How To Limit Kids’ Sugar During Halloween

Lifestyle, Thoughts

It’s getting spooky out there, folks. Ghosts and skeletons are hanging from neighbors’ trees, the seasonal decor aisle at Target is empty, and children are already donning costumes around town. The big trick-or-treat night is upon us, and if you’re like most parents, you’re likely dreading all the SUGAR that comes with Halloween night.

BoredPanda, one of the internet’s most light and fun-loving news sites covering viral content, recently reached out to me asking for tips to help parents keep their children’s snacks healthy this Halloween. As a mom of two young kids, I was delighted to share my experience on how we’ve navigated this sugary time of year.

Below is the article from BoredPanda, and you can read the full article here.

My kids favorite Spider Crackers

Tips To Limit Kids Sugar Intake During Halloween:

  1. Prepare healthy snacks with your kids – I’ve noticed my children are always more likely to eat healthy food if they help me prepare it. Kids love being little helpers in the kitchen! This way, they’re exposed to all the sensory experiences of their food prior to seeing it on their plate for the first time. They also feel really proud of what they’ve created, which encourages them to taste it. My kids especially love stirring and mashing! Guacamole is one of our favorite healthy snacks to make, because they have lots of fun mashing the avocado! We also love making healthier breads, pancakes and muffins by adding shredded zucchini to the batter.

2. Create festive healthy food – Kids are so visual! No wonder they love candy’s colorful packaging! If your healthy food looks fun, your children may think it will be fun to taste, too! Try getting creative in the kitchen with festive-looking healthy snacks, like spider crackers or fruity ghosts and pumpkins. For more ideas, I shared 6 healthy Halloween treat ideas on KTLA-TV here.

3. Sneak in veggies – In an effort to cancel out the potential increase of sugary treats during this time of year, I’m always trying to find ways to sneak in extra veggies into my kids food. Spinach and zucchini are two great vegetables that hardly have any taste when blended or cooked into food. I always add spinach to my kids’ smoothies, and I’ve recently started shredding zucchini into all breads, muffins and pancakes. Check out how I add zucchini into an easy Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread mix on Instagram here.

4. Make it fun and pressure-free – Hype up those fruits and veggies! Talk with your children about how healthy food is “growing food.” All young kids are so excited about growing! Eat healthy food with them! Your their best role model. And, let your kids play with their food! That’s right, I said it… Allow them to PLAY with their food! Let them make their bell pepper stick into a train or build a house out of watermelon cubes. The more they touch their food, the more likely they’ll eat it. The more your pressure them, the less likely they’ll eat it. Their little brains want to know that they’re in control of their bodies, so the more you force certain foods, the more power they’ll desire to reject it.

5. Don’t worry, it’s temporary! – Halloween is one time of year. Just because your child ate four Snickers and an unlimited amount of Skittles on one night does not mean that this is their new normal. If anything, it’s valuable for your child to participate in Halloween and learn how a sugar overdose affects their body. When the night is over, ask your child to describe how their body feels. They may complain of tummy aches, headaches, or being tired the next day. It’s a good opportunity to speak with them about how different foods affect our bodies. Instead of withholding candy from your child (which will likely make them resentful toward you), utilize the holiday as a teachable moment.

Green Goblin Smoothie Bowls blended with spinach and berries and topped with dried fruit and nuts for faces!

Do you have any tips to get kids to eat healthier? Share below in the comments!

For more easy recipes and fun ideas for the family, be sure to follow me on Instagram and TikTok!

XO Maggie

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love. For more information about affiliates and your privacy, view our Terms & Conditions page here.

Best Cozy Weather Crock Pot Recipes

Cooking, Kitchen, Lifestyle
Ready to put together my favorite Tuscan Chicken from Easy Family Recipes

While it doesn’t feel much like fall weather in Southern California yet, my autumn-loving bones tell me a leaf is falling somewhere in the Northeast and its time for all things cozy!

Cozy Shackets…

Cozy Blankets…

Cozy Shoes…

And the BEST…

COZY COOKING WITH THE CROCK POT!!!

My Crock Pot Story

I’ve been a fan of the Crock Pot ever since I was a little girl helping my mom make dinner for our family. Growing up in the South, I was always impressed by the cook-and-carry crock pots that made appearances at tailgates, church picnics and neighborhood potlucks. I thought those ladies were smart cookies. Not only did they serve delicious meals, they could easily transport their yummy food and keep it warm without dirtying another dish!

Fast forward 20 years to when I moved in with my boyfriend, who’s now my husband. My mother often told me the Southern women’s classic saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” and while that’s probably viewed as outdated now, I took no chances and started cooking us lots of meals. When stocking our new apartment’s kitchen with cooking tools, the Crock Pot was one of the very first appliances we purchased because it’s so versatile and can create complete meals in one pot! You don’t need a full set of pans when you have a Crock Pot! Plus, the single pot makes cleanup a breeze!

After we got our Crock Pot, I remember the first dinner request my boyfriend (now husband) had was beef pot roast. I had conflicting emotions over this request. On one end, I was excited to make my first meal in our brand-new Crock Pot. Beef pot roast was meal that my mother made us every Sunday after church for YEARS. On the other end, I dreaded eating the meal that my mother made for YEARS! While my mother made a delicious beef pot roast when I was a child, I had sworn off that comforting beefy goodness for the rest of my life! There’s just some things you can never eat again after having it over and over and over again! Alas, I made the pot roast… and he LOVED it! It made so much food for the two of us that we had dinner leftovers the next night, and he took the rest of the pot roast to work for lunch for a week! And, I have to admit, it tasted GOOD! Despite my reluctance to make the pot roast, I was really pleased with how it turned out. Plus, it felt really good making a meal for someone I loved and cared about. A meal that made him so happy! I was hooked on this Crock Pot! And my boyfriend was hooked on me! We married three years later.

Since that first Crock Pot meal in 2013, I’ve used my slow cooker hundreds of times. I love the “dump it and forget it” aspect of the Crock Pot. When I was busy working a strenuous job with a long commute, I’d put all my ingredients in the Crock Pot before leaving for work and adored coming home to my kitchen smelling of a delicious prepared meal. No one wants to cook after a dreadfully long day, and the Crock Pot was GOLD for that time of my life! Then, when I was pregnant with my second child, I made several crock pot freezer meals to have on hand those first few weeks with the new baby so I could pull together delicious, easy dinners with little effort. Nowadays, I use the Crock Pot for busy weeknight meals for our family or when I’m craving one of my favorite slow cooker recipes.

Speaking of my favorite slow cooker recipes, I’ve compiled my top 10 Crock Pot recipes below! These recipes are tried and true – easy to pull together and delicious! Perfect for busy weeknights or for when you simply want a tasty low-effort meal!

Top 10 Favorite Crock Pot Recipes:

Chicken Crock Pot Recipes:

Cream Cheese Crack Chicken Chili (Plain Chicken) – There’s a reason this recipe is called “Crack” Chili — it is so addicting! Creamy cheese, juicy chicken, and salty bacon make this recipe irresistible, and the subtle heat from the diced tomatoes and green chilies kicks this flavor up a notch! This is one of my family’s favorite meals and probably the Crock Pot recipe I make the most, mostly because the kids love it, too! Grab the full recipe from Plain Chicken here.

Honey Garlic Chicken (Family Food On The Table) – The best Crock Pot meals are the ones where you don’t have to do anything but dump it and forget it! No chopping, no searing of meat beforehand, no additional ingredients halfway through cooking. This Honey Garlic Chicken recipe is just that! Plus, it’s only five ingredients! I love to serve this over Asian rice and vegetables then top with green onions and red pepper flakes!

Tuscan Chicken (Easy Family Recipes) – This recipe is easy, delicious and loaded with veggies! Sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, spinach and diced onions make this Tuscan Chicken a healthy Italian favorite. Serve over mashed potatoes, cauliflower rice or your favorite pasta to make a complete hearty meal. This is another recipe that’s on repeat at our home because it feels like a different meal every time I switch up the sides. I also like to use the leftovers in a salad, wrap or sandwich!

Chicken Burrito Bowls (The Kitchn) – We do “Taco Tuesday” every week at our house, and while I adore tacos, I need to change it up sometimes. That’s when I look for other Mexican-inspired recipes like this easy Chicken Burrito Bowl from one of my favorite foodies sites The Kitchn. I love creating a build-your-own station for the family to create their perfect bowl with their choice of a variety of toppings, like cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, jalapeños, chives, etc. I collect hot sauce (seriously!), so this is my chance to sample one of my many spicy sauces!

