Thursday, January 22, 2015

15 Must-Read Tricks For Tackling Disneyland With Young Kids

15 parenting tricks for Disneyland with young kids

Ah, Disneyland. Almost every family I know wants to go there at least once while their kids are young. There are dreams of Mickey, and princesses, and rides, and Cars Land. It’s the happiest place on earth, right? Well, if you go in unprepared you might as well hand the mouse your money, turn around, and go home.

My family has now been a number of times with our young kids and developed a list of tricks that are “must follow.” Beware, if you don’t go in with a game plan, your trip can turn from one of amazement to one of absolute frustration. This list will save you from that frustration.

1. Use this trick to get a rare discount on park tickets…
If you aren’t buying park tickets in a package deal, it’s hard to find discounts on them. Did you know you can buy tickets using Disney gift cards? Furthermore, at the time of this writing, you can receive a 5% discount on gift cards by buying them with your Target credit card. It might not seem like much of a savings, but if you are buying for a whole family the discount adds up. On our last trip we saved about $70. Disney gift cards can also be used for food and merchandise in the park.

Also, never buy your tickets at the gate; get them online. When you buy them online you can use your gift cards and get a free magic morning at Disneyland (only on park passes for 3 days or longer). Magic mornings get you into the gate one hour before opening to the public. They are awesome. If you buy your tickets at the front gate, you might hit a long line and you don’t get that early entry. My family found this out the hard way. 

15 parenting tricks for Disneyland with young kids
2. This is necessary for anyone under five…
Make sure to bring or rent a stroller for kids five and under. We brought one for our baby and rented one for our four-year-old. As the day went on, the rented stroller was a lifesaver for carrying items and navigating crowds. If you are staying offsite and need to go back to your room for a nap, you can drop off the stroller at the rental location by the front gate, and pick it up when you come back.

You should also bring a baby carrier in addition to a stroller. They are lifesavers for holding your kids in line, even if you are waiting for only ten minutes. 

3. Make reservations at restaurants now...
This may seem like a no brainer but every time I’m at a place like Ariel’s Grotto, I see upset parents and melting down kids who are out of luck. During busier times of year it’s almost impossible to find seating. Of course you can always buy a turkey leg or corn dog, however, it is easy to make reservations online or over the phone.

4. Speaking of Ariel’s Grotto…
If you have young kids and have never eaten at a Disney character dining restaurant you should do it, at least once. We like Ariel’s Grotto because princesses come around to each table so you won’t have to wait in long lines in the park. Some also like Goofy’s kitchen. Either way, it is a great way to make memories and take wonderful pictures.

15 parenting tricks for Disneyland with young kids

5. For outside of the park eating…
A few blocks south of Disneyland is a strip mall across from The Candy Cane Inn. It is an easy walk from the park and at last count offered at least five types of food to choose from. We found the food and prices to be a good if you are on a budget or just tired of Disney food.

6. Speaking of saving money on food…
Did you know you can bring food and drink into Disneyland and California Adventure? Even if you are planning on eating in the parks bring water bottles. If you are reading this, you probably have young kids. If you have young kids you should also have a stroller. Put a load of water bottles in the bottom of the stroller each day and you will not only stay hydrated, but you will also save a ton of money on drinks.

15 parenting tricks for Disneyland with young kids
7. To load up on coffee, skip Starbucks and go here…
First of all, try and get your coffee before you go in the park in the morning. You will want to head straight to rides and not wait in line for food or drinks. You will waste valuable time. If you need a caffeinated pick me up during the day, don’t go to Starbucks on Main St. in Disneyland. Instead, hit the Jolly Holiday. It’s the big yellow restaurant right at the end of Main St. They have most specialty coffee drinks and usually a way shorter line.

8. You must bring this…
Bring a blanket that you don’t mind getting dirty. It’s not to keep warm, but to put on the ground for shows. It’s a good idea to get to fireworks, World of Color, parades and other shows at least 30-45 minutes early. It’s nice to have somewhere for the kids to sit. A blanket is perfect for this.

