13 Summer Hacks for Family Fun

Summer brings warmer temps, barbeques, beach days—and lots of time to fill. Keep kids entertained (and yourself sane) with these fun summer crafts & recipes. 
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Summer is the best time of year to get kids involved in cooking, says dietitian and mom Diana K. Rice—cool summer snacks are often easy to assemble, and an abundance of fruit means sweet treats are healthy, too. And when it comes to summer toys, there's nothing better than creating something from scratch then using it for hours of fun, says Lynn Lilly, author of Screen-Free Crafts Kids Will Love. "Give kids a craft that gives them something to play with afterward," says Lilly. "It's the craft that keeps on giving."

Try these 13 easy ways to get more fun out of your summer.

Make fruity freezer pops

The night before a hot, humid day, Rice likes making a batch of fruit-filled popsicles to keep in the freezer. Blend up two cups frozen fruit and one cup Tropicana Kids fruit juice (mixed berry, watermelon, or fruit punch), then pour into popsicle molds. Freeze at least 8 hours, or until popsicle slides easily out of the mold.

Most any combination works, says Rice, so she likes to ask her daughter for suggestions. "Last time, we made orange popsicles with mango, and I asked, what should we make next time," she says. "My daughter said green, so it was, alright, spinach is going into the next popsicles." Try pairing watermelon juice with frozen watermelon, or mixed berry with in-season strawberries. Find more ideas here.

Use cupcake liners as drink protectors

To keep bugs, leaves, and summer debris out of drinks, flip a cupcake liner over the top of your drink. Then, says Lilly, poke a straw through the top for easy sipping. Kids can use glitter glue to spruce up their "lids."

Make fudgesicles out of bananas and cocoa powder

For an indulgent twist—and a healthy take on fudgesicles—blend up ripe, room-temperature bananas and a tablespoon of cocoa powder. Then, pour the blend into popsicle molds. If the mixture is too hard to pour, put it into a frosting bag or plastic baggie, snip off a corner, and pipe the chocolatey banana blend into the molds. Freeze at least 8 hours.

Keep bubbles blowing all summer long

Entertain bubble-loving kids with a bubble refill station, made out of a large spouted beverage dispenser and decorated with stickers, glitter glue, and markers. Follow the recipe here, or dump in a few containers of store-bought bubble mix.

Keep a post-beach cleaning station in the back of your car

Love beach days, but hate sandy feet? Keep cleaning materials in your trunk. Grab a single-use cake pan from the grocery store, and fill an old water bottle with water. Once you're back at the car, pour the H2O into the tin, let kids splash their feet, then dry with a towel. For the sandy hands, hair, and faces tap on baby powder, allow it to soak up any remaining moisture, then rub the sand right off.

Build a watermelon cake

For a fun-to-make dessert that won't give kiddos a sugar crash, build a watermelon cake. Jordan Bailey, chef and owner of Boston's Lumiere, and father of one hungry boy, swears by the below recipe:

Ingredients:

1 watermelon

½ lb. cream cheese

5 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1-pint blueberries

Seeds from 1 pomegranate

Basil leaves

Directions:

Cut the rind away from the melon, then cut three 4 x 2-inch round sections and set aside.

Stir the cream cheese together with honey and lemon juice and set aside. To assemble, spread a small amount of cream cheese in between each layer of watermelon—don't worry if the frosting comes out along the sides. Spread the remainder of the cream cheese across the top of the cake, and arrange pomegranate seeds, blueberries, and basil to decorate.

Use water guns to tie-dye a white t-shirt

Dress your kids in pre-washed white cotton t-shirts, then hand them water guns filled with a mix of one drop of food coloring per cup of water. They can spray one another with the dyed water, then hang their shirts to dry for an active twist on classic tie-dying. Don't worry about the dye staining skin and hair, says Lilly: "As long as you wash it while you're still wet, it'll come off."

Make PB&Js ahead of time to store in your freezer

On up-and-out days, Rice swears by pre-frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Prepare a PB&J as usual— "Put peanut butter on both sides, so the jelly doesn't sink into the bread," Rice advises—then put each sandwich in a zip-tight baggie. Stack them in your freezer, and grab on your way out the door. They'll only need a few hours to defrost.

Turn sponges into water toys

Courtesy of Lynn Lilly 
Courtesy of Lynn Lilly

Use scissors to cut a plain kitchen sponge into long strips. Then, use an elastic band to connect the strips in the middle, creating a soakable, throwable water toy.

Make homemade Play-dough

Sick of slime? Have your kids use pantry ingredients to whip up Lilly's version of a classic colored Play-Doh.

Ingredients:

-1 cup of flour

-½ packet of Kool-Aid mix

-½ cup salt

-2 tablespoons cream of tartar

-1 tablespoon canola oil

-1 cup boiling water

Directions:

Cover counter, table, or outdoor space with parchment paper, and set out two bowls. In the smaller bowl, mix Kool-Aid and hot water until the powder dissolves. Mix the rest of the ingredients in the larger bowl, then pour in the Kool-Aid mix and stir until mixture is combined. Once it's cool enough, knead the mixture by hand on parchment paper. If it feels dry, add another splash of hot water. Store in an airtight container to keep moist.

Use your phone as a lantern

Can't find your old camping lantern? Upgrade to newer technology: Put your phone on a table or flat surface, screen up, and place a plastic water bottle on top—the screen light will illuminate the water and cast light around the bottle. Turn your auto-lock off in settings for hours of brightness.

Make your own sidewalk chalk

Courtesy of Lynn Lilly

"Turn your driveway into a giant art project with homemade liquid sidewalk chalk," says Lilly. "You can create unique graffiti-style art with fun colors."

Materials:

- 3 Empty Condiment Bottles

- 3 Colors of Food Coloring

- 1 cup cornstarch

- 1 cup water

- 1 cup baking soda

Directions:

Pour 1/3 cup cornstarch, 1/3 cup water, 1/3 cup baking soda, and 7 drops of food coloring into each bottle. Screw the lid on and shake for 15-20 seconds, or until fully mixed. To use the chalk, squirt it like paint onto a driveway or sidewalk. It'll dry after a minute or two, and wash off with water.

Keep a dryer sheet in your pocket to banish bugs

The chemicals that give the sheets their flowery scent have been found to keep gnats, and possibly mosquitos, at bay. Tuck them into your pocket, or under plates and cups when eating outside.

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