Tofu Pasta Shell Casserole

I love jumbo stuffed pasta shells, but the effort of making them is wasted on my kids since I just need to cut the pasta into smaller pieces. This recipe relies on small pasta shells instead, for a kid-friendly riff on a grown-up favorite.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, shredded
  • 3 tablespoons olives oil
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 (16-ounce) package shell pasta
  • 1/2 cup minced artichoke hearts
  • 8 ounces extra-firm tofu
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and zucchini; saute for 3 minutes. Add the marinara sauce and cook for 10 minutes, until heated through; set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions; set aside.
  3. In a bowl, combine the minced artichokes, tofu, and nutritional yeast; mash with a fork until crumbly.
  4. Spoon about 1/2 cup sauce into the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Top with the pasta, followed by the tofu mixture, and add the remaining sauce on top. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

Herbed Broccoli

This recipe comes together in minutes, and is a great way to dress up otherwise ho-hum vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • 1 head broccoli
  • 1/3 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  1. Cut the florets from the broccoli head and transfer to a large bowl; reserve the stems for another use.
  2. Toss the florets with the broth and the herbs. Cover and steam in the microwave for 5 minutes, until tender.

My kids love this with Gardein chick’n or pasta for an elegant meal!

Ping Pong Spinner

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Here’s a way to make a spinning top entirely from recycled materials around the house!

First, you’ll need either need a blank CD or an old one that you’re ready to part with. (Bonus points: have the kids help raid your old CD rack and watch them marvel at music from the dinosaur age).

We traced the CD on construction paper and then colored in; the more colors the better, since they will whirl together when the spinner spins. Glue onto the CD.

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The next step is a grown-up one since you’ll need hot glue. Attach a bottle cap over the top center of the CD (our glue bottle was empty just in time!) and then hot glue a ping pong ball in the center underneath.

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Time to spin! Of the various tops we’ve played with and made lately, this one spins by far the longest, with an almost effortless twist of the hand. We must have gotten the balance just right, because it just kept going and going and going…

Spoon Puppets

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I had a few old wooden spoons that never get used for cooking anymore, so today the kids turned them into puppets!

First, I invited everyone over for painting, trotting out a few bright neon colors of tempera paint for the occasion. Veronika chose a neon orange and purple, and Travis gravitated right to the neon green.

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I loved watching the kids paint side-by-side!

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Let dry completely. Now it was time to give our spoons a little personality! I set out a variety of odds and ends from the craft bin and let the kids pick what they wanted. Travis wanted wiggle eyes and a little outfit to turn his green spoon into Baby Yoda. Veronika liked buttons and pipe cleaners!

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Your kids can glue on all their crafty bits with white glue, if desired. Since my kids wanted to play with the puppets right away, I used hot glue to make quick work of it.

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These were so cute for acting out little stories! Veronika named hers Mr. Tricky, and carried him around almost the entire rest of the day.

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Pencil Holder

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This toddler craft is so easy but the result is a pencil holder that really does look (almost!) like real leather. It’s a beautiful gift and your toddler can proudly claim to have made it themselves.

To start, clean and dry a 15-ounce can. I then showed Veronika how to cover it with strips of masking tape. She loved pressing these down by herself, and I only helped to make sure they overlapped and no metal was showing.

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Now it was time to make it look like leather. First she painted it with brown paint, very studiously applying it with her brush. I later added a second coat of paint for a polished look.

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Once dry, spray with shellac. (Note: This is a grown-up-only step, and be sure to do so in a well-vented area). I also wrote her name and the date on the bottom.

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Veronika is so proud, and this will make a perfect gift for daddy on Christmas morning!

Second Birthday Party: Tractor Harvest

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Veronika is obsessed with tractors, and since her birthday is in the fall, it was a natural fit to tie the vehicle in with a farm theme for the autumn harvest.

This party was very different departure from others I’ve planned, since it was the first time an event took place off site, followed by the party finale back at home.

But as always things start with the invite! I ordered a classic green-and-yellow tractor design (from Amazon) to fill guests in on the deets.

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The birthday girl got a tractor dress to fit the theme (Etsy), and was so thrilled when I pulled it out on party day. “It’s cozy!” she told me.

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The rest of us didn’t want to overdo it on the tractor theme, but plaid prints seemed appropriate for farmers and harvest time.

Onto the decor! Yellow and green balloons matched with a set of party ware (also Amazon) including plates, napkins, paper cups, and cutlery.

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Outside, where the two-year-old guests would be playing, we set up a mini farm! Small straw hay bales (from Party City) were topped with our farm and tractor toys.

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Don’t forget a few seasonal pumpkins. A vinyl tablecloth underneath meant cleanup of all that straw was, well, a piece of cake.

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I kept food primarily to single-serve noshes to keep the party safe in the era of COVID-19.

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Packets of Cape Cod trial mix, applesauce pouches, and clementines (which looked like mini pumpkins), all fit the harvest feel, as well as veggie chips in a trio of harvest colors: orange, yellow, and green.

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Even the cake featured veggies from the earth: Carrot cake perfectly fit the bill.

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Before all of that, though, our guests gathered at a local farm for a behind-the-scenes tour. Including of course, tractors!

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Then it was back to our patio for cake and socially-distanced play outside. Entertain big kids with pumpkin bowling while the little ones play with the farm toys. If you want to organize a toddler circle time, sing classics like Old Macdonald Had a Farm or Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.

