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Why I Don't Make School Lunches For My Kids

I often feel like being a "Mommy Blogger" lumps me into this category of being super crafty, world's best super mom, and that I should be making some super adorable and killer school lunches each day. The truth is, not all mommy bloggers are created equally, and things that bring one mother joy, may not bring the same joy to another mother. Making a school lunch each day may bring one mom joy, but it doesn't do the same for me.

Our History With School Lunches: 
When Kyle was in preschool in Georgia, he had to bring a lunch everyday, and that was often a very frantic and stressful part of my morning. I'd often throw in a juice box, string cheese, and anything else that came in a package and just called it good. 

Then when we moved to Utah, Kindergarten was only 2 1/2 hours, and Kyle at lunch at home, so I was off the hook with making school lunches again.

Then first grade came and I was making lunches in the pictured above lunchbox. Kyle almost never ate all of his food, and it felt like a huge waste of my time (and money) for things he wasn't eating.

I also feel like there is a lot of value in doing things that bring you joy. You wouldn't keep a picture hanging on your wall if it didn't bring you joy, or add value to your life... school lunch making wasn't bringing me joy and there were better options, so I Marie Kondo-ed it out of my life.

The Cost of School Lunch:
First and foremost, money brings me joy. If making school lunches everyday was going to be a huge money saver for me, then I would for sure do it. That being said, school lunch at our school only costs me $1.85 per day, or $9.25 per week. This gives Kyle the option of having a hot lunch with a fruit and veggie, and a milk each day. If he doesn't like that option he can have a PBJ with a string cheese, a fruit and veggie, and a milk.

As an experiment for this post, I went to Walmart's grocery website and put in bread, PBJ, carrots, string cheese, veggie straws, applesauce, and chocolate milk. Just to have enough of that on hand for a week of school lunches would cost me $25. I can pay the school $9.25 to feed my kid the same exact food (or better varieties if he actually chooses them) for less than half the cost.

But... Cafeteria Food...
I know when a lot of people think of school lunches, they think about when all the school lunch reform that happened a few years ago where it was said that ketchup counted as a serving of vegetables. Hearing that on the news would turn off any parent, and I was hesitant at first as well.

Then I actually went onto our school's website to look at the menu and was shocked when I saw interesting entrees, and a huge plethora of fruits and vegetable options. This wasn't the same "ketchup for vegetables" school lunch that I had imagined in my mind. I also love that if my child doesn't want to eat the hot lunch option, he can choose from a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables, and a sandwich and string cheese instead (which is his #1 go-to option!) Below is a sample menu from our school's website, and all the alternative options. I also love that I can click on the entree options on the school website and see a picture of what the food actually looks like, with all the nutritional information so that I know exactly what my kid is eating each day.

A Teaching Opportunity:
One aspect of school lunch I really love is the teaching opportunity that it provides. One day Kyle is going to leave my home and I won't be making every single one of his meals anymore. I love that this puts the power in his hands to take the things that he's learned at home, and make good food choices in an environment where the stakes are low. 

Everyday when Kyle gets in the car, the first conversation is usually about what he had for lunch. For the most part, I'm pretty impressed with the selection of food that he's eaten. There have been moments where he's told me that he's had a chocolate chip cookie, a chocolate muffin, and a chocolate milk all in one sitting and we discussed that maybe he should only have one treat... but other than that I'm happy with the decisions he's making. 

In Conclusion:
I know that not all school districts across the nation, and likely even our state are not the same. But right now I feel like our school adequately meets my child's nutritional needs, and at a low enough cost that it takes the pressure off of me in the mornings, and gives Kyle a positive experience of picking out his lunch each day. I also realize there are families who struggle with allergies and that buying lunch is not an option for them. However, if there is another mom who feels the same way as I do about not making school lunches, than let this be your permission slip to feel just a little less guilty when you see the cute school lunches popping up on your instagram feed the next few weeks. And just like breastfeeding vs formula, #FedIsBest

The Universe Has Spoken, We're on The Right School Track

Since I last wrote about Kinsley's upcoming school situations, there has been a lot more moving parts that have happened. We're still on the right path, and we're still attending the same school I last wrote about, but there has been some additional situations with the Autism Charter School she was originally going to attend, and then just pure amazingness with her current placement, and I figured it should all be shared. 

