An Uncomplicated Life Blog: August 2019

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Tips And Tricks For Keeping Floors Clean With Infants And Toddlers

With four kids age five and under in our home, keeping the floors clean enough for tummy and playtime can be a challenge. Here's how we manage.

This conversation is sponsored by Swiffer at Sam’s Club. Opinions are my own.

One of the biggest shocks of having 10 month old twins is how much food ends up on the floor. I know I should be used to this by now, but honestly, Henry wasn't a food thrower. He had a phase at about 15 months where he thought feeding the dogs was more fun than himself, so I would lock the dogs up at meal time until that phase passed. Otto was such a big eater (still is) that he wasted NO food; everything went into his mouth and belly! The twins attack food with gusto, but sometimes it's a little too much gusto... And they miss their mouths. We eat our meals at our eat-in kitchen so the mess is contained to our brick floor, but I do allow the older boys to eat their afternoon snack in the living room and sometimes there's a spill. Keeping all my floors clean with two crawling babies is SO important to me! Not just because they're down there playing and moving, but because they also put everything in their mouths, so should they find a pretzel or some other fallen snack, I don't want choking hazards just lying around. Here are some of the best tricks I've learned for keeping the floors "tummy time ready" when you have young children, toddlers and babies around.

One of the most important things, I think, is creating rules around eating. Like I mentioned, we ONLY eat meals at the table in our eat-in kitchen; for special holidays, we sit in the formal dining room. But frankly, that's mostly where we do our arts and crafts. The kitchen is just a far more convenient place to eat for its proximity to the stove/where food is prepared and the ease of cleaning up. I think it's important to not just create rules about WHERE you eat but also how. My boys know they have to ask for permission to be excused before they get up. Once excused, they know to go to the half bath right off the kitchen to wash their hands. This has been the rule since they started eating "real" food, and will be the rule until they leave my home. I've consistently enforced it, so it's not a struggle. It's just the clear expectation, which results in them knowing how to behave at meal times, every time. There's no getting up and walking around which means food isn't being spread all over my house. There's no food in the playroom. Dirty hand prints on walls and wood trim is minimized (I'd love to tell you it's nonexistent, but... nah, my home has some greasy hand prints on the walls, we're not perfect!)

Create rules for your children around food/eating meals:

  • Consistently serve meals in one location so they know they can't walk around with food
  • Have regular, planned snacks so they don't constantly ask for them/you have a response with a time to eat when they do
  • Have snacks in the same spot so they know where to eat them (and they don't spill everywhere!)
  • Teach children to help you clean up from an early age
Typical mess after 10 month olds eat
The key to well behaved kids at meal time is consistent enforcing of the rules. If someone does get up, they're asked to sit down. If they get up again, they're done with dinner. I remove their plate and ask them to wash their hands, then they have to wait in their bedroom until everyone else is finished with dinner. I haven't had to do that in over a year, and once my kids were 3 years old they knew how meal times functioned so I only had to do it a few times. Believe me, if they go to bed hungry once or twice, a) they'll be just fine and b) it won't take long for them to realize you're serious about eating rules and they need to follow them.

Once rules are established for your kids, it's time to create some rules for yourself. Living in the South, I know that the longer messes hang around, the more likely I am to attract pests into my home! Yuck. That means I clean up after meals IMMEDIATELY after they're eaten. My older sons know how to carry their dishes to the sink or put them in the dishwasher if I have it open (and don't need to rinse off their plates) but my twins are a different story. They're just 10 months old. I usually wash them off at the sink, then have all four kids play together in their playroom (which is baby-gated so they all stay in there!) while I put dishes in the dishwasher, wipe down the table and high chairs, wash pots and pans, and clean up the floor under the high chairs. Then I move onto the floor under the table...

How we store some of our cleaning supplies
Swiffer Sweeper is one of the best inventions ever. We store it on a broom rack in our garage and I run out and grab it after meals. Depending on what I served, I can put on a dry cloth to trap dirt and crumbs. It works better than a broom! If I'm serving something sticky, I usually use a wet cloth on my Swiffer and it is much faster and more convenient than using a traditional mop and bucket. It has a scrubber on the end to really get the gooey stuff off, like mushed strawberries or jam or spaghetti sauce. With four kids and cleaning up after three meals a day, I can go through a lot of the wet/dry refills so I stock up at Sam's Club. I do nearly all my shopping at wholesale warehouses now and it saves so much money! Bonus for Sam's Club members, now through September 15, you can save $3 on Swiffer Dry and Swiffer Wet refills at Sam's Club and with FREE Club Pickup. Go stock up!

