Munchkin Meals: Taco Night!

We have taco night once or twice a month around here.  I love how easy it is to throw this meal together, yet how festive, fun, and filling it is! <–How’s that for alliteration?!  Best of all is that after laying out a variety of topppings, everyone can choose what they want, and I don’t feel like a short order cook.  We like traditional tacos, but it’s so easy to switch it up with different meats, toppings, and spices.  Is it a toddler approved meal? Yes! What kiddo doesn’t like scooping their own fun foods onto their plate? And heck, I’ve yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like tacos. Matty (now 22 months) is all. over. the. place in terms of eating.  Lately, he’s been really into breakfast–eating a huge breakfast, then wanting little else the rest of the day.  There’s still a few key things I can count on him eating, though–like tacos!

Of course, I add a few tweaks to make it healthier along the way.

Taco seasoning used to be a big fight around here.  Hubby swore he hated it, but he also complained that plain meat was too, well, plain.  He said the packaged seasoning is too salty, and he’s right (not to mention the MSG, preservatives, and in some cases artificial dyes).  So a few months ago, a friend pinned this recipe for DIY taco seasoning, so I gave it a shot.  It worked perfectly, though I did think it needed a bit more salt (weird for me to say since I don’t add salt to much)!

Healthier Taco Recipe

  • 3/4 lb. ground lean turkey
  • 1/4 lb. ground beef (**Just adding a bit of ground beef helps take away the turkey flavor, and gives it the appearance of typical ground beef.  This is important if you have a husband/kids who freak out about ground turkey for whatever reason ::cough cough, not pointing any fingers:: even though it’s healthier)
  • 1 c. finely chopped kale and/or spinach (this shrivels up nicely and you can pass it off as parsley 🙂 )
  • 1/2 c. finely shredded carrots (this isn’t as easy to pass off as “oh, it’s just seasoning…”
  • Brown meat over medium heat (add carrots during this step)
  • After draining, add greens and stir
  • Add 2 rounded tablespoons of seasoning and 1/2 cup water
  • Reduce heat, stir occasionally over a few minutes, then enjoy!

**I usually make 3-4 batches of this (since I use wonky portions of meat), then freeze it. It lasts for a few months (at least), and is easy to thaw in the fridge and heat back up in the skillet.

Serving Ideas

Don’t forget–a “topping bar” makes it even more toddler friendly!

  • Diced tomatoes
  • Shredded Cheese (even just having a variety of cheeses could be a fun way to switch things up)
  • Lettuce (if you’re trying to cut calories, using a large lettuce leaf as a shell works well)
  • Corn (I like oven roasting frozen corn for about 10 minutes with olive oil and seasoning, but usually it’s just the microwave variety…)
  • Sour Cream (Hubby nor I are big fans, but Matthew tried some at Grandma’s and seemed to be a fan)
  • Hard or Soft Tortillas
  • Chips instead of shells
  • Rice
  • Beans (we’re partial to black beans cooked with a bit of cumin)

Pssst. I’m looking for a healthier taco shell recipe.  Preferably something super-quick, or something that can be frozen.  Any tried and true ideas?

Munchkin Meals is a link-up hosted by Brittany at A Healthy Slice of Life.  Ever in need of a fun, healthy meal or snack for your kiddo? Click on over to find loads of ideas all put together by other Mamas.

Farm Sensory Box

farm sensory box

With the start of Summer and outdoor weather, I thought the sensory  box would be put away for awhile.  But alas, Rain-a-geddon ensued so we needed to find some new indoor fun. Or rather, just upgrade some fun.  Last Summer I built Matthew this barn and farm, and I added a sensory box and toddler-approved game this year.

Sensory Box

farm sensory box activity toddler

Inclusions:

  • Popcorn for the base (already had)
  • Schleich animals (our animal of choice)
  • Tractor (a gift from Grandma!)
  • “Hay bales” (TP tubes cut in half)
  • “Stables” (Melissa and Doug play food crates)
  • Mini scoop (already had)

Total Cost: Free 

** I already had all the materials, but I suspect you’d be able to put this together for around $10-$12.  A large jar of popcorn kernels runs about $3 at Walmart, and these animals are also a good choice.)

farm sensory box

farm sensory box

farm sensory box

farm sensory box

Books

farm books

1. Sheep in a Jeep. Matty is obsessed with jeeps right now. Sheep in a jeep? Oh my.  It’s on constant repeat around here.

2. Let’s Go To the Farm. We have two copies of this book. Both gifts. Both givers know a little something about kids. We’ve read this book at least a few times a week for the past year (at least).  It’s a lift-the-flap book, so we keep a copy in the car for road trips or restaurants.

3. Chicks and Salsa. I had to review this book for a college class years ago, and I loved it. It’s hilarious. I didn’t quite know if Matty would get it, but I guess it really is all about how excited the reader is, because it’s one of his favorites now, too.

