No-Fail Pasta For Busy Back-to-School Families

Disclosure: This post is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Barilla. The opinions and text are my own.

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When my kids head back to school, it seems like our family mealtime becomes a challenge worthy of advanced strategic planning. Mom, dad, and kids all have different schedules, and bringing us together for a healthy, meaningful dinner suddenly moves to the top of my list of daily goals.

Pasta dishes have always been my go-to recipe for delivering fast, fun, and healthy meals to my family. But I have to be honest here. Over the years, I may have relied too heavily on the standard kid-favorite pastas, namely spaghetti and lasagne, with the occasional elbow and fettuccine thrown in for variety. Those are the pastas my kids have asked for, both to eat and to make on their own.

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Recently Barilla gave me the opportunity to switch things up with my usual pasta selection, to try a few different recipes that were as fast and flavorful as those I’ve made in the past. My kids helped me look through the wide variety of Barilla’s pasta shapes, finally deciding to fancy things up with their Barilla® Farfalle (pronounced “Fahr-Fah-Ley”) pasta. Farfalle means “butterfly” in Italian, but my kids think the individual pasta pieces look like bowties.

We paired the pasta with Barilla Traditional Sauce, one of 14 delicious sauce varieties they offer. My kids picked out meat and veggies for additional texture and flavor, all with the requirement that the preparation of the meal take no longer than 30 minutes. This recipe actually takes almost exactly that much time if you have at least two sets of helping hands.

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BARILLA FARFALLE
with Traditional Sauce, Ground Beef, Veggies, and Romano Cheese

INGREDIENTS
1 box Barilla® Blue Box Farfalle pasta
1 jar Barilla® Traditional Sauce
1 pound ground beef
1 14.5oz can French-style green beans
1 cup roasted red peppers, sliced thinly
1 cup grated Romano cheese

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DIRECTIONS
Bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot, then cook pasta for 11 minutes.
Meanwhile in a large skillet, cook the ground beef, breaking apart any large chunks.
Add Barilla® Traditional Sauce, green beans (drained), and red pepper slices to ground beef, then simmer.
Drain cooked pasta, combine with sauce mixture, sprinkle with Romano cheese.

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The beauty of this stress-free recipe goes beyond its simplicity and delicious taste. It also gets your kids to eat their veggies. The thin green beans and peppers easily stick to the pasta, almost guaranteeing there will be no little piles of leftover ingredients on your child’s plate.

Barilla Farfalle pasta, as with all of their pasta cuts, cooks to a perfect “al dente” texture every time, making mealtime prep simple and straightforward. For families with busy schedules, ingredients you can always count on are a must.

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I have partnered with Life of Dad and Barilla Pasta for this promotion.

Baseball History for Kids

Babe Ruth

Opening day is less than three weeks away.

April 3rd is that glorious spring day when the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd gives hope to fans of every team that this will be their year.

The sights and sounds that give rise to that eternal hope have been ingrained in the American experience since 1845, when Alexander Cartwright laid down the first set of rules for the modern game of baseball.

For me, the great thing about baseball is the way kids pick up the essentials of the sport and learn to play it.

The game is simple. Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball, run!

Baseball may remain a relatively simple game, but the history of it has been anything but.

Baseball History for KidsRichard Panchyk’s new book, Baseball History for Kids offers a fascinating look at baseball’s complex and fascinating transformation into a professional sport that is now played all over the world. The author takes young readers through key eras and events of the game with engaging descriptions, highlighted by firsthand interviews with more than 175 greats of the game.

It’s a fun book to read, with loads of photos and interesting sidebar stories. The author makes frequent comparisons between the past and present, such as the fact that facial hair on players was unheard of for most of the 20th century. Or how today’s minimum major league salary is one hundred times higher than it was in the 1950s. Or that during the “dead ball era,” the 1902 National League home run champion had just six homers, all of them inside-the-park.

