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Introducing my latest obsession (and money saver!): Homemade Yogurt for the Win (I accidentally typed “wine” there, because habits)!

This is my second post in a row about the Instant Pot. I realize that may seem a bit…obsessive. And it kinda is, but in a healthy way. This thing does all the things: pressure cook, slow cook, saute, steam, sterilize…

And it makes yogurt….delicious yogurt! And I don’t even like yogurt! My children, however, love it. And I love for them to have it because it’s a healthy snack, full of calcium, vitamin A, protein, and healthy fats and calories. But I end up spending a boatload on it each week because most yogurts you find on the shelves at the grocery store are full of sugar or other artificial sweeteners. They’re also full of GMO’s, artificial colors, artificial flavoring, thickeners, and preservatives….which honestly? Meh, I don’t care all that much about these things. Do I love them in our foods? No, but I do see some of their benefits. However, if you put two products in front of me, all else being equal, I’m going to choose the one with the least amount of anything artificial. But if I’m shopping on a budget (and I am!), I’m going to choose the most cost-efficient one, artificial crap aside.

Except for artificial sweeteners. I’ll choose real sugar any day over artificial sweeteners, even if I have to pay more. But have you seen the amount of sugars and sweeteners in most yogurts? I hate when a product is promoted as healthy, but is actually packed full of unnecessary sugars. My kids get plenty of sugary sweets; they don’t need it in their healthy snacks too. So when I’m shopping for yogurt, I usually have to buy one of the more expensive brands in order to get some level of health benefits that outweigh all the extra fillers. And that means paying top dollar.

But not anymore! I get so much pleasure out of preparing anything from scratch. There is satisfaction in realizing that I can do something. There is pride in being self-sufficient (okay, kinda self-sufficient). And there is peace in feeding my kids foods that I’ve prepared myself, in knowing exactly what they’re putting in their growing bodies. I’m far from being a “health nut,” but I do love it when I can make the healthier choice for my family, enjoy the process of getting there, and reap financial benefits from it.

To make your own yogurt, you need very little hands-on time and very few products. You can even make it in the oven if you choose to, so an Instant Pot is not a necessity. However, there are some products that make it easier, so before I dive into the how-to, these are the tools I prefer:

Luxury: An Instant Pot with the capability to cook yogurt. Some models do not have this capability, so if you’re buying a new one, look for that feature. These are a little pricey, but they do frequently go on sale. And like I said before, they do so many things. I’ve found that it was worth the investment.

Necessity: Milk. I just use regular whole milk, but you do you. I have yet to be convinced that the health benefits of organic milk outweigh the financial benefits of non-organic.

Necessity: A yogurt starter culture, which is a blend of healthy bacteria that consumes lactose. When it’s added to milk, it converts lactose to lactic acid. You can purchase starter cultures at health food stores or online, but you can also just use 1-2 tablespoons of high quality store-bought yogurt. The good thing about using an heirloom variety of a starter culture is that it can be reused over and over, simply by mixing some of your last batch of yogurt into the milk for your next batch of yogurt, as long as the yogurt is less than 7 days old.

So far, I’ve just used plain, non-flavored, Fage brand yogurt. I bought the smallest cup possible, scooped out a tablespoon for my starter, then froze the rest of it in tablespoon increments. It’s worked just fine, for the most part (more on that later). If you use store-bought yogurt as a starter, look for one that is high in live and active cultures. The packaging should say that it contains live and active cultures. Made with live and active cultures is not the same thing, and it will not work. Also make sure it has less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. If it has too much sugar, it can prevent the yogurt from culturing. The starter yogurt must come from a freshly opened container as, once it’s opened, the live cultures begin to die.

Necessity: A digital thermometer. Cooking temperatures are important and need to be as accurate as possible, so invest in an inexpensive digital thermometer.

Luxury: A Greek Yogurt Maker. This is far from being a necessity, but I finally broke down and ordered one because it’s just easier and I’ve been making a ton of yogurt here lately. You don’t even have to strain your yogurt, but I choose to do so because I like to make mine thicker and creamier. So if you choose to strain yours, you can use this yogurt strainer or follow the directions I’m going to show you later for a method that a friend of mine showed me.

Luxury: Yogurt jars. Again, certainly not a necessity. I like to flavor mine individually, and I wanted something for my oldest son to take to school in his lunches, so I found a good deal on these.

