A few years ago, I created a set of simple Advent countdown activities to keep things fun and interesting and to spend extra time with famil...

December Holiday Activity Calendar 2020

A few years ago, I created a set of simple Advent countdown activities to keep things fun and interesting and to spend extra time with family and do kind things for others. That evolved into daily activity cards through the entire month of December plus a daily holiday/winter themed Lego build. Last year we ended up with a huge Lego winter village! This year I have not gotten myself organized to prep daily Lego builds, but I did have the brilliant idea of including some cleaning challenges with our fun activities! 

We don't do Elf on the Shelf, but I found this cute elf-ish looking doll among the Christmas decorations in the store a couple of years ago. Elfie will be joining Sock Monkey (I felt like I needed two helpers since I have two kids! I think we can make Sock Monkey a festive scarf to dress him up!) in presenting the kids with a daily cleaning challenge. If they complete the challenge, the next morning they will find a little treat along with their next cleaning challenge. My hope is that the house can be less cluttered and our things can all be put away where they belong by Christmas! 

Anyway, back to the activities. This year, I chose activities that promote family time, acts of charity and kindness, and understanding of multicultural holiday traditions. I have created a calendar along with daily cards that you can download and print out to use at home! At the end of the file are blank cards in case you want to replace some of my activities with your own. Activities written in blue on the calendar will correlate to a post here. Check Cardboard Mom on those days for video read alouds of the stories and details about the activities. 

I hope you all take this month to celebrate love and family along with us! Happy holidays from all of us here at Cardboard Mom!





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I wanted to add this book in before we got wrapped up in the holiday hustle and bustle of December. I thought it was the perfect story to re...

Read and Rise Book Club - 'The Invisible String' November 2020

I wanted to add this book in before we got wrapped up in the holiday hustle and bustle of December. I thought it was the perfect story to remind us that even though we may not get to see all the family and friends we usually do - or would like to - for the holidays this year, we are always connected. No matter what your holidays look like this year, I know they will all be full of love!


Featured story: "The Invisible String" by Patrice Karst


Activity: Send a message or card to someone (or a bunch of someones) you won't be able to see over the holidays to let them know that no matter what, you are still connected by love. 

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This year has definitely given us more than enough things to complain about - and my heart breaks for all who have lost loved ones - but I d...

Giving Thanks

This year has definitely given us more than enough things to complain about - and my heart breaks for all who have lost loved ones - but I do believe there is good that comes from every struggle and challenge we face.


It has been 261 days since we made the decision to stop attending in person classes, eating out, visiting with family and friends indoors, or visiting at all with more than a handful of people at a time. It hasn't been easy but I am thankful that we are in a position to stay home and do our part to lesson the spread of the virus. I'm thankful for my amazingly supportive husband who has donned his mask and done all the grocery shopping for us...and a million other things. I'm thankful to my children for always reminding me of what's most important and for keeping things interesting. I'm also thankful for what I've learned and experienced during this time.

Being home has forced us to get creative about how we have fun. It has led to at home fairs, scavenger hunts and obstacle courses, nerf wars, family movie nights and sleepovers. Also, pizza, a LOT of homemade pizza.

Staying safe led to the realization that outdoor playdates and visits are so much fun! It makes me want to have all our playdates outside from now on (unless the weather is really brutal).

Without the sudden reliance on video meetings for everything, I don't think I would have ever had the idea to do a zoom lesson on coral reefs with my friend who's a marine biologist across the country! Or to have video playdates with friends and family who are too far to visit often in normal times.

I also believe that Cardboard Mom wouldn't exist without the struggles of this year. It really highlighted the need for positivity and love and compassion and inspired me to start the Read and Rise Book Club. It also gave me that little bit of extra time I needed to get things going here.

Being home has given me the time to reflect and understand where my strengths and weaknesses lie. Without the excuse of busyness, I know I need to take responsibility for my shortcomings. And being home has also given me the chance to try and break some of my bad habits. So here's hoping I come out the other side of this storm better than ever. I hope you all do too <3

I wanted to leave you with my favorite Thanksgiving story. I discovered "Giving Thanks" by Chief Jake Swamp 15 years ago and since then I have read it every year - first in my preschool classroom and now in my home. It's a beautiful reminder of all the earth provides that we often take for granted. I love taking a few moments to reflect on all we have to be grateful for before we dive in to our Thanksgiving feast.

