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How to avoid the school lunch slump—and keep kids excited for their meal

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With the school year in full swing, you may have already approached that school lunch slump. As a parent, you want your kids to eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal, but you also want to make sure your child eats what you pack. The last thing you want to do is fill your kiddo's lunchbox with junk or unhealthy fare or get stuck on repeat meals that may bore them.

So how do you make sure the healthy lunches you pack get eaten? Here are a few tips:

1. Prepare lunch together

Children should be part of the process so discuss what they would like, and even have them choose foods to include from the various food groups. The more involved your child is in making their lunch, the more likely they will eat it.

2. Meal prep

As a parent, busy weeks can let healthy habits slip. Be prepared with healthy options by meal prepping at the beginning of the week. That could mean pre-making containers of cut up veggie with dips like hummus or ranch, or pre-packing nut-free trail mixes that fit perfectly into a healthy lunch box.

3. Encourage eating together with friends

Lunch is a social time and more enjoyable when surrounded by family and friends. Ask your child who they sat with and discuss lunchtime with them.

4. Make meals for appealing

Kids eat with their eyes, so adding bright colors or shapes helps make the meal more appealing. Think red peppers, orange clementines, black beans and green edamame. Even lunch boxes can have bright, fun colors so kids enjoy toting them to school.

5. Leave some love

My kids always loved when I left them a personalized not in their lunchbox. They would come home with all smiles. Even a simple "I love you," or "hope you're having a great day!" can help.

6.  Opt for allergy-friendly options

Many schools are nut-free, so make sure to stay updated on their lunch policy. Fortunately, there are many options now available at your local markets.

7. Keep food safety in mind

Some kids eat lunch early at school while others have a later lunch hour. If your child eats later, you want to make sure to keep their lunch cold. Look for insulated containers to pack lunches, and use several ice packs to keep it cold. You can even speak to the school as some will refrigerate lunches if needed.

What to know about kid's nutrition

According to a recent survey by Revolution Foods, the nation's leading healthy school and community meal provider, 80% of parents and 60% of students agreed that balanced nutrition, including a selection of lean proteins, whole grains, fresh fruit and veggies, is extremely important when it comes to school lunches because it gives children the opportunity to take in the nutrients they need for successful growth and development.

Nutrients children need include:

  • Calories: Children need to take in enough calories, which depend on age, gender and activity level. Your child's pediatrician or registered dietitian can crunch those numbers. Most of the calories should come from nutritious foods.
  • Protein: Children are growing and need protein to do so. Protein is also important for strength and muscles. Choose lean proteins whenever possible like skinless chicken breast, lean cuts of beef and pork, tofu, eggs and fish.
  • Iron: Children are at risk of not getting enough iron in their diet. Foods that provide iron include meat, poultry, beans and leafy green vegetables. For the iron to be better absorbed from plant foods (like spinach), pack them together with vitamin-C rich food like strawberries, citrus fruit and bell peppers.
  • Calcium: Needed for strong bones and teeth, calcium is another nutrient kids require. One of the best sources of calcium is cow's milk and dairy products, but you can also find it in calcium-fortified juices, calcium-based tofu, beans, soy milk and leafy green vegetables.

Here are some recipes we love:

Turkey Tacos

Total: 25 mins

Prep: 15 mins

Cook:10 mins

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 or 2 fresh chili peppers, like serranos or jalapeños (chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil (or canola or vegetable oil)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey meat (or 2 cups shredded cooked)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves (chopped)
  • 1 lime
  • 8 corn tortillas (or taco shells)
  • Optional: salsa, guacamole, spring mix lettuce, cheese, and sour cream

Steps to make it:

  • Gather the ingredients.
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the garlic and chiles. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and soft, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the cumin and cayenne and stir to combine until spices sizzle, about 30 seconds.
  • Add the turkey and salt. Stir to combine and break up meat with the back of the spoon or spatula.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until the turkey is cooked through. Note: if using shredded cooked turkey, also add 1/4 cup of water, stir to combine, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover to heat everything up and let the flavors blend a bit, about 10 minutes.
  • When the meat is fully cooked, take it off the heat, and stir in the cilantro.
  • Juice the lime over the meat and stir to combine.
  • Heat the tortillas, if using, and top each one with some ground turkey, salsa, guacamole, and lettuce (or fill each taco shell). Add sour cream or shredded cheese, if you like.

