Easy and Quick Meal Solutions

This post is sponsored by Fresh and Easy.  These easy and quick meal solutions are all mine.

My tips for making meals that are fresh and easy.

My easy and quick dinner solution is tacos. You can buy everything pre-prepped and just throw them together. My tip is to broil them to get the cheese melty and keep the store-bought shells crisp. #ad #freshandeasy // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comMy mom makes my all time favorite tacos.  All time.  She takes corn tortillas and fries them, using two forks to shape them in to taco shells.  Then she uses the most delicious spiced beef, fresh lettuce that she lovingly cuts by hand, and hand-shredded medium cheddar cheese.  Once each taco is filled, she puts the whole lot of them in to an oven to melt the cheese and slowly dry out the shells keeping them super crispy.  They are crazy good.  But.  There is no way I would ever put that much effort in to making tacos.  I like to keep things easy and quick.  With our busy family schedule, even if I wanted to spend more time in the kitchen doing more of the prep work, our schedule just doesn’t allow for it.  So the way I’m able to get tacos, which can be a pretty healthy meal, on the table, is using pre-prepped items.  Most of the time convenience means processed.  And since I am really trying to take processed foods out of my family’s diet I was starting to feel like I wasn’t going to have to the option of fast tacos.  Then I found these ready-to-go taco shells from Fresh and Easy which are just corn flour, coconut oil and water.  Yeah!  I didn’t know that Fresh and Easy puts a focus on providing fresh, wholesome food that doesn’t include artificial flavors, colors transfats, high-fructose corn syrup and other gross things.  And that they do everything they can (like have almost all self-checkout) to keep it affordable.  THANK YOU!  My fast tacos can continue!  Which is awesome since it is one of the only meals I make that my oldest son actually says he enjoys.

Salsa is a great side option for a taco dinner. I look for one in the refrigerated section for a fresher flavor. And chips, in moderation, are always a good idea. #ad #freshandeasy // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comWhen I can, I make my own salsa but this pre-made version is a really great alternative.  Salsa from the refrigerated section usually means that the ingredients are fresh and the flavor will be vibrant.  It is the perfect thing to go along with the tacos.  It can be used as a condiment or for chips.  Luckily my kids enjoy salsa so I know they are getting in some good nutrients from the tomatoes and I love that there is no extra sugar added.  I don’t have a Fresh and Easy store close to my house so the other day I headed to the next town to see what they had to offer.  I was pleased that although the store is small in size, you can find everything you need to put good, healthy meals together.

Caprese salad makes an easy and healthy snack. Add some pasta or chicken to make it more of a meal! #ad #freshandeasy // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI’m kind of addicted to basil.  You’ve probably noticed that I’ve used it in the last several food or drink posts.  One of my favorite snacks is a bite sized caprese salad.  The fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella are just perfect altogether.  Sometimes I skip the cheese and just do the tomatoes and basil for when I’m really trying to keep away from dairy.  These ingredients are super versatile and you can make them in to more of a meal by adding a bed of arugula.  Or take it up one more notch, even, by adding in some shredded chicken.  A light drizzle of a good olive oil, maybe a little aged balsamic vinegar and some Maldon Sea Salt and you are set.  This is a perfect dish to take on picnics or even your kid’s baseball practice when you need to eat on the go.  Cherry tomatoes are a good snack for kids as they tend to be really sweet and it seems like kids really like sweets.  They might not really enjoy the basil but it is important to get them to try it again over time.  I find that my kids will finally give in and decide to like something after months of saying they hate it.  So don’t be discouraged if they turn their nose up at the basil at first.  Basil is a great bold flavor and you can use it in more than just a caprese.  Add this to your turkey sandwiches in place of lettuce, and tossed in with your normal salad greens for a pop of flavor.  I have a little basil plant in my kitchen that I can pull from which makes it really easy to keep around.

My go-to salads have lots of nice protein to keep me feeling more full for longer. #ad #freshandeasy // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comAnother great idea is to purchase pre-made salads and then modify them to suit your dietary needs or flavor preferences.  Fresh and Easy has great options of pre-packaged meals, some organic like the salad above, that you can easily add to your meal plan.  This salad would work great as a lunch for myself, or I could share it with my family as a side dish for dinner time.  Don’t be afraid to use items in different ways.  Although it is packaged as a salad for one, consider how you might be able to use the ingredients separately or what you can add to make it more your style.  