Creating rules for yourself around food and meals:

Keeping floors clean with four kids age 5 and under is a challenge. If I didn't create rules around food, snacks and mealtimes, my house would be a zoo. But not only do the rules I enforce help me keep my home clean, it also creates an environment of predictability for my children so there's less guessing (aka, fewer tantrums!) on their part. These tips and tricks for keeping floors clean with twin infants and two toddlers have taken me a while to develop and establish, but they really do help you and the whole family.

Go ahead and make that mess Theodore!

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Monday, August 26, 2019

DIY Wood Pallet Sign

Wood pallet signs are everywhere, especially for fall! It's easy and cost effective to make your own

Wood pallet signs are every where, from Target shelves to craft stores. And for good reason; they're cute! Thanks to Joanna Gaines and the rise of "farmhouse decor" these signs are made en masse for just about every occasion and holiday. The thing is, they aren't cheap! Which is funny, because all the materials that go into them aren't expensive, so the profit margins on wood signs must be amazing (for the company, not for you). Outside of profits, sometimes I really like the saying on a sign but the image or graphic is cheesy, or it's the other way around. When you make your own wood pallet signs, you get to pick one or both so it's exactly what you want. Save money and get exactly what you want? Yup, that's what this DIY wood pallet sign tutorial is here for!

I don't really decorate for any holiday(s) other than fall/Halloween (those are actually two different sets of decorations) and Christmas. Mostly because I don't have the time to switch everything out constantly. It's a process pulling all those boxes down from the attic, carefully wrapping up the old stuff to put out the new! That said, as my children get older and I can actually spend the time decorating instead of pulling garland out of babies' mouths and taking precious, breakable ornaments out of toddlers' hands, I can totally see myself getting into decorating for every single holiday. It's cheery! It's fun! Is it kinda lame and definitely excessive? Absolutely, but if that's my worst crime in life, go ahead and label me.

Back to the DIY wood pallet sign. Here's what you're going to need:
- the actual wood sign. You can make your own if you're extra crafty, or check out my links below to order a blank one off Amazon.
- acrylic paint set
- paint brushes
- paint pen for lettering (this makes it so much easier!)
- artistic inspiration for your sign

Blank wood signs to choose:

Once you have your sign and your inspiration, it's a matter of getting to painting! If you're not confident in your artistic skills, you could order stencils, either for the graphic or for the font of the text you want included. I love to freehand both graphics and text, so I just went for it. The good thing about acrylic paint is that it is washable; I'd suggest having a small bowl of soapy water and a rag nearby to quickly wash off any mistake or painting you don't like so that you can get it when it's wet (once it's even semi-dry, it's hard to remove). Dip the rag into the soapy water (dish soap will do) and simply scrub at it until it's gone. Then wait for the wood to dry before attempting again.

Need some artistic inspiration for your sign? Here's some fall and Christmas themed ideas for your text:
- It's fall y'all
- Happy Harvest
- Autumn leaves and pumpkins please
- Thankful
- Trick or Treat
- Peace on earth
- Have yourself a merry little Christmas
- May your days be Merry & Bright
- Let it snow
- It's the most wonderful time of the year

Fall and Christmas themed graphics to include:
- pumpkin(s)
- candy corn
- apples
- maple leaf/leaves
- squash or gourds
- jack o'lantern
- spiders and bats
- snowflake
- ornament
- wreath
- mistletoe
- Christmas tree
- lit candle
- pine cone and greenery

Close up of a wood pallet wall sign that reads happy fall y'all in black lettering with an orange jack o lantern who's smiling

Pick a text you like and mix it with one graphic (or two, if you're adventurous and have a large enough sign). A really good idea is to have one side of your sign be for fall or Halloween and the other one be for Christmas. That way you not only have to buy one sign (the most expensive part of this project) but you don't need to put it away after one holiday passes, you just flip it over. So it's a money and time saver! Paint and decorate the sign twice, hang it once, boom.