9. And this…
Cell phones are needed but coverage at Disneyland is spotty at best. This means your phone will be constantly searching for a better signal and your battery will die fast. Do not forget to bring a mini external charger to recharge your phone with. Just keep it in the stroller for when needed. You can get them on Amazon for relatively cheap.

10. Try these bathrooms first…
If you have young kids or babies try using the companion bathrooms. They are stroller friendly and there usually isn’t much of a line. Also, every bathroom that I have seen has a dedicated changing table. This means moms AND dads can take the babies to clean up!

11. This little known area can be a parent lifesaver…
Disneyland and California Adventure have a Baby Center. Parents can go there for a nursing room, changing area, kitchen with microwave, and a store with all sorts of baby products. Best of all, it has a big room for crawling kids to move around in to get the wiggles out.

12. This will save you more time on rides that anything else…
If you haven’t heard of the website, you are missing out. It is a site about visiting Disneyland and it maps out your entire day for you to save the most time possible and spend the least time in lines. I have used it for two trips and it is very efficient. It almost seems as if you stay ahead of the crowds all day long. The site also gives you many other tips that you will not want to miss. RideMax costs $15 for a 90-day subscription. However, this will be some of the best money you spend on your whole trip.

13. You might know about Fast Passes but do you know about these other passes…
Many people know that fast passes for Disney rides are free and really necessary to hit everything. However, did you know that if you have a child who is too small to ride, you can get a switch pass? This lets you and two other go on the ride again at any point during the day. 

15 parenting tricks for Disneyland with young kids

14. When watching parades, do this…
Why does everyone sit in the middle of a parade? Sit at the beginning or end and there are usually many more spots available. Another plus is that after the parade you can easily leave and beat the crowds to your next stop.

15. Here is how to beat the crowds on Cars Land Radiator Springs Racers in the morning…
This is easily the most popular ride in Disneyland and California Adventure. Standby lines can get to 2 hours long; so hit this ride first thing. Enter the front gate and head straight ahead to where the crowd will be gathering to be led into Cars Land. If you are heading right to the ride, get to the very right of the crowd. Stay to the right all the way to the line because the cast members will eventually make everyone merge to the right. You will be one step ahead.

If you are trying for Radiator Springs Racers Fast Passes, move to the very left of the crowd. Make sure you give one person everyone’s passes to streamline this process. When they open up the Fast Pass line, walk as fast as you can, staying to the left. This will get you to the machines quickly and let you enjoy the rest of your day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

8 Reasons Why Your Toddler is Probably a Secret Government Spy

8 Reasons Why Your Toddler is Probably a Secret Government Spy

Have you ever wondered why your toddler has an amazing set of skills that they just seem to intuitively pick up out of thin air? These talents might not be from natural ability, there could be a much more sinister force at work here. My friend Carter from the blog recently showed me an article where a well-known racecar driver claimed his ex-girlfriend was a secret government assassin.

It got me thinking, “Could toddlers actually have acquired their skills from an underground government agency? Is it possible my kids are actually secret government spies?” You look at the evidence; it might not be as far fetched as it sounds!

1. Their aim is deadly.
Dads, have you ever had a toddler run at and hit you full speed? They are just the right height to put you out of commission with this one move. I won’t even mention their aim with wiffle ball bats, we’ve all seen those videos. If that’s not the talent of a government super spy, I don’t know what it is.

2. They have the ability to stay up all night.
Everyone knows a secret government agent needs little to no sleep. Your toddler can prop those eyelids open longer than what seems to be humanly possible. They have literally trained their entire lives to be able to stay up longer than you. This training has to be a sign of their elite spy status.

3. They can interrogate like no other.
Every parent has been reduced to tears by their toddler’s interrogation tactics. You think they ask “why” 4,000 times per hour by accident? Do you really believe they have no idea they’ve pooped out of the last clean onesie in the house? They knew hiding the car keys would send your world spinning. You were beaten before you even had your first cup of coffee this morning.

4. They have James Bond level escapability.
You can try to put them in their crib, lock them in their play yard, or even confine them to their high chair. One moment they’re happily playing with their Toy Story dolls and the next they’ve vanished into thin air. They have one mission, to flee from you. In the time it took you to read this sentence, they’ve already developed their next escape plan.