I make an easy and quick store-bought salad feel more homemade by putting it in a bowl and using a little bit of my favorite olive oil and a fresh squeeze of Meyer Lemon juice. #ad #freshandeasy // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI’m really watching what I put in to my body at the moment so I knew I wouldn’t use the caesar dressing that came with this salad.  I grabbed a large bowl and started transferring the pre-made salad in to it.  By doing this I was able to really see what was in the salad and take out when I didn’t want.  I left the sun dried tomatoes which added a nice flavor even though they were probably packed in oil at some point.  Then I removed some of the parmesan cheese so I felt like it all balanced out whatever oil may have been left over.  To make this more to my liking, I added a drizzle of my most favorite olive oil and squeezed some fresh Meyer lemon juice all over it.  I gave it a quick toss and then added some fresh ground black pepper.  So good!  I have to say that the ingredients in the salad were some of the best looking and freshest that I’ve ever seen in a prepackaged salad.  It surprised me.  I should have grabbed a few more of these! 

Boom Chicka Pop popcorn for a fast and easy snack. #ad #freshandeasy // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI mentioned before that I can’t quit the popcorn right now.  I usually pop my own in the microwave but it is nice to have a bag ready to go in the pantry with no extra ingredients.  Fresh and Easy has tons of great products with their name on it but they also carry other brands as well.  I was delighted to see so many great, healthy options throughout the store like this popcorn from Angie’s.  Popcorn has really helped me get over my after dinner snacking habit.  The crunch is just what I need to feel satisfied.  And I add a ton of fresh ground black pepper for flavor.  I’m almost as addicted to black pepper as I am to basil! 

Always fun to peruse the wine aisle of a new grocery store. Especially when you don't have your kids.  #ad #freshandeasy // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comI love a good wine aisle and was so excited to be able to take my time and check it all out.  I don’t know about you, but while I don’t always love to do the grocery shopping, there is something super relaxing about shopping alone.  And I feel like wine is one area where a lot of the makers really go all out on label design.  It is fun to look at the labels and see what brands different stores carry.  On this day I didn’t have my kids with me so I could take my time and really browse.

I heart CA wine from @FreshandEasy. I adore the colors and label design. Fingers crossed it tastes good too! #ad #freshandeasy // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comFresh and Easy has a store brand wine in a ton of varieties.  I decided to pick up a bottle of the I Heart California Sauvignon Blanc to see if it tastes as good as it looks.  I’ll keep you posted on that one.  But for now it looks cute in my wine rack.  And if all else fails, you can elevate any meal you are serving just but serving a glass of wine along with it.  My best friend’s parents growing up used to do this.  And while I am sure that they were not trying to instill a life lesson, I totally remember them getting out the red wine to drink with their meatloaf.  There are nights when your quick and easy meal is not going to be glamorous.  So open a bottle of wine and roll with it.  

Look for @freshandeasy stores for great easy and quick meal solutions! #ad #freshandeasy // www.cupcakesandcutlery.comYou should absolutely be sure to check out a Fresh and Easy store in your area (stores are located in CA, NV and AZ).  I think I will make monthly visits so I can check out even more of their store-brand products…I will tell you, there were tons of amazing looking ice creams in their freezer section that I will happily check out when I fall off my healthy eating wagon.  I SO wish this store was closer to my house!  In eating more fresh fruits and vegetables I find myself at the store quite a few times a week.  My normal grocery store is so large and has so many options that it takes forever to navigate around.  Fresh and Easy stores make it quick and easy to get in, and get out and get right back to being with your family.

*Thanks for supporting the brands that keep Cupcakes and Cutlery going.  All opinions are always my own.

