Tag Archives: family

Family Vacations on a Budget

With a new baby on the way, my brother’s wedding coming up this fall, and my husband’s limited vacation time (which we want to conserve for after the baby is here), we decided that it would be best for us to do “Family Vacation Lite” this year. So I started looking into ideas for a short three- to four-day vacation that won’t break the bank. I found some really great options, so I thought I’d share my findings in case anyone else was trying to plan a quick family vacation this summer.

Since we’re in the Washington, DC area, most of what I found that will work for us is on the East Coast. But since I know not everyone lives on or near the right coast, I’ve included some of the other ideas as well.

Washington, DC
While it’s not much of a vacation for us, living here, DC is really a great spot if you’re trying not to spend a ton during vacation. There are so many free museums, inspiring memorials and monuments, great cheap eats, farmers markets, and inexpensive entertainment options—like $15 tickets to Nationals games—that your family won’t get bored and you won’t go broke!

Yellowstone National Park
Between Old Faithful and the beautiful views, Yellowstone is a great vacation spot for outdoorsy types. In fact, national parks in general fit this bill. Many of them have inexpensive cabins, campsites, and inns on the property, so you’re only steps away from hiking trails, fishing, waterfalls, and more.

Sedona, AZ
If you’re in Sedona, you have to go to Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon. The rocks have been worn smooth and are covered in soft slippery algae that it makes for some awesome natural water slides. Yes, it sounds a little strange, but trust me—it’s so fun! I went when I was younger and LOVED it. Plus, Sedona is just two hours from the Grand Canyon, so you can easily make a day trip out of it.

Ocean City, MD
We have gone to the Maryland and/or Delaware beaches nearly every summer since moving to DC. While we love Rehoboth Beach, there are more inexpensive hotel and resort options in the more commercial Ocean City. The best part about a beach vacation is that it doesn’t cost a penny to build sand castles and ride the waves. And after you’ve left the beach, there are lots of restaurant options for every type of family and budget, as well as miniature golf and the boardwalk.

Williamsburg, VA
I grew up in Hampton Roads (just down I-64 from Williamsburg), so I’ve spent a ton of time in this colonial town. Jamestowne, the first English settlement, is a must-see, and children 15 and under get in for free. Step back in time as you stroll through the Revolutionary City and learn what life was like in Colonial America. If you can swing it, Busch Gardens and Water Country USA—always a hit with kids—are just up the road.

Have you planned a great family vacation on a budget? Share the details!

Strategies for a Stress-Free Vacation

Today we have a guest post from travel expert Kendra Thornton! Kendra is a travel advocate, TV spokesperson, PR businesswoman, wife, and mama of three. Follow Kendra on Twitter @KendraThornton. I’ll let her introduce herself in her own words:  “I am a long time travel expert who has been packing my bags and traveling the world since I was 3 months old! I’ve found my utmost desire in life is right here in my own home. I have taken my excitement for travel and brought it to you with some of my favorite travel tips and tricks. Enjoy!”

Whether it is an amusing anecdote about getting to a vacation destination or the memories of a favorite sunset, family vacations are worth the time and cost.  However, a vacation with small children can be exhausting, unless you have prepared yourself with tips and tricks to help your vacation run smoothly and keep you relaxed.

1. When you are planning a vacation, try to choose your hotel based on your family’s needs.  A hotel with a small fridge can be a godsend for families with tired and cranky children.  You are able to store snacks and healthy drinks to help ward off the temper tantrums. Whether it be hiking in state parks or visiting a unique museum, a family friendly resort may be an option for you.  My family’s trip to Hawaii was spent at a family friendly resort that offered a plethora of activities for adults and children and was still ranked as a top Honolulu hotel.  Another benefit to family friendly lodging?  The amenities that appeal to children, such as an onsite playground, pool or kids club.  In addition to keeping children happy on vacation, it will also allow them to burn off energy so they fall asleep faster at night.

2. When traveling with toddlers, it’s especially important to stick to a routine.  While you may want to stay out longer at a tourist attraction, naptime and snack time are essential to children of this age group.  When on vacation, you tend to get more exercise walking than at home, and this additional exercise means that children, as well as adults, need time to rest.  Giving family members this relaxation time will make their trip more enjoyable.   

