Christmas Dinner 2015 Recipe Share

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Published: 12/26/2015

I think I've told you guys the story before that my first year hosting Christmas dinner at my house I decided I was going to make the complete Martha Stewart Menu.  This involved standing rib roast, yorkshire pudding, spinach salad, pear tart, and a host of other complicated things.  I cooked for 2 days in preparation.  It was insane.  And then my mom showed up with Thanksgiving Dinner, which was what my family traditionally had for Christmas (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc), because my brother was really upset about not having what we always have. 

To my credit- I only spent about 10 minutes in the bathroom having a meltdown ;) So this year, since my brother was going to be spending Christmas Dinner with his wife's family, I took advantage of being able to make all new recipes for everything.  (Not that there's anything wrong with tradition, I just like new things!) 

So we had some hits and some misses.  I made Chocolate Chip Panettone overnight french toast, which should have been amazing but was just eh.  


Have you ever had Chocolate Chip Panettone? It's amazing! There's no reason that should have happened.  I also made a version with cherries in it (chocolate cherry!!) that was EVEN WORSE.  So now I'm going to have to figure out how to fix this, because it's just boggling my mind. 

For dinner, though, I had some serious homeruns.  

1- Peppercorn Beef Tenderloin 
 Loosely based off the Pioneer Woman's recipe, which you can read here I swear that I watched her make it the way that I did, but I can't find a video of it anywhere.  Trim all the silver skin and big chunks of fat off a beef tenderloin.  I had to cut mine in half because I don't have a pan big enough to sear an entire beef tenderloin in.  Salt aggressively with seasoned salt (or salt, garlic powder, etc), noting that you're only doing the outside so you need more than you think.  Then sear the tenderloins on all sides in a hot pan with vegetable oil until it's nicely brown.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of crushed tri color peppercorns and place on a roasting pan (I used a cookie sheet), and dot with an entire stick of butter.  Yes I did.  Roast at 425 until desired doneness.  I did 135, which was still red in the middle for those in my family who like that sort of thing, and tender and evenly grey for me on the ends :) 

I made individual martini glasses of this because I don't have a trifle dish.  Use all the syrup mixture if you do that- don't get skimpy :) I also made my red velvet madeleines in a mini muffin tin and cut them into quarters because I don't have a madeleine pan and I decided they fit the glasses better cut in quarters.  My final change was that I whipped the mascarpone into the whipped cream with my kitchen aid, mainly because folding it in left lumps and I didn't like that. 

You'll learn I very rarely follow a recipe just exactly as written.  I did very much like this one, but I added a pinch of red pepper flakes and didn't add the cheese. I used white onion instead of shallots because I forgot to buy them :) 

4- Pear Salad with Goat Cheese
This was just an easy made-up one, but it was so good my 12 year old asked for it for lunch.  On a bed of mixed baby greens, layer thin slices of ripe bosc pear, dried cranberries, pomegranate arils, a sprinkle of goat cheese, crushed walnuts, and your favorite vinaigrette (I used Panera's Raspberry vinaigrette, but you can always make your own).  

5- Roasted Crispy Potatoes
Thinly slice 4 large, scrubbed potatoes on a mandolin, watching out for your fingers :), along with 1/2 a white onion.  In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with 2-3 tablespoons of the oil left from browning your beef (yes- just do it), along with a heaping tablespoon of Montreal steak seasoning (if you don't have that, it's coarse black pepper, kosher salt, dehydrated garlic, red pepper, and coriander, I think).  Roast these at 425 with your beef in a double layer on a cookie sheet, turning once or twice.  They will be crispy on the edges and soft in the middle.  For crispier potatoes, do a single layer.  Expect 20-30 minutes of bake time depending on the thickness of your potato slices. 

Pineapple Muffins

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Published: 01/02/2015
Randomly, we have lots of leftover pineapple around here during the holidays.  I know that's odd, but it's just how it is.  I make several recipes that require crushed pineapple, and for whatever reason, the large cans are always on sale, so I buy those even though I probably only need a small can.  Pineapple is a great canned fruit because it's in juice and not in syrup, so I don't feel bad feeding it to the kids constantly, but sometimes you just need to change it up.

I like to keep muffins around in the freezer so that we can grab them for a quick breakfast, so I tried to Pinterest some pineapple muffins and then realized that I didn't really have what I needed for any of them, so I combined a few to work with the ingredients that I had, which actually worked out really well.

Pineapple Muffins
Preheat your oven to 350

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1 container low fat vanilla yogurt
1/3 cup sour cream
1 heaping tablespoon orange zest (I used tangerine zest because that's what we had)
8 ounces of drained, crushed pineapple
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour

Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg whites and beat until combined.  Add the yogurt, sour cream, orange zest, and pineapple and stir to combine.  Combine the salt, baking soda, and flour in a separate bowl, and the add to the wet mix and combine.  Pour into greased muffin tins (you can go pretty full, they don't rise much) and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Guest Post: Supplements While Nursing

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Published: 10/28/2014
Earlier this summer, I asked you for your fitness/health/nutrition related questions for Max Muscle Owner Corry Matthews to respond to.  Thanks, Corry! 

Supplements for Moms who are nursing (Pre/Postnatal)

This is a question I am often asked - what supplements are safe during pregnancy.  Max Muscle Sports Nutrition carries several that I highly recommend to pregnant and nursing moms (if you aren't nursing, you aren't sharing the supplements post-partum with your baby so you can choose any range of supplements).

Protein Powder - these are easy portable ways to get nutrition in on the go, especially when you either don't feel like eating or don't have the time to cook protein.  Max Muscle offers a variety that are safe for both mother and baby.  MaxPro and Triple Whey are milk based proteins and generally safe for for pregnant moms.  Test babies tolerance if nursing by having one shake a day, if baby shows no signs of increased irritation 1-2 hours post shake than you can assume it was ok.  If you desire is to add more shakes do so, every 2-3 days, similar to how you introduce new foods to your baby.

Omega 3-6-9 - opt for a high quality nutraceutical.  This is good for both mom and baby - reducing inflammation, enhancing brain function and provides essential fats.  Another option is the Omega 3 plus.