Asian Peanut Chicken (Sweet Peas and Saffron) – This was one of the recipes I made and freezed for an easy dinner when my second baby was born! I love this Asian Peanut Chicken’s flavorful sauce, and the sweet potatoes in this dish make it a warm hearty meal.

Pork Crock Pot Recipes:

Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry Sauce (The Recipe Rebel) – I love to serve this Pork Tenderloin with Cranberry Sauce during the holidays because it looks and tastes like a fancy recipe, but in reality it’s SO EASY! Sever over mashed potatoes with a side of veggies or a salad and you’re dinner guests will be so impressed!

Baby Back Ribs (Spend With Pennies) – This baby back ribs recipe is one of my husband’s most favorite meals! The ribs come out of the Crock Pot fall-off-the-bone delicious! This recipe calls for creating your own rib sauce with BBQ sauce, chili sauce and ketchup, but I’ve tried only using our favorite BBQ sauce instead and it’s turned out great!

Tacos Al Pastor (Gimme Some Oven) – This taco meat is so juicy and delicious, you’ll think its from an authentic upscale Mexican restaurant! This Tacos Al Pastor recipe takes a bit more prep work at the beginning with chopping onions and pineapple and blending the sauce ingredients in a food processor, but I promise you its worth it! I like to use a big pork shoulder so we can eat on it all week making tacos, quesadillas, sandwiches and salads.

Beef Crock Pot Recipes:

Beef Gyros (365 Days of Crock Pot) – Greek food is one of my favorites, and this Beef Gyros recipe is so tasty and so easy! This includes an additional recipe for tzatziki sauce, but I like to make dinner even easier by purchasing pre-made tzatziki at the store. Serve beef in pita folds or with roasted Mediterranean vegetables!

Beef Pot Roast (Hamilton Beach) – This is the first recipe I ever made in my Crock Pot — the same recipe I mention at the top of this blog post that I could credit for turning my boyfriend into my husband! It’s so easy but so flavorful! Perfect for a warm and cozy meal in winter or a perfect Sunday family supper.

I hope my list of favorite Crock Pot recipes gives you inspiration for your next family meal! Let me know which of these recipes you want to try in the comments below! For more recipe ideas, parenting and lifestyle tips, follow me on Instagram and TikTok!

XO Maggie

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love. For more information about affiliates and your privacy, view our Terms & Conditions page here.

Homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars: Nut-Free and Gluten-Free!

Cooking, Kitchen, Lifestyle

Chewy chocolate chip granola bars were one of my favorite snacks growing up, and now it’s one of my children’s favorite foods!

The current back-to-school season brings me so much nostalgia for these nourishing granola bars, as I vividly remember reaching for these bars in between school and sports practice or being excited when I found one in my lunchbox packed by my mother.

Homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars taste better than the packaged name-brand bars!

As I got older, I phased out on snacking on them and eating most pre-packaged snacks in general for the health benefits of eating more whole foods.

When I became a mom, my kids starting requesting for me to buy more granola bars at the grocery store. I was happy to see them delight in the same snack that I loved when I was a kid, but I couldn’t help but be curious about the ingredients in them. I was shocked to see that our favorite chocolate chip granola bars have around 26 ingredients listed on the wrapper, including tons of processed ingredients like sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, sorbitol, soybean oil and “natural flavor” (whatever that is!).

Determined to create my own homemade version of our favorite chewy chocolate chip granola bars, I found this recipe from Love and Lemons that uses only seven simple ingredients! I took it a step further and made this recipe with nut-free ingredients, so my kids can easily take them to school!

Not only do my kids love these granola bars, my husband and I enjoy snacking on them, too! I actually think they taste better than the brand-name packaged bars! They’re so chewy and naturally sweet! These bars have become our easy go-to for after-school snacks and quick breakfasts when we’re short on time!

Homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

Scroll to the bottom of the page for this easy Homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars recipe!

What You Need to Make Homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

Tools & Equipment:

  • One 8×8 baking pan or pyrex dish – You’ll use this baking pan or dish to set and cool the granola bars in the fridge. A baking pan is preferred, but I’ve used pyrex dishes, too. If you use a pyrex dish, the granola bar mix may not all lay flat and the edges may turn up.
  • One large mixing bowl – I used my largest glass mixing bowl to stir all the ingredients together.
  • Measuring cups – Specifically, you’ll need 1 cup (250 ml), 1/2 cup (125 ml), 1/3 cup (80 ml), 1 Tbsp (15 ml) and 1 Tsp (5 ml).
  • Parchment Paper – I cut 2 pieces of parchment paper to fit the size of my 8×8 baking pan for setting and cooling the granola bars.
  • Cling wrap – Cover the granola bars as they cool with Glad Press’N Seal Wrap. You can also use the cling wrap to cover the granola bars to keep them fresh for the week. I’m obsessed with Glad Press’N Seal and use it in my kitchen all the time.
Homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars are made with only 7 simple ingredients!

Ingredients:

  • Natural Sunflower Seed Butter – I didn’t discover sunflower seed butter until I had to find an alternative for peanut butter for my son’s PB&J sandwiches for school. Most schools these days are nut-free. My son is such a picky eater and basically only eat PB&J sandwiches, so I was very nervous about whether he’d like the new seed butter. I’m happy to report that this SunButter sunflower seed butter is a hit! He’s never mentioned it tasting any different compared to regular peanut butter. In fact, I think he likes it more than peanut butter! For this recipe, make sure you use the natural sunflower seed butter because it’s more runny. The runnier the seed butter, the easier it will be to mix!
  • Honey – Almost any honey will do, but I prefer organic, raw and unfiltered for health benefits. Target’s Good & Gather Honey is good.
  • Vanilla Extract – This is a staple in my kitchen, as I use it for so many recipes! Rodelle Pure Vanilla Extract is a great, sustainable brand with only 3 ingredients and no sugar.
  • Sea Salt – Another easy staple in my kitchen! Can’t go wrong with classic Morton’s Sea Salt.
  • Rolled Oats – I discovered Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Organic Rolled Oats after I had children and started making more oatmeal, muffins and cookies from scratch. There’s no better brand! I’ve even started mixing them in smoothies to add more nutrients to my kids’ diet!
  • Mini Chocolate ChipsEnjoy Life Mini Chocolate Chips are the best to use if you’re concerned about nut and gluten allergies. My kids love them, so I’ll sneak a couple plain ones in their lunchboxes for a sweet treat.
  • Pepitas or Pumpkin Seeds – Pepitas are a type of pumpkin seed that I love tossing in salads, smoothies and granola. These Target brand pumpkin seeds are delicious and nut-free, so they’re school-friendly! I also like to buy the raw pepitas in bulk at Whole Foods, which would work perfectly for this recipe.

How to Make Nut-Free, Gluten Free Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

With the appropriate kitchen tools and ingredients on-hand, any novice chef can make these simple homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars! Here’s what to do:

  1. Prep your pan: Line your baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Stir wet ingredients: Combine the seed butter, vanilla extract, honey and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir very well!
  3. Mix dry ingredients: Fold in the rolled oats, mini chocolate chips and pepitas. The mixture will appear very dry, but keep stirring until it’s well combined.
  4. Make the bars: Scoop the mix into the parchment-lined dish and firmly press to the sides of the pan. Add another piece of parchment paper on top of the mixture and use the back of a large measuring cup to continue to flatten the top of the bars.
  5. Chill the bars: Cover the bars with cling wrap or foil, and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for one hour. It’s very important to let the bars fully chill for at least one hour; otherwise, they won’t stick together!
  6. Enjoy: Remove bars from the refrigerator, slice into bars, and enjoy! Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer to snack on these bars all week!
This is what the granola bar mixture will look like before adding to the pan!

