Chicken in creamy white pasta sauce with a secret

  
It’s a delicious and healthier take on your simple white pasta sauce. Because it’s packed with veggies! 

All you need is a cup of cauliflower purée and 1/2 cup of carrot purée, or more if you like carrots. 

Chicken in creamy white pasta sauce 

Ingredients

1 pound cooked chopped boneless chicken breast

1 cup cauliflower purée 

1/2 cup carrot purée 

1/4 cup cheddar cheese

1 tsp garlic powder 

3 tbsp unsalted butter 

1/4 cup cream/milk

Salt and pepper to taste 

Dash of Italian seasonings (optional)

Directions

1. Boil pasta of choice 

2. Melt butter over medium-low heat in saucepan. 

3. After it is melted, add the cream/milk. Add garlic powder, salt and pepper. Stir until mixed. 

4. Add the purees and mix. Then add the cheese. 

5. Let cook on low heat about 5 minutes. If it’s too thick, you can add more milk for desired consistency.

6. Add the cooked chicken to the sauce. Voila! 

A healthy, delicious dish you and your kids will devour!

You can sub whole grain pasta for a more nutritious meal. 

Tip: Keep veggie purees frozen for a quick addition to pizza sauces, pastas, etc. 

Top 10 baby buys that you won’t regret

So, you’re having a baby, or just had one. Congratulations! Welcome to the wonderful world of parenting! And the sort-of-confusing world of what to buy for your little one. Whether you are looking at pacifiers, bottles, cups, diapers, wipes, strollers, high chairs, potties, etc., there are just so many options out there, with all kinds of pros and cons. Researching is good, asking friends is good, reading reviews is good.

But wait, your little one just pooped all over you.

Is reality settling in yet?

“Ok, so what do I really need?

Since I have three kids, I get asked this question a lot. And mostly by moms who don’t want to fall for the fluff, and want the real deal. And not to mention, a good deal. Most of us don’t have money to throw away on big fancy names. $300 on a rocker that my baby will grow out of after 4 months? No, thank you.

And if we plan on having more than one child, we would like to repurpose our things. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t claim to know what every mom needs. But living with three children means I have tried a bunch of things, and even fallen for some of the fluff. But through the fluff, I picked up a few things that didn’t cost an arm and a leg, and have lasted a long time.

Here is a list of the top 10 baby buys that I have not regretted. Not only are they awesome, but they have lasted through at least 2 kids. Which says a lot about baby items.

1. OXO Tot spoon and fork – I love these utensils. Doesn’t hurt that I snagged them at a clearance sale at a local grocery store, but they are seriously the best. Strong, durable. My toddler easily is able to put food in his mouth without dropping half of the spoonful. Plus they have a nice rubber backing that helps them stand against the plate and not fall in. oxo

2. Tommee Tippee straw/sippy cups – They might be a bit pricier than the Nuby and Munchkin brands, but these are great cups. Spill-proof and easy to clean. No more gunk getting stuck inside the straw or 2 million parts to remove before being able to actually clean the spout/straw.

3. Fisher-Price booster seat – Love this chair. It’s reasonably priced, saves space, and not only is it easy to clean, but it can be adjusted for height, which helps when the little one is getting bigger. Plus it snaps together making it perfect for travel. One downside: It doesn’t recline.

boosterseat

4. IKEA KALAS children’s tableware – When it comes to kids’ stuff, cheap isn’t the only factor. It’s gotta work. Experienced parents will tell you that quality matters. So if that means spending $200 on a stroller, parents will do that. But when the stars align and you get the perfect combo of price and quality, it is truly a wonderful feeling. That is what I feel with these plates, cups and bowls. You get 6 for $2, plus they are kid-friendly and strong. I am not a big fan of the utensils. I also like that when guests with kids come over, I can color code plate and cup so we know whose is whose.