Multi-Vitamin - choose a high quality prenatal multi-vitamin and take it during your entire pregnancy and post partum as long as you nurse your baby.  The additional iron, folic acid and b-vitamins are good for developing red blood cells, reducing neural tube defects in babies, and preventing anemia.  I highly recommend the MN Prenatal.

**For more on this topic, be sure to check out Corry's book- 9 Months In 9 Months Out.  Written by several women who are both mothers and experts in their field, this book discusses the second nine months of pregnancy- the ones AFTER the baby is born.  

This post is brought to you by Corry Matthews, owner of Max Muscle Sports Nutrition in Manassas and Springfield.  Corry is a mother of 2, author, and certified nutrition expert with a speciality in pregnancy-related nutrition. You can reach her at: 
                                                       Corry Matthews 703-772-7113

Guest Post: Postnatal Nutrition

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Published: 10/14/2014
Earlier this summer, I asked you for your fitness/health/nutrition related questions for Max Muscle Owner Corry Matthews to respond to.  Thanks, Corry! 

Postnatal Nutrition:
Wow...9, really 10 months is over and now you really want to get your body back in shape.  Well, hold on, it took 10 months to put on the additional weight, and it may take the same amount of time, some less some more, to lose it!  Here are the basics for eating to lose baby weight:

                If you are breastfeeding, do not begin dieting until after your milk supply has been established - this usually takes 2-4 weeks.  Also if breastfeeding ensure you are drinking ample amounts of water to maintain milk supply.  A good way to ensure this is happening, drink 8-10oz. of water every time you nurse your baby.

                Do not lose more than 1-2 pounds per week and do not drop your calories below 1000.  Losing weight too quickly may lead to fatigue, loss of muscle, decreased milk supply, depression and sagging skin. 

                Follow the same guidelines as during pregnancy when it comes to the foods you should be consuming until baby is at least 3 months old.  After 3 months postpartum your body is well on its way to recovery.

**For more on this topic, be sure to check out Corry's book- 9 Months In 9 Months Out.  Written by several women who are both mothers and experts in their field, this book discusses the second nine months of pregnancy- the ones AFTER the baby is born.  

This post is brought to you by Corry Matthews, owner of Max Muscle Sports Nutrition in Manassas and Springfield.  Corry is a mother of 2, author, and certified nutrition expert with a speciality in pregnancy-related nutrition. You can reach her at: 
                                                         Corry Matthews 703-772-7113

Guest Post: Eating for Two

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Published: 09/16/2014

Earlier this summer, I asked you for your fitness/health/nutrition related questions for Max Muscle Owner Corry Matthews to respond to. Thanks, Corry! 

Eating for Two
You've always considered yourself a healthy eater.  You take special precaution to make sure you have enough protein, the right amount and types of carbs, you've included the 5-9 servings of fruits and veggies and the good fats...but now you're about to have a baby or just had what?  The same principles of healthy eating and supplementation apply to pregnancy and postpartum but the difference is - what you eat, your baby also eats.  Many moms find that they actually eat healthier knowing their baby is eating what they are eating.  However (yep, me included) many moms also like to indulge in their yummy, not so healthy friends - the fast food, desserts and oh so necessary salt - THAT IS OK TOO!
Lets talk specifics:
Prenatal Nutrition:
With a growing baby in the uterus, mom will go through many different phases of what she is craving and what she wants to eat.  Here are the basics:
•                Protein - provides the basic building blocks for growing tissue (aka BABY).  The National Academy of Science recommends 74-100 grams of protein per day during pregnancy.  Try to get protein in small amounts throughout the day - not into eating meat, try protein shakes, and dairy.
•                Carbohydrates - ah, this number is elevated during pregnancy to give the mom and baby energy.  The RDA (recommended daily allowance) is 175 grams per day.  My rule of thumb, 80% of the time choose healthy carbohydrates and the other 20% choose what your body is really craving - sweets, salt, etc.
•                Fats - have a variety of fat daily.  Great choices include nuts, avocado, olive oils and fatty fish.  Pay careful attention to fish with high mercury levels and eat them no more than once per week (albacore tuna).
•                Remember, you only need an additional 200-300 calories in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.  Most women only need to gain 25-35 pounds of weight during pregnancy; anything above this is weight you will be working extra hard in the gym post baby to take off, while you are overly tired and adjusting to a new schedule.  So, indulge, but not too much!

This post is brought to you by Corry Matthews, owner of Max Muscle Sports Nutrition in Manassas and Springfield.  Corry is a mother of 2, author, and certified nutrition expert with a speciality in pregnancy-related nutrition. You can reach her at: 
                                                         Corry Matthews 703-772-7113

Guest Post: How Do I Get My Child to Eat Healthy?

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Published: 09/02/2014
Earlier this summer, I asked you for your fitness/health/nutrition related questions for Max Muscle Owner Corry Matthews to respond to.  Here's the first one- it's actually a few questions in one! Thanks, Corry! 

Your nutrition is the key to your child’s.

What’s the single best way to change your child’s dietary habits – look at what you (as the parent) eat!  With school starting parents always ask “How do I get my child to eat a healthy breakfast?”  and “How do I ensure they are eating the right stuff for lunch and/or dinner?”

Here is the same question phrased a little differently “How do I get my children to stop eating junk”, “How do I get my kids to eat vegetables?”

In today’s society eating “balanced” can be really hard with commuting, long hours and after school activities.  The truth is – it starts and ends with the parents!  You are your child’s primary role model and your children look to you for what to eat.  Think about your breakfast today…did you have one?  Was it coffee?  What did your children see you eat before you tackled the day?  How about you dinner last night – did you eat all your vegetables?  Did you make sure everyone had a serving?
Setting goals as a family is key to getting everyone to eat better!  Here are a few simple tips that will help…

  • ·      Eat within 30 minutes of waking up
  • ·      Get at least 3 solid meals per day – start of the day, mid-day and end of the day
  • ·      Add a protein to every carbohydrate (yep, even breakfast & snacks)
  • ·      Think COLOR for every meal – what veggies or fruits can you add into your meal?  Remember, moms and dads you have to eat it too!
  • ·      Don’t drink your calories – this goes for everyone in the family – only exception should be milk for those under 2 or underweight