Tips and Suggestions for Better Homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars

These homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars are already so easy to make, but here’s some tips to make whipping up a batch of these bars even easier:

  1. Use natural sunflower seed butter – The natural butters are usually the runniest, which will make stirring so much easier!
  2. Don’t cut the chill time short – I know you’re eager to taste these yummy treats, but please keep them in the refrigerator at least for one hour so you’re able to properly slice the bars without crumbling apart.
  3. Store in fridge or freezer – Because these bars are made with simple, natural ingredients, they need to be kept in the fridge or freezer to keep them fresh and from crumbling. I like to store them in an airtight container separated by parchment paper so they don’t stick together. You can eat them right out of the fridge. If you’re packing them for school, it’s best to add a cool pack in the lunchbox. If you’re storing them in the freezer, allow them to thaw for about 20-30 minutes before eating. The bars will keep for one week in the fridge and two months in the freezer.
  4. Only use mini chips – Regular sized chocolate chips are too large for the mixture to stick together. If you can’t find mini chocolate chips at the store, cut the regular sized chips into smaller pieces.
  5. Try other nut butters – If you’re concerned with allergies or prefer nut butters, you don’t have to use sunflower seed butter! This original recipe from Love & Lemons is made with natural peanut butter, and it’s very delicious!
  6. Switch up your mix-ins – We keep it simple with mini chocolate chips and pepitas, but feel free to swap in your favorite ingredients! Raisins, dried currants, dried cranberries, crushed peanuts or crushed almonds are really great options! For a sweet swap, trade the mini chocolate chips for mini white chocolate or dark chocolate chips, or try peanut butter chips! Yum!

Below is the simplest recipe for Homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars! Don’t forget to save this recipe to Pinterest!

Recipe: Homemade Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars (Nut-Free and Gluten-Free)

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Line 8×8 baking pan or pyrex dish with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together peanut butter, honey, vanilla extract and salt.
  3. Mix in the rolled oats, mini chocolate chips and pepitas. Stir until well combined.
  4. Press mixture into baking pan. Place a second piece of parchment paper on top of mixture and use a large measuring cup to press the mixture firmly to the pan and flatten. Cover pan with foil or cling wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least one hour.
  5. Remove from fridge, slice into bars and enjoy! Store bars in refrigerator for one week or freezer for two months.

Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear what you think! Let me know if you tried other mix-ins, like crushed peanuts, raisins or white chocolate, too!

For more easy recipes and lifestyle tips, be sure to follow me on Instagram and TikTok!

XO Maggie

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love. For more information about affiliates and your privacy, view our Terms & Conditions page here.

Hot New LA Date Spot: Avant Garden Bistro

dining, Lifestyle, Travel

One of my favorite perks of living in Los Angeles is access to phenomenal restaurants. There’s always a hot new restaurant, sought-after chef, or inventive new dish coming on the LA dining scene, and I love being one of the first to experience it! I was so delighted when I was invited to attend the launch party for Avant Garden Bistro Los Angeles, as I knew the restaurant’s original outpost in New York was getting lots of buzz for its creative vegan cuisine and beautiful atmosphere. Avant Garden Bistro is Overthrow Hospitality‘s first foray into the LA dining scene, and the founder Ravi DeRossi, a 2022 James Beard nominee, has received lots of recognition for his mission and reverence for plant-based dining.

Place Setting at Avant Garden Bistro’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Launch Party

The launch party was themed Midsummer Night’s Dream, so I took the opportunity to wear a whimsical summer dress by Banjanan that I purchased at one of my favorite stores in San Marino, Serafina.

Wearing the Bonnie Abstract Print Tiered Cutout Organic Cotton Dress at Midsummer Night’s Dream launch party at Avant Garden Bistro

Before my TV hosting life, I worked in the hospitality industry as a publicist representing some of the most prestigious hotels and restaurants around the world, and I’ve continued to always have an interest in seeking exceptional dining experiences. Giving you that background was my nice way of saying that I’m a bit of a hospitality snob! With that in mind, I want you to know that Avant Garden Bistro nailed everything – the food, ambiance, and service were all top notch!

FOOD

My favorite thing about the vegan cuisine at Avant Garden Bistro was that Chef Sarah Sterns wasn’t trying to mask the plants in her dishes or turn them into something they’re not. Personally, I’ve never been into eating faux hamburgers, so it was refreshing to see gorgeously plated plants and taste Chef’s extraordinary flavor combinations. I genuinely love eating vegetables and enjoy finding new ways to cook and eat them at home, so dining at Avant Garden Bistro was a fun and tasty exploratory experience for me!

Eggplant Toast at Avant Garden Bistro Los Angeles

The vegan tapas menu is divided into three sections: “Toast,” “Cold,” and “Hot.” At the launch party, three of the toasts were passed for us to sample as we arrived and waited to be seated for dinner. We tried the Cremini Toast with walnut puree, red grape and calabrian chili, Eggplant Toast with pickled apricots, miso and parsley, and the English Pea Toast with pickled hon shimeji, tahini, balsamic and basil. My favorite of the three was the Eggplant Toast. The sweet pickled apricots combined with the savory miso provided a rich umami sensation.

Roasted Carrot at Avant Garden Bistro Los Angeles

Once we were seated for dinner, we were served a variety of “Cold” and “Hot” dishes. Standouts on the “Cold” menu were the Shaved Brussels, made with turmeric goddess, dried currant and almonds (perfect if you want something that feels like a light salad), and the Avocado with sushi rice, carrot ginger dressing, blistered shishito, and miso glaze, which is reminiscent of an addicting sushi roll. My favorite of the “Hot” dishes was the Roasted Carrot with pistachio chermula, spring onion soubise and blood sorrel. It was unlike any carrot dish I’ve eaten before with unique flavor combinations and so filling! Another standout was the Smoked Bok Choy with sourdough fritter, succotash, and soy citrus butter. This dish reminded me of my southern roots with the fritter and succotash. This also was a hearty tapas dish that left me very satisfied. Some people believe that they can’t get full at tapas or vegan restaurants, but I promise that you will not leave hungry here!

DRINKS

Avant Garden Bistro specializes in wine-based cocktails and natural wines. The wine-based cocktails are by Master Mixologist Sother Teague from Amor Y Amargo and showcase a variety of unique flavors. My favorite was the floral Green City cocktail, made with dry vermouth, cucumber juice, lime juice, saffron, and dry white sparkling wine, but I also found the Vista Sour, made with carpano antica, lemon, blood orange, cacao nib bitter and vanilla, to be very interesting and worth a try for anyone looking for an adventurous cocktail!

Vista Sour cocktail at Avant Garden Bistro Los Angeles

Curated by Master Sommelier Brett Zimmerman, the wine list is comprised of natural, sustainable wines. We sampled a variety of wines, and the 2019 Porta Del Vento ‘Luna Calante’ from Sicily stood out to me the most with its amber color and that tasted deep and fresh at the same time. It worked well with all the plant-based tapas, and I could see myself enjoying sipping this wine in summer and winter.

My favorite wine, 2019 Porta Del Vento ‘Luna Calante’, at Avant Garden Bistro Los Angeles

DECOR

Avant Garden Bistro’s stunning outdoor patio gives guests the feeling of dining in a secret garden. Designed by veteran set designer Andrew Nowling, the space offers guests the opportunity to dine under the stars in an enchanted atmosphere adorned with twinkling chandeliers, mysterious statues and murals, and lush florals. It’s the perfect romantic space for a date night!

Gorgeous outdoor patio at Avant Garden Bistro Los Angeles

Inside, the restaurant resembles an upscale French bistro with plush red velvet dining booths and ornate lighting, yet still feels like an intimate neighborhood watering hole. This is where you grab a drink and a couple tapas with friends after work. Live music throughout the evening, including a beautiful harpist and bassist, and the restaurant’s friendly staff added to the evening’s magical atmosphere.

Interiors at Avant Garden Bistro Los Angeles
Fabulous service from staff who fit the whimsical atmosphere at Avant Garden Bistro Los Angeles

RESTAURANT DETAILS

  • Website: www.avantgardenbistro.com
  • Instagram: @avantgardenbistro_la
  • Location: 7469 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046
  • Phone: (323) 433-4141
  • Hours: Tuesday to Thursday: 5:00-11:00 p.m. | Friday and Saturday: 5:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. | Sunday and Monday: Closed
  • Reservations: Via Seven Rooms here

There was no detail overlooked at Avant Garden Bistro’s Los Angeles launch party, and I can’t wait to come back for a date night! Even if you’re not vegan, anyone will enjoy exploring Avant Garden Bistro’s creative food and drink menu in the restaurant’s spectacular atmosphere.

