I think we can all agree that I am not a domestic goddess.

I would like to be a woman who can clean and cook and make holiday decorations out of a used milk carton and a couple of pipe cleaners, but the reality is that my talents lie in other arenas (I’m not sure exactly which arenas those are, but I must have some talents…right?). It surprised me, therefore, that I enjoy packing a lunch for the Muffin Man every day.

I know, it’s shocking, especially since the last thing I “cooked” was a vodka martini with extra olives.

I admit that the idea of packing a lunch initially stressed me out. Before school even started my anxiety about having to prepare a delicious lunch that my kid would actually eat led me down a Pinterest black hole in which I found myself pinning images of flower-shaped lunch meats and bananas sculpted to look like characters from Frozen.

If you are creative enough to sculpt Disney characters out of produce, I salute you, but for those of us living in the real world – the ones who have all of five minutes to throw something together during the morning rush – I prefer a more practical approach to packing lunches.

1. Leftovers are your lunch time friend.

Whatever my kid doesn’t eat for dinner is destined for his lunch the following day. Obviously, this rule doesn’t hold if he didn’t like what we had for dinner and he refused to eat it, but we do our best to prepare something he will eat at every meal.

2. I’m not above subterfuge.

Getting Noah to eat protein, especially meat, is a major challenge. He used to eat everything, but his current preferred diet includes cheese and bread and bread and cheese. Since I know he’ll always eat a grilled cheese, I sneak in some shredded chicken and he’s none the wiser.

3. Play favorites.

If your kids will eat it, put it in their lunch. I don’t particularly like to eat the same thing every day, but Noah would be happy to eat bagels with cream cheese for every meal. I’ve found that when I include at least one thing Noah really loves, he’s more willing to try something new.

4. Wow Butter wins.

Noah’s preschool is peanut-free, but most of the schools here in the city of concrete and broken dreams are completely nut free. Wow Butter is made from toasted soy, so it’s school approved. It also happens to be totally delicious. It’s a fantastic way to get your kid to eat protein without endangering the lives of the kids with nut allergies.

5. Don’t despair.

Honestly, not every lunch is a win. Sometimes, Noah is just too excited to play with his friends to sit down and focus on eating. I’ve found that if I offer him the rest of his lunch to eat in the car on the way home, he often finishes whatever is left. If all else fails, remind yourself that it’s not how much your kid eats in a day, but how much he consumes in a week; then pour yourself a glass of wine and toast your lunchtime efforts.

Here’s what Noah ate for lunch last week:

Felicity Huffman's What the Flicka-Lunch#1
Blanched green beans (leftover from dinner), Trader Joe’s organic hummus, Food Should Taste Good rice crackers, Lucky Cow teriyaki jerky, goat cheese, apple and almond butter crescents.
Felicity Huffman's What the Flicka-Lunch#2
Grilled cheese with shredded chicken (leftover from dinner), organic edamame, baby sweet red peppers, grapes and yellow plums.
Felicity Huffman's What the Flicka-Lunch#3
Sesame bagel with cream cheese and lox, Weelicious sweet potato muffin (adapted to be gluten free), Trader Joe’s organic hummus, red bell pepper, cantaloupe balls & yellow plum.
Felicity Huffman's What the Flicka-Lunch#4
Weelicious turkey & cucumber roll-ups, corn on the cob (leftover from dinner), Food Should Taste Good rice crackers, trail mix, watermelon balls & Asian pear.
Felicity Huffman's What the Flicka-Lunch#5
Apple and Wow Butter “sandwiches”, Trader Joe’s gluten free pretzels, edamame, Pad Thai noodles (leftover from dinner), sweet baby peppers.

I’d show you a picture of what I ate for lunch yesterday, but the crusts of bread and half-chewed meatball I snagged from Rose’s highchair weren’t all that photogenic.

This post was originally featured on Anna Lane’s blog, Misadventures in Motherhood. Featured image via.

Making lunches is a lot of work.

