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I’ve figured out how to survive (and enjoy) a beach vacation with kids. It involves rum. You’re welcome.

Summer is almost here! I’m looking forward to days spent by the pool, leisurely evenings without the rush of bedtime, lazy mornings without the fight to get ready for school….

I could do without the hot humidity of Alabama summer days, but I do look forward to the slowness that summer brings with it. This is also the time of year when I start craving an ocean breeze, salty air, and fresh seafood. But going to the beach with kids is never the vacation we hope it will be, is it?

We were able to go to the beach early this year, and I think it may have been our most relaxing trip yet. I’m afraid to say it out loud or put it in writing….but I feel as if we actually conquered the beach trip with kids this time around. There was some work involved, but there was also a lot of time for relaxing. Unheard of with kids, right??

I keep a running list on my phone of items to pack for beach vacations. Each trip, I edit it, adding some things, taking some things away….but yes, usually adding more things. I think it’s entirely possible that I now have a completed list, that I’ve figured out exactly what to take (and not take) for the easiest kid beach vacation.

The secret is this: take everything you might need, and none of what you won’t need. This is a situation where less is definitely more….but less still requires a wagon. A good wagon. Preferably with fat wheels. We bought one of those folding utility wagons for beach trips a couple of years ago and it worked okay with one kid, but the thin wheels just don’t work well in the sand. We learned the hard way that we’d need to spend the extra money and get a really heavy duty one with fat wheels for beach use. The fatter the wheels, the better it pulls over the sand.

The less expensive utility wagons certainly come in handy for lots of other things, but fork over the extra money and get a good one for beach use. It’s a one-time expense and you’ll use it for years to come.

Of course you’re not just going to throw all your crap into the wagon. You need to organize it! I have 4 bags that I swear by for beach use, and they all fit perfectly into the wagon.

The first bag I always bring is a Thirty-One Cooler Bag I bought years ago. It’s a great size for packing lots of water bottles and sippy cups. And bonus tip: use these awesome rum bags as ice packs! Freeze them the night before, then pack them in your cooler bag in the morning. Tuck the water bottles all around them and everything stays cold, plus mom and dad have a delicious beach beverage!

The second bag I carry is also a cooler bag, but this one is in the form of a backpack. It’s super spacious and keeps food and drinks cold for hours. I use the large thermal compartment for snacks and lunches, and the front pocket (which isn’t thermal, but stays nice and cool since it’s against the thermal part) for chapstick and sunscreens. This also makes a perfect bag for zoo trips and short hiking trips.

For all the towels, snacks, and other necessities, I use this awesome mesh bag. Think Utility Bag from Thirty-One, but add holes for sand and water drainage. It holds all the things and is super easy to clean! It’s the perfect bag for the beach, lake, or pool.

And the final bag I throw in the wagon is this large mesh bag for beach toys. It easily holds a lot of toys and at the end of the day, you can just throw the toys in the bag, tie it up, then rinse it out in the ocean.

Before I show you what we pack in our bags, I’ll introduce the larger items that we never go to the beach without. The first time we went to the beach with our oldest son, we spent quite some time setting up a large canopy. It was heavy to carry and a pain in the butt to set up, so I knew we’d need a better solution. Upon searching, I stumbled on a SportBrella. They’re easy to set up and provide tons of shade (we fit 2 adults and a child under it, and could probably fit another adult).

As an added bonus, they’re also lightweight and take up very little space.

We use a sand screw to give it extra security, but we’ve never had a problem with it budging in beach winds.

For the babies, I wanted a tent for naps. I learned pretty fast that we needed a popup tent for ease of use, but what I didn’t consider was that tents get really hot on the beach. I found this one for our last trip and it was perfect.

It’s a fast pop-up, secure once it’s set up, provides plenty of shade and ventilation, and is easy to take down. It provided the perfect nap location for our one-year-old twins.

During their awake time, we kept them contained and entertained in this little pool.

I just filled it up with a few inches of water, threw in some plastic beach toys, and they stayed occupied in that thing for hours. Seriously, hours!