Would you try this new vegan tapas restaurant? Let me know in the comments below! I’d love to connect with you on Instagram and TikTok where you can find more content related to dining, travel and lifestyle!

XO Maggie

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love. For more information about affiliates and your privacy, view our Terms & Conditions page here.

Best Books to Prepare Your Child for Preschool

Lifestyle, Mom & Baby, Uncategorized

If you have a little one starting preschool soon, you may be nervous about how they’ll handle the transition. To help prepare your toddler for their first day of preschool, I recommend reading children’s books with them that give a fun and comforting look into what their time at school will be like.

Personally, I was a worried wreck about my firstborn starting school when he was 2 years old. He was pandemic toddler who had been stuck at home with mommy for several months prior to his first day of school. I was nervous that he’d miss me, not like his teacher, or have a hard time getting along with other toddlers. I was pregnant and without childcare or family nearby, and I knew that I’d need help caring for and stimulating our toddler when the baby was born. Preschool was the best option for us at that time, but it didn’t stop my motherly worries.

A couple months before his first day of school, I starting reading these children’s books, listed below, to my son about going to preschool hoping it would make the transition easier. After reading together, we’d chat about what he thought preschool would be like. To my satisfaction, he started getting really excited for preschool! I involved him in the process of picking out his lunchbox and backpack. We would drive by the school and talk about what we thought the kids and teachers were doing. We circled the first day of school on the family calendar on our fridge and talked about it every day… “Four more days until the first day of school!”

My son’s first day of preschool

I’m delighted to report that my son’s first day of preschool was a success! There were no tears, and he actually waved goodbye to me like he was glad I was leaving! The second week of preschool was when we started having some struggles saying goodbye. I think he realized that preschool was his new normal and maybe was concerned about how often he’d be away from mom. But, he only whimpered a little bit, never sobbed, and his teacher told me that once he got inside and started playing with his friends that he never asked about mommy again. I was so proud of us for making this transition together, but it also felt bittersweet. My baby was growing and didn’t need mommy all the time!

Help your little one prepare for preschool with our favorite picture books, below.

A few of our favorite picture books about starting preschool

4 Best Books to Prepare Your Child For Preschool:

  1. Preschool Day Hooray!, by Linda Leopold Strauss

Of all the books listed here, Preschool Day Hooray! was my son’s favorite book when we were preparing for preschool. The story positively shares a typical day in preschool from drop-off to pick-up with fun, upbeat rhymes. The children in the book do story time, dance, make arts & crafts, play outside, and even see what it’s like when someone gets an ouchie. Our favorite part was the end of the book when mommy comes back!

2. The 12 Days of Preschool, by Jenna Lettice

The 12 Days of Preschool is a fun book to read (or sing!) because it goes along to the same tune as “The 12 Days of Christmas” song. The book counts all the fun experiences children get to do at preschool in their classroom and outside, like sharing toy trains, riding tricycles, story time, and nap time. The colorful and busy pictures are fun for children to browse, and our book even came with stickers!

3. Our Class is a Family, by Shannon Olsen

I wanted our son to know that he would be safe and loved at school just like he is at home, and Our Class is a Family is a great book for sharing this concept. The book explains that school is kids’ home away from home where they are respected and accepted just the way they are. The book encourages children to build a community and strengthen friendships at their school. I loved this book for preschool prep, because it helped our toddler not feel intimidated by the new teachers and students he’d be spending his days with.

4. The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn

This book, The Kissing Hand, is wonderful for families dealing with separation anxiety. The story follows a child raccoon, Chester, who is nervous about his first day of school. His mother raccoon shares a sweet family secret that helps calm his fears and gives him the confidence to be away from home. This book is filled with empathy and compassion for little ones worried about being away from mommy and daddy. You can use it for more than preschool – day care, camp, overnights with grandma, etc. !

What favorite picture books have you read with your child to help with the transition to preschool? Please share your recommendations with me in the comments below! I’d also love to connect with you on Instagram and TikTok!

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love. For more information about affiliates and your privacy, view our Terms & Conditions page here.

Tips for Last-Minute July 4th Entertaining

Holidays, Lifestyle

Even if you love entertaining, last-minute parties can stress out even the most seasoned hostess. Believe me, I’ve been there!

This is how it typically goes…

We’re days away from a holiday, a weekend, or some other fun reason to celebrate. While being so busy in our day-to-day grind, my husband and I realize we don’t have much plans to celebrate but get an itch for some extra fun. We take a day to chat with friends and realize others are in the same boat. We decide last-minute to host a party at our home. Sometimes the party is small, but other times, we’ve had 30+ people come to our house! No matter the size, we’re always scrambling last-minute to make the party a success! After doing this a few times, I’ve found the perfect combination of retailers to help with hosting a fabulous last-minute bash: Bristol Farms, Michaels and Target! These are my trusty go-to’s for food, drinks, decor and entertainment to keep you sane and your guests happy! Incorporate these retailers with a few no-fail hosting tips (mentioned below), and your short-notice soiree is sure to be a hit!

As July 4th is just a couple days away, I have outlined all the tips you need to host a star-spangled Independence Day celebration on short notice with the help of Bristol Farms, Michaels and Target, below! I also secured a couple batch cocktail recipes from the lead bartender at Hotel Amarano, Burbank’s chicest hotel, to make serving drinks a tasty breeze!

But, first, let’s go over my top tips to make hosting a last-minute party a success…

Tips for Hosting a Party Last-Minute:

Keep It Simple! – A last-minute party is not the time to try that new recipe you pinned or get fancy in the kitchen. Cook something you know. When in doubt, serve what you would normally be serving to your family but just zhuzh it up a bit with presentation, dipping sauces, additional sides, etc. For example, we were hosting a brunch party and our family normally eats eggs and bacon on the weekends. I made an egg-and-bacon casserole with different salsas on the side and served some high-end pre-made pastries and fruit on the side. So easy, yet so crowd-pleasing!

Presentation is Everything – Nice platters and dishes immediately elevate a party. Beautiful presentation gives off the impression that you’ve been planning your party for days — even if you simply take store-bought food out of the plastic containers and add it to porcelain platters! Elevate your drinks, too! Simply adding sliced lemons and limes to a pitcher of water easily adds a sophisticated vibe.

Shop Your Home – Before you rush out to the store to search for items that fit your party’s purpose or theme, first, take a look around your home to see what can be easily repurposed. For example, if you’re hosting a July 4th party, pull out the red napkins from Christmas and tie a white and blue ribbon around them for your table setting. Walk around your garden to pull flowers and greenery that could look beautiful in a vase or scattered throughout your table. Do you have a mini chalkboard, felt letter board, or other type of signage? Add a festive message, like “Home of the Brave” or “God Bless America” for a July 4th party, and you immediately have party decor!

Enlist Help – Last-minute parties should never be done alone! If a guest offers to help, take it! Ask them to bring an appetizer, dessert, or ice. It’s a fact that a party can never have too much ice. That seems to be the first thing that always goes! Tap a close friend to show up early to help set up. Don’t let it all fall on you. You’ll be surprised how many people truly want to help!

How to Host a Last-Minute July 4th Party

Food & Dessert: Bristol Farms Ready-to-Go Meats & Sides

Thank goodness for Bristol Farms, California’s gourmet grocer, to elevate any party with their easy catering and pre-made deli to-go options. For July 4th, they have a large variety of ready-to-go meats that are perfect for a cookout. Take the Bristol Farms Big Time Tri-Tip, for example… marinated for 6 hours and cooked to perfection. If you ask any of the Bristol Farms butchers, they will tell you that the tri-tip is their favorite cut of beef. This USDA Choice cut is part steak, part roast, and totally delicious – with just the right amount of marbling for maximum tenderness. Your guests will be so impressed! And, there’s the Smoked Baby Back Ribs — my personal favorite! They are fall-off-the-bone delicious! Bristol Farms helps round out your BBQ with all their gourmet ready-made sides, too, like Grilled Summer Corn Salad, Spinach Pasta Salad and classic Potato Salad.

