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You can always make gingerbread from scratch, but if your kids want to decorate gingerbread houses in a hurry, look no further than graham crackers! We love the vegan s’moreables from Kinnikinnick; armed with those plus store-bought vegan frosting plus empty cartons of non-dairy creamer, we were ready to go.

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We first smeared some of the frosting over the sides of the cleaned and empty cartons. Press on graham crackers to each side of the carton. The fit wasn’t perfect, but we weren’t going for Instagram perfection here!

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Now use additional frosting as “glue” to add candy details. We used candies from Yum Earth, as well as mini candy canes and Dandies mini marshmallows.

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Travis loved making window frames…

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…and was particular proud of the marshmallow door he created with a front path made of jelly beans.

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For snow, we added extra frosting on the top of the carton, then sprinkled down shredded coconut. A blizzard!

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Little sister Veronika got a turn to decorate, too! She loved alternating between taking bites of candy and sticking one onto the carton where I had applied frosting.

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There’s lots more you can do here, depending how crafty the family is feeling! Make trees from upside down ice cream cones coated in frosting and green sprinkles, or add tile roofs, or turn yours into log cabins with the aid of pretzel sticks. I confess, though, we skipped all that.

There are magical families who make their gingerbread houses last as beautiful decorations throughout the holiday season. Needless to say, we are not that magical family; within moments the house was part of Travis’s Star Wars Lego battle.

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But I had happy smiling kids, and that’s the most Insta-graham-able thing of all!

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Ice Skating Rink

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This special holiday crate from Kiwi Co. is a fantastic way to fit in a STEM activity this holiday season, whether you’re currently home-schooling, or school has gone remote once more, or you just have extra hours to fill indoors now that cold afternoons are here!

To start, Travis screwed the provided table leg pegs into bolts so that the wooden base of the skating rink stands sturdily just above the ground.

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That quickly, it was time for wires and batteries… The good stuff! Travis loved helping insert batteries into the provided case and attaching to the bottom of the table base with sticky foam. The provided motor sticks on next, and he then helped connect the wires: red to red and black to black.

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Turn the table over and add the center gear on the peg above the motor. Additional gears then slot in between this central one and the outer frame.

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The hardest part of the whole project, oddly, was the background decorations that came next. The provided snowy backdrop and trees are supposed to fit into slits in the felt, but it’s very hard to get them to stay put. This is a minor quibble, since the decor is cute but not necessary for the rink to work.

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So we moved on to the real excitement! The “skaters” are tiny felt figures (gingerbread men, penguins, and snowmen) who each slot into a metal nut. These are placed on the plastic that covers the gears, which each have magnets. So once kids switch the motor on, the gears begin to spin and the magnets on the gears are attracted to the metal of the the nuts, making those little felt figures skate around.

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Truth be told, the contraption is very temperamental and the felt figures easily snap out of their metal nut. Likewise, the magnets come off of the gears very easily, so we had to do lots of fixing and problem solving in between rounds of having the motor on. But here’s an adorable clip of the rink in motion!

I loved the way Travis quickly learned to troubleshoot these glitches. He had his head bent over the skating rink along with little sister Veronika, both of them delighting as they watched the figures snap onto the magnets to skate, then laughing at how quickly everything tumbled apart, then fixing it and starting all over.

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In sum, a great STEM project. Plus, the booklet had in-depth explanations about why ice is slippery and about precisely how the gears and magnets work to make the contraption move.

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Gobble It Up: Thanksgiving Leftovers on a Waffle

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Forget Thanksgiving leftovers on a sandwich; here are four breakfast ideas for leftovers on a waffle. Needless to say, this helped us clear out our fridge in the long weekend following the holiday.

The Classic: Start with the basics, using leftover Field Roast (or your favorite vegan turkey alternative), along with mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy. The kids loved this savory spin on breakfast!

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Tart and Tasty: In a small bowl, combine 1/3 cup cranberry sauce and 1/4 cup maple syrup; microwave for 15 seconds, then whisk together until smooth. Serve drizzled over waffles topped with stuffing and chopped apple!

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Pumpkin Paradise: For a super-sweet version, stir together 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl; set aside. Top each waffle with a spoonful of canned pumpkin pie filling, a dollop of non-dairy whipped cream and some of the cinnamon-sugar to taste.

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Gooey Gobbler: For the final morning, we topped waffles with leftover mashed sweet potatoes, mini marshmallows, and chopped walnuts.

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Which one do your kids like best? Please share in the comments!

Snowman and Santa Wobblers

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These cute holiday items from Kiwi Co. come together quickly, but make adorable stuffies that wobble back and forth thanks to a weight inside. You can opt for just a snowman, just a Santa, or both!

