Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Snack Solution: Do You Know The Muffin Pan?

A few year ago, I heard Dr. Sears speak on childhood nutrition, and I really liked what he had to say on this subject.

One of his philosophies was that if you always have healthy snacks out and available, then your kids will eat them. His theory is that if you just provide healthy options and leave kids to themselves, they will eat the healthy food.

He shared an idea for kids' snacks, which I have just recently started implementing in our house, and it's working great!
The idea is to fill the cups of a muffin tin with a variety of healthy snacks each morning, set it on the kitchen table and just let the kids munch away throughout the day.

Here's a photo of our muffin tin.
Please note:
  • The piece of bagel in the upper left corner. Bennett insisted on filling one of the cups with the remainder of his breakfast.
  • For some reason silly Blogger refuses to post this picture in landscape even though that's how it's saved.
  • I doubled up on a few of Bennett's favorite items like grapes and banana chips... I like to live on the wild side.
  • Bananas are well represented in this morning's muffin tin, with both the fresh and chip variety in attendance.
  • I realize there is only one veggie in this tin. Not to worry... veggies have been better represented in other muffin tins. Some great veggie ideas are: celery sticks with peanut butter, baby carrots, snap peas, etc.

The first day I introduced this, I told Bennett how it worked:

  • When he's hungry, he can grab anything he wants from the snack tray.

  • When one of the cups is empty, we won't refill it. He has to try something else in the tray if he's still hungry.
He was very excited about it! At first he ate all the "best" snacks (grapes, cheese, banana chips). But after those were gone, he started eating other things he normally wouldn't snack on... like carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes and walnuts. Buy the end of the day, a good amount of the tray was empty, and I was satisfied knowing that he had filled up on super healthy foods.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Play Room Cleanup: Mary Poppins Style, Yo!

You know what our girl Mary always says: "Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down."

Well true dat, Mary P.

Teaching Bennett to clean up his toys has been a struggle. He just hates to clean up. I've tried everything from time-outs, to losing toys, to sticker charts, but we always end up with the same result: a whiny boy, a messy playroom and a frustrated Mama.

So a few weeks ago I decided to take a page from Mary's book and turn clean-up time into a game. And amazingly, it really works!

Here is the bizarre, unorthodox, slightly disturbing game I invented. For some reason, my quirky, funny, creative boy just loves it.

When it's cleanup time, I run into to the play room with a scared look on my face.

Me: "Bennett, Oh No!"

Bennett: "Whatsa matter, Mama?"

Me: "Captain Hook is on his way here to steal all our toys! The only way we can keep him from getting our toys is by putting them away where they go. Come on!"

Bennett: "Hurry! Hurry! Don't let him get my dinosaurs!"

At this point, Bennett starts manically putting away toys while I go set a timer, telling him that Captain Hook should be here in 10 minutes and we need to get all the toys away before the timer dings. We keep telling each other, "Hurry! Hurry!" or "I've got the cars, you get the books!" or my personal-favorite Bennett quote, "Captain Hook's not getting this toy... No Way, Jose!"

Okay, at this point you are probably saying to yourself, "What kind of mother scares her child into cleaning up toys, telling him that an evil villain will steal them all away if he doesn't comply?"

My reply to you nay-sayers is simple: "The kind of mother that wants a clean playroom, that's who!"
Seriously, though, Bennett isn't scared at all. He knows we are just playing pretend, and he thinks Captain Hook is funny, not scary.

Anyway, we are usually just finishing up putting the last few toys away when the timer dings. At this point, I go call out the front door:

"Captain Hook, you can just turn around and go home. All our toys are put away
and you can't have them. You might as well just get back on your ship and sail
Bennett is usually standing behind me with his pirate sword ready to defend our newly clean playroom if need be. But amazingly, Captain Hook usually just goes home without a word. And we go back to our nice, clean playroom with smiles on our faces.

So thank you, Mary Poppins, for the reminder that work doesn't feel like work when you make it fun.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

For the Love of Joe: Product Spotlight

I recently posted a promise to do a Trader Joe's product highlight every week.

That was over a month ago.


When I said "weekly," I meant it in a more symbolic sense. You knew that, right?

Anyway, the important thing is I'm here now... and I'm highlighting a doozer of a TJ's product:

Trader Giotto's Italian Tomato Starter Sauce.

[Insert loving adoration here.]

Side note: I feel the need to mention that I just LOVE the way Trader Joe changes his name depending on the ethnicity of food he's packaging up and selling. Trader Giotto, Trader Jose, Trader Ming... it just makes me happy. It's the stuff dreams are made of. Anyway...

I use this stuff ALL the time. It's super versatile. Use it for pasta sauces, lasagna, soups, taco meat, enchiladas... the sky's the limit! The back of the box even has a simple recipe to make your own salsa. Oh, and speaking of the clever box-packaging... it's a much-better-than-a-can option for exactly three reasons:

1. The box doesn't hurt nearly as much as a can when you drop it on your foot.

2. The box doesn't leave your tomatoes tasting like metal.

3. The box doesn't dent/crack/break your floor when your three year old says, "Was'this, Mama?" and throws it to the floor with all his might. A can does.

One of my favorite recipes to make with this sauce is my easy Chicken Parmesan.

Here's the recipe:

4 chicken breasts, pounded thin
olive oil
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
2 boxes Trader Giotto's Italian Tomato Starter Sauce
1.5 cups (approx) grated mozzarella cheese
1 lb corkscrew pasta

1. Bread chicken: mix Parmesan cheese with breadcrumbs. Place eggs
in shallow bowl and breadcrumb mixture in another bowl. Dip chicken
in eggs and then breadcrumb mixture. Repeat with all chicken breasts.
Put on a plate in the fridge to set for 20 minutes.

2. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and add a little
olive oil.

3. In a skillet over medium heat, brown chicken in olive oil on both
sides until golden (Chicken will just be browned, not cooked through
yet). Add the boxes of sauce to the pan and turn heat to low. Cover the pan
and simmer for 3-5 minutes, until chicken is cooked. Remove lid, add
grated cheese on top of each piece of chicken and put a lid on it
again until cheese is melted, another 2 minutes or so. Serve over
noodles, with plenty of sauce. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Use-Up Month: An Update

Just a quick update on use-up month...
Things are going swimmingly.

So far I've been able to use up a lot of canned goods that would have probably expired within the next few months.

I made lasagna soup, using up frozen ground beef, canned tomatoes and noodles. This is one of our favorite soup recipes.

I made the aforementioned mandarin orange chicken recipe, and it turned out pretty good. McPreachy seemed to like it.

We somehow had three half-empty bags of tortilla chips in the pantry, so I made chicken nachos the other day! I used canned black beans and frozen chicken breasts that I seasoned, broiled and chopped. They were delish!

I made my friend Katie's pineapple chicken. You make it by sauteing cubed chicken and then adding 1 small can of crushed pineapple and one 1 packet of onion soup mix to the saute pan. That's it... super simple but super delicious!

I've made basics too, like the big batch o' spaghetti I made last weekend. (We've been eating leftovers for the past few nights).

I used up the remains of my meat and cheese drawer by making Monte Cristo sandwiches the other day. They were magical.
Here's how you make 'em:
  • Lay down a piece of plain old white bread. Top it with Swiss cheese, ham, turkey and another piece of bread. (You can also add Dijon mustard to the sandwich if you like)
  • In a shallow dish, mix together a few eggs and a splash of milk (like you would for French toast). Add salt, pepper and a dash of cinnamon.
  • Heat up a skillet or griddle to medium high heat. Butter it 'till it begs for mercy.
  • Finally, yep... you guessed it. Carefully dip the sandwiches in the batter, completely coating them. Be careful to keep the sandwich in tact, and place it on the hot griddle. Cook until golden and then carefully flip it (have I mentioned yet that you need to be careful?). Cook until golden on the second side and until the cheese is melted and the sandwich is heated through.
  • Slice the sandwich diagonally and dust with powdered sugar. Serve with a dollop (one of my favorite words) of raspberry jam on the side! Enjoy!
  • I just also feel the need to mention that Disneyland makes the BEST Monte Cristo sandwiches in the world, and you MUST get one the next time you're there. You can get one at The Blue Bayou or Cafe Orleans.

On the menu for this week:

  • Lasagna (I have frozen sausage in my freezer and 3 half-used boxed of lasagna noodles in the pantry.)
  • Pizza (another favorite way to clean out the meat and cheese drawer of the fridge.)
  • These sandwiches from my favorite website of all time. (I already have bacon and cheese on hand, and I have some frozen hamburger buns I want to use up).
  • As you can see, it's low-cal week at the McPreachy home! :0) Come on over if you are in the market to gain 5 pounds.
Whoops.. did I say "quick" update at the beginning of this post? Sorry!

So how are you guys and dolls doing? Anyone else successfully cleaning out the pantry one meal at a time?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

January School Time: Snowflake Month

Okay, okay I know you've all been waiting with bated breath to hear what we've been doing for school time this month. Seriously, stop baiting your breath like that... it's not good for you.

We're focusing on snowflakes this month, along with snow animals (penguins and polar bears to be exact) So without further adieu, here's a little preview of Snowflake Month to appease you breath-baters before you turn purple and keel over...

  • We went to the library and checked out oodles of snow and winter-inspired books. A few cute ones we've enjoyed reading are:

Tippy Tippy Tippy Hide

The Missing Mitten Mystery
One Winter's Night

  • Bennett's favorite activity so far this month has been a simple little "science experiment" we did. Since we're learning about snowflakes, we decided to get an ice cube and let it melt in the sun and see how long it took to melt. Bennett LOVED this and kept checking the ice cube every few minutes to see if it had melted yet.

  • We've been cutting out paper snowflakes from blue construction paper. This is a good way to teach Bennett how to use scissors, and he loves unfolding the paper at the end to reveal our snowflakes.

  • I found this great website with lots of winter activities and coloring sheets. I am planning on doing a few of these simple crafts from the website:

Thumbprint Penguins

Easy Cut-and-Paste Penguins

Do you like how the "E" in Easy isn't highlighted? Let's just say that blogger is really annoying me today and leave it at that, shall we?

  • I also think this polar bear craft page would be great practice cutting circles and this mitten craft is cute if we have time.

  • I also found this cute idea on Even though it's an idea for Valentines Day, I though it would be fun to make these bags of teddy grahams and gummy bears when we learn about polar bears. Then we will attach a note that says "Bear Hugs From Bennett" and Bennett can give them to his friends. I was also thinking of using gummy bears/teddy grahams to practice counting and adding/subtracting. Bennett loves it because it is tactile, and then he gets to eat the snack when we're done!

  • Bennett loves to cook, so I am planning on making these cupcakes or these cupcakes when we learn about polar bears. I also have a cute penguin cookie cutter (random, I know...) we will use to make sugar cookies when we learn about penguins.
  • And of course no snowflake month would be complete without a trip to the snow. We plan on taking the kids in a few weeks, so stay tuned!