Our Top Three Back to School Tips for Stepping out of Summer and Into the Classroom

A family making dinner together in their kitchen.

As Summer is making its way out the door, it means that the school year is just around the corner, so let’s take stock of our perceptions about what back to school could mean for your family. Do you remember in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when the students are all sitting in their High School classroom, eyes glazed over, mouths open in boredom, everyone clearly not wanting to be there? Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your kids will be just like that! The start of the school year doesn’t have to be a chore or a dread. It can be a transition full of ease, flow, and even excitement. If you’re a little skeptical of this concept, let us help you see the possibility more clearly by offering our top three back to school tips for how to help smooth over this sometimes rocky annual transition. 

Start the school routine early

One key component of the back to school transition is the actual change in routine. Many kids have a fairly free schedule during the summer, or a shortened, more flexible schedule, at least. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that it can be a pretty jarring switch to all of a sudden have to wake up early and spend all day in a classroom. Furthermore, if your child has any additional needs, or if you’re a dual home family and your parenting plan is changing at the start of the school year, it can become an even higher stress situation for them. One way to limit this stress for the kiddos is to start their school schedule early! Begin the school year wake-up and bedtime routine a week or two before school begins, to get them back into the habit and to make it less of a big deal on the first day of school. 

Table Talk 

With a significant transition like going back to school, our mental health can be affected, and understandably so. However, we can reduce the negative impact it has on us by processing the transition ahead of time and mentally preparing for it. You can lend a hand in this, just by sparking some good conversation. Remember us encouraging “table talk” topics for your family meals? You can use that ritual as an opportunity to talk with your family about the upcoming school year. Some ideas for table talk questions: what was your favorite part about your experience at school last year? What’s one thing you’re really excited about for this school year? Questions like those will get them thinking about the upcoming school year in a positive light, and might also bring up some of their concerns, which can be good to discuss as well. 

Meal planning

Let us help you! Make dinner time something that doesn’t stress you out this time of the year. Plan ahead to have Dream Dinners and/or other quick and easy meal options for your family in the week leading up to the beginning of school, as well as during the first week of classes. Schedule time a couple of weeks before the school year to do some meal planning and buy any groceries you’ll need, then put the meal list of what you have planned up in your house so your family can see what’s coming and when. Plan some of your family’s favorites too, to help everyone have some comfort foods to look forward to during this potentially chaotic time of year. 

 

One common thread with all three tips? The three P’s: Prepare, Plan, and Prepare some more! Be intentional about your back to school transition. A little planning can go a long way to keeping your whole family happy, amidst the change of pace and schedule. The bottom line is, you got this! 

Post-Trip Planning: The Recipe for a Stress-Free Summer Vacation

Summer Vacation - Post-Trip Planning - Camping

In the hustle and bustle of vacation season, we tend to spend most of our time preparing for takeoff; buying sunscreen and bug repellent, reserving the rental car, finding ticket deals on excursions, the list goes on. Although once the vacation is over, part of the “post-vacation blues” is that we often come back to a big mess that was left behind in the frenzy of preparing for the trip! Do yourself and your family a favor this year, and set aside some time before you leave to plan for your return, too. Here are some post-trip planning ideas to get you started!

Clean the house

Leave for vacation with a clean, tidy home! It’ll make your return so much easier. If you run out of time to take care of all the cleaning and tidying yourself, hire a local cleaning service to do the job for you, which can likely be done in one visit when you’re already on your vacation. Or if you only have time and budget to do a few things yourself, starting the dishwasher before you go and making the beds are two small tasks that you’ll thank yourself for when you get back. 

Bring a laundry bag on your trip

Coming back home and sorting through all your clothes to do the laundry can be tedious, so lessen the work by packing a laundry bag with you. You can put your dirty clothes into the laundry bag as you go, and when you get home, there won’t be any guesswork or sorting required. Easy peasy!

Lay out your work clothes for the next day after vacation, and clothes for the kids’ next day plans

Let’s face it; you’ll likely be tired when you get home. And no matter the time of day it is that you walk through the door, we suspect you won’t be too thrilled about taking care of all the details to prepare for going back to everyday life the next day. To lend your future tired self a hand, before you leave for vacation: iron your work clothes and hang them up, set out your shoes, have your work bag ready – whatever it is that will help you be more prepared and less stressed. For the kids, you can set out clothes and shoes for daycare if that’s where they’ll be going, or an overnight bag if they’re headed to another relative or their other parent’s home upon return.