Either way, start the craft by adhering a metal weight into the bottom of a plastic base with a sticky foam dot. Take care in this step that the weight doesn’t fall on any toes; it’s heavy! Insert the base and weight into the provided sock.

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Stuff the socks with the provided cotton fluff. Travis loved how soft this material was!

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We secured the top of each sock with a thin elastic band, then pushed a second, thicker elastic about 1/3 of the way down each. This divides the wobbly toys into a head and body.

Now decorate! There were stickers for the snowman’s face, as well as stick-on buttons and arms, and a strip of red fabric to tie on for a scarf.

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Meanwhile, Santa gets a beard that slips over the head and a little red shirt that slides on from the bottom. Stickers for facial features, belt, and hands complete the look.

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Travis loved that these toys were meant to be played with, unlike some of our Christmas decor that is just display.

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The wobblers even curled up to watch a Christmas movie with him, and Santa pretty much comes everywhere with us now. That’s what I’d call Christmas magic!

Gourmet Food Lessons

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Raddish Kids‘ lesson plan to go with the Gourmet Gobble recipes was all about introducing gourmet food, using Julia Child’s life and cooking show as a guiding theme. Much of the activities were too advanced for Travis as a first grader, but we had fun with the following:

We started with a very basic overview of who Julia Child was. Check out Bon Appetit: The Delicious Life of Julia Child from your library, which makes her life accessible in cartoon format.

We moved on to some of her video clips from The French Chef; kids might like silly ones where she burns sauce or drops a bowl! It’s nice to show the lack of perfection.

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Next Travis watched a read-aloud of Minette’s Feast, which is a good way to contrast fiction and non-fiction since this one fictionalizes Julia’s life.

As we read the books, Travis kept a tally of which foods he has eaten, for a little math work. Older kids can fill in a whole sheet on “Julia Child By the Numbers” (provided by Raddish).

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Other extensions for older kids include polling friends on which Julia Child recipes they’ve tasted; estimating how many foods Julia wrote about in her lifetime; or finding a foodie pen pal to write to.

Travis and I moved on to discussing what makes a food qualify as gourmet. Raddish had lots of links, including how foods have been renamed to improve their marketing, or how Thanksgiving dishes have altered over the eras.

So we tried to come up with new branding for Travis’s favorite Thanksgiving food (canned cranberry sauce!) to make it a best seller. What if it was called… Cranberry Candy?

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Now it was time for the grand finale: let your kid star in his or her own cooking show segment! For his starring moment, I wanted Travis to prepare a recipe he could tackle himself from start to finish. So, we chose… toast!

He was so proud to use the toaster.

We waited two minutes.

And of course, we needed the final taste test.

My proud chef!

Thanksgiving Vegetable Trio

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We were feeling especially thankful (pun intended!) to Raddish Kids for including this trio of vegetables recipes in Travis’s Gourmet Gobble kit. And yes, you can make all three in the amount of time that a vegan roast cooks in the oven!

Spinach Gratin

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Ingredients:

  • 20 ounces frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 and 1/4 cups plain non-dairy creamer
  • 1/4 cup vegan Parmesan shreds
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shredded vegan mozzarella.
  1. Place the spinach in a colander and thaw under hot running water. Squeeze out excess water and transfer to a bowl.
  2. Add the creamer, Parmesan, garlic powder, and salt.
  3. Spoon the spinach mixture into a baking dish and sprinkle with the mozzarella. Bake at 400 degrees F for 25 minutes, until bubbly.

Orange-Glazed Carrots

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon Earth Balance butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  1. Peel the carrots and cut into 1/2-inch rounds. Transfer to small saucepan and add the orange juice, butter, and salt.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, cover, and cook for 7 minutes.
  3. Uncover and continue to cook for 20 minutes, or until the juice is a thick glaze. Sprinkle with the thyme before serving.

Maple Bacon Brussels Sprouts

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Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/2 pounds small Brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 slices cooked and chopped vegan bacon (such as Lightlife)
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  1. Trim the Brussels sprouts and slice in half. Transfer to a bowl and add the olive oil and salt.
  2. Spoon onto a baking sheet lined with foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the chopped bacon and maple syrup.

The verdict was yum to all three of these! The recipe card had fun facts we could check out over our meal, including food differences between the first Thanksgiving and the modern era, and tips on getting kids to try new foods.

To wit: Next we want to try Brussels sprouts chips (the outermost leaves tossed with a little oil and baked at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes)…

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…or shaved raw Brussels sprouts tossed with dressing for a salad.

