Saturday, September 29, 2012

ABC Muffins

A is for Apple
B is for Banana

These ABC muffins are quick to make, yummy, and a great way to sneak some fruit into your kids' breakfast. My youngest daughter plowed through her first muffin, and as she licked the melty chocolate off her fingers, she asked, "What's in them?"
"Apples and bananas," I confessed.
"And chocolate," she reminded me.
"Yes, and chocolate."
"Maybe you shouldn't tell the others about the apples and bananas," she said. "They probably won't notice."
Very wise, young one.

This recipe makes 12 muffins.

1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. ripe smashed bananas (2-3 bananas)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs
1 apple, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl or large measuring cup, combine all the other ingredients. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or line it with paper liners. Pour batter 2/3 full into muffin cups. Bake about 20-25 minutes or until browned.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Doughnut Muffins

Do you love the taste of buttermilk doughnuts but don't want to spend the calories? These doughnut muffins taste like buttermilk cake doughnuts, but they're not fried and don't have the same high fat content. Kids love them, so they're a perfect snack for including in your babysitting shifts.

Doughnut Muffins

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 Tbs butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with vegetable oil spray. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, yogurt, eggs, milk, and vanilla with an electric mixer until creamy. Add flour mixture to the yogurt mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan. Bake for 25 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into muffin centers comes out clean. Turn out muffins and cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Very Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

As an avid chocolate chip cookie devotee, I've tried a lot of recipes. This one is my absolute all-time favorite. It's chewy and buttery (don't use margarine!), and it's impossible to eat just one.

1 cup butter (not margarine!)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Cream together butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop onto ungreased cookie sheet by heaping tablespoons. Bake at 350-degrees for 8-10 minutes. Makes about 3 dozen.

You can go ahead and put all 12 ounces of chocolate chips in (the entire bag), but that doesn't leave any for snacking on while the cookies are baking.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Too Many Toys by David Shannon

"Have you ever stepped on a Lego piece in your bare feet? Or a jack? Well, it really hurts! Especially if you weigh as much as Spencer's dad."

Every parent can relate to this story, and hopefully some of the kids can, too. Lots of people give Spencer toys: his parents, his grandparents, the drive-thru at Kidburger, the dentist, and more. Spencer has so many toys that they spill out of his room and down the staircase.

Finally his mother announces that some of the toys have to go, and this is a Catastrophe. In the end, though, Spencer discovers an even better toy than all the other toys he already has. Parents who have been through this process might have an idea of what it is.

Just like all of Shannon's books, the illustrations are fabulous and stimulating. The dialogue is fun to read aloud, and the book isn't too long to keep short attention spans engaged.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

10 Fun Balloon Games

You've got a package of balloons left over from a birthday party, and you've got a group of restless co-op kids in your living room. It's go time. With these 10 balloon activities, you'll be Queen of the Co-op until the parents come back. They're also great for birthday parties, school parties, and even Halloween parties.

1. Balloon Noses. Divide the kids into two teams, and give each team a balloon. The goal is to keep the balloon from touching the floor, but they can only touch the balloons with their noses. Each team starts with 10 points. Every time the balloon touches the floor they lose a point. The last team to still have points wins the game.

2. Balloon Stomp. Each child gets a balloon and a string cut about a yard long. Tie one end of the string to the balloon and the other end of the string to the kids' ankles. When you say "go," the kids try to pop each other's balloon by stomping on them while protecting their own balloon. The last child to still have a blown-up balloon wins.

3. Pass the Balloon. This game works best with sausage-shaped balloons. Divide the kids into teams and line each team up in a straight line. The goal is to pass the balloon all the way down the line only using knees. To do this, the kids squeeze the balloon between their knees and hold it steady while the next kid gets it between his knees. If they drop it, they have to pick it up only using their knees. The first team to pass the balloon all the way down the line wins.

4. Balloon Relay. Each team gets 10 balloons that haven't yet been inflated. One at a time, each member of the team must blow up a balloon, run to a marked line, and then pop the balloon by sitting on it or stomping on it. Then they run back and tag the next person.

5. Water Balloon Toss. Have the kids pair up and stand across from their partners. Give one water balloon to each pair of kids. After they successfully toss and catch their balloon, they each take a step back. The winner is the pair that lasts the longest.

6. Balloon Number Game. Direct the kids to stand in a circle, and give each kid a number. The kid with the highest number goes to the middle of the circle. He holds a balloon, shouts a random number, and then tosses the balloon in the air. The child assigned that number must catch the balloon before it touches the ground. If she does, she stands in the middle to shout the next number. When only 2 kids are left, an adult should toss the balloon.

7. Balloon Volleyball. Tie a jump rope between two kitchen chairs to make your volleyball net. Divide the children into two teams, and have the teams stand on opposite sides of the net. Follow basic volleyball rules and play until one team reaches 15 points.

8. Balloon Treasure Hunt. Before blowing up an assortment of balloons, insert a colorful slip of paper in a few of them. After they're all blown up, scatter them across a wide area. When you say "go," let the kids pop the balloons, trying to find the slips of paper. They can exchange the papers for prizes.

9. Balloon Stuff. Divide the kids into two teams and let them decide who will get "stuffed." When you say "go," each team will try to stuff as many balloons as possible into one of the kids' shirts in 30 seconds. The team with the most balloons in someone's shirt wins.

10. Balloon Sculptures. Divide the kids into teams and supply them with a package of balloons and some double-sided tape. It's best to let them take as much time as they want to build their sculptures out of balloons and tape. Take pictures of their creations because they won't last long!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Homemade Frozen Breakfast Burritos

Need a quick, protein-packed breakfast or snack? Of course you do. We all do. You can make these breakfast burritos over the weekend and then microwave them as needed over the course of the week. They're delicious, inexpensive, and ready in 1 minute 30 seconds from when you take them out of the freezer.