Just for fun: Reusable silicone sleeves. Not necessary, but the kids love them! And they’re freezer-friendly, so you can use them for popsicles too.

So once you have all your tools, necessary and not, let’s get started! The first thing you’re going to do is make sure you’re starting this process at the right time of the day to fit your schedule. The incubation period is 8 hours, so make sure it’s not mid-day when you start. Some people start in the evening and let it incubate overnight. I choose to start in the morning, then set it to strain in the refrigerator overnight.

To start, pour 8 cups of whole milk into your Instant Pot. Use a plate or a glass lid to cover it, or just use the regular IP lid. You do not have to use the sealing feature though.

On the Duo Plus model, press the Yogurt button until the display says “boil.”

Mine takes about 27 minutes to complete the cycle. When it’s finished it will beep 3 times and display “yogt.”

Use a digital thermometer to make sure your milk has reached 180 degrees or higher. If it has not reached that temperature, use your sauté setting on low to bring the temp up. Make sure to whisk it continuously, but do not scrape the bottom (it has cooked on yucky milk chunks, and you don’t want those floating around in your yogurt).

Once you’ve reached your high temp, you need to decrease it to 110 degrees. To do this, you can set it out at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes, but you have to make sure it doesn’t go below 90 degrees. I like a more controlled environment, so I set mine in a sink of ice cold water, just enough to cover the bottom of the bowl.


Stir it while it’s cooling to prevent hot spots, but again, don’t scrape the bottom. It takes me about 3 minutes to get the temp to 110 using this method. Watch it closely because, remember, you don’t want your temp dropping below 90 degrees.

After it’s cooled, use a ladle to remove about 1/2 cup of milk to a separate bowl. Using a whisk, mix in your starter of choice.

I used 1 tablespoon of Fage the first time I made yogurt and it turned out perfectly. I froze the remaining Fage in tablespoon increments and, the next time I made yogurt, I used 1 tablespoon of frozen yogurt. I set it out to thaw while the milk was boiling, then mixed it in. However, with this method, my yogurt didn’t turn out as nicely; it was a little runny for my preference, even after being strained. The next time I attempted to use frozen yogurt, I used 2 tablespoons and it turned out perfectly again. Coincidence or not, I don’t know, but my recommendation is to use 1 tablespoon of fresh yogurt or 2 tablespoons of frozen (thawed) yogurt.

After you’ve mixed your starter with a small portion of the cooled milk, add it back to your big batch of milk. Again, mix it well, remembering not to scrape the bottom.

If you placed it in a sink of water to cool, wipe off any residual water from the outside of your liner before placing it back in the IP. Press the Yogurt button until it reads normal and set your incubation time to 8 hours (more if you like a more tart flavor–I don’t).
Once the yogurt has finished incubating, you can be done if you want. As I mentioned before, I prefer to strain mine so that it has a thicker consistency. To do this, you can use a yogurt strainer, or you can make your own using kitchen tools you probably already own. Before I bought my strainer, I stacked the steamer rack that came with my IP in a large mixing bowl. On top of that, I stacked a regular mesh strainer lined with a flour sack dish towel (you can also use cheesecloth).

Then just pour the yogurt in and let it drain in the refrigerator overnight.



That’s it, you’re done! You now have plain, simple, homemade yogurt. You can use this as a base for mayonnaise, salad dressings, or smoothies. Or you can use sugar, maple syrup, fruits, jams, or other sweeteners of choice to flavor the whole batch. Or divide the batch and make several different flavors.

Also, make sure to save the liquid you drained off your yogurt. This is whey and it can be used in protein shakes or as a buttermilk substitute in baking.

And if for some reason your yogurt turns out too thin, don’t dump it! Sweeten it and pour it into popsicle molds and make yogurt pops!

Or mix in homemade fruit and vegetable purees to make baby food. I added in some baby cereal to thicken up a thin batch that I made, and my babies ate it right up!

And loved it!!

In my next post I’ll give you some ideas on how to flavor your homemade yogurt. But it’s really up to you and your personal taste. The possibilities are endless, and the experimentation is fun!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of commission if you make a purchase through one of my links.

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Delicious and Easy Instant Pot Whole Chicken

In the days preceding and throughout Amazon Prime Day, there were a few deals on Instant Pots. Several of my friends took advantage of the sales and bought their very first IP, and I even bought a new one to replace the one I ruined by pouring chicken broth in it without the liner. Oops.

