“Elf on the Shelf” – Helpful Ideas to Make this Annual Tradition More Fun

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He’s almost baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!! The thought of this little guy making his appearance every year seems to strike fear and dread in the hearts of so many parents across the country. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t need to be such a miserable chore, In fact, I really love when our little “Hermie” makes his way back to our home. With just a little planning, a dash of creativity and a positive mindset this tradition can be not only fun, but something you actually look forward to year after year.

FIRST THINGS FIRST – CUT YOUR “ELF SELF” SOME SLACK

Nothing is fun when it starts to feel a like chore. So cut yourself some slack and don’t try to do too much or do everything perfectly. Regardless of what you think, you aren’t in competition with everyone else. So if having a North Pole Breakfast is too much for you, skip it. It you love being creative, go crazy with the mischief. If you barely want to do this tradition at all, do the bare minimum. Look, there is no ONE way to handle this elf and every mom and dad needs to what is best for them. In the end, this is just supposed to be fun and not a source of stress and anxiety. So follow these simple tips to keep your sanity this holiday season.

  • Don’t overdo it! You don’t need to do a big, elaborate setup for your elf every single day. Pace yourself and on most days, keep it simple. Sprinkle in just a few extra special setups here and there.
  • Use what you have around the house! Don’t make yourself crazy buying accessories for the elf, use what you already have. Take advantage of craft supplies, your kids toys, what’s in your pantry, etc.
  • Avoid elf mishaps, place him up high! Keep the elf high instead of within your kids easy reach. Countertops, wall units bartops, on top of furniture, etc. are all good places to place your elf. Avoid the floor, if possible, unless it’s in a room you aren’t often in or you know for sure your kid won’t be tempted to touch him.
  • Need ideas? Pinterest is a wealth of great information. You will find a ton of wonderful Elf on the Shelf® ideas there. Also, Google® is your friend, when you need some inspiration in a pinch, a quick search will provide you with everything you need.
  • Have fun! This isn’t suppose to be a miserable experience so try to have a little fun with it. Remember, the belief in Christmas magic is fleeting and before you know it your children won’t believe anymore. So take advantage while they are little and enjoy this magical time with them.
WELCOME BACK – NORTH POLE BREAKFAST

As we approach Thanksgiving, preparations are well underway for our annual, “North Pole Breakfast“. This is a very special breakfast that we have the day after Thanksgiving to welcome back our little elf. We have been doing this tradition for years now and it’s something that both of my children eagerly look forward to. Not only are they excited to see the elf but it’s a fun and festive way to officially kick off the holiday season!

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On Thanksgiving night, after the kids are asleep, I get to work. I decorate the kitchen, put out the elf and elf pets and prep breakfast. Some easy and delicious things to make for breakfast and which can be prepared ahead of time are: Bacon and Cheddar Quiche , French Toast Casserole , and even Ooey Gooey Cinnamon Rolls . Another super cute idea, which is easier than making your own, is to buy store-bought Pillsbury® Cinnamon rolls and assemble the baked rolls on a platter in a Christmas tree shape. Tint the white icing with a little green food dye and sprinkle the “tree” with festive Christmas sprinkles. Other cute ideas for breakfast are white powdered doughnut holes otherwise known as, “snowballs” and mini muffins or as we like to call them, “elf muffins“. I also give them “jingle juice” which is any red colored beverage served in small, inexpensive milk bottles that I found at Michael’s®. I top them off with cute a Christmas colored straw. I always put out candy canes on the table and a few small Christmas chocolates as well. Get as creative as you would like for your breakfast but remember, do as much in advance as possible because your kids will wake up excited and ready to party in the morning so the less cooking you need to do that day, the better.

I know a North Pole Breakfast might sound like a lot but everything you see pictured above are Christmas things I already had in the house OR things I purchased for cheap at the Dollar Store and use year after year. The Dollar Store is a great place to pick up cute things to use at the breakfast. They have a nice assortment of holiday paper goods, Christmas tins and baskets, elf themed decorations, tablecloths, elf hats, gift bags and more! On the backs of my chairs I place these adorable “Santa hats” that just slide over the chair and make everything look even more festive. The best part? They were just $1/each! Once you have all of your goodies pulled together, you’re ready to go every year!

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Create an “elf bin“. I bought an inexpensive storage tote at Target and that is where I keep all of my decorations for the North Pole Breakfast along with our elf, elf pets, letters, and little goodies from the elf to the kids. It makes coordinating the elf’s return so much easier because everything that I need for a successful holiday season is all contained in one box which I keep in front of all the other Christmas boxes. A few years ago I typed up both my “Welcome Back” and “Goodbye” letters from Hermie and I keep multiple copies of each in the storage box and reuse the same typed letters every year. Trust me on this one, my daughter who is 10 years old with a memory like an elephant, still has never even realized that the letters are the same year after year. Having them ready to go saves you a lot of time and effort.

