Posts Tagged ‘ Holidays ’

Thanksgiving Dinner Questions — Answered!

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Nervous about preparing Thanksgiving dinner? You’re not alone. No matter what your level of culinary experience, cooking the Thanksgiving feast can cause more anxiety than a turkey feels as November rolls around. I’ve been to culinary school and am now food editor here at Parents, and even I’m not immune. (Starting two years ago, I finally put my gravy anxiety to rest by making it ahead of time.) 

Recently we asked our Facebook fans about their biggest Thanksgiving dinner challenges, and I chose a few of the questions to answer, here. My goal is to help make the cooking part of your day go more smoothly so you can get down to the important part of enjoying the feast with your friends and family.

Ashley Jude is hosting her first Thanksgiving and asked for our best piece of advice.  

My best piece of advice is one I follow myself every year: do as much in advance as possible. Turkey stock for the gravy and my piecrust are already in the freezer. This weekend I will make my cranberry sauce. Tuesday I will cut up my vegetables for the stuffing and trim the Brussels sprouts. Wednesday I’ll whisk up the gravy and put together a mashed potato casserole that can go straight in the oven on Thursday. The more you do ahead the less stress you’ll feel on the big day, guaranteed.

Check out our helpful make-ahead plan for more ideas, or consider preparing this make-ahead sweet potato dish.

Almost equally important is to have a cooking plan for the day and write it down. I start from when I want dinner on the table (4:30 PM), then work backwards to carving the turkey (4:15 PM), taking the turkey out of the oven (3:15 PM), and putting the turkey in the oven (12:15 PM). It’s amazing how having a schedule on paper can keep you cool and composed.

Heather Beckman wants an easy pie crust.

Ah, Heather, don’t we all. Okay, here is my official “food editor” answer: piecrust isn’t difficult once you practice a little. Just keep your ingredients cold and don’t work the dough too much. Watch our video here to see just how easy it is to roll one out.

And here is my “unofficial” answer: you know what kind of piecrust I love? Graham cracker. Yum. How delicious with pumpkin or pudding or cheesecake or virtually any other smooth, creamy filling. You can press a graham cracker crust into the pan in seconds or, gasp!, buy one that still tastes great.

How to Roll Out Pie Dough
How to Roll Out Pie Dough
How to Roll Out Pie Dough

Several people asked how to serve a gluten-free Thanksgiving.

Happily, aside from the stuffing, gravy, and pie most traditional Thanksgiving dishes are gluten-free (remember gluten is a protein found in wheat). So pile your plate high with mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, salad, and, of course, turkey. To replace a traditional bread stuffing try a wild rice dressing. Instead of, or in addition to, pumpkin pie add baked apples to the menu, pumpkin pudding, or poached pears. No one will miss the gluten.

We had a lot of questions about dealing with picky eaters on Thanksgiving.

Here’s the good news. I think Thanksgiving is the last day you should wage a battle with picky eaters. (And, in fact, try to avoid making it a battle any day of the year with these strategies.) On Thanksgiving, just make sure there are one or two things on the table your kids will eat. That shouldn’t be too hard since, let’s face it, there’s an awful lot of food on the table. Maybe little ones will eat the rolls with butter, the mashed potatoes, a fruit salad, or plain turkey. Some kids might love the cranberry sauce or the sweet potatoes.

Another beauty of the Thanksgiving table is that you can always add a dish, so if you don’t think they’ll eat anything you serve, add macaroni and cheese (traditional in some parts of the country) or apple slices. Once the food is on the table, let your kids eat what they want and have dessert later, no strings attached. This is a meal for everyone to enjoy. You and your children. Save the one-bite rule and other maneuvers for outsmarting picky eating for another day. That’s something both you and your kids will be thankful for.

 Any other Thanksgiving dinner questions, let us know!

Image: Turkey dinner via Shutterstock

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Bake Up a Sweet Christmas

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Like many moms, my to-do list this time of year is a mile long. But Sharon Bowers’ inspiring book Sweet Christmas is an excellent reminder to slow down and get back to the heart of the holiday season – spending time with our families. From crafting colorful garlands to baking creative cookies, her projects are doable, delicious, and perfect for sharing with enthusiastic kids. Sharon recently chatted about her go-to party recipes, her least favorite part of the holidays, and her best advice for busy moms. 

