables and seasonings speeds up prep time considerably. Using lean ground beef, turkey or all vegetables ensures a low-fat delicious meal! Take an extra 25% off Jesben Slow Cooker Sauces at Abe’s Market with code SNOWDAY until 2/1!

Super Bowl of Chili, Three Ways!–Beef, Turkey and Veggie

1-2 lbs lean (90%) ground beef
1 jar (24 oz) Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce
1 can (approx. 15 oz) red kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
1 can (approx. 15 oz) pinto beans (rinsed and drained)
3 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin

1.  Place meat in slow cooker.

2.  Add beans.

3.  Sprinkle spices over beef and beans.

4.  Pour entire jar of Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce on top of meat, beans and spices.

5.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours or until meat is fully cooked.

6.  With large spoon thoroughly stir cooked chili, breaking up ground beef into chunks and then into smaller pieces with back of spoon.

Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Makes 8-10 servings

1-2 lbs ground turkey
1 jar (24 oz) Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce
1 can (approx. 15 oz) black beans (rinsed and drained)
1 can (approx. 15 oz) yellow corn kernels (rinsed and drained)
3 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin

1.  Place turkey in slow cooker.

2.  Add beans.

3.  Sprinkle spices over turkey and beans.

4.  Pour entire jar of Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce on top of turkey, beans and spices.

5.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours or until meat is fully cooked.

6.  With large spoon thoroughly stir cooked chili, breaking up ground turkey into chunks, and then into smaller pieces with back of spoon.

Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Makes 8-10 servings

1 lb chopped portobello mushrooms
1 lb diced extra firm tofu
1 jar (24 oz) Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce
1 can (approx. 15 oz) cannellini beans (rinsed and drained)
1 can (approx. 15 oz) dark red kidney beans (rinsed and drained)
3 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin

1.  Place mushrooms and tofu in slow cooker.

2.  Add beans.

3.  Sprinkle spices over veggies and beans.

4.  Pour entire jar of Jesben® Italian Tomato, Peppers & Herbs Slow Cooker Sauce on top of vegetables, beans and spices.

5.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

6.  Stir thoroughly and keep warm in slow cooker until ready to eat.

Serve in bowls and enjoy!
Makes 8-10 servings

Note: If you prefer less heat or will be serving this to the little ones, chili powder can be reduced in any of these recipes by 1 tablespoon. On the other hand, if you like your chili hot, add a dash of hot sauce or cayenne pepper to taste. Also, feel free to get creative with your ingredients!  I like to add squash or pumpkin puree to the chili once it has been in the slow cooker for about an hour.  I have also added cocoa powder to give the chili a deeper taste.


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Best forward-facing car seats

If you have a little one between the ages of one and two, the inevitable discussion has ensued as to when you will put your child forward-facing in the car.  My husband and I have been talking about this a lot lately, as our littlest guy is about to turn one in February.

Our youngest has been fairly big since about two months of age, and he outgrew the infant car seat right around nine months old.  My husband and I failed to realize that the infant carseat weight limit was 20 lbs., and our little porker was 21 lbs. by the time we actually figured out that there was nothing wrong with the carseat, he was just chubby!

Parents decide to put their little ones forward-facing for a variety of reasons, including the following:

-child has reached two years of age (age recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for beginning forward-facing)

-child is at least one year old and big for his/her age

-child is at least one year old, average size, and absolutely HATES facing backward in the car

In our case, we had an extra convertible car seat from the older two kids that was bigger, so we put the baby in there, rear-facing.  However, some parents may want to go right to the option of buying a forward-facing seat, and there are plenty of affordable and durable options.  Here are five car seats that are highly rated from a variety of brands:


1. Graco Nautilus 3-in-1 Car Seat, Matrix


  • #1 Best Seller on Amazon
  • weight limit from 20-100 pounds
  • 5-point harness system with LATCH
  • offers three positions
  • cup holder and storage pockets
  • machine-washable cover

What do the reviews say?  Ideal in every way, except for the crotch strap (too short).


2. Evenflo Chase LX Harnessed Booster Car Seat, Reese


  • 4. stars on Amazon
  • weight limit from 22-110 pounds
  • 5-point harness system
  • integrated cup holders
  • machine-washable cover

What do the reviews say?  Great price for the 5-point harness, but not for the above average in size toddler.