Freeze some Dream Dinners meals, so they’re ready for you when you get back

No need to worry about what you’re going to eat when you walk into the house, hungry and tired from travel. Have some Dream Dinners meals frozen and ready to go! If you have a few options, you’ll be able to take a quick glance and choose something that is fast, easy, and a crowd-pleaser for the whole family. Having one make-from-frozen meal front and center in the freezer will make things even easier. Or, if you have someone watching your pets or house-sitting, ask them to take a few meals out to thaw the day before you get home. No need to discuss where to order take-out from, and then be at the mercy of the wait and delivery time. We got you covered!

Plan something fun to do within the next week after you’re back home

We mentioned it before, but post-vacation blues are a real thing. Post-trip planning can help! Parents and kids alike can feel down when returning from a great trip, back into the routine of our everyday lives. Before you go, you can be proactive about this by planning something to look forward to once you’re home again. Maybe a relaxed family and friend game night the following week, a trip to the zoo the next weekend, or tickets to see an anticipated movie. Having a fun event already planned will help you stay on the vacation high, rather than having the blues sneak up on you.

 

We hope these post-trip planning ideas are helpful for you and your family! Are there other things that you and your crew do before leaving on vacation that have proved super useful? Let us know! Share them with us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), so we can all learn from each other about how to make our vacation transitions even better. If you’re heading out on a vacation soon, bon voyage! And if you’re just returning from a trip, welcome home! Wherever you are in the process, we hope you’re having a happy, healthy summer.

Dream Dinners 2019 Mother’s Day Contest Winners

mothers-day-header 2

We’re excited to announce that we have six amazing women who are the lucky winners of our recent Mother’s Day contest! The moms who were nominated win, as well as the people who were sweet enough to nominate them. Thank you to everyone who entered. You warmed our hearts and inspired us with stories of some truly incredible moms. We’d like to share the winning stories to celebrate these super moms. Their entries are below, although fair warning: you might want to keep a box of tissues close by!

Kori S. – Beth

KoriMy sweet friend Beth is a working mom of three littles, all under the age of 4 including a set of twin 2 year olds. Her husband Mason is a police officer and in the Army Reserves. Several times throughout the year, he is gone for drill weekends and then for extended times during the summer. A couple of years ago Mason was diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer and Beth was by his side, through his treatments. In the past few months, they have experienced three deaths in their family, within just a matter of weeks. Through it all, Beth has persevered with a smile on her face. She is the first one to come to the side of anyone who needs help, even if just a shoulder to cry on, but NEVER asks for help for herself. One of her coworker’s sons was diagnosed with cancer. Beth along with her coworkers have organized fundraiser after fundraiser to help alleviate the costs of the little boy’s treatments. Beth is just a genuine person who is a great friend! She deserves a break from having to prep meals. 🙂

Mickey G. – Maxine

MickeyAfter my daughter passed away we had to leave the Ronald McDonald house. I had separated from my husband during Miranda’s Leukemia and faced the harsh reality of being homeless. Our little van and the belongings within are all we had. My husband had stopped giving me money and locked us out of our house. It was so hard to face the loss of my daughter and feel my whole life come apart. As I drove feeling desperate and alone there was only one person to call – my mom. Her love and compassion were a lighthouse to our family. She took us in even though she lived in a tiny apartment with no extra rooms or beds. We camped out in her front room for nearly two months. It was me and my three kids taking over her only living space outside of her bedroom. She fed us and helped us through the most difficult days we had ever faced. Just weeks after Miranda passed away I was served divorce papers. My mom saw my estranged husband’s desire to have full custody and she took action. She had little money herself and few resources but she went and took out a loan and got money from a close friend. She told me I had to have an attorney. It was a tough divorce but because of her actions we were blessed and I was able to keep my children and I received alimony that I never would have received without an attorney. She protected us and changed the outcome of my trial by sacrificing with love. We moved out of her apartment and we paid her back the money she had borrowed on our behalf. But we can’t repay her for the love she gave us it is ours to keep eternally. For me there will never be enough expressions of gratitude for what she offered us during those months. I am grateful for who she is and how she loves.