 

 

New Red Robin Allergy Friendly Interactive Menu

*The Red Robin information and gift cards have been provided by Red Robin.  I was sent a gift card to Red Robin to try out their new Interactive Allergen Friendly Menu Builder portion of their website.  I jumped at the chance because Red Robin was one of the first restaurants that I let my food allergic son eat out at because the staff and management ALWAYS went out of their way to ensure his safety.  With the creation and launch of this new meal planning feature, making allergen free dining even easier and safer, I wanted to share my experience with you all.  All opinions are mine.Whiskey River BBQ wrap at Red Robin.  //  www.cupcakesandcutlery.com #sponsoredI LOVE Red Robin.  And always have.  From their high octane cocktails that I discovered in college (Sand in Your Shorts was always my go-to but I probably haven’t had that in about 10 years!) to their fries (I’m obsessed with their fries!) and on to my current favorite the Whiskey River BBQ wrap, I could eat at Red Robin daily.  But I don’t.  We really don’t eat out all that much.  I prefer to save money and make dinner at home.  But it wasn’t always like that.  I pretty much unconsciously set out to NOT learn how to cook from my mom growing up.  So when I got married, and even after I had my first child, I was getting some homemade meals on the table but they were NOT nutritious, particularly tasty or frequent.  All of that changed when I found out my son had tons of food allergies at one year old.  He had had continual, severe eczema for 6 months and I was desperate to get to the root of the problem.  I will never forget one Monday night, however, when the phone rang and it was his doctor.  After months of trying crazy harsh creams and steroids, we finally did a blood test to see if it was food allergies.  It was after 5 pm when the call came and she said, “He’s allergic to milk, eggs, soy, peanut, probably shellfish and other tree nuts.  You can give him Rice Milk.  They sell it at Whole Foods.”  And with that, I was left to navigate his food allergies on my own.  We changed pediatricians and I got to work trying to figure out what would be safe to feed him.  I did my research online and in books and by wandering Sprouts and Whole Foods.  I immediately had teach myself to cook and made pretty much all of his food.  I didn’t feel confidant with reading labels to know if I was going to give him something that would harm him.  And I certainly didn’t feel comfortable taking him out to restaurants and having to rely on someone else’s knowledge, or lack thereof, of food allergies to keep him safe.

Red Robin has a new allergen free meal builder to create your perfect, and safe meal.  //  www.cupcakesandcutlery.com #sponsoredI brought all of his food with me wherever we went.  If he did come to a restaurant with us I carefully wiped down the table and made sure he wasn’t sitting by anyone that had one of the food’s he couldn’t have.  But finally, when he was about 4, I decided that if I wanted to give him more of a normal childhood experience in terms of dining out, that I should take the next step of trying to navigate restaurant menus.  One of the first places I went was Red Robin.  I did some research on line and felt that there was at least some conversation about allergies on their site.  I called a manager and inquired about food allergies and decided to try it out.  Even back then they handled food allergies with ease.  And it was a place he could eat where I felt he was safe with fries no less!  So when I got an email asking if I would like to check out the new Red Robin allergy friendly interactive menu builder, I jumped at the chance.  A few Saturdays ago, the family and I headed to Red Robin for lunch.

Dining out with food allergies.  //  www.cupcakesandcutlery.com #sponsoredWhile it is possible to pull up the website on your own phone (and of course from your home computer), the manager at our Red Robin location brought us out an iPad to view the menu builder on.  Of course my son had to try it out first.  I think he really just wanted to see if they had Minecraft on the iPad.  Red Robin trains all team members on how to deal with dietary restrictions and modifications to their menus.  The use special allergy alerts in different type so it is clear on every order.  The alert notifies the kitchen that a special allergen kit is required for the order.  The kit includes tools that are to be used on allergen orders only and are purple to clearly distinguish them from other kitchen tools.  Awesome! [Read more...]

A Spy Themed Kid’s Birthday Party

Balloon garland for birthday partyYou might be looking at this photo thinking, “that doesn’t look like a spy party!”  And you would be correct.  My youngest celebrated his birthday right after Christmas and this year I wanted to keep the party really small.  Since I only get two chances a year to throw a kid’s birthday party, I usually go crazy.  But seeing as this birthday is so close to the holidays, I decided to do it different.  This year we had only family and a few of the neighborhood kids, who would have probably played together that day anyway.  And while my son wanted a spy party I didn’t have the energy to get too themey.

spy party invitations with invisible inkSo instead of throwing a traditional spy birthday, we threw a spy birthday party disguised as a regular birthday party.  Genius, right?!  I just put together a really simple invitation and then since we only needed to give out a few, I bought each kid an invisible ink pen and wrote a secret spy message on the back.  I know it is hard to see but the message just told them that there was a secret spy component to the party and to get ready for some fun in the secret lair.  This killed two birds with one stone, easy decorating and a happy spy obsessed kid.