Small meal ideas:
  • ·      Half a whole-wheat bagel with almond butter or tahini
  • ·      Yogurt shake made with vanilla yogurt, banana and orange juice
  • ·      Hard-boiled egg sliced with whole grain toast or bowl of low sugar ceral
  • ·      Small bran muffin (homemade or one you trust to be wholesome) with nut or seed butter
  • ·      Almond butter on cinnamon-raisin toast
  • ·      Half a turkey sandwich in pita bread with sliced tomato and sprouts
  • ·      Small bowl of low-fat granola topped with half a banana and a dollop of yogurt
  • ·      Open-faced broiled low-fat cheese on whole-wheat
  • ·      Breakfast food can be served anytime of the day AND, you don’t have to serve breakfast foods at breakfast

This post is brought to you by Corry Matthews, owner of Max Muscle Sports Nutrition in Manassas and Springfield.  Corry is a mother of 2, author, and certified nutrition expert with a speciality in pregnancy-related nutrition. You can reach her at: 
                                                               Corry Matthews 703-772-7113

Cute Christmas Party Food: Olive Wreath

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Published: 12/17/2013
These are from my cookie swap last December (believe it or not, I'm writing this post in January 2013.  How's that for planning?) I have to warn you now, though, that while you may be used to my typical crappy iphone photos, these were taken on someone's flip phone.  That's right, a flip phone.  Apparently those aren't all in museums yet, because my kids' "Auntie Elaine" has one.  It takes EVEN CRAPPIER pictures! Holla!

Anyway, you'll still get the idea :)

Love it? Don't forget to Pin It!

 Olive and Tomato Wreath
On a round serving platter, arrange 3 large bunches of Rosemary in a circular form for your "wreath".  Next, arrange olives (these are three different types from the grocery store's bulk olives, which was much cheaper than three jars!) in three mounds at the "points" of an imaginary triangle around the platter, and then fill in the empty spaces with cherry tomatoes.  Be sure to provide toothpicks or forks for your guests to spear their olives!

Veggie Tray Soup

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Published: 12/16/2013

Believe it or not based on my cow-like build, I actually try to keep things relatively healthy around here.  That means that when I'm doing lots of entertaining, I make a lot of veggie trays.  I feel like if I fill 3/4 of my plate with raw veggies, I can fill the last 1/4 with a treat and not being doing too badly for myself.  That means, too, though, that I end up with a lot of odds and ends form my veggie trays.  Celery, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower all end up in baggies together and they never make it to the next tray, they just hang out in my fridge.  

Inspired by my children's love of Panera Bread's Broccoli Cheddar Soup, I decided I would make Veggie Tray Soup using a similar  flavor profile.  It's super easy, too!  Shred/Chop/Coarsely Food Processor the mixed veggies of your choice.  I used 2 cups of chopped veggies, total.  

Next, in a soup pot, place 1 tablespoon of butter and 1/2 a cup of chopped onion and sauté until the onions are clear and cooked through.  Next, add the veggies plus and 3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil and cook until the vegetables are your desired level of doneness, between 5-10 minutes depending on your taste and the size you chopped your vegetables. 

Next, add one can of Cheddar Cheese condensed soup (I said it was easy and good, not gourmet!) and 1/2 cup of whatever mixed cheeses you have laying around, and heat until cooked through and warm.  If the soup isn't thin enough, use milk to think it out.  I also added salt and pepper to taste.

If you'd rather not use the condensed soup, you can easily switch it out.  After cooking your onion and butter, and then add and additional 3 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of flour, and cook while stirring for 3 minutes.  Then, add 1.5 cups of milk, 1.5 cups of chicken stock, stirring until slightly thickened, and then your vegetables (cooked in water and drained).  1 cup of shredded cheese will finish you up nicely.  

Enjoy!  (We had ours with warm Pampered Chef Beer Bread, and it was awesome!) 

Cute Christmas Crafts: Brownie Trees

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Published: 12/14/2013
How Cute Are These Cookies?

You don't have to answer.  They're pretty freaking cute.  For our cookie swap last year, these are what my mom made.  Again, this isn't even a tutorial, it's me showing off something cute as captured on a horrible mobile phone picture.

So, make your favorite brownie recipe.

Done? Excellent.

Cut into triangles.  You don't need an engineer for that, but if you have one available (we did) they can diagram the way to cut the brownies for minimal waste.  I don't believe you can have waste when cutting brownies, because it just means more for you.

Next, gently work a piece of mini candy-cane into the triangle to serve as the trunk of your "tree".  Decorate each tree with a swirl of frosting and ball candies or red hots.


These are such an easy and adorable treat, and I love that they're not cookies- it's a nice change!  What are you baking this year? Leave a comment and bonus points for a link to your blog!

Cute Christmas Foods: Santa Cheese Tray

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Published: 12/10/2013
These are from my cookie swap last December (believe it or not, I'm writing this post in January 2013.  How's that for planning?) I have to warn you now, though, that while you may be used to my typical crappy iphone photos, these were taken on someone's flip phone.  That's right, a flip phone.  Apparently those aren't all in museums yet, because my kids' "Auntie Elaine" has one.  It takes EVEN CRAPPIER pictures! Holla!

Anyway, you'll still get the idea :)

Love it? Don't forget to Pin It!

Santa Cheese Tray
For the Santa Bellies- use Baby Bel Light cheese wheels.  Leave the cheese unpeeled.  Cut a 1/4 inch strip of black construction paper and then cut to fit around each wedge.  Attach with tape.  On the front of each piece of cheese, use a square of silver tape or silver or gold paper for the "belt buckle" For the Rudolphs, use unwrapped wedges of Laughing Cow Garlic and Herb cheese.  Gently wedge two mini pretzels on either site of the wide part of the triangle (this works best if the cheese has been on the counter for a few minutes).  Using a round piping tip, cut small circles out of red and green bell peppers, using the green for eyes and the red for noses.  

Cute Christmas Foods: Christmas Tree Veggie Bread

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Published: 12/03/2013

These are from my cookie swap last December (believe it or not, I'm writing this post in January 2013.  How's that for planning?) I have to warn you now, though, that while you may be used to my typical crappy iphone photos, these were taken on someone's flip phone.  That's right, a flip phone.  Apparently those aren't all in museums yet, because my kids' "Auntie Elaine" has one.  It takes EVEN CRAPPIER pictures! Holla!

Anyway, you'll still get the idea :)

Love it? Don't forget to Pin It!