Wood pallet wall sign that reads happy fall y'all in black lettering with an orange jack o lantern that's smiling
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Wood pallet signs are all the rage for holiday decorating, but can cost an arm and a leg at a craft store. Make your own with this DIY wood pallet sign tutorial! Not only do you get to customize it, but you can also paint the front and the back to make it a multi-holiday sign that you can keep out all season long.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

How Kids Changed My Marriage

Having children had a big impact on my relationship with my husband, and what love looked like for us then vs what it looks like for us now

This post is sponsored by Helzberg Diamonds but the content and opinions expressed here are my own.

Funny story about how my husband and I started dating: I had to ASK him to ask me out! We had worked together for years; he was in a much greater position of power than me (he is, after all, 8 years older than me). When we started working together again in 2011, I was a mere associate and he was a vice president. He did in fact ask his boss at the time if he could ask me out, and got a resounding NO. So we were platonic work friends for a whole year before we started dating, going on random casual lunches, seeing each other at group happy hours. Then I switched jobs. Became single. Started texting with him. And basically had to spell it out for him to ask me out! Thankfully he did. Now, many years later and many children later, our love and the way we treat that love has changed. Kids definitely change a marriage, and this is how kids have changed my marriage.

Our Christmas card last year; 4 babies in 4 years!

In the beginning, there was tons of time. There was tons of money to do fun things. We pursued whatever interests we had and invited the other to join us so they could experience it with us. We were big on brunch on the weekends, after sleeping in until well past 10am, and trying out all the new hot spots. Minneapolis had a fantastic brunch scene! From the time we started dating to the time we left Minneapolis for Texas, I'd be we went out to brunch every single weekend. Every single one!

We were also big long distance runners. We regularly signed up for road races together and would get up early on a Saturday to run them. We'd go to professional football games (you'll still see my husband and kids decked out in Vikings gear even though we've been in Texas for some 6-7 years... We'll never convert to Cowboys fans!) and we'd plan fun, long weekend trips to cities we wanted to visit. Our first trip together is still my favorite trip I've ever been on; we spent four days in Carmel by the Sea and Big Sur, driving a convertible along the Pacific Coast Highway, checking out wineries, going on hikes and shopping in the cute resort town of Carmel.

Back when we were dating and child-free... Hubs brought me to an outdoor event. In Minneapolis. In January. He loved it, I froze

In the early days of our relationship and marriage, we got to do whatever we wanted. We had time to talk and to learn from each other. We had time to fulfill the other person's needs. I introduced him to vegetarian food (yes you CAN get full from it! You do not need meat with every meal!) and he absolutely showered me with gifts and wonderful trips and experiences.

Fast forward to our current life and things look much different! There are four boys running around, all under the age of five. Sleeping in until 10am doesn't happen anymore. Brunch is at 8:30am now, and consists of pancakes and eggs made at home, sometimes in the shape of Mickey Mouse or a snowman, topped with a bit of whipped cream. It's so early, in fact, that I can't even stomach food yet, and stick to coffee while all five of my boys (six if you include the scraps that fall to the floor for our dog, Otis...) eat so much food, I'm in awe of them all. I'll eat the cold leftovers (if there are any) from the fridge a few hours later. Oh, to have a hot brunch again at the leisurely hour of noon!

Living the fun engaged life, able to eat out and go out whenever we wanted

Intentional conversations of discovery between my husband and I rarely happen. We try to take 15-20 minutes after the kids have gone to bed to catch up each day, and inevitably the conversation turns to them. When you have young kids, your life indeed revolves around them because you're solely responsible for keeping them alive. My entire day is planned around their schedules and his entire day is planned to make enough money to fund those schedules

Kids changed my marriage because instead of being self centered or relationship centered, we're now family centered. While he used to surprise me with a random gift or we'd plan a trip together somewhere as a way to show love towards each other now looks different. Now it's me planning a home cooked meal the nights he's home early enough from work to eat with us. It's him getting up early with the kids so that I can sleep for another hour or two on the weekends. It's me ending my workday early to go and get our oldest son from kindergarten and it's him starting his extra early to drop him off in the morning. Our love went from simply showing one another our own interests to really coming together as a team to manage this team of children we've had!

Two kids deep, our Christmas card. Henry and Otto's little faces SLAY ME

That's the funny thing about your relationship after you've had kids. You tend to come together and gel even more as a couple because you HAVE to. You learn that love isn't just gifts and fun times; it's laughing about getting thrown up on and messy diaper changes and surviving tantrums. It's learning how to be a better parent from the other person, and how you love that other person MORE because they teach you something you didn't know before, or hadn't considered.

