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There is something incredibly wholesome and healthy about feeding your family with homemade soups, stews and oatmeal. The idea of tossing a handful of ingredients into your slow cooker and a few hours later you have a restaurant-quality meal is just… well, awesome! Especially when there’s a new baby in the picture. Slow cookers should become the new “it” item on baby registries. These bad boys can save you an incredible amount of time when your new bundle of joy arrives. Completing a task as simple as taking a shower will become a major success during those first few weeks. Anything you can do to simplify your life is a welcome strategy. So be sure to buy a slow-cooker if you don’t already have one -- maybe it’s still in the box from your wedding registry? Time to bring it out! TOP FIVE TIPS AND TECHNIQUES: 1. High vs. Low: Remember that one hour on the high setting is the equivalent to two hours on the low setting. A benefit to using the low setting is that the food can cook a little longer than the recipe advises without the risk of being overcooked. 2. Layer in order: Unless the recipe specifies otherwise, you should always layer the ingredients in the order they are given – no need to stir! 3. No extra liquid: Pour liquids (water, stock, etc.) over vegetables and meats, and only use the liquids specified in the recipe with roasts and stews. Extra juices cook out of the ingredients, and less evaporation occurs than in traditional cooking methods. 4. No peeking! It might be challenging, but don’t open the slow cooker before the cooking time is complete. It takes 20-30 minutes for the heat to build back up to the previous temperature each and every time you remove the lid. Now that we have covered the basics, I will share my three favorite slow cooker recipes. Just give yourself 15-20 minutes of prep time, and 4-8 hours later you have a delicious, flavorful meal to feed your entire family. Can’t beat that! TORTILLA SOUP (pictured above) Ingredients: · 1 pound shredded, cooked chicken (optional – this recipe is vegetarian without the chicken) · 6 Roma tomatoes, skin on and quartered · 4 tomatillos, leaves/stems removed and diced · 1 medium onion, chopped · 1 orange bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced · 2 cloves garlic, minced · 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced · 1 orange bell pepper, seeded and diced · 1 teaspoon cumin · 1 teaspoon chili powder · 1 teaspoon salt · ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper (about 5-6 turns) · 1 bay leaf · 2 cups black beans (or one can, drained and rinsed) · 1 ½ cups corn kernels (or one bag frozen kernels) · 2 cups water · 2 cups (or one container) low-sodium vegetable broth · 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (optional) · 7 non-GMO corn tortillas · Extra-virgin olive oil Preparation: Place the first 18 ingredients in your slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours (or on high for 3-4 hours). 30 minutes prior to serving, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly brush both sides of the tortillas with oil. Cut the tortillas into strips and spread on a baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven until crisp (approximately 10-15 minutes). Spoon servings of soup into individual bowls, sprinkle chips on top and serve. PUMPKIN & BLACK BEAN CHILI Ingredients: · 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil · 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced · 1 clove garlic, minced · 1 medium sweet onion, diced · 3 cups black beans (or two cans), rinsed and drained · 1 sugar pumpkin, rinsed, stem removed and cut into 1” cubes · 6 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced · 3 cups vegetable broth (or water) · 2 teaspoons fresh parsley · 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder · 2 teaspoons cumin · 1 teaspoon dried oregano (be sure to roll it in your hand to release the oils) · ½ teaspoon salt · 3 grinds freshly cracked black pepper · Cubed avocado (optional) Preparation: Place the first 14 ingredients into your slow cooker. Cook on high for 1 hour, then drop the temperature to low and cook 5-6 hours. Spoon into individual bowls and top with avocado (if desired) and serve. OVERNIGHT OATMEAL Ingredients: · 1 teaspoon coconut oil · 8 ½ cups water · 2 cups steel-cut oats · 1 ¾ cups unsweetened coconut milk · ¼ cup coconut sugar · ½ teaspoon sea salt · 1 teaspoon vanilla extract · Optional toppings: Banana, berries, nuts, coconut flakes, chia seeds, maple syrup, etc Preparation: Coat the inside of the slow cooker with the coconut oil. Add the water, oats, coconut milk, coconut sugar and salt into the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low heat until the oats are cooked through and creamy (approximately 7-8 hours). Stir in the vanilla and spoon into individual serving bowls. Add any desired toppings and serve warm. Bon appetit to you and your bébés!