Autism Charter School Details:
Even though we knew we weren't going to be attending this school, I didn't tell them just because I was curious to see where they were going to place her for next school year. Her IEP says that she should be placed in a middle ground kindergarten class for kids that don't have severe intellectual disabilities, but aren't quite ready for gen-ed. The school finally made assignments last week, and they placed Kinsley in the classroom for kids with severe intellectual disabilities despite what her IEP says, and the mama bear in me could not let it go. I explained to them the details of her IEP and that going against her IEP was breaking the law and that if they didn't fix her class placement (even though we had no intention of attending the school), we would be removing her enrollment and filing a complaint with the state board of education. Even though I provided them documentation from the school district saying that her IEP called for her to be in a class where she learns the general education curriculum and has inclusion opportunities with gen-ed peers, they were unwilling to back down from their placement, and so we told them to unenroll her, and we walked away. 

We will be filing a complaint with the state board of education because we aren't the first parents at this school to have this happen to them, but I certainly want to be the last. If there is anything that makes the mama bear come out of me more than anything else, it's not following an IEP. If I knew I was wrong in this situation, or felt like I was pushing for them to give Kinsley more than she was capable of, I'd fully admit it, but they just straight up wanted to place her where they wanted her, and were unwilling to follow what the IEP clearly stated, and that just isn't going to fly. This fight isn't even about Kinsley, it's about all future kids, and past kids that have gotten the short end of the stick with this administration, and I want to set the necessary change so they can't continue this in the future. 

The New School Where She Will Be Attending:
Remember how in my last post I wrote, "The truth is, I know everyone involved in special education has a hard job. I know that there is never a perfect solution that will adequately meet all the needs and desires of both the parents and the special education team, but I still deeply feel like there is a beautiful middle ground that we just haven't been able to get to yet..." I think we've finally gotten there (!!!). We met with Kinsley's new teacher today to discuss how we would like her walker used in the classroom, necessary transitions, and how to get her in and out of things, and the teacher was totally on board with the entire thing. I explained to her the situations we had in our last school with Kinsley crawling all over, the teachers not wanting to use her walker, and all the issues we had with that and she was 100% on board and motivated to get Kinsley walking in the walker, and reassured me that it would not sit in the corner collecting dust. The best part was that I truly believed her, and feel in my heart that this teacher is everything that Kinsley needs next year. 

The other incredible thing I learned is that Kinsley will be in the gen-ed classroom for 50% of her class time next year. This is beyond anything we could have ever hoped for. She'll do 50% of the learning time with the gen-ed students and then recess, and specials (music, PE, etc...) with gen-ed as well. The remaining class time she'll be in her special education classroom, which is a room with 9 other students from K-2nd grade. This is honestly the best school situation we could have ever hoped and dreamed of for Kinsley next year, and I really believe that she is going to thrive! I'm also glad that Kinsley will be in this special education classroom for three years, because her current teacher is a literal angel on earth and it feels amazing to know that we'll have her in Kinsley's corner for a good long time! 

It's so amazing to see how this entire situation has panned out. My stomach has been in knots about the dreaded Kindergarten transition since this girl left my womb, and everything has worked out so beautifully. Albeit, there were a lot of twists and turns to get her here, but I know that this was all divine intervention. We're simply pawns in a greater power's plan, and He literally moved us right where we needed to be to have the best setup possible. 

Our Favorite Amazon Home Purchases 2019

Amazon is my go-to for just about anything, but especially home items. You can find a ton of good gems on there ranging from pillow covers, furniture, and even televisions that don't break the bank. As we've moved from one home to another in the last few months, we've done lots of shuffling with pieces we've already had, and additional items that we've added to the mix. These are some of our favorites that we've curated over the years, and more recently. 

Pillow Covers: We've purchase so many pillow covers off of amazon it's not even funny. Our large ones that we have on our bed, some more on our couch, and this modern mountain printed one we have in Kyle's room have all come from Amazon. They've held up amazingly well, and we've gotten some great pillow inserts from Amazon as well. 

Buffalo Check Throw Blanket: We have this in Kyle's bedroom, and I love it so much. It's the perfect size to throw across the bottom of a queen size bed, and it adds the perfect amount of texture as well. It's perfect. 

My Nightstand: This nightstand is super modern and matches our dresser perfectly. It's survived three moves without any casualties, and it was the easiest piece of furniture to put together (just had to twist the legs into the holes!)