Serve and enjoy!

Easy Cheesy Chicken Quesadillas

Total: 15 mins

Prep: 5 mins

Cook: 10 mins

Yield: 6 Quesadillas (3 to 4 Servings)

Ingredients:

  • 6 flour tortillas
  • 2 (9-ounce) packages cooked diced chicken
  • 1 cup shredded Colby cheese
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup salsa

Steps to make it:

  • Place three of the tortillas on a work surface. Top the tortillas with half of the cheeses, then the chicken, then the remaining cheeses. Top the filling with the remaining tortillas. Spread outsides of the quesadillas with the butter.
  • Heat a flat pan, large skillet, or griddle over medium heat. Add the quesadillas, one at a time, and cook, pressing down with a spatula, until bottoms are browned, about 2 to 4 minutes. Turn quesadillas and cook second side 2 to 3 minutes or until the tortillas are browned and crisp and the cheeses melt.
  • Remove the quesadilla with a spatula to the work surface and cut into quarters. Repeat with remaining quesadillas. Serve immediately with salsa for dipping.

English Muffin Pizzas

Total:10 mins

Prep: 3 mins

Cook: 7 mins

Yield: 2 English muffins (2 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 English muffins, preferably whole grain (see Note), split
  • 1 cup store-bought or homemade tomato sauce
  • 4 slices (1⁄4 inch thick) Mozzarella, preferably fresh
  • Coarse salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)

Steps to make it:

  • Preheat a toaster oven or standard oven to 350°F.
  • Toast the English muffin halves until very lightly brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Spoon 1⁄4 cup of the tomato sauce evenly over each English muffin half.
  • Top each English muffin with a slice of mozzarella. Lightly salt, and sprinkle on the oregano if desired.
  • Bake or toast the pizzas until the cheese is melted and a bit bubbly, about 4 minutes. Serve, making sure your kids know that the pizzas are hot!

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

After a pregnancy that is best described as uncomfortable, Jessica Simpson is finally done "Jess-tating" and is now a mama of three.

Baby Birdie Mae Johnson joined siblings Ace and Maxwell on Tuesday, March 19, Simpson announced via Instagram.

Simpson's third child weighed in at 10 pounds, 13 ounces.

Birdie's name is no surprise to Jessica's Instagram followers, who saw numerous references to the name in her baby shower photos and IG stories in the last few weeks.

The name Birdie isn't in the top 1000 baby names according to the Social Security Administration, but It has been seeing a resurgence in recent years, according to experts.

"Birdie feels like a sassy but sweet, down-to-earth yet unusual name," Pamela Redmond Satran of Nameberry told Town and Country back in 2017. "It's also just old enough to be right on time."

At this moment in time, Simpson and her husband, former NFL player Eric Johnson, are probably busy counting little fingers and toes , which is great news because it means Simpson's toes can finally deflate. She's had a terrible time with swollen feet during this pregnancy, and was also hospitalized multiple times due to bronchitis in her final trimester.

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We're so glad to see Simpson's little Birdie has finally arrived!

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Spring is officially here and if you're looking for a way to celebrate the change in the season, why not treat the kids to some ice cream, mama?

DQ locations across the country (but not the ones in malls) are giving away free small vanilla cones today, March 20! So pack up the kids and get to a DQ near you.

And if you can't make it today, from March 21 through March 31, DQ's got a deal where small cones will be just 50 cents (but you have to download the DQ mobile app to claim that one).

Another chain, Pennsylvania-based Rita's Italian Ice is also dishing up freebies today, so if DQ's not your thing you can grab a free cup of Italian ice instead.

We're so excited that ice cream season is here and snowsuit season is behind us. Just a few short weeks and the kids will be jumping through the sprinklers.

Welcome back, spring. We've missed you!

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The woman who basically single-handedly taught the world to embrace vulnerability and imperfection is coming to Netflix and we cannot wait to binge whatever Brené Brown's special will serve up because we'll probably be better people after watching it.

It drops on April 19 and is called Brené Brown: The Call to Courage. If it has even a fraction of the impact of her books or the viral Ted talk that made her a household name, it's going to be life and culture changing.