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Things We're Loving

I admit it: We struggle with screen time in my house. My 4-year-old is a rambunctious consumer of entertainment and most of his beloved forms come in the mini screen of my cell phone. I do, however, do my best to fill that screen with the most educational kid's apps that exist, and one of his favorites is the world of Sago Mini. Their apps are fun, playful, and yes, help him learn something too.

So imagine our excitement when we found out that Sago Mini is bringing that experience offline with an IRL kid's toy subscription service that sends open-ended toys to you about once a month. The service officially launches today and it's perfect for kids aged 3-5. It costs about $19 a month or $15 a month if you pay for an annual subscription.

The Sago Mini box

The first set of boxes will have planes, road trip and fairy tales themes. ✨The box we tried was road-trip themed and it came with everything your little needs to get off the phone and into their imagination. I loved that even the box itself can be turned into a toy by disassembling it and rebuilding it inside out. Because we all know that sometimes our kid's favorite toy ends up being the box it was shipped in!

The kit comes with three make and play activities, all designed to build off each other. For example, our road trip box came with a felt "road" that my son loved draping all over the furniture, and a cardboard car with wooden wheels in one activity pack. Then the second activity pack had destinations your child can "drive" their car to like Grandma's house, school and a gas station.

I especially appreciated that they kept an eye on sustainability (and cute design!) when creating these play materials. All the paper materials that come in the box are made from recycled goods or sourced from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC certified). The best part? My son played with his set for a good few hours—and never asked for my phone once.

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When you're in the middle of the school year and managing a family, each minute of time becomes very precious. Sometimes that means healthy food choices in the household can take a backseat. But don't stress it, mama. Prepping delicious and nutritious choices for the kids to munch on doesn't need to take all day.

Remember to keep it fun, simple and interactive! Here are tips for simplifying after-school snacks once and for all:

1. Prep snacks on Sunday

This simple trick can make the rest of the week a breeze. Tupperware is your friend here, you can even write different days of the week on each container to give the kids a little surprise every day. I really like storage with compartments for snack prep. Personally, I slice apples, carrots or cucumbers to pair with almond butter and hummus—all great to grab and go for when you're out all day and need some fresh variety.

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2. When in doubt, go for fruit

Fruit is always a quick and easy option. I suggest blueberries, clementine oranges, apples, frozen grapes or even unsweetened apple sauce and dried fruit, like mixed fruit. It's fun to put together a fruit salad, too. Simply cut up all the fruit options and let the kids decide how they'd like to compile. Prepped fruit is also great to have on hand for smoothies, especially when it's been sitting in the fridge for a few days—throw it in the blender with some nut milk and voila.

3. Pair snacks with a dip

Hummus is a great dip to keep on hand with lots of versatility or you can grab a yogurt-based dip. Easy and healthy dippers include pre-sliced veggies, baby carrots and multigrain tortilla chips. Plain hummus is a great way to introduce seasonings and spices too—shake a little turmeric, add fresh basil and you'd be surprised what your kids will take to.

4. Have high-protein options readily available

Snacks with high protein, like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs and jerky will fuel kids for hours. One of my favorites is a turkey stick, which is a fun addition to the hummus platter. Just slice into bite-sized pieces. I love cottage cheese because it can go savory or sweet, use as a dip with your prepped veggies, or drizzle pure maple syrup and sprinkle with berries.

5. Always keep the pantry stocked

Monthly deliveries keeps the pantry updated without a trip to grocery store. Many kids are big fans of popcorn, granola and pretzels. We like to DIY our own snack packs with a little popcorn, pretzels, nuts and whatever else is in the pantry so there's always something different!

6. Make cracker tartines

I love the idea of replicating popular restaurant dishes for kids. Here are some of my favorite snack-sized tartines using any crisp bread, or favorite flat cracker of your choice as the base. There are no rules and kids love adding toppings and finding new combinations they love.