Q: What inspired Sweet Christmas?

A: My first two books, Ghoulish Goodies and Candy Construction, had sort of made it evident that sweet stuff is my thing! But working on those books had also helped me understand more clearly that what’s fun around the holidays, any holiday, is not shopping trips with tired, crabby kids. What’s fun is staying home with your kids and enjoying projects together, celebrating as a family.

Q: I bet Christmas at your house is great! Tell me about how your family spends the holiday.

A: We do a lot of baking and a lot of eating! It’s not all about sweet stuff, however. We make an Advent Calendar by hanging paper envelopes or little socks on a string and we put tiny toys or knickknacks in to surprise each other, or we make little wreaths to hang off the doorknobs by sticking gumdrops into a foam core. 

Q: How much latitude do you give your kids in the kitchen?

A: I’m really into letting my children be hands-on about projects. When you’re making something like Stained Glass Cookies, for example, with crushed candy melted into the opening of sugar cookies, it’s so easy to let your inner grownup take over, to make all the cookies look pretty. But what’s fun for my kids, and ultimately for my husband and me, is to let our boys do it themselves, and we end up laughing together in the kitchen and spending time with one another.

Q: What is your favorite part about Christmas?

A: The excellent excuse to eat whatever we want for a few days! I spend the entire rest of the year keeping a running tab on precisely what amount of fruits and vegetables went into each child each day, and did they get enough iron and calcium and Vitamin C. And I just shut that part of my mind down over the holidays. For that week or so between Christmas and New Year’s, when we’re with family and friends or going to parties or entertaining at home, I just throw it all to the wind and enjoy whatever is in front of us.

Q: What is your least favorite part about Christmas?

A: No matter how much fun everyone had at a big holiday meal, the dishes still have to be done.

Q: What are two or three especially good recipes/projects to make with kids from the book?

A: Believe it or not, good old-fashioned popcorn garlands absolutely enthrall kids. It might seem like the oldest holiday trick in the book, but your children may never have seen it before. 3-D cookies are another one of my favorites. Use any cookie cutter you like, but ideally more solid ones, such as Christmas trees or stockings. Then, when the baked cookies are still warm, cut a narrow rectangular groove up from the bottom of one and down from the top of the other, then fit them together through these slots to make a cookie that can stand upright (p. 78), which you can then decorate on all sides. It’s so easy but kids think it’s magic! 

Q: You seem very crafty. What are some recipe options for more craft-challenged moms like me?

A: What’s kind of funny is that I’m actually really lazy about crafting. My motto is, “If I can do it, really, ANYONE can.” I think that’s why so many of my projects start in the kitchen, because I don’t have to go to a craft store and buy a lot of stuff before I begin. I’ve already got butter, sugar and chocolate in the kitchen most of the time, so I try to find things to make with what’s at hand like Chocolate Santa Mice (p. 77). These are made with a sort of sticky chocolate dough made from ground-up cookies that kids can form into shapes–we make mice–and roll in powdered sugar. All you need to be able to do is work a food processor, and your kids will do the rest.

Q: What are your go-to holiday party recipes?

A: My Caramelized Onion Dip (p. 99) is ridiculously easy considering how many compliments it gets. You cook onions until they’re deeply golden and stir them with sour cream and mayo and a little Worcestershire, serve with chips or veggies, and people will think you just invented the wheel. My mother’s side of the family is Swedish so I also am always in charge of making mini Swedish Meatballs (p. 104) which take very little effort but get people all excited–there’s never one left over.

 Q: Any tips for moms who want to make special treats for their families but find themselves pressed for time?

A: Ohmigosh, yes: give yourself a break! We all work fulltime, whether inside or outside the home, and we’re all tired and kids’ schedules are demanding. So if you make “bake something with children” just another thing to check off your list, it feels like a burden. But a tray of Blondies (p. 89) takes about 6 minutes to mix, even if you let the kids stir, and 35 minutes to bake, and you’ve got something gorgeous you made yourself. So just pick one thing and do it and enjoy it.

Q: What do you hope families will get out of your book?