Shanna S. – Julie

ShannaI would like to nominate Julie, a woman I admire. As a young, single mom of two children (Josh – a baby, and Brandi – a toddler), living in a one-bedroom apartment, Julie did not hesitate to take in her toddler nephew, Austin, who had a lot of medical issues and was in a full-body cast due to the poor choices of his own mother. Julie obtained custody of Austin and raised him as her own, treating him exactly the same as her own children. Eventually, Julie was pursued by Danny, but a relationship was not on her list of priorities when she had three little ones to care for. Danny was persistent and, in time, won Julie’s heart. Together, they built a life for the children, and brought a 4th one, Madelyn, into the world. Although money was tight and their 3 bedroom home was small, the children were always well taken care of and never went without necessities, and the home was filled with love. All of those children are now wonderful young adults beginning their own families, except Madelyn who is a teenager. In addition to raising such amazing young men and women, Julie was a second mom to many of her children’s friends, and kids in the neighborhood. Her home has always been open to anybody needing a good meal, a shoulder to cry on, or a helping hand. She is known as Mama Jules because she treats them all like they are her own children and has even taken in one or two kids when their home lives were terrible. No matter how rough or overwhelming things get for Julie, she always has a smile and a positive attitude and will never turn her back on somebody in need. She has such a huge heart and great compassion and love for people that is rarely seen in this world and I think she deserves to be recognized for her selfless, giving nature.

Congratulations to all of these amazing winners! These moms, and their love and compassion, are an inspiration. We applaud them for their kindness and courage.

Camping Isn’t Just for the Grownups: Family Camping Tips

Dream Dinners Camping

Tis the season for family camping! It’s always a good recharge for the body and soul to get out in nature once in a while. This is especially true if you’re a city dweller and don’t see forested areas very often in your day to day life. Camping with your kids can seem daunting and maybe even overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! With the right approach it can be a great time for everyone involved.

To start, if you haven’t taken your kids camping before and are worried about how they’ll like it, do a trial run first! Pitch the tent (with your kids’ help) in your backyard, and spend an afternoon playing outside and in the tent, even napping in it to see how they do in a different sleeping environment. That way when the “real deal” camping comes, both you and your kids know more of what to expect.

With every step of the way, get your kiddos involved as much as possible, even when it means that things will take longer. From having them help pack their own bags to gathering sticks for the campfire, involving them will allow them to be more invested in the activities and to feel that their contributions are valued.

One area that is a lot of fun to involve your kids is also our personal favorite: food! Ask your kids for their opinions on what to eat, and have them help with preparations before you leave. When planning your camping meals, think simple and think crowd pleasers. Foil meals and things you can grill over the fire, for example. On our May menu we have Campfire Grilled Pork Chops, and Tarragon Carrots. The pork chops, as the name suggests, would be perfect grilled over the campfire, and the carrots could be prepped before leaving and thrown in foil, also to be cooked over the fire. Check your nearest Dream Dinners location to see what menu items are available, and which would be best for your next family camping adventure.

A few other quick pieces of advice: make sure to do your research before you go, checking campsite details and regulations, etc., so you have less surprises along the way. Don’t forget to bring along toys and games for your free time at the campsite, and think positive but also plan for any potential challenges. Pack extra tarps in case of rain, extra layers so you’re ready for weather changes, and a first aid kit for cuts and scrapes.

Of course we’re only scratching the surface of all the possibilities! If you need more ideas for family friendly camping, there are plenty of resources available. REI offers some solid advice in this article, and this Lasso the Moon blog post also has a lot of fun tips and tricks. Research and preparation aside, what’s most important is to have fun! Camping with your family can provide you with great memories to last for the rest of your life, way after the bug bites go away and the s’mores are all devoured.

Springtime Family Fun: 4 Ways to Make the Most of the Season

A young girl and her little brother hike down a rocky trail looking over Tucson, Arizona.

Spring is in full bloom! With some creativity and a little planning, these ideas for Springtime family fun will help your family really savor the season.

Plant an herb and/or vegetable garden

Spring is a great time to plant a variety of veggies and herbs. The Urban Farmer Seeds and Plants website is a great resource in terms of how to go about planting everything, what to expect, when to start, etc. Your kids will love getting their hands dirty (without getting in trouble!) and the whole family will get to enjoy the tasty benefits of having fresh herbs and vegetables once your seeds have grown. Another bonus: your harvest could be added to some of your Dream Dinners meals!