If you’re in the mood to grill, there’s nothing more patriotic than the classic July 4th burger cookout, and let me tell you… Bristol Farms kills it in the burger patty game!! Not only do they have the most high-quality classic burger patties made with all-natural Choice ground sirloin that they grind daily, they also offer impressive STUFFED patties that you can easily pick-up and take home to grill, like a Bacon Cheddar Burger, Black and Bleu Burger and Black Bean Veggie Burger. My favorite way to elevate burger cookout is to offer a “DIY Burger Bar.” Simply offer several types of patties and set-out some really cool fixings, like caramelized onions, hummus, bleu cheese, gourmet pickles, etc. You also have to offer the classic mustard and ketchup, of course.

Finish your meal with an adorably festive ready-made dessert from Bristol Farms. Not only do these desserts taste divine, they are the perfect patriotic piece on your July 4th tablescape! On the July 4th holiday, you’ll be able to pick up the Tiered Patriotic Cake, Patriotic White Cake, and Red, White, Blue Star Pie!

July 4th Desserts from Bristol Farms

Drinks: Batch Cocktail Recipes from Hotel Amarano & Ashland Hard Seltzer

The key to hosting a successful last-minute party is great drinks. When it comes to cocktails, I prefer to serve a couple batch cocktails in a pitcher. This way, no one is playing bartender and it keeps the mess at a minimum. When planning my July 4th cocktails this year, I tapped Norm Downs, the lead bartender at Hotel Amarano, to give me some tried-and-true crowd-pleasing recipes. For some background, Hotel Amarano is the most upscale hotel in Burbank and has long been known as a popular haunt for entertainment industry insiders. The hotel recently underwent a major renovation and has the chicest vibe. You don’t have to be a guest to visit. Locals love to hang out at FYC Bar + Kitchen for the relaxed yet glamorous atmosphere and consistently great food and cocktails.

FYC Bar + Kitchen at Hotel Amarano | Photo Source: Hotel Amarano

Here’s the two tastiest summertime drinks Hotel Amarano’s lead bartender suggested to make in pitchers to serve to July 4th party guests:

Summertime Cucumber Basil Tom Collins (makes about 8 servings)

Photo Source: Reddit.com

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups Hendrix gin
  • 1.5 cups sweet and sour
  • 3 cups club soda
  • 1 cucumber, sliced
  • 1 bunch basil, chopped

Directions:

  1. Fill a 90 oz. pitcher with ice and add sliced cucumber and basil.
  2. Pour gin, sweet and sour, and club soda into pitcher and stir.
  3. To serve, pour into a glass filled with ice and garnish with a cucumber slice.

Classic Margarita Pitcher (makes about 10 servings)

Photo Source: Liquor.com

Norm tells me he prefers Hornitos Plata when making margaritas, and I completely agree! It’s inexpensive and a good tequila for mixing. However, feel free to use any tequila you wish!

Ingredients:

  • 15 oz. tequila
  • 5 oz. triple sec
  • 15 oz. Bristol Farms Housemade Margarita Mix

Directions:

  1. Pour tequila, triple sec and margarita mix into a large pitcher and stir.
  2. To serve, salt the rim of a chilled glass (optional). Pour margarita over ice and garnish with lime.

Another festive pitcher cocktail that’s perfect for July 4th is my Red, White & Blue Summer Spritz. It’s so easy to put together and the red and blue berries make it a very patriotic sipper.

If you want to keep drinks extra simple, all you have to do is serve your favorite selection of beer, wine and/or seltzer. For my party guests, I’m obsessed with Ashland Hard Seltzer! It’s made right here in California and crafted with all-natural ingredients for outstanding taste and purity. Ashland Hard Seltzer is 99 calories, 5% alcohol with no sugar, no fat, zero carbs, malt-free and gluten free. It’s variety pack includes several fun flavors for any summer BBQ, like watermelon, blackberry lemonade, mango strawberry and pineapple. There’s even a special edition Bellinger Bomb, a collaboration with Cody Bellinger from the Dodgers, that’s reminiscent of the Bomb Pop popsicle -– the can is red, white and blue, so it’s perfect for July 4th! Ashland Hard Seltzer is available almost everywhere you buy alcohol including Ralphs, Target, Sprouts, Total Wine and more.

Decorations: Michaels

I’ve been going to Michaels for as long as I can remember, and I’m always perusing the store’s aisles for upcoming parties, decor, crafts, children’s activities, and gifts! When it comes to prepping for any celebration, Michaels is my first stop!

For July 4th, Michaels has the best selection of Independence Day decor with their exclusive red, white and blue décor collection, Lady Liberty​. This year, I scored platters, plates, buckets, tabletop decor, and so much more to make our July 4th party extra festive!

If you want to get creative, they have so many fun and easy craft ideas on their website and app! My kids and I created these simple craft stick American flags, which can add flare to a tablescape or look cute in a flower pot. I love shopping their floral department and getting creative with new ways to make holiday decor. Check out my “MOM” sign I made for Mother’s Day in my KTLA TV segment here.

One amazing and admirable thing to note about Michaels — If you’re military, you get 15% off your entire purchase! This discount is available all year long — not just on July 4th!

Entertainment: Target Sun Squad Backyard Games & Activities

Would I be a “modern mom” without recommending something from Target?! While perusing my multi-week pit-stop, AKA Target, a couple years ago, I discovered their amazing in-house brand Sun Squad. This brand has EVERYTHING for a fun summer outdoors with your friends and family at an affordable price. Jump over to Target right now to explore what can make your last-minute July 4th bash a fun time for guests of all ages. If you have young children attending, grab these large Bubble Wands – every little one LOVES bubbles! A great game for the whole family is the Giant Tumbling Tower or Giant Connect Four. If you have a pool, the Inflatable Cornhole is a fun twist on the classic lawn game. They seriously have everything — lawn games, beach towels and mats, pool floats and rafts, water and beach toys, and more! You’ll use your Sun Squad gear all summer long! You also can take advantage of Target’s convenient same-day services like Drive Up, Order Pickup and Same-Day Delivery with Shipt. Target makes it so easy to prep for a last-minute party!

If you like these ideas, be sure to tune into KTLA-5 Morning News on the morning of July 4th at 11:45 a.m. to see me share more ways to host a last-minute July 4th celebration! The segment also will be posted online at KTLA.com!

If you’re looking for more July 4th party ideas, check out these related posts, linked below!

  • Easy July 4th Trifle – This dessert is so easy, it’s scary! Perfect for a last-minute party or if you simply hate to bake!
  • July 4th Fruit Skewers – The cutest little treat that your kids will have so much fun making with you!
  • Red, White & Blue Summer Spritz – An easy, festive cocktail that will not only taste great but will look beautiful on your party table!

The Red, White & Blue Summer Spritz is one of my favorite party cocktails! Here’s a little how-to video:

How to make Red, White & Blue Summer Spritz!

Do you have any great last-minute hosting tips? What are your plans for July 4th? I hope you’ll share in the comments below! For more entertaining and family-friendly ideas, follow me on Instagram and TikTok!

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love. For more information about affiliates and your privacy, view our Terms & Conditions page here.

Red, White and Blue Summer Spritz Cocktail Recipe

Cooking, Holidays, Lifestyle

The 4th of July, my favorite holiday, is just around the corner and I’m prepping and planning what to serve our party guests! When it comes to making cocktails for a large group, I prefer easy batch cocktails that look pretty in a pitcher on your table but also are so simple to serve! No one has to play bartender making individual cocktails when you have a ready-to-serve pitcher filled with a yummy libation!

Feeling festive with my Red, White and Blue Summer Spritz!

This year, we’ll have this Red, White and Blue Summer Spritz available for our guests. The red strawberries, blue blueberries and white wine make this drink perfect for a July 4th party. I love sticking to a theme when hosting guests, so I’m going all out with red, white and blue everything!

The best part about this cocktail — it’s SO EASY! You don’t have to be a master bartender to pull this off! Plus, it’s affordable! Don’t worry about impressing guests with expensive white wine in this drink. The wine will be mixed with simple syrup, club soda, and berries, so your guests will have no idea you used bottom-shelf wine! Garnish the cocktail with a sprig of fresh rosemary or mint to add some flare and make it look fancy! I like savory cocktails, so I prefer rosemary, but mint is perfect for summer! I promise you’ll like this cocktail so much, you’ll be sipping it all summer!

Below is my recipe for Red, White and Blue Summer Spritz!

Red, White and Blue Summer Spritz Cocktail!

