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Pardon our dust! (And, yay for changes!)

We’re doing a little spring cleaning here at The Happiest Home! Sarah’s been working hard behind the scenes to switch us to a new theme that will make it easier for you to navigate content and discover gems that have gotten buried over the years. We appreciate your patience while we roll out the new changes, and – whoops! – apologize if some older content somehow winds up in your inbox along the way. Want to stay up to date on what’s happening here amid all the changes? Fill out the box below and we’ll get in touch with you via email

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Looking for inspiration and real-life connection? Join me at the BEYOND Retreat next fall.

You know one of the biggest benefits of slowing down and doing less? When you step off of the merry-go-round of doing, doing, doing just because it seems like, well, the thing to do, you suddenly have all this “new” time and energy and brain space to pursue things that mean a lot to you. For years I’ve been dreaming of putting together an event bringing together awesome women in one place to dream, plan, recharge and get inspired. And now it’s time to make it happen. In October of 2015 I’ll be hosting a small but mighty group of women (is

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“Fun Parent” vs. “Boring Parent” – It’s Not Fair! But Is It True?

My husband made this lunch for my daughter last week. I know. I should have known it was coming when I caught him poring over Bento box tutorials on YouTube, watching a woman meticulously arrange smiley faces onto tiny rice-ball heads, then cap them off with pita-pocket hats. The very next day, Jon made a special trip to the grocery store for supplies. And that evening, he and Clara hovered over the kitchen island for a good half-hour creating The Lunch To End All Lunches.  Heart-shaped salami framed by heart-shaped cheese slices, people. A tiny little star cutout peanut-butter sandwich with honey and sprinkles

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Delegate Like Downton: A Strategy For Managing Home Helpers

Imagine this: it’s a Sunday afternoon. One child just got done shoveling the walk, and another is unloading the dishwasher. You, on the other hand, are reading a magazine, sipping a cup of tea and enjoying the calm of a neat (enough) kitchen…that you didn’t even have to tidy up yourself. Sound like a fantasy? It’s not! It’s actually how my Sunday afternoon played out…and it’s a pretty common scenario around here. It hasn’t always been this way. Earlier in marriage and motherhood, I was surrounded by mess and chaos, and bogged down by resentment. Why didn’t other family members recognize

At Home with Meagan

5 Must-Have Kitchen Tools

I’ve been wanting to do a regular video series, like, forEVER. But when I had kids home with me during the day, I found it was just too difficult to find quiet pockets of time to shoot and edit regularly. A five-minute video may not seem like it takes much time to do, but there’s a lot of set-up and production involved, even in the most “candid” vids.  Now that my days are my own, though, I’m finding that I’ve got the space and quiet to take on some of those things I’ve been wanting to do! So, here it

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Whimsical Girl’s Bedroom Ideas

We’re moving! In less than two weeks my family is relocating to Southern California and we couldn’t be more excited. Our new house is ready and waiting for us and I’m itching to get into it and start settling in. One of the biggest differences between our current house and the one we’re moving into is the flooring. We have carpet now – lots of it – and we’re moving into a house with all hardwood floors. And while the new floors are beautiful, it’s going to be awfully echo-y in there until we get some area rugs down. One problem:

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Gardening with Kids, The (Really) Easy Way

I’ve always wanted to think of myself as the kind of mom who grows herbs indoors using a DIY seed-starting kit, turning toilet-paper rolls or egg cartons into frugal mini-gardens which nurture her child’s green thumb, creativity and resourcefulness. In reality, I’m the kind of mom who intends, every year, to start seeds indoors eight weeks before the ground is warm, or start a windowsill herb garden, but always forgets to gather the supplies or set aside an afternoon for putting together a system. So this year, I decided to skip all the usual “Oh man, I can’t believe I

Announcing The Happiest Home’s "Lunch Box Challenge" with a GREAT Giveaway!

UPDATE! This contest is closed, and winners have been chosen. Check the bottom of the post for the winning comments.

