Just a few of our favorite things!! I thought it would be fun to round up some items we use in our home that would also serve as great holiday gifts this season. Links can be found below each guide.
Back to school, back to school… who’s ready to send the kids back to school!? It’s hard to believe summer 2019 is coming to an end and soon those hectic school weeks will be in full swing! Routine and organization are key in our house and I’m rounding up some of our favorite items for getting us back to school!
Five days a week we pack those school lunches and coming up with fresh ideas to surprise the kids each day can be a challenge! Thinking beyond the sandwich, these school lunches are sure to inspire! Starting with the lunchbox itself. We love PlanetBox lunchboxes not only because they come with super fun customizable magnets we can swap everyday of the week making lunch a surprise to unzip, but also because they are made with products safe from lead, phthalates, BPA, and other harmful toxins.
This is the Rover size lunchbox from PlanetBox. Darren (age 5) and Lillian (age 4) love this box best because of the multiple sections allowing us to easily break up lunch into categories of protein, fruit, vegetable, starch, and treat. Thinking beyond the sandwich Darren’s lunch pick is chicken on a stick, Soba noodle salad, fresh mango, cucumber slices and dye-free chocolate melts.
Lillian’s pick is chicken and rice with grilled squash, oatmeal energy ball with coconut, strawberries, cucumbers, red bell peppers and Marcona Almonds.
FUNctional carry bags have a mesh inside to hold ice packs to keep lunch cold. Extra pockets for napkins, forks and such as well as a water bottle pocket. Everything for lunch in one organized space.
Snack Time! The perfect reusable silicone storage bag for snacks on the run! I love using these for me and the kids. They are safer than regular plastic baggies and better for the planet! Stashers are made with pure platinum silicone and are BPA and BPS free. They come in a variety of sizes – I use the half gallon Stasher for freezing my energy balls and the sandwich Stasher for storing my personal care items while traveling. The bags feature a strong pinch locking seal at the top that really secures all the contents inside. Featured bonus here is you can cook in them too!
What fun would back to school be without colorful new supplies for school and work? Ooly’s got you and every kid in your house covered!! Serious amounts of fun packed into all of their creations. Lillian’s picks include this adorable fox sketch pad, crayons and glitter gel pens! What she loves best about these crayons are the shape and bright colors they come in. They are thick/triangular shaped fitting perfectly in her tiny hands and as an added bonus they don’t break easily compared to other brands!
Darren’s pick’s are all things monsters, including new pencils with super fun monster erasers and bookmark sticky tabs!!
Last, but not least, some classic favorites we use at home including the Chunkies paint sticks!! Both my kids are obsessed with Chunkies, and I am too, because they are all the fun of painting without all the mess! Seriously, if you don’t have the Chunkies already check them out here!!
All the fun of back to School can be found here with:
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting two Connecticut Moms, Tiffany and Jenn, who are on a mission to make ALL kids feel inclusive at special events- even if your child has a top 8 allergen! The mission that started the joint venture was simple. Separately, they were two moms who scrambled to find specialty bakeries, or out-there recipes to accommodate the food allergies of their children. After searching and researching the market, they found nothing that totally worked for them. Tired of creating large batches of cupcakes for one child where the rest ended up in the freezer or eventually the trash, and totally burnt out on running to a specialty store to pick up one cupcake, they decided to take matters into their own hands! They spent a year working with high quality ingredients in their home kitchens to develop custom cupcake kits that are safe for kids, fun to make, and convenient for parents!!!
A custom cupcake kit?? It’s an absolutely brilliant idea when you think about it!! A kit that is fun, interactive, tastes amazing for everyone, and best of all, includes EVERYTHING you need to make 2 or 20 cupcakes!!! That’s right, these ladies thought of everything and I was not surprised because they are moms on a mission!! They created the Duo Kits to create two cupcakes (so no more freezing leftovers or wasting them) or a Party Kit of 20 cupcakes for those larger events or to take to school!! All kits include: the cake mix, frosting mix, disposable frosting bag, the cutest oven-safe baking cups, mini wood spoons, handy carry box/bag and an allergen display sticker so everyone knows who the treat is for and what’s in it! These ladies really nailed it in making something that not only tastes great, but that allows everyone to be inclusive at an event.
