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!

KITCHEN PROGRESS: Demolition and Appliance Shopping!

Kitchen Before

This post is sponsored by The Home Depot.

You guys! My life! It’s all feeling about as chaotic as our kitchen looks. Some friends just shake their heads at me and smile. They don’t smile for too long or I might rope them into helping, though! (By the way, I’m always accepting helping hands!) I wanted to update you all with where we’re at on the kitchen project. And first let me just say that Chip Gaines has tricked me into thinking there is such a thing as “Demo Day.” Ahem, we had a couple of Demo Weeks at our house, but I guess that might have something to do with the fact that our demo team consisted of just me and Phil, until my dad came home from a business trip and was able to help me with the cabinets. Oh, the cabinets. More on that when I talk about our range choices!

So Phil and I put on long pants, long sleeves, and safety glass, using all of our free time (and then some) to do as much demo as possible. I spent a couple of days removing carpet, padding, tack strips, and staples while Phil was at work and the girls played in their play room (which only resulted in disaster once), and later we ended up having to call friends to help haul out large cabinets. In the end, the trickiest part of demo was all the ceramic tile!

Tile Demo

We summoned all of our strength and elbow grease as Phil and I blasted dance music and ripped up the ceramic tile. I decided to rent a Waste Management Bagster, and we used a regular dumpster/trash can on wheels to haul the broken tile out of the house and into the Bagster on our driveway. Phil went out with the sledge hammer and cracked the tile. I used a hammer and chizel to get up any larger pieces that were sticking, and then I shoveled it all into the dumpster with a flat shovel. Talk about a great oblique workout! All of that lifting and twisting! Where’s my six-pack?!

We were able to get up most all of the tile in a couple of days, and took care of the smaller, stuck-on bits the next week before our contractor came. In fact, the contractors are at the house right now! I hired my friend Mark McGuire and his crew to come build a pantry in our kitchen (see floorplans below to see where the new pantry closet will be), a step out into the living room (also seen in floor plan changes), and to even out some subfloor level discrepancies on the first floor, so we can lay the wood floor throughout. By the way, if anyone in Northeast Ohio needs a trustworthy and affordable team for home reno projects, PLEASE contact me, and I’ll share my contact. He doesn’t have a website, or I’d link it up here.

This week we also had our countertops measured for Corian counters I had ordered through Home Depot, so I’d better get to painting the lower cabinets before the counters are ready to be installed! I’ll share more about the countertops, sink, and faucet later. But I must say, if you didn’t see a particular Instagram story this week, you’ll be surprised at something special I’m doing for our sink area! So exciting! Can’t wait to share it in more detail.

So now most of our demo is complete— we just have to grind up a bit of stuck-on mastic in the kitchen and hallway areas to prep for laying flooring. I’ll share another progress photo soon once my cabinets are back in place, but rest assured, drywall is back up in our kitchen, and that fluorescent light box is coming down ASAP. The next step in here is to place cabinets and saw off the back ledge of the island as well as remove the island countertop. (We’re putting in a butcher block countertop from Lumber Liquidators that we don’t even have to cut to fit!)

Kitchen Renovation

kitchen rendering

Can you see the demo picture and imagine how it will look afterwards? No? Well, let me paint you a picture. No, really. I literally painted a picture for you in case you can’t imagine it. I’ll agree that it looks a little scary right now, sure, but as with any exciting home renovation project, things must get way worse before they can get better!

But for now, let’s talk about appliances! I’ll share more about my budget (and even share a copy of my budget sheet for our renovations) next week, but I wanted to go over my thought process about appliances. I had wanted to reuse as much of my appliances as possible, but our range was electric (I’ve been spoiled by gas and can’t go back), the dishwasher’s display panel is broken, and our fridge is too deep for its location (plus it opens the wrong way— ha!), so we decided to just go ahead and replace it all. Yikes! I have the opportunity to work with Home Depot for our appliances, so I’ve been obsessively looking at all appliance options online and reading reviews until I fall asleep at night. This is all very daunting, and very exciting for me. I’ve never purchased nice, new appliances before. It’s a true delight.

home depot counter-depth refrigerators

You can see in my renderings that I’m planning on building a shelving system on the wall opposite of my kitchen window, and the shelves will go up against my refrigerator. I had considered incorporating the fridge into the shelving system, building wood shelves above it. But I’m really drawn to the idea of building a white case around the refrigerator and up to the ceiling to make it look built in, adding plain white doors to the area on top of the fridge to look something like this kitchen. Then the wooden shelves will butt up against the white built-in fridge area, the shelving then taking all of the visual attention, allowing the utilitarian appliance to fade into the background. What do you think?