Featured story: "Giving Thanks" by Chief Jake Swamp and Erwin Printup, Jr.



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Our homeschooling method usually involves a lot of read alouds, preferring to use living books rather textbooks. One activity we love the mo...

Story-Based STEAM Challenge - 'Balloons Over Broadway'

Our homeschooling method usually involves a lot of read alouds, preferring to use living books rather textbooks. One activity we love the most is story-based STEAM challenges. Since Thanksgiving is only a day away, for this week's activity I chose "Balloons Over Broadway" by Melissa Sweet. 



"Balloons Over Broadway" is the story of Tony Sarg, the man who created the signature balloon puppets in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. The story is really interesting - I learned that Macy's first parade was put together because Macys wanted to do something for the holidays for their employees, most of whom were immigrants, and included live animals! 


Anyway, this story inspired us to make our own balloon puppets. Since we don't have helium, we decided to make non-floating puppets like Tony Sarg's first version. 


Squidgy found a balloon that kind of looked like a body and head so he decided to make a zombie. I got the idea to dig in our pile of newborn clothes that they dress dolls in and we found some clothes to dress up the zombie - who is now a baby zombie :-) 


Lil C wanted to make a unicorn so I blew up one balloon smaller than the other so she could have a head and body. I tied the balloons together for her and then she was off figuring out how to make all the details. I was so impressed with how it came out! I'm not sure I would have thought of paper strips for the mane and tail. I happened to have 3 paint stirrers leftover so we taped them to the balloons for handles, but you could use wooden dowels, rulers...anything long and straight you find around your house. 

Our second activity inspired by "Balloons Over Broadway" was Lego parade floats. 
There's a heavy Disney theme in our parade but there are some ghosts thrown in, a Minecraft float, and Lil C made sure to add Santa and Mrs. Claus at the end just like in the read parade!





I hope you all have your own STEAM fun inspired by "Balloons Over Broadway!"



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I have always loved the idea of Native American dreamcatchers and was so happy when my husband found me an authentic one on a work trip to N...

Read and Rise Book Club - 'Grandmother's Dreamcatcher' November 2020

I have always loved the idea of Native American dreamcatchers and was so happy when my husband found me an authentic one on a work trip to NYC almost 15 years ago (it's the one on the left - that's why it's missing feathers and looking a little worn, it's moved homes several times and been well loved for a long time!). I would often get bad dreams as a child and they've been much less frequent through adulthood, but they still come now and then. When Lil C started having bad dreams, we figured she should get her own! I don't remember where we got hers, but hers is the one in the middle. Last fall, we picked up a dreamcatcher for Squidgy while we were visiting Bushkill Falls in Pennsylvania. I did notice that Lil C's is the only one with a bead in the web - I'm not positive on the meaning of that but I'm thinking it might symbolize the spider who wove the web. 


This week we have a sweet story about a girl whose bad dreams lead to her grandmother making her a dreamcatcher and sharing the story of the dreamcatcher's origin.

Featured story: "Grandmother's Dreamcatcher" by Becky Ray McCain


Activity: Illuminative has another wonderful free lesson to go along with our story this week. Download your copy of Keeper of the Dreams: The Legend of the Lakota Dream Catcher and learn how to make your own dreamcatcher. The lesson also includes digital text and read aloud versions of the story "Keeper of the Dreams: The Legend of the Lakota Dream Catcher." 


One important thing I want to note is, if you would like a dreamcatcher, please either make it yourself using the lesson above or purchase one that is made by Native Americans. I think dreamcatchers are beautiful and wonderful for helping keep bad dreams at bay, but in order to respect the culture that created them, we should understand the meaning behind them and the method in which they are made. 

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I absolutely love how my idea for the Read and Rise Book Club is having unexpected benefits. Obviously, I'm hoping it helps promote feel...

