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When we become grownups, we sometimes forgot what really makes the holidays a magical time of year. We think we can purchase it at the store. We try so hard to either give our kids the kind of childhood we had or one that is better.

If we really think back, childhood itself is what’s magical. It’s the time in our lives where parents still live on pedestals, special meals have more to do with who we’re sitting next to than what’s being served, and we see the beauty in the small things like the twinkling of lights or the magnificent height of a pine tree.

Here are 17 ways to make your child’s holiday magical without spending a lot of money.

  1. Take them to a tree lighting ceremony in your community.
  2. Decorate your tree together if you have one.
  3. Take a trip to New York City at Christmas time if you can. Between the ginormous decorated tree at Rockefeller Center, ice skating and incredible light and window displays, this time of year NYC is a magical place to visit.
  4. Read books to them that teach them the stories of your religious connection to the holidays.
  5. Bake cookies and make baskets/plates to give to friends and neighbors.

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  6. Sing songs that get you in the mood for the holidays. It’s okay if it’s loud, silly and completely off key.
  7. Share a special meal with friends and family. The longer it’s been since you’ve seen them, the more magical it will be. My kids are excited to see their cousins since it’s been a few months since we’ve seen them last.
  8. Build snow castles. I still remember the igloo style castle my Dad and I made together twenty-odd years ago.
  9. Have a day where you gather all your craft supplies and go crazy making decorations for the house. It really doesn’t matter if they aren’t “Martha Stewart worthy.” It’s more about the process; the messier the better. Just throw down some newspaper and have fun.
  10. Take a tour of the best light displays in the Hudson Valley. You don’t need to go to elaborate displays that cost money if you don’t want to. Simply pile in the car in your pajamas with some hot cocoa in travel mugs and try to find the best lights in your area.
  11. Go sledding and/or snow tubing with your kids. Find a decent hill in your neighborhood or at a local park and spend the day riding down with your kids. We always have a blast with our kids.
  12. Have hot cocoa on a cold winter day. Add special toppings like marshmallows, whipped cream, mints or add a candy cane stirrer. It’s extra special after a day of playing in the snow.
  13. Make snow art. A few years ago I gave my kids squirt bottles filled with water and food coloring. Make a few different colors and put them in different types of containers like an empty spray bottle, a watering can, or a soda bottle with a hole drilled in the cap. Anything that could be used to make art on the beautiful white canvas will fuel their imaginations.
  14. Play Name That Tune – Holiday Edition by making loud kisses on your kid’s cheeks to the tune of your favorite holiday song and have them guess what song it is. Then they could take a turn by doing the same to your cheek.
  15. Bundle up and take a winter hike. View the majesty of local trails in a breathtaking winter landscape.
  16. Pick a charity project together. Head to the toy store and have your child help you pick out a toy for a child in need. Then donate it to your favorite charity/toy drive.

    My kids had fun filling boxes with small toys and toiletries for Operation Christmas Child a few years ago. It helps to have them pick out toys for children their ages. It could be any charity project that interests you. The point is to focus their heart on giving rather than just receiving this holiday season.

  17. Visit Santa – If you are at all inclined to make Santa a part of your holiday traditions, then this is a magical no-brainer. A jolly old man who delivers toys to all the girls and boys by flying his sleigh driven by flying reindeer around the world in a single night. Yes, Santa pretty much epitomizes magic. You can take photos with Santa for free at Adams Fairacre Farms.

    Kids don’t need you to spend a fortune on them to have a magical holiday. My dad used to say that he’d buy me a toy and I’d play with the box. Kids simply need you to get involved and use your imagination. They supply the magic.

    What are your favorite free holiday activities?

    Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

A neighborhood is just the geographic location of your house, until you meet the perfect neighbors that really make it home. Our neighbors the Wall-Carty’s are our family BFFs. We get together at least two days a week to chat and let the kids play. We also share a meal at least once a week.

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Usually our potluck dinners are thrown together last minute and facilitated by a little begging by all the kids. My favorite part about hanging out with our friends is that it’s always, “come as you are,” whether your house is messy or you’re wearing sweatpants. So anything goes when it comes to our potluck dinners.