Christmas Tree Veggie Bread
Pop open two cans of your favorite refrigerator crescent dough, but don't unroll them.  Cut each with a seraded knife into 8 equal pieces.  Arrange the slices on a greased baking sheet into a triangle with one piece at the bottom for your "trunk".  Bake according to package directions.  Meanwhile, mix one softened block of cream cheese with one cup of mayonnaise and one packet of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix.  After the crescents have cooled, cover them with the ranch mix, and then decorate with the veggies of your choice, using finely chopped broccoli as your base.  (This comes out cuter if you don't let your 4 year old help, but what's the fun in that?) 

Guest Post: Prince William Living Creative Halloween Drinks

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Published: 10/22/2013

This post is reprinted with permission from Prince William Living Magazine.  Be sure to check them out for more great ideas, and their fantastic "Family Fun" column, which I personally find to be both witty and enjoyable.  The author is a genius.  ;) 
You can find free copies at Wegmans, Prince William Ice Center and many other distributors.  Subscriptions are also available for a very affordable rate. 

Chillingly Creative Drinks For Halloween

11677_AIf you’re planning a monster bash this Halloween, brew up drinks so frightfully delicious that it will spook the taste buds of every little ghost, witch and goblin.

The Spooky Smoothie is a flavorful combination of vanilla milk and Greek yogurt, which is blended with ice and topped with whipped cream. The fun is all in the orange-tinted Limited Edition TruMoo Lowfat Vanilla Milk, so make sure to serve it in a clear glass. And ghosts will rise from the dead for the chocolaty Monster Mash Mudslide. For more information, visit

Both of these tasty concoctions feature TruMoo, which is made with 35 percent less total sugar than the leading chocolate and vanilla milk competitor and has no high fructose corn syrup. That’s one thing that won’t scare you this Halloween season.

Spooky Smoothie
Yield: 4 servings

3         cups Limited Edition TruMoo Lowfat Vanilla Milk, orange color
1 1/2   cups lowfat vanilla Greek yogurt
5         cups ice cubes
1/4       cup fat free whipped cream
Candy corn for garnish, optional

In blender, combine vanilla milk, yogurt and ice cubes. Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy.

To serve, pour into serving glasses. Top with whipped cream and candy corn.

Monster Mash Mudslide
Yield: 4 servings

4         cups TruMoo Lowfat Chocolate Milk
10       chocolate wafer cookies, coarsely broken
1/2      cup frozen non-dairy whipped topping, thawed
8         mini chocolate chips or mini chocolate candies (orange/brown color recommended)

In blender, blend chocolate milk and chocolate wafer cookies until smooth. Heat mixture in saucepan or microwave until just heated through.

To serve, pour chocolate milk mixture into 4 glasses. For each serving, spoon a large, upright dollop of whipped topping to resemble a ghost. Insert chocolate chips or chocolate candies into dollop for eyes.

Note: To enjoy a cold mudslide, do not heat in saucepan or microwave.

Review: Great Food Tours Chocolate Tour of DC

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Published: 08/08/2013
So, there was this Groupon.  It was for Chocolate Tours of DC.

That had to happen, right?

I ended up buying two (they were $60 each for 4 people and the tours are usually $50/person), but had a few people decide not to go at the last minute, so there were only 5 of us, but we had a really great time, so I wanted to share.

We started off with lunch at Peacock Cafe in Georgetown, which didn't have the same menu it had online for lunch, but did have amazing tomato soup.  There's garage parking right next to the Cafe, which is nice, as far as I'm concerned, because I don't like street parking in DC, not that I was driving. Georgetown is a cute neighborhood, although parts of it are under construction right now for road and sidewalk repair, so leave yourself a little time to park.

(You know who else has parking? The hospital! It was a little weird for me to be so close to Georgetown University Hospital and not have some kind of medical testing done...I thought about seeing if my oncologist wanted to join us for chocolate, but figured she was probably pretty busy.)

So.  The tour.  

You meet up at the Old Stone House
Not actually IN the Old Stone House, but just outside.  There's not a bathroom there, but there is one across the street in the Nike store.  You're going to be walking a fair amount for the next 2 hours, so this is good info to have.

 The tour started with a brief (and I do mean brief) history of Georgetown.  The first stop for us was at Sprinkles Cupcakes, which was founded by the woman who judges Cupcake Wars on Food Network. I have to be honest, I didn't realize there was one in DC!! I knew about Georgetown Cupcakes (from the TV, obviously) and Red Velvet, because it's by the Verizon Center and the first place I ever went "for cupcakes".

Let me be really honest for a minute.  That mini-cupcake I'm holding? It may be the most amazing thing I've ever put in my mouth.  I usually hate chocolate cakes that other people make because they're never moist enough, but this was awesome.  I have an MRI on Friday, and I am having that cupcake for lunch after as a reward for laying in the giant plastic coffin for 2 hours.  They don't give you Dora stickers at my age, so I should get something, right?
After Sprinkles, we walked over to the Godiva Store, and they gave us samples of chocolate with dried strawberries in it.  The manager at Godiva was probably the best stop all day.  She actually talked to our group about Godiva and their chocolates and was funny and personable.  

After Godiva, there was a little bit of a hill to climb.  It wasn't very bad at all, but one member of our group has a bit of a foot condition and would've rather not done it, although with all the stops none of us had any trouble walking the entire tour, and there were people who brought children with, and all of them did well, too. 

Our next stops were Thomas Sweet for fudge, Marvelous Market for Chocolate Babka, which we decided would make AMAZING French Toast, Fleurir Hand Grown Chocolates, where we got salted caramel covered in chocolate....

I just need to think about that one again for a moment.....

Then we went down to Dean & Deluca, which previously I thought only existed in movies with Nicolas Cage because, clearly, I grew up in Hoodbridge and until we got Wegmans, we didn't have anything that classy.  Dean & Deluca let everyone pick out their own amazing looking truffles, and I tried the Vanilla Bean filling, which was yummy, but at this point, I was actually really full and over chocolate! We had one final stop, though, which was Pie Sisters, where they gave us mini chocolate bourbon pecan pies.  

By the time we finished, we were all stuffed with chocolate.  It was nice to have the walk between each location, and it was fun to have just a bite or two of each thing to try.  My favorites were definitely Sprinkles and Fleurir as far as actual chocolate, but Godiva for the ambiance, which sounds a little funny, but it was the only place that someone talked to us.  