After doing a lot of reading about school lunch programs (okay, and maybe after watching a couple seasons of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, too) I’ve felt more convicted than ever to make it a priority to send my children to school with home-packed lunches. Our school system’s lunch menus don’t seem too bad on the surface, but when you consider:

  • cost – our school lunches run about $200/month for four lunch-eating kids. For that money, I can pack really good lunches.
  • quality and nutrition – there are healthy options like a salad bar, but the kids tend to eat the not-so-great stuff on their plates, like breaded chicken and breaded cheese nuggets and bread sticks and breaded corn dogs and huge white-bread rolls, and if all that breading wasn’t bad enough, I am skeptical of the quality of ingredients overall;
  • taste – most of my kids don’t like school lunch, so they either just pick at it or,  in the case of the older boys, use their pocket cash to buy junk from the a la carte line;
  • waste – all that food the kids don’t like? Guess where it goes – the trash! Many (most?) schools don’t even have programs in place to recycle packaging and trays.

When I’m honest with myself, I know I have the time to pack a lunch just about every day. Even packing three or four at a time takes no longer than five or ten minutes. The biggest obstacles for me are preparation (having the foods I need and any other materials on hand), organization (knowing where everything is when I need it, and an established routine that makes lunch-packing just part of the day) and commitment.

That last one’s a biggie. When I don’t commit to something, it’s only too easy to believe that I “don’t have time” to do it…when the reality is that I just didn’t prepare, plan, or prioritize. The point of this challenge is to get us committed for one month – enough time to figure out time-saving strategies and put routines in place that can help make it much easier to continue once the challenge is over.

As somebody who’s turned to the ease and availability of the school-lunch program many times, I totally understand why packing a homemade lunch isn’t always a priority – or even when it is, often falls off a busy parent’s radar. But committing to packing my kids’ lunches this year is one thing I can do just a little bit better.

No guilt or pressure if you’re focusing on other things right now, but if you’re up for it, I hope you’ll join me over the next month for my Lunch Box Challenge. For us school starts on September 6, and my personal “challenge” will run through October 7. Along the way I’ll be posting every Saturday about how it’s going, how I’m simplifying and streamlining the process of packing lunches and what I’m learning along the way. I hope you will join in and share your experiences here in the comments or on Facebook or your own blog.

Some notes about the way I’m going to do school lunches “a little bit better” (rather than aiming for perfection):

  • I will still let my kids eat lunch at school a few times a month so I get a little break and they’ll get to eat their favorite school meals. We’ll look at the menus together, pick those days ahead of time and put them on the calendar.
  • My lunches will not be particularly creative. A lot of moms are into artistic Bento lunches, and I think that’s great! But while I may feel occasionally moved to draw a mustard smiley face on a turkey sandwich, pretty lunches are not a priority for me during this challenge. If you’re looking for more creative ideas than what I have to offer, check out the fabulous and inspired Wendolonia.
  • I’m not going for 100% natural, from-scratch, homemade food in these lunches. They’ll be a reflection of the way I feed my family in generalmostly whole, fresh foods, as many organics as possible, a lot of locally-sourced produce (while it lasts)…and some packaged and convenience food, too. For most families, real life includes making some small tradeoffs for a larger benefit, so let’s embrace “good enough” lunches during this challenge!

Okay, now the fun part. Several brands have offered to donate a selection of great products so that  two readers will win one really fantastic prize package that includes all of the following:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bento Boxes from EasyLunchBoxes.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • A set of bento lunchboxes from EasyLunchBoxes.com. I love these because unlike many Bento lunchboxes, they have plenty of room for a full-sized sandwich and the entire box closes with one lid that’s easy for small fingers to take on and off. A set includes four dishwasher-safe lunchboxes and lids, plus an insulated tote that carries up to two at a time. (I like that a set comes with FOUR boxes, because there are always plenty to rotate so you don’t have to wait for the evening dishes to be done before you can pack tomorrow’s lunch.)

and,

  • A Lunch Bundle from One Step Ahead, including:
    • BabySteps Multi-Slicer I find that cutting up fruit, cheese, etc. into chunks and slices is probably the most time-consuming part of packing a lunch. This tool (with two different blades for coring/slicing and cubing) makes the cutting part a snap and is great for after-school snacks, too.

