Parenting Archives - Real Mom Recs



Instant Family Movie Review: An Adoptive Mom’s Perspective

If you’re an adoptive parent, you’ve probably cringed many times at the way adoption is portrayed on screen. Overly simplified, sickeningly sweet, and often with a white savior theme, adoption movies always seem to fail at showing the realities we face. Is Instant Family more of the same? Or is there finally an adoption movie that gets it right? Read on for my review of the Paramount Pictures film Instant Family!

Instant Family movie review

I was invited to a pre-screening of the movie Instant Family. All opinions are 100% my own.

Based on a true story

Instant Family is based on the real-life story of a couple who decided they wanted children later in life, and ended up with three children from the foster care system.

Pete (played by Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) find themselves in over their heads when they bring home the sibling set, which includes rebellious 15 year old Lizzy, accident-prone Juan, and undisciplined little Lita.

Hilarity ensues, as well as some serious struggles. The complexities surrounding adoption, including attachment issues and birth family involvement, are not left out!

Instant Family movie review

Pete and Ellie dive headfirst into the foster care process with enthusiasm, like so many of us do. They are confident in their abilities despite the reservations of friends and family. They believe that their stable loving home will be the miracle fix these children need. After a brief honeymoon period, they are thrown into reality when they see how difficult a job parenting broken children actually is.

Not sugar-coated

Sure, there are a couple scenes that are slightly sappy, but overall I love how this movie keeps it real. Each of the children have challenging behavior, as all children in foster care do. They do not immediately accept the authority of their foster parents, and they go through periods of testing them and their intentions.

The most “real” scene of all is where Pete and Ellie question why they ever got themselves this mess. They honestly state how they miss their old lives, and consider giving the children back. This is a stage that every foster parent goes through and rarely ever talk about. No, it’s not pretty- and neither is adopting a sibling group from foster care!

Secondary characters

Instant Family movie review

The scenes with the social workers (played by Tig Navaro and Octavia Spencer) hit it out of the park every time. Hysterically funny and incredibly relatable, you will recognize many foster parent stereotypes in the class they train to become foster parents.

Grandma Sandy, played by Margo Martindale also provides fantastic comic relief as she bursts into the scenes when times are getting tough for Pete, Ellie, and the kids.

A word of caution for parents

I brought my ten year old daughter (whom I adopted from foster care) with me to see the film. My initial concerns that the plot might trigger her as a former foster child were unfounded. I’m happy to say she related more to the takeaway message of love and family triumphing over adversity.

What I was not completely prepared for was the amount of profanity and sexual innuendos in the movie. None of it was offensive to me personally, it was just unexpected as I had considered this to be a movie made for families to watch together. Given references to things like masturbation and “dick pics”, I would not consider this a family movie.

However if you have teens, the movie could bring up some educational talking points around these topics. I’d recommend the movie for age 14 and up.

All the feels

In sum, I can safely say Instant Family will make you feel something, whether you’ve lived through a similar experience or not. I laugh so hard I cried, and I also just plain cried!

This movie will make you think about your life and what is truly important. Pete and Ellie traded their pristine home and seemingly “perfect” life for one that is messy and complicated, but so much more meaningful.

I’m extremely confident that this movie will inspire more people to go out and become foster parents. And they will not go into it blind to the realities of the process! Because YES, absolutely it will be hard- but it will also be so very, very worth it.

Don’t miss Instant Family in theaters November 16!

Directed by: Sean Anders

Written by: Sean Anders and John Morris

What did YOU think of the movie? Let me know in the comments!


How To Raise Kids NOT To Be Picky Eaters

Wondering what you can do to raise kids not to be picky?

When I was 5, I ate a grand total of about six foods including plain pasta (no cheese, sauce, or butter), apples with no skin, and Honey Nut Cheerios. I have very vivid memories of sitting at the kitchen table long after dinner time had passed, staring my cold meat and potatoes and trying to work up the will to choke down a bite.