How has your love story changed throughout the years? We want to hear your "I Am Loved" stories! If you'd like to share, you can share a photo and finish this sentence, "I know I am loved because..." using the hashtag #IAmLovedContest on social media to be entered to win a $250 gift certificate to Helzberg Diamonds! Check out the rules and see your submission here. And you're welcome to visit a store and pick up a "I Am Loved" red pin (for free!) anytime to spread the love.

Two kids and a twin pregnancy later...

Love has changed drastically over the years for my husband and me. We used to be able to focus on ourselves, making sure the other person's needs were always met, introducing each other to our hobbies and traveling together. Now, we share funny stories of children; go to bed early and show love by getting up with the awake child in the middle of the night so the other person can sleep. While the early days of our love was fun, these years of self sacrifice are SO fulfilling. We have these little people that look like both of us (although, to be honest, mostly look like him with my coloring!) and who look up to us and rely on us. It's not easy work, but it's amazing work and we well know that not everyone is as blessed with a family as we are. Kids change a marriage, but in our opinion, it changes it for the better, it has grown our marriage into something truly beautiful and made us be better people, to each other and the world alike.  

Monday, August 19, 2019

How To Meal Plan Strategically

Most people know the basics of meal planning, but if you do it strategically, it's even easier to cook throughout the week and even more cost effective 

This post wasn't planned, but after having a conversation with people via Instagram Stories DM's and texting with a girlfriend, it's clear this is a hot topic amongst moms, wives or anyone doing the cooking and grocery shopping at your home. See, I posted a few videos of what I was cooking for a Sunday dinner and I got tons of the same comment: with four very young kids, how do you have the time to cook from scratch like that?! I was baking a chicken, made mashed potatoes and gravy and a steamed veggie, all from scratch. I followed the stories with a narrative on how I've been cooking my whole life, so I'm fairly efficient in the kitchen. It's also a hobby of mine, so I enjoy it and make time for it. But the third piece that enables me to have time to prepare my meals from scratch many days of the week is I meal plan strategically. That's not just picking some meals to make and doing my grocery list according to those meals (although it does involve that). This is how to meal plan strategically, so you maximize your time and dollars spent on food.

Typical meal planning is a great concept. Whenever you have a spare 5 minutes, you brainstorm what you'd like to make for meals for the upcoming week, make a grocery list based of the ingredients you'll need for those recipes, and shop according to that list. That way, you only need to grocery shop once for a week of meals because everything, in theory, should be on the list. It also cuts down on the amount of food you waste because you're not buying random things at the store; everything you get is accounted for in those meals/recipes. I typically use one or two recipes that I regularly make and then search Pinterest for some new recipe inspiration. That's meal planning 101.

Meal planning strategically goes a step further. After you've brainstormed your list of recipes, take a look at what you're planning and organize it based on 1) the amount of time it takes to cook it 2) the ability of the meal to provide left overs 3) the spoilage rate of the ingredients in the meal. Let's take my Instagram story meal of baked chicken for an example. I baked that on a Sunday for several reasons: first, because I could prepare the chicken for baking in the afternoon, and have my husband throw it in the oven while I went to a yoga class. Our kids eat dinner at 5pm, and this way it'd be ready for their early dinner time. Secondly, I planned on using the chicken to make my own bone broth, resulting in a chicken soup. So I only had to bake the chicken once and got multiple meals out of it! The time consuming meal got done on a Sunday, when I had more time. Then I made the bone broth (which is super easy - I tell how I make it in this post - but it does take time) overnight and had chicken noodle soup to eat mid-week. Once the bone broth is made, the soup takes about 30 minutes to put together, so that's a super easy weeknight meal.
You can make your own beverages too with this sangria recipe!

See how that works? Plan a large, time consuming meal on the day that you have time to cook it. Usually these meals result in either leftovers or the ability to take part of it and turn it into another meal, like I did the baked chicken. Another great example would be lasagna. Homemade lasagna is too time consuming for, say, a Monday night meal. But if I prepared and baked it on a Sunday, we could eat the leftovers again on Tuesday or Wednesday. Cook once, eat twice! Add a bagged salad or throw together some garlic bread to "freshen" it up and make a meal of the leftovers.