Paint rocks together

This creative craft project starts with getting your family outside. The next time you go on a walk together, have your kids collect small rocks to bring back home to paint. Then let the artistic energy flow! If you’re in need of some ideas, this Color Made Happy page has a ton of inspiration, from silly faces to unicorns and minions.

Check out a new park & take a picnic!

If your family has gotten into a routine of visiting the same neighborhood park all the time, challenge yourself to visit someplace new. Make it an occasion, by taking a picnic along. Many of our Spring menu items would make ideal picnic meals – check your local store to see the full menu and find the most picnic-friendly meals available. If you’re stumped in terms of which parks to try out, here’s a few links for some of our regions. If you don’t see your city below, try visiting your local Parks and Recreation website for a list of parks in your area.

Make Spring cleaning fun

Last month we talked about self care Spring cleaning and there are plenty of ways to make Spring house cleaning fun and less of a chore for you and your family too.

  • Have your kids help you gather any and all papers that you no longer need into a bin: old newspapers, magazines, mail, etc. Then use what you’ve gathered to make a campfire that night! Find a neighborhood park with a fire pit you can use, and bring s’mores for added incentive.
  • Set up some friendly competition between your kids – who can clean their room the fastest, who can gather the most books/toys, who can find the most change in the couch cushions!
  • Turn it into a dance party clean-up! Play some fun, upbeat music and dance with that broom (and your kids!) between sweeping, dusting, or whichever cleaning tasks you’re tackling.

We hope these ideas spark some Springtime fun in (and outside) your home. Once you try an activity, don’t be shy – share your pics and stories with us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

Spring Cleaning: More than Just Windex and Disinfectants

When most of us hear “spring cleaning” we think it’s about opening the windows, letting fresh air in and then heading into the deepest darkest crevices of our closets and drawers. The pantry? Oh my. That’s a scary place.

We’re going to leave you to those nooks and crannies, and instead focus on some other spring cleaning tips. Sure, a clean, almost-dust-free house is the first step to clarity and stress relief, however we’re thinking it’s time to go deeper.

  • Now’s the time for some self-care. Shed winter’s layer on your body by sloughing off dead skin with masks or exfoliants. When your skin is glowing and wonderful, apply a layer of light moisturizer.
  • Enjoy the change of seasons and get outside as a family to enjoy nature. Pick an activity like walking, hiking or bicycling and simply move about in the fresh air. Enjoy some fun conversation, and take the time to plan some summer fun.
  • Detox from social media by unplugging from your Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram for as long as it takes to simply feel better when you re-engage. Social media can wreak havoc on our sanity when we compare our lives to the escapades, dinners, children and adventures of all those people with whom we are connected. Unplugging quiets that urge to compare ourselves to others on a seemingly endless stream of images and stories.
  • Start journaling to reflect and find gratitude. You can journal mornings or evenings, or both. Just take a few minutes to express how you feel and relax knowing this is probably one of the healthiest steps you can take to cleanse your soul.
  • Try drinking tea instead of coffee, or at least sit down for a cup of tea in the afternoon. Tea has many health benefits, from the type of tea and herbs you use to the calming effect it has on your nervous system. One cup of chamomile, a good view and quiet is just what your busy body needs to calm itself.
  • Tap into your creativity. Creativity can extend into so many different aspects of your life. From gardening to painting, building or playing music. Reach deep to find your creative passion and let your heart and mind sing.

(more…)

Love to love February in 2019

married-couple-holding-hands

Parenting & Kids | February 1, 2019 | By

This February, how about taking care of that special person in your life by celebrating the loving heart you share? It’s simply a great time to remind you to actually schedule those date nights at least once each month.

Ask someone to watch the kids and start planning. And planning a date can be shared or flip-flopped; one date night is yours and the next is his. Dream Dinners makes dinner easy, but sometimes you just need to head out to mix up dinner plans.

We’ve been scouring websites for date night ideas that are sure to be fun, interesting and sometimes over-the-top exciting.