The following recipe makes about 9 breakfast burritos, depending on how full you stuff your tortillas.

10 eggs
9 burrito-sized tortillas
1 lb. bacon (Buy the bacon ends and pieces. They're cheaper, and you're going to chop them up anyway)
1 cup (or more) shredded Cheddar
salt and pepper
Olive or vegetable oil

Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a skillet on the stove. While it heats up, whisk the eggs in a bowl. Pour the eggs in the skillet and scramble them until they're no longer runny. Season them with salt and pepper. Set aside. Cook the bacon in a skillet or the microwave until it is crispy. Drain the bacon and chop it into bite-sized pieces. Warm the tortillas by wrapping 3 or 4 at a time in a damp paper towel and microwaving them for 30 seconds (this keeps them from splitting while you roll them up). Lay the tortillas out on your countertop, and divide the eggs, bacon, and Cheddar cheese among them. Fold two sides in and roll each tortilla up. Place the burritos on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, not touching, and put them in the freezer for at least one hour. Remove the burritos from the freezer and roll each one in a paper towel. Place all the burritos in a gallon-size zippered plastic bag, and label it.
When you're ready to eat a breakfast burrito, remove one from the freezer and place it in the microwave, still in the paper towel. Microwave it for 1 minute 30 seconds. Instant breakfast! You'll have enough energy for your babysitting co-op shift after all. :)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Story Time: The Princess Mouse

Next time you're at the library, pick up The Princess Mouse by Aaron Shepard.

You'll really captivate the kids in your babysitting co-op if you learn the simple tune that goes with this story. The music is in the book, and it's really just one line repeated. Plunk it out on the piano so you learn the melody, and then sing it at the right places in the story. Or, if you don't have a piano, listen to the tune on Aaron Shepard's website. It's a haunting little melody, and the kids will be entranced.

And the story's not bad either. It's a Finnish fairy tale about a princess that was turned into a mouse. Think Beauty and the Beast, only it's a kind-hearted boy who falls in love with a cursed girl instead of the other way around. The illustrations by Leonid Gore are lovely, as you can see from the image above, and the re-telling by Aaron Shepard sets a beautiful mood.

This is a great bedtime book, but it's also very helpful when you've got a room full of wound-up kids who need to settle down.

For older kids, print out the Reader's Theater and let them act it out themselves. A really ambitious group of babysitting co-op kids could practice this during a date-night shift and perform for all the parents when they get home!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Energy Balls Recipe

Oh, these are so good. You'll make them for the kids, and then you'll find yourself returning to the refrigerator whenever there's a break in your day--or even when you "invent" a break in the day. They're full of good-for-you nutrients like protein, fiber, and anti-oxidants. Kids love them because they're sweet and peanut buttery, and these energy balls will give them energy that lasts longer than they'd get from a carbohydrate-based snack.


1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (get gluten-free oats if you want these to be gluten-free)
1 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup flax seed meal
Other add-ins: chopped nuts, dried fruit (raisins), chocolate chips (of course!)

Mix the honey and peanut butter in a large bowl. Add all of your other ingredients, and put the bowl in the refrigerator for about an hour. Remove the bowl from the fridge and break off small portions of the mixture to roll into balls. Store the energy balls in an air-tight container either in the refrigerator or in the freezer.

I like to keep a container of energy balls in the refrigerator all the time. They're perfect after-school snacks as well as energy boosters for before swim team or dance class. Your babysitting co-op kids will love them, too. Just make sure you haven't included ingredients that any of the co-op kids are allergic to.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

5 Tips for Easing Sibling Rivalry in Group Settings

You may have found that the most difficult co-op discipline issues involve siblings. This should come as no surprise. Siblings spend a great deal of time together. They know each other very well. And while such familiarity leads to lifelong relationships, it can also lead to petty disputes during babysitting co-op shifts. We've put together some tips to help you deal with sibling rivalry during your co-op days. Hopefully, these discipline techniques will help your shifts to be more calm and happy.

  • Foster a team spirit. Your tone can make a big difference in the way kids feel about a situation. If you talk to the kids in your babysitting shift as if you were all a team, they'll feel more unified. This is especially true for siblings. If you have siblings in your shift that aren't getting along, use teamwork-type language: "Let's all work together to clean up before we go outside," instead of, "Look, Aiden has already cleaned up his are. Can you make your area as clean, Sarah?"
  • Ignore minor disputes. Sometimes kids just need to work out their differences themselves, especially if the differences aren't disrupting the rest of the group and don't really matter. If you find yourself stepping in to settle every minor dispute, hold yourself back and see if the kids can work things out by themselves before you enter the fray.
  • Put the siblings in separate groups. If your babysitting shift is large enough, separate the kids into two groups at playtime, and put one sibling in each group. One group can work on a puzzle while the other group runs around the backyard. Sometimes kids just need breaks from each other, and a little time apart can work wonders.
  • Praise good behavior. If a group of siblings has had a hard time getting along in the past, praise every good effort they make. "I love the way you're helping your sister, Katie." Such positive reinforcement can extend the good behavior through the rest of your shift, and hopefully beyond!
  • Treat siblings equally. Nothing fuels sibling rivalry like unequal treatment. If you listen patiently while Owen tells you all about his field trip to the fire station, give his big brother the same kind of attention. His big brother will behave much better for you if you've given him his share of attention, too.
Siblings will always have their difficult days together, but you can minimize the disruptions to your babysitting shifts. When your own children have problems, talk with them about what they can do to be a team. And never be afraid to discuss sibling rivalry issues with the other parents in your babysitting co-op. We're here to support each other, and your fellow co-op members may have great insights into how these problems can be minimized.