3. When you are packing for the vacation, don’t forget to bring a few essentials that will make your trip easier on you.  Zip lock bags in a variety of sizes, baby wipes, a first aid kit (with blister band aids), and your child’s favorite sippy cup will make the trip run smoothly.  Of these listed supplies, zip lock bags can be used to store dirty or wet clothes and treasures the children pick up on their adventures.  If you go to a beach or water park, slip your camera and phone inside one of the bags to prevent it from water or sand damage. You may find other items to bring as well that will help your family on the vacation.

4. If your vacation includes a long car or plane ride, you may want to think about occupying that time with technology.  Tablets can be loaded with apps that are appropriate to your children’s ages, and they can pass the travel time learning and playing with these apps. If you are worried about children breaking the iPad, there are videos on the Internet on how to child-proof it.

5. It can be difficult enough to spot your luggage at the airport when you are by yourself, but with children, it becomes a monumental task.  Tie a ribbon to your luggage to help you quickly identify the luggage and get you out of the airport and on the way to your hotel.

By implementing these tips into your next family vacation, you can help create lasting memories for your family of your stress-free and fun family vacation.

Family Fun: Rolling Sushi

If you’re looking for a fun activity that the whole family can get involved in, try a family sushi night. We are a sushi-loving family; so when my brother recently taught us how to roll it ourselves, I was thrilled to find that it was surprisingly easy.

Not into raw fish? No big deal! You can make veggie rolls (avocado, cucumber, and cream cheese are my daughter’s favorite!), use imitation crab meat, or roll your sushi with cooked fish like shrimp tempura.

What you’ll need:

Bamboo sushi mat
Plastic wrap
Sushi rice (cooked and cooled- we used this recipe, which was perfect)
Nori seaweed sheets
Large bowl of water
Sharp knife

Sushi fillings (sliced thin and vertically):
Sushi-grade tuna or salmon
Imitation crab meat
Cream cheese
Green onion
Hot chili mayonnaise (if you like spicy rolls)
Tempura flakes

Pickled ginger
Wasabi paste
Soy sauce

1. Wrap your bamboo mat with plastic wrap to make clean-up easier.

2. Lay a piece of the nori seaweed at the end of the mat and top with a small handful of the sushi rice. Press and spread the rice to cover the seaweed and then carefully flip it over. Tip: the sushi rice will be very sticky, so use the bowl of water to dip your fingers and keep the rice from sticking to your hands.

3. Place whatever fillings you want in your roll in the center of the seaweed. Using the bamboo mat and your fingers, roll the sushi, being careful to squeeze the completed roll tightly before unrolling the mat.

4. Dip the knife in the water and slice the roll in half. Continue to cut the roll into small pieces, dipping the knife in the water frequently to keep the rice from sticking to the blade.

My daughter loved helping me roll the sushi, though I took care of the cutting. But even more than making it, she loved eating the finished product. It was the best she has ever eaten sushi, and I really think it’s because she got to be involved in the process. It was a fun night for all of us, and we ate about $100 worth of sushi (in restaurant prices) for maybe $50—not bad at all!

Throw a Kid-Friendly Super Bowl Party

Sure, they might pass out by halftime, but your kids can still get in on the fun during the Super Bowl. Having plenty of kid-friendly snacks, fun football-themed activities for the little ones, and festive desserts will ensure a house full of happy fans (unless your team loses—in which case, good luck!).

Kid-Friendly Snacks

Keep it simple (and healthy) with lightened up versions of your favorite game day foods.

Healthy Seven-Layer Dip from FitSugar
Buffalo Cauliflower from yours truly
Pigs in a Blanket from Food Network
Cajun Crab Dip  from yours truly
Pizza Pretzel Bites from Two Peas and Their Pod
Roasted Garlic Hummus from Annie’s Eats
Turkey Sliders from Martha Stewart
Chili from Cooking Light

Game Time Activities

Chances are, little ones aren’t going to sit through an entire football game. Be prepared with these fun ideas!