Red, White and Blue Summer Spritz Cocktail

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Fill a pitcher with ice
  2. Add 1/2 cup each of sliced strawberries and blueberries into the pitcher
  3. Pour simple syrup and bottle of wine until pitcher is 3/4 full
  4. Pour club soda to fill remaining 1/4 of pitcher and stir to combine
  5. To serve, fill glass with ice and pour in spritz. Garnish cocktail with additional berries and a sprig of fresh rosemary or mint to your taste

If you’re looking for more July 4th party ideas, check out my other posts, linked below!

What do you like to serve your July 4th party guests? Let me know in the comments below, or connect with me on Instagram and TikTok!

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love. For more information about affiliates and your privacy, view our Terms & Conditions page here.

Help Your Child Learn to Swim!

Lifestyle

Summer is officially in full swing, which means it’s time for pool parties, beach visits, and water play! If you have a little one in your house, you’re probably concerned about whether your child is water safe… Good for you, mama and dada! It’s so important to get our children comfortable around water at a young age! After all, the CDC reports that drowning is the #1 cause of accidental death for children ages 1-4, and no parent wants to experience the nightmare of an accidental drowning.

At the beginning of this summer, I made a concerted effort to get my kids swimming on their own. We recently remodeled our backyard with a new pool, and it was very important to my husband and me that our children would be safe in and around the water. I’m so proud to say that at 3.5 years old and 19 months old, both kiddos are swimming! Currently, the oldest one can swim to the bottom of the shallow end and pick up diving toys. He also can take a breath on his own while swimming across the pool and he’s working on developing his freestyle stroke. The youngest one can swim about 14 feet across the pool. She hasn’t mastered taking a breath while swimming yet, but I think she might before summer ends! Both children know how to find the edge of the pool when in trouble, which is a relief to mama. But, my favorite part about their swimming is that they LOVE it! They love feeling their weightless body in the water and exploring new ways to play in the pool. It’s so rewarding for me as a mama to see my kids safely love and play in the water!

Playing in the pool with my youngest child

I’ve been so happy with my kids’ progress this summer that I’ve been sharing videos of them swimming on my Instagram and TikTok. Every time I post a video, I get so many DM’s from parents asking for tips on how to get their children to swim, too. As a former swim instructor, I wish I could take all the credit, but my kids aren’t always fond of following my swim guidance – haha! But, because there’s been so much interest from other parents, I wanted to share a post about what’s worked for our family to get our kids swimming! Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this page to check out some of my favorite kid-friendly pool products, too!

Watch our 19-month-old swim!

6 Tips to Help Your Child Learn to Swim

  1. Exposure, Exposure, Exposure!

This is listed as the first tip because it’s the most important! The more your child is in the water, the more comfortable they will get with how their body feels in the water and more likely they are to easily learn to swim. Please don’t consider swim lessons the same as practice for another sport or activity. Unlike going to their once-a-week dance class or twice-a-week basketball practice, little kids need to be in the water almost daily to learn to swim. When I was a lifeguard and swim instructor (almost 15 years ago – yikes!), I’d teach morning swim lessons on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. There were some kids whose parents only brought them to the swim lessons and I never saw them at the pool any other time. Then, there were the parents who let their kids stay after swim lessons to play. Even better, there were a couple parents who brought their child every day to the pool to play. Guess who learned to swim that summer? The kids who came to the pool every day were little fish by time the summer was over! The ones who only showed up to the lessons knew the basics but ultimately weren’t very comfortable in the water. I know this can be a challenge for families who don’t have regular access to a pool. If you take lessons at a public pool, ask the instructor if it’s okay for your child to play on the steps for 10 minutes when the lessons are over. Even a baby pool or smaller inflatable pool at home is a great way to get your child exposed to water play. Let them play longer in the bathtub, too! Scroll to the bottom of this post to see some of my favorite baby pool products!

Playing in a baby pool to help with exposure to water

2. Take Swim Lessons

As a former swim instructor, I honestly never thought I’d need to sign my children up for swim lessons. I thought that water exposure and my own instruction would be good enough. Well, just like almost every parent-child relationship that’s come before us, my firstborn child was not interested in my instruction. As he was getting older and still not swimming on his own, I decided it was time to bring in assistance. We did an 8-day intensive private swim lesson that was 30 minutes a day for our oldest and 15 minutes a day for our youngest. The oldest was in a class with two other kids his age. My youngest did her class alone. I was thrilled with the results of our lessons! After 8 days, both kids were swimming to the wall on their own! Lessons with an instructor other than myself forced my children to learn the skills they needed to get comfortable in the water. The lessons helped my kids develop a respect and love for the water, because they were doing it on their own. They felt proud that they could swim without mommy! It also was fun my for my oldest to swim with other kids his age. While the 8-day private swim lessons are a phenomenal way to get your kid swimming, I believe that any swim instruction is beneficial. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see recommended swim lessons in Pasadena, Calif. and surrounding areas!

Our son Landon, age 3, at semi-private swim practice

3. Allow for Free Play

It’s just as important to give your child the opportunity for free play in the water as it is to give them swim lessons! This way, your child associates the pool with fun rather than only strict instruction. If getting in the pool is fun, they’re more likely to swim! This is especially great for the kids that are scared of water or nervous about lessons with a new teacher. To incorporate more free play, I recommend getting to your swim lessons 15 minutes early and sitting on the steps with your kids with a water safe toy of their choice — maybe a plastic car, boat, or doll from home, for example. You can also bring water toys or diving toys, but if they’ve never played with a diving stick before, it may add to the uncomfortable nature of the pool. Bringing something they’re familiar with makes it safe. Allow your child to go at their pace to get in the pool and get used to the water. After swim lessons, ask the instructor if you can stick around for a few minutes to play more. If the facility has a baby pool, that’s a fun place to let your child free play, too. As I mentioned before, the more exposure they have to water – no matter where it is – the better. Encourage other children from swim lessons to join in. If you have easy access to a pool, schedule pool play dates so your kids learn how much fun it is to swim with friends! Even playing with kids in mini plastic or blow-up pools at home is helpful. I included a few options for baby pools at the bottom of this page, along with some toys that are great for free play.

Our daughter enjoying unstructured free play in the water

4. Play With Them

Let your kids see how much fun swimming can be by playing with them in the water! Not only do little kids love the opportunity to play with their parents, but they’re also the best mimickers at this young age. I promise that if your child sees you enjoying the water, they’ll have more interest in playing in the water, too! Imagine being forced to do swim lessons in a big scary pool with a stranger while your parents sit off to the side and watch. That’s not always a fun situation for a little one, especially if their personality is more on the sensitive side. But, if you got in the water to play with your kids in between lessons, I’m certain they’d start feeling more comfortable with a little bit of time. When I get in the water with my kids, I try to show them what fun things they can learn by blowing bubbles, floating on my back, swimming to the bottom of the pool, doing handstands and front flips, etc. They love watching mommy be playful! Be sure to make it pressure-free playtime. Ask if they want to try to blow bubbles with you, and if they say no, respect it. Eventually, they come around and want to play, too!

My husband playing in the pool with our toddlers

5. Bring Positive, Patient Energy

Your children match your attitude towards the water. If you act fearful of the pool, so will they. If you love the water, your children will, too. Be really conscious of your reactions when they’re around the water. Don’t panic or overreact when they get splashed or accidentally go under water. That will immediately teach them that the pool is not a safe place. If they accidentally go under water, calmly pick them up, look at them in the eyes, and say something caring but relaxed like, “Whoa! You went under! Was that fun?” It also helps to give them a positive pep talk before swimming so they enter the situation confidently. For example, when we’re driving to swim lessons, I like to positively narrate to my children what they can expect from the day. I’ll usually say something like this: “We’re on our way to swim lessons. It’s going to be fun so fun! Coach Tim (or enter the name of your swim instructor here) is so nice and wants to help you be a great swimmer. There will be other kids there to play with, too! It’s a big pool, but you’ll only swim in a small area. Mommy is so excited to watch you swim with everyone. We’ll all be watching you and close by, so you’ll be very safe. You should be so proud of yourself for trying something new today!” Setting up positive expectations for your child helps reduce the fear around learning to swim! Lastly, please be patient with your little one. I know it can get frustrating to see your child sitting on the edge of the pool while the other kids happily play in the water, but allowing your child to go at their own pace will help them develop trust with the water and you. As long as you keep exposing your child to the fun of the pool, I promise they’ll eventually learn to swim!