Native American Three Sisters Soup

I absolutely love how my idea for the Read and Rise Book Club is having unexpected benefits. Obviously, I'm hoping it helps promote feelings of self-worth and self-confidence as well as improve understanding and appreciation for other cultures and the earth. But I always end up learning even more than I thought I would! 


When researching books about Native American culture to include this month, the book "Fry Bread" by Kevin Noble Maillard led me to learn that fry bread originated from oppression and suffering. And when searching for more Native American recipes to try and share, I came across Three Sisters Soup. Of course with a name like that I had to look into what the three sisters were and why they were called the three sisters. Here's the short version of what I found. The traditional three sisters were corn, beans, and squash. Before the American government forced indigenous tribes from their lands and onto reservations where they could only have small garden plots, those tribes would grow the three sisters on the same mound. The corn would provide a trellis for the beans and the beans helped secure the corn in high winds. Today, we also know that there is a bacteria living on bean plant roots that pulls nitrogen from the air and converts it to a form that both the beans and corn can use. The squash vines would help shade the ground with their large leaves, discouraging weed growth and encouraging water retention in the soil. If you would like to read more about the three sisters and current efforts to revive Native agricultural practices, check out "Returning the 'Three Sisters' - corns, beans, and squash - to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land, and Cultures


This was seriously mind blowing to me! I grew up so used to the traditional method of farming where each type of plant had its own area on the farm. Now that we are researching more into home gardening, we're finding that method causes so many problems! I was just reading about good crop rotation methods a couple of days ago and learned that rotating your crops will drastically cut down on insect problems and disease. I also read that you will have much fewer insect and disease issues if you grow different vegetables together instead of having a devoted garden bed to each kind. I'm literally relearning something Native Americans knew hundreds of years ago! It's a weird mix of frustrating and amazing at the same time...


Anyway, onto the soup! There are so many variations on the Three Sisters Soup but I settled on this version from First Nations. I liked this recipe because it was simple with easy to get ingredients and because it was vegetarian - I'm always looking for delicious vegetarian meals to throw into our rotation. If you are vegan, this recipe is perfect as well, all you have to do is replace the butter with oil or margarine and stick with vegetable stock. I used butter and chicken stock, but made one small adjustment to the recipe. I left out the curry powder and red pepper flakes because we're not crazy about those flavors and instead added a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg. 

I served the soup along with cranberry brie bites, since I happened to have all the ingredients on hand. The brie bites are simply crescent roll dough cut into squares and placed in a mini muffin tin topped with chunks of brie, some cranberry jam/sauce, and chopped pecans. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 minutes. One tube of crescent roll makes 24 bites. 3 out of 4 family members really enjoyed this dinner, so I'm going to call it a win! We'll add it into our regular meal rotation and maybe the 4th member will eventually learn to like it...


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18 years ago, on November 23, 2002, John Herrington blasted into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. As a member of the Chickasaw Natio...

Read and Rise Book Club 'Mission to Space' - November 2020 Week 2

18 years ago, on November 23, 2002, John Herrington blasted into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation, Herrington made history as the first Native American in space. Today, I am sharing his story and exploring Native American stories surrounding the stars and constellations. 


Featured story: "Mission to Space" by John Herrington


Activity: Illuminative is a non-profit trying to change the narrative about Native peoples and they have numerous lessons for children available for free to download. I love the following lesson about constellations:


How constellations got their names - I recommend looking at pictures of some well known constellations and then listening to "Why Coyote Howls: A Star Story" as retold by Lynn Moroney (Chickasaw) while your children make their own constellations using marshmallows or playdough and toothpicks or spaghetti (link for the story is found in the lesson plan). Then head outside on a dark clear evening and check out the stars! My kids LOVE the SkyView Lite app (available for iOS and android) for identifying constellations, stars, planets, and satellites. 


Here are some extra constellation activities (I plan on doing star darts with Lil C and Squidgy!):  https://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/skytellers/constellations/activities/

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The kids wanted to make a box fort haunted house this year and so I got to work trying to figure out how to make one! It was the first time ...