And of course, life jackets. None of our kids can swim (because we suck as parents), so we don’t allow them to enter the ocean without a life jacket on. These work great for babies and our oldest has a regular life jacket.

Puddle Jumpers are also a viable option for water safety since they’re US Coast Guard-approved.

It may seem like a lot, but all of the above items fit into the big beach wagon when puzzled correctly (except the pool after it’s inflated, of course). On the walk to the beach, my husband and I each carry a beach chair on our backs and a baby on our fronts. I love the Tommy Bahama beach chairs that sit low to the ground. Mine has a nice head cushion, a drink holder, and a pouch for my cell phone.

And the babies fit comfortably in their Airflow LILLEbabies, leaving us hands-free to pull the wagon and catch the 5-year-old.

Now, here’s a quick list of what I put in all those bags:

  • Beach towels
  • Sunscreen

I always apply cream sunscreen before heading outside, but carry spray sunscreen for applications on the beach. My favorites are Think Baby for smaller babies and Coppertone Water Babies for all.

  • Baby powder for getting the sand off (this really works!)
  • Water bottles
  • Sippy cups of milk
  • Snacks

The best snacks we’ve found for the beach are trail mix, granola bars, peanut butter sandwiches, and food pouches. I always buy these in fruit-vegetable combinations and even my 5-year-old loves them!

  • Plastic grocery bags (for trash)
  • Beach toys

Go with cheap beach toys, because you’re going to lose them. One of our favorites is this tall shovel. It’s sturdy and provides lots of fun for the kiddos!

Finally, don’t forget to throw your phone into a protective case. Sand is one of the few things that will easily scratch the screen of a smart phone. This one is also advertised as waterproof, but we’ve only tested it with a piece of paper in the sink, never our phones. The paper test worked, but we’re chickens.

So that’s it! Don’t be afraid to pack everything you might think you need because it’s certainly easier than running back to the condo or car. But try not to over-pack either, because that’s just more junk to dig through when you’re looking for something. A fun beach trip can be had by all!

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Cauliflower “Potato” Cakes and Pineapple Sweet Potato Cakes

I’ve recently had a change of heart. Up until just a few months ago, I hated cauliflower. It looks too much like broccoli for my taste, so for years I’ve despised it based on appearance alone. But I had no idea what you could do with cauliflower in disguise!

My first attempt at disguising cauliflower was to make mac and cheese out of it. Mission: Failed. It didn’t fool anybody, but it did taste good! That small taste of success was enough to encourage me to try again.

So when I came upon this recipe on Skinnypoints.com, I was excited to try it! I made them primarily for the babies since they’re a perfect BLW food, but I also served them to the family and they were gone faster than….well, faster than things that get gone fast. They even had my husband completely fooled: the taste is right, the texture is right.

This recipe is super easy too! I ended up making several more batches and freezing them, so I can pull out a few for baby meals whenever I need a quick finger food.

Cauliflower “Potato” Cakes

Obviously, the first thing you need is a head of cauliflower.

Steam it for 10-12 minutes, or until soft, then remove from heat. Once it’s cooled, chop it into large pieces and throw it in a blender.

Add to the blender: 2 eggs, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese, 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, 2 chopped green onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Pour in just enough milk to help the cauliflower puree into a potato-like paste.

Allow the mixture to rest for about 10 minutes, then use a small cookie dough scooper or a tablespoon to scoop the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet. Use a fork to gently flatten.

Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then flip the cakes and bake for another 10 minutes. Allow them to cool, then fool your whole family!

Pineapple Sweet Potato Cakes

As an alternative, I thought it would be fun to make these using actual potatoes. To keep it healthy, I went with sweet potatoes. Delicious and another family hit!

Roast 2 sweet potatoes in their skin, then scoop out the meat. Throw the potatoes into a blender along with 2 eggs, 1/2 cup chunked frozen pineapple, 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.

Just like above, use a small cookie dough scooper or a tablespoon to scoop the mixture onto a greased cookie sheet and use a fork to gently flatten. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then flip the cakes and bake for another 10 minutes.

As I said before, I made several batches of these and then froze them. They make perfect quick snacks and sides!