If I decide to go with this built-in-and-fade-away look for the fridge, I definitely want a white fridge. If I want to incorporate the fridge into the wood shelving, I’m thinking stainless steel would be a nice finish choice, so it doesn’t seem too conspicuous— a white blob in the middle of warm, wood shelves. I just need to decide which look I want. Which do you think would be better?

As far as refrigerator form and function goes, I’m really drawn to the sleek doors with no ice/water on the front. Plus it has less opportunity for mechanical issues. We will eventually instal a reverse osmosis water system with a tap by the sink, so the water feature in the fridge may be redundant. I am worried about the upkeep of stainless steel (Fingerprint City!), but would white handles be hard to keep clean too? My favorite fridge I’ve seen, in looks alone, is choice number three above. It looks sleek, could fade nicely into the background, and I really love the pop of steel with those handles. Plus, from my friends who are in the biz, they say KitchenAid refrigerators are trustworthy appliances. That’s what I like to hear!

Option One / Option Two / Option Three

*Prices good through 7/12 at Home Depot stores.

home depot ranges

If you haven’t read my initial planning post for the kitchen, you may not know that we plan to reuse all of the lower cabinets, but rearrange them to make more space in the eat-in-kitchen area (which we will use at our main dining space), as well as to extend the island top to make that our eat-in-kitchen spot. This requires moving the oven to a different wall, which was actually kinda nice because before I thought the hood vent would compete, visually-speaking, with the kitchen window.

Another issue (besides needing to move the oven) with our plan to rearrange the cabinets was that after rearranging we had an 8″ gap on the wall where the oven would be. I knew this would be an issue, because I laid it all out on AutoCAD before we got started. (Thanks, design degree! Ha!) We considered our options and were thinking about building an 8″ cabinet with a pull-out spice rack situation. But we would have had to buy routers to make paneled doors to match the others, and my head was hurting just thinking about doing that in the midst of all of my other projects. Dilemma, dilemma!

I’ve always wanted a larger stove with 6 burners, but have always balked at the prices. However, we want this place to be our forever home, and plan to host lots of gatherings here. Should we just spring for the larger range? It would save us the trouble of building that 8″ cabinet, and also would make out countertops be less expensive, as we’d have less countertop area to cover. What do you think?

On the conservative side, I like the idea of having a white double-oven range that will fit in nicely with our white cabinets, but I really don’t like the way the back/top sticks up in the lower end models. Slide-in ranges are more expensive, but look so much more sleek and really impact the feel of a kitchen. I definitely would feel like I’m settling if I didn’t get a slide-in unit. Ah, so many decisions to make!

Option One / Option Two / Option Three

As far as dishwashers go, I’m less particular. I’ll probably just select something that is well reviewed and matches the look of my oven and/or fridge selection. I’m very excited to share this whole process with you! My flooring came in today and I laid all of the boxes into the house to acclimate before we begin installing it next week. Things are coming along! Woo hoo!

I acknowledge that The Home Depot is partnering with me to participate in the promotional program for appliances. As a part of the program, I am receiving compensation in the form of products and services, for the purpose of promoting The Home Depot. All expressed opinions and experiences are my own words. My post complies with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Ethics Code and applicable Federal Trade Commission guidelines.

How to Create an Idyllic Childhood Summer

Radio Flyer Giveaway

When I think about my childhood summers, I think about never-ending games of Capture the Flag, sharing swiftly melting popsicles with the neighbors, catching lightning bugs in a jar with holes poked in the lid (did that even help those poor things?), solo bike rides around the neighborhood with no hands on the handlebars, discovering creepy earwigs crawling on my sleeping bag during campouts on the back porch, chlorine-crusted hair that still smelled of campfires in the morning, watching neighborhood pick-up baseball games from the roof of my dad’s Oldsmobile Cutlass. I know my memories are colored with the nostalgia of an idyllic childhood, but I can’t help but mourn the loss of a carefree childhood that perhaps my children will never enjoy.

