Ranch-Style Pasta

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This easy pasta salad is perfect for lunch since it’s best served chilled. Use rotini or fusilli for a fun spiral shape.

Ingredients:

  • 2 and 1/2 cups uncooked corkscrew-shaped pasta
  • 1/2 cup sliced vegan deli ham (such as Tofurky)
  • 1/2 cup cubed vegan cheddar (such as Violife)
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy ranch dressing
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain and transfer to a large bowl.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.

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Button Tap

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Mix up your toddler’s musical play with this silly D.I.Y. instrument. The buttons can be drumsticks, cymbals, or anything else your toddler imagines as you jam to favorite tunes.

To assemble, I used large two-hole buttons from the craft store and simply threaded one end of an elastic through each hole.

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Now, the two loops of the elastic stick out from the back. Slip these loops over fingers, then turn pots and pans upside-down for some classic drumming.

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Veronika didn’t actually like wearing the loops on her fingers, but she sure loved clanging the buttons against the pans.

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She also liked putting the buttons in the pan, covering with the lid, and then shaking it to make noise.

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For a slightly different version of buttons-on-pans, I hot-glued smaller buttons to the fingertips of an old garden glove.

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Now she could slip this on and tap tap tap her fingers against the metal.

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Consider this homemade instrument the next time you have a toddler sing-along over Zoom!

Wax Paper Art

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Here’s a toddler-friendly art project that’s perfect if you find yourself with a handful of colorful leaves after a fall walk!

To start, I mixed together a little white glue with different colors of tempera paint in small cups. Veronika chose yellow and green. I set these out, along with paintbrushes and two roughly equal squares of wax paper.

I showed Veronika how to dip her paintbrush in the glue mixture and then paint all over the wax paper.

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The more glue the better, which means this is the perfect task for a toddler who wants to make a mess! Veronika loved that this activity was both goopy and colorful.

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Once the wax paper is covered, help your child add colorful leaves to one of the squares. Cover with the remaining wax paper square. Trim the edges to the same size once the glue mixture dries.

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It was hard to see the leaves when our wax paper was down on the floor, but once taped up against the window, the sun makes the leaves peek through. The perfect autumn window decoration!

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Bean & Avocado Quesadilla

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Beans and avocado give an extra nutritional punch to a plain cheese quesadilla.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (4-ounce) jar carrot puree
  • 4 flour tortillas
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/2 cup shredded vegan cheese
  • Salsa for serving
  1. To prepare the black bean mash, combine the beans and carrot puree in a saucepan; cook for about 5 minutes, until warmed through. Mash with a potato masher in the saucepan.
  2. Spread about 1/2 cup bean mixture over two of the tortillas; reserve any remaining bean mixture for another use.
  3. Peel and mash the avocado, then divide evenly over the bean mixture. Sprinkle each serving with 1/4 cup cheese and top with the remaining two tortillas.
  4. Cook in a heated skillet for about 4 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Cut into wedges and serve with fresh salsa if desired!

You can try variations on the filling if you want to keep things fresh for the kids. Try pinto beans with butternut squash puree instead.

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Or black beans mixed with a little bit of canned pumpkin!

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All the options are guaranteed delicious.

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Playdough Numbers

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Veronika can count up to 10 by rote, which is not uncommon for toddlers; it basically means she’s memorized the order of words, but not the meaning behind them. Today I thought it would be fun to draw her attention to the symbol of each number!

I drew numerals 1 through 8 in thick black marker on sturdy white paper. If you’ll want to reuse the set, particularly with preschool kids, laminate them or cover with contact paper.

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Then show your little one how to roll long snakes of playdough and arrange them over the marker to form each numeral.

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As I worked on each one, I told Veronika the name of the number repeatedly. Of course the playdough lasted about one second before she picked it up and mushed it! But I steadily worked from 1 through 8 in this way.

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I didn’t expect Veronika to make the one-to-one connection between word and symbol yet, or to be able to shape the playdough herself.

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Rather this activity was more about introducing the concept that numbers have both a word and a symbol that go with them. And she certainly loved the chance to play with playdough!

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BLT Sandwich Wrap

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You can’t go wrong with a classic BLT sandwich filling. Wrap it up in a tortilla for a novel spin.

Ingredients:

  • 1 flour tortilla
  • 2 slices cooked Lightlife bacon
  • 1/4 cup chopped green leaf lettuce
  • 2 tomato slices
  • 1 tablespoon non-dairy ranch dressing
  1. Arrange the bacon, lettuce, and tomato slices down the middle of a warmed tortilla.
  2. Drizzle with the ranch, then wrap up and cut in half to serve.

