September 14, 2017

A 30 Minute Meal Your Kids Might Eat

*I have partnered with Barilla and Life of Dad for this promotion.

Now that school is back in session, it's time to get back to our routine. The summer was spent going from barbecue to barbecue, from pizza place to pizza place, and ice cream shop to ice cream shop. There never was a time where we sat down as a family and enjoyed a nice home cooked meal... there just wasn't any time. I know summers are supposed to be for relaxing, but it seemed to be nonstop from start to finish.

But now that school is back, all that HAS to change and it starts at the dinner table.

My boys can be picky, but they also have started to get into foods that they haven't eaten in the past. It used to be everything was bland or fried, but now they both seem to enjoy spice a little bit more... except when it comes to pasta. Like most kids, mine could eat pasta with butter for every meal. In fact I would say that the makeup of any child is 35% pasta. Our pantry is one shelf of cereal, one shelf cookies, and four shelves of Barilla® pasta. I would say that water boils in my house at least four hours each day.

Pasta... it's (usually) what's for dinner.

And lunch.

But it's time to shake up my pasta game a little bit and start offering my kids something more. I mean, my oldest is a teenager now and I can't send him off into the real world only being able to stomach pasta with butter. Knowing that they are capable of eating something else, I thought I would make them something they would enjoy... hopefully.

The first order of business when you are cooking for kids is to not over do it. I can't tell you how many times I've spent hours in the kitchen making something delicious only to see them snub their noses at it and end up eating cereal. Why should I put the effort in, when I know that the kids aren't going to enjoy it? So my goal from now on is to spend no more then 30 minutes on any meal, unless I'm using the crock pot where I can pretend that I spent all day cooking.

30 MINUTES... that's all it takes to satisfy the kids and YOU.

Obviously this starts with all the basic ingredients: Barilla Mezzi Rigatoni, tomatoes, Barilla Chunky Traditional sauce, and cheese. I'm leaving out a surprise ingredient in case my kids see this recipe and wonder what the heck the green stuff in their food was.

The first order of business is to boil the water to where it's "al dente." Each box of Barilla pasta is different, so as to avoid mushy or overcooked pasta, please follow the instructions on the box.

The second step while the pasta is cooking is to cook the chicken. I put a little butter and oil in the pan and seasoned the chicken slightly with salt and pepper.  Too much pepper and your kids will hate it.

Thirdly, we drain the pasta and set aside a plain serving for later.

Next we add tomatoes and our secret ingredient spinach into the pan that we used to cook the chicken in. 

Next cut up the chicken and add that to the pan. Please make sure that you chicken is cooked all the way through. Consuming undercooked or raw chicken can cause you to become sick... not that I would know of course since I always seem to cook it WAY too much leaving it WAY too dry.

Add the Barilla Chunky Traditional sauce and coat evenly.  Make sure not to use TOO much as you don't want your pasta to drown in the sauce. The sauce and the pasta should work in perfect harmony and too much much of either will detract from your dish.

Add the pasta and stir it all together. If you notice the green spinach you can add one more step.

CHEESE... it makes everything taste better, even spinach. 

I decided to pair this dish with a fine 2% milk and yelled to my kids that their food was ready.

Needless to say, my son decided after one bite that this meal wasn't for him and went for the plain pasta that I set aside and a little the leftover chicken.  What can I say? I tried. For me, this was delicious.

Barilla's classic line comes in 38 different cuts of pasta and 14 varieties of sauce. That leaves you with an endless amount of meal combinations for picky eaters in your house. Barilla offers you stress-free meal combinations perfect for back to school season, and the taste will leave your kids coming back for more... even if it's only pasta with butter.  

John Willey - Daddy's in Charge?


June 16, 2017

What Age is the Best Age?

As we were wrapping up our men's league baseball game the other day, the topic of kids came up which it frequently does. All of us are over 30 and most of us have at least one kid. Some of them have kids that are grown and out of the house and others have had a baby in the past year. We run the gamut when it comes to parenting experience.

