Kiddo-Approved Cheesy Mac Meals

mac and cheese mix-ins

So, what’s a mom to do when she has no kitchen, four mouths to feed, and no kitchen? Lately, as we’re in the thick of our kitchen renovation, I’ve been feeling a bit like a college student again. Our home isn’t too different from my old dorm, except we have a full-size refrigerator (thank God!), but just like nineteen-year-old me, we’re still making all of our meals in the microwave, when we’re not eating fresh foods straight from the grocery store or refrigerator. We don’t have a sink, oven, range, or dishwasher, and let me tell ya— we’re all getting tired of deli sandwiches.

But I remembered something from my past that I knew my kiddos would enjoy— microwavable mac and cheese! We lived on that stuff in college. These days I have a little bit higher nutritional standards, so I decided to use Horizon Organic Cheesy Mac and add some mix-ins to transform a cup of microwavable mac into a decent, kid-approved meal.

mac and cheese mix-ins

In the good ol’ days when we had a kitchen, mac and cheese was a decadent side dish to accompany a full, well balanced meal. Now mac and cheese is the main course, I told Lucy we were going to add some things to make it more nutritious. She told me, “I am not going to like any of them! I don’t like stuff in my mac and cheese.” And like a true mom, I said, “Well, I guess you’ll just be hungry then!” (Ha! The things our parents said that we now hate ourselves for saying.) Oh well. It didn’t matter anyway, because the kids couldn’t get enough of the mac meals.

I didn’t want to be too adventurous with our mix-ins, because this was the first time they’d had anything extra in Lucy and Juniper’s mac and cheese, and I didn’t want to blow the whole thing with one wrong move. So I played it save and mimicked the flavors from meals I knew the kiddos already enjoyed.

Because we don’t have a kitchen, I had to prepare these mix-ins at my mom’s house. I then portions out the prepped ingredients into freezer bags for easy reuse at our kitchenless house. Hanging out at mom’s gave me a great chance to catch up on laundry too. (6 loads done in one day, baby!)

After microwaving each bowl of Horizon Organic Cheesy mac, there was still plenty of room to add mix-ins. (No need to dirty another bowl! Hooray!) I stirred in the extras while the girls asked if it was time for lunch. I told them they’d have a chance to choose their favorite combination of mac and cheese as I began arranging them on the table to take pictures, but before I could finish, the girls commandeered the cups and began chowing down. Lucy’s plan to not eat “mac and cheese with stuff in it” didn’t go over so well. How easily her plan was foiled!

mac and cheese mix-ins

Now that I know they like mac and cheese with mix-ins, I’m going to add more veggies next time! Here’s what we did this time, and what I’ll add in the mix next time.

  • ITALIAN STYLE- Spicy Italian sausage with diced green peppers. I had meant to include red peppers too, but I forgot my pepper at home! Next time I’ll add chopped spinach too.
  • TACO STYLE- Seasoned ground beef with chopped tomatoes. Next time I’ll add black beans, or whatever beans I have around.
  • POT PIE STYLE- Shredded chicken with peas. Next time I’ll add cooked carrots.
  • VEGGIE STYLE- I added chopped broccoli and riced cauliflower when microwaving the pasta. The riced cauliflower was practically invisible when added, so I added a lot of it! Next time I’ll probably make this the exact same way.

mac and cheese mix-ins

mac and cheese mix-ins

Do you like adding mix-ins to your mac and cheese? Or are you a purist? I love thinking of new flavor combinations and discovered a new favorite today— the spicy sausage with peppers. So good! We’ll probably bring back this lunch routine long after our kitchen renovation is complete.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Horizon. The opinions and text are all mine. Get more snacking and meal ideas at Horizon’s Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram pages too!

Easy Strawberry Banana Popsicles

strawberry banana popsicles

Have you made a summertime bucket list yet? Popsicle making is the perfect summer activity to put at the top of your list. It’s the perfect way to usher in the month of June, and at least here in Ohio, it’s not hot enough yet that popsicle eating becomes a race against the sun.