Box Fort Haunted House for Halloween

The kids wanted to make a box fort haunted house this year and so I got to work trying to figure out how to make one! It was the first time I had made a multi-room box fort that used more than one or two boxes. It was definitely not a resounding success, but it's still mostly standing and was definitely a good learning exercise for me.


As I was taping the box flaps together, I realized that I should do something to help the box keep its shape. My solution was to use scraps of cardboard to make angled support pieces in the corners (you can see them in the top two corners). This strategy worked pretty well, but after a lot of pushing and pulling and squishing from the kids playing inside and crashing into it from the outside, the supports started to bend.

The first room was done! Our door had a fancy handle on the inside and outside, but it did have one flaw. I did not measure at all and the doorway was too narrow for me to fit through! So when I had to get inside to work on it I had to worm on my side which was...interesting...

2 rooms attached! First lesson learned, single boxes - even the really big ones - make for teeny tiny rooms. 

Since I learned from the first two rooms, I used two boxes to make a third larger room! As you can see, the kids had started decorating the first two rooms with spooky decorations!

The kids wanted a "second floor" so I put a small wooden table in the corner of the large room and built a lookout tower. 

The next big lesson I learned is that making a roof for your box fort is very difficult when the boxes are not all the same size and height. Oops.

All in all, for our first real box fort I think it came out really cool! I learned a lot and I am confident that I can renovate it, build it better, and turn it into something Christmassy - maybe a gingerbread house or Santa's workshop or the post office! 

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  We finally made our fry bread! I ended up using a different recipe than I originally posted because I forgot the dough had to rest 2 hours...

Native American Fry Bread

 

We finally made our fry bread! I ended up using a different recipe than I originally posted because I forgot the dough had to rest 2 hours and did not manage my time properly today. So I used Mom's Navajo Tacos and Indian Fry Bread recipe over at Cooking Classy since their dough only needed a 5-10 minute rest time. I would love to try the recipe from Stay at Home Chef one day and see how it compares!


I feel like I should make a confession before I go any further. I hate frying! I find it too time consuming and hate having all the frying oil to dispose of! The only times I find myself frying is when we're trying out recipes from cultures we're learning about like this fry bread, the tostadas and platanos we had last month, and beignets when we "visited" New Orleans. 

Anyway, back on topic. The dough was quick and easy to make but I did find it was sticky so I had to add some extra flour. The fry bread got thumbs up from everyone. We decided to have Navajo Tacos for dinner so I served the fry breads with ground beef, taco sauce/salsa, cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream. 

Lil C and I also decided to try a sweet version so we drizzled some honey and sprinkled some cinnamon. Both ways were delicious - I'm not sure I can pick a favorite! If you make your own fry bread, please let us know how you prefer to top it!



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I wanted to dedicate the rest of November to learning about the First Nations of North America. I remember when I was in school for early ch...

Read and Rise Book Club 'Fry Bread' - November 2020 Week 1

I wanted to dedicate the rest of November to learning about the First Nations of North America. I remember when I was in school for early childhood education I had to do a guest lesson in a preschool classroom as one of my assignments. It was November so I chose to teach the children about Native Americans - not the "Thanksgiving" story, not about Native Americans hundreds of years ago, but about present day Native Americans. I realized that in preschool, no one ever talked about Native Americans aside from the inaccurate traditional first Thanksgiving story. And so the children probably didn't even realize there were still Native Americans living in the United States today! 


After that first lesson I learned a little more year after year and my Thanksgiving lessons quickly transitioned to learning about Native Americans and simply talking about gratitude. I got rid of all my "first Thanksgiving" books and replaced them with books by Native authors, books about being thankful, and one or two silly turkey stories (we all need to throw a super silly book into the mix now and then!). 


I'm going to kick off our celebration of First Nations with a book called "Fry Bread" by Kevin Noble Maillard. Kevin is originally from Oklahoma and is an enrolled citizen of the Seminole Nation. Fry bread is a traditional Native American food and I remember trying it at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC but I was wholly unaware of its origin. I discovered that Navajo fry bread originated over 150 years ago when the US government forced Native Americans in Arizona to relocate to New Mexico and gave them canned foods, white flour, processed sugar, and lard so they wouldn't starve. It was from those rations that fry bread was born. 