Activities

  1. Try these Montessori inspired nomenclature cards.
  2. Matty is loving this farm-themed game on the Kindle.  We’ve been traveling a lot–so he’s soaking up the app time lately.  He’s actually learning too–he surprised me the other day by pointing to a picture of a moon and saying “creshent” (crescent). Play on, Buddy. Play on.
  3. Of course, we listened to Old MacDonald a lot. A lot.  We have this download with this version of OMD, which gets a little silly at the end.
  4. Farm Picture.  I printed two each of a variety of farm-themed coloring sheets.  I cut out certain parts of the picture, such as the tractor, barn, animals, and crops, and colored 1 copy.  On a large sheet of paper, I glued the remaining uncolored copy. Then we matched and glued the colored parts onto the uncolored outline of the pictures.

farm activity toddler

toddler farm activity

toddler farm activity

He’s still loving farms and farm animals (and tractors!!!)–any recommended activities?

Montessori Inspired Farm Animal Cards

montessori animal cards printable

Nomenclature cards, or 3 part cards, are prevalent in the Montessori method of learning.  Essentially, each card contains a picture, and a label of the picture or concept to be learned.  One card normally keeps it’s label attached, with a matching card having a detached label.  Learners can then practice matching pictures together, as well as labels to pictures, with self-correction in place since they can check their work against the attached label. There’s numerous uses, but the main purpose is to teach vocabulary (or names of concepts).  There’s cards for different types of animals, parts of a flower, planets in the solar system, life cycle of a frog, etc. etc. etc.

nomenclature cards presented by The Little List

The interwebs abound with printable options (The Little List has a great repository), and there’s some very beautiful professional options (albeit a bit pricey and usually on backorder!).  I fell in love with these cards months ago, and have been looking for a similar option ever since.  I really love how the pictures stand out on a white background–that way learners aren’t distracted by things in the background of the picture and they know exactly what they should focus on.  I finally realized I was going to have to make my own, that way I could make them exactly how I wanted, and I could add to the card collection whenever I wanted (and still have them match!).

That’s easier said than done, considering the options of free pictures.  I finally sat down one Saturday and devoted the entire day to photoshopping some free clip art to remove the backgrounds in order to get these the way I wanted them (please ignore that the lamb has no feet…).  Upon printing them, I thought they did need a little pizazz though, so I matted them on scrapbook paper before using laminating sheets (I like these).

animal cards

Then it was time to play.  First, we went through each picture, flashcard style, to learn the name and talk about the picture.  Then I laid out 3 cards and asked Matthew if he could find the animal from his basket that matched the one on the card (we have all Schleich farm animals, though Toobs are a great choice, too). Uh, yeah, of course, Mom.

montessori nomenclature animal farm cards

So I laid all the adult animal cards out, and he went to work making matches. He thought this was great fun. Like the highlight of his day great fun. Some were slightly difficult, mostly because the pictures weren’t exactly like his animals–like a German Shepard dog card and a Golden Retriever figurine.

montessori nomenclature animal farm cards

I chose to make a set of mommy & baby cards, so then we talked about the names of baby animals.  I asked him to match the mom to the baby.  This took some more skill, but he really enjoyed the challenge.  Most of the baby animal figurines are new additions to his collection, so he was also very excited to explore those.

montessori nomenclature farm animal cards

After playing a few times, I put them on the shelf in the living room, so he could play again whenever he wanted, and he has! We’ve recently begun playing simple Memory using only 2-3 animals (mom and baby combo).  As he gets older and recognizes words, I can trim the bottom off to have him match the name to the picture or the animal.

 montessori farm animal cards printable free

Been looking for your own set of farm animal cards? Click here to download this set of 8 animal moms and 8 animal babies.  The quality isn’t the best, but you know, cows don’t need front hooves anyway. 🙂

nomenclature cards montessori farm animal cards free printable download

Note: Feel free to link to this page, but please no sharing the download on your own site. Enjoy!

Pssst…I’m linking up for Montessori Monday @ Living Montessori Now. Click on over for other great Montessori-Inspired ideas.

DIY Ice Cube Puzzle

ice puzzle

With the days heating up and a little one who is slightly afraid of water (at least at first!), I’m trying to come up with creative solutions to stay cool.  He’s very much in an “ice” stage right now, including singing “ice, ice babies…doo doo doo doo da doo doo”. 🙂

ice puzzle activity toddler

I picked these ice cube trays up at Hobby Lobby back in April-ish for just a couple dollars.  I also got letters, but since he’s loving numbers and counting right now, I decided to focus there.

First, we filled them up.  I wanted to use colored water to make it a bit more fun, but didn’t want to use artificial dyes (because he inevitably did taste them!)–so strawberries and blueberries it was!  Then we did a little fine motor skill practice.

After an overnight in the freezer (although they freeze in just an hour or so), it was on to the next step.

I dumped them all out, and he immediately went to work putting them back in.  I stepped in occasionally to ask if he could find “2” or correct him from trying to stick “8” into the “3” slot.  I was impressed with how into this he was, how well he could get them to fit into the mold, and how many times he wanted to do it (4 or 5).

By this time it was melting, but I wanted to occupy him a bit more.  So I grabbed our trusty roll of paper, and we did a little ice painting.  Unfortunately the colors weren’t strong enough to really show up well, so I added a blob of purple finger paint to the mix. I mean ice and painting–does life get any better?

diy ice puzzle toddler activity summer