Make Your Own Jersey: Buy a bunch of cheap tees, puffy paint, glitter, etc. and set up a table for the kids to decorate their own “jerseys.”

Football Word Search (Free download!)

Decorate the House: Put the kids to work decorating the house for the big game by letting them make footballs out of construction paper. They can even string them together using a hole punch and yarn to make a garland.

Commercial Bingo: Get the kids in on a game of Super Bowl Commercial Bingo! You can download the cards here, and have fun prizes for the winners.

Winning Desserts

Football Rice Krispie Treats from Rice Krispies
Chocolate-Dipped Strawberry Footballs from Domestic Fits
S’mores Cupcakes from yours truly
Healthy Whoopie Pies from Parenting (you can even roll these in sprinkles to match your team’s colors)
Mini Peanut Butter Brownies from Babble


Grandma’s Corn Puddin’

I don’t know how old I was before I realized the word pudding ends with a “g” instead of an “n”—too old I’m sure. In my family, this is Grandma Parker’s Corn Puddin’, and if you put a “g” on the end, you will probably be called a Yankee (which will likely be followed by “bless your heart”).

My grandmother died when I was two, so I don’t have any memories of her. My mom made sure, however, that I would always know the comfort of her food. This recipe has been a staple at all of my family’s get togethers for as long as I can remember, and it’s one of my all-time favorite side dishes. I really hope you enjoy it!

Notes: I usually double the recipe if I’m taking this to a potluck or party; I just increase the cooking time by 15-20 minutes. The recipe as listed below is perfect for a regular family meal. Also, I usually use low fat or fat free evaporated milk without any issue.

Corn Puddin’

1 can cream corn
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup evaporated milk
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

Combine corn and eggs; stir in milk and butter. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Add these dry ingredients to the corn mixture, along with the vanilla. Stir well to incorporate all the dry ingredients, and then pour into a 1.5 qt casserole dish. Bake at 350° for 30-45 minutes, until the top of the pudding has set (it will giggle like Jell-O if you shake it but there’s no liquid in the center).

Stromboli to Feed a Crowd

My dad makes this stromboli whenever we need something relatively easy to feed a large (and sometimes picky) crowd. He also makes a super easy no-cook marinara that is slightly sweet, and it’s perfect with the stromboli. Instead of making one large stromboli, you can even split the dough ball and make up to four small stromboli, each with a different filling to satisfy even your pickiest eater.

For dinner at the beach last week, we made four stromboli, which fed nine adults and one toddler with plenty left over for lunch the next day.

Yields one stromboli

1 pizza dough ball (you can find these in most refrigerated sections at the grocery store)
1 cup flour
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 lb ground sausage, browned and drained
20 slices of pepperoni
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 medium green pepper, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

Note: These are just the toppings we used, but you can use something completely different with as little or as many toppings as you’d like. {My sister’s favorite combo is chicken, honey, onions, and just a little cheese—sounds strange, but it’s delicious!}

2 6 oz cans tomato paste
12 oz warm water
6 tbsp Parmesan cheese
2 tsp minced garlic
4 tbsp honey
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
salt (to taste)
Preheat oven to 400°.

Place the dough in a large glass bowl coated with olive oil and cover with a dish towel. Allow it to rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours or until it at least doubles in size.

While the dough is rising, make the marinara. Combine all sauce ingredients and mix well. Set aside.

Clean off a flat surface for rolling out the dough and cover the surface with flour. Using a large rolling pin, flatten and roll out the dough into a large square. You may need to sprinkle on more flour and flip over the dough while you’re rolling.

Place the sheet of dough on a cookie sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking spray or lined with nonstick foil. Spread the sauce over top, keeping to the center of the dough, and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese. Layer your toppings on and drizzle with a little extra sauce and olive oil.

Bring the sides of the dough up so they slightly overlap and then roll them together so the dough seals over the fillings. Do the same with the ends to fully close the stromboli. Brush the seams with a little bit of olive oil.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes or until the dough is golden brown. Allow the stromboli to sit for 15 minutes before slicing. Serve with the leftover sauce, slightly warmed.