Today, fry bread has been embraced by tribal nations across the country and I'm sure there are as many ways to make it and eat it as there are nations! So let's read about it and then we can all try to make our own. 


Featured story: "Fry Bread" by Kevin Noble Maillard


Activity: Try making your own fry bread at home! Here is a simple recipe from the Stay at Home Chef - Authentic Indian Fry Bread. You can eat it plain, savory or sweet. Get creative with toppings! I can't wait to see what you come up with!


For more information on the history of fry bread, check out:

Smithsonian Magazine - Fry Bread

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One thing I learned while researching Día de los Muertos is that while Mexicans may be the only ones who usually celebrate Día de los Muerto...

Día de los Difuntos

One thing I learned while researching Día de los Muertos is that while Mexicans may be the only ones who usually celebrate Día de los Muertos, most Hispanic countries have their own variations on the Day of the Dead. One such country is Ecuador, with its celebration of Día de los Difuntos on November 2nd. I was very fortunate to connect with Stephanie Scott - a mother, artist, and educator living in Ecuador between the Andes and the Amazon. Stephanie was kind enough to share with me how they celebrate Día de los Difuntos in Ecuador.


"On November 2nd people visit the graves of the dead. Normally in Ecuador, people take flowers and clean up the gravesites on this day. This year, because of the pandemic, the government is asking cemeteries to close to prevent people from gathering en masse and risking an increase in COVID infections.

In addition to the specific remembrance on November 2nd, people eat guaguas de pan and drink colada morada during the whole month of October leading up to November 2nd. Then, we typically do not make or eat those foods for the whole rest of the year.

Some indigenous groups may visit graves in a procession and take the guagua de pan as an offering. Guagua means baby or small child in Kichwa, Ecuador's most widely spoken indigenous language. Offering this bread doll to the dead is a symbol of the connection of life/birth and death.

Colada morada is made from the flour of purple corn and many different herbs, some specific to Ecuador and in season during October. It also uses various fruits, of which, mortiño is also in season in October and not year-round. Mortiño is a small berry that is purple in color and it grows in the Andean region.

Día de los Difuntos is a Catholic holiday which has been syncretized with native traditions and local foods. However, Ecuador is very diverse and this tradition, which centers on Andean crops and practices, has spread to the coastal and Amazonian regions where it in turn has been adapted to the local foods and traditions of those areas. Which is all to say that not everyone celebrates it nor in the same way nor is colada morada prepared with the same ingredients in the different diverse regions of Ecuador. Indigenous people of the Amazon have other ways of dealing with death, burial, etc...so they may not observe this day or any of these specific traditions at all."


I want to thank Stephanie for taking the time to speak with me and teach me about Día de los Difuntos and its traditions. If you want to learn more about the work Stephanie does with rural Amazonian schools in Ecuador, please visit Construyendo Ambientes Sanos on Facebook. 


Click below to see how our guaguas de pan and colada morada turned out!

Guaguas de Pan

Colada Morada


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 In honor of Día de los Difuntos, we decided to try our hand at making traditional guaguas de pan. I found a cooking website run by Layla Pu...

Día de los Difuntos - Guaguas de Pan

 In honor of Día de los Difuntos, we decided to try our hand at making traditional guaguas de pan. I found a cooking website run by Layla Pujol, an Ecuadorian now living in Seattle. I followed her recipe for Guaguas de Pan and filled them with Nutella - the only change I made was I halved the recipe. You can follow our process below!


Dissolve yeast in warm milk, whisk in 1/4 cup of flour, and leave in a warm place to rise and fall, for about 1 hour. My go to warm place for proofing yeast is in the oven with the oven off but the oven light turned on.

Combine the remaining flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Mixing between each addition, add the butter, then eggs, then yeast mixture and vanilla or any other flavorings (we used a mix of vanilla and almond extracts). Mix until the dough forms a large ball.