(Best mistake I ever made though, because I got the lovely Duo Plus 9-in-1 to replace my old LUX 6-in-1. The love I have for this particular IP is another story for another day, but I’ll give you a hint: yogurt.)

Since I may or may not constantly bow to the IP Gods and insist to anybody who will listen that their life is not complete without this amazing kitchen gadget, several friends have recently asked me how to use their new pretties. And honestly? I’m stumped on how to answer that question. I don’t know…you put stuff in it and turn it on. It really is that simple. Aside from looking up a chart on how long to cook different meats, I’ve never really followed recipes while using it. Instead, I tend to just grab meat from the fridge or freezer, throw it in with some water, sprinkle it with some seasonings, and turn it on.

But many people find the Instant Pot to be intimidating at first (I did too!). When they ask for directions, they want something more specific than, “throw shit in and turn it on.” So in the interest of helping out some friends, I decided to write down a few tried and true recipes. The first one is this yummy chicken. I like to cook a whole chicken, then shred and freeze the meat in 2 cup portions for later use in salads, quesadillas, or lunches for my babies (they love to eat plain shredded chicken).

So the first thing you’re going to do is heat 2 tbsp coconut oil in your IP on the Sauté setting.
I buy coconut oil in bulk for cheap at Costco, but you can get it anywhere.

Meanwhile, mix together 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp ground thyme,  1 tsp sea salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a small bowl.


Then rub your spice mix all over the chicken. Use it all up!


Place the chicken in your IP, breast side down, and sauté for 3 minutes. Flip it over, breast side up, and sauté for 3 more minutes.
Add 2 cups bone or vegetable stock, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, and 6 cloves minced garlic to the IP.


Lock the IP lid, set the valve to “sealing,” and use the manual function to set the timer for 25 minutes. When it’s done, allow the pressure to release naturally. In just 36 minutes, you have a delicious chicken that you can serve exactly as it is, or shred it off the bone and make several meals with it. I’ve found that shredded chicken goes much further, since you can mix it in casseroles or salads. However you choose to eat it, save the the bones! After dinner, don’t bother washing your IP liner. Instead, throw the bones in it, fill it up with water, and use the slow cook feature to let it simmer all night. In the morning, voila: chicken stock! Freeze it in 2 cup increments for later use. My family of five can usually get 3-4 dinners and approximately 16 cups of stock out of a $6 chicken.

If you’re new to the Instant Pot world, I highly recommend joining the Instant Pot Community on Facebook. You can search the group, or ask any questions you may have.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of commission if you make a purchase through one of my links.

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The month we decided not to spend any money.

Y’all, I need to clean out my pantries. I need to clean out my refrigerators. And I need to clean out my freezers. All of them! I have 2 pantries, 2 refrigerators, and 4 freezers. And they’re all a mess! I love the extra storage space because I like to stock up on good deals and I like to make meals ahead and freeze them. But mostly I like to be able to just open the door and see exactly what I have. I can’t do that if everything is squished together in a small space.

My shame. And this is only one of them!

But it’s to the point in all of my food storage locations that I’ve become a little overwhelmed. The more overwhelmed I get, the more I tend to just open a door and throw stuff in. Then it becomes more of a mess, and I throw more things, and buy things we already have because I can’t find them or forgot we had them in the first place.

It’s a terrible cycle.

So it’s time to clean them all out. I don’t want to throw things away, so I decided we just won’t spend any money on (most) grocery items during the month of July.

Hmmm…

And then I took that a step further in my mind and decided…

No eating out during the month of July!

And then, like I do with most things, I ran with it…

No spending money during the month of July!

We’ll be bleeding extra money in August for back-to-school supplies, new shoes, and clothes. So why not take a month to reel it all in? It’s more than a cleaning binge…it’s a challenge! And I like a good challenge.

The rules I’ve set for my family for July are simple:

  • No eating out.
  • Extremely limited grocery trips.
  • No Amazon purchases.
  • No new clothes.
  • No unplanned outings that cost money.