Today, I watch all four of my kids scarf down their dinner night after night and wonder: what did I do differently than my parents? Did I just get lucky by chance? Or is it possible to raise kids not to be picky eaters?

Raise Kids Not To Be Picky Eaters

Of course, it could just be a complete coincidence that my children love eating a wide variety of foods. A sample size of four isn’t exactly statistically significant, I realize.

I’m also not a food expert. I do know quite a bit about child psychology though. Enough to make me think there is something to the way I’ve parented my children and their relationship with food.

On the chance that my hunch is correct, I’ll share with you what I’ve done (and haven’t done). It might not work for anyone else, but I certainly don’t think it will hurt.

1: Don’t care

I truly do not care if my kids eat their dinner. I’m not pretending not to care, I TRULY DO NOT CARE.

(Kids are smart, and they know us well. They will know if you’re pretending. So try your best to really just LET.IT.GO.)

My children are all a healthy, average weight. As much as I enjoy seeing them eat whatever I’ve cooked, I also know that eating a meal or skipping a meal won’t have any impact on their overall health. Even if it seems like they’ve eaten nothing all day, they will make up the calories tomorrow.

If they tell me they don’t want to eat what’s on their plate, I say “ok”. And that  rarely happens.

The risk of caring too much about your child’s food consumption is that it will turn food into a control battle. It is empowering for a kid to realize they can get their parents worked up simply by not eating. Don’t give them that kind of power.

2: No special meals

In general, I make dinners that are kid-friendly. All varieties of pasta, chicken, steak, pork, hamburgers, and tacos are in our regular rotation. I’m not serving them liver and onions, so I expect them to eat what I’ve made.

They can choose to eat it or not eat it (see #1), but I’m not taking orders if they don’t like what I’ve made.

The reason I don’t do this is for several reasons. First of all, I’m a slacker. It’s enough effort to make one meal, there is no way I’m making four.

Also, I’ve seen far too many kids who go months eating mac and cheese or PBJ EVERY.NIGHT. Truth be told, mac and cheese is my kids’ favorite meal. So if they knew that was an option, they’d be eating it every night too! But I want them to eat meat and vegetables sometimes, so nightly mac and cheese is not an option available to them.

3: Every meal includes a “preferred” food

How Not To Raise Picky Eaters
If fruit is a preferred food, include some with every meal

In our family, fruit is a preferred food. I know it’s one thing they will always eat, so I include it with every meal.

There is usually one other food on their plate I know they will eat too, like rice or pasta, along with the meat and vegetable. This way, if I make something new or something I’m not sure they like, they won’t take one look and cry or run away. They will sit at the table and eat whatever it is off their plate that they like.

We don’t have to worry about the non-preferred food touching and “contaminating” the preferred food, because we use plates with sections likes these:

The other benefit to always including a food they’ll eat with dinner is that you don’t have to worry that they’ll be starving going to bed with nothing in their stomachs. Between the fruit and milk, they are eating something even if they hate the rest of the meal.

4: Use child behaviors to your advantage

Know how kids always want what someone else has? Use this to get them to try new foods!

My kids have eaten pesto, Thai food, sushi, salads, and more by watching me eat it for dinner while they are served something regular and boring, like grilled chicken and rice. They like chicken and rice, but they are VERY interested in what I’m eating.

I purposely act like I’m really not interested in sharing with them (“oh sorry, this is Mommy’s dinner, you have your dinner right there!”). Often times this leads to them BEGGING for a bite. Eventually I give in and allow them a small bite.

I’ve now gotten in their heads and made this an extremely desirable food.

5:Make condiments work for you

My second child isn’t always thrilled about eating meat. But he will eat just about anything that’s covered with ketchup or barbecue sauce.

Yes, they are full of sugar, but think about it this way: it’s easier to get your child accustomed to eating something with their favorite condiment than to try to get them to eat it plain. Then you can always pull back on the amount of sauce they put on it and gradually get them used to the taste of the actual food.