Well, making lunches, breakfast, and dinner is a lot of work.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning snack, afternoon snack – so much time preparing food. And then there’s the clean up. My knees are developing arthritis from the amount of time I’m spending at the kitchen counter. I might invest in orthotic indoor shoes.

Let’s not even start in about the grocery budget.

So where does every parent go when they are looking for meal ideas for their family? Pinterest, of course. But what I found there was not time-saving lunch ideas. Nooooo. Instead I discovered a cornucopia of pins dedicated to sandwiches cut into fun shapes, fruit kabobs, and smiley faced vegetables. Um, I was looking to do less preparation. Who are these people?

As a public service, I decided to share my own great tips for Easy Lunches On A Budget. Here’s my first installment.

Easy Mac and Cheese Your Kids Will Love

1. Get two boxes– you don’t want to run short. Your kids are counting on you.

2. Prepare as directed. But why not go with 5% cream? It adds just that hint of decadence your family craves.

3. Serve. But not in those plastic bowls from IKEA. The real dishes, mom. Because nothing says “you’re worth it” like breakable dishware

4. Here’s a secret I debated about posting. But it’s too good not to share. Fresh-ground paper for a gourmet twist.

This post was originally featured on Jan Moyer’s blog, Tough Bananas. Featured photo via.

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Whether you have a baby in your home or a toddler, Fruit and Veggie Cubes are a great way to ensure that your children get plenty of fruits and veggies!

When making Fruit and Veggie Cubes you have a couple of different options:

Puréed Ice Cubes, made by blending, are great for babies or toddlers. They make a fun, nutritious snack.

Flavored Ice Cubes, made by juicing, can be added to smoothies to intensify flavor or to sparkling water as a flavored fruit ice cube.

The important difference here is that blending retains the whole of a fruit in liquid form, while juicing separates the fruit juice from the fruit’s fiber/pulp.

READ MORE: RECIPE: Fresh Berry Frozen Yogurt Pops

Kids can Help:

  • Pick out their favorite fruits and vegetables.
  • Create their own flavor combinations.
  • Press the button on the blender or juicer.

READ MORE: RECIPE: Lemon Berry Burst Cocktail

Try these flavorful combinations:

  • Strawberry, Apple, Cucumber, Kale & Mint
  • Blueberry, Raspberry, Cucumber, & Mint
  • Pineapple, Watermelon, & Mango
  • Orange, Lemon, Lime, & Ginger
  • Pineapple, Orange, Watermelon, & Spinach
  • Beets, Blueberries, Strawberries, & Orange
  • Carrots, Apples, & Lettuce

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Make sure to remember the following when creating your cubes:

  • Use a blender for a purée (for smoothies or baby food).
  • Use a juicer for ice cubes (to add to water or intensify a smoothie’s flavor).

READ MORE: Kid-Friendly Piña Colada Smoothie

To make blended cubes:

  1. Using a blender or juicer, blend together your child’s favorite combination. Use any of the combinations listed above or create your own.
  2. Pour into ice cube trays.
  3. Cover and freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.

READ MORE: Six Simple Summer Smoothies

To make layered cubes:

  1. Using a blender or a juicer, blend one of your favorite flavors, and pour a small amount of the liquid into each cube’s space.
  2. Allow to freeze for 2 hours.
  3. Remove from freezer, and repeat step 1 with your second layer of flavor.
  4. Repeat step 2.
  5. Continue repeating steps 1 and 2 until the cubes are filled.
  6. Can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.

This post was originally featured on Foodstirs.

 

I love the holidays – all of them! Any chance to decorate, do fun crafts, make yummy treats, and exchange gifts is fine by me. And with all of its fun, cheerful colors, Easter is probably one of my favorites.

As a single mom that works full time, however, I have extremely limited time and money to do all the crafty things I’d like. The good news is I’ve spent the past 12 years researching, experimenting, making mistakes, and coming up with a list of quick and easy projects that I’m happy to share with all fellow busy moms.