Because I don’t want to quit this challenge by July 3rd, I did list a few exceptions for things that are okay to purchase:

  • Monthly bills. Obviously.
  • Fresh produce and other grocery necessities that will spoil, such as milk.
  • Gas for the cars and lawn mower.
  • Wine
  • 4th of July Fireworks: J can spend $10 on fireworks of his choice.
  • Medical, auto, or household emergencies.
  • Insanely good stock-up deals that I know, without a doubt, we’ll use up in less than 2 weeks that we’ve been waiting for sale prices on. This includes things like baby food pouches, yogurt, and school supplies. Everything else waits.
  • Events already planned on our calendar. For instance, we’ve planned a 1-day road trip to Botanical Gardens to see their very cool dinosaur exhibit. This will require some eating out and expenditures there. However, I’m going to pack our meals for the most part.

All these rules!! But here is my list of potential benefits:

  • Clean and organized pantries, etc.
  • A little extra money in the bank
  • New spending habits, since this will probably help us identify unnecessary money leaks.
  • We’ll find more things locally that we can do with the kids for free.
  • More space to pile more stuff in my clean pantries!!

I’ll be updating throughout the month, but check back in August for a final report on how this goes. Or if you want to, play along with me. I’d love to have some friends to play with, encourage me, and hold me accountable!

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What’s up with all the Mansplaining, fellas?

This morning I cooked omelets in my waffle maker, something I’ve done many times successfully in the past.
It makes a great finger food for the babies, and the whole family enjoys them.
After realizing how many different things I could cook in a waffle maker, I decided I wanted a larger one with removable plates. I used it this morning for the first time and things went terribly wrong. For reasons I still can’t figure out, the egg mixture leaked all out of the sides and the damn thing started smoking. We (my husband and I) could smell a terrible burning smell, so I quickly unplugged it and let it cool off.
Once I was able to take the plates off, I saw the problem that caused the smoking, so I told my husband about my discovery. Our conversation went like this:
Me: Ugh, here it is. It went underneath the plates and it burned to the bottom of the plate.
Him: That’s because it’s closer to the heating coil there. So when it leaked under, it got hot faster and that makes it burn easier.
Me: Ok yeah, now I understand. Thank you for explaining that to me.
Him: No problem.
Me: I’ll probably forget that piece of knowledge in just a few minutes though, when it slides out of my vagina.
Him: (blank stare)
He truly has no idea why this annoys me so much, to be explained to. And I have to say, I hate the term “mansplain” because it’s been so overused. And I don’t like directing such a derogatory term toward a man I love, and whom I know to be respectful of all people. But I guess I’m just going to have to be part of the problem here because at least there’s finally a term out there that explains why I want to throw shit every time he states the obvious to me.
Guys, it doesn’t have to be purposeful. Sometimes you’re sexist as hell without meaning to be. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but can you please just acknowledge it?

The best part is, as I’m writing this, suggested “tags” are popping up for me to choose from. The first tag is Donald Trump. Hmm.

Maybe somebody can explain that to me?

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Smart Ways to Save Money on Amazon

I’ve always been a bargain hunter; I admit to getting a little high when I find a great deal. But since I decided to stay at home with my kids while they’re little, it’s become a matter of necessity to budget. Not only have I managed to cut our grocery bill by more than 50% by planning our meals around sales, stacking multiple coupons on sale items, shopping discount stores, and making more of my own stuff (find a few of my favorites here, here, and here), but I’ve also learned how to find great deals for items for the kids and other household necessities by watching for price drops and stacking coupons on other deals over at Amazon.

I love sharing the deals I find! It allows me to shop vicariously, which is great, but I also genuinely love to help people find good deals! You can join my Facebook group here and follow my page here if you want to see what I share. But I also want to give you some tools to help you find specific deals you may be searching for.

Get yourself a Prime membership if you haven’t already.

It’s worth noting that if you’re looking to save money by using Amazon, I am making the assumption that you are a Prime member. If you’re not, you’re really not going to be able to take full advantage of these deals. The free 2-day shipping alone makes up for the cost of the membership if you do a lot of your purchasing online. But a Prime membership also offers early access to Lightning Deals, free video and music streaming, free photo storage, access to Prime Rewards (get 5% cash back with the Amazon Prime Visa or 2% back using your debit card), Subscribe & Save discounts with a free membership to Amazon Family (get 20% off diapers!!), and lots more.

Learn how to take advantage of the subscribe & save feature.

Once you’re a Prime member, check out my Subscribe & Save tutorial. It may seem a little daunting in the beginning, but once you have an understanding of how you can stack the coupons and discounts each month without committing to a monthly delivery, it’s very easy.