3. Britax Pioneer 70 Harness-2-Booster Car Seat, Kiwi


  • Base with SafeCell technology, keeping your child significantly safer in a crash
  • weight limit 25-70 pounds
  • converts to a booster that holds up to 100 pounds
  • 5-point harness
  • integrated cup holders, storage and armrests

What do the reviews say?  Super easy to install, but a little difficult to find the lever to adjust the harness at first.


4. RECARO Performance SPORT Combination Harness to Booster, Knight


  • CoolMesh air ventilation to keep child cool
  • reinforced side wings to keep child safe during impact
  • weight limit 20-65 pounds in harness mode; 30-120 pounds in booster mode
  • twist resistant HERO harness technology
  • side pocket cup holders/storage
  • comes in a TON of different colors!

What do the reviews say?  No-tangle straps and safety/durability are unmatched (made by a company that makes seats for race cars and fighter planes); car seat is a little heavier than others.


5. Graco SmartSeat All-in-One Car Seat, Rosin


  • Convertible from infant to toddler to forward-facing booster
  • Weight limit 5-40 pounds in harness, 20-100 pounds in forward-facing booster
  • Smart-LATCH equipped (one-time install in rear and forward-facing modes)
  • 5-position recline and cup holder
  • Machine-washable cover

What do the reviews say?  Extremely easy to install, nice materials; a little bulky.


All of the above car seats are available for purchase on Amazon (clickable links through the name of seat and the image).  And, don’t forget that if you form a baby registry with Amazon, you receive 15% off all items not purchased 60 days from your baby’s due date (or 10% if you are not part of the Amazon Mom program).

Shop Amazon – Create an Amazon Baby Registry

Shop Amazon Mom – 20% Off Diapers



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No-mess water bag toy

I just thought I would share a super simple, frugal idea for a no-mess water toy for toddlers.  I got the idea from a friend after seeing a pic of her little guy playing with this on her Facebook.

All you need to make it is a large Ziploc bag, water, and duct tape.  Optional are oil, food coloring and small non-pointy items, like beads or buttons.


no mess water bag toy

My little guy playing with his water bag on the patio door window!


I filled the Ziploc bag with about 2-3 inches of water and added a bit of oil to add some interest to the plain water.  You will want to hold the bag over the sink once you have a bit of water in it to make sure there are no little holes that could spring a big leak!

Also, I had some old container of cupcake sprinkles that were in the shape of hearts and stars that I threw in there so the baby could see something moving around when he touched the bag.  Finally, I made sure the Ziploc bag was good and shut and then duct taped it to the window, right about the height of his head.

He spent a good 10-15 minutes just pounding on the bag, watching the water move around!  However, we did have to move the bag up a couple inches right after taking the above pictures since he decided that he wanted to try and eat the bottom corner of the bag!

I have left the bag taped to the window so that he has something else to pound on when he plays in his little area, and I will probably leave it there for the next few days or so…it seems to have withstood the pounding he gave it today pretty well, so I’m hoping it will survive a few more days!

Do you have any ideas for frugal, simple toys for your kids?


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Family time fun!

family time fun

We all know the importance of spending time together as a family, and at the end of the work week, the thing I want most is to come home and spend some quality time with my own.  Some time ago, I realized that the time I was spending with my kids seemed always to be occupied by other things that moms have to do- cook, clean, prepare lunches for the week, check homework, pay bills, and so on.  Yes, I was doing valuable work that needed to be done in order to keep the household running, but that guilty feeling kept creeping up every time I had to tell the kids “Just a second” or “Let me finish this” when they asked for me to play.

My husband and I talked and decided that we needed to change that.  At the time, our kids were six and four; the baby had not been born yet.  We came up with the solution of instituting “family time.”  Yep, it was that simple.  All we did was make a conscious effort  to spend 30 minutes together  as a family every night doing an activity that one member of the family picked, taking turns.

Before we knew it, “family time” became such an integral part of our routine every evening that the kids expected and asked for it.  We were so happy that all it took was a little change and focused effort; our kids felt so valued, and we all looked forward to having our turn at deciding the activity!

Read on for some of our favorite picks for family time…

1.  Play a board game.  Our favorites:

Operation— Fun to hear the buzzer if you hit the metal, and they come in different versions now!  We play the classic (but updated version).  Most appropriate for ages 5 and up.


Candyland— Been playing this one since the kids were old enough to move the little game pieces!  Still a favorite for the kids…of course, they love fantasizing that they are gobbling up all the sweets along the way!