Repeat as needed for extra sandwiches!

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Autumn Sensory Bottles

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I confess that none of the following bottles turned out exactly the way I hoped! But with a little improvisation, I created three autumn-themed sensory bottles for Veronika that she quite enjoyed.

For all three, you’ll need to start with a clean and dry plastic water bottle, with the lid.

I poured white rice into the first, and then sprinkled in a few hidden autumn “treasures”, like miniature gourds.

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She could shake this one, which made the rice hide the gourds, then turn it until she found them. She loved playing peek-a-boo with them! I had hoped to include other fall tidbits like mini scarecrows and pumpkins, but she seemed perfectly happy with this scaled-back version.

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For the second version, I filled the bottle with water and tinted it an autumnal yellow with a little food coloring. I originally intended to add leaf-shaped confetti to this one, but couldn’t find any at the store. Instead, I simply added red and yellow buttons.

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These fascinated Veronika, so it worked out well! She loved shaking this one and watching the buttons settle, or turning it this way and that.

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For the final version, I had originally hoped to add silk leaves. Again, no dice. But what’s better than silk leaves? The real thing!

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We added handfuls of small leaves we had found on a recent walk along with a few acorns (real ones!) for sensory sound. The bottle turned out so pretty.

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This one was light as a feather and made fantastic clicking noises.

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She spent some time with all three of them, but the button-and-water version was clearly her favorite. In fact, she then wanted extra buttons to hold, since she was frustrated she couldn’t screw the lids off.

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Between the buttons and the bottles, she kept quite busy with this activity!

Black Bean Indoor Sandbox

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Perhaps I should have held off on this particular indoor sandbox for a couple of days until October is officially here. But when I spotted my bulk bag of dried black beans, the color instantly made me think of all the Halloween decor I just stocked up on. So it was a spooky indoor sandbox a few days early!

I poured the beans into a shallow tray and added a few Halloween items that lent themselves well to sensory play. These included cupcake liners (with spiderweb and black-and-orange print designs), as well as felt skeleton figures.

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First her attention went to the little skeletons, and she loved putting them in the cupcake liners, or burying them under the beans and then digging them back up again (spooky!).

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She could also use the cupcake liners for scooping and pouring, which was great for fine motor skills.

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She spent quite some time transferring beans back and forth this way.

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I had planned just to let her use her hands, but she requested a spoon to scoop through, too.

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Then to my surprise, she first sat in the beans…

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…and then stood right up in them! This gave her the giggles.

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In sum, the bin was a great one for keeping her busy and for introducing the upcoming holiday!

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Fall Tree Art

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This art project is on the messy side, but it’s a great way for even little toddlers to paint fall foliage!

To start, cut a piece of watercolor paper (or similar thick paper) in half lengthwise, so you have two rectangles.

Next, cut strips of yarn and arrange over one of your rectangles. The more the yarn loops and curls the neater an effect you’ll achieve. That said, I had to work quickly before curious Veronika pulled up all the pieces of yarn I was laying down!

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I set out red, orange, and yellow paint, and Veronika immediately wanted to open them all. Carefully, we poured a blob of each color over the yarn. Again, I had to work quickly and only managed one blob of each color; be more deliberate and dot a few blobs of each for a more marbled effect.

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Place the remaining rectangle of paper on top of the yarn, making sure one end of each yarn piece is sticking out. I showed Veronika how to pull on these ends; they were like little worms she could tug at.

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Lift up the top sheet of paper and reveal all the fall colors!

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Veronika, I confess, was decidedly unimpressed. She decided it was a lot more fun to dump out extra orange paint and then smear her hands through it.

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To add to the mess, she loved running the paint-covered strands of yarn through her orange hands.

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But she had a blast, and I loved watching her enjoy this part of the art process!

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Meanwhile, once the original paintings had dried, I added a brown trunk to each with marker to complete our fall trees.

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These will look so pretty up in the playroom for the rest of the season!

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Vegan Pork and Beans

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Here’s a fun way to dress up vegan pork from the freezer aisle and make it a little more gourmet!

Ingredients:

  • 2 (10-ounce) packages Gardein porkless bites
  • 3/4 cup barbecue sauce
  • 1 (12-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Corn tortillas or whole wheat buns
  1. Cook the porkless bites in a large skillet according to package directions, omitting the sauce.
  2. Stir the barbecue sauce and beans into the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the beans are heated through.
  3. Warm buns or tortillas according to your preference and serve.

With buns, these are almost like Sloppy Joes.

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With tortillas, it’s more of a fun spin on taco night!

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