Don’t be concerned if your child is like mine — desperately holding on to the side instead of playing with the other kids. This is the same child that is swimming freestyle in the video I shared earlier in my post! This picture and that video were taken one week apart! All kids come around with time!

6. Don’t Introduce Floaties

Okay, this is a tough one. I know those baby and toddler floaties can be so tempting to put on your children to ensure they’re safe in the water. But, if you really want your kid to start swimming at a young age, don’t even bother. The floaties are a signal to children that they’re not safe in the water without them. Floaties quickly become a crutch and a very tough item to transition away from. Because I used to be a lifeguard and swim instructor, I swore to myself that I wouldn’t introduce floaties to my kids. While I was working at the pool everyday, I saw firsthand how the kids who became attached to their floaties took longer to swim on their own. Flash forward to a decade later when we were at a pool party with our 2 year old and 7 month old, and to be honest, my husband and I were TIRED of holding and entertaining our children in the water. As exhausted new parents, we craved a moment to chill by the pool and talk to adults while our kids played safely in the water. We saw this swim vest on another child and liked it because it didn’t have big tubes around the arms like other traditional swim floaties. I thought it could be a good floaty that would still encourage our children to learn to use their arms in the water. We got one for our oldest child, and while it did give mom and dad a few breaks by the pool, he got addicted to the swim vest. He knew he was safe in it because mom and dad acted more relaxed when he was wearing it. Before we knew it, he wouldn’t take off the swim vest even if we offered to hold him in the water. He finally broke the swim vest habit once we put him in the 8-day intensive private swim lessons, but looking back, I really wish I would have kept him out of it from the beginning. With that said, if you are a parent that just never wants to get in the water or can’t keep a close eye on your child, buy the floaties. It’s better to be safe above everything else. But, if you want your child to be a confident swimmer at a young age, don’t do floaties. Our youngest, who is 20 months old, has never worn floaties and she can swim about 14 feet across the pool by herself. She can swim out, turn around, and swim back to the edge. It’s amazing to me!

Those are my six tips to help encourage your child to learn to swim! I’d love to hear your tips on how you taught your child learned to swim, too! Let me know in the comments below or connect with me on my Instagram and TikTok!

My happy swimmers!

Best Products for Early Swimmers:

Mini Pools for Home:

If you don’t have a pool in your backyard and rarely have access to a big pool, it’s great to keep up exposure in a mini pool at home! Even if you do have a big pool in your backyard, our kids still love playing with their toys in a baby pool!

Mellow Yellow Kiddie Pool – A more aesthetically pleasing pool that adults may like to wade in, too.

Tropical Palm Splash Pool – Another more “adult” looking pool that you wouldn’t mind having in your backyard for a party.

Venezia Luxe Inflatable Pool – A luxury mini pool for your bougie baby.

Play Day Round Kiddie Pool – A cheapy but a goodie

Inflatable Ocean Scene Sun Shade Kids Swimming Pool – The canopy makes this a perfect first pool for your tiniest swimmers.

Swim Toys and Tools:

Chuchik Diving Toys: All the diving toys you need in a convenient mesh carrying bag.

Junior Kick Board – Our son fell in love with kick boards after a swim lesson and its been fun for him to practice his kicks.

Splash Swim Goggles – These goggles won’t get tangled in your child’s hair!

Kids Speedo Goggles – Trusted brand Speedo makes great kids goggles.

Swim Lessons Recommendations in Pasadena, Calif. and Surrounding Areas:

  • Rose Bowl Aquatics Center: The Rose Bowl Aquatic Center has long been recognized for its great swim lessons with experienced instructors. They have options for group, private, and semi-private lessons. If your child is under 3 years old, one parent has to be with the child in the water during lessons. The Rose Bowl Aquatic Center’s pool is outdoors, so I know it’s been a popular option for families in the summer or for people who don’t love indoor pools. I personally love that the Aquatics Center is right next to Brookside Park and Kidspace Children’s Museum. You can make a fun family day out of swim lessons by visiting Kidspace or hitting up the playground before or after the Aquatic Center. Learn more at https://www.rosebowlaquatics.org/.
  • Waterworks Aquatics Pasadena: Waterworks is dedicated to teaching children and adults the lifelong skills they need to feel comfortable and confident in the water. The pool is indoors and heated year-round, so its always comfortable for lessons. Waterworks has private lessons, semi-private lessons, and parent-and-me lessons. For kids 5 and older, Waterworks offers stroke clinics for kids to develop their technique. Learn more at https://www.waterworksswim.com/locations/pasadena
  • YMCA of the Foothills: You don’t have to be a member of the YMCA to take advantage of their phenomenal swim programs. The YMCA of the Foothills has three campuses, and two of them have indoor pools available for swim lessons: CCY (Crescenta-Canada) and VHY (Verdugo Hills). The YMCA offers parent-child lessons, group preschool lessons, youth lessons (ages 6-12), adult lessons, and private lessons. The group preschool lessons are especially attractive for parents who aren’t interested in getting in the water with their child. Learn more at https://www.ymcafoothills.org/aquatics.

What products have you loved for your little swimmer? Do you have any great recommendations on where to take swim lessons in the Pasadena or LA area? Let me know in the comments below, or connect with me on my Instagram and TikTok!

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love. For more information about affiliates and your privacy, view our Terms & Conditions page here.

Easy July 4th Dessert: Red, White and Blue Fruit Skewers!

Cooking, Holidays, Kitchen, Lifestyle
Festive in Red, White and Blue!

The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday! It’s the best of summer all rolled into one day — family, friends, BBQ, parties, yummy treats, fun drinks, great music, and fireworks!

We’re hosting our first big Fourth of July party at our house this year, and it’s a party I’ve been dreaming of hosting ever since we bought this home almost five years ago! We finally finished our backyard remodel last fall, and I can’t wait for everyone to enjoy our pool and great view of fireworks from our balcony this year!

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I love cooking and hosting parties. But, when it comes to hosting a really big party, like we are this year for July 4th, I’m all about making dishes that are simple, quick, and festive! That’s why I look for easy recipes that can feed a crowd but look fun to eat, too!

Enter: Red, White and Blue Fruit Skewers!

Easy Red, White and Blue Fruit Skewers

Because beautiful red strawberries and sweet blueberries are in season, it’s easy to add patriotic color to your July 4th party table. I love these Red, White and Blue Fruit because they’re fun to make AND eat! Your kids will love helping you assemble them! Just make sure they’re old enough to handle a wooden skewer without poking themselves! I love the mini marshmallows in this recipe because they instantly upgrade your treat from a simple fruit skewer to a dessert!

Ingredients for Red, White and Blue Fruit Skewers: Strawberries, Blueberries, Mini Marshmallows and Wooden Skewers

Here’s how to make Red, White and Blue Fruit Skewers!

Red, White and Blue Fruit Skewers Recipe:

Ingredients:

Directions:

  • Wash and dry strawberries and blueberries
  • Cut strawberries to match the size of blueberries and mini marshmallows
  • Thread berries and marshmallows onto skewer in red, white and blue pattern
  • Cover and store in fridge until ready to serve. Enjoy within 24 hours.
Red, White and Blue Fruit Skewers for the Fourth of July!

Other Ideas for July 4th Fruit Skewers:

  • Swap out mini marshmallows for bananas or angel food cake
  • Try other blackberries or raspberries instead of blueberries and strawberries
  • Use mini star shaped cookie cutters to make festive shapes out of the strawberries or angel food cake

Let me know if you try these skewers, and please share other fun July 4th dessert recipes with me! Be sure to follow me on Instagram and TikTok for more ideas!

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: Some of this post contains affiliate links for the products I use and LOVE. If you take action on these links (like clicking, buying, etc.), I may receive compensation at no cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own, and I’ll only recommend what I truly love. For more information about affiliates and your privacy, view our Terms & Conditions page here.

Kid-Friendly West Hollywood: The Best Dining, Hotels and Activities for Families in WeHo!