  • Avocado crackers: Use a cracker and then layer with thinly sliced avocado, a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese topped with roasted pepitas or sunflower seeds.
  • Tacos: The base for this is a black bean spread—just drain a can of black beans, rinse and place into a wide bowl. With a fork or potato masher, lightly smush the beans until chunky. Spread onto your cracker and top with tomato, cheddar cheese and black olives. Try out a dollop of super mild salsa or some lime zest to introduce some new flavor profiles.
  • A play on PB&J: Smear peanut butter, almond or a favorite sun butter on the cracker. I like to get a mix it up a bit and put fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and tiny diced apples) and a little bit of dried fruit sprinkled on top.

7. Pre-make smoothie pops

The easy part about meal prep is the prep itself, but knowing exactly how much to make ahead is tricky. Freeze a smoothie in popsicle molds to have a healthy treat ready-to-go snack. They're super simple to make: Add any fruit (I like apples, berries, pineapples and mangoes) and veggies (carrots, steamed beet and wilted kale) to a blender with your favorite nut milk until you have consistency just a bit thinner than a smoothie. Pour into your trusty reusable popsicle molds and then into the freezer to make an ice pop so good they could eat them for breakfast.

Lifestyle

It was a historical moment for the world and a scary moment for a woman who had just become a mother for the first time. When the Duchess of Cambridge stepped out of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary's Hospital on July 22, 2013, with her new baby in her arms she was happy—but understandably scared, too.

Kate Middleton recently appeared on Giovanna Fletcher's Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast and when Fletcher asked her about her postpartum debut Kate said she felt a little freaked out when she stepped out with her newborn.

"Yeah, slightly terrifying, slightly terrifying, I'm not going to lie," Kate said.

During the podcast the Duchess opened up about her pregnancy and birth experiences, explaining how much hypnobirthing helped her and that she didn't know whether she was delivering a prince or princess until Prince George was born as she'd opted to be surprised.

She was surprised and thrilled when she met her son, and looked forward to post-pregnancy life after spending her pregnancy quite ill with hyperemesis gravidarum (a seriously debilitating form of extreme morning sickness). She was happy, but was also (very understandably) overwhelmed. In addition to all the pressure new moms feel, Kate had an army of photographers waiting outside the hospital for her.

"Everything goes in a bit of a blur. I think, yeah I did stay in hospital overnight, I remember it was one of the hottest days and night with huge thunderstorms so I didn't get a huge amount of sleep, but George did, which was really great," she explained. "I was keen to get home because, for me, being in hospital, I had all the memories of being in hospital because of being sick [with acute morning sickness] so it wasn't a place I wanted to hang around in. So, I was really desperate to get home and get back to normality."

Kate wanted to get home, but she also did want to share her baby boy with the public who had been so supportive of her young family, she explains.

"Everyone had been so supportive and both William and I were really conscious that this was something that everyone was excited about and you know we're hugely grateful for the support that the public had shown us, and actually for us to be able to share that joy and appreciation with the public, I felt was really important," she shared, adding that "Equally it was coupled with a newborn baby, and inexperienced parents, and the uncertainty of what that held, so there were all sorts of mixed emotions."

"All sorts of mixed emotions."

The now-iconic images of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge exiting the hospital with their firstborn have gone down in history, but so has Kate's bravery that day.

There's been a lot written about whether those pictures put pressure on other moms who might not feel ready for heels and blowouts right after giving birth, but one thing critics of the photos often miss is the positive impact it had on other young women.

Yes, Kate looked beautiful, but she also looked like a woman whose body had just given birth—and the iconic images of her in that polka-dot dress taught a generation of women that the female body isn't an elastic band and that recovering from birth takes time.

"I, myself remember being really surprised when Kate Middleton came out of the hospital holding Prince George," Tina, now a mom herself and a model of postpartum realness in Mothercare's "Body Proud Mums campaign" explained last year.

Tina recalls how Kate's postpartum appearance showed her a reality society hadn't: "She had the baby bump, and I remember being surprised that your belly doesn't just go down after giving birth. I also thought how stupid I was to have ever thought it would. I guess pre-children you just have unrealistic expectations."

Tina wasn't stupid, she just hadn't been shown the truth.

So thank you, Kate, for stepping out of that hospital in 2013, despite being terrified, and showing the world your beautiful baby and your bump.


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