  • A Wrap-N-Mat reusable sandwich wrap and placemat. If you’re like me, you hate the idea of throwing away baggies, but they aren’t always easy to get clean and you have to prop them all over your kitchen to make sure the insides dry properly. Here’s the genius solution – a re-useable mat you can wrap your child’s sandwich up in. Love. It.
  • A Mini Bites Crustless Sandwich Cutter. I had a round sandwich cutter at one point but always hated how much sandwich it left behind – I always felt like I had to pack two sandwiches to make up for the bread lost. This cool little device keeps a lot more of the sandwich and divides it up into four neat triangles while sealing the edges for less mess. As for the crusts left behind? Don’t worry, I eat ‘em. I love crusts. (My kids actually like crusts too, but they get really excited over triangular sandwiches.)
  • Insulated Lunch Bag. the EasyLunchBoxes containers fit inside the lower half of this roomy bag, and there’s a compartment in the top half for a midday snack or drink. Options are good.
  • EZ Freeze sandwich container and EZ Freeze snack container. I often worryabout sending easily-perishable foods like tuna sandwiches, yogurt, or mayo to sit in my kids’ lockers all day, but had a hard time finding an easy way to keep them cold. These containers feature a built-in freezer pack so you don’t have to worry about separate gel packs or baggies full of ice (what, I’m the only one who’s tried that?)

and,

  • A month’s worth of lunchbox snacks from Revolution Foods. Supplementing your lunch-packing efforts with healthy, organic packaged snacks makes it easy to do a little bit better without having to blend up veggie smoothies during the school-morning rush. My kids especially love the Yo’Drops – crunchy little balls made of 100% certified organic yogurt and fruit and natural flavorings.
  •  

     

    The winners’ Revolution Foods Snack Kit will contain the following snacks, enough for lunches Monday through Friday for four weeks:

    To enter, leave a comment on this post – I’d love to hear if you’re planning to try the lunch box challenge! Have you had plans in the past to pack lunches from home, but they fizzled? How can you overcome lunch burnout this year – will you set aside a specific time to make lunches, invest in certain tools, enlist your child’s help, etc?

    For extra entries, you can do either or both of the following:

    • Share this post on Facebook and/or Twitter, then come back and leave a comment letting me know.
    • Post the badge above on your own blog (feel free to grab the code in the sidebar) with a link back to this post, and leave a comment letting me know.

    The contest will close at 5:00 PM EST on Friday, September 9, and I’ll choose two winners randomly using the plugin “And The Winner Is.” Check back to next Saturday’s Lunch Box Challenge post for the winner! And I hope you’ll follow the challenge for the next month. Thanks, good luck, and happy packing!

    The contest is closed! Two winning comments were randomly chosen:

    Your Winner

    Author: Martha (chi…@gmail.com)
    Comment: permalink
    After homeschooling for many years off to school go the youngest two. I am committed to pack lunches, and was successful for the first week. but I can see it getting harder and my kids are already asking to buy! but I hope by including them in the picking of food and the packing each day that we will succeed. Winning the prizes would be oh so fun!

    Your Winner

    Author: christina (c…@comcast.net)
    Comment: permalink
    School just started for us last week and my energy and creativity are high for making lunch. I HOPE I don’t fizzle out. Hopefully doing the challenge will keep me accountable.

    Congratulations, Christina and Martha! Look for an email from me. If you’re just finding this giveaway and didn’t win, I hope you’ll follow along with the rest of the challenge – check back each Saturday for a new post and giveaway!

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