Here are 6 reasons I love our kid-friendly dinners and why I recommend you plan one with your neighbors, friends or family:

1. Use Up Your Leftovers –  Sometimes we literally grab whatever is in the fridge and head over to our neighbors house or they come to us with their leftovers and voila- instant meal. Not only do you get the pleasure of using up your leftovers, but the kids can choose meals that are new to them so you don’t get the complaining you would get if you just had your own leftovers. Using up your leftovers is a great way to stretch your monthly food budget as well.

2. Please Those Picky Eaters – Having more than one main dish means there’s usually something that will please even the picky eaters in your family. Last night we had a potluck where I made a taco macaroni casserole and our neighbors brought some leftover chicken they had on hand. Both their daughter and ours didn’t want the casserole, but happily ate the chicken and their son and ours wolfed down the casserole. With potluck, there’s virtually no complaining about what’s for dinner.

3. Try New Recipes – Our potlucks are great for getting to try new recipes. Sometimes it gets boring with the same rotation of food, but when you combine meals with another family you get to try things you never had before and test them out on your kids before making them yourself. If you love something your potluck partners bring, you can add great new recipes to your family’s meal plan.

4. A No Cook Night – Who doesn’t want a night off of cooking? The best part of potluck is that we often bring leftovers. Sometimes our family cooks and the other brings leftovers and sometimes it’s the reverse. Last weekend my husband and kids went to a wrestling match last minute and had to leave before dinner, leaving a whole pan of baked ziti for just me and the baby. The next day we had potluck at the Wall-Carty’s and they were making burgers so I grabbed that largely uneaten pan of ziti and didn’t have to cook at all.

5. Play Dates – The kids always want to play with each other and having dinner together means that the kids can hang out longer. Let’s be real, the play dates are for us adults too, especially me who works from home and doesn’t get to talk to adults much during the week.

6. Tag Team Parenting – If you have potluck dinners with family or friends whom you’ve made your honorary family, you can tag team up on the kids to get them to finish their vegetables. While our kids don’t like to listen us when it comes to eating, it helps to have another parent reminding them that they need to eat if they want to get dessert later.

When it comes to getting your kids fed and keeping them happy, you really can’t go wrong with a potluck. Plus it’s a great excuse to get together with your favorite people.

Does your family do potlucks often?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

 

 

 

Everyone knows how to make salad. A salad as a main course, though, is much trickier, especially if you are feeding it to children.  It must then be filling, supply adequate protein, and most importantly, be interesting. There are a few restaurants at which I look forward to ordering a big salad.  Like anything else, I analyzed what made the meal so special, and recreated it at home. What makes a salad enticing enough to serve as dinner? For me, it must be super fresh, offer plenty of variety, and contain items that challenge my expectations. It’s not the basics, like lettuce or carrots, which make the salad, but the extras that transform the dish from a side plate to a main attraction.

The Big Salad

Here are three salads-for-dinner I’ve made recently.  As you can see, there are some basic tenets, like romaine lettuce, baby spinach, carrots, and hard-boiled eggs.  Then there are the toss-ins that make each salad a little different– beans, crunchy noodles, homemade croutons, different fruits, etc., so that each salad is unique.   I use salad night as an opportunity for a vegetarian meal, letting the eggs and beans serve as the primary protein, but grilled chicken or steak could be a nice addition.  Finally, I always arrange each item on the plate individually, rather than a big messy pile, and then it’s fun for my kids to dip and eat.

Big Salad, one way: Baby spinach, romaine lettuce, steamed carrots, chickpeas, grape tomatoes, strawberries, chow mein noodles, and cucumbers.

Big salad, another way: Baby spinach, romaine lettuce, diced apples, grape tomatoes, steamed broccoli and carrots, zucchini sticks, cantaloupe, and hard-boiled eggs.

Big salad, a third way: Romaine lettuce, baby spinach, zucchini sticks, steamed carrot sticks, red peppers, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, fresh berries, homemade parmesan garlic croutons.

Most importantly, include family favorites in your salad, and always keep one or two of the ingredients changing.  It’ll never be the same old, and with the opportunity to raid the garden or the farm stand for fresh fruits and veggies, salad for dinner is a treat, not a punishment.

To find out what’s new in our kitchen, stop by, or become a fan on Facebook.  Happy cooking!

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