5. Boppy nursing pillow – This is a great pillow. It’s the pillow that keeps on coming in handy. Not only did it save my back during pregnancy, but it helped me nurse my littles ones. My kids also used it for tummy time and naps. Not to mention, it was awesome when I was flying with my almost 12-month-old and couldn’t use the bassinet. I just used the Boppy on my lap. Plus, the whole thing is machine washable. Enough said.

boppy

6. Baby Jogger City Mini stroller – I know what you might say. Baby Jogger is not a cheap brand. The newer single stroller models cost around $250. But I can’t rave enough about the patented one-hand fold. It’s a strap in the middle of the seat that you pull and the stroller collapses down flat. Plus the wheels pop off with the touch of a button, making it a breeze to stuff it in a tight place. And it is durable. The suspension of this stroller is unbelievable. It just rolls off curbs, and up onto the sidewalk easily. If the price is scaring you, you can be happy knowing that this is a stroller that you can find for a great deal, if you just look around. Older season’s models drop down to about $150, and with free shipping offered at most sites, you can’t beat it. I would even recommend searching around on Craigslist or eBay. The quality of the City Mini is so great, that even at secondhand, it’s a great buy. One downside: It is heavier than an umbrella stroller, but I ccityminian easily have my toddler at my hip, and fold it down with one hand. Can’t beat that.

7. Stroller hooks – I am in love with my stroller hooks. I have the Mommy Hook and the OXO Tot hooks. It makes shopping with a stroller so easy. Plus the OXO hooks double as a handle grip for older kids to hang onto so they don’t get lost. Both of these hooks are metal so they are durable. Beware of plastic hooks, which can break or snap off during travel or when folding up the stroller.

8. OXO Tot straw and sippy cup cleaning set – This is a great item to have around the house. Not only does it help clean the nooks and crannies of your sippy cup collection, but they are together on one handy clip that easily hangs onto a hook in your kitchen. You get a straw brush, lid/pump parts brush, and a sippy spout cleaner. You don’t have to worry about stashing multiple cleaning attachments and then losing them.

9. Stride Rite shoes – Any parent knows that shoes and clothing can become an expensive part of raising a child. They outgrow clothing so fast, that before you know it you are buying a new wardrobe for your 5-year-old. Pants are good at the waist, but too short. Shirts are too tight. Some kids jump sizes. And with shoes the bigger problem is, if they aren’t comfy, your kid will not wear them. Would you? Since having my first born, I have been buying Stride Rite shoes. And they have been worth it. I passed on almost every pair to my second daughter, and even after she outgrew them, I was still able to pass them down. They are that great. But I must say that the price tag on most of their shoes has me doing a double take. So I go to the outlet stores for a look, and I stock up on their coupons that are printed at the bottom of every receipt. $5 off a pair of shoes can be a big help for families on a budget.

10. Diaper bags – The essential baby item for a mom. It’s got to be durable, but nice, too. The straps can’t be cutting into your shoulders. It must hold every thing needed for an emergency, and still be light enough to tote around town. It’s a tough purchase. After having bought multiple diaper bags over 7 years, I have to say I like Storksak and Petunia Pickle Bottom for their line of good quality, yet sensible bags. Yes, they are pricey, but again, if you look around, you can find really great deals for older models. I got my Storksak on Amazon.com, and Petunia Pickle Bottom has regular outlet sales where you can save 60% off their bags. My diaper bag must be durable to withstand spills and scratches, easy to maintain, multiple pockets, and look like a nice bag. I have found all these qualities with my Storksak Olivia bag, and my Petunia Pickle Bottom weekender.

This list isn’t complete, but if you think of something to add, please comment!

The best chocolate mug cake for a family

My husband says I give in to my children’s sweet tooth way too often. I admit I’m guilty. Because I have a ginormous sweet tooth myself. And I hate waiting until the kids go to bed to satisfy my cravings for chocolate or baked goods.

If I could, I would be baking cookies and cakes every day. But I don’t – for the sake of our waistlines. Yet all my daughter has to say is, “Can you bake cookies today?” and before she finishes her sentence I am already pulling out the flour container. What can I say, sweets are my weakness. And I enjoy baking for my kids, too.

That being said, we all know that sweets contain way too much stuff that our bodies don’t really need. So I try to bake as healthy as possible.

