Four Tricks for Preschool Lunches

Easy Toddler Lunch Ideas

Before I had children, I figured getting them to eat healthy food was as easy as never giving them anything unhealthy. But as real life has happened, I’ve learned it’s not quite so easy. Not only can it be tricky to motivate your kiddos to eat, but finding time to prepare food and to look over their shoulders while they pick at their food for two hours, prodding, nagging, and pleading them to eat? Forget about it! This is not as easy as I thought.

I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way that make lunchtime with my kiddos much easier than it used to be, and I’ve teamed up with Horizon Organics to share my ideas with you! I hope you can find some inspiration and make lunchtime an enriching experience with your kiddos.

 This might seem like a no-brainer, but I used to think creating visually stimulating food meant I needed to spend a lot of time cutting out shapes or creating little characters by combining lots of random food elements. But in reality, pretty food is as easy as making a pattern with carrots and cheese sticks, cutting fruits and veggies into simple shapes (even rectangles will do), or sure— you can do something as artistic as cutting up and combining food creatively to create animals or characters. That will certainly grab the interest of a toddler who might rather be playing with her toys.

I don’t want to lead Lucy and Juniper to expect fun and exciting shapes in their lunches every day, but when I have a couple of extra minutes, the little effort it takes to make a creative lunch usually equals a more relaxing lunchtime for me— no nagging, prodding, or bargaining needed to get them to eat their food! And my favorite new item from Horizon Organics is their shaped cheddar cheese slices (see the white cheddar on the toast above). They already come in fun shapes, so I don’t have to take the time or create any waste with leftover cheese after cutting it into shapes. Victory!

Easy Preschool Lunch Ideas

This was a recent discovery of mine. If you give something a fun name, kids are pretty likely to want to give it a try. Peanut butter covered celery sticks topped with raisins? Boring. Ants on a log? Exciting! Ham and cheese toast? Meh. Sunrise sammies? Fun! See what I mean?

Easy Toddler Lunch Ideas

What is it about little things that capture our imaginations? My kids and I love dollhouses and miniatures, so it would only stand to reason that they’d enjoy tiny versions of food as well. Mini sandwiches made with small cookie cutters, mini crackers, small packs of fruit snacks, milk from a mini carton rather than poured from a big jug— these seemingly insignificant details are sometimes enough to excite my children about their lunches. And sometimes all it takes is putting normal-sized food (like grapes or grated cheese) into a tiny cup on a big plate and the kids think it’s pretty special.

The tiny trick is great when you’re short on time. I don’t usually give the children crackers for lunch, but if we’re on the go or if I’m having a hectic day, I certainly don’t feel bad about dumping some cheese sandwich crackers and munchable veggies onto a plate and calling it done.

Easy Preschool Lunch Ideas

I discovered this trick when we were at a grocery store where they were sampling lots of food that my children wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole at home. But at the store? In those tiny cups? With those tiny weapons (toothpicks) piercing the food? Oh yeah. They were all about it. Juniper had three different kinds of salmon that day, and even asked for more. It’s the toothpicks and the tiny cups, I tell ya!

The catch with this one is the skewers. Lucy couldn’t handle this all the time. She began to just play with the toothpicks and become too distracted to actually eat the food, and I found it stressful to make sure she wasn’t poking her eye out. Also, if you’re relying on the toothpick to hold the food together (like ham and cheese roll-ups sliced into sections), your kiddo might pull out all the toothpicks and refuse to eat the pile of unrolled food that’s left on the plate. (Been there. So frustrating.) But when you know your kid can probably handle it, this toothpick trick is a real winner!

Easy Toddler Lunch Ideas

I used to try to let Lucy sit in front of the television while eating a simple and not-too-messy lunch so I could grab some time to get work done. But when we were both distracted, she would sometimes drop food on the floor, or just not eat at all, and it really drew out what should’ve taken 30 minutes into a process that easily took over an hour to finish. This is exactly what I’m trying to avoid— two hour mealtimes! Yikes.