Gone are the days when parents simply tell their children to “go play outside and be home by dinnertime.” I am old enough to remember hearing all of the neighborhood moms calling their children to come home for dinner. But that will never be me. I feel like if my kids are outdoors, it’s my duty to vigilantly watch their every move, maybe not hovering, but certainly engaging with them and looking out for their safety. It stresses me out to the point where they don’t tend to go outside as much as they probably should. But I worry about child abductors, broken legs, stray balls begging to be caught, and heck, even bee stings.

Did my parents think about those parental concerns as much as I do now? Maybe they did, but perhaps they felt safe enough, knowing their neighbors well enough that they felt comfortable giving us a little more independence each Summer. Either way, I lived for those hot, carefree days, and I often wonder if my children will be able to experience a similar childhood. Lately I’ve thought maybe I should just let go of the pressure to recreate something similar for them. After all, we live in different times.

Radio Flyer Giveaway

Now that Phil and I are using most of our spare moments to renovate our new house, I worry even more that my children are missing out on some kind of idyllic image of what I want their childhood to be. Maybe I’m too worried about personal productivity and my children’s safety, and therefore am missing out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as a mom. Am I being too hard on myself? It’s not as if I have them plopped in front of the tv while I mindlessly scroll through apps on my phone. But I do try to be aware of how we spend these days of their childhood, as fleeting as they may be.

My own parents worked on home renovations during much of my childhood, and my dad was always building furniture in his garage workshop. (Now you know where I get it from, eh?) But I don’t remember missing out on fun family experiences. Did they purposefully set aside time to put down the hammer and power drill to get out and bond as a family? I’m pretty sure the answer is yes! How else would I have such great memories with my family as a kid?

I know that I’ll never be comfortable just telling my kids to “go outside and play,” unless I can see them easily from where I sit or work, but that doesn’t mean my kids won’t have special memories of Summers as I did. It just requires a little more planning, I think. And hey, I like planning, so I’m pretty confident I’m up to the task!

Recently I made a list of all of those things I mentioned earlier that made my childhood summers feel magical, and I realized I don’t actually need an idyllic Pleasantville-style neighborhood to make any of them happen. They just require making space in our lives, which means knowing when to quit working on house projects so we can spend time with our kids, without phones or other distractions.

Idyllic Childhood Summer

So what does our Idyllic Childhood Summer list look like? It’s not a list to make me feel stressed about completing it or failing as a mom, but it gives us some fun ideas of things to do together as a family, building our relationships with our kids and gifting them with memories that I hope they’ll always cherish. And if we don’t get around to everything this summer, hey! There’s always next year, right?

  1. Help Lucy learn how to ride a bike
  2. Have as many picnic dinners as possible
  3. Go berry picking
  4. Take the kids to the beach
  5. Catch lightning bugs
  6. Enjoy a campfire and make s’mores with friends
  7. Go to the fair and let Lucy go on as many rides as she wants
  8. Make popsicles to share with friends (Did that already!)
  9. Go camping with friends (probably will just be in one of our yards!)
  10. See fireworks
  11. Pool days
  12. Play dates at the park

Idyllic Childhood Summer

Radio Flyer Giveaway

Idyllic Childhood Summer

We recently got Lucy a Radio Flyer balance bike to help her gain confidence riding a bike without needing training wheels. It’s been difficult to motivate her to try something more challenging than a trike, but The Radio Flyer travel agency has given us some fun ideas to motivate her to get outside and learn to ride, engaging her creativity as we imagine fun destinations she can get to from within the comfort of our neighborhood park! But only on her Radio Flyer balance bike. :)

enter to win

When I think of timeless, nostalgic toys, Radio Flyer is the first brand that comes to mind. The classic children’s toy company was started in 1917 by Antonio Pasin, whose dream was to “bring joy to every boy and every girl.” Today Radio Flyer is still admired for their attention to quality and consistency in quality and design. Some things really do never change!

To celebrate their 100 anniversary, Radio Flyer is giving away one toy daily until June 30th. Check out the Stars and Stripes Giveaway and enter to win! The prize changes every day. Share your own family’s Radio Flyer adventures on Instagram and tag them with #radioflyer100 for an extra chance to win.

Idyllic Childhood Summer

Radio Flyer Giveaway

Did you have a red wagon when you were a kid? We used ours to transport supplies for fort building and other neighborhood adventures. Maybe I should add a Radio Flyer wagon to our summertime list, eh? Oh, and be sure to check out Radio Flyer on Facebook and Instagram for an extra dose of nostalgia!

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

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