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?


June 14, 2017

Who Exactly are These Morning People?

I have never been a morning person. Which is kind of funny, because for six years my mornings existed while some of you hadn't even gone to sleep yet. I was up BEFORE the guy who made the donuts, garbage men were still sleeping, and the morning newspaper? Well, let's just say news was still being made.

I don't know what I was thinking taking a job that had me get to work at 2:00 in the morning, but I do know it made me somewhat of a zombie. I had never really drank coffee at all in my life. There was the occasional cup at holiday gatherings, though I was more of a tea guy. Not the kind of tea guy that could tell the difference Earl Grey and Chamomile, but I liked tea way better than coffee.

I still have a mug from when I was a kid
It probably had something to do with my parents. They drink coffee black and that was something that I was never going to put in my system.  If I were to ever drink coffee, it would have to be with cream and sugar. The problem is that I don't think my house had cream OR sugar growing up... so black it was. And not only was it black, it tasted like the worst bitter liquid that anyone on earth could consume. It seemed more like car fuel than human fuel.  My parents have gotten better at making coffee, but only because you can disguise the taste with flavorings, something I make sure they have on hand.

I didn't drink much coffee in college either.  It wasn't coffee that got us through late night cramming sessions, it was chicken wings. We would always order from the same place.  I don't know what it was about those wings, but looking back about them now, I think some still had feathers on them. Maybe coffee would have been better, but at the time Sal's Sassy Sauce was what fueled us. That or video games.

I didn't even drink coffee when I first had kids. I know it's hard to believe if you scour social media nowadays, but here I was - a parent that didn't drink coffee. Shoot me if you must, but based on my history with the stuff, or lack there of, coffee was never on my radar. I think what got me through the early stages of parenthood was the fact that my wife did all the overnight feedings. SHE was the one who needed coffee. Before you get all mad at me for not doing my part, she was the one with the boobs that lactated, not me. Besides that was about to change pretty drastically.

When my son turned four months old, I switched my schedule at work to start working in the early morning (or was it late night?). The change was actually pretty crazy. I had worked that schedule a few times but never on a regular basis so I didn't really know what working that schedule could do to the human body.  Long story short, don't ever jump at the chance to work that early in the morning. You become reliant on coffee and if you are anything like me after drinking one cup, you become reliant on a bathroom as well... which was pretty difficult since I didn't work your typical office job. Coffee makes me have to go and it's not easy to do when you have NO WHERE to go. But I never would have been able to get through the day without at least three cups of coffee

I no longer have that work schedule as I left that job almost seven years ago to be a full time stay at home parent. I'm still not much of a morning person and I never truly understood people who are. I prefer to stay up late watching terrible TV shows than waking up early to do anything. I still drink coffee, but it has to taste good. I'm at the point in my life where nothing goes in my body that I'm going to think is disgusting.

I have never been really good at making coffee. Perhaps I have the same genes as my parents, so I would always head out to one of those fancy coffee shops.  You know, the ones where they draw little pictures in your latte or spice up your cappuccino with one of those cinnamon sticks? We all know what the problem is there's way too expensive.

If I'm not golfing, you can find me in the morning working the garden
Fortunately you can get the same coffee shop flavor with Folgers® Coffeehouse Blend that you can brew right in your own home. Pour it over ice, use a french press, or even cold brew it. You can have the same coffeehouse feel without ever changing out of your pajamas. Folgers Coffeehouse Blend is a medium/dark roast designed to start off smooth and finish with a distinct bold flavor. A coffee this versatile might even be able to turn me into a morning person.

Well... let's not go crazy.

**I have partnered with J.M. Smucker Smucker and Life of Dad on this #ShouldBeOnACoffeeMug campaign. All opinions are my own.

John Willey - Daddy's in Charge?


May 15, 2017

How DIYZ Helped Me Build a Beer Caddie

A couple of years ago, my brother gave me a beer caddie for Christmas. Just when you think he doesn't care at all about you, he goes and builds something that you wouldn't expect.  Since then, I have taken this beer caddie to every party I go to. Needless to say, my six pack is the envy of every room that I walk in to.