Here are a few ideas we love:

  • Plan to learn something. The Escape Adulthood website encourages taking a class together. It can be anything from painting to photography to glass blowing, just make sure it’s a skill that’s new to the both of you.
  • Pretend it’s your first date and relearn things about your partner. Even reinvent your story. The Date Night Wingman website says to stay curious with someone you’re familiar with. By going out on first dates over and over, you get that first kiss again and again.
  • Mini Road Trip to escape the norm. Your road trip shouldn’t be far, just far enough that you go someplace new or exciting. Lifehacks.io website that you can stay somewhat close to home and enjoy a small town or antiques market, or travel a little farther and enjoy the journey along the way.
  • Staying home? Try sparking a little bit of competition either by playing board games, a few rounds of indoor golf using cups or cardboard boxes or video games. If you want to up the ante, have a water balloon battle or Nerf gun fight. Check out therealisticmama.com website for more ideas.
  • Scavenger Hunt. Stylecaster.com offers up a fun date by presenting your loved one with date clues in a sealed envelope. Give subtle hints and directions if you’re the ultimate destination. If you’re going along for the ride, each stop along the way can get bigger and bigger in terms of intrigue or simple size if it’s food or beverages.

Whatever you choose to do, keep date nights fun and keep them on a regular basis.

The Power of the Dinner Table

Family enjoying dinner together

If Jeff Bezos, the billionaire Amazon mogul, can find time to eat with his family, we’re thinking there’s really nothing holding us back from doing the same.

We are all making a pact here at Dream Dinners to slow down in 2019. Sure, it’s easy to pack granola bars for breakfast in the car or throw an extra pack of snacks in the kids’ soccer bag. Really, at the end of the day, we just need to carve out some time to reconnect.

There have been myriad studies about the importance of nightly – or as close to nightly as possible – family dinners. Not only are they a way to unwind, relax and share stories, they have some substantial effects on the social and emotional development of children and lasting positive effects on adult relationships, as well.

(more…)

Getting Your Kids in the Kitchen is a Great Way to Instill Healthy Eating Habits

blonde-toddler-girl-smiling-kitchen-750x250

By Sherry Jennings, Dream Dinners

Not everyone has the opportunity to be raised with parents who love to cook, who know their way around the kitchen and enjoy sharing that passion with their families. Some of us had that opportunity and we’d be brought into the meal making process at various times to stir, chop, taste, or simply salivate during the wait. 

I was raised in such a family. My mom was Italian and spent long Sunday afternoons stirring pots of sauce even in the summer. My dad, an Englishman, enjoyed cooking just as much, although he cooked things he truly had a passion for. His family baked daily so the muffins and breads were on a seemingly endless cycle. He also loved hot sauces and would grow his own peppers and spend hours canning his well-known and sought-after “hot source.”

From fish to pasta, vegetable bakes to anything grilled, my parents kept me involved and I grew up loving home cooked meals shared with my family and friends.

Sure, today’s family schedules are jammed packed and events are endless. That’s why Dream Dinners is the perfect partner to keep families connecting, sharing and bonding through the power of the dinner table. I’m pretty sure my mom would have appreciated the effortlessness dinners Dream Dinners could have provided when we spent our summers at the lake house in Pennsylvania.

(more…)

Hitting the Road with the Kids, with Dream Dinners in Tow

mom-kids-road-trip-750x250

It’s that time of year when we begin thinking of trips over Spring Break, Memorial Day and throughout the summer. The calendar fills up quickly, and so do mom anxieties when trying to make sure every detail is in place and the trips ahead are memory-worthy, not in the Griswold family sort of way.

The Dream Dinners team is always looking for ways to simplify planning, and road tripping is no different. Most of us have raised our kids and some are still juggling high school and middle school schedules, while a few are still changing their kids’ diapers. We are always talking trip hacks to make everything so much easier on the entire family. Adventures should focus on the journeys and destinations, and that’s possible when a few tried-and-true planning steps are handled right from the get-go.

One way to get the kids psyched about the trip, not just the days out of school, is to bring them in on the planning right from the dream stage. When they are excited, the anticipation well outweighs a last-minute food stop.

There are ways to get the kids involved. Start with a list of destinations, break out the maps and research at the library, or online, all the details about where you hope to land. If you use a paper map, which is so much more fun to mark up Ken Jennings-style, take time to point out some fun spots along the way. Are there scenic vistas? Giant trees? Historic markers? Hikes? Places to play?

(more…)