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Another tradition that we have at our North Pole Breakfast is that each of my children receive a gift from the elf. I don’t go overboard, just a few cute things to get them in the Christmas spirit. They each have an Elf on the Shelf® themed gift bag that I fill with chocolate Santa lollipops, holiday PEZ dispensers, coloring books, Christmas word searches, little notepads and pencils, Christmas themed Chapstick® and other cute things I find in the dollar section. In addition, every year they each get a special ornament chosen just for them to place on the Christmas tree. Sometimes I get them personalized ones but often I try to find an ornament that is meaningful to them in some way whether it’s a favorite hobby, character, toy etc. I love looking back at these ornaments every year and the kids get so excited to have a new and special ornament to hang on the tree. You don’t have to spend a lot, a few little things are all it takes to make them happy that morning and they really love getting a gift from their special elf.

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Lastly, no North Pole Breakfast would be complete without adorable matching Christmas pajamas! You can find so many cute choices at children’s clothing stores or even at Target or Walmart for cheap. I always give them their pj’s on Thanksgiving night because I love having pictures of them in the morning in their cute, festive, coordinated pajamas.

ELF BUSINESS

First things first, it’s time to remind your children of the rules. A good way to do that is to reread to them the book that came with your elf. Remind them that the elf’s magical powers only work if they don’t touch him. They can look at him, talk to him, show him things but “no touchy”! This reminder really makes your job easier because the last thing you want is for the kids to touch the elf, he falls down and then looks like some lifeless, splattered toy on the floor. You want to keep up the allusion and for the elf to stay put in whatever scene or mischief you create for him so the easiest way to achieve that is if the kids are reminded to just leave him alone.

Let’s face it, this elf has a job to do and that’s to keep our kids in line until the big day arrives. What good would the elf be if he didn’t give any status updates? I found this cute Daily Elf Report plaque at a nearby home store for less than $3. No matter where our elf shows up in the house, this little plaque is right nearby so the kids can see if they are behaving or need to do a little better. If you cannot find one of these, make your own reusable little sign. Anything that can give the kids a quick update will work fine, even a basic small white board will do.

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On the rare occasion I need to check off “naughty” I also leave a written “Elf Report” so that they know what behaviors they need to work on. You can find a ton of these cute little printables right online. This one below is my favorite, click here to print out your own.

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Sometimes our elf likes to leave them a treat which is usually coordinated with whatever mischief he created the previous night. Again, the dollar sections in stores are a great place to pick up fun items such as Elf on the Shelf® themed toys, coloring books, Christmas candy and other cute little things. A fun gift to leave every so often is one of the “elf couture” outfits available for both the elf and elf pets. My kids get a kick out of these!

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Occasionally the elf will leave them edible treats as well, such as special Christmas cookies, candies or the makings for hot chocolate. On the first on December he always brings them their chocolate advent calendars which my kids LOVE! They have so much fun counting down to Christmas and being able to eat a sweet treat each morning. Be as creative as you like with the gifts and treats, it really makes the whole Elf on the Shelf® experience so much more fun for them. One last tip, try to buy all of the treats and goodies at one time, store them in your elf bin and you’ll always have something on hand to pull out when you need it.

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When it comes to this Elf on the Shelf® business there is nothing more heart stopping than realizing right as your kids wake up that you FORGOT TO MOVE THE ELF!!!!! Don’t let this happen to you by simply setting a reminder on your phone for right before you go to bed. This will ensure that you never run into any problems because there is nothing worse than your kid waking up to find the elf sitting in the same place as the day before. Don’t ruin the magic, set a reminder. Oh, and should you STILL forget, make sure you have a few clever excuses up your sleeve such as, “The elf wasn’t feeling well so Santa told him to rest” or  “He broke his leg“. If you need a few more in your arsenal, click here for “25 Reasons Our Elf Didn’t Move“.

So what happens if you’re headed off on vacation this holiday season? The kids might be panicked that there elf won’t know where to find them. No worries, just bring him along. We’re going to Walt Disney World in December and I plan on tucking our elf away into one of the suitcases (carry-on, of course) and I will have him show up all around the hotel room while we’re there. I’ll keep the mischief simple and try to incorporate a little Disney magic into the fun as well. If you need a few more traveling suggestions for your elf, just click here .

Lastly, I like to photograph my elf every night, it’s a good reminder for me of the things I’ve done plus, when I am feeling stumped at night I have some inspiration to draw from. If nothing else, having the pics will be a nice reminder down the road of all the fun you had when your kids were little. Maybe one day they will carry on the tradition with their own children and those pics will come in handy!

FAREWELL ELF

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Inevitably, Christmas will roll around and it will be time to say goodbye. Our elf always leaves the kids a special plate and mug for Santa’s cookies and milk, carrots and food for the reindeer, the special Santa key so he can get into our house, a goodbye letter and his final “Naughty or Nice” report. I found these adorable Naughty and Nice cards at Target for under $3.