My neighbor has been eyeing my beer caddie for sometime. He periodically comes over to my house for a beverage or two or three.  Sometimes we lose count... we have kids after all and you just need to let loose every now and then. So I thought that since I am pretty handy, I'd make him a beer caddie so he wouldn't have to be jealous of mine any more.

When my wife and I first bought a house, I went out and bought a bunch of power tools. I had this idea that I would build all of our furniture, our kitchen cabinets, or maybe I would mill our own flooring from trees behind our house.  None of that ended up being the case. I've built things, but it never seems to be anything that my house actually needs. It's been a steady stream of half done projects and knick knacks over the past 17 years. But hey... I have power tools that look really nice in my garage and if I ever want to build ANOTHER garage, I'll be all set.

This time though, all I wanted to build was a beer caddie.  So I opened up my trusty DIYZ App and figured out everything that I needed to build a beer caddie.

The app gives you a list of tools that you will need as well as a list of supplies. While I had most of the tools, the DIYZ App works with Amazon to make purchasing any that you need fast and easy. Since I didn't feel it was necessary to buy ones that they had suggested, like a power nailer, I just used what I had a home. I have a lot of extra wood laying around (see half projects above) but I didn't have the type of wood that I wanted.  I could have built this beer caddie out of pine, but I wanted to give it a little extra something.  While my home center didn't have anything like walnut, I decided this beer caddie would look nice built out of oak.

I figured that this project would take a couple of hours to build, but what I didn't take into account was my own ineptitude. Once I tried to cut a piece of wood and for some reason the blade of my miter saw split the wood in half and little pieces went flying. Fortunately I listened to the DIYZ App and wore safety goggles throughout the process. But the damage was done (not to my eyes) and I had to make ANOTHER trip to the home center. After I built it, I realized that it was really too short to carry bottles (perhaps something I could have modified on my own) so I had to run back AGAIN and buy a handle.

The DIYZ app could not have been easier to use. With the instructions comes a little video that you can follow along.  I used it as a reference point and did most of the building on my own.  There was one point where one of the measurements did not add up.  But I noticed this before I made my cuts and altered it accordingly.

So while the project should have taken me a couple of hours to build, I had to run back to the home center three times in order to get things that made the beer caddie complete. First was for the wood that I split, second was for the handle, and third was for screws to hold the handle in place.  I could have avoided these extra trips if I did a little better pre-planning, but I have never been known to do such a thing (see half done projects above). In all it took me parts of two days to complete and really wasn't that hard to do. If you have the basic tools on hand, depending on the type of wood that you use, it's a project that will cost less that $50 and you will have a really nice way to carry a six pack around.

As for my friend, he now has a beer caddie that will make him the envy of all HIS friends and he will now have to build one for someone else.  While he isn't quite as handy as I am, perhaps with the DIYZ App... he won't need to be.

The DIYZ App is full of projects that you can complete around your home. It has a full library of projects ranging from how to build a beer caddie, to how to change an electrical socket, and even offers tips on how to tile a backsplash.  Obviously some projects are more difficult, but you also have the ability to talk with a professional contractor who can guide you through the process. It demonstrates the value of doing it yourself instead of hiring someone who will charge you much more.

Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for some really cool DIY projects.

**Disclosure: This post was sponsored by DIYZ App. All opinions are my own.

John Willey - Daddy's in Charge?


May 2, 2017

I Sleep to... Make Sure My Kids Have Everything

Or I guess you could say I DON'T sleep to make sure my kids have everything.

Like most parents, sleep has been an issue since the kids were born. I think that last time I got a full nights rest is the day my oldest son came home from the hospital after being born. Stupid me thought that he slept through the night and of course my wife looked at me like she wanted to kill me. Turns out he was up half the night and I just didn't hear him. I guess I was a pretty sound sleeper.

But things changed since that day.

While my wife did get up in the middle of the night more than I did (she was breastfeeding after all), I have had my share of sleep interruptions over the years. The kids always seemed to need something in the middle of the night, whether it's water, they need to pee, or they just need you to be by their side.  They are much more independent now, but I think the years of constant waking have really taken it's toll on me.