All of these combinations work for us with my four:

  • eggs with cheese
  • pork with applesauce
  • chicken with barbecue sauce
  • carrots with ranch dressing
  • just about anything with ketchup

As they get older, we can cut down on the condiments and they won’t be afraid of eating the pork or chicken alone since they’ve been exposed to that food for so long.

6: Keep putting the veggies on the plate

Studies show that some kids need to see a food more than ten times before they will decide to try it.

Many parents give up trying after their child refuses a new food once or twice, assuming they just don’t like it. In reality, they need to expose their child to it 8 more times!

I put vegetables on my children’s plate every time I’m serving that vegetable, whether they have previously said they don’t like it or not. They are welcome to leave it on their plate and not touch it. Or, they may choose to give it a little taste. The choice is theirs.

I also make a point to let the kids see me eating that same food, looking happy and talking about how much I like it. Parental influence is real and modeling works.

7: Start at the beginning

How to not raise picky eaters
Force feeding your kid is not going to help you achieve your goal

If you have older children, it’s obviously too late to go back and re-do the way you introduced your kids to eating. But if you have a baby, this applies to you.

Introducing your baby to solids should be an explorative process that allows the baby to form their own positive relationship with food. Parents need to have patience with the process, and allow the baby to lead the way as much as possible.

While I didn’t fully practice baby-lead weaning, I did introduce food to my babies in a way that was mostly hands-off on my part. I  allowed the baby to explore food with their hands and decide how much (if any) they wanted to put in their mouths.

I sometimes spoon-fed my babies purees, but this was mostly when we were out and about and I just needed to give them something quickly without the mess. At home, I would choose 3 baby-appropriate foods and just put them on the tray. The baby would experiment and eat what he or she wanted.

This approach to feeding makes the child the one in control. They aren’t forced to eat something they don’t want to. They think of eating time as a time to discover new textures and tastes.

The approach I would not recommend? Spoon feeding the baby whether they show pleasure in what they’re being fed or not. “Tricking” the baby by showing them one food and then shoveling a different food into their open mouth.

Those types of feeding tactics are short-sighted: they might get the baby to eat a few bites of vegetables today, but they are fostering a negative relationship with food for years to come.

What have you done to raise kids not to be picky?

I’d love to hear your best tips!

Of course some children are incredibly stubborn or have sensory issues that create serious eating issues. For others, these tips might be helpful, or at least take some of pressure off of stressed out parents.

Looking for some great recipes for picky eaters?

Follow my Easy Family Dinners Pinterest board for meal inspiration! I also have a roundup of Thanksgiving recipes for picky eaters.




Gifts For Moms: The Ultimate Guide For Busy Moms

Reminder to all the Moms out there: Christmas isn’t just about buying toys for the kids! You get to make a wish list too. I know you’re all busy and about 8 years overdue for a day of pampering, so here are some ideas for the perfect gifts for Moms that we ALL need in our lives.

Gifts for Moms

1. Womens Fleece Robe

Busy Moms are good at doing ALL THE THINGS. But one thing we could be doing better? Self care. While we may not have the time (or the babysitters) to do actual self-care, it’s all about pampering ourselves in the little ways we can manage right now. This ultra soft plush robe will make you feel like you’re at the spa when you’re actually on the couch watching Paw Patrol.

2. Instant Pot

There’s a reason this is on every gift guide you see. Moms don’t have time to stand over the stove top for an hour making dinner. The instant pot simplifies mealtime- just dump and forget it. Think crock pot, but fast instead of slow.

Once you have your Instant Pot, you’ll need some Instant Pot recipes! Here are 101 to get you started. You’ll be able to make soups, stews, chicken, beef, even dessert.

3. Mama Needs Coffee mug

Remind those around you what you need with the Mama Needs Coffee mug. After a cup or two you’ll be something that almost resembles a human.