I partnered with Horizon Organic to create this super easy recipe that uses ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. Because these popsicles are for our kiddos, I wanted to use organic whole milk, and for bonus points, used Horizon’s milk that has DHA Omega-3 added, which supports brain health.

strawberry banana popsicles

creamy strawberry popsicles

All you really need to make these popsicles are strawberries, bananas, and milk. But adding lemon juice to the mixture will help prevent the banana content to brown as you wait for each layer of the popsicle to freeze. And if you prefer your popsicles on the sweeter side, you can certainly add honey, maple syrup, or your natural sweetener of choice. But this time of year, strawberries should be sweet enough already! And the bananas add more sweet flavor and creamy texture.

creamy strawberry popsicles

strawberry banana popsicles

Creamy Strawberry Popsicles
Yields 10
No-sugar-added popsicles that are simple to make and delicious to eat!
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Prep Time
2 hr 5 min
Prep Time
2 hr 5 min
34 calories
9 g
0 g
0 g
1 g
0 g
71 g
1 g
5 g
0 g
0 g
Nutrition Facts
Serving Size
71g
Yields
10
Amount Per Serving
Calories 34
Calories from Fat 2
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
0%
Trans Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 1mg
0%
Total Carbohydrates 9g
3%
Dietary Fiber 2g
6%
Sugars 5g
Protein 1g
Vitamin A
0%
Vitamin C
52%
Calcium
1%
Iron
1%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Ingredients
  1. 1 C Horizon Organic whole milk- divided into 3/4 and 1/4
  2. 3 C strawberries
  3. 2 small to medium bananas
  4. 2 teaspoons lemon juice (optional)
Instructions
  1. Blend the first 3/4 milk with your bananas and one cup of strawberries. Pour out 1 1/2 cup of this liquid into a measuring cup, leaving the remainder in the blender. Add the rest of the strawberries and milk to the remaining liquid, blend, and pour into another measuring cup.
  2. Fill the bottom of each popsicle mold with about 1/2 tablespoon of the darker liquid. Allow to freeze for 30 minutes. Then add a little less than 1 tablespoon of the lighter liquid, trying to make the stripes equal in size. Freeze for 30 minutes. For the next stripe, you can add a full tablespoon , but before freezing, add your popsicle sticks. Freeze for 30 minutes, then create your last stripe, and add any mix-ins you want to this last layer.
Notes
  1. Don't forget to add the popsicle sticks after the second stripe has frozen!
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calories
34
fat
0g
protein
1g
carbs
9g
more
Making Nice in the Midwest http://makingniceinthemidwest.com/
strawberry banana popsicles

I made one round of plain strawberry banana pops, and another round where the last stripe was crumbled up graham snacks with milk poured over it. Those didn’t set up in time to include in the post. But I’ll share how they turned out later!

strawberry banana popsicles

strawberry banana popsicles

The girls were unbelievably excited about their special treats, and I felt pretty good about giving these popsicles to them, as they’re a much better choice than ice cream or other sweets. We all agreed that popsicles feel special, particularly because we only eat them in the summer time.

I had fun making these popsicles look pretty with the stripes, but if you don’t want to bother going back into the kitchen to pour each stripe, these are equally as delicious when you combine all of the ingredients at once and simply pour it all into the molds. I would just recommend starting with freezing an inch of the mixture in the bottom before adding your popsicles sticks and then the rest of the liquid to freeze.

strawberry banana popsicles

strawberry banana popsicles

I think it would be so cute to make patriotic pops for the fourth of July, making one stripe with blueberries to make them red, white, and blue. They’ll be in our summer rotation, that’s for sure!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Horizon. The opinions and text are all mine. Be sure to follow Horizon on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest to get more fun ideas for summer snacking!

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.

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