Lifestyle, Travel

I had so much fun speaking with Tracy Paaso and Felicia Terwilliger, hosts of the “We Know WeHo” podcast, about all things family related in West Hollywood! One of my biggest hopes in using this platform is to be a helpful resource to parents with young children. As a mommy with two little ones, I know firsthand how overwhelming and challenging it can be to make the transition from being young, fun and childless to a responsible new parent. I was one of the first of my friends to have kids and had no idea what to expect from parenthood, in addition to having no clue where to take my children in L.A.! Now, after a few years of experience, I’m here to help you find the best for families in Los Angeles – and, in this case, West Hollywood! Read on to learn more about my history with West Hollywood, and I’ll also recap all the kid-friendly restaurants, shops, hotels and activities that I mentioned in my interview on the “We Know WeHo” podcast! Read more about this podcast episode on Wehoville.com!

My West Hollywood Story

I absolutely love West Hollywood. During my 13+ years in Los Angeles (over 10 years living here and 3 years visiting), I have spent lots of time in West Hollywood. When I was single, it was a hotspot for nightlife, dining, and parties. My girlfriends and I used to love going to Skybar at Mondrian Hotel, The Belmont, Rock & Reilly’s, Pink Taco and the now closed Hyde Lounge, Pearl’s Rooftop, Bagatelle, and The Hudson. Once I started dating my now husband, we loved date nights at Laurel Hardware, Eveleigh, Katana Robata & Sushi Bar, Ysabel, and STK Steakhouse (which has now relocated to STK Westwood). Even after kids, date nights and group dinners with friends are always memorable in WeHo, especially at Catch, Cecconi’s, Gracias Madre, Toca Madera, and E.P. & L.P.

Before Kids! My 30th Birthday in West Hollywood at Toca Madera

West Hollywood is a fun destination for live entertainment. The music scene is legendary on the iconic Sunset Strip, and my husband I have spent lots of time there before and after kids watching live music and even playing live music — my husband used to play bass guitar in a local band! I’ve watched my husband play at The Viper Room and The Roxy, and we’ve seen some phenomenal shows at The Troubadour and Whisky A Go-Go. Our favorite date nights involve a comedy show, and there’s always top talent at Laugh Factory and the Comedy Store!

West Hollywood is a fabulous destination for working professionals, too, with its multiple co-working spaces and walking accessibility to so many great restaurants and shops! In 2017, I started my own PR business and bought-in at a co-working space called The Wing, which is the perfect place for working moms. The Wing is dedicated to inclusivity and lifting up women in the workforce, and the West Hollywood location was a great place for me to network with other working mommies and attend inspirational events hosted by top women in their respective industries. I once attended a screening and Q&A with Maggie Gyllenhaal that discussed her show “The Deuce” and focused on women in film and media’s portrayal of women. It was really cool! The Wing also has beautiful pump rooms for breastfeeding moms, and I’ve often seen strollers and children wandering around the space while moms work. I gave up my membership during the pandemic to create my own work-from-home space, but prior to the pandemic, The Wing offered “The Little Wing” which was a playroom and babysitting service. I’m not sure if they still have that now, but it was such an outstanding perk for moms – and kids!

Kid-Friendly West Hollywood

When most people think of West Hollywood, they imagine the very adult version of the city with its sexy dining, nightlife and music scenes, but I’m here to tell you that West Hollywood can be a very fun destination for kids, too! Below are the best restaurants, hotels, parks and activities that I mentioned in my “We Know WeHo” podcast interview with Tracy Paaso and Felicia Terwilliger. For all the juicy details on each business, you’ll have to take a listen to the podcast! Since Felicia is currently pregnant, we also discussed some of the best places for moms for prenatal and postpartum self-care! Check out the best WeHo businesses for families listed below, and take a listen to the podcast here! The podcast is also on Apple, Spotify and Google podcasts. My interview starts around the 35-minute mark.  

Enjoying the patio at Hugo’s while we wait for our food

Restaurants:

  • Hugo’s – Expansive menu for adults and great menu for kids! They provide crayons for coloring while you wait for your food! My kids like the macaroni and cheese and sitting on the patio!
  • Mel’s Drive-In – Fun classic diner! Kids food comes in car boxes!
  • Bottega Louie – Kids love the pastries!
  • Justin Quesos – Not necessarily designed for kids, but Tex-Mex is my favorite and kids live the queso and quesadillas! Go early for a more family-friendly atmosphere.
  • Shake Shack – Kids love the fries and frozen custard! Mommy and daddy love the burgers!
  • Carney’s – Iconic LA restaurant in a train car – so fun for kids!
  • Urth Caffe – We enjoy sitting on the patio. Or, you could get the food to go and make the 10 minute walk to Hollywood Park for a picnic!

Shops:

  • Eggy – Not technically in WeHo city limits, but serves many WeHo families with fashionable kids clothes and accessories.
  • Sunset Kids – High-end kids hop – great for gifts and novelty items!

Hotels:

  • Le Parc Suite Hotel – Recently renovated with colorful, artistic decor. All guest rooms are expansive suites with kitchenettes, fireplaces and sleeper sofas, so it is easy for families to make the hotel feel like home. Rooftop pool and rooftop tennis court are nice places for fun and recreation! While most WeHo hotels aren’t necessarily geared toward younger children, Le Parc Suite Hotel and it’s sister properties, Chamberlain and Montrose, are great for kids with their large suites, rooftop pools, access to house bikes and walkability to some of the best restaurants and shops in the U.S.!
  • Ziggy – Not exactly kid-friendly, but an awesome newly renovated property on the Sunset Strip to have a couples staycation without the kids! 

Classes:

  • BOUNCE LA –  An outdoor soft play gym and obstacle course led by fun coaches! Classes are not currently held at any WeHo parks, but they cater to a lot of West Hollywood families at their Coldwater Canyon location. The amazing coaches also host kids birthday parties in local families’ backyards and offer programs for schools!
  • PLAY Music & Art – A great selection of classes for your little artist or musician. This is another business that’s located on the edge of WeHo but serves many WeHo families. They also offer online classes, so you can utilize their classes anywhere!
  • West Hollywood Library Smarty Pants Class – Wonderful music and storytime class that helps prepare little ones for preschool and kindergarten.

Parks:

  • West Hollywood Park – Undergoing a massive renovation that includes a brand-new playground and aquatics center. This will be a fabulous place to take kids once its complete later this year!
  • Kings Road – Quiet, shaded park with a small play structure. Best suited for toddlers.
  • Plummer Park – Nice, small park for a picnic or to play tennis.
Playtime at Kings Road Park

Estheticians for Prenatal and Postpartum Self-Care:

  • SkinLab – Owner Joshua Ross saved my skin from pregnancy’s hormonal acne! He used to be based in WeHo when I was pregnant, but he’s now is located in West LA and South Bay.
  • Dermalogica – This flagship location recently opened in WeHo and has been a great place for postpartum skincare.

Family-Friendly Day Trips From WeHo:

  • Kidspace Museum – An amazing place for children to play and explore in Pasadena!
  • Exposition Park – The California Science Center is a great place for kids to explore and learn!
  • Griffith Park’s Travel Town – If your children love trains, they’ll get a huge kick out of this museum with several old locomotives to explore! There’s also a mini train ride!

Not Mentioned in the Podcast:

  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art – Just outside WeHo city limits, LACMA’s Boone Children’s Gallery hosts drop-in painting classes where their friendly staff provides tips on brush techniques. They even provide high chairs for our littlest artists! They also offer teen classes and camps that you can sign up for on the website. Kids under 17 can join their youth membership called NexGenLA where they can visit the museum anytime for free with a guest for free admission. Even babies can join!
  • The Grove – One of LA’s most beautiful outdoor shopping destinations, The Grove caters to many West Hollywood families (and all families across the LA!). It’s such a fun place for little ones with its trolley and fountains. My favorite restaurants at The Grove with kids are Blue Ribbon Sushi, Umami Burger and The Cheesecake Factory. Everyone loves a special treat from Sprinkles Cupcakes! The Grove has one of my most favorite children’s stores, Janie & Jack, along with a Nordstrom and Gap that offer clothing for kids of all ages.
  • Yardbird Restaurant – Located on the edge of WeHo at The Beverly Center, this is a tasty restaurant with a great kids menu! They serve elevated American classics like fried chicken, shrimp & grits, St. Louis style ribs and grilled blackened salmon. I love their brunch here!

What did I miss? Tell me your favorite family-friendly West Hollywood spots in the comments below or connect with me on Instagram at @maggiehjackson!