There was a point when they were both really little that my wife and I decided that I would take an early morning shift at work.  Out of bed at 1:00 am to be at work by 2:00 was probably the worst thing that I ever did to my body. For six years I seemed to function (or not function) on around four hours of sleep per night. It's easy to say that you will go to bed at 7:00 every night, but the reality is I just never could get to sleep before the kids did. Not to mention, in the summer it's just not natural to go to bed before the sun went down.

Eventually I quit that job to be a stay at home dad. While I would like to say that my sleeping habits improved, they really didn't. I went from getting around four hours of sleep per night to around six; much of that was my own doing though. I would stay up late blogging, watching TV, or folding laundry. The night time was my me time.

But even that took a toll.

I'm getting a little better now. As you can probably notice I don't blog as much as I used to, but I still stay up late watching TV. Most of the time though, I fall asleep in the middle of a show and wake up around 2:00 in the morning. I then drag my butt upstairs and plop down on my bed to finish off another crappy night of sleep.

It wasn't until I was sent a Beautyrest Sleeptracker monitor that I really started to notice how little sleep I was getting. After downloading the App and taking the 15 minutes to get the product hooked up and connected to my homes WiFi, I could now monitor my sleep, or lack there of.  I have tried various wearable devices over the years, but I always found them uncomfortable. Not surprisingly, I could never get a good nights sleep wearing one.  The difference with the Beautyrest Sleeptracker monitor is that it includes a sensor that slips between your mattress and frame so you don't even know that it's there. It then connects to your phone over WiFi and monitors how well you sleep that night.

On a normal day, I have to get up by 7:00 to get the boys ready for school. There is a setting on the Beautyrest Sleeptracker monitor that asks you when you normally wake up.  I set it to wake me up between 6:30 and 7:00 and wouldn't you know it woke me up at 6:43. Normally I would probably complain about not getting those extra 17 minutes of sleep, but the product knew when I was coming out of a deep sleep and that 17 minutes of restlessness were not going to do me any good.  I shut the alarm off the next day at woke up to another alarm at 7:00.  Wouldn't you know, I felt MORE tired that morning than when the product woke me up naturally.

The interesting part is seeing just how well you slept.

After telling it that I was waking up, the Beautyrest Sleeptracker monitorwas able to show me exactly the amount of time that I was awake, when I was in a deep sleep, when I was in a light sleep, and when I was in REM sleep.

It's kind of important to know these numbers to figure out if you got a good nights sleep. The App will tell you things that aren't good for you like electronics or TV before bed and suggest that exercise is good for you. It's like it's your mom, except it can provide insights as to how well you sleep.

Now that my kids are older and more independent, I guess I could change the "I Sleep to..." to something involving me. I'm not getting any younger and I have come to recognize the importance of a good nights sleep.

I sleep to make sure I stay healthy FOR my kids.

For more information on Beautyrest, follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and check out their website.

*Disclosure: I partnered with Beautyrest and Life of Dad on this promotion.  All opinions are my own.

John Willey - Daddy's in Charge?


February 3, 2017

Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes...

My kids used to be such slobs.

I can't tell you how many times I instituted a "no food in the car" rule only to be over-ruled by two hungry little boys.  When you have a minivan, it's not only a car, it's like a moving dumpster full of half eaten french fries and Cheerios.  CHEERIOS EVERYWHERE.  Since we've had kids we've always leased our minivan and every time that I have returned our vehicle, I'm reminded about the hundreds of times I told the kids to stop eating in the car. Apparently they never listened.

We used to have one of those little snack cups that you would fill up with Cheerios or other small snacks where you could get your hand in, but none of the snacks would ever fall out. It went with us everywhere, but eventually we stopped using it. I was actually looking for it the other day, but like a lot of things from when they were little, it's nowhere to be found.

I used to lament the fact that my kids are getting older.

The boys when I first started this blog
I struggled everyday as my kids became more and more independent. No longer were they my little babies, they were now fully functioning little men.  When I first started here, my oldest Tyler was six years old and scared of spiders. He used to watch Scooby Doo and had this cute little stutter as he tried to find the words he was trying to say.  He's now 12 and has a girlfriend. He's as sharp as a tack and no longer has arachnophobia.  He watches more adult shows like Modern Family and The Office. His face is starting to break out and he smells.  Puberty is starting to set in.