The chocolate part of the tour was fantastic, but the tour part of the tour left a lot to be desired.  We had a lot of fun chatting with each other while we walked, but it would have been nice to have the shops tell us about their facility or their founders or something, or for the tour guide to have told us more about chocolate or DC, or really anything.  The tour guide was very friendly, he just didn't talk much!

Also, if I was a business owner, I'd give out coupons so people came back.  Something like "$5 off your next dozen cupcakes when you return after your chocolate tour!".  Otherwise, there's not really motivation for people to return....but that's just me. 

At the end of the day, our group had a fantastic time, and we were all happy we came out.  I don't think I'd pay the full $50 to do this, but if you catch a deal or someone offers to take you, it's definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon!!  There's definitely a manageable amount of walking involved, so bring a water bottle or plan to buy one at one of your stops, and if you can, plan for a cooler day.  We got great weather for ours, and we all had a fantastic time.  

Disclosure: I (fine, my husband) bought my own Groupon, and all opinions are my own.  

Guest Post: A Red, White, and Blue Breakfast Celebration!

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Published: 06/28/2013

A Red, White, and Blue Breakfast Celebration!
Breakfast is a big deal in our house. A slice of toast or a glass of juice just won’t cut it. And you can forget skipping it! That just wouldn’t fly (or be healthy) with our group of five, especially on the weekend.  Instead, breakfast usually looks like a veggie omelet with whole wheat toast and a side of fresh fruit, a fruit smoothie with a bowl of steel cut oats and a dollop of natural peanut butter, or a bowl of Greek yogurt topped with homemade granola and fresh berries. See, I told you that it was a big deal!
Since breakfast tends to be a big production anyway, I like to center a lot of our family celebrations around the first meal of the day. It is fun, a little unexpected, and it starts our morning out on a happy note. Most people think of celebrating July 4th over the grill with hot dogs, hamburgers, deviled eggs, and lots of creamy salads. While I love a good cookout, I challenge you to mix things up a bit this year and try some fun, festive, and HEALTHY alternatives. Breakfast is a great place to start!  Experiment by incorporating some familiar, but healthy, alternatives such as whole wheat waffles instead of those “Lego my Eggos” and plain Greek yogurt instead of the popular blue yogurt tubes. With some fresh fruit to dress everything up and a few festive accessories, you will be well on your way to celebrating a happy, healthy July 4th with your family.
A couple of years ago I put together a Red, White, and Blue July 4th breakfast celebration for our family. I included some of our favorite healthy breakfast staples and “blinged” them up a bit with some simple and festive accessories.
Our menu included: whole wheat waffles with pure maple syrup; fresh fruit salad (sliced strawberries, blueberries, and bananas); Greek yogurt parfaits topped with homemade granola; and homemade pumpkin muffins with a swirl of vanilla yogurt on top. Don’t worry; the gumballs were just for decoration!
It was a HUGE hit with our kids. We started our day with a healthy AND festive breakfast together and we had fun.  

Recipe links:

Sarah Young resides in Prince William County with her husband and three young children. Sarah is a full-time mother, Certified Health Education Specialist, healthy living advocate, and the creator of Health Wise Home, an online resource that focuses on educating, empowering, and inspiring others to help build a healthier future. In her spare time, she enjoys running, hiking, gardening, being outside, and spending time with her family.
For healthy recipes, information, and inspiration you can follow Sarah and Health Wise Home on Facebook and at her blog, and .

New Chick-fil-A Salads & Wraps

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Published: 04/18/2013

Chick-fil-A has been listening to what customers want when they visit restaurants – and that’s more nutritious options made with premium ingredients packed full of flavor. Two recent studies found that:

  • 50% of consumers want restaurants to offer healthier foods
  • 64% of consumers agree that it is important to eat healthy and pay attention to nutrition
  • 38% of consumers are more likely to visit restaurants with healthy menu options
  • 48% of consumers are very likely to try new or unique flavors    
Chick-fil-A is confident customers will find that in its new salads and wrap.

That’s right…On April 29, Chick-fil-A’s® entrée salad line is getting a makeover. The company is introducing three new premium salads – the Chick-fil-A® Cobb Salad, Chick-fil-A® Asian Salad, Chick-fil-A® Grilled Market Salad – as well as an improved Grilled Chicken Cool Wrap® for the health-conscious customer. All three of the new salads contain two full servings of vegetables and are each less than 430 calories. Check out this video for a “Behind the Scenes” look at the new Chick-fil-A salads.

In addition to these new nutritious menu items, Chick-fil-A is adding calorie counts to its menu boards nationally in conjunction with the salads launch. The new menu boards are just another way Chick-fil-A has made nutritional information easily accessible to its customers, including an online meal calculator, in-restaurant nutrition pamphlets and even nutritional information printed from the register upon request.

I'll be giving away four (yes 4!!) Chick-fil-A gift cards with a free salad/wrap offer each month through April!  
To enter, tell us your favorite Chick-fil-A location in a post below and "Like" us on Facebook. You can also "like" your favorite CFA location on Facebook for extra chances to win.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Disclosure: The giveaway items were provided to me free of charge and I received a gift card to enjoy myself too. All opinions shared on this blog are always my own. 

Guest Post: Top 10 Tips to Save Money at Grocery Stores (Besides Using Coupons) Part 1

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Published: 02/14/2013

This guest post was originally published on  We hope it helps you out, and that if it does, you subscribe to Laura Harders' blog posts for more money-saving tips each week! 

I know most of you reading my blog are regular coupon-users, but I wanted to share some simple tips on ways you can save at the grocery store besides couponing. This post may also be helpful for those of you who are new to couponing and want to find ways to save money now as you gradually learn the ropes of “extreme couponing.” For those of you seasoned savers and savvy shoppers: I’m sure you’ve heard these tips from other frugal folks before, and there is nothing below that is a shocking, new discovery in the land of grocery store savings, by any means. But hopefully this will help some of you put on your thinking caps on how you can save even more money at the grocery store in addition to regular coupon use.