One of my favorite Easter treats is Peeps. I was never really a fan until I realized how many fun things you can do with them. After combing through Pinterest (for countless hours) and incorporating my own creative flair, I’ve pulled together 4 super easy projects you can do with these cute icons of Easter. The best part is you can usually find a very large assortment of them at your local grocery and drug stores, which makes last-minute planning a breeze.

PEEP STRAWS

This is probably the easiest of all. Simply place a colorful straw through the back of the neck of the chick and push through at a diagonal until the Peep is at the desired spot on the straw. You can do this with Peep bunnies as well. Serve with your favorite drink in a festive glass and a plate of delicious cookies.

Tip: Push the straw downward on the Peep (not UP), as there will be marshmallow residue left on the straw. Pushing down allows the residue to dissolve away once straw is in the drink.

Fun Fact: In 1953, it took 27 hours to create one Peeps Marshmallow Chick. Today, thanks to advances in technology, it takes only six minutes.

GERBER DAISY CAKE

You might have seen this cake done with yellow chicks, so the end result looks like a sunflower. That is a great option, but you can apply this same concept to all colors of Peeps to make cheery Gerber Daisies! Simply make two 9” round cakes (any flavor), add frosting in between the layers and around the entire cake, and then place your Peeps around the edge of the cake, facing outward. Fill the remainder of the top of the cake with chocolate chips.

Tip: Did you know they make mini Peeps now? They’re a little hard to find, but you can make smaller versions of this pretty cake using the mini Peeps. Make several in multiple colors for an extra bright table.

Fun Fact: Peeps have been the #1 non-chocolate brand at Easter for over 20 years.

PEEP S’MORES TREAT BAGS

 

A fun twist on a classic and beloved campfire treat, these s’mores combine the traditional graham crackers and chocolate with an adorable Peep. Place 2 graham crackers, 2 mini Hershey’s chocolates (bunny shaped for Easter), and 1 bunny Peep, in a small cellophane bag (4”x6”), then tie with a colorful ribbon. Display bags in a basket at your Easter party. You can also add a tag with a holiday greeting and cooking instructions: Assemble s’more and microwave for 20 – 30 seconds. Let cool before eating.

Tip: Though they are most popular during Easter, Peeps makes shapes for all holidays! I’ve made these s’mores bags as a Halloween treat for my son’s classmates using ghost Peeps. They make Christmas Peeps in reindeer, trees, and gingerbread men too!

Fun Fact: Nearly 57 times more Peeps were produced than Apple sold iPhones in 2014.

PEEP NEST CUPCAKE

This chick with eggs might just be too cute to eat! It’s as easy as it looks. Just make a batch of your favorite cake mix, frost the tops generously, and create a little ‘nest’ out of edible grass. Place the chick Peep on top, then surround with a few colorful jelly bean’eggs’. You can also ditch the edible grass if you’re in a big hurry. That part of the process takes a little more time.

Tip 1: I love the speckled Party Cake Peeps as shown here, but you can use any color and flavor. They make sour apple, orange cream, lemon, lime, watermelon, and even a surprise flavor option… and many more! Having a variety of colors and flavors will make your cupcake display extra yummy and festive.

Tip 2: When making cupcakes that will be served at a party or handed out, I ALWAYS use color-safe, foil-lined cupcake liners so the oils from the cake don’t seep through and the outside doesn’t brown in the oven. They cost extra, but it’s worth the spend. I’ve had great success with Wilton Color Cups and Reynolds Stay Brite liners.

Fun Fact: If you had 8,000 Peeps bunnies, and you stood them in a straight vertical line, you could reach the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago.

FINAL TIP: Though they are readily available during Easter, order ahead if you know you want to make any of these treats for other holidays. Since I’m pretty sure these have a long shelf-life, it’s not a bad idea to order the special editions earlier rather than later. Visit Peeps online to learn more and shop your favorites!

My son, Bug, is a snackaholic.

No matter how much food I give him, he’s always on the prowl for more. He’s also very picky and likes variety. If he eats a cheese stick before lunch, he’ll want something crunchy in the afternoon. This is not a fight I’m going to win so I usually comply with his demands.