gallery wall for kids birthdayThe decorations in the house were kept to a minimum.  Aside from the balloon sign and marbled balloons from the first image in this post, I only decorated one other wall in my house.  This wall will eventually be a super cool gallery wall with all of our fave artwork.  But since it was blank I decided to put up a temporary gallery of the birthday boy.  I had these photos printed from Pinhole Press.  They are actually vinyl so they could have been stuck right on the wall!  But because I knew they weren’t staying, I put them up with washi tape.  And this is the first wall you see when you enter the house so there was no doubt we were celebrating a fifth birthday.

Disguises for kid's spy partyThere were just a few ways that I made sure this party was spy themed.  In an empty area of the kitchen I put up the “Disguise Department.”  I gathered all the dress up items that my kids already had and then picked up a few more things to round it out.  Since I knew about the theme for a few months, I was able to get a screaming deal on most of this right after Halloween.  I mean, a good spy uses disguises, am I right?

disguises at kid's spy birthday partyI’m not sure what these people are disguised as but we had a really fun time at the party watching how the kids put themselves together.  You guys.  Stick on mustaches with kids will never get old.  But stick on eyebrows and sideburns are hilarious too!

sticker name tags for the spy partyI created super easy name tags for the spies to wear.  There was no real reason for them to have these name tags.  But my son’s, when they are playing spies, make us go by an agent name.

spy lair for kid's birthday partyI knew that I wanted to have a spy lair in the backyard.  Since I have the most amazing friend who is a printer I decided to take a photo of this area in the backyard and have him print it, life-size, on a banner.  This would disguise their secret spy area.  The day of the party was soooo windy and I was worried we weren’t going to be able to use it.  That is why my husband’s bowling ball bag is right there (omg, did I just write that? Yes, my husband has his own ball and shoes…nerd).  Totally takes away from the amazingness of the banner but we didn’t really want it to fall on the kids.

birthday-boyThe birthday boy had a great time and all the kids loved playing in the “lair.”

kid's spy birthday partyI wanted to keep the party really free-flowing so I just set out a table and put out all the spy toys we had and the spy kits I had picked up from the dollar store.  Since most of these kids play together anyway, I knew they would come up with their own games to play.  My niece was the oldest kid there and she is a natural leader.  She took it upon herself to give out spy assignments and decide who was good and who was bad.  It all went really smoothly.  I had one other activity (a shooting practice) for the kids but it was far too windy for it.  Boo.

mini mylar balloon garlandYou may remember these balloons from a post I did before Christmas.  They are reusable so I used them again for this birthday.  I’m obsessed with them.  And these marble balloons that I found at Party Lab.  And I added a yellow finger-knitted garland for a pop of color.  I had made them for my Christmas tree so just grabbed one to use here too.

Easy party food for kid's birthday partyI kept the food really simple.  We had the party in between meal times so it mainly needed to be snacky. I made caramel corn and a bread salad (hopefully Kristin will share the recipe soon!) and my neighbor made some chocolate chip cookies.  Now let’s talk about the cake!  Kristin humored me and made a cake similar to one I had seen on pinterest.  I LOVE how it came out!  I’m pretty sure every single person at the party asked about it and my son thought it was so cool!  I topped it with a topper by Little Cat Design Co available at Sweet and Saucy Shop.

pinhole press custom beer labelsPinhole Press also makes labels for bottles.  I freaking love this picture of the birthday boy so I decided to make a quick label for the beer at the party (while this is a kid’s party, I always have some drinks for the adults too.  Grandpas like beer.  Grandmas like wine.  Super easy).

boxed water is better for partiesI also had juice for the kids and some Boxed Water.  Here’s the thing, most people at the party had never seen Boxed Water before.  The kids chose to drink water over the juice which made me super happy.  And that never happens at a party!  It was a total conversation starter and the boxes are recyclable.  So rad.  And they just look super cool.  This is a MUST for your next party!  Buy them here.

cake time at kid's birthday partyThen we sang.  Here you can see the marbling on the white chocolate on the cake.  It tasted amazing too.  Kind of hard to take this kid seriously, right?  And I’m not sure why my kid’s always end up without shirts…

present-openingNext it was time to open presents.  Some kids remained in costume.