Ten tips to save more money on your grocery shopping trips:
  1. Make a list and stick to it! To avoid impulse buys, create a meal plan and grocery list at home based on deals featured in the weekly circular or on frugal blogs/coupon forums. Take your list with you to the store and stick to it (an exception I make to this is purchasing “quickly reduced” items… see #9).
  2. Buy less prepared foods. For example, buying a small bagged salad will usually cost you much more than buying a head of lettuce, some tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, etc. You may not have quite the same convenience factor, but you will save money.
  3. Be willing to go generic, try new brands and put aside your brand loyalty/bias. Yes, I know it may be hard to “leave your loyalty at the door” initially, but think of it as a way to be adventurous and try new things with your main goal being: saving money. I will stock up on name brand items when there is a really good sale and/or coupon that brings that item price down to my “price point.” However, when my stock pile runs out and I want to purchase that item to use for a meal during the week, I’ll buy that item at ALDI (discount grocery store) or buy generic at another store. For example, a jar of Peanut Butter at my local ALDI is $1.29. This week Safeway has a deal on Skippy Peanut Butter for $2 each.  If there were any Skippy coupons available (which I don’t believe there are…there was one from the 1/31/10 Red Plum but it expired on 2/28/10) I would buy these if the coupon made it less than my regular ALDI price.
  4. Learn the different store policies. Find out the return policies, reusable bag policies, coupon policies, rain check policies, price-matching policies, etc. for your favorite or most frequently visited stores. Many, but not all, grocery stores in the DC metro area double manufacturer coupons up to $0.99. Some stores accept a manufacturer coupon combined with a store coupon on the same item (this is called “stacking coupons” because normally you can only use one coupon per item you are purchasing). Some stores offer a small credit (like $0.05) toward your total grocery purchase if you bring your own re-usable tote.  Most stores will accept returned items with an original receipt within a certain time frame (say 30-90 days).
  5. Sign up for your grocery store’s membership card and e-mail list. These are free to sign up for, and you need them to get the special sales price at many stores. For example, at Bloom this is the “Breeze Card”, at Bottom Dollar this is the “Membership Card”, at Giant this is the “Bonus Card”, at Harris Teeter this is the “VIC Card”, at Safeway this is the “Club Card” and at Wegmans this is the “Shoppers Club Card.” Also, sign up for email updates or special offers from the store.
Check back next Thursday for the rest of Laura's Tips!

Laura Harders lives in Prince William County and is a native Northern Virginian who loves to share ways to save. She runs the blog and teaches local Savings Nation coupon workshops. You can find Laura sharing tips & being social on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

Gameday Offer From CiCi's Pizza

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Published: 01/28/2013
As far as I'm concerned there's no reason to watch the Superbowl this year.  (I am a slightly bitter Patriots fan....) However, since the men in my house will probably watch the game anyway, that means I'll be in charge of snacks.  CiCis sent me this coupon to share with you guys which allows you to get unlimited large to-go pizzas for $5 each.  The image they sent is pretty fuzzy, but it's one-topping.  Enjoy :)

Nutella Breakfast Tour Woodbridge

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Published: 12/20/2012


Woodbridge, VA Announced as Winners of Nutella® City Challenge

WHAT:                 Residents of Woodbridge, VA will be awarded five thousand (13 oz.) jars of free Nutella hazelnut spread and a visit from the Nutella Breakfast Tour Truck this December as winners of the nationwide Nutella Tour City Challenge.  The truck will be making one last stop in the winning city to spread the love at Potomac Mills on December 23 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., just in time for the holidays.
                                The Nutella Breakfast Tour Truck visited 12 cities across the country from September to December encouraging fans to tweet their favorite way to wake up with Nutella.  Woodbridge, VA posted the most eligible tweets, winning the top prize, a special visit from the Nutella Breakfast Tour Truck filled with free Nutella.
Local residents are invited to come out to celebrate the holidays and claim their free jar of Nutella while supplies last. Fans can also take a picture next to the giant inflatable Nutella® jar, enjoy festive music and spread some holiday cheer.
For more information and Official Rules for the Nutella Tour City Challenge, visit the Nutella USA Facebook page at

WHEN:                 Sunday, December 23, 2012
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

WHERE:               Potomac Mills (Parking lot near Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH and jcpenney)
Woodbridge, VA

* Handing out up to 5,000 13 oz. jars while supplies last.

About Nutella
Nutella® was first imported from Italy to the U.S. over 25 years ago by Ferrero U.S.A., Inc. The popularity of Nutella® has grown steadily over the years and it is the number one selling branded hazelnut spread in America.

Nutella® is a tasty hazelnut spread that gets its unique taste from the combination of hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of cocoa.   In addition, Nutella® has no artificial colors or preservatives. It can be found in grocery stores, warehouse clubs and mass merchandisers and is generally found near the peanut butter and sweet spreads section. 

When used in moderation with complementary foods such as a glass of milk, piece of fruit or a glass of orange juice, and spread on whole grain toast, Nutella® can turn a balanced breakfast into a tasty one too.  It can be a quick and easy way to encourage kids to eat whole grains, such as whole wheat toast, English muffins, toaster waffles and bagels.  Nutella®.  Breakfast never tasted this good®.

12 Days of Giveaways: Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

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Published: 12/14/2012
 We're 12 Days Away from Christmas, so I want to hit you guys with a few giveaway items!! First up, I've got a $25 gift card to Firebirds Wood Fired Grill in Woodbridge.  This fairly new restaurant is located in my favorite place- Stonebridge at Potomac Town Center.  Love Love Love :) The restaurant had us for a preview meal, and they've got a pretty amazing children's menu.  My son got the children's salmon, and I'm not a seafood lover, but his fish was awesome.  I really appreciated that there were some exciting and healthier grilled items, in addition to standbys like burgers.  If it were me, though, I would probably choose Firebirds for a great date night.  Nobody minded our children, and the volume level in the restaurant is that magical point where you can hear the people at your table but there's enough background noise to mask your children bemoaning the fact that someone else is currently using the ketchup ;)
The restaurant is beautiful inside, I love the waterfall concept bar display, the wine bottle wall, the stone and the fireplace.  There is definitely tons of ambiance.  Entrees include steaks, fish, chicken, pastas, and some delicious sounding salads.  Yelp rates the restaurant between $$ (moderate) and $$$ (pricey).