One night Bug had already devoured one of every snack in the house and I had no idea what to give him. Scanning the pantry I saw Cheerios, fruit snacks, cheese balls, animal crackers, Wheat Thins, and raisins. “Hmm,” I thought, “what would happen if I mix these all up in a bowl, would it pass the test?”

Not only did the Mix Up pass the test, it’s now a staple in our daily snack rotation. Bug loves being surprised by the ingredients. Also, it’s a great way to sneak healthy foods into his diet. I usually try to add in something that he would never eat solo but gobbles up when it’s mixed with stuff he loves. It’s like a makeshift Chex Mix but you get to control the ingredients!

READ MORE: Mom I Love My Lunch?!

The beauty of the Mix Up is that it’s a pantry cleaner. You only need a few pieces of each item so it’s a great way to get rid of those lingering crackers or grapes that no one will eat.

The Mix Up pictured below has cheese balls, animal crackers, fruit snacks, cheese crackers, and Cheerios.

Here’s some of our favorite Mix Up ingredients:

  1. Grapes
  2. Diced raw carrots
  3. Dry cereal
  4. Raisins and dried cranberries
  5. Pirate’s Booty
  6. Pretzels
  7. M and M’s
  8. Crackers

READ MORE: Easy Tortilla Pizza Bites For Kids

Just about anything bite size, not too sticky, and yummy. The possibilities are really endless so enjoy mixing it up!

This post was originally featured on Jenny’s blog, Express Bus Mama

At the end of the day, if they don’t starve or get scurvy, you’re doing fine.

1. Make a big batch of PB&J sandwiches in advance and freeze them.

Make a big batch of PB&J sandwiches in advance and freeze them.

A great idea from Money-Saving Mom: These will keep just fine for about 4-6 weeks. Just take one out of the freezer in the morning, pack it, and it will be thawed and ready to go by lunch time.

2. You can also freeze individual portions of rice or pasta and reheat them before you pack lunch.

You can also freeze individual portions of rice or pasta and reheat them before you pack lunch.

3. Put a rubber band around a sliced apple to keep it from turning brown.

Put a rubber band around a sliced apple to keep it from turning brown.

Alternatively: Don’t slice the apple. But this trick is pretty neat!

4. Freeze drinks the night before and they’ll double as ice packs.

Freeze drinks the night before and they'll double as ice packs.

The rest of the lunch will stay nice and cool, and the drink should thaw by lunch time.

5. You can also freeze a clean, wet sponge to use as an icepack.

You can also freeze a clean, wet sponge to use as an icepack.

When it defrosts, it’ll come in very handy for cleanup. Instructions here.

6. Have your kids pack their own lunches.

ThinkStock

You can stick a note to the fridge to remind your kids what should go in their lunch every day, and maybe lend a hand with trickier parts (like sandwich-making). But it’s easy to have them do their own assembly before bedtime every night. You’ll save time, and they won’t be able to complain about what’s in their lunchbox, because they put it there!

7. Make a snack station for your kids to choose from.

You can keep dry goods on the counter and perishables in the fridge. This tip from Real Simple saves time, helps eliminates the same-thing-every-day problem, and gives your kids some (but not TOO many) options to choose from.

8. Fill up reusable food pouches with homemade smoothies.

 

Try some of these easy smoothie recipes or just mix up whatever fruit, yogurt and juice you have around. Fill up a bunch at once and fridge or freeze until you’re ready to use.

9. Hard-boil a bunch of eggs at the beginning of the week.

Hard-boil a bunch of eggs at the beginning of the week.

They’re an easy, prep-free way to add protein to your kid’s lunch, and will keep fine in the fridge. Pack with a little container of salt and pepper for dipping.

10. Make lunches at night, not in the morning.

Make lunches at night, not in the morning.

It’s gotta get done one way or the other, but you’re a lot less likely to be frazzled (and thus pack a better, healthier lunch) when you’re not rushing to get out the door. You can also kill two birds by packing up leftovers from dinner.

11. Heat up soup or pasta in the morning and pack it in a thermos to stay warm.

Heat up soup or pasta in the morning and pack it in a thermos to stay warm.