Our New TV: The TV Derek and I bought when we got married was super heavy, and on a super small base. After 10 moves it looked like it had scoliosis, was leaning to one side, and looked like it was going to snap off the base any day. We sold that to someone else, and replaced it with this much lighter one that was very inexpensive for a TV. We LOVE it. It's a smart TV with buttons on the remote for Hulu and Netflix. It feels like the greatest luxury in my life right now that I don't have to negotiate with Derek's playstation anytime we want to play a movie for the kids. 

White Storage Shelf: We've bought two of these in the last three years and I've loved it both times. It works perfectly to store books, toys, shoes, whatever you need, is super cheap, and fits the basic sized basics that you can buy at Target. It's also super sturdy and we've never had any issues! 

Little Gray Rope Basket: We have one of these small baskets in the kids rooms next to their beds with all of their favorite books in it, and they've been awesome for that task. You can fit several large picture books in them, or roughly 30 chapter books if you're Kyle. 

Cube Storage Baskets: We recently bought this 8 pack of baskets for our storage shelf when we moved into our new house and I've been super impressed with the quality. They're way cheaper per basket than what you'll get at Target, and a lot firmer and sturdier in my opinion! 

Steam Mop: Derek bought me this mop for Mother's Day and I'm still obsessed with it. Now that we have laminate floors in several areas of our new house, this is perfect to keep them clean without damaging them... and holy cow, it gets up way more dirt and grime than a swiffer mop ever will. 

Buffalo Check Place Mats:  I love being able to see the gorgeous wood of our dining room table, but still want to be able to protect it from being damaged by little kids. These placemats have been the perfect solution for us. They hold up super well in the wash, and we've used them daily for almost a year now. 

Stuffed Animal Storage Bean Bag: We have one of these sacks in each of the kid's rooms, and they're perfect for storing stuff animals, but also provide a functional seat as well. The kids love bringing these into the living room for movie nights, and I love that their rooms are not a complete disaster. 

Gray Weaved Throw Blanket: We've had this blanket at the foot of our bed for a couple years now, and we love it so much. It's super soft, the perfect length for a king size bed, and holds up really well in the wash! One of my favorite purchases!

Felt Letter Board: We had a different letter board from Target a few years ago, but I didn't love the look of it. We purchased this one off of Amazon and have been super happy with it. It's the perfect size and color that I wanted, and almost 1/4 the price of other ones on the market that are the same thing.  

Have you purchased something recently from Amazon that you love? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!

5 Back-To-School Hair Styles in Under 5 Minutes

I used to be awful at doing Kinsley's hair. The first three years of her life I just threw her hair in a half up half down ponytail and just called it good. Last year I had made the decision that I was going to learn how to do her hair, and it became something that I placed a priority on everyday. I learned most of my skills from watching videos on youtube from Easy Toddler Hairstyles, and once I learned the basics, it was easy for me to start doing my own thing. 

What do I use? 
I don't use a lot of supplies when I do Kinsley's hair. I simply use a spray bottle with just water, a comb, and hair elastics. This should hopefully make it simple enough that anyone can replicate these styles with things they already have on hand, or at least very inexpensively. 

How long does it take? 
I timed all these styles on my phone as I was doing them, and these can all be done in under 5 minutes. I'll leave the time stamps with the hairstyles so you know how long it took me! Sometimes for school I like to do more elaborate styles, but when we're in a rush and don't have much time, these are the ones I go to!

Criss Cross Braids (4 minutes 28 seconds)
Divide the hair into four sections and secure them with an elastic. Braid one of the top sections and then cross it over to the opposite side on the bottom, and secure with another elastic. Then braid the other top section, cross it over to the opposite side on the bottom, and secure with an elastic again. Quick and simple.

Space Buns (3 minutes 18 seconds):
Simply part the hair down the middle and secure each side into a normal pig tail. Twist the hair around your finger, and then wrap it around the base of the pigtail/hair elastic until all the hair is used and it forms a bun. Secure with an elastic, and repeat on the other side. 

French Braid to Messy Bun (5 minutes)
Do a side part in the hair, and then do another part from the back of the side part, across the head horizontally to the ear on the other side (shown below). Secure the top section of hair out of the way, and then french braid the hair on the bottom half and secure with an elastic. Once the French braid is done, take the hair in the top section and comb it back to meet the braid. Combine the hair from the top section, and the remaining tail of the French braid into a messy bun on the side of the head, and secure with an elastic. 