Want to head to Firebirds for your own date night or happy hour? (It's so cozy and sleek inside-  it'd be a beautiful place to meet up with girlfriends for a special drink!) Check out the Rafflecopter below and enter to win!! I'll be drawing all the winners for these contests on Christmas Day- my way of giving some presents to you guys :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We were able to try a meal at Firebirds before offering this giveaway, also provided by Firebirds.  Winner assumes all liability.  All photo credits are to the Firebirds Facebook Page.

(C/K)Han(n)uk(k)a(h) Craft

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Published: 12/08/2012
However you like to spell it, here's a fun Hannukah craft that's super easy!  You'll need some candy canes, a baking sheet, and an oven. 

Break the candy canes into pieces and make equilateral(ish) triangles on a greased cookie sheet and bake them for 2-5 minutes at 300 degrees. Take them out, stack one on the other, back in for one minute to set them together, and then out to harden. Use a metal spatula or board scraper, the plastic ones are too fat and roll the candy. These are SweetTart candy canes, and they're pretty yummy :) Blueberry ones would be cute and the right colors :) When they're hard, you wipe any non-stick spray residue off with a napkin, and then you can hang them up or eat them after you light your candles :) You can use little pieces all put together, too- actually my favorite one was all the different leftover colors together!"

Halloween Frankenstein Pops

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Published: 10/31/2012
Since you guys seem to enjoy craft and food ideas, I've been trying to share more of them since I really like to Martha Stewart it up as much as possible.

I especially like it when it's REALLY easy.  The Frankenstein Pops I shared on Facebook? They're so easy a four year old can do it.

Assemble your troops.  You'll need frosting, sugar bones, sugar eyes, lollipop sticks, and black sugar or chocolate jimmies, oh, and marshmallows.
 Step One: Get a bag of frosting out of your freezer.  Here we have cream cheese frosting, vanilla buttercream, and hot pink lemonade buttercream.  What's that? You don't make a double batch of frosting every time and freeze the leftovers for emergency cake-frosting? You don't MAKE your own frosting? Sigh.  Yes, go ask Betty Crocker for a can of white frosting...that'll work, too.
 Step Two: Plop your frosting into a bowl and microwave for about 30 seconds if it's room temperature, or about a minute if it was a popsicle when you put it in there.  You're looking for fondue-consistency frosting.
 Step Three: Curse yourself for not getting green food dye at the Walmart when you were JUST THERE.  Remember that yellow an blue make green.  Mix well. (These are Wilton gel dyes, which I love because they don't water down whatever you're tinting.  However, for this, you could use the liquid dye you get at the grocery store, too.  Wilton gels are sold at craft stores like JoAnn Fabrics and Michaels and Walmart stores)
Step Four: Pop a marshmallow onto a lollipop stick and dunk it in your frosting.  Tap gently on the side of the bowl to remove any excess and then set the stick into a heavy glass cup set over a plate to let the frosting set just slightly (a minute or two, tops).
 Step Five: After your frosting has had a minute to settle and drip off and excess, give your marshmallow a roll in the black sugar or chocolate jimmies to add hair.
 Step Six: Add eyes (you could pipe these on, but this whole treat was inspired by the sugar candy eyeballs being on sale for $2) and imbed a sugar bone on either side of your Frankenstein's head.  You could also pipe on a mouth, but if I was creating a monster, it would do my bidding without talking back.  I'm just saying.
Optional Bonus Points For Step Seven: Pop some floral foam covered in a seasonal napkin inside your Frankenstein Can and go on a shock and awe campaign at your preschool party.  Winning.

You could also do these heads with cake pops, you'd just want to form them into squares instead of balls.  Witches would be cute, too, with purple frosting, a mini green m&m nose, and just the cookie part of an Oreo with a Hershey's Kiss glued on top with some melted chocolate.

Have fun!

Giveaway: IHOP Simple & Fit

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Published: 09/11/2012

One of the really hard parts about trying to be healthy is going out to eat, which, let's be honest, happens.  We're in the middle of football season and hockey will start on the 15th, as well as scouts picking back up.  Everyone's busy, and sometimes, even though you plan, you end up having nothing made for dinner! Or, maybe you're meeting friends or family for a special meal together.  Whatever happens, you have to be able to eat out without completely ruining your diet.

(PS- I think I'm supposed to tell you to use IHOP for Breakfast, but in our family we believe that breakfast is an excellent dinner!!)

IHOP has had a "Simple & Fit" menu for a few years now, which helps patrons to select options from their menu with under 600 calories.  At a restaurant with bacon and home fries on the menu, that's a pretty significant reduction! Starting this month, though, IHOP has added several new items including whole wheat waffles with blueberries, whole wheat pancakes with blueberries, and several new types of oatmeal, which is one of my favorite breakfasts when the morning starts turning cool! There are also whole wheat crepes and whole wheat french toast on the new menu, and everything comes with a lemon wedge instead of butter, which is really pretty genius since it gives you a little burst of flavor without tons of fat.
On the Simple & Fit menu, you can still find the traditional "pancakes/meat/eggs" that most of us associate IHOP with, but they've altered it to fit a more moderate lifestyle, using egg substitute and turkey bacon.  I didn't get to try the egg substitute on our visit, but I know from my Max Muscle plan that scrambled egg whites are really good, especially with a little hot sauce, so I'd imagine the same is true for egg substitute, especially since I didn't get to try it because my kids ate it (they shared the whole wheat blueberry pancakes) albeit with ketchup, although they require tomato product, whether it's salsa or ketchup, on any type of eggs they eat.  My third child ordered off the children's menu, which only lists options under 600 calories, and includes an option to make your own smiley face with yogurt, so you know that had to happen.

The new oatmeal comes in great flavors like Banana and Brown Sugar and Super Fruit (dried blueberries, dark cherries, cranberries, raisins, golden raisins, and you can also get almonds and walnuts).  I opted for the Super Fruit the morning that we went and it was really tasty.  I love dried fruit, so having it come portioned for me is important or I'll eat it all! I thought that the oatmeal was fantastic and it gave me that happy, warm, comforting feeling oatmeal always does. :)

Bad news- my images are apparently all corrupted...soooo, here's some pictures from another blogger!
And another one...
The Mom Reviews
Here in P-dubya-C (that's Prince William County) we have several IHOP options:
13718 Smoketown Road, Woodbridge
3914 Fettler Park Drive, Dumfries
8785 Centreville Road, Manassas (actual Manassas)
12901 Galveston Court, Manassas (Manassas where it's still really Woodbridge) 

Want to go check out the new menu yourself? I've got a $50 gift card to your favorite IHOP store! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest closes on the 19th, note that as always, I'm not responsible for lost or stolen cards or for your personal experience, although we have always has a pretty quick and tasty time at IHOP ourselves.

