Tag Archives: christmas

smartmom picky toddler

7 Holiday Foods your Picky Toddler will Actually Eat

Photo by The Red Balloon Photography

You work hard on holiday meals – they take lots of preparation and your family looks forward to enjoying them together.  But when your toddler refuses to eat any of the holiday fare you’ve made, that definitely isn’t festive. 

Here are seven suggestions from myself and a few of my friends for holiday items to add to your meal offerings to help your picky toddler (and you) enjoy your holiday meal.

Fruit or Veggie Platters

If you don’t already have them on the list, fruit and/or veggie platters are great snacks, and a fun way to make sure your kids get those servings for the day, when they might not eat cranberry sauce, green bean casserole or other holiday vegetables. You can even make them in the shape of a Christmas tree (broccoli for branches, cherry tomatoes or red peppers as lights/garland, yellow peppers or pineapple for a star, carrot sticks, pretzels or celery for the tree trunk and cauliflower for snow or something similar).

Sweet Potatoes

If your kids aren’t already fans, this might be a perfect opportunity to get them to love sweet potatoes, especially since many holiday recipes give you an excuse to smother them in marshmallows. You could even make them into dessert cupcakes. Many argue that sweet potatoes are much healthier than white potatoes.

Holiday-Shaped Sandwiches

One of my friends has a son that won’t have anything to do with turkey or ham and will only eat peanut butter and jelly, so she makes a few sandwiches for him each holiday (packs them in a small cooler if they go visit relatives) and to make them festive, she cuts them with holiday cookie cutters, so they become snowmen, Christmas trees and reindeer. Other friends have chimed in that this works well with deli meat, and most other types of sandwiches, too.

Zucchini or Banana Bread

My sister-in-law makes terrific zucchini bread, stuffed with not only zucchini, but carrots and other veggie goodies. Once my son called it “brownie bread” and they actually choose it over regular brownies given the choice. I don’t call it zucchini bread or mention that it is chock full of vegetables they would never otherwise touch with a ten-foot pole. Never underestimate the power of a cool name to draw kids to a food. Giving even plain jane foods cool names can up their appeal.

Party Meatballs

Although they seem more at home at a SuperBowl party, tossing some meatballs (ground beef or turkey) in a crockpot with some barbeque sauce can also be a kid pleaser.


Dips are a fun family treat for my family – we are always trying new versions with our favorite ingredients. Spinach and artichoke, ham and swiss, hummus, sausage – any ingredient your child likes, you can probably find a fun dip that incorporates it. Like the brownie bread – a cool name and a different delivery system can make protein and/or veggies go down easier.

Cheese and Crackers Platter

Although basic and no-frills, my friends still swear by the cheese and crackers platter if all else fails. Get the holiday cookie cutters back out, make some fun cheese shapes (you could add deli meat shapes too) and dress it up a bit. There is such a variety of crackers, pita bites and many other things to choose from that you can really come up with an unusual arrangement if the idea of plain old cheese and crackers seems too boring.

You know your child best, so plan ahead and make sure to incorporate some of their favorite items into your holiday meal so everyone can savor your delicious food. For more inspiration, search recipe sites like Allrecipes, Food.com or Food Network for items you can try with your child’s favorite ingredients. Even blogs like The Pioneer Woman or social sites like Pinterest can be good sources for ideas.

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smartmom baby's first christmas on a budget

Baby’s First Christmas on a Budget

Photo by Amanda Watters

I haven’t gotten this excited about the holidays in quite some time. Honestly, Christmas stopped being a big deal for me several years ago. I still look forward to it, of course, because it means seeing my extended family and participating in all kinds of fun traditions. But for some time, it just hasn’t had the same appeal it did when I was younger. But this year is my baby’s first Christmas, and I couldn’t be more excited!

As we look forward to this Christmas, what I am eagerly anticipating the most is seeing our five-month-old son’s reaction to all the twinkling lights, the festive music, and, of course, tearing open of his gifts. A baby’s first year is full of exciting milestones, and for many families, the first holiday season is one of them. For us, the hardest part has been not going over our budget. I recently decided to quit my “real job” to concentrate on building my photography business, and I can tell you that not having a steady paycheck has really impacted our Christmas spending! We’ve had to show some real restraint, and it hasn’t been easy, but if you’re careful and make smart choices, you can make your baby’s first holiday a wonderful one without breaking the bank.