A: To slow down a little more at Christmas. To take the time to stay home and do a little baking with their children. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the shopping and gift-buying. But simple homemade gifts, even really easy things such as a jar of Salted Caramel Sauce (p. 167), are much more welcome to the recipients, and they express so much more love that everyone feels happier.

 Interview has been edited and condensed.

Make delicious snowman pops for your next holiday party:

How-to Make Snowman Pops
How-to Make Snowman Pops
How-to Make Snowman Pops

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Plan a Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Menu With Udi’s (Yes, It’s Possible!)

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Udi's gluten-free food - sweet potato hummus, sausage and fennel stuffing, roasted beet salad with garlic croutons, snickerdoodle cranberry cream cheese tartRounding up the family together for Thanksgiving (and having them get along) is already hard enough without the added worry of creating dishes to satisfy certain diets and picky eaters. And if you have family members who have certain food allergies and sensitivities (especially to gluten), you might feel even more overwhelmed.

But don’t throw in the towel yet.

Hosting a gluten-free Thanksgiving feast is possible — and Udi’s Gluten Free has simple and delicious recipes that can even convert gluten lovers (like me). Recently, another editor and I were invited to a special Udi’s Thanksgiving luncheon, along with other Meredith editors, to sample gluten-free takes on classic holiday dishes. As a foodie and someone who believed going gluten-free meant eating pale imitations of “real” foods, I was surprised by the versatile spread and even more surprised by the delicious flavors.

On the menu was a whole course that incorporated gluten-free bread, chips, and cookies:

I could definitely see the sweet potato hummus and roasted beet salad on my own Thanksgiving table, which usually has some gluten-free (and dairy-free) dishes made especially for my little nephew, who has a few food allergies. Even if no one in your family has gluten allergies, there are still some benefits to going gluten-free, like taming tummy troubles and maintaining a healthy weight. And some studies have shown a gluten-free diet could possibly help kids with autism, though research results are inconclusive.

Best of all: these gluten-free dishes could easily substitute Thanksgiving mainstays (without sacrificing tastiness) and be worth repeating for Christmas, perhaps served with an additional dessert like ice cream sandwiches made with Udi’s maple pecan chocolate chip cookies. So now that you have some new recipes, I hope this year’s dinner planning will be just a little easier!

More Gluten-Free Foods on Parents.com

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Best Deals for the Week Across the Web

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

By Savings.com Editor Susan Yoo-Lee

 As a result of the shorter holiday shopping season, retailers are hoping to cash-in on sales by offering great deals before Black Friday and Cyber Monday even roll around.

 Here are some of the best deals across the web to help you meet your holiday shopping needs this year:

  1. Need toys and games for your little love bugs? Save $20 off your toy and game purchase over $200 at Sears. Use coupon code STOYS20. Expires 12/31/2013.
  2. If you’re one of the many millions planning to travel this holiday season, Budget car rental has an incredible offer for you. Until the end of this year, you can save 40% off your car rentals at Budget by using coupon code U347956. Expires 12/31/2013.
  3. Who doesn’t love Legos?  Get a free holiday set with your LEGO purchase over $99. Plus, you get free shipping. No code needed. Expires 10/31/2013.
  4. It’s getting colder as we write. If you need to get new shoes for your entire family, save $20 off your purchase over $100 at Shoes.com on Amazon. Use coupon code FLOWER13. Limited time offer and can expire anytime.
  5. Your four-legged family members also deserve some nice holiday gifts! At PetSmart, you can save $3 off your purchase over $10. Use coupon code BDAY10CAT13. Expires 11/04/2013.

 

This post contains affiliate links

 

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Are They Making Their Lists? Are You Checking Them Twice?

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Holiday catalogs started arriving at our house last week. My kids are pouring over them, and their little minds are clicking with ideas of what they want for Christmas. I, like most parents, want to shout, “Can’t we get through Halloween first?!” But no, kids and toy companies have their eye on the prize, which seems to be a big pile of wrapped gifts at the end of the year. 

I “help” my kids edit their lists. If they’re trying to put, say, an iPad Air on there, I jump in and say that Santa doesn’t build those. And I try to make sure that the toys they’re picking out aren’t total junk. We have SO many toys already, we don’t need anything if it won’t really get played with!