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It’s always sad to say goodbye to our elf because the kids have so much fun in those weeks leading up to Christmas but at least we know that he’ll always be back. On Christmas Eve, before they go to bed, they say their goodbyes and it’s the one time they are allowed to pick up the elf because he no longer needs his magic as he will be returning to the North Pole on Santa’s sleigh. They like to give him a hug, a kiss and to wish him Merry Christmas. With that, another season of The Elf on the Shelf® comes to a close.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND HAVE FUN

I hope that these tips and ideas are helpful as you embark on another season with your own Elf on the Shelf®. Please feel free to comment below and share any of your own elf ideas! I’ve done so many fun things with our elf over the years but I’ve had a few standout favorites. Check them out below and let me know what you think. Happy Holidays to all!

SOME OF MY FAVORITE ELF ON THE SHELF® IDEAS

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Feeding the Ducks

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Christmas Trivia Challenge

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Oops! Reindeer Poop

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Potato Sack Races

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Potty Time

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Hot Cocoa Break

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Zip Line Fun

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A Friendly Reminder

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Elf Sandwich………Hold the Mayo!

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Story Time with Frosty

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Phone Calls from Santa

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Christmas Melodies

 

Your Week-By-Week Thanksgiving Countdown

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Don’t panic but Thanksgiving will be here before you know it! My helpful November checklist has plenty of planning tips and ideas to help get you ready for the big day! I’ve laid them out week-by-week to help better organize you and get you ready for the holiday. Keep checking back for added tips and information as we get closer and closer to the holiday. Gobble, gobble!!

THREE WEEKS BEFORE THE HOLIDAY

  • Time to plan your guest list and begin reaching out to family and friends in order to get a headcount.
  • Take inventory! Do you have enough paper goods, china, utensils, serving bowls and dishes, glasses, etc? Look over what you have, plan your table settings and go shopping early for items that you might be missing.
  • Stock up! Thanksgiving isn’t without leftovers and if you’re planning on sending your guests home with “doggy bags” make sure you have plenty of food storage containers on hand. You can find lots of different options at restaurant supply stores, warehouse stores such as Costco and party outlet stores. Make sure to have an assortment of sizes and shapes so that everyone has what they need for leftovers.
  • Plan your menu. Start thinking about what appetizers, dishes and desserts you’d like to make OR which ones you’ll need others to bring that day. Also, plan what things you can make ahead of time and freeze so that you have less work to do on the actual holiday.
  • Get your home holiday ready by planning what decorations you’d like to put out and how you’ll fit everyone. Try different configurations for your tables so that every guest is seated comfortably that day.

TWO WEEKS BEFORE THE HOLIDAY

  • Plan out your table setting and guest seating. Gather dishes, silverware, linens and serving dishes. Make (or buy) guest place cards and fill them out. If possible, set up your table now so it’s one less thing to take care of Thanksgiving week.
  • Begin your grocery shopping early. Purchase non-perishable items such as chicken stock, Gravy Master, soda, wine, beer, canned vegetables, flour and other baking essentials, etc now so that you have less to shop for later.
  • Start making room in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Use up the food you have, organize to make room for more.
  • Plan out your cooking schedule. Make yourself a list outlining what you need to cook, when you need to cook it and for how long. Having a cooking plan in place ensures that your meal comes together perfectly and at the same time on the big day!
  • Cook ahead! Start prepping what you can now to make your cooking flow more easily later. Good ideas to make and freeze are pie crusts, cookie dough, rolls, cranberry sauce, gravy stock, etc.
  • Get your house holiday ready! Start cleaning, especially in areas of the house you aren’t in often such as the formal living and dining room. Put our your Thanksgiving decorations and create a warm, festive place for your guests.
  • Start thinking about serving dishes. Plan out which platters and bowls you will use for each dish. Use sticky notes to label each one so that on Thanksgiving you won’t need to scramble for the right serving vessel, everything will be ready and marked.
  • Plan about your drink menu. Wine, soda and beer are all essential drinks to have on hand but think about adding a specialty cocktail that you can easily make for your guests or even a nice autumn inspired sangria. Hot mulled cider is also another cozy, festive beverage to serve on Thanksgiving.
  • Breathe and take some time for yourself to decompress.

ONE WEEK BEFORE THE HOLIDAY

  • If using a frozen turkey, begin to plan your thawing schedule.