Banana Blueberry Custard Muffins

These are delicious dairy free, gluten free on-the-go breakfasts with no added sugar. Just mix them up, bake them, freeze them, and store them in freezer bags for a fast, healthy meal. And the best part is, they’re simple to make! These are also great for baby led weaning.

Start by greasing a muffin tin and sprinkling a few blueberries in the bottom of each one.

Next, mash 3 bananas—the riper the better. I keep bananas in the freezer for healthy smoothies, banana breads, muffins, etc.

Beat 4 eggs and mix them with the bananas.

Pour the banana mixture over the blueberries in the muffin tins. It’s okay to fill them to the top because these aren’t going to rise.

Bake at 350 for about 17 minutes until the egg is firm. You can serve them immediately, or freeze them in the muffin tins. Once frozen, just pop them out of the tins and store in a freezer bag. Thaw naturally (do not microwave) before serving.

For best results, serve to a super cute baby.

Homemade Stock–Delicious and a Money Saver!

The next time you go to throw out your meat bones or vegetable scraps, go ahead and slap yourself. Then throw them in a gallon freezer bag and save them!

When the bag is full, dump it into a slow cooker and cook it all night on low.

Or, bring it to a boil in a large stockpot, reduce heat, and simmer until it cooks down.

Then just strain it out the next day for some delicious (and free!) bone stock. Or veggie stock. Or some combination. Whatever you want.

Great for soup bases or just everyday cooking. Try cooking your green beans in a pot of homemade bone stock–so good!

I measure mine out in 2 cup portions and freeze flat in quart freezer bags. I do recommend freezing them on a lipped cookie sheet, because sometimes the bags leak a little around the zipper (I’m looking at you, Hefty).

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Apple-Carrot Muffins

These muffins are healthy and delicious! They’re baby-approved, little kid-approved, and I kinda love them myself. This is a great recipe for baby led weaning, finger foods, breakfast, toddler snacks, or after-school snacks. And bonus, they thaw nicely if you want to freeze some. I make a big batch of them and store them in freezer bags so I can just pop them out and microwave them as needed.
To start, melt 4 tbsp coconut oil and mix with 2 mashed bananas.

Add in 2 grated apples, 2 cups grated carrots, 2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce, 1 cup of milk, and 4 eggs and mix well.


I use the paddle attachment on my stand mixer for this. If you don’t have a stand mixer, I highly recommend investing in one. I love that I can just set it to mix and then move on to the next step of my recipe while it’s running.


In a separate bowl mix together 3 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp ginger, 3 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 2 tbsp chia seeds (optional, but great for extra fiber, protein, and calcium) , and 1 cup ground almonds (also optional, but great for healthy fat and protein).


I use my Cuisinart Smart Stick to quickly grind whole, unsalted almonds. This thing is amazing! It grinds (fast!), and it’s a whisk and an immersion blender all in one tool. If my house was on fire, I’d save this and my Salad Shooter right after I saved my children. Like, they’re a close second. Some days they’re closer than others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pour carrot mixture into flour mixture. Stir well.

Spoon into muffin pans and bake for 35 minutes at 375. I prefer silicone pans because they’re so much easier to manipulate.

Yields 24 muffins. This recipe can easily be cut in half. I make a large batch so I can freeze some. To freeze, line a pan with wax paper and place the muffins on the pan. Cover with foil, freeze overnight, then store in freezer bags.

For best results, feed only to cute babies.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage of commission.

Lesson 95: You don’t always have to intervene

S tends to be the muscle of the twins. He weighs more, he’s further along in physical development, and he’s faster. He’s also not afraid to go after what he wants. B is pretty easy going, so it tends to set the stage for S to take whatever he wants, while B just moves on and finds something else to play with.

Both boys have recently learned to clap, but B mastered it first. It was the first thing he ever did before S, so I was really happy for him–it’s the little things, right? I cheer for him, and this tickles him, making him clap even more. S, not being one to be left behind, finally started copying B when he saw how much attention it was getting him. They both copy each other now and it’s really cute to see them clap together.

Enter the little green P.