Know when and where to find the best deals.

Amazon offers daily deals with their Deal of the Day and Lightning Deal programs. But it’s important to note that, just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. I’ve especially noticed this to be true with Lightning Deals. Many prices are incredibly over-inflated prior to the sale, so make sure to compare prices before buying. I like to use Honey to view recent pricing trends (and I also find coupon codes and deals for other stores there too, so it’s worth a look!). Also, make sure to check the product reviews, make sure the reviews are natural, and check the seller reviews if it’s a third party seller.

Always check out Amazon Warehouse deals and Third Party prices before making a purchase.

Warehouse Deals are a great way to get deep discounts on refurbished or open box items. I’ve purchased here several times and never received a bad product. You can also find 3rd party prices on item listings and they’re often less than the original price. In this case, just check the condition of the item, check the seller reviews, and take note of the additional shipping costs.

Check for Coupons.

Just like when you’re shopping, make sure to use coupons when they’re available. Amazon offers lots of coupon deals and they have them divided up into easy to search categories. They’re also usually available on the individual listings, so just don’t forget to claim them!

Take the work out of it by following my Facebook page.

If you’re searching for baby and kid deals, cosmetics, clothing, shoes, and household items, I post several deals almost daily and I’m happy to share them with you. Follow my page, Fabulous Deals & Cool Stuff for Parents, to take the work out of deal-hunting!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small percentage of commission if you make a purchase through one of my links.

Summertime Kind of Carefree

When we announced that we were having twins, some people who love me, and who I love, expressed some concern for how I might handle the chaos.

Those who know me well know that I like things to be predictable and orderly. They’re not wrong about that. But it hurt my feelings that they doubted my ability to bend. Because what I know about me is that I have a damn lot of grit and I wanted more than anything to embrace the chaos that is children…even if that chaos makes me want to vacuum a little more often.

Now that I’m more than 1 year into this whole Mom of Three thing, I can unequivocally say that the best thing about having twins, or maybe even just having more than one kid, is realizing that I don’t know all the things I thought I knew about this mom thing. And, surprisingly, this makes me feel like maybe I’m getting it right.

I was much more tightly wound when I had just one kid to focus on. And he’s turned out okay. So far…

My kids are happy and alive. What else can I really hope for? I mean, besides college scholarships?

My new Mom Goal is to be the Summertime kind of Carefree more often than not. What’s your Mom Goal?

Photo images credited to Whitney C. Photography.

A Whole Hand

When did this happen? I mean, obviously I know when it happened. About 2 months ago, actually. But I’m just now looking through photos and came across this.

My baby is five. Five. He’s a whole hand, y’all. That’s a big deal around here.

He hasn’t been a baby, or even a toddler, for quite some time. Somewhere deep down, I’ve realized that. But when did THIS happen? When I wasn’t looking (and let’s face it, I’ve been distracted this last year with infant twins, so there were a lot of times when I wasn’t looking), he grew up on me.

And I know there will be many more of these moments when I look at one of my babies and wonder when the hell he grew into a man. But there’s something about 5 that feels so BIG. So GROWN. Like, I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow and he’ll be off to college. Which is a damn shame, really, because I still have no idea how he’s going to pay for that.

Good luck, little buddy. I love you bigger than the whole world.

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Spaghetti Baby Bites

This was an absolute favorite with my oldest, and it remains a favorite with my twins. I don’t know what it is about tomato sauce, but kids will eat anything when it’s covered in it! Here’s how I do it, but you can add any vegetables you want.

Cook 1 pound of ground beef in a large stockpot. Drain it, rinse it, and it return to the pot.

While it’s cooking, prepare 2 cups ditalini pasta according to package directions. I’ve also used stars, alphabets, or mini elbows (elbows aren’t my favorites though).

Add 1 small chopped squash, 1 cup diced onion, 1 small diced carrot, and 1 clove minced garlic to the meat pot.

Mix well and sauté for about 5 minutes.

Stir in 4 cups bone stock and 6 ounces unsalted tomato paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in cooked pasta, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 tablespoon dried basil. Or use fresh basil if you have it! Yum!

That’s it! It’s super easy and makes about 24 servings. I freeze them in muffin pans, pop them out once frozen, and store them in freezer bags. It’s always handy to have a lunch waiting for you in the freezer.

And I’m telling you, these are seriously kid approved.

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!

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