Meal planning strategically includes planning meals around:
  • The length of time it takes to prepare the meal vs. your time capacity on any given day
  • The ability of the meal to provide leftovers or doubling a recipe that provides easy to reheat leftovers
  • The ingredients in the dish and how quickly they spoil; make those meals first

Another big thing to consider for meal planning strategically is food spoilage. I used to only go to the grocery store once a week, but since having four kids I find myself there twice a week (sometimes more!) If you're making a meal with fresh basil that you bought on a Saturday, it's not going to keep until Thursday. So that meal would get bumped up to a Monday night. Fresh herbs and leafy veggies spoil the fastest, so anything involving those ingredients should be made first. Anything with "pantry" ingredients, like jarred spaghetti sauce or marinated artichoke hearts, can be made last since those won't go bad on you. 

Here's an example of how I'd meal plan strategically, with my own recipes you can use for your own planning if you'd like!

Recipes for the week:
Wednesday - leftover German lentil stew
Friday - take out for hubs and me, "kid food" for the boys (mac n cheese, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, etc)
Saturday - go out to eat with the family

The German lentil stew is the biggest time commitment as it takes about 8 hours in a slow cooker. it also makes a ton of food! So I'd throw that together on a Sunday morning and we'd eat it twice in a week. I'd make the Greek chicken burgers next because I'd want to use the ground chicken before it sat in the fridge too long. It also uses fresh mint and parsley in the sauce, so I'd want to use that before it went soggy. The Thai coconut curry soup is planned for a Tuesday because there's fresh cilantro in it. It also makes a good bit of food that I could put in the freezer, or we could eat for lunches over the weekend. Repeat Sunday's meal on Wednesday and then my roasted root veggie pasta is on Thursday because the root veggies will keep for a good while. So, if I bought those ingredients on a Saturday, they'd still be good to use on a Thursday.

On weeks that I know we have a lot going on, I try to plan using up meals from my freezer, too. Taking something out to thaw in the morning and then heating it up is perfect when fast meals are needed! I try to keep at least three meals in my freezer for this purpose. They're always a leftover of something; I don't make specific "freezer meals" although you sure could! Usually, when I make a large meal on the weekend, I'll portion out enough for us to use as a weeknight meal that I can defrost at a later date. This works really well when you might get tired of something you've made and don't want to eat it twice that week. Or if you double a recipe so that you can get 3+ meals out of it. That way you can freeze one meal still eat it twice the week you make it. This is a really good "bang for your buck" since you're cooking something once but eating it three times.

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Meal planning strategically is a great tool for busy families. It goes beyond selecting recipes to make and grocery shopping off that list to include other factors that save you time and money. It considers what days you'll have time to cook, making multiple meals out of one item (like the baked chicken which was turned into chicken noodle soup), and what food will spoil first so that you reduce food waste. Even with four kids age 5 and under I'm able to regularly cook homemade meals because I meal plan strategically to maximize my time and energy.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Getting Back To School Ready

Tips and tricks for when your very first child heads off to school for the first time and how to be a Classroom Hero for your child's classroom.

This post is sponsored by Kleenex® Facial Tissue. All opinions are my own.

The day has arrived. It's here. This week! Henry is off to kindergarten. When I first had him and was struggling as a stay at home mom, trying to adapt to life at home with a new baby, I remember thinking about this day and how far away it was. I wondered how I'd ever make it to the day I *could* drop my child off at kindergarten. Now that the day is here, I wonder where the heck the time went. How could five years have flown by so fast when those first few months were so painfully slow?! Now I think about how I *have* to drop him off, not that I *get* to. Starting a new school is scary for both Henry and me, so I figured we needed to start the process early and get him pumped up for his new school with longer days. Here's how we are getting back to school ready - BOTH of us!

It was not Otto's first day of school... But that wasn't going to stop him from taking a photo with Henry, like he's done every year for the past 3 years!

Tips for your child:

We got Henry's school supply list in July. That's when it really hit me that I'd have a child in kindergarten! At his former preschool we just paid a fee and they ordered and managed all the supplies, so getting that official list really hit me with a dose of reality! It was a simple list. He is, after all, just in kindergarten. The first thing on it though? Two boxes of Kleenex® Facial Tissue. It's funny how that's likely overlooked as a classroom supply but it's SO important! Two boxes of Kleenex® Facial Tissue per child for the whole school year just doesn't seem like enough for 23 running noses. I love that Costco has a Kleenex® bundle of 10-12 boxes (depending on the bundle) and they're big boxes too - 43% more tissues than the best-selling Kleenex tissue box in the rest of the market. That's already a great value for our classroom, but what's even better? You can get $4.50 off per bundle between Aug 7 and Sept 1, just in time for your back to school shopping! You'll see the discount on the price tag and it will be applied at the register. If you're an online shopping fan, you'll get the discount there too.