Messy Bun (2 minutes 15 seconds)
Comb all the hair up onto the top of the head making it as smooth as possible and secure with an elastic like you're doing a ponytail, except on the last wrap around with the elastic, only pull the hair halfway through, leaving a bun (shown below). 

Then take the left side of the bun, and the right side of the bun, and bring them up together to form a little donut bun circle. Holding the donut bun with one hand, get another elastic, and secure the donut bun in place. Pull and tighten down the bun as needed to give it it's best shape. 

Pig Tails (2 minutes 38 seconds)
This probably doesn't need an explanation, but part the hair down the middle, pin the section you're not working on off to the side, and comb and smooth one side into a ponytail. Repeat on the other side, making sure both tails are even. 

What are some of your go-to quick and easy styles? I'd love to hear in the comments below! 

How To Cook The Crispiest Fried Chicken And Waffles

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CrispyCreations #CollectiveBias #CrispiestChicken

When Derek and I lived in North Carolina, there was a super popular restaurant that everyone raved about that served fried chicken and waffles. Derek and I went with some out of town guests once, and while it did live up to they hype, it was fairly expensive, so we took it on ourselves to recreate it in the comfort of our own home.

Our Major Mistake:
I don't know how this recipe hasn't made the blog previously, but this meal has been one of our go-to meals for almost five years now. It's just that good. Learning to make good fried chicken came with a lot of trial and error though. The biggest problem being chicken that although deep fried, wasn't very crispy, and the outside breaded shell would come off in mushy strips almost as soon as it came out of the oil... not so pleasant.

The Secret Ingredient:
Turns out that the secret weapon to fix this issue was Argo® Corn Starch. Previously, we'd been using just all purpose flour, seasoned with spices. We quickly learned that if we wanted the outside of our chicken to have that incredibly light and super crispy texture that you get at restaurants, you need to incorporate Argo® Corn Starch into your mixture, as well. You can get the crispiest chicken with Argo® Corn Starch! 

Corn starch is often used as a thickening agent for sauces and soups and is commonly used in Asian cooking for stir-fries. However, when used in your batter to fry chicken, it will leave you with an audibly crunchy and beautifully browned exterior while sealing in the juices of the chicken. Argo® Corn Starch makes your fried chicken better! Just add corn starch to your batter to get the perfect crispy coating. There are many uses of Argo® Corn Starch including being a binding agent in desserts. Argo® Corn Starch is the leading corn starch brand with over 100 years of quality and trust over multiple generations.

How to Serve Your Crispiest Chicken:
Since we like to serve this as a meal with chicken and waffles, you'll need to prepare your favorite waffle recipe, and then make the chicken to go on top. Our favorite way to eat this is with a sriracha-mayo drizzled on the top. Simply do two parts mayo, mixed with one part sriracha, and stir it together. You won't be sorry!

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup Argo® Corn Starch
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups milk
1lb thin sliced boneless skinless chicken breast

Pour enough oil into a heavy bottom pot on the stove so that if fills up about 1 inch of the pot. Heat the oil until it reaches 350º. In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, add the milk.

Dip your chicken into the milk, then completely cover with the flour/cornstarch mixture. Then place it back into the milk, and then back into the flour mixture again. Repeat the process with all of your chicken.

Once you're ready to cook your chicken, using metal tongs, place your chicken into the hot oil. Allow it to cook for 10 minutes, flipping each piece halfway, or until an internal thermometer reaches 165º.

When your chicken is cooked, using your metal tongs, transfer it to a paper towel lined plate to allow the excess oil to run off, and then serve on top of waffles with a drizzle of sriracha-mayo!
Be sure to visit Argo® Corn Starch for more inspiration. 

Bear Lake Day Two| ATVs, Pools, Food and Fun

Today was our last full day in Bear Lake before we pack up and go home tomorrow. We packed a lot of fun into one short day, and the fact that the kids were both fast asleep by 7:45 tells me that they thought it was pretty great too!

We started off the day at 8:00am when everyone woke up. Derek got the kids some cereal while I headed out on a 2.5 mile run. I was a little discouraged by how slow I was going, until I got back to our cabin and remembered that the elevation was probably higher than it is back home. Sure enough, I looked it up, and we're 1,500 feet higher than we are back in Salt Lake. It's nice to be able to blame slow running on something other than me. 