4. Tile Sport Key Finder

You know that thing where you’re already late and suddenly you can’t find your keys? Then you’re so stressed you start running around and don’t even know where to look? Eliminate that problem with this handy little gadget. Find your keys (or anything else you need help finding it- you can put it on just about anything) from now on.

5. Brimma Leak Proof Fruit Infuser Water Bottle

We need to drink more water. I know it, you know it, everyone knows it. But it’s hard when you’re so damn busy, and water tastes so boring. Jazz it up countless ways with this handy infuser and watch 32 ounces go down like that.

6. Echo Spot

“Alexa, put my kids to bed.”

Ok so maybe she can’t do that, but she can do tons of other awesome things. And the Echo Spot is the new version of Alexa that can also show you things.  She can show you the weather, your news briefings, wake you up with your favorite song, add to your grocery list, make video calls… all hands-free. Because what Mom has the use of her hands?

7. Tarte Amazonian Clay BB Tinted Moisturizer

In case you haven’t jumped on the BB cream bandwagon yet, let me pull you over to the dark side.

Tarte BB Tinted Moisturizer is my 30 second secret to covering up the fact that I haven’t slept in 9 years. If you have no time for makeup in the morning, just slathering on some of this will do wonders for your face. It has really good coverage for a tinted moisturizer, but goes on super light unlike foundations- plus its actually good for your skin.

8. Pretty Simple Plaid Button Blanket Scarf

For those days when you have to be out and about but you just want to be at home with your blanket. It looks cute and trendy, and you get to pretend you’re snuggled in bed at home. Win-win.

9. Bare Minerals Box of Wonders

I’m not someone who buys makeup all the time (because I don’t have any time) but once a year for the holidays I always ask for a really great set to get me through the year.

This set from Bare Minerals is like 24 special little Christmas gifts all on its own. It covers everything with complexion, eye, lip, and skin staples. The colors really are sumptuous and delicious!

10. “Bring Me Some Wine” Luxury Combed Cotton Socks

On those rare occasions when we get to relax and put our feet up, we can’t rely on him picking up on subtle hints to bring some wine. Let the socks do the talking.

11. Hot Mess Mama tee

Everyone can see you’re a hot mess, so might as well own up to it. These tees are comfy and funny- they are unisex so size accordingly (I’m a women’s medium and wear a small in these).

12. Marble Board with Cheese Slicer

There are plenty of nights when I don’t feel like cooking, but I’m literally ALWAYS in the mood for a cheese platter. This marble board with built-in wire cheese cutter makes me feel fancy when I scarf down cheese and crackers, and I don’t even dirty a knife.

I hope these gift ideas help you look and feel your best as a busy Mom who’s always short on personal time!

What is the number 1 item on your list for Christmas this year?

Got active kids? Don’t miss my active kids gift guide to help the little ones expend some energy and stop jumping on your couch.

Need inspiration for this year’s Christmas card? These gorgeous babies have the best Christmas pictures ever!

And as always, don’t forget to follow me on Pinterest:

When Your Child Has a Christmas Birthday

Long story short: two of my children are what I consider “Christmas babies”. My son’s birthday is within days of Christmas so he was my original Christmas birthday baby.

Three years later, I went into labor with Elle on Christmas Eve. All I could think was, get this baby out before midnight so she doesn’t end up with the worst birthday of the year! She ended up being born at 2am on Christmas Day. AKA the worst birthday of the year.

So now I have TWO Christmas babies.

Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two about how to manage these unfortunately-timed Christmas birthdays.

how to celebrate your Christmas baby's birthday

Your Child’s Christmas Birthday: DON’TS

1. Don’t let your child hear you complain about their birthday 

It’s been 8 years for my son and 5 years for my daughter, and they are still completely unaware that their dates of birth are the actual worst. I have successfully brainwashed them into thinking a Christmas birthday is extra special and fun.

You can complain to your mom friends about how horrible their birthdays are, but never in the presence of the kids.