I also began to consider the patterns that eating in front of the TV was setting in her life— distracted eating, not paying attention to hunger cues, needing snacks while watching television or relaxing…. I just didn’t feel good about it. So we quit that mess and lunchtime is much more peaceful, and actually a great time for us to connect and talk about things that are fun or important.

Easy Preschool Lunch Ideas

Lunchtime doesn’t need to be fun or exciting, but I’ve found that thinking about ways to enrich this time with my kiddos has not only helped them eat their food, but it’s brought us closer together and made me grow as a mom!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Horizon Organic. The opinions and text are all mine.

We’re Buying a House!

Mandi Makes a New Home

You guys! Something absolutely crazy is happening in my life. On Saturday, April 1st (yes, April Fool’s Day), I asked Phil if he wanted to go to an open house for an amazing 1970s house I found on Zillow that had a CONVERSATION PIT in the living room! He said, “Sure!” We talked about how fun it would be to move, how ready we were, and how we should probably start getting our house ready to sell. Not that this ’70s house would be “the one.” But you know, this was a fun idea, and it made us realize we should probably gear up to sell our house and move on to the next adventure.

Fast forward to the next day, we attended the open house and fell in love. Should’ve seen it comin’. We wanted to put an offer in, and we were even pre-approved for a mortgage to do so. But we decided this was financially stupid, seeing as how we weren’t even close to being ready to put our house on the market. Two mortgages? Yeah, no.

So, I got on Instagram, shared the day through live videos, and then ended the day telling you all that we were going to put our house on the market in two weeks. Maybe we could get it on the market in time to put an offer in on that amazing ’70s house! Crazy, right?! But something even crazier happened the next day.

A friend of mine texted me to tell me he knew someone interested in our house. I let her see it that evening, and she was very interested. And Phil and I were very excited. That week, I barely slept. I worked on our house night and day, preparing it to sell. I wanted to move, and I wanted to move badly. Well, six days later we entered into contract with the absolute perfect buyer for our home, and had been crushed to find out our dream home was already in contract as well. Wow, what a whirlwind! I had been emotionally to the moon and back (and then back to the moon?) and while I was sad to have missed out on what I knew would’ve been an amazing house, I was excited about taking our time to find a new house, as we saved money while living with our parents while we waited. How many months would it take? We didn’t know. The thought of waiting and not knowing if or when to settle made me very stir crazy. Would we ever find what we wanted and in our budget?!

Mandi Makes a New Home

But then I found the above images on Zillow for a house I had scrolled past countless times— its lead image showed a boring looking home which lacked curb appeal— nothing about its exterior photos that would lead me to think this could be “the one.” I remember (because it wasn’t that long ago— ha!) clicking through the photos thinking, “Hmmm… I could work with that!” And Phil said, “You could work with that, but do you really love it? Is it really ‘the one’?” I said, “No, probably not.” But I made an appointment to see it the next day anyway. And wow— it was so perfect for us!

We had made a list of qualifications for our dream home, but figured we’d not be able to find a place that met all the criteria. At least, not in our price point. Still, we needed to start somewhere. So here’s what we put on our list:

An entryway separate from the rest of the house, a large kitchen open to a dining area big enough for my heirloom farmhouse table, a private office for Phil big enough for a sofa and chairs for his mentoring and Bible studies, an office for me that was big enough to work on all of my crafts and projects, a large great room with high ceilings, a basement with potential for finishing down the road, a room the kids could call their own (to house most of their toys), three bedrooms, two baths, a two car garage, a decent yard, not on a busy road, in a nice neighborhood, and a house that was asking for cosmetic upgrades, but didn’t need big renovation done. WHEW! What a list, right? And did I mention, our budget was around 175k? Ha!

Well, what would you know, we sold our house and found that exact house (that met all of our criteria and then some— partially finished basement, 3 and a half baths, and a three car garage) and got it for the exact price we were hoping for! We are basically in shock. So much is changing so quickly, and my far off house dreams are coming true in such a short amount of time. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and find out this was all a really fun dream. (Please don’t pinch me.)