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Turkey Cheeseball Appetizer

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This appetizer is not only adorable, but delicious, too!

Ingredients:

  • 5 multigrain crackers
  • 8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 8 ounces vegan cream cheese, softened
  • 4 tablespoon Earth Balance butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  •  1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Crackers (for serving)
  • Pretzel sticks (for serving)
  • Red bell pepper strips (for serving)
  • Raisins (for serving)
  1. Place the crackers in a zip-top plastic bag and seal, then crush with a rolling pin. Mince the thyme and rosemary, and add to the cracker crumbs.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cream cheese, butter, salt, garlic powder, and 1 tablespoon crumb mixture; beat until blended. Spoon the mixture onto plastic wrap, wrap up, and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  3. To serve, spoon the cream cheese mixture into a bowl and shape into a ball with a smaller ball on top as the turkey’s head. Use additional crackers and pretzels as tail feathers, two raisins for eyes, and two bell pepper pieces for the wattle.
  4. Serve with more crackers, pretzels, bell pepper sticks, and raisins. Gobble gobble!

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Bacon-Wrapped Dates

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This two-ingredient appetizer makes quick work of the first course for a holiday meal. Travis loved prepping the dates… and then loved the taste so much he nearly ate it all himself!

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Ingredients:

  • 9 slices vegan bacon (such as Lightlife)
  • 9 pitted dates
  1. Working with 1 bacon slice at a time, place on a cutting board and place a date on one edge. Roll up tightly, then secure with a toothpick. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with foil.
  2. Repeat with the remaining dates and bacon slices; bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes.

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Six Thanksgiving Games

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We’re celebrating Thanksgiving without extended family this year, and no doubt your family is, too. But don’t think little… Think big! To make the holiday special for the kids, I still wanted a big feast, special recipes, the parade on TV, and lots of silly or thought-provoking games. While recipes simmer in the kitchen, treat your kids to the following:

Turkey Feather Float:

For this first game, we took turns blowing a craft feather up in the air. The player than shouts out a Thanksgiving food (Sweet potatoes! Cornbread!) and then gives another huff to keep the feather afloat.

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It’s a lot trickier than it sounds!

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Kernel Counting:

Candy corn isn’t vegan, but we had some in the house for non-vegan family and it was the perfect seasonal candy for this activity. Give each player a bowl or plate filled with candy corn as well as an empty plate and a plastic spoon.

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Set the timer and see who can transfer the most kernels in one minute. Bonus parent move: you’re sneaking in some math, too! If you have big kids and want to make it trickier, have players hold the spoon in their mouth, instead.

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Potato Roll:

You’ll earn super-silly points for this one: Take a few extra potatoes from your mashed potato pile (round red potatoes worked best), and have kids move them across a room using only their nose. First one across is the hot potato!

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The kids not only got a kick out of this, but then wanted to play potato toss and potato soccer. On a rainy Thanksgiving day, why not?

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Thanksgiving Menu:

Print out a colorful menu template and and then talk your kids through the meal, everything from apps to dessert. It was fun for Travis to see it all written up, and older kids might want to write out the recipes themselves!

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Thanksgiving Poll:

While chatting with relatives (whether in person or over Zoom!) poll them on their favorite Thanksgiving foods, whether during the main course or at pie-time. Travis then tallied up the results in two ways.

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We used a bar chart for the main course answers and a pie chart (ha) for the dessert answers. More sneaky holiday math!

Thanksgiving Chatterbox:

This classic origami game is easy to adapt for Thanksgiving. We used a template from Raddish Kids with funny suggestions hiding behind the numbers like “Pretend it’s windy for the next 5 minutes” or “Make up a song about pumpkins and sing it”.

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Your kids can easily come up with their own actions, too. Needless to say, the chatterbox had us giggling around our dessert table. The above link has a reminder on the rules of the game, as well as a how-to for folding the chatterbox paper.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude Pumpkin

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We’re gearing up for a cozy Thanksgiving just as our family of four, but that only has us thinking all the more about what we’re thankful for or missing this year. One neat idea is to write down all the ideas your family can brainstorm… on a pumpkin!

As the kids came up with ideas (and mommy, too!), I wrote down all their words in permanent marker. Travis named favorites like Star Wars, friends and play dates. Don’t discount a toddler’s ability to name the things they love; that counts as the first step toward feeling grateful.

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Veronika also wanted to scribble with markers as I wrote, which meant our final pumpkin wasn’t “perfect”. But I loved this touch of reality on it.

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The resulting gratitude list was so simple but beautiful, and will make the perfect centerpiece for a Thanksgiving table!

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