2. Don’t let their birthday party be an afterthought

December is so busy and stressful, I can relate to the temptation to just put off having their party until January. But think about the days leading up to your birthday as a kid. It’s basically as torturous as the end of pregnancy. Don’t make them wait extra long!

I always err on the side of doing it early, because no kid ever minds getting presents early. Also, it does feel special to get presents before Christmas. After all the holiday hoopla, having a birthday party in early January is going to feel anti-climactic.

3. Don’t make their birthday Christmas-themed 

The whole month of the December is Christmas-themed. Let their birthday be a birthday! That means no Christmas wrapping paper, no Christmas party decorations, none of that. If your kid is into trains or ponies let them have a train or pony party like all the kids who were born in the other 11 months of the year.

Christmas birthday
The two on the right are the Christmas babies, but their party themes include rainbows and the Wiggles

Your Child’s Christmas Birthday: DOs

1. Do talk to family members about keeping the birthday separate from Christmas 

Of course it’s always up to the giver what type of gift they want to give, but some relatives might need subtle hints about how Christmas babies truly appreciate not having their Christmas and birthday gifts meshed into one (or skipped altogether).

2. Do keep it small and manageable (if you have to)

Only bite off as much as you can chew when it comes to throwing a party. The last thing any kid wants for his birthday is to see Mommy have a stress-induced meltdown. Remember it doesn’t need to be huge (or Pinterest-inspired) to make your child feel special and loved.

If you can’t handle hosting during the holiday season, why not celebrate with family at your local pizza joint? Or bring a car full of your kid’s friends to the movies or bowling alley. It can be low-stress without being low on fun for the birthday boy or girl.

3. Do carve out some special time for the birthday child

A one on one lunch date with Mom or Dad doesn’t take much time out of your busy day but it will make a big impact.

When my son’s birthday falls on a school day, I join him for lunch in the school cafeteria. It’s 30 minutes out of my day and he feels like a superstar on his birthday. If your school doesn’t allow lunch visits, ask if you can come in as a mystery reader and read a book to the class.

Other simple ways to squeeze in some special time could be a family game night, movie night or just letting your child stay up past bedtime hanging out with Mom and Dad.

A Note About “Half Birthdays”

People have suggested to us that we shift our kids’ birthdays away from the holidays by celebrating their half birthdays in the summertime instead. While this seems to work well for some families, I’ve always felt like the day when their age changes is a big deal for kids and needs to be acknowledged. I have a hard time getting on board with just saying “yesterday you were four, today you are five and we will celebrate that in six months.”

That said, my children’s opinions are the ones that really matter so if they ever decide they want to move to half birthdays, I would follow their lead.

If your child is a Christmas baby (or if you yourself are!) I’d love to hear from you!

What are the biggest challenges of birthdays during the holiday season? What have you tried that works for your family?

Classic Thanksgiving Recipes Even Picky Kids Will Eat

Know what tends to put a damper on Thanksigiving joy when you’re a parent? Spending days preparing and cooking special dishes, only to sit down on the big day to have your kids eat a dinner roll.

A lot of classic Thanksgiving recipes are just a little too different for picky children. If you are looking for some new kid-friendly ideas to add to your holiday menu this year, I’ve gathered up some of the best Thanksgiving recipes for kids!

And if you’re looking for more kid-approved dinner ideas that are easy to make AND please picky eaters, don’t miss my kid-friendly dinners for slacker moms!

The Best Thanksgiving Recipes For Kids

Cranberry Sauce That Everyone Will Love

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

Pink Fortitute hit the nail on the head with this cranberry sauce recipe. It uses natural sweeteners like apple cider and pear juice to balance out the tart flavor of the cranberries. And the best part? No gel from a can (with the can lines showing!) to scare off your guests and kids.

Roasted Green Beans

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

One out of my four kids turns his nose up any time I try to serve him any of my boring steamed green vegetables. But when he smells these flavorful roasted green beans, he just might be tempted to try something green! Just the smell of them cooking in the oven gets attention. They are so simple to make, and no condensed soup to make them unhealthy.