In the Refrigerator (40°F or below)
Allow approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds
4 to 12 pounds 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds 5 to 6 days

In Cold Water
Allow approximately 30 minutes per pound
4 to 12 pounds 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds 10 to 12 hours

  • Finish your food shopping however, buy fruit and vegetables as close to the holiday as possible so they are at peak freshness.
  • Chill beverages ahead of time and if possible, have a cooler set out on the big day to keep everything cold without sacrificing fridge space.
  • Confirm your guest list.
  • Finish cleaning your house. Also, if you have not done so already, clean our your refrigerator and make room for all of the ingredients and prepared dishes.
  • Set your table with the linens, dishes and silverware. Put out your labeled serving pieces so they are accessible as you need them.
  • They day or two before Thanksgiving, chop up all of your vegetables so that you can easily grab what you need when cooking.
  • Prepare all of the cold dishes in advance, about a day or two before Thanksgiving. This includes any relishes, dips, cranberry sauce, or cold salads. Also, prep your cold hors d’oeuvres such as cheese platters and crudités.
  • Prep your stuffing the day before so it is ready to be baked the day of Thanksgiving.
  • Assemble nut platters and candy dishes ahead of time so that all you need to do on the big day is place them on the tables.
  • Go over your schedule for cooking times. Make sure you have every dish accounted for and planned out ahead of time.
  • The day before Thanksgiving, prep your bird so that all you have to do in the morning is put it in the oven. Place the turkey on a roasting rack, season, add your aromatics and cover with tin foil.
  • Take a breath! You’re in the home stretch now.

THE DAY OF THANKSGIVING

You made it!! The big day is finally here!! Time to pull everything together and get this feast on the table.

  • First things first, get an early start! The more time you leave yourself to get things ready the more calm you’ll be.
  • Go over your checklist and double check all of the cooking times so that everything will finish cooking in a timely manner and be ready to be served together.
  • Preheat your oven and adjust the racks.
  • Get the turkey in the oven. Try and avoid opening the oven door too much throughout the roasting process. The more you open the door, the more heat you let escape thus increasing the overall cooking time.
  • While the turkey is roasting, prep your app trays. Cover them in plastic wrap and store until ready to serve. Also, prep any remaining side dishes and take anything out of the fridge that needs to be at room temperature before being baked or served.
  • Double check you table settings and put out any last minute chairs, dishes, serving pieces or silverware.
  • Assemble all of your labeled serving bowls, platters and dishes nearby so everything is within reach as the food is ready.
  • Fill ice buckets and set up your bar. Get your cocktail ingredients prepped and ready to go so as guests want a drink you can make them quickly.
  • Make sure your dishwasher is empty as it will make cleanup later much easier.
  • Once the turkey is ready, allow it rest before carving. In the meantime, warm up and/or finish cooking all of the other dishes you will be serving.
  • Make you gravy. Keep it nice and hot over low heat on the stove. Serve it right as dinner is ready.
  • Carve the turkey and arrange slices on a nice platter. I like to separate the dark from the white meat so it’s easier for everyone to take what they like.
  • Don’t forget to allow plenty of time for coffee to percolate later. While the coffee is brewing, take our your desserts and get them ready for serving. If making fresh whipped cream, now is the time to whip that up. Also, soften ice cream for easier serving.

Last but not least…………………….ENJOY!!!! Take your time, enjoy the fruits of your labor and be grateful and thankful for this wonderful day of food, friends and family.

From my house to yours, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

Best Food Practices in the Kitchen

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Part of being a good cook, whether at home or professionally, means handling food with care and caution because it doesn’t take much to spread germs or make people sick. Something as simple as a bit of underdone meat or improperly washed produce can have very detrimental effects to one’s health. If there is one thing that I can impress upon you it is this: Move through your kitchen methodically and with careful attention to food safety. ALWAYS implement good kitchen practices in everything that you do. 

Whenever I go online I find myself a little stunned by many of the comments or suggestions that I read on other cooking sites or groups as there seems to be such a lack of regard for food safety and best practices in the kitchen. I am a real stickler for cleanliness and proper technique and I feel that both are essential when cooking or baking. All too often people overlook these simple but necessary practices in the interest of getting things done quickly or to save time and money but that can be so costly to your well being.

To that end, below are some very common (and unsettling) comments that I have seen come up time and time again. They are as follows:

  • “I forgot the meat out on the counter all night but it’s fine, I keep my house cool” – Keeping your house cool is not an acceptable substitute for a refrigerator or freezer which can safely keep meat at a consistent, appropriate temperature. If you leave meat out on your counter, especially unfrozen raw meat, you NEED to toss it. It does not take much for bacterial growth to take hold and meat is very susceptible to contamination. Any meat that has been kept out at room temperature should be discarded immediately.
  • “Well, it’s not like I have ever gotten sick from doing it this way” – My answer to that is simple. Count yourself lucky. Just because it’s never happened before doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Food poisoning is no laughing matter, avoid it by practicing safe handling of food in the kitchen.
  • “It’s fine to thaw meat on the counter, I always do it” – The problem with thawing meat on the counter is that it’s thawing at different rates. While the inner most part of the meat may still be cold and frozen the outside is thawing more quickly essentially leaving you with raw meat that is being kept at room temperature. Harmful bacteria can grow extremely rapidly at room temperature so avoid leaving your meat out on the counter at all costs. The safest method to thaw meat is in your refrigerator, in the microwave using a defrost setting or in cold water in the sink. Just be sure to change the water about every 30 minutes to ensure proper thawing.
  • “I always cool my leftovers before putting them in the fridge” – Harmful bacterial growth can occur quickly in warm food that is left out. Your safest bet is to package leftovers right away and place them right into the refrigerator.
  • “I don’t need to wash my fruits and vegetables, they are clean enough” – Unless you handpicked all of your fruit and veggies directly from the farm yourself (and even then they still need to be cleaned) the produce that you bring home from the supermarket is generally filthy. That beautiful orange from Florida that you’re about to bite into has been picked by a farmer and placed in a dirty crate or bag, has been processed for packaging, stored on a truck, transported, unloaded in a supermarket warehouse and then touched by employees stocking the shelves and customers picking through the fruit. Talk about manhandling! Protect yourself by thoroughly washing your produce in cold water or even better, use a simple vinegar wash. To make a vinegar wash -Combine 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar in a large bowl and soak your fruit and veggies. The vinegar wash will help to remove germs, pesticides, wax, and other icky grime.
  • “I love to use the leftover marinade for serving” – This one is an absolute NO-NO. Leftover marinade harbors a ton of bacteria and germs from the raw meat and should never be served alongside your cooked meal. If you want to serve extra marinade on the side, either make a smaller batch for serving or reserve some marinade before adding the meat to it.
  • “I washed my hands before I started cooking, I don’t need to keep re-washing them” – Your hands can be a breeding ground for germs so when you’re cooking be sure to wash them and wash them often, especially when handling raw meat. Remember, there is no such thing as washing your hands too much while cooking. The cleaner your hands, the safer the food preparation.
  • “I rinsed off the cutting board, it’s clean enough to use again” – Rinsing and washing are two very different practices. You should always scrub your cutting boards with hot, soapy water but even better, run them through a cycle in the dishwasher. I have at least 6-7 plastic cutting boards in my kitchen so that I always have a clean one ready to go without having to stop and wash them along the way. I also keep separate cutting boards for meat to avoid any possible cross contamination with other foods.
  • “It’s not bad, I tasted it and it smells and tastes fine” – Just because something smells and tastes fine does not mean it hasn’t gone bad. Sometimes the bacterial growth is not obvious enough for you to taste or smell however, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Instead of relying on your senses, use tried and true safe kitchen practices for storing, prepping, cooking and keeping leftovers. For reference, most leftovers should be discarded within just a few days, especially foods like homemade tomato sauce which can quickly mold due to its high moisture content and lack of preservatives.
  • “I use the same serving platter for the cooked meat that held the raw meat, it’s no big deal” – But alas, it is in fact a big deal. You do not want to ever cross contaminate your meal by introducing raw meat juices. Always place your cooked foods on a clean platter or surface. If you hate making extra work for yourself by using multiple platters or dishes try this little trick. Cover your platter with plastic wrap before placing the raw meat on top then simply remove the plastic wrap when you’re ready to serve and you will have a nice, clean surface for your cooked meat or other foods.

The above are just a few examples of comments I’ve heard or read time and time again however, there are countless other examples of unsafe food practices out there. The best thing that you can do is to make every effort to practice safe and healthy habits in the kitchen and when in doubt, err on the side of caution and don’t take the risk. It’s far too easy to get sick from food and so often it can be avoided by following just a few simple safety precautions. Check out the links below for more useful information and tips!

USDA – Basics for Handling Food Safely

Livestrong – How To Clean Fruits and Vegetables with Vinegar

EXTRA!! EXTRA!! Read all about it!! The KIDS CORNER is here!!

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Attention Moms and Dads!! The Simply Delicious Kitchen has added new content on the blog for your budding little chefs called, Kids Corner ! It’s filled with all kinds of fun activities, easy recipes for them to make in the kitchen and healthy snack and meal ideas for you parents to prepare for them. All are kid tested and kid approved! Click above to check out all of the new sections, “Fun for Kids“, “Happy Healthy Kids” and “Kids in the Kitchen“. Enjoy!

Happy 4th of July!!

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HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!

I hope that all who celebrate have a wonderful holiday and enjoy the long weekend with family and friends! I will be taking a break to spend some time with my own family but I will be returning to The Simply Delicious Kitchen on Monday, July 9th with all new tips, tricks, information and recipes. As always, thank you all for your continued support! xoxo

See You Real Soon!

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To all of my loyal and wonderful followers, I wanted to let you know that beginning tomorrow, May 11th I will be away on vacation with my family. As my internet access will be limited I will be taking a break from my blog to spend some much needed quality time with my husband and children. I will return on Monday, May 21st with all new tips, tricks, recipes, and information. As always, thank you for supporting my blog and I look forward to getting back to cooking and blogging when I return.

Life Might Throw You A Curve Ball…………But You Can Turn That Game Around!