While looking for a quick fix for my chocolate cake craving, I came across this awesome recipe for a chocolate mug cake that you – get this – bake in the microwave. A little bit of flour? 2 tbsp cocoa powder? No eggs? Only 60 seconds in the microwave? I was sold.

The recipe I saw on the Table for Two blog was for only one cake. Now I don’t know about you, but since having kids I never bake for one anymore. More like one army. So I adapted this recipe for a family serving of mug cakes. This recipe makes 4 mug cakes. The mug sizes I used hold about 3/4 cup liquid, and I filled them to about halfway and they came out perfect. I also added applesauce to sub for oil and a little date syrup for the granulated sugar. Just to make things a little bit healthier.

Chocolate mug cake for a family

(Adapted from Table for Two blog recipe for The Moistest Chocolate Mug Cake)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup flour

3 tbsp. cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. baking powder

3 tbsp. granulated sugar PLUS 2 tbsp. date syrup

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. of milk

4 tbsp. applesauce

Optional

1 tsp. of Nutella or any hazelnut chocolate spread, dropped in the middle

1 Hershey’s Kiss dropped in the middle

Sprinkling of chocolate chips on top

Directions:

1. Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, cocoa powder

2. Then whisk in milk, applesauce, vanilla extract and date syrup.

3. Batter should be smooth, not lumpy

4. Evenly distribute batter among cups. You can even distribute among 2 large mugs. Just make sure there is room for the cake to rise without spilling over.

5. Add any optional ingredients.

6. Microwave for 60 seconds. (90 seconds for a larger mug) Of course this all depends on the wattage of your microwave, so if you are unsure, start with 60 seconds and see how it sets. Cake should not be liquidy or jiggly. But be careful not to overbake.

7. Top with caramel sauce, whipped cream, or more chocolate! The possibilities are endless…and dangerous.

Going yum-yum for Mum-Mums

Why do all baby snacks taste dreadful? Like cardboard or really tasteless Cheetos? I used to care but then I figured, who cares? As long as my kid eats it, I am good.

When I had my first child, I wanted her to have only the good stuff. So I bought a box of Baby Mum-Mums. Organic rice rusks, said the box. She never cared for them. So I tried one. I ended up throwing away the whole box. Yeah, definitely didn’t make the midnight snack cut.

Then I bought some for my second daughter. Same story. So I gave up on Baby Mum-Mums. Although they seemed like a great snack. Easy to carry. Easy to chew on. And simple flavors like banana or apple.

When my son came along I gave him the tried and true baby snacks. You know the puffs and melts, etc. But one day we were outside and a friend gave her daughter a Mum-Mum rusk and my son swiped it. He LOVED them. In fact he loved them so much my friend ended up giving me extras.

He liked the Baby Mum-Mums so much, that I decided to try the Toddler Mum-Mums, too. And he just inhaled those. Especially the apple version.

I was so happy that he liked them because they seemed healthier and better than chips and cookies. But to my dismay, my happiness was short lived. I ended up finding out (from Alexandra over at the Mum-Mums company) that the Toddler Mum-Mums contain beef-derived gelatin and that’s a big no-no for our diet as Muslims.

But for the while it lasted, I was happy with the Mum-Mums. I do hope they find an alternative to beef gelatin, considering they are an organic snack.

Of course now that I have three little ones, snack time takes on a more creative turn… we make our own potato chips, pizza pockets, etc. What do you all do for snack time?

Mac n’ cheese with a secret

Ever since moving to the IRI, I have found myself searching high and low for different ways of preparing meals and snacks for the kids. Sure, I miss the convenience of just running to a local Kroger and picking up a meal-in-a-box or fish sticks. But now that I have been forced into cooking and baking from scratch, I have to tell you it’s quite rewarding.

So the other day FZ was craving mac n’ cheese – the “orange” kind. Yeah, which kid doesn’t love the “orange” kid. Unfortunately for me and many other cheddar lovers, there is no cheddar cheese readily available here. I know, I know. My jaw dropped the first time, too. There is a nice alternative – gouda cheese slices. And most of us moms use that here to make the “orange” mac n’ cheese.