After my run and everyone was done eating breakfast, we got dressed and headed out to ride an ATV. Derek and I have been wanting to do this with the kids since we first moved back to Utah, and I'm so glad we did it. This is one of the few recreational activities that we can all do together as a family, despite Kinsley's physical disabilities, and she loved it SO MUCH. It's definitely something we're going to do a lot more of in the future! 

Side note: Derek and I looked into buying our own ATV a couple years ago, and after you pay $20,000 for the ATV, buy a new vehicle that can tow the ATV, and a trailer to attach to the new vehicle to put the ATV on, it's a very expensive endeavor. We realized even if we owned one, we'd probably go six times a year max, and realized it's so much cheaper to just rent one whenever you want than to actually buy. It was $200 to rent one for two hours, which was the perfect amount of time for the kids, and if we did that 6 times a year, $1,200 would still be way cheaper than actually owning our own. Just a heads up if that information is helpful for anyone!

After we got done with our ATV ride, we had to go to the store and buy a first aid kit because Kyle's finger was literally exploding. Right before we got onto the ATV Kyle said, "Look at my finger..." It was swollen, and green (yes GREEN!), and there was so much green pus (sorry I used that word) coming out of it. We got it cleaned up enough for the ATV, but then we had to clean it out, get some antibiotics for it, and bandage it up. It was an entire ordeal. I'll spare you any pictures, but I honestly have no clue how this happened or why. Oh wait.. I do... it's because this kid nervously picks his finger skin all the time, and it finally got infected and caught up to him.

After the finger fiasco we drove up to Fish Haven, Idaho and got lunch at Cooper's. All the food in Garden City is so over priced that for the four of us to eat at a burger shack, it always comes out to about $30. Coopers was an actual nice, sit down restaurant, and we got way better food than you would get in Garden City for the same exact price. Win win situation. The kids both got spaghetti and meatballs, and only ate their meatballs and left the spaghetti. Derek got a massive burger, and I got the reuben. Everything was amazing, and the kids even got ice cream sandwiches and frisbees to go with their kid meals. 

Other side note: I've been taking the kids out to eat once a week this summer at different restaurants for lunch to teach them good table manners. It totally paid off today when we went in to eat and there wasn't a single meltdown the entire time. I highly recommend doing this at places like McDonalds or Chick Fil A where the stakes are low, so that when it's time to actually behave in a nice restaurant the expectations are already there.

Once lunch was done we were all exhausted and headed back to our cabin to take naps and rest before we went swimming. The HOA we were staying in had an awesome pool, so Derek and the kids had a blast swimming while I casually played photographer and hid in the beach chairs with a massive headache. Read: all problems in my life are due to not drinking enough water. 

When we left the pool we headed back to the cabin, gave the kids baths, made some mac n cheese and hot dogs for dinner and then sent Kyle and Kinsley to bed. Then Derek went out and got us a massive milkshake to share because our life goal is to find out who really does have the best milkshake in Bear Lake. We finally have the answer, but you'll have to wait on that for another day. 

Bear Lake Day One

Last year Derek and I took the kids on a day trip to Bear Lake. Everyone in Utah raves about it, and it's a hot destination spot for family reunions. We decided that we wanted to come back this year and stay a couple days to make a fun family trip out of it. We had invited Derek's siblings and all of their families to come, but only his parents and the siblings that are still at home were able to meet up with us for the first day of our adventures.

We started off the day by having lunch at Merlin's. It's one of the many burger joints in town that boasts about their quality raspberry shakes. Naturally we got one, and it was not only delicious, but coming up over the rim, just like a good milkshake should. 

After we ate lunch, we headed to the beach. I have a friend who has a house here in Bear Lake, and she told us the best place to go to the beach is to just drive south a few miles from Garden City on Bear Lake Boulevard. You'll see a bunch of cars pulled over on the side of the road. From there, find a spot that's not crowded with plenty of sand, and have yourself a good time. 

This wound up being such a better option than what we did last year. Previously, we'd gone to Garden City Park where they have free admission and you walk down the boardwalk to get there. It was free and fun, but the beach was super rocky, and the "sand" by the shore was super smushy and swampy. The "beach" we went to today on the south shore had plenty of sand, and no swampy ground by the water. Just the way we like it. 

After a day of building sand castles and playing in the water, Derek's family headed back to Logan for the night, and we made our way to our cabin where we grilled hot dogs, ate dinner, and sent the kids to bed. A successful day one if you ask me.