My first bit of advice? Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make your baby’s first Christmas a huge deal, at least not materially. When you think about it, this is really a milestone for you. Your baby’s not going to remember much, but you will, so concentrate on making those memories special! Take time out from your preparations to spend with your baby. Sing some carols, read Christmas stories together, take them someplace with lots of pretty light displays, and create some new traditions you can share for years to come! None of these will cost you a dime, but their value will stick around a lot longer than any present you purchase.

While we’re on the subject of presents, do yourselves a favor and don’t go overboard with toys. You probably have friends and family who are going to shower your kiddo with more than you’ll know what to do with. Between now and the day when he or she leaves for college, you’ll have amassed a collection of children’s playthings to rival Santa’s workshop, even if you don’t purchase a single one yourself! Instead, choose one or two that you’d really like your child to have–maybe something educational like Baby Einstein, or some fun musical toys–and leave the rest to someone else. Trust me, they’ll more than cover it.

You can also consider getting toys or other more expensive items second-hand. If you’re not up for a trip to the thrift store, there are plenty of nice resale boutiques nowadays that specialize in baby items, so you can get gently used clothes and gear for a lot less than you’d pay in stores. Craigslist can also be a great resource, but be sure you are safe about meeting up with people you don’t know, and if it’s something with moving parts, try it before you take it home!

For the rest of your presents, choose practical things–stuff you were going to have to buy, anyway. Let’s be honest: the best thing about babies and Christmas presents is watching them tear off the wrapping paper! I’m pretty sure even they like that part the best, so give them lots to unwrap in the form of necessities. For us, that means some new cloth diapers, a couple of new sets of pajamas, and a high chair. It’s all stuff we’d have needed to get before our son reaches six months, which means it was already in the budget, but this way we get to watch him rip open the gift wrap first.

If you’re wanting to commemorate the holiday for the rest of your friends and family, consider some homemade keepsakes to help them remember. Salt dough ornaments are quick, easy, and cost literally pennies. Just mix ½ cup water, ½ cup salt, and a cup of flour together to form a thick dough. Roll it out like you would sugar cookie dough, and cut it into circles a little larger than your baby’s hand or foot. Then, press your baby’s handprint or footprint into the dough. You can add a message like “Baby’s First Christmas” or whatever else you’d like by writing in the dough with a toothpick. Then, poke a hole that’s about the diameter of a pencil in the top and bake the dough at 250° F for two hours. When the ornaments are done baking and cooling, you can leave them plain or paint them with acrylic paints, if you want to liven them up a bit. All you have to do to finish them is add a ribbon for hanging, and you have a delightful memento to give! And this recipe is enough for 10-15 ornaments, so you can save a couple for yourself, as well.

And speaking of mementos, make sure you chronicle your baby’s first holiday season with photos or video! Like I mentioned before, your baby isn’t going to remember much about it, but you’ll kick yourself if you forget to document it so you can share your fond memories with them in the years to come. If you don’t have a camera or a video recorder, consider borrowing one from a friend, or renting one. Heck, even a smartphone can take decent pictures and video these days, so capture every last moment and save it for posterity. You–and your child–will be so glad you have the ability to look back on these memories together!

Making your little one’s first holiday a special one doesn’t have to involve too much spending. You just have to get a little creative and recognize that the best present you can give your baby is a day full of joy and laughter, surrounded by loved ones. After all, that’s what the holidays are all about!

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smartmom christmas gift budgeting

Christmas Gift Budgeting: How much should you spend?

Photo by Ariele Alasko

Whether you’re a First Time Mom or veteran with three of more, budgeting your Christmas spending can be difficult.  You want to buy your child something special to show them how much you love them, but you don’t want break the bank.  We asked our SmartMom contributors how they decided to budget their spending this Christmas.  Take a look!

“My budget changes every year and I work hard to keep my spend for each of my kids around the same level. My kids each get one big item each year and then a few smaller gifts. I also limit how many things they can ask Santa for (no more than four). I’m a big bargain hunter, so I tend to watch the sales and specials like a hawk. When I see a good deal for one of the “big” items, I snap it up. The biggest item out of the three helps me set the spending limit with a little cushion for the smaller items.”