A few months ago on the blog I shared a little bit about my diabetes diagnosis, Sometimes Life Throws You A Curve Ball , and I just thought I would take this opportunity to give you all a little update on myself.

In September I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes after having had two rounds of gestational diabetes back in 2008 and 2013. My sugars just a few months ago were very high and my A1C, which is the measure of whether or not you have diabetes, was EXTREMELY high as well.

In September, my A1C was 9.7 which is well ABOVE where the baseline is for diabetes. (see the chart below) I’m happy to report that as of today, my current A1C level is 5.2!!!! Well BELOW where they even consider you to be PRE-diabetic, I’m basically in normal range now.

As soon as I realized my sugars were high in September I changed everything about how I was eating. I cut out a lot of processed foods, I started limiting my snacking, and I made many changes to my diet such as including more veggies, lean meats and healthy carbs. Even with occasional treats, the holidays, and all of my baking I’ve managed to lose 21 lbs in addition to bringing my A1C down and controlling my sugars.

I wanted to share my story and my success just in case there is someone else out there going through the same thing. Small changes can have big results and it’s never too late to make a difference in your health. I’m so thankful I was paying attention to the signs my body was giving me that something was “off” and I’m so thrilled to be able to say that in just a few short months, I’ve turned so much around. It feels really good to be in control of my health!

Thank you to everyone for listening, for your supportive words a few months ago and for your continued support of my blog. It means so much! xo

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See You in 2018!!!

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Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years!! 

I will be taking the next week off from my blog and to enjoy Christmas, spend time with my family, and just relax throughout the remainder of this holiday season. I’ll be back on January 1st with all new recipes, tips, and more!!

Also, thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting my blog this last year. It’s meant SO much to have so many followers and to hear so many kind words from everyone about how much they’ve enjoyed my recipes and tips. I hope that you will continue to stick with me in 2018!!

Merry Christmas 🎄🎄and Happy New Year 🎉🎉

Blog Roundup of the Best DIY and Cooking Blogs I’ve Found This Week

What an honor to be given a shout out!! Thank you!!!

DIY Home & Garden

Instead of a DIY or recipe today, I decided to share a Blog Roundup of the best DIY and cooking blogs I’ve found this week.

It’s been really super-hot and humid in Eastern NC the past couple of weeks. For almost three weeks, the heat index has been over 100 degrees almost every day (for my readers everywhere but Americans, that’s 32 Celsius) To be perfectly honest, it’s too hot for me to go out and work on my DIY projects. I have a stack of things to do, but it’s way too hot to worry about them!

That is why I decided to try something new and share a roundup of my favorite blogs that I’ve discovered this week. Since ya’ll like the same topics that I do, you may also enjoy them.

Thank you to all you bloggers for creating great reading material, fun content, and how-to videos. There are…

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Handling the Holiday Stress Without Turning Into the Grinch

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Let’s be honest for a minute. Holiday stress can easily turn visions of sugar plums dancing in your head to nightmares over how it’s all going to get done. Between the shopping, the wrapping, the cooking, the baking, the family gatherings, and that damn Elf on a Shelf® it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. Fear not because I have a very simple “recipe” to help you overcome the stress of the holidays and have a “very merry” instead of a “bah-humbug” holiday season!

PLANNING + ORGANIZING = STRESS FREE HOLIDAYS

I’m someone who doesn’t function in chaos and disorder. Because of that, I organize literally everything in my life. EVERYTHING. I have a slight obsession with storage totes and other organizational supplies and I most definitely have a very tight relationship with my label maker! I also keep binders, lists and notebooks for everything from coupons to recipes and I’m not ashamed to say that I even have a dedicated Christmas notebook. Yep. You read right, a Christmas notebook. I plan out my holiday meals, Christmas baking, gift giving, North Pole Breakfast, table setting ideas, and anything else that might get me through the holiday season. I love having everything I need at my fingertips and it’s so much easier to keep track of what needs to get done. I’m never scrambling around the house looking for a list, recipe, or idea because it’s all in one convenient place. Truly, you can never be too organized or plan too much. Words to live by………..at least in my book! When it comes to the holidays and getting it all done, the more organized you can get yourself the better!

Below, I’ve compiled some of my best tips to keep you organized and as stress free as possible this holiday season. I hope you find some of them helpful and please feel free to add your own holiday tips in the comments section!