Air fryer whole chicken

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

At this risk of offending people by how non-traditional this idea is… how about a whole chicken for Thanksgiving? If you have an Air fryer, you can get juicy chicken with that delicious crispy skin without even taking up space in the oven. Plus it only takes an hour!

Picky kids do better with foods that are familiar, so even just hearing the word chicken instead of turkey might make them more likely to try it. I know my kids go crazy for a fried chicken, so it’s worth a try if your little one has made too many handprint turkeys to ever want to eat one.

Deviled Egg Turkeys

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

Doesn’t it seem like every other holiday has more kid-friendly fun appetizers? Halloween has mummy dogs and jack o’lantern everything, but you never seen anything for Thanksgiving.

How cute are these deviled eggs made to look like happy little Thanksgiving turkeys? I think they just might be cute enough for kids to want to eat!

Even if your child just eats the pepper slices and hard boiled egg (like my kids do), that’s still a great healthy snack before they go stuffing themselves up with pie.

Easy Potatoes Romanoff

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

If you’ve been here awhile, it will come as no surprise to you that I LOVE recipes that start with the word “easy”! I’m not about to cook anything that takes too much time or requires too many ingredients.

This classic comfort dish is known as “that hash brown dish” and it’s full of creamy, cheesy, potatoe-y deliciousness. And the part that makes it perfect for Thanksgiving? If you’re all out of oven space, you can make this in the Crock-Pot!

Check out Food Meanderings for the recipe- it is sure to please the entire crowd you’re having for Thanksgiving from your toddler to your great Aunt Sue.

Cinnamon Glazed Carrots

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

Sometimes adding a little sweetness to those vegetables is what helps the kids learn to love them.

These are cooked perfectly tender in the Instant Pot with just the right amount of cinnamon and orange juice to ramp up the flavor. Then you add brown sugar and honey to turn up the sweetness!

If you want some veggies on your kids’ plates on Thanksgiving that won’t end up in the garbage, don’t miss this recipe from Simply Happy Foodie.

Slow Cooker Applesauce

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

Here is one even the pickiest eater will happily eat: homemade applesauce!

My favorite things about this recipe? 1. It has no added sugar, so the delicious sweetness is all natural. 2. You make it in the slow cooker, no mashing required! and 3. You can make it that day and serve it warm, or make it ahead and serve it cold. Yummy either way 🙂

Trader Joe’s Copycat Mac and Cheese

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

Another staple for all the picky eaters, this Mac and cheese recipe is a definite crowd pleaser!

This homemade mac and cheese has none of the junk you find in the boxed variety, and is super creamy and flavorful.

I love how this recipe makes enough cheese sauce for 2 lbs of pasta. Use half for your Thanksgiving side dish, and freeze the other  half for a super quick and yummy dinner later!

Thanksgiving Stuffing Muffins

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

Why is it that everything tastes better in muffin form when you’re a kid?

Let the little ones help you when you make these simple, yummy individual stuffing servings. Only 6 ingredients and 15 mins of prep time means they can try a traditional holiday stuffing without a ton of work.

I think they’ll take a liking to the savory, buttery flavor with just the right amount of crunch on top.

Thanksgiving Dessert Turkeys

Thanksgiving recipes for kids

Here is another adorable one from Dancing Through The Rain! My kids tend to like the traditional apple or pumpkin pie, but I know a lot of children who don’t particularly like pie. This cute little turkey-faced cookie and candy creation makes the perfect dessert (non-traditional, but still in the Thanksgiving spirit.)

And with melted chocolate serving as the food “glue”, kids will have just as much fun making them as they will eating them.

So there you have it, 10 fantastic and festive Thanksgiving recipes for kids!

Make them all, and you’ll have a well-balanced Thanksgiving dinner that’s super kid-friendly.


Don’t forget to check out the NEW Real Moms Shop! My funny Mom tees and mugs make great gifts for Moms this holiday season.

Just a couple of my favorites:

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