B loves his P. It was a gift from his Occupational Therapist to help him learn to move his tongue around properly as he chews. He mostly prefers to bounce it across the floor and chase after it, but whatever.

This afternoon when he was bouncing it, it landed closer to S. Both babies looked at each other and I could see the silent challenge between the two. They both crawled madly toward the P and who do you think got to it first? S, of course. He had the home field advantage. B immediately started whining and I said, “Well take it back, B!”

But B knows his brother is stronger than he is. He’s tried to take toys back before and it doesn’t usually end well for him. So I watched in amusement as he stared at S for a few seconds and then started clapping his hands together.

And guess what S did? He dropped the P and started to clap. B quickly grabbed the P, grinned, and crawled away. That baby is no fool.

I witnessed this occur not once, but twice today. He may not have the brawn, but little dude has the brains.

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Veggie Quiche Cakes…and Protecting Yourself from the CIA in Your Microwave

I originally found this recipe over at BabyJake’sMom. I’m sure it’s just fine the way she has it, but I like to play with recipes as I make them because it’s fun! Here’s my edited version of her Veggie Quiche Cakes. These are great for baby led weaning, toddler finger foods, or an easy breakfast for your preschool kiddo.

Mix the following together in a large bowl:
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup chick pea flour
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2 cans mixed veggies, drained
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
Spoon into greased muffin tins. I prefer to use silicone muffin tins because they’re easier to get out after cooking.
Mix 4 eggs and 1.5 cup plain yogurt in a blender.
 
Pour egg mixture over muffins.
Bake at 350 for 35 minutes, or until egg is fully set.
Yields 21 muffins. I freeze them in the muffin tins, pop them out and store them in freezer bags.
When you’re ready to serve them, just microwave as many servings as you need. But watch out for those sneaky cameras while using your microwave. I like to hide behind a large beach towel while using mine.
And rest easy knowing these are baby-approved!
 
 This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage of commission.

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Feed your family on the cheap!

I just found a way to buy 8 entrees, 2 salads, 2 soups, and 8 bread sticks from Olive Garden for $43.69. Since they’re so over-sized, I can feed my family with 2 of the entrees. I’ll be freezing 6 entrees, making a total of 4 dinners for my family of 5. In fairness, two members of my family are pretty small and don’t eat much, but at $10.93 per dinner that I don’t have to prepare myself, I’m happy!

If you have an Olive Garden near you, you can take advantage of the same deal anytime through April 30. Here’s how you do it!

The first thing you need to do is buy a gift card over at Raise.com. You should be able to find a $50 Olive Garden card for $46-48. If you’re a new customer, use the code NEWRAISE50 to get an additional $10 off your purchase and you’ll end up paying around $36-38 for a $50 gift card.

Now head over to Olive Garden, choose your location and time for pick-up, and select an entree from the “Buy One, Take One” menu. Two bread sticks and your choice of soup or salad come free with this entree, and you’ll also be able to choose one extra entree for free. So that’s 2 entrees, 2 bread sticks, and soup or salad for $12.99 +tax. You can stop there if you want, but I wanted to get more bang for my buck and I’m happy to freeze meals ahead of time.

If you want to stack an extra coupon, you’ll need to spend at least $30, so you’ll have to repeat the process. At this point, you can add a kid’s meal or an appetizer to your order to boost it over the $30 point. Or, you can just add meats to your entrees (that’s what I did). At checkout, use the code 5OFF30 to get an additional $5 off your already super cheap order!

My first 4 entrees, soup, salad, and 4 bread sticks were exactly $30 with taxes. That means I still have $20 on my $50 gift card that I purchased for $33.69. Next week I’ll order from Olive Garden again, using the rest of my gift card plus $10 cash, providing my family with a fresh dinner, and another to freeze for later use.

So there you have it: 4 meals for a family of 5 for a total of $43.69!

Baby-approved Smoothies

I sent this picture to my mom the other day and she commented that he was losing that baby look and starting to look like a little boy. Problem is, he’s 10 months old. He is a baby, and he’s underweight. I responded to her text with, “That’s called malnutrition.”