Fortunately I get a sneak peek at all new toys by running the Parents Best Toys program. Each summer Parents, American Baby and Family Fun test some hundreds of toys. So if you want to match up what your child is circling in those catalogs with what we found to be great, take a look! Parents Best Toys includes 50 ideas divided up by babies, toddlers, preschool kids, school-age kids, and big kids. Family Fun’s Toys of the Year names a top-ten list of 2013 toys, plus twenty other faves. American Baby’s Best Baby Toys list hones in on fifteen great gifts for babies, especially those 12 months and younger. There’s some crossover in our three lists (great minds think alike!) but all in all, a huge range of ideas. You’re bound to find things your kids want, you can afford, and that tested well with one of our mags.

Are your kids already talking about holiday gifts? Let us know what they’re asking for! And just for fun, here’s a short video about our toy-testing. It’s a lot of work, so we hope you find our guides helpful!

 

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Going “From Frazzled to Focused” for Father’s Day

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Busy dad's plannerEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

As a dad and a pediatrician who has worked with families of all types and sizes for more than 30 years, I want to tell you about a great book written for moms that dads should read, too. After all, why should moms be the only ones who know the secrets for turning chaos to calm?

From Frazzled to Focused: The Ultimate Guide for Moms Who Want to Reclaim Their Time, Their Sanity, and Their Lives is written by Rivka Caroline, a Florida-based time management and organization expert who juggles seven kids, a speaking and consulting career, and graduate school. I discovered this book when the author asked me to review it for a possible endorsement because of my own time management book, No Regrets Parenting.

I loved Caroline’s book, and endorsed it with this quote: “From Frazzled to Focused is a brilliant blueprint for recapturing minutes, hours, and days otherwise lost to inefficiency and disorganization. This book will change your life.” Yes, it’s that good. But notice nowhere in that endorsement do I mention moms — or, for that matter, dads. This is a really wonderful book for moms and dads because efficiency, effectiveness, prioritization, and systemization are gender-neutral goals. This is not a book full of platitudes and bumper stickers. Instead, it’s a concise, organized, and focused 180-page playbook with an action plan for achieving, de-cluttering, and systemizing your work and home life.

Whether at home or at work, these From Frazzled to Focused guiding principles and recommendations apply to all parents:

  • Switch from doing it all to doing most of it (and know that’s okay)
  • Lack of time is actually a lack of priorities
  • 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of your time and effort
  • Work expands to fill the time available for its completion
  • Create a “to don’t” list
  • Streamline your home and your head
  • Avoid decision overload

You’ll learn when to “do,” to “delegate,” and to “delete.” And deleting some of the items crowding your thoughts and your desk may be the most important paradigm of all for many of us. You’ll come to recognize that “practice makes good enough,” that perfection isn’t the be-all and end-all. This realization is really liberating.

Dads can particularly benefit from Ms. Caroline’s advice for systemizing, and her supermarket analogy is spot-on: When you go grocery shopping, you put more than one item in your cart at once so you’re not constantly driving back and forth to the store. Get ahead by always thinking, “What can I do now that will make things easier later on?” Batch your tasks, and block out chunks of time for doing them — returning phone calls and e-mails, paying bills, and filing should be done in batches, not piecemeal as the e-mails or bills arrive. Although the second half of the book is devoted to specific spaces in your home, taking control of those spaces isn’t just mom’s work; dads live in those spaces, too. Both Mom and Dad can use the principles in this book for equally effective rethinking of the workplace and the work mentality.

So, with Father’s Day approaching fast and the usual panic setting in about buying yet another necktie, take this message from Caroline’s book to heart: “Last-minute problems are a lot easier to take care of when they aren’t actually happening at the last minute.” Get this book for Dad. Do it now, while you’re thinking about it, so you don’t have a last-minute problem on June 16.

Happy Father’s Day!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

 

Image: A busy daily schedule book via Shutterstock.