Angela Moore

“I always aim for quality over quantity for gifts — so your kids get three presents from us (a “big” gift, a toy and one other present), a stocking and a present from Santa. In deciding how much to spend, we always spend about the same amount on both kids — and then budget based on what our finances allow.”

Sarah Caron

“This year was cheap and easy for us! Our son is only four months old, so our list consisted of necessities and just a few fun, educational toys and books. Most of what we’re getting is stuff we would have bought anyway, like cloth diapers and clothes, but this way we get to watch him tear open the wrapping first!”

Christina Maki

“Our kids each get three gifts: Something they want, something they need, and something to be treasured (like a daddy/daughter date night, or a special homemade gift.) As far as how much money we spend- that totally depends on the year. For example, last year my husband was unemployed, so we spent next to nothing on Christmas gifts because we had next to nothing. However this year we’re living more comfortably and can afford to spend a little more. I think the key is trying to live within your means. Kids are so much fun to shop for, and it’s hard to stop once you’ve started! There are so many amazing sales going on this time of year and I just can’t resist a good deal! My advice? Snag things while they’re marked down, and then put them away to use as birthday presents! It saves money in the long run!”

Jamie Younker

“Our three children, ages four, three, and one, already have so much–toys practically spill out of their playroom.  Our theme for Christmas this year is simplicity.  I’ve come to learn that little ones really don’t need much to be happy.  This year, each child gets a total of five gifts; three from mom and dad and two from Santa with each gift costing around $10-$15.”

Nicolette McKinlay

“First we look at our budget – how things went for the year and how much we have to spend. When our kids were younger (infant and toddler) we spent less and bought more general toys and books (fewer of them). Now that they are Kindergarten and elementary school age, they have more specific interests, and we try to plan ahead and get significant gifts. Sometimes we try to spread it out and start in the earlier fall months so we aren’t spending a lot in just one month.”

Andrea Newell


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smartmom elf on the shelf

A Week with your Elf on the Shelf

We have just over a week left until Christmas!  Are you running out of creative ideas for your Elf on the Shelf?  We’ve combed the internet for the most creative ideas.  Check them out here!

Soaking in the Rays, and Catchin’ up on this month’s Elves Illustrated

smartmom elf on the shelf

via indulgy

Potato Sack race with Elf and his friends

smartmom elf on the shelf

via Picklehead Soup

Hard-working Elf really needed a shower!

smartmom elf on a shelf

via i Heart Naptime

Looks like Barbie was due for a teeth cleaning. Elf the dentist had to oblige!

smartmom elf on a shelf

via A Small Snippet

And there’s Elf, just chillin’ on his home made swing.

smartmom elf on a shelf

via A Small Snippet

Gone Fishing in the sink – for the most delicious kind of fish!

smartmom elf on a shelf

via Rocking my 365 Project

As the month wears on, Elf is tired of traveling back and forth to the North Pole!  It’s time for a bit of shut-eye.

smartmom elf on a shelf

via Sweet Shoppe Designs

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creating holiday traditions with your new family

Creating Holiday Traditions with your New Family

Traditions are, without a doubt, the primary touchstones of a family history. Creating Holiday traditions with your new family has to be a conscious, intentional decision to follow through on making the holidays special for your kids, no matter how young they are.  Whenever I think of my own childhood, the first things I always think of are the traditions my parents maintained as I grew up.

Listening to my dad reading a Christmas Carol every night for the week before Christmas.

Having a campout in the living room (tent and all) the night before Thanksgiving.

Seeing the Happy Birthday sign draped across the mantle the morning of each family member’s birthday.

Smelling the Irish soda bread baking early in the morning of St. Patrick’s Day.

These are the memories I cherish and the moments I share whenever I talk about my family or childhood. They are also the ones that make me smile when I’m missing my family the most.

Why Are Traditions So Important? 

In a world that is constantly racing to reinvent itself, traditions are the things that can be counted on. The things that make someone feel safe and secure with their family and loved ones. Without traditions, many people can feel lost and unsure of themselves when it comes to big moments. Traditions help make the special moments in life a true treasure to hang onto.