Of course, he’s not really malnourished. But at his last pediatrician appointment, he’d fallen off his growth curve. He’s just not a fan of eating. There are reasons for it and he’s seeing an OT to help him with his eating issues. But for now, all he wants to do is nurse, which is fine except that we don’t subscribe to “food before one is just for fun” in this house. Food before one provides extra vitamins and minerals that our babies need. Clearly, he’s healthy. But the boy needs some fat on his bones and a better variety of foods.

I discovered the other day that, while he’s not a fan of a bottle, he can manage a straw quite well. The first time I handed him a straw cup, he picked it up, sucked down the water that was in it, looked at me, and dropped it to the floor like, “mic drop, woman.”

And that’s when it occurred to me that smoothies might be a great way to sneak some extra vitamin-packed calories into his little tummy! So what I needed was some smoothie ideas and a freezer full of pre-prepped smoothie bags.

After an afternoon of Pinterest’ing (can we just make that a verb already?), I came up with 6 baby-approved recipes. I prepped my freezer bags so that I can just pull out a bag, thaw it, and blend it with milk and yogurt.

They don’t take up much room in the freezer since you can just smush them flat and stack them.

And both babies loved them!

Here are the recipes I came up with:
Peachy Carrot Smoothies

1 sliced banana, 1 cup sliced peaches (I use frozen), 1 cup fresh spinach, 1 cup of steamed baby carrots, and 1 tsp chia seeds.
Spinach Banana Smoothies
1 sliced banana, 1 cup fresh spinach, 1 tbsp natural peanut butter, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract, and 1 tsp chia seeds.
Carrot Avocado Smoothies
1 sliced banana, 1 cup steamed baby carrots, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 avocado, 1/4 tsp coconut extract (or vanilla if that’s all you have), and 1 tsp chia seeds.

I’m guessing you might see a theme here with the chia seeds? I like to add these to as many of their foods as possible. They’re full of protein, calcium, fiber, antioxidants, and healthy carbs.

Spinach Berry Smoothies
1 cup fresh spinach, 1 cup blueberries, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1/2 avocado, and 1 tsp chia seeds
Apple Spinach Smoothies
1 chopped apple (leave the skin on!), 1 sliced banana, 1 cup spinach, 1 tbsp natural peanut butter, and 1 tsp chia seeds
Tropical Squash Smoothies
2 small squash (sliced), 1 cup pineapple chunks, 1 sliced banana, 1/4 tsp coconut extract, and 1 tsp chia seeds
When you’re ready to make a smoothie, just thaw it and blend it with milk. I use coconut or almond milk, depending on the flavor. Whole milk is fine too! I also add a couple tablespoons of full fat yogurt for a little extra creamy texture and calories.
 
It’s really a great snack for mom too if you’re trying to add in a few extra veggies like I am!
I skipped the full fat yogurt in mine because Lord knows I don’t need any extra calories, but it’s still very good!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I get a small percentage of commission.

 

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Lesson 94: Start ’em young

Last night I posted this picture on Facebook:

I commented that after dinner J got up, went into the kitchen, and started washing the dishes. We didn’t ask him to do it, he just did it. And while he was washing, he told us that this was now his job. He said, “I’m going to start washing the dishes every night!”

You guys, my job is done here. I’ve completed my mission: raise a good husband. You’re welcome, future in-law.

The comments on the post praised me, wondering what I’d done to raise such a great kid. They asked me to share my words of wisdom.

Well, brace yourselves ladies and gentlemen, because I’m about to give you my secret: We got really lucky. Seriously. We’re mediocre parents, at best.

When I’m bragging on my child, it’s not a humble brag. I’m literally bragging on my child. I am so proud of him! He has the kindest heart, he’s funny, he’s pretty damn smart (I’ll go ahead and take credit for that one), he’s an amazing big brother, he’s helpful, he’s loving and affectionate. We do our best, we fail him a lot, and he keeps showing us his grace. The child is blessed with an infinite amount of grace.

But if I can give you just one tip, it’s this: Start them young. Don’t wait! Time’s a wasting, folks! Get those babies cleaning early.

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