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Celebrate a New Holiday: Monthly Mother’s Day

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Mother's Day BreakfastEditor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

First conceived by Julia Ward Howe (the composer of the “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”) in 1870, advocated by Anna Jarvis in 1908, and officially established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914, Mother’s Day has become a proud American tradition that is now observed in more than 70 countries worldwide. A 2010 study by VIP Communications found that Mother’s Day has the highest phone call traffic of the year, exceeding Valentine’s Day and New Year’s. Another 2010 study, by the Society of American Florists, found that more than one quarter of all floral purchases in the U.S.  each year are for Mother’s Day. Everyone knows everything there is to know about Mother’s Day, and writing about it is a little like writing about love or money or religion: What more can anyone say about it that hasn’t been said? Well, for the first time in the century since it became a national holiday, I think it’s time for a fundamental change to the Mother’s Day ritual. Drum roll, please

From this Mother’s Day forward, I propose that the first Thursday of every month be declared Monthly Mother’s Day. And the third Wednesday of every month shall henceforth be declared Monthly Father’s Day. Every household with a mom gives her special treatment on the first Thursday of the every month, and every household with a dad gives him special treatment on the third Wednesday of every month. Each of these new monthly “‘holidays” gives us 12 additional opportunities to celebrate parenthood with our kids, and 12 times the number of traditions, memories, and family moments.

Why am I not making my new holidays on Sundays? Because weekends are for big traditions, and these are small observances that don’t require a whole day; they can fit into school nights, early bedtimes, and daily routines. These are family traditions that should take little time and no money – they don’t have to involve dinner out, gifts, flowers, or even candy — but they do require a fair amount of thought, something special that isn’t done the other days of the month. One month, give mom the night off after dinner so she can read, take a bath, or watch her favorite show. The next month, cook her favorite dinner. Create a handmade card or hand-painted picture frame for another month. Ditto for dads on their special monthly Wednesdays. Best of all, you still get to celebrate the “real” Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. While we’re at it, why not establish a monthly Kids’ Day, too? Like the second Tuesday of every month. On these days, parents can prepare kids’ favorite meal or dessert, have Scrabble night, or plan a Wii table tennis tournament.

Life is short. The years go by fast. You can never have too many reasons to celebrate each other. And thinking about ways to honor moms, dads, and kids is good for the soul, and good for the whole family. May 12, 2013 may be the “real” Mother’s Day, but the one after that will be coming up soon, so start planning. Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

 

Image: Breakfast for Mother’s Day via Shutterstock.

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A Valentine’s Day Love Letter for Your Child

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Editor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.

I remember when I first held you in my arms and instantly knew how deeply I loved you. You were so tiny and helpless. You knew nothing and depended on me for everything. I was nervous because there was so much to learn and so much to teach. You were a tiny, gorgeous blob of clay. Since that first moment, it has been my joy and privilege to be your sculptor, to shape you into the beautiful child you are today and to continue shaping you into the responsible, moral, and loving adult I pray you will be someday. It’s my job to make you feel happy and loved. To protect, comfort, guide, inspire, and motivate you.  It’s a wonderful job, the best in the world. But it’s a hard job, and sometimes I still get nervous.

There are times when I do or say things that you don’t yet understand, and they upset you. I try to explain but some things will make sense only when you’re older. As a parent, I have to make rules and set limits that may seem unfair. Like when I make you eat vegetables or do homework, when I say something isn’t healthy or something is too expensive, when I tell you it’s bedtime or you’ve had enough TV or you need to clean your room.  You may think I don’t love you when all I do is say “no,” especially on days when it seems like I’m saying it a lot.

My days are very busy, with lots of grown-up things I need to do. Sometimes I have less time and energy to spend with you than either of us would wish. You may think I don’t love you when I’m too tired to play or when an important phone call interrupts us, when I have to work on the weekend, when I have a meeting during your soccer game, or when I come home late or have to leave town. You may think I don’t love you when I say, “I can’t right now,” especially on days when it seems like I’m saying it a lot.

As hard as I try to do things right, sometimes I make mistakes. Grown-ups aren’t perfect. You may think I don’t love you when I lose my temper or raise my voice, when I blame you for something you didn’t do, when I don’t notice the good things you did do, or when I say something that hurts your feelings or embarrasses you.

But I want you to know this: Even during the times when it may seem like I don’t love you, I really do. Very, very much.  With all my heart and soul. I love you more than anything else in the world.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet, wonderful child.

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart

Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).

 

Image: Red paper envelope with white heart via Shutterstock.

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