5. Their palates are finely tuned machines.
You think they spit out that pureed turkey and winter vegetable medley because they were just being difficult? Toddlers know to hold out for the good stuff. Secret agents can order in foreign languages while deciphering the best bottle on the wine list. They know if they throw the food to the dog (or on your shirt) it’s just a matter of time before the treats come out. Toddlers can brave starvation for however long it takes to get the gourmet food you reserve for special occasions and emergency snacks. Government spies don’t settle for ground beef when there’s lobster to be had.

6. They can spot their target from across the room.
Secret agents can see their mark and swiftly seize it before anyone is the wiser. Toddlers are no different. With their cat-like reflexes they run, crawl, and dive to get that ball of gunk on the floor and stick it in their mouths faster than anyone else could ever hope to move. With their target in sight, no parent matches a toddler super spy’s speed and agility.

7. Their determination is legendary.
A secret government agent never stops until the mission is successfully completed. Whether it’s having a fifteen-minute meltdown over the wrong colored shirt, or somehow grabbing that antique picture frame using their elastic like reach, the toddler resolve is unshakeable. Just like a secret agent, they will do everything in their power to accomplish their goal, no matter how much damage it causes.

8. They can adapt to any situation.
Toddlers are just as comfortable running down the street naked as they are showing off the latest fashion at the playground. They can also turn their emotions on and off like a faucet. I know you thought they were seriously upset when they were screaming about their pacifier, but you were just sucked into their game. Just like 007, they can adapt appearance and emotions to whatever the mission’s surroundings require.

There you have it, undeniable evidence that your toddler is probably a secret government spy. When you add it all up, there really is no other logical conclusion. The only question is, “Are you in their crosshairs next?”

Let me know below how else your kids have shown themselves to be secret government spies.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Disneyland It's a Small World Lunch

Disneyland It's a Small World Bento Lunch #Disneyside

If you haven't been following me on social media (first of all why not?), you would have seen that my family took a trip last week to Disneyland. We live in northern California so we drove down spur of the moment. We were planning a trip later on in the year, but we decided to go last week instead. I plan on writing a post about all the tips we have for taking young kids to the park, and I will tell you then why we dropped everything and changed our trip. Until I write that, I thought it would be fun to show you my daughter's Disney themed lunch today. This is from one of our favorite rides, It's a Small World!

I'll, be honest, this lunch took a long time to make, but since we just made a ton of memories I thought I would take some extra time to make the Small World ride exterior as detailed as I could. Well, as detailed as I could do with food. This lunch wasn't difficult, just time consuming. It is actually pretty straightforward so I will list the ingredients below but, the directions will be short because you can just see the picture to make it. I did pack the lunch in a Planetbox container.

Disneyland It's a Small World Bento Lunch #Disneyside
Flour tortilla
Peanut butter (or nut free Wowbutter)
Blue, black, and red food coloring
Snap peas
Dried apricot
Dried blueberries
Babybel cheese
Sliced meat

1. I made a peanut butter sandwich (requested by my daughter) with a tortilla. You can use any filling you want. I just cut the tortilla to fit the container and then cut another piece to the shape of the ride. I then used a toothpick to apply the blue details you see in the picture.

2. Use any fruits and vegetables you want for the background. I used tortilla scraps to make the letters you see in the lunch. The Mickey ears are made from dried apricot.

3. For the little girl, I used a toothpick for the facial features and one little slice of meat on the back for hair. I also cut a separate piece of meat for the bangs. I topped it off with a piece of red wax that I took off the Babybel cheese. I decorated that area with dried blueberries and a few sprinkles.

Disneyland It's a Small World Bento Lunch #Disneyside

Monday, January 5, 2015

King Julien Bento Lunch

King Julien bento lunch Madagascar All Hail King Julien

My kids first saw King Julien and the rest of the lemurs on every Madagascar movie. Recently Netflix released a new series called All Hail King Julien. My kids are officially addicted. On New Year's Eve, Netflix also did something awesome for parents. They had a streaming countdown, featuring King Julien, that you could play for your kids whenever you want. My kids loved having a dance party while watching it and I loved showing the countdown at 8:30 pm instead of midnight. Anyway, I have to admit Julien is pretty hilarious. Maurice might steal the show though. Now if I could only get that theme song out of my head.