But the biggest kick you and your kids will get out of this book will be the 19 hands-on activities peppered throughout each chapter. They’re an engaging way for you to introduce the game of baseball to your children. Sit down and build a miniature version of your favorite stadium, or cook up some homemade Cracker Jack. Hold a contest to see who can throw a ball the farthest or the closest to a target. Teach your kids to keep score and to throw a palm ball.

This book is packed with fun activities to share with your kids. In fact, it’s going to be as much fun for you as it will be for them. You’ll easily pass along your love for baseball, while also sparking an interest in the history of our country. This book can be a gateway to further learning about World War II, the Civil Rights Movement, and the growth of the American West.

Thanks to the good folks at Chicago Review Press, I just happen to have a copy of Baseball History for Kids to give away to one of my readers. Use the widget below, and I’ll pick a winner next week!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Family Vacation to Mt. St. Helens Volcano Monument

Mt St Helens

I will never forget that day in 1980 when a mountain in Southwestern Washington suddenly exploded with the force of several nuclear bombs. The deadliest volcanic event in U.S. history laid waste to hundreds of square miles around Mt. St. Helens.

It sounds like an unlikely destination for a family vacation. But, in fact, the Mt. St. Helens Volcanic Monument in Washington is an amazing place to spend a day with kids. From areas of utter devastation to hidden hollows teeming with new life, a trip to Mt. St. Helens will be both fascinating and educational.

====> Continue reading my article at TripAdvisor’s Family Vacation Critic blog.

The One and Only Snow Day

I realize that most of the world has been inundated with snow this winter, but here in North Idaho we’ve seen very little of it on the ground.

While it was nice to have the year off from shoveling the driveway and sliding around on the roads, we missed not having at least one decent snow day for having a bit of fun.

So, up to the higher altitudes we went on Saturday, seeking out the snow of Schweitzer Mountain in Sandpoint, Idaho, for a day of tubing and snowball fights.

It was a beautiful day for hanging out with the kids. We didn’t let the blood-gushing head injury at the end put a damper on our fun.

From here, I will let the pictures (and a video) do the talking.

Schweitzer skiers look out over Lake Pend Oreille

Schweitzer Ski Resort

Ready for tubing!

Down the hill

Schweitzer Sunset

Schweitzer Sunset

Ending the day with an owie

Imagination Lives Here

If you have a young daughter, chances are she’s going to ask for a dollhouse at some point. There are dozens and dozens to choose from, in all different shapes, sizes, and materials. Here’s one of them I can recommend.

The good folks at Learning Curve recently sent one of their dollhouses for my daughter to review. It’s the Mrs. Goodbee Talking Dollhouse, part of Learning Curve’s new Caring Corners line of toys that encourages kids to care about others.

And my daughter’s evaluation? She’s in love with it. She thinks it’s the best dollhouse ever.

From my perspective, the house is pretty cool. When it’s opened up, it has 12 different rooms to decorate and play with. Folded up, it stores easily on the shelf and contains all the little bits and pieces into one place.

The house actually talks, with over 400 different helpful hints, playful prompts, and silly songs, all designed around sharing and caring. Oh, and using your imagination.

I love watching my kids play with the house and the figures that were included. They added their own furniture from other play sets (Littlest Pet Shop accessories fit perfectly) and I could hear their imagination take off.

Oh, wait, did I say “kids”? Shhh… Don’t tell anyone, but even my son has been having a great time with the Mrs. Goodbee Dollhouse. He had Boba Fett renting a room in the attic, and Scooby Doo fixing tacos in the kitchen.

As if just playing with this talking dollhouse wasn’t enough to teach my daughter some excellent lessons about positive behavior, the people at Learning Curve were kind enough to send along a second dollhouse, so that she could donate this wonderful toy to a local charity or needy family. She’ll be doing that next week. What a great way to kick off the Christmas giving season!

We’ve looked at five or six of the more popular dollhouses on toy store shelves, and I think the Mrs. Goodbee Dollhouse stacks up with the best of them. I really like the fact that it folds up, is made of durable plastic, and has a friendly, positive message to deliver. My daughter just likes that it’s “Fun!”

You can find Caring Corners products at just about any toy store or large retailer.