Mandi Makes a New Home

If all goes according to plan (we trust God that it will), we’ll be  closing on our new house at the beginning of June and will be starting renovations on the first floor immediately. We are ripping out all of the flooring material, removing much of the cabinetry in the kitchen, rearranging the cabinetry to move the oven to a different wall, and oh, so much more! Check out my video tour of the house on my Facebook page here, and see my inspiration images for the house below. So excited to share this entire crazy journey with you guys!

click images to see where I found each one

white living room earthy accents

Floating shelving around floor to ceiling fireplace

Open Pantry System

california modern

velvet banquette

gray lower cabinets, white and gray subway tile

neutral kitchen with floating shelves

Crock Pot // Stuffed Peppers with Turkey + Quinoa

Sharing delicious food with your family is easy, but finding healthy recipes that are easy to make and enjoyed by all is a bit more challenging! I have learned a few tricks lately that make cooking healthy meals easier for me, with minimal prep work and cook time on my end. This turkey, kale, and quinoa stuffed peppers recipe has proved to be one of the easiest to throw together. What’s the trick?

I like to buy ground turkey in bulk when it’s on sale, brown it the same day, then store one pound increments in storage bags in my freezer. That’s step one to making all of my ground turkey recipes easier. Step two? When I mix up the stuffing for these peppers, I will mix at least a double batch, and sometimes a triple batch. While it’s fresh, I’ll use enough for one batch (about 5 peppers), then freeze the rest, making the next time I prepare stuffed peppers as easy as thawing the stuffing and cutting the peppers. Add in the crock pot factor and this recipe is a breeze— cooking away on my counter while I go about my day, not worrying about needing to start dinner. And these are the days I feel like I’m winning at life.

Turkey Quinoa Stuffed Peppers - slow cooker or oven

This stuffed pepper recipe also has me feeling like a boss because it just tastes really, really good. My kids eat it, my husband delights in it, and I am positively gleeful about the nutritional content. It’s definitely a recipe in frequent rotation at our house! I hope you like it as much as we do.

Turkey turkey kale and quinoa stuffed peppersQuinoa Stuffed Peppers - crock pot or oven

Turkey, Quinoa, and Kale Stuffed Peppers
Yields 5
These hearty, flavorful, and nutritious peppers are sure to become a regular at your table!
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
5 hr
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
5 hr
Ingredients
  1. 5 peppers (color is up to you
  2. 1 pound ground turkey
  3. 1 small onion, diced
  4. 5 garlic cloves, minced28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  5. 1/2 cup rinsed quinoa (I used a mix of colors)
  6. 3 cups of chopped kale
  7. 1 tablespoon of Italian season or 1 tablespoon of taco seasoning, depending on your mood!
Instructions
  1. Prepare the peppers by slicing off the tops and removing the seeds and rib of the insides. Set them aside, keeping the lids with their corresponding pepper.
  2. Brown the ground turkey and diced onion in a large non-stick skillet, draining the fat off the meat once it has been cooked through. Add the garlic and brown for about a minute before adding the remaining ingredients. Once ingredients are combined, gradually add the chopped kale, stirring to incorporate the leaves as they wilt with the heat.Once they kale has wilted just a bit, spoon the stuffing into the hollow peppers, top with their lids, and place into your crock pot or baking pan.
  3. Cook on low for 4 hours in a crock pot, or bake at 350 degrees in a covered baking pan for 1-2 hours, depending on how tender you prefer your peppers.
Making Nice in the Midwest http://makingniceinthemidwest.com/
turkey kale and quinoa stuffed peppers

Turkey Quinoa Stuffed Peppers - slow cooker or oven
My family doesn’t typically use quinoa as a substitute for rice, as it’s too fine to hold onto a fork or chopsticks like rice does, and it just doesn’t have the same bite and texture. But I believe this is the perfect recipe for using quinoa as a rice substitute, because it clings nicely to the tomato and meat texture, enhancing the hearty and meaty qualities you would crave in stuffed peppers. Why quinoa instead of rice? For me it’s about the added protein. I’m all about that muscle mass, yo!

After my peppers cook, I like to top them with a sprinkle of cheese and fresh herbs, depending on what I have on hand. This time it was grated parmesan and fresh parsley. So delicious!

Turkey Quinoa Stuffed Peppers - crock pot or oven

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