My youngest Carter was just a baby at the time. When he slept he would curl up into a little ball.  He had this raspy voice from screaming so much and he was obsessed with Star Wars.  He's now almost 10 and quite possibly the best little athlete I have ever seen.  He doesn't curl up when he sleeps anymore but for some reason he's started to sleep with a whole bunch of stuffed animals.  His voice isn't as raspy as it used to be, but he still throws tantrums like you wouldn't believe. While Tyler is my little man, Carter is still very much my little boy.

The boys now... big difference.
As much as things have changed over the years, there is one thing that hasn't... breakfast.  Everyday it's the same thing.  I ask the kids what they want and in turn they ask me what do we have. I don't know why they do that, because it's always been the same few choices for the past six years.  With everything that we have in our pantry and refrigerator more often than not it comes down to some variety of Cheerios. My kids are creatures of habit and I should know that because I am the same way. I mean who doesn't LOVE a big bowl of Cheerios?

A photo posted by John Willey (@jdubs44) on

While my kids have changed so has Cheerios.  They now have a Very Berry Cheerios variety that have a taste of real berries in every bite.  Like everything else it seems nowadays, they are also gluten free and contain no artificial flavors or colors.  Follow Cheerios on Social Media and share your #berrieseverywhere moment with them.

**I have partnered with Life of Dad and Cheerios on this campaign... all opinions are my own unless my wife tells me otherwise.

John Willey - Daddy's in Charge?


January 23, 2017

Eating Out While Eating In

We've never been the type of family that was afraid to take our kids out to eat. Since my oldest could hold himself up, he has sat at the table with us. My wife and I figured that the sooner he learned how to act while out at a restaurant, the better we all would be in the long run.

We were perfect parents... then my second son came along.

He was a nightmare wherever we went. You never knew when he was going to have a meltdown, you never knew what kind of food he wanted to eat, and (back before tablets and iPods) you never knew if we had the right color crayons. Eating out with him was an adventure.  In fact, we went to France when he was three and he was so terrible that we vowed to never travel with him again.  Even now at nine, he still has his moments.

We really do like to eat out. I'm not the most adventurous cook and if we want to live on the wild side  at least food wise, we have to let someone else do the cooking.  Of course eating out too much can get expensive and most of the time the kids don't eat what you put in front of them.  Like most parents having a restaurant quality experience at home is something that we would love to do. So we thought that we would bring a steakhouse to OUR house... at least once anyway.

We have all the fancy linens, candles, and fine(er) china; we just never use them outside of MAYBE Christmas and the odd Valentine's Day when I turn into Bobby Flay for a day.  Then I'll spend all day making some romantic meal for my wife and of course the kids end up hating everything.

The hardest part about all of this is that my kids are getting to the age where when they want food, they want it five minutes ago.  They don't want to wait the hour (or two) it might take for the food to cook. Normally I would ply them with goldfish crackers or popcorn to get them through until dinner.  But since we were having a fancy dining experience I thought soup would be in order.

Now normally soup is one of those all day things, but when you have kids, who has all day?  Fortunately Idahoan® Premium Steakhouse® Potato Soups makes the whole soup making process VERY easy. All I had to do was pour the contents of the package into water, heat it up, and stir.  Within five minutes we had a nice creamy delicious potato soup. You wouldn't think that something that comes out a bag would taste so good, but the soups are made with 100% real Idaho® potatoes and they deliver the flavorful, slow-cooked taste of restaurant quality potato soup.

All I had to do was dish out the soup and sit down and eat it.

Unfortunately this was the moment that my wife told me that she was going out to dinner with her sister and that my son was having a sleepover with a friend.  So our fancy family night eating in, turned into anything but that.

A photo posted by John Willey (@jdubs44) on

At least I tried and didn't waste all day making soup.

Life of Dad and Idahoan® Premium Steakhouse® Potato Soups are looking to crown the #KingOfSoup.  If you think I have what it takes to wear that crown, please follow the hashtag on social media.  Also follow Idahoan® Foods on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to show your support.

**This was a sponsored post for Life of Dad and Idahoan® Foods.  I was compensated, but all opinions are my own, unless my wife tells me otherwise.

John Willey - Daddy's in Charge?