I want to ensure Henry feels as much autonomy as possible for his transition. No, he didn't get to decide on his own that he wouldn't be going to the same preschool he's been going to for several years. All his brothers will be going there this fall - he's the only child going to a different school (although they'll all end up where he is eventually). Because he's leading the change, I want to make sure he feels loved and special. A great way to do that is to allow him to pick out his own school supplies. Now he's only five years old, so he needed help picking everything out to ensure he got the right stuff! But a great way to do that is to say, "Ok Henry, you need 10 folders. Here's the bin you can choose from. Pick out 10 folders you'd like to take to school with you." Then allow him to pick out the colors or prints he likes, and make him count out 10 of them and put them in the cart. Repeat this for all the supplies on the list so your child gets excited about the school year!

Tips for parents:

We bought our home in Dallas because it's located in the 7th best school district in the entire state, and our elementary is highly ranked even within the district. I'm a huge supporter of public schools and wanted to make sure my kids would go to a good one. I've been to several tours, met the principal and all the kindergarten teachers and got linked in to both the PTA group and other kindergarten moms. I'm so thrilled with the school! He couldn't be going to a better place. Parents, that's a huge tip for you as you move through your own transition of having a school-aged child; plug yourself in to the school community! See the place, learn about the programs, and get to know the teachers and staff. All of this information will make you more comfortable as you drop your child off there for full days of learning.

My second tip for parents is to set up any systems, accounts, and/or procedures ahead of time, and practice them with your child. For example, I created Henry's lunch account online and added money to it. Henry will get to wear his PIN for the first week of school, but I'll practice how he will move through the lunch line and enter his code for lunch. The kid hasn't ever had hot lunch before, so practicing this is important! Another procedure that comes to mind is carpool drop off and pick up. I'm going to take Henry to the school and show him where I'll drop him off and pick him up, and walk him through the process. If your child will be riding the bus, you could walk him or her to the bus stop, talk about how to sit on the bus, and where it will drop your child off and pick him or her back up again.

Being a Classroom Hero:

I mentioned earlier that I'm a huge supporter of public schools. In my mid 20's, I was a fundraiser for one of the largest public school districts in Minnesota and it was, to this day, one of my favorite jobs! Through that role, I know that supplies and resources are scarce in schools. Teachers aren't millionaires, but are often left to buy supplies for the students in their rooms who can't afford them. We can complain about the politics of that all day, but I'd rather do something about it and become a Classroom Hero for my son's teacher. That's why I took him back to school shopping at Costco. He could pick out his supplies to use his power of choice and feel good about his new transition to kindergarten, and I could pick up extra supplies to gift to his teacher throughout the upcoming school year so that she doesn't have to buy them herself.

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This post is sponsored by Kleenex® Facial Tissue at Costco. All opinions are my own.

Monday, August 12, 2019

5 Road Trip Hacks For Traveling With Infants and Toddlers

Traveling with young kids? Use these 5 road tip hacks to make your next road trip easier!

I'll be honest: I'm not a big fan of road trips. I remember taking them as a kid. We'd drive to the Black Hills of South Dakota, which is a 13+ hour drive from Minneapolis. We drove to Yellowstone National Park. We even went all the way to the Grand Tetons in a Honda Civic! Perhaps it was being a tall family cramped into a little car but I tell you what - if it's over 4 hours of driving, I'm going to go ahead and just fly. Which is great... Except when you have four kids. All in car seats. I now understand why my parents did road trips, because for airfare, we're looking at $3,000. Plus an upgraded car rental that will fit all of us. Plus lugging all those car seats... Yes, I now definitely understand why my parents did road trips! I'm still not a huge fan of them, but we're taking the kids down to Galveston for a summer beach vacation. Here are my best road trip hacks for when you're traveling with infants and toddlers for an extended period of time. *Affiliate links used*

My first hack is to go BIG. If you don't have a large car/SUV, rent one. I happen to drive the largest SUV you can get (because four tall boys, all in car seats...) so we were set there. Even so, we bought a roof rack attachment (we got these roof rack crossbars and this carrier and it worked out really well - highly recommend, especially if you have a large SUV!) so that we'd have extra space for luggage and all the inevitable gear that comes with having four kids under the age of five. My sister, her husband and their 14 month old were also joining us from Boston, so we packed extra gear for them since they flew, like people with a reasonable number of children do for long distances. You'll never regret the extra space and you won't miss the gas money, but you will hate the trip if you're crammed and you will miss the gear you weren't able to pack in a smaller car. Just go big. Trust me.