I made this lunch in an Easy Lunch Boxes container and Julien is actually a sandwich. I tried to make the lunch as festive as Julien's life seems to be. Check out the show and check out my social media channels for even more fun stuff. Social Media buttons are on the right. Here's the recipe.

King Julien bento lunch Madagascar All Hail King Julien
Fat-free cream cheese
Whole wheat bread
Jam or other sandwich filling
Black food coloring
Dried blueberries or raisins
Snap peas
Dried Apricot
Orange (I used a blood orange)
Orange peel
Colorful fruits or vegetables, shredded
Kind fruit and nut clusters
Plain yogurt

1. Cut Julien's head shape out of bread. Repeat with second piece. Don't worry, it's a lemur, the shape is hard to mess up.

2. Mix cream cheese with a very small amount of black food coloring. The resulting color should be light gray. Outline the head with gray then fill in the middle with white. Shape blueberries or raisins into the shape of the facial features and stick them on. Put jam on the other piece of bread and stick both pieces together to make a sandwich.

3. Peel the orange and cut two circles out of the peel. I used regular marker to draw the eyes since my kids won't eat the peels. Maybe yours will. That would be kind of weird, though. Place them on Julien's face.

4. Cut the dried apricots and snap peas as shown to make the hat. You can attach them together using toothpicks if desired. Put on top of Julien's head. Place head in main dish and surround with dried blueberries and shredded fruit or vegetables. 

5. In side dish place fruit and nut clusters and arrange orange pieces on top. In second side dish put strawberries and cover them with yogurt. Drop sprinkles on top of yogurt. 

King Julien bento lunch Madagascar All Hail King Julien

Monday, December 29, 2014

Lunchbox Dad's Top 14 Lunches of 2014

Lunchbox Dad's Top 14 Lunches of 2014

Another year is almost over so it's time to look back on an amazing year here at Lunchbox Dad. So many great things happened from appearing on The Steve Harvey Show, to being featured on Good Morning America, writing for The Huffington Post, a back-to-school article in People Magazine, and recently being named one of the 14 Parents Who Stormed the Internet in 2014. I also started writing more parenting posts here on my blog, including two that went viral and were featured on other sites: 9 Things Not to Say to the Parents of a Newborn and Sorry Kids, I Will Never Let You Beat Me. Thank you to all of you who spread the word about my blog this past year!

However, this blog has primarily always been about the fun lunches I make my kids, so I present to you my top 14 lunches of 2014. Some of these were really popular, others are just favorites of my kids and I. All of them hold special memories from this last year. So here they are, in no particular order:

Ghostbusters Lunch

Lego Movie Wyldstyle Lunch

Yertle the Turtle Lunch Dr. Seuss

Faux Sushi Lunch

My Little Pony Pinkie Pie Lunch

Frozen Elsa and Olaf Lunch

Sesame Street Lunch

Captain America Lunch

Star Wars Ewok Lunch

Big Hero 6 Lunch

Disney Planes Lunch

Toy Story Jessie Lunch

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Lunch

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

10 Time Saving Holiday Tips For the Whole Family

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post in conjunction with Hewlett Packard for their new product Sprout by HP. I received compensation for participating in this campaign.10 Time Saving Holiday Tips For the Whole Family

1. Delegate Responsibilities. 
Don’t try to do it all alone, this only leads to stress and running around. Give everyone a task (or two!) to do to keep them busy and cross things off your list. A great job for little ones is to have them wipe off tables or countertops. They love helping and being a part of something. Cooking is only one part of preparing for a holiday celebration so delegate that too: assign guests a specific food to bring, especially favorite dishes you know they excel at.

2. Use technology in new and unexpected ways to make tedious tasks more creative. 
Innovative new technology like Sprout by HP allows everyone to add the homemade touch by scanning in your favorite ornaments and holiday decorations to create a unique design on the dual-surface device. Sprout