Darren and Lillian baked this chocolate Party Kit of 20 for Sunday dinner and we served them to the family. If you don’t know this about Italian families, they can be brutally honest – especially when it comes to food. Everyone at the dinner loved them not knowing they were baked without gluten, dairy, or eggs!! You can read more about Tiffany & Jenn and purchase Fun for all Foods products here.
I was born in Washington, DC and raised on a farm in the suburbs of Maryland! I’m a Nat’s fan through and through, but understand the necessity of yelling “O” louder than the rest of the parts when singing the National Anthem! I’m a lover of picking Maryland crabs while drinking a cold beer on a hot summer afternoon. I carry hot sauce and Old Bay in my purse at all times. Also, I can absolutely promise you square pizza does exist!! As a native Marylander, I will always be a southern girl at heart regardless of where that Mason Dixon line falls, but I have called myself a true Yankee for the past 6 years where Connecticut has been my home! After I married Jon, I never thought we would end up living in his home state of Connecticut …. but here we are with two kids who were both born in the city of Hartford! Together with pride, we are raising our children in this small, but great state!
Connecticut may be known as the insurance capitol, but really it has an incredible niche of small and innovative businesses! Recently, I had the pleasure of connecting with Paul O’Connor the CEO and founder of clothing brand ‘Pride of Connecticut’ A few years ago Paul set out on a mission to give Nutmeggers a true sense of local identity through CT-inspired apparel, events, and content that speaks to the greatness of the state we hail from. Situated between two of the country’s major metropolitan hubs (NYC + Boston), Connecticut is often overlooked as a state with its own unique identity. I had a chance to connect with Paul over a quick interview to understand how his passion began and how it has evolved in the first few years of launching this business.
Sarah: Where did it all start? – What inspired you to start Pride of Connecticut (POC)?
Paul: It all started while I was stuck in traffic driving on the Merritt! Well let me back up, I had the thought that led to the idea while I was attending college in Ohio. Being raised in Connecticut and going out of state for college, I was immersed by a new culture. If you lived in Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Columbus you had pride for living in ‘O-H-I-O.’ Living in this state, among others, after high school I was absorbed by areas of people that have a sense of passion for the state in which they live and I was seeing most of this pride through apparel. So let’s go back to the merit traffic, the thought was Connecticut has a very distinct perception across the country and I wanted to create a brand that helped to share all of what CT has to offer, not just what other people think about it. Connecticut is such a tiny state with so much to offer, why don’t we have state represented apparel like (I heart NY tees or script Ohio tees… or do we??? Wait, UCONN husky hoodies don’t count!! With this idea in my head, I started to conduct some market research only to find some small pockets of Connecticut had branded merchandise, but it was localized to a specific school or city. Overall, I was not finding an inclusive brand representing ALL of Connecticut!
Sarah: What has been the most rewarding part of running
Paul: The most rewarding part has been the overwhelmingly positive response we have received from everyone we come across. People are so happy to have the chance to represent their state in a unique and creative way with a brand new lifestyle company.
Sarah: What has been the most unexpected part of running POC?
Paul: The hardest part was figuring out my voice and messaging to break through the noise of social media in launching my idea. We have continued to grow organically in Connecticut showcasing the great diversity our tiny state has to offer. The most unexpected part of all of this was having artists and creators reach out to me for collaborations. To have an idea and a vision, but limited resources was certainly a little intimidating to start, but we’ve been able to bootstrap our way to this point which has been a great learning experience.
Sarah: What future plans do you have for the business?
Paul: Working to host a steady stream of stores to hold our brand. Also, more content around Connecticut showcasing our pride for the State.
Sarah: As a Connecticut native, what is first thing that comes to mind when you think of our tiny state?
Paul: Pizza!!! We have the best pizza in the country that no one knows about!!!! Also, diversity of our Location!!! We are close to skiing, the beach, lakes; we have great cities like Mystic, New Haven, Hartford, and great state schools – all at our fingertips. As kids, we used to take a lot of day trips on the weekends because you can access all of these amenities in around 45 minutes.
Sarah: Everybody loves food and it’s one of my favorite things to talk about – so I have to ask, what is your favorite CT home cooked meal?