But I realized through my own experimentation, that adding carrot or butternut squash puree to the final mixture makes your mac n’ cheese, not only delicious, but nutritious. And in the words of my 6-year-old: “awesome.”

When I told FZ what was in her pasta, she looked at me funny and my husband told me now she wouldn’t eat it again. But she actually was surprised that a veggie could taste so yummy!

Mac n’ cheese with a secret
Serves: approximately 4 kids, or 2 kids and 1 hungry mom/dad

1. Boil 2 cups of your favorite pasta – usually shells or fusilli work best

2. Have a cup of carrot or butternut squash puree ready.

3. In a small pot, melt 2 tbsp. of butter. Once melted, add 3/4 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese, 1 tbsp. of heavy cream, 2 tsp. of garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.

4. Let cook on low heat until mixed thoroughly. Then add carrot or butternut squash puree and heat through.

5. Add cooked pasta to the sauce mixture.

6. Done! Goes great with homemade chicken or fish nuggets.

Sticking it to nasty colds and congestion

When it’s cold season I dread congested noses. Poor sniffling kids who can’t sleep, can’t nurse, can’t breathe. It is just horrible.

Sure humidifiers, Vicks, and steam baths help, but it just takes time. And you really can’t explain that to your kid.

So you have a cranky kid who can’t breathe and therefore cannot fall asleep, and you have your fingers constantly dipping into the Vicks. But there is a light.

Enter the Babyganics Cold Relief Chest Rub in stick form! That’s right! Perfect for post-bath smearing and pre-bedtime touchups.

I have to admit it was a bit pricey (I got it for $6.99 from Babies R Us), but it is worth it. At least to have one ready for the bedside so even a kid can apply a little to their chests to feel better at night. I also buy the tubs of Vicks (Love Target’s Up and Up version of the baby rub) for massive application.

Baby stuff – what you need and what you don’t

When I was having my first child I turned to a few experienced moms (thanks again Sughra, Kim and Carissa – you know who you are!) who could offer me sage advice on the important things one needs when preparing for a baby.

And when I say “important,” I don’t mean the matching valance and diaper stacker for the nursery – I mean really important stuff.

A cute nursery with all the matching crap that baby boutiques advertise as must-haves for us sucker moms might look simply adorable but it’s not necessary.

And it doesn’t last. Sooner or later your kid will grow out of a crib, and he/she will have favorite colors and tastes in different cartoon characters, and before you know it, that $400-plus crib bedding set is out on the curb, to be replaced by Dora sheets and SpongeBob pillowcases.

I consider myself somewhat experienced now, after having 2 kids and buying/trying/returning all those wonderful things that I thought my little girls would need.

So here is a rundown of all those things that a new, and even experienced mom, should not live without. This is definitely not a complete list, so feel free to add more must-haves!

1. A good, everyday stroller. And I would say you should even splurge a little on this because a good stroller that takes care of business is a blessing. Trust me.

What to look for: Easy folding, reclining options, sun canopy, maneuverability

Top picks: Baby Jogger City series, Maclaren Quest, Peg Perego Pliko3

The Baby Jogger City Mini offers a reclining seat, big sun canopy, quick one-hand fold, and great maneuverability.

2. Baby carrier. Strollers are not always an option, and sometimes you just want a quick carry option, like when you are at the airport.

What to look for: Easy on/off, back support, sturdy, is baby happy in it?

Top picks: Ergobaby, BabyHawk, Baby K’tan, BabyBjorn

3. Feeding items – like bottles, sippy cups. Nothing is worse than a leaky bottle or a sippy cup that spills. I’ve bought the gamut and finally found the few that actually work.

What to look for: Spill proof, easy to clean/remove parts, good grip

Top picks: Munchkin, Foogo, The First Years Take and Toss

4. Shoes.When kids are walking, nothing is worse than a shoe that pinches or isn’t durable.

What to look for: Wide options, easy on/off, durable, slight room to grow

Top picks: Stride Rite, Robeez

5. Highchair. Forget all the fancy names. A good chair doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. These days a spacesaver feeding seat works wonders – and you can put it anywhere you want, thanks to the attachment straps, without it getting in the way.