favor-bagsThen it was time to grab a favor and head home.

spy disguises for favorsIn the brown lunch bags I gave each kid their own disguise kit including mustaches, eyebrows and a pair of sunglasses.  It was super simple but seeing how much fun they had with the stick on stuff at the party, I knew it was a good decision.

party aftermathThis party was super easy to put together and the kids had a GREAT time!  As long as my kid’s let me have a little say with their party themes I know I can throw a party everyone can be happy with.  And how great is that shirt by Prefresh!?  Not sure why it isn’t on my child…

How do you give your kid’s the party they want while still having fun with it.

December Loves

mozza newport beachSorry for the terrible iPhone pic, but we tried out a new restaurant a few weeks ago and it was AMAZING!  If you are in Orange County and haven’t tried Pizzeria Mozza yet, you HAVE to.  It was phenomenal.  We tried a bunch of different things and all of it was perfection.  And this cocktail, the Holiday Garland I think it was called, was sensational!  A spiced cranberry reduction with bourbon and a cranberry gelee garnish.  FTW!  I had 3 of them!  3!! I never have three cocktails when I’m out.  And I was able to walk myself out so they may have been light on the liquor.  Or my belly was THAT full of delicious yumminess.  We also spotted a celeb chef eating there.  That is always a good sign.

k-and-i-at-microsoft-p.s.-i-made-this-partyKristin and I attended a party thrown by Microsoft hosted by Erica of P.S. I Made This to showcase holiday gift DIYS that can be done with their products.  We got to take home these awesome plastic ornaments that were printed on a 3D printer! (image via Getty Images for Microsoft)

fresh-paint-custom-wrapping-paperWe also got to create our own wrapping paper.  Using the Fresh Paint program, Kristin drew a Christmas tree pattern and then it was printed out for her!  SO cool!  I’m dying to play with Fresh Paint some more.

custom-thank-you-noteIt is rare that a company sends out a thank you note after working with you on a project.  It makes sense, you sometimes are working with a PR company and not the actual brand.  And some of their campaigns include a huge number of bloggers.  But I got this thank you note from Chinet (remember this post?) and thought it was super cool.  Not only was the message very nice but it was personalized with the name of my blog right on the front.  I thought it was a really nice touch.

abe-lincoln-sweatshirtYou all know that I love U.S. President’s right?  I saw a girl wearing this sweatshirt when we were at Disneyland and I almost stopped her to ask her where it was from.  I googled it once we got home and found out it was from Forever 21 (says no longer available but they have this version too)!  Sold!  It’s my fave.

hooray-cake-topperI can’t wait to use this cake topper from Little Cat Design Co. available at Sweet and Saucy Shop!  My youngest is turning 5 a few days after Christmas and this will be coolin’ out on top of his cake.  They come in a bunch of colors and phrases and if you live in Orange County, you can order over the phone/email and then pick it up in one of their stores (I went to the Newport Beach location).  That way you save on shipping AND since you are in the bakery, you might as well pick yourself up some delightful treats.

What did you love  this month?

I’m Hosting a Party at C. Wonder and You’re Invited!

#unwrapwonder Fashion Island*UPDATE 12/4/13:  C. Wonder has decided to increase the discount they are offering to 30% off your purchases and have added a raffle to win a $75 gift card to the store!!  So cool!  And if you aren’t in Orange County, click here to see where all the other events are being hosted so you can attend one in your area!

YOU GUYS!! I’m hosting a party at C. Wonder Fashion Island on Thursday, December 12, 2013 from 6 pm – 8 pm and I want to meet you!  If you are local, please come say hello!  C. Wonder is a great store for gifty items and cool clothes and accessories for your holiday party dressing.  Store stylists will be on hand to help you make your purchases.  C. Wonder will be offering 25% off of all purchases during the party and 10% of the total sold will be donated to a very special organization, Operation Shower.

Come for sweet treats and get some holiday shopping done at the same time!  The party is open to the public and kids and husbands are more than welcome (although the party will not be geared towards them :)).

RSVP here by December 9, 2013!

C. Wonder Fashion Island  .  347 Newport Center Dr.  .  Newport Beach  .  CA  92660

I hope to see you there!