Monopoly Jr. Party version— Lots of fun and a more appropriate version for the little ones.  Sometimes we make up our own rules for the Party Box (we pay the box instead of the bank when someone buys a party), and we take turns between myself, my hubby and my seven year old with being the banker.  Great math practice!


Time Will Tell game— Awesome game to help kids tell time!  We have been using this since my son was six and in the first grade.  I would recommend waiting until your child is old enough to understand the concept of time before playing this, otherwise tears and frustration may ensue!  (I learned this the hard way!

Kids Games: Kids Learn to Tell Time Game – Time Well Tell Game – $16.95

from: The Land of Nod


Zingo!— My five year old daughter LOVES this game, and I love it too since she is practicing sight words and patterns!  The kids love the card dispenser, and I love that the pieces are sturdy enough (made of a harder plastic) to withstand lots of play time!

Cat in the Hat, I Can do That— All-time favorite of the entire family!  Comes with cards and props.  You draw three cards from the bunch and have to complete the action that the cards describe. We have had some funny combinations, like “Walk backwards around the Trick-a-ma-stick three times while holding the boat under your left arm”.  Definitely a test of coordination skills, and it keeps the kids guessing what combination will come next!

2.  Have a dance party.  We either put on the iPad and rock out to our songs downloaded on iTunes or use the Pandora music stations on our tv.  Sometimes the dance parties get so intense that we go into dance-off mode!  This is one of my daughter’s favorite activities for family time! (See her take on dance parties in this video.)  The baby has definitely joined in on more than one occasion, too!  (Watch his first dance moves here!)


3.  Build something together.  We LOVE the Melissa and Doug Suspend game!  The idea is to build a tower of sorts with these long wire pieces that are kinda bent at different angles.  The object is to see if you can get all of the pieces to stay on the base together, obviously without having it fall.  This is such a fun, intense, and surprising game which practices strategic thinking !

Another building idea is to partner up and give each group the same amount of Legos or K’nex.  Then see who can come up with the best/most creative construction!  Of course, you may want to come up with some criteria ahead of time, like what you are building, time limits, etc.


4.  Have a puzzle competition.  We like to partner up (one of us per kid) and go against the other team to see who can put together a puzzle
the fastest.  Once again, this gets really intense, and we all really get into it!


5.  Play Transformers Hide n Seek.  Or My Little Pony, or whatever toy!  My little guy invented this game for one of his Family Time activities.  Check out the video we made explaining how to play!


6. Make something creative.  Cheerios, popcorn and pasta have all been victim to necklace accessories in this household!  It is also fun to just throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl (old craft stuff, dry pasta, little trinkets that kids receive from birthday parties, etc.) and see which group can come up with the most interesting creation!


The most important thing of all is to do what is fun and meaningful to your family.  I have shared what works for us– use if you wish, or use my ideas as a starting point for something totally unique!

If you already incorporate family time into your routine, how is it done in your household?



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Sneaky Quinoa Banana Pudding (with spinach!)

quinoa banana spinach pudding

Since I started in my quest to have my third baby eat what we eat as a family and not buy baby food, I have been experimenting in the kitchen.  This recipe is a product of my baby’s love for quinoa and bananas (though usually not together), and my obsession with coconut oil.  And, sneaky mama that I am, I always try to fit in some veggies whenever I can.

This recipe for Quinoa Banana Pudding with Spinach has so many benefits:  quinoa, a supergrain and the only complete plant protein; banana, an original super food; spinach, packed with vitamins and minerals; and coconut oil, digestion aid and immune system booster.  It’s simple, delicious, and a recipe you can give to the whole family!

photo 1 (4)


-handful of chopped baby spinach

-1/4 cup cooked quinoa

-one large banana

-1 tbsp. extra virgin unrefined coconut oil

-cinnamon to taste (optional)



1.  Sautée baby spinach in a pan with coconut oil on medium high for about four to five minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, mash banana in a small to medium bowl.

3.  Add cooked quinoa and cinnamon to smashed banana while spinach cools.

4.  Add spinach (making sure all of the oil makes its way into the mixture) to quinoa banana mixture and stir to combine all ingredients.

5.  Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it has a smooth creamy texture.


You can serve this right away or cool it in the fridge.  It makes enough for a couple small servings or one bigger serving.  My baby and I loved it!  My older two kids and the hubby aren’t big pudding fans (since I never buy it), so it will take some convincing to get them to try it.  Let me know if you give it a shot!


*Use organic ingredients if possible to get the most possible health benefits.


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