  1. Keep a Holiday Notebook/Binder – Organize it by labeling each page with a specific heading such as: Christmas Day Dinner, Gift Giving List, To-Do, Elf on a Shelf® Ideas, Christmas Cookie Baking, Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Card List, Gift Ideas, etc. Use as many (or as few) headings as you need to get yourself organized. Use this notebook to write down all of your ideas, lists, and to-do’s and everything will always be in one handy, convenient place.
  2. Invest in a Label Maker – I have a Brother P-Touch®, they are fairly inexpensive but worth its weight in gold. I use it to label EVERYTHING in my house from snack bins in the pantry to my holiday boxes in the garage. It’s so much easier to read a label on the outside of a box then having to actually go through box after box looking for what you need, especially when it comes to holiday decorations that you only see once a year.
  3. Invest in Storage Bins – I use storage bins to organize everything. I have a bin for my Christmas linens, wrapping supplies, North Pole Breakfast/Elf on a Shelf® accessories, plastic serving platters and containers, etc. I like to buy a whole set of the same bin so that stacking and storing them is easier. I place a label on the outside of the box indicating its contents so that finding what I need is a cinch.
  4. Store Like Bins Together – Keep all of your holiday bins stacked together in one place according to holiday. (fall decorations, Halloween decorations, Christmas decorations, etc) It’s easy to forget what you have if you have bins scattered all throughout your house. Find an area where they can all be neatly stacked together so that you’ll be able to find and access everything more quickly and efficiently.
  5. Keep an Assortment of Food Storage Containers – Whether they are decorative and holiday themed or just basic plastic throwaways, keep an assortment of food storage containers handy. You will need them to neatly package all of your holiday baked goods AND they are great to have on hand for your guests to take home treats and leftovers. Grab a plastic storage bin, put them all inside, and label it “Holiday Food Storage” and everything will be in one convenient place when you need it.
  6. Set Up a “Wrapping Station” – Whether it’s a corner of your basement, a table in your den, or just a bin in the garage it’s so much easier to get all of the gifts wrapped if you have everything you need close at hand. I don’t have a place where I can keep everything out all of the time so instead I store everything in rolling drawer carts in the my garage. I also label each drawer so I can find everything more easily. When it’s time to wrap I just roll them into my den, sit in front of the tree, and get wrapping. To store my wrapping paper, I use tall plastic bins or long under-the-bed boxes. When I am done wrapping I just roll everything back into the garage.
  7. Keep All of the Gifts in One Place – You will surely forget to give that perfect gift that you spent months picking out if everything you purchased is scattered all around the house. Find a spot in your home such as a closet, garage, or attic and keep all of your purchased gifts in that one area so that nothing is forgotten.
  8. Print Out a Blank Calendar – Print out a blank calendar sheet and use it to plan out when you need to accomplish specific tasks for the holiday. For example, mark a day for baking holiday cookies, or cooking the side dishes for Thanksgiving, or for putting up the tree. Having a plan laid out alleviates the stress of wondering how you’ll get it all done and it makes things run much more smoothly. Tape it to the inside of a kitchen cabinet for easy access.
  9. Organize Your Favorite Holiday Recipes – We all have a set of family favorites at the holidays, recipes we make year after year. To make things easier, keep those treasured favorites together in one binder or recipe box labeled, “Holiday Favorites“. When it’s time to plan your menus and cook, you’ll appreciate having all of your holiday recipes in one spot.
  10. Plan Out Holiday Baking (and get your supplies early!!) – Look over your recipes, paying close attention to how long the baked goods will keep, and make a plan for when you should do your holiday baking. As you jot down ideas for what to bake, simultaneously write the ingredients you will need on a separate piece of paper. Doing these two things concurrently saves you the aggravation of having to go back into your cookbooks later to make a shopping list. Also, shop early. EVERYONE bakes at the holidays and you don’t want to be running around at the last minute from store to store trying to find almond paste or sugar when you’re ready to get busy in the kitchen. Having all of you ingredients ready to go will make your baking day run much more smoothly.
  11. Make a Holiday Baking Bin/Drawer – I like to keep all of my holiday baking goodies together in one spot. When it comes time to start my holiday baking I just have to pull out the drawer and all of my cupcake liners, cookie cutters, sprinkles, treat bags, doilies, etc. are there and ready to go!
  12. Host a Cookie Swap – For those that feel overwhelmed by all of the holiday baking host a cookie swap instead of trying to do it all yourself. You’ll only have to bake one or two favorites but you’ll end up with a full tray of varied holiday treats!
  13. Prepare Cookie Trays Ahead of Time – A day or two before the holiday assemble your cookie trays and platters and cover tightly with plastic wrap. When it’s time to serve dessert you won’t be scrambling around pulling out a million cookie tins trying to get everything together. Just remove the plastic wrap and serve.
  14. Label Your Serving Dishes – The last thing you want to do when you’re cooking is to have to hunt around looking for the perfect serving dish. Instead, plan your serving platters, bowls, dishes, etc. ahead of time and label each one with a sticky note indicating what food it will hold. As you’re getting ready to serve everything it’ll be as simple as “grab and go”, you won’t have to stress if you have enough serving pieces because everything will be planned ahead of time.