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Favors were very simple: mini bottles of farm animal bubbles to take home!

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Needless to say, this party girl had fun on the farm.

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Halloween Countdown Day 15: Eat Orange Meals

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Forget about eating the rainbow for a day. As we reach the halfway point in our countdown to Halloween, it was time to eat only orange for the day (well, mostly orange).

At each meal, I made sure to include at least two orange foods. Breakfast featured oranges and pumpkin waffles.

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Snacks included goodies like vegan cheese crackers, cheddar cheese slices, and crunchy orange bell peppers.

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Carrots were the star of the show at lunch, including a carrot sauce over sauteed tofu.

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Dinner featured roasted butternut squash and orange pasta (Note: if you cook up red lentil pasta, it will turn orange after it boils). An carrot-laced marinara sauce finished things off!

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The one place we didn’t have orange was dessert. Too bad we didn’t have pumpkin pie in the house! What would you serve on an all-orange day? Please share in the comments!

Balloon, Cork, and Ice Bath

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What do the three items in the title of this post have in common? They all float in water! And that was precisely the point of this simple way to make bathtime more fun. Little did Veronika know that this was a mini lesson on density, disguised as novel water toys.

For the first surprise, I tossed in a handful of corks I’d been saving (you can also simply purchase corks at a craft store). These were fun to bob around like little boats. We could even have cork boat races.

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Big brother Travis suggested drawing faces on them! Now they became little swimmers to figure into the kids’ imaginative games.

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Next, I blew up a few bright balloons and tossed these in. I challenged the kids to try dunking the balloons under the water, and of course they popped up every time.

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Veronika also loved pouring “potions” over the balloons. For the final surprise, I tossed in a handful of ice cubes.

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These floated for a moment (again, there’s that mini science lesson), before very quickly disappearing. Could we hold them in our hands as they melted? Not for long!

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Needless to say, bath was extra fun tonight with minimal effort on my part.

Mars Rover Kiwi Crate

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Travis has long had a fascination with Mars and the NASA rovers, so he was thrilled to discover this month’s crate from Kiwi Co. A chance to make his own rover! He wanted to know if it could really go to Mars, and although the answer was sadly no, there was lots of fun to be had.

We jumped right in to making the Mars Rover: Travis enjoyed helping with the axles, one featuring square holes and one round so kids can tell them apart.

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The base of the rover is made from a wood frame, but Travis grew frustrated with the following step to thread through string that attaches the spring.

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The tension of this spring is what makes the rover move forward, similar to a pull-back car toy. With a little grown-up assistance, the rover was complete.

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He loved the second part of the project: Make the Flag. Using the wooden flagpole as a scratching tool, kids can scratch off the black surface of the flag to reveal rainbow paper underneath.

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The sky’s the limit for what design to put on the flag, but Travis just loved revealing the color underneath and spent such careful time on this.

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Once my artist declared his flag done, we threaded it onto the wooden flagpole. Insert the flagpole into the stand on the rover, and then i’s time to wind up and give it a test.

Alas, I can’t say any of us were wowed by the results. Yes, the rover moves forward, but neither very fast nor very far. Perhaps our strings or spring weren’t taut enough?

Still, we forged ahead to make the Crater Course. Layers of cardboard are piled up and put on a felt “Mars” surface. Send your rover over them and see if it can make it across the bumpy ground.

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There were lots of suggested ways to vary the course: Space the craters further apart, arrange them in different ways, or pile them on top of each other.

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After that, there was still more experimentation to try! We turned to the crate’s suggestion of rubbing cooking oil over the strings, to see if this resulted in a faster rover. Well, no, but the kids thought it was funny!

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Then we set up a little course for the rover, with a piece of cardboard angled off two books. Could the rover make it up?

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Alas, still no, even when we added other items (a paper towel, a fluffy towel) to give it more traction. Well, at least it could zoom down!

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As a final experiment, it was time to make our own Mars sand. We filched some from the playground, then poured it into the Kiwi box.

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Add a little bit of water, along with a steel-wool scrubber. Ideally we’ll see the sand take on a reddish hue in a few days as it turns rusty from the iron, just like the sand on the Red Planet!

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Halloween Countdown Day 6: Paint with Pumpkins

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We’ll be doing lots of pumpkin decorating now that Halloween is fast approaching, but for today’s build up to the big fright night, it was time to paint not on a pumpkin, but with a pumpkin!

Yup, pumpkins can be your “brush”, instead of just your canvas. I rolled out a big piece of craft paper and set out a tray with all the colors we’re seeing outside right now: orange, yellow, red, and green.

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I showed Veronika how to hold a mini pumpkin by the stem, dip it in the paint, and then press onto the paper.

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“Let’s try yellow!” she said.

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“Let’s  try orange!”

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Because she had seated herself squarely in the middle of the craft paper, she soon had pumpkin marks all around her, just like a little pumpkin patch!

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You can also roll the sides of the pumpkins in the paint, and then roll them across the paper. But be careful, this gets a bit messier!

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Of course then Veronika wanted to get her hands in the paint. She dipped in curious fingers, and then smeared the colors across the paper.

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This was wickedly fun!

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If you have older kids, perhaps you’d even dare to try painting with full-size pumpkins. What happens, I wonder, if you roll them across the paper!

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