They are so important to my kids, that we have started our own tradition of adding a new tradition each holiday season. Confusing, I know. But my kids love it. Whenever we try or do something new and they really like it, I eventually get asked, “Can we make this a tradition every year?” It makes me feel good that they crave these repeatable, reliable moments with their family each year and it reminds me how important it is to have them on a regular basis for my kids.

When Should You Start Traditions?

I began to carry on the traditions of my childhood as soon as my oldest was born. She was only six weeks old on her first Christmas, but that wasn’t a reason for me to delay creating those special touchstones. I played the music, drove her around to see Christmas lights, watched the movies and read the stories. Many people might say, “Why bother? She’s so young it doesn’t matter.”

But it mattered to me. 

Today, when we put up our Christmas tree or read a special book, my kids tend to ask questions like, “How long have we been doing this?” And I can say with a smile, “For as long as you’ve been alive.” The wonder in their face at that moment is worth the effort. Trust me.

Another reason I started traditions with my kids so young was to train myself to follow through on them. I will confess that there have been a couple of traditions that I didn’t start at the beginning and all these years later I still haven’t made them a piece of our holiday routine. My oldest is ten now so you could say that I’m more than a little behind on it.

There will come a time when my children have grown and they move out of the house and the traditions that we have this year will be replaced with new ones and melded with others. That will be a time that will, truthfully, make me a little sad. But I’m also excited to see what traditions my children carry on in their own families.


Need to simplify the holidays? Here you go.



I would like opinions about how you ladies manage the holidays? My parents are divorced, my husband’s parents are divorced and we have divorced grandparents yet they all expect us to fit them in and usually they want us to see them on the actual holiday. It’s really hard for me to enjoy the day because it stresses me out so much trying to make everyone happy. I feel like my husband and I should be able to start our own traditions with our son & for others to be more understanding. Thoughts?

So every christmas my husband and I have the same argument. (This is our 3rd christmas with children) he always expects us to do presents in HIS childhood tradition. I’ve tried to compromise a little but when I put my foot down and try to get some of my own traditions in or even start our very own he acts all butt hurt. It makes the holidays no fun for me.

Anyone have to travel to spend holidays with your family? We usually spend few days before and Christmas Day with one family and then few days around New Years with other family. We are thinking of trying Christmas Day at our own house since they are getting bigger. Want to start our own traditions. Wondering what others do.

I know it’s a little ways out, but my SO and I have never been big fans of Halloween. Now that we have a 7m old we want to start traditions for all holidays. What are some traditions you do with your family for Halloween?

The holidays are around the corner and I would like to start a tradition with my son involving helping/giving to those who are less fortunate. He is two years old but is very understanding. We are far from rich but I grew up not having much and I want him to learn the importance of helping others and being humble. What are some ideas or things some of you ladies do with your LO?

“First Holiday Season with a baby (7mo) – How did you celebrate for the first time? Any traditions or things that you recommend that we do or start? I’ve already ordered an ornament with her birth details on it.”

What special holiday traditions do you all do? This Christmas is my first with my family in our own home so I’m excited and want to make it fun for my daughter!

Ok ladies I would like to hear anything you girls did in order to create lasting memories for your children or any special traditions or gifts I could do with/for my baby boy. I bought him a beautiful book called “love you forever” where I will dedicate so he can have it the rest of his life. Any ideas?! Thanks in advance and happy holidays.

Holidays are SOOOOOO MUCH HARDER now that LO is here!! Having to divide every holiday between each family! And it doesn’t help the SO’s family are split up so we have to go to 4 different places on each holiday! I just want to be able to start our own traditions! And if I don’t somehow find a way to make it to everyone it’s MY fault.

I’m upset because my fiancé’s family always gets together on every holiday. I think I’m somewhat jealous because my family isn’t like that. Maybe that’s why I hate going to his family gatherings, because my family never gathers therefore we never do anything with my family. It’s always his. I’m not the biggest fan of his family. I like them, I definitely don’t love them. I put up with them for sake of my relationship. I just wish we could start a few of our own family traditions.


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