Two blonde boys in car seats smiling while they listen to headphones in a three row SUV on a road trip

In car entertainment: Plan for regular changes to keep things interesting. I have an entertainment system in my car, which means drop down TVs and ear phones to contain noise. We can do DVD's in the center console or we can stream our Apple TV/iTunes purchases through a phone. That's pretty bad on data (although I do have a wifi hotspot in my car too... fancy!) so we decided the boys could each pick out a DVD to bring for each leg of the trip; we brought five or six DVDs total for them to watch there and back. If you don't have an entertainment system installed like mine, I highly recommend this portable DVD player. It has a remote so that you can control it from the front seat! You don't want to have to pull over every time your kids push a button or need tech help so that's a great feature, especially if you have young children like mine. The screen swivels to it's easier for more than one kid to watch, too.

5 Road trip hacks for traveling with infants and toddlers:

  • Go BIG. Rent a larger SUV if you don't have one. You'll welcome the space!
  • In-car entertainment: bring DVDs with headphones so your kids can watch movies and leave you in peace.
  • Pack a variety of activity bags. Stickers, coloring books, dry erase boards, and magnetic drawing boards are all great options. 
  • Get a set of infant toys and put 2-3 in your baby's car seat, then change them out every so often for a "new" toy for them.
  • If you can, limit the hours you drive each day to what your children can tolerate before meltdowns happen. If you can't, plan long breaks to get your kids out of the car.

Activity bags for toddlers full of stickers, magnets, a firehouse themed dry erase board all in ziplock bags to hand them on long road trips

I'm not a big fan of letting my kids zone out all day in front of a screen, so in addition to their special movies, I packed several "to do" bags in large Ziplock bags. One included an activity book with stickers and markers that only show the color on the page your child is coloring on. I have leather so the stickers would be easy to peel off my seats and the marker wouldn't show on any hands or leather. I got several options, so as they got bored with what they were playing with, I could consistently present them with new options.

Baby in a car seat with toys for a long road trip

My infant twins didn't have access to a TV screen because they're rear facing and... They're nine months old and don't watch movies. For them, we put 2-3 toys in the car seat with them. When those got old, we gave them empty water bottles with a few pennies in them to crinkle and shake. Yes, it was loud, but screaming infants is louder and you'd be shocked at just how entertaining empty water bottles are! If you're road tripping with babies, I recommend putting a few toys in their seat with them and having some spare toys to change out to when the first set get old. This is a pretty solid, well rounded set with a ton of options at a great price point. The good news is, with babies, they tend to sleep a lot with the road noise and movement of the car. Our twins slept a solid half to two thirds of the trip!

My final hack that made the trip bearable, dare I say fun even, is capping out the travel time each day. GPS told us it was 4 hours and 47 minutes from our home in Dallas to Galveston Island, our vacation destination. With kids, that meant about 6 hours with a stop for lunch and a bathroom break or two. My kids are five, three and a half and nine months old, and I'll tell you what, 6 hours of drive time in the car was about the absolute max before everyone was melting down. It is NOT fun to drive with kids who are melting down! So given your children's ages, I'd plan your driving distance over the number of days you need so everyone stays sane. My nine month old twins really maxed out at about 5 hours. The older boys could have probably gone 7, but that would have been stretching it! Plan to either stop for the day or have a nice long break BEFORE the kids max out. We took 45 minutes for lunch at Chick Fil A for them to get squiggles and wiggles out (and they still maxed out at the 6 hour mark for the day).

GMC Yukon Denali XL backing out of a driveway for a road trip
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Traveling with young kids IS manageable! But it takes plenty of planning in advance, a large vehicle for adequate personal and luggage space, and perhaps most importantly, it takes TIME. Properly planning the length of your travel days to suit the needs of your kids will result in a happier time for everyone! Use the rest of these road trip hacks if you're traveling with an infant or toddler (or both!) and you'll have as smooth a trip as you possibly can.