One of the guys was talking about his three year old and I commented about how that was such a fun age. He looked at me like I was an idiot. Apparently dealing with a child that is coming into their own and demanding that they have a say in things is something that I completely forgot about. Sure, I remember the tough times, but with a 10 year old and an almost teenager, I look back and can't help but think that WAS a fun age. The world is new to them and everything is amazing. Ask a 12 year old and all you get out of them is a "ok."

It got me thinking about what age are kids the best?

Maybe it's when they are first born and you get that first little smile. The one that tells you that they are totally getting your jokes, or maybe the one that is telling you that their diaper is full of poop. Either way, is there anything better than a newborn baby?

One is a good age too. Especially when they start copying you. It makes you realize that a little bit of you is rubbing off on them, and maybe they are paying attention and god forbid... actually starting to idolize you. One was the best age.

Maybe two was? I mean, they are much more mobile at that age and they can do so many more things. You don't have to carry them everywhere, but you also have to chase them more. There's good and bad I guess, but two was great.

But you know what was even better than that? Adding another one to the mix. A three year old and a newborn! That was a great time to be alive. But the lack of sleep and the constant crying, not to mention more diapers filled with poop... Seeing the older one become a big brother was the best.

Perhaps my favorite age was when Tyler was four and Carter was one. Carter always had that binky in his mouth. I always thought he looked like a chainsmoker with that thing... boy was he cute. And Tyler? He was really into art and loved to draw.  I wouldn't trade those ages for anything.

Except for maybe when Tyler was five and Carter was two. That was fun. We took them to France that year and bought them shields and swords. They didn't like bad guys and were going to protect us. 

Six and three were fun ages too. Everything was a hoot. As Tyler got smarter each and everyday, Carter got more and more wild. He was a handful, but man, at his cutest he was CUTE. But did he ever have a set of lungs. We were at the height of loving Toy Story at the time and who doesn't love that?

Seven and four were the best! You could tell that the kids couldn't stand each other, but they couldn't stand NOT BEING around each other either. They have really developed quite a brotherly bond. Tyler was the protector, except the thing he needed to be protected from was his little brother.

Eight and five were fun ages too. We were still able to dress them in the same outfit as each other and either they didn't notice or they didn't care. Perhaps Tyler cared, but he was too much of a nice kid to let us know. Carter I'm sure screamed the whole car ride up Mt. Washington, but at least he smiled when the camera was rolling. He was sneaky like that.  We could travel everywhere with kids that age and everything was still new and exciting. I like that a lot about those ages.

But I liked nine and six even more. I hadn't taught them how to skip rocks yet, so I thought that there was no better place to do that than under the Post du Gard in Provence. I know it's an awfully long way to go from New Jersey to accomplish such things. But we took a few years off from international travel because Carter was a terror when it came to this sort of thing. He was cute and wonderful and all that, but at six years old he looked to outgrow all that. So yeah, nine and six were really good ages.

But man... was 10 and 7 awesome!  The boys started to get obsessed with sports, especially baseball which is my favorite. We spent the summer watching baseball games on TV and going to games in person. I didn't know if the would have then patience to watch a three hour game in person, but they loved it. Two baseball loving kids... what more could a father ask for?

At 11 and eight, we bought them a dog. What could be cuter than an 11 and eight year old with a dog. It turns out nothing was. Snowball was the perfect addition to our family and it made this age SO MUCH FUN.

12 and nine could have been the best ages. You can really start to have adult conversations with Tyler and Carter is still that innocent little boy as much as he tries to come across as a tough guy. He still wanted you to carry him upstairs, but only if his friends aren't around. Tyler was in middle school and started to learn things that you can actually remember. Sixth grade homework is so much easier than second grade homework.

But then here we are today... and it's the best. 13 and 10. Something tells me that when they are 63 and 60 I will still think those are awesome ages.

So what age is the best age? As long as I am a dad... all of them.

Pampers is giving thanks this Father's day to babies for making dad feel exceptionally special. They are honoring dads like myself for doing just that, being a dad. Please join them in tweeting why you are thankful for baby using the hashtag #ThanksBaby.

**I have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion. All the honesty and raw emotion was mine and nobody else's.

John Willey - Daddy's in Charge?