  15. Set Your Table Ahead of Time – If you have a separate dining area that you use for the holidays, set the table(s) a few days ahead of the holiday. It’ll be one less thing you’re rushing to do in the morning before your guests arrive.
  16. Make Dishes Ahead Of Time – If a dish can be made ahead of time, take advantage. You will feel much less harried on the actual holiday this way. To that end, also do as much food prep work as well. Dice up your onions, carrots, cheese, bread cubes, etc. a few days before the holiday and store them in either Ziploc® bags or airtight plastic containers. They’ll be all ready to go when you are!
  17. Make Ahead Holiday Breakfast – When you have young children Christmas morning is certainly filled with craziness and excitement. I would rather be in the middle of all that excitement then in the kitchen slaving away so I always like to prep our Christmas morning breakfast ahead of time. Some great options are quiche, frittatas, frozen homemade cinnamon rolls, or french toast casseroles. Breakfast will be as simple as warming something up in the oven.
  18. Plan Your Time – When hosting, it’s so important to plan your time on the big day as it ensures that everything runs smoothly. Jot down a “to-do” list and as you complete each task check it off so you don’t forget anything. Also be sure to calculate all of your cooking times beforehand so that the main dish and sides are finished at the same time.
  19. Holiday Menu Checklist – Make a checklist of all the dishes you’re serving and tape it to the inside of your cabinet door. As you put each dish out, cross it off the list. This ensures that you don’t accidentally forget to serve something. There is nothing worse than working hard to cook up delicious food and then forgetting it in the fridge on the big day!
  20. Streamline Your Holiday Cards – Enlist help from other family members to get your holiday cards stuffed, sealed, and stamped. Assign everyone a task and get busy. Also, prepare ahead of time by printing out address labels. It’s so much easier to slap a label on an envelope than it is to write everything out by hand.
  21. Clean and Purge – Prior to the holidays it’s a good idea to go through closets and toy chests and donate or trash toys that are no longer played with or that are old and broken. It can be overwhelming to try to a find a home for all of the new things when you’re dealing with so much old clutter.
  22. Don’t Leave Wrapping Until the Last Minute – It’s so much easier to tackle just a few gifts as opposed to an endless pile. As things get purchased or delivered, wrap them right away and then tuck them away. Also, save yourself time and take advantage of gift bags, they make “wrapping” gifts so much easier.
  23. Boxes, Bags, Bows, and Tags – Save as many of these things as you can as you open gifts throughout the season. Tuck them all away in your wrapping station so that the following year you’ll have plenty of extra wrapping materials on hand.
  24. Clean! Clean! Clean! – The last thing you want to do is add in a ton of holiday decorations to a home that is filled with dust and clutter. It will make everything feel messy and you’ll drive yourself crazy. Prior to bringing out the holiday decorations, clean your home top to bottom. Clean the floors, dust, and put away any clutter. It is far easier to decorate a clean and straightened up home then it is to work around a mess.
  25. Decorate in Stages – Pulling out a hundred bins full of decorations all at once can be overwhelming. So instead, decorate your home in stages. Start with your outside lights and decorations and pull out only those bins. Then pull out the bins for the inside decorations and get that all done before moving to the tree. It’s so much easier to break up the holiday decorating into manageable steps rather than face a towering pile of bins in the middle of your living room.
  26. Keep a Gift Stash – Buy a few, inexpensive gifts to have on hand in case you need a hostess gift or someone unexpected shows up on the holiday. Some great ideas are candles, ornaments, a bottle of wine, a pretty holiday dish, a box of candy, etc. You can even wrap them ahead of time and tag them with a sticky note so you know what is inside. When it’s time to gift something, just remove the sticky note, add a personalized tag and you’re all set!
  27. Keep Plenty of Trash Bags Handy – As my kids or guests open their gifts I always have a few garbage bags scattered around the room so that everyone can dispose of their wrapping paper as they open gifts. It prevents a huge pile of garbage from building up and more importantly, things don’t get lost. It’s easy to lose a small toy part, piece of jewelry, or gift card if everything is a mess.
  28. Elf on a Shelf® – Let’s face it, nothing stresses out a parent more than the fear of forgetting to move the elf! To avoid this catastrophe set a daily alarm reminder on your cell phone. You’ll never have to worry about forgetting to move your little friend again!
  29. Wish Lists – Some people scoff at them but I happen to LOVE them! I have a big family and with both sides of the family buying for my kids a Wish List is really a godsend. It gives everyone a few gift ideas, it prevents my kids from receiving age inappropriate toys, and we never get duplicates. I’ve been using the Amazon Wish List for my kids since they were born and it makes things so much easier for both me and my family. I highly recommend utilizing one, it’s so much easier than fielding a millions calls, emails, and texts from family asking what the kids want for Christmas.
  30. Just Breathe – Set aside some time every day to just breathe. Sit, relax, take in the merriment of the season and let yourself just “be”. It’s so easy to go a mile a minute at the holidays and it’s even easier to forget yourself this time of year. So make sure to take a few minutes every day to just refocus and relax. Make a mug of cocoa, put on some holiday tunes, and cozy up. You’ll be a lot more effective and get a lot more done if you take some time to recharge.

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!!

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