Announcing the special on Instagram Brown says she "cannot believe" she's about to be "breaking some boundaries over at Netflix" with the 77-minute special.

Netflix describes the special as a discussion of "what it takes to choose courage over comfort in a culture defined by scarcity, fear and uncertainty" and it sounds exactly like what we need right now.

April 19 is still pretty far away though, so if you need some of Brown's wisdom now, check out her books on Amazon or watch (or rewatch) the 2010 Ted Talk that put her—and our culture's relationship with vulnerability and shame—in the national spotlight.

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

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If Marie Kondo's Netflix show got people tidying up, Brown's Netflix special is sure to be the catalyst for some courageous choices this spring.

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My husband and I recently had a date night that included being away from our son overnight for the first time since he was born three years ago (but don't let your heads run away with a fantasy—we literally slept because we were exhausted #thisiswhatwecallfunnow). It was a combination of a late night work event, a feeling that we had to do something just for the two of us, and simple convenience. It would have taken hours to get home from the end of a very long day when we could just check into a hotel overnight and get home early the next day.

But before that night, I fretted about what to do. How would childcare work? No one besides me or my husband has put our son to bed, and we have never not been there when he wakes up in the morning.

Enter: Grandma.

I knew if there was any chance of this being successful, the only person that could pull it off is one of my son's favorite people—his grandmother. Grammy cakes. Gramma. We rely so much on these extended support systems to give us comfort and confidence as parents and put our kids at ease. Technically, we could parent without their support, but I'm so glad we don't have to.

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So as we walked out the door, leaving Grandma with my son for one night, I realized how lucky we are that she gets it...

She gets it because she always comes bearing delicious snacks. And usually a small toy or crayons in her bag for just the right moment when it's needed.

She gets it because she comes with all of the warmth and love of his parents but none of the baggage. None of the first time parent jitters and all of the understanding that most kids just have simple needs: to eat, play and sleep.

She gets it because she understands what I need too. The reassurance that my baby will be safe. And cared for.

She gets it because she's been in my shoes before. Decades ago, she was a nervous new mama too and felt the same worries. She's been exactly where we are.

She gets it because she shoos us away as we nervously say goodbye, calling out cheerfully, "Have fun, I've got this." And I know that she does.

She gets it because she will get down on the floor with him to play Legos—even though sometimes it's a little difficult to get back up.

She gets it because she will fumble around with our AppleTV—so different from her remote at home—to find him just the right video on Youtube that he's looking for.

She gets it because she diligently takes notes when we go through the multi-step bedtime routine that we've elaborately concocted, passing no judgment, and promising that she'll follow along as best as she can.

She gets it because she'll break the routine and lay next to him in bed when my son gets upset, singing softly in his ear until she sees his eyelids droop heavy and finally fall asleep.

She gets it because she'll text us to let us know when he's fallen asleep because she knows we'll be wondering.

She gets it because just like our son trusts us as his mom and dad, Grandma is his safe space. My son feels at ease with her—and that relaxes me, too.

She gets it because when we come home from our "big night out" the house will be clean. Our toddler's play table that always has some sort of sticky jelly residue on it will be spotless. The dishwasher empty. (Side note: She is my hero.)

She gets it because she shows up whenever we ask. Even when it means having to rearrange her schedule. Even when it means she has to sleep in our home instead of her own.

She gets it because even though she has her own life, she makes sure to be as involved in ours as she can. But that doesn't mean she gives unsolicited advice. It means that she's there. She comes to us or lets us come to her. Whenever we need her.

She gets it because she takes care of us, too. She's there to chat with at the end of a long day. To commiserate on how hard motherhood and working and life can be, but to also gently remind me, "These are the best days."

After every time Grandma comes over, she always leaves a family that feels so content. Fulfilled by her presence. The caretaking and nourishment (mental and food-wise) and warmth that accompanies her.

We know this is a privilege. We know we're beyond lucky that she is present and wants to be involved and gets it. We know that sometimes life doesn't work out like this and sometimes Grandma lives far away or is no longer here, or just doesn't get it. So we hold on. And appreciate every moment.

As Grandma leaves, I hug her tight and tell her, "I can't thank you enough. We couldn't have done this without you." Because we can't. And we wouldn't want to.

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