Paul: Ha! I am not much of a chef, besides burgers and dogs on the grill I am not much use. But growing up we always had tons of seafood due to our location and the amazing local seafood spots. My Mom makes the best seafood dishes with veggies and brown rice. It that a really cliché Connecticut meal?? – that sounds like a pretty Connecticut meal doesn’t it, ha. When I am back in the area my favorite restaurant to eat at (because I can’t cook) is, Merritt Canteen in Bridgeport, CT – “it’s the best burger in CT.”
Paul O’Connor founded Pride of Connecticut in Spring 2017 after realizing the astounding lack of local pride throughout his home state. He was born and raised in Trumbull, CT – home of the 1989 Little League World Champions. Although he has lived in 5 states throughout his life, Paul’s passion for the great state of Connecticut has been strong since childhood, and only continues to grow. POC aims to represent all areas of Connecticut, beyond any one zip code; we encourage you to rep your CT Pride loud & proud for all corners of the state to see.
Shop the Look: HERE
School lunch is a 5-days-a-week event that every parent has to manage, and sometimes it can feel like a challenge to come up with fresh ideas. A helpful strategy is to include your children in the process of choosing and creating lunch. Children love to spend time with their parents, and having them wash the produce is an easy way to involve them. A simple way to start the process is to have them choose a protein, vegetable, and fruit. Typical school lunches often include foods that are inflammatory and can cause our children to be sluggish in the afternoon. A great way to avoid this is to create lunches that are gluten-free and free of refined sugar.
American Theme Lunchbox Menu:
- Gluten-free Chicken fingers
- Honey mustard dipping sauce
- Cucumber and carrot sticks
- Sliced apples
Chicken Fingers Recipe: Cut chicken breast into strips, season with sea salt and pepper, dip chicken strips in beaten egg, then toss in seasoned gluten-free Panko, then bake on parchment paper lined baking sheet at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or fry in avocado oil until cooked through.
Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce Recipe: Mix together ¼ cup honey, ¼ cup mayo, ¼ cup Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp white vinegar, and ¼ tsp cayenne (optional)
Asian Theme Lunchbox Menu:
- Gluten-free teriyaki chicken with sesame seeds (use store-bought gluten-free teriyaki sauce or make homemade)
- Vegetable sushi roll with fermented cabbage, carrot, and cucumber
- Pickled ginger
- Cucumber slices
- Clementine or mandarin orange slices
Teriyaki Chicken Recipe: Create homemade teriyaki sauce by whisking together 2 tbsp arrowroot, ¼ cup water, ¼ cup gluten-free soy sauce (or Braggs Aminos), ¼ cup honey, ½ tsp fresh grated ginger. Coat chicken in marinade and bake at 425 degrees Fahrenheit covered with foil until cooked through (about 20 minutes, with internal temperature of 165). Let chicken rest for 15 minutes and then slice and drizzle teriyaki sauce and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
Fermented Cabbage Recipe: Slice red cabbage into small slivers, place in large bowl and sprinkle with 2 tsp sea salt, and then massage cabbage slices with salt for 15-20 minutes until softer and wet. Add softened wet cabbage slices into large Mason jar and push down into jar to let liquid rise over cabbage. Let sit in jar at room temperature for 1-2 weeks to ferment. Open jar daily to let out gas and push cabbage below liquid line. (Note: fermented cabbage offers healthy probiotics to support gut health!)
Mediterranean Theme Lunch Box Menu:
- Sun-dried tomato pesto chicken breast (Recipe Here)
- Red beet hummus (Recipe Here)
- Stuffed olives
- Gluten-free crackers
- Chopped cantaloupe and blackberries
Mexican Theme Lunch Box Menu:
- Cubed chicken breast (seasoned with salt and pepper)
- Guacamole or mashed avocado
- Corn tortillas
- Sliced bell peppers
- Black bean corn salsa
Black Bean Corn Salsa Recipe: Mix together 1 can black beans (drained), 1 cup frozen corn, ½ red onion (diced), ¼ cup minced cilantro, juice of 1 lime, salt and pepper to taste.
Guacamole Recipe: Mash 1 ripe avocado and mix with ½ tsp sea salt, juice of 1 lime, 1 tbs minced cilantro, 2 tbsp chopped tomato, 2 tbsp onion (chopped). (Tip: Coat top of guacamole or mashed avocado container with thin layer of olive oil or avocado oil to prevent oxidation and graying.)