PwcMoms was provided with a gift card to conduct our review of the new menu, however all opinions expressed here are my own.

Smiley Face Pizzas

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Published: 09/05/2012
As I shared a few weeks ago, I'm on a constant hunt for easy-to-eat foods for our co-op days.  We tried out corn dog muffins, which were a hit with my kids, so I thought I'd switch it up for some vegetarian fare this time!

So pizza.  Pretty easy.  Easier than rotating pictures in your blog posts.  True story.  For these, we used whole wheat mini pitas as our base, leftover spaghetti sauce as our sauce, some part-skim mozzarella, and some bell peppers.  My kids adore bell peppers, and snack on the red ones whenever they can get their hands on them.  
I used the wrong end of a piping tip to cut circles, but a small cookie cutter or even a knife would help you get shapes just as well.  You could use other veggies, too, to make your faces, but we had bell peppers, sooooo....we just went with it. 
This one isn't rocket science.  Place a mini pita on the pan, add sauce to your liking (I let the kids make their own, so you'll notice various levels of sauce and cheese application) and then funny face it up! Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese melts, but do not over bake or the pitas will become too crunchy to be enjoyable.

These were a big hit for us.  We baked them the day before and ate them room temperature at CC for lunch.  The kids thought they were great, and didn't mind that they weren't hot.  My 8 year old ate two, but one was enough for each of the others.

Smiley Face Pizzas
4 Whole Wheat Mini Pitas
1/2 Cup Part Skim Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 Cup Marina or Pizza Sauce
Vegetables to top

The Sweet Life Woodbridge 2012

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Published: 08/11/2012
Looking for something a little fun and different for this weekend?  How about checking out The Sweet Life tour as it hits Woodbridge?

Claudia Johnson Photography via The Sweet Life Facebook
From their deal (now expired) "About a dozen of the area's top treat-makers will be on hand to show off their decadent creations at this fun event. From cakes to cookies to pies and more, you can sample many of the sweets, with plenty of items available for purchase to take home as well. Whether you're planning for an event, you're an event-planner or you just happen to love baked goods, this pop-up shop brings all the best local bakers and confectioners together under one roof for you to enjoy. Admission includes access to the sampling floor, plus one beverage ticket."
Claudia Johnson Photography via The Sweet Life Facebook
This even takes place at the Country Inn and Suites and is described as a "bake sale with professional bakers", but you pay for your food up front with your entry fee.  Tickets are available via Eventbrite and are $15 for adults and  $8 for children.  The event runs from 1pm-4pm today, and sounds like it'd be fun for the kids, but also would be a really fun afternoon with a few girlfriends, I think!

Head over and check out some of our local bakeshops and enjoy a sweet afternoon. It's supposed to thunderstorm today, so you need to be inside, anyway!!

Corn Dog Muffins

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Published: 08/08/2012
We love almost everything about our Classical Conversations group, with the exception of lunch.  We don't do tables, we just sit on the floor, picnic style, but for some reasons indoor picnics don't go very well for my kids.  My daughter spills something every week and then cries because she thinks she's in trouble.  She's not in trouble, it's a laminate floor, very little she could have in her possession is going to mess the floor up.  My boys try to avoid eating if humanly possible and blame it on the fact that it's hard to eat or they're uncomfortable.  The only thing we've had any success with is lunchables, which I'm too cheap to buy on a regular basis, so they generally get turkey pepperoni, cheese, and crackers.  Fruit goes relatively well as long as it's already cut and bite-sized.  Veggies require ranch dressing and that's a whole other mess.

Anyway, enough whining.

I decided that in my last few weeks before classes resume at our campus I was going to head to Pinterest and StumbleUpon and try to find some bite-sized lunch options that I could make ahead, freeze, and toss in lunch boxes.  The only real requirement is that they be easy to eat sitting on the floor.  Today we tried corn dog muffins, which we did, in fact, eat sitting in my living room on the hardwood.  The kids approved, and even said they were good enough to enjoy without ketchup and mustard, although that was their preference.
 Not to be bothered by actually reading and following a recipe, this is what we came up with.  Rather than using a mini-muffin pan (although we tried that, too) we actually preferred using the bottom half of our cake-pop pan.  The recipe I'm providing here made 22 cake pop bottom sized corn dog muffins which were, in fact, easy to eat sitting on the floor.
Hot dogs totally creep me out.  I broke one of the muffins open for you, but that's as good as it gets for me, people.  The nice part about this is that you could change the hot dog portion for anything you'd feed your kids.  These are reduced fat Hebrew Nationals, but you could use turkey dogs, veggie dogs, or whatever mixed-bag brand of choice your family enjoys.  My kids all gave this two thumbs way up. Not the healthiest thing ever, but it's better for my sanity than listening to them ask if it's time for recess yet every 30 seconds for half an hour!

Corn Dog Muffins
1 box corn muffin mix (we used Jiffy, but Giant has Guaranteed Value for something like 44 cents this week!)
1/2 cup shredded cheese (ours is white cheddar which is why you can't see it)
4 regular sized hot dogs, cut in to quarters length wise and then chopped into small pieces
1 egg
1/2 cup of milk

Mix the corn muffin mix, egg, and milk.  Add the cheese and hot dog pieces.  You could also mix in chopped jalepeno if you were making this for spice lovers.  If you're using a mini muffin pan, fill it about 3/4 of the way.  If you're using a cake pop pan, just slightly under full baked perfectly for us.  We did not find we needed to grease our non-stick type pans, but a spray of cooking spray will ensure success.  Bake at 400 for 11-15 minutes, depending on the size of your mini muffin tin.

Have a suggestion for a bite-sized lunch option we should try? I'd love to try your recipe!! Email it or leave a link or directions in the comments below.
Milla's Playland A Play Gym Designed for Parents and Children Aged 10 Months to 4 1/2 Years...