Cover bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 hours. 
After the dough has risen, form dough balls about 3.5oz each. We got 6 balls - though the last two were closer to 3oz in weight.

Roll the dough into a flat oval shape and dollop your filling near the top of the oval.

Stretch the dough to cover the filling, pressing down to seal the edges of the dough.

Continue rolling until you reach the end of the dough.

Pinch the ends closed and shape the dough to look like a swaddled baby.

We brushed our guaguas with egg wash and decorated them before baking with dough pieces, sprinkles, raisins, and craisins.

This is what they looked like after baking.

We added a little sugar glaze to make them extra festive and sweet! I think this one ended up looking more like a guinea pig than a baby! 

Inside is the creamy chocolatey Nutella surprise!

We had so much fun baking these together. I think we might have to make them again next year with a different filling. I would love to see pictures if you try to make them!

Guaguas de pan are traditionally served with Colada Morada. Check out how we made it with ingredients we had on hand.




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During the month of October in Ecuador, it is common for families to make guaguas de pan and colada morada in preparation for Día de los Dif...

Día de los Difuntos - Colada Morada

During the month of October in Ecuador, it is common for families to make guaguas de pan and colada morada in preparation for Día de los Difuntos on November 2nd. Colada morada is made with purple corn flour along with fruits and spices and herbs native to Ecuador. Using the Colada Morada recipe on laylita.com as inspiration, we created our own thick warm purple drink using ingredients we could find in New Jersey.

I did not take pictures of the whole process, but I did write down my recipe. I only wanted to make a small amount for us to try so I made a quarter of the original recipe.

Spiced Pineapple Liquid
Place a pineapple core, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 clove, 1 allspice berry, 2 spokes of a star anise, 3oz brown sugar, and 2 cups of water in a pot. Boil about 20-25 minutes. 
Add 1 piece of orange peel, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain.

Corn Flour Mix
Mix 1/4 cup of corn flour with 1/4 cup of the spiced pineapple liquid until well combined.

Berry Mix
Add 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup blueberries, and 1/2 cup raspberries to a separate pot and boil about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, mash, and strain into the pot with the remainder of the spiced pineapple liquid.

Putting it all Together
To the pot with the spiced pineapple liquid and strained berry mix, add 3 1/2oz of juice (we used apple cider because that's what we had on hand), and the corn flour mix. Cook over medium heat, stirring to keep it from sticking, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup chopped frozen pineapple and 1/2 cup chopped frozen strawberries and simmer 2-3 more minutes, until the fruits are warmed. Serve warm or cold.

Even without purple corn flour, the color of the drink was a beautiful deep purplish-pink. I preferred it warm rather than cold and it was the perfect way to warm up a bit during our streak of cold rainy weather! 

I encourage you to make your own colada morada with the fruits and spices your family has and enjoys and serve it with some guaguas de pan!

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We needed to balance out all those sweets and less than healthy foods we've been eating so we swapped those pancakes and cinnamon buns f...

Halloween Franken-Smoothie

We needed to balance out all those sweets and less than healthy foods we've been eating so we swapped those pancakes and cinnamon buns for a delicious fruit and veggie smoothie this morning. I'm not quite done with Halloween season yet so I had to dress up the smoothies a little. AI drew Frankenstein-monster-like faces on small mason jars with a black Sharpie and used a little maple syrup to stick some chocolate sprinkles to the rim. 


Here's what went into the Franken-smoothies:

- 1 cup water

- 1 apple, peeled and chopped

- 1/2 cup green grapes (can use fresh or frozen)

- 1 frozen banana

- 1 cup spinach (can use fresh or frozen)

- 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt

Throw all your ingredients into the blender and let it go until it's uniform in color with no chunks.


The recipe filled two small jars for the kids and one large glass, about 16oz, for me. I thought it was tasty and filling, and just sweet enough. The kids both emptied their jars so I'm going to take that as their approval!


For more Halloween recipes, check out:

Halloween Monster Pancakes and Apple Monster Eye Pops

Halloween Bloody Guts and Bloody Eyeball Soup

Halloween Worm Sandwiches and Crispy Zombie Skins

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