No waiting in line to microwave it later. Just keep in mind that you may want to preheat the thermos and heat the food hotter than you normally would so that it stays warm until lunch time. Here are some helpful tips.

12. Mix homemade food with pre-packaged snacks.

 
Forget feeling guilty that you didn’t grind your own peanut butter and bake your own homemade pretzels, okay? That’s not a chill sitch, and there are plenty of individually packaged snacks you can buy that are perfectly healthy. Here are a few good suggestions.

13. Organize snacks for each day ahead of time.

Organize snacks for each day ahead of time.

You can buy divided plastic trays for a few bucks and set up snack stations in the fridge, with some variations day-to-day, at the beginning of the week. Then just grab and pack (with a sandwich) each morning. Get more info here.

14. Use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes (and get rid of crusts).

Use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes (and get rid of crusts).

Before you start with the “ain’t nobody got time for that,” let’s be clear: This takes literally five seconds. And it will drastically increase the odds of your kid actually EATING the sandwich you pack.

15. Cookie cutters are also a great way to jazz up fruit or cheese.

 

FACT: Food shaped like tiny hearts is considered 250% more delicious by children.

16. A lunch box with divided compartments cuts down on packaging and helps you remember all the components.

A lunch box with divided compartments cuts down on packaging and helps you remember all the components.

This one, shown over at Dinner: A Love Story, is called the PlanetBox.

17. On birthdays and holidays, wrap each part of the lunch in gift wrap
On birthdays and holidays, wrap each part of the lunch in gift wrap.

This obviously isn’t going to happen every day, but it’s well worth doing a few times a year.

18. Make your own healthier Lunchables.

Make your own healthier Lunchables.

Are your kids furious that you won’t send them to school with Lunchables, aka pretty much the worst thing you could possibly feed them? Address the terrible injustice by packing up cute divided tupperware with real versions of all the same foods (plus some actual fruit or veggies, for good measure).

Check out how this homemade DIY pizza lunch stacks up to the storebought version here.

19. Most kids love peanut butter, so just send them to school with a bunch of different things to dip in it.

Most kids love peanut butter, so just send them to school with a bunch of different things to dip in it.

Here are some good ideas for what to include. You can pack everything up individually or use a handy divided container.

20. Same goes for hummus. EVERYTHING is better with hummus.

Same goes for hummus. EVERYTHING is better with hummus.

Tips for how to make this tray here.

21. Use up leftovers from breakfast.

Use up leftovers from breakfast.

Most kids will be pretty thrilled to have pancakes for lunch, so don’t throw those extras out. Get more smart ideas here.

22. Give food cute faces with stickers

Give food cute faces with stickers.

A great trick for people who don’t have hours to spend on an elaborate bento box. Just wrap tightly in plastic wrap and stick ‘em on.

23. Always slice diagonally.

27 School Lunch Tips That Will Keep You Sane

Science says. Don’t question it.

24. If your kids aren’t into sandwiches, try skewers.

If your kids aren't into sandwiches, try skewers.

Get some easy ideas here. Who doesn’t love food on a stick?

25. You can use tortillas for almost anything — from quesadilla pinwheels to DIY mini pizzas.

You can use tortillas for almost anything — from quesadilla pinwheels to DIY mini pizzas.

Lots of good suggestions here.

26. If you want to add a cute note but don’t have time to draw something, use free printables.

If you want to add a cute note but don't have time to draw something, use free printables.

Listen, we can’t all be this guy. Print a bunch of cute notes or jokes and have a stack on hand to throw in. Here are lots of options.

27. Print out this list of ideas and keep it on the fridge to stay inspired.

Print out this list of ideas and keep it on the fridge to stay inspired.

But remember: Sometimes the most important thing is packing the lunch your kids will actually eat, rather than the one you WANT them to eat. (We can’t all be Amanda Hesser’s children.) And if that’s PB&J every day, you may just have to roll with it. They’ll survive!

This post was originally featured on Buzzfeed