What to look for: Recline options, easy-to-clean seat, travel options is a bonus

Top picks: Evenflo, The First Years feeding seat

The First Years Newborn to Toddler reclining feeding seat is perfect for small spaces and for babies just learning how to eat. Plus has all the features of a highchair.

6. Diaper bag. While you shouldn’t go overboard, spending a little more on a quality bag is worth it. After all this will probably be the only bag you’ll be using for a good while.

What to look for: Pockets, easy to clean, Mommy pockets, how does it wear/comfortable straps, dual/triple use – stroller, backpack, messenger, etc.

Top picks: Peg Perego Borsa MammaPetunia Pickle Bottom, SkipHop

7. Diaper pails. While this is an essential nursery item, beware of all the froufrou versions with costly refills.

What to look for: One-hand open/close, roomy for all those diapers, can you use a regular trash bag with it?

Top picks: Diaper Champ, Safety 1st

8. Recliner/glider. Whether it is nursing a newborn or reading to your little one before bedtime, a nice recliner works wonders and is great on your back. I wouldn’t care too much about the matching ottoman, though.

What to look for: A recliner that rocks, soft and comfy, easy to clean fabric (your newborn will inevitably spit up all over it)

9. Play gym/activity center. These are great for keeping little ones happy and entertained, without feeling boxed in like in a playpen.

What to look for: Hanging toys, easy to clean mat/toys, removable items that your kid can play with, folding option for travel/storage

Top picks: Bright Starts, Baby Einstein, Fisher Price, Tiny Love

The Bright Starts activity mat is perfect for a baby learning to roll over and crawl. Plus it folds easily and has an easy to clean surface.

10. White noise machine. When a baby is finally down, there is nothing worse than it waking up to a phone ringing or an ambulance roaring into the neighborhood. You don’t have to buy those pricey ones, even a small desktop fan at the strongest level will work. Plus you don’t want your child getting used to sleeping in silence.

What to look for: Good volume control, definite shushing sound, travel options, good battery life

Top picks: Sleep Sheep, Homedics SoundSpa, Massey desktop fan

What not to waste money on

Here are a few items I would not bother putting on your baby registry, nor spending money on:

Fancy shower spa bathtubs – All frills, no use

Baby wipes warmer – They might be good for winter nights, but the refill freshening pads are pricey

Baby shoes – Until your baby is walking those expensive shoes are of no use. (Except for photo shoots or special occasions.)

Playpen – Might be nice to keep a kid contained, but I have yet to see a kid who likes them. They are only useful for really small babies.

Extraneous nursery items – Besides the basic crib bedding set, don’t worry about the matching clock, valance, diaper stacker, nightlight, wall painting, hamper, etc. etc.

Lots of clothes – When your kid is a newborn, only buy the essentials because you’ll get tons of clothes as gifts. Plus you won’t know until a month or so if your kid is on the smaller side or larger side, or how certain items fit. Also, always buy on sale. I never buy baby/kid clothes for full price, unless it is a must-have item, or I need it for a special occasion. Babies, especially, grow so fast that before you know it, you are looking at a rack full of brand new clothes that don’t fit anymore. At least when you pay less you won’t feel so bad.

Check out your local resale store

Once your kids have outgrown their clothes and toys, if there is no option to donate to another mommy, instead of throwing them away take them to a resale store and get some cash back – so you can buy more diapers. Resale stores also carry new items so you might even end up finding a nice pair of shoes or an outfit for less.

Here in Houston there are a couple I like: Crayons Children’s Resale in southwest Houston and Thread Houston in the Heights

The perfect parent?

No one is a perfect parent but we can always learn from each other. And don’t write off anything unless you try it. Our kids are all different, and what works for one parent might not work for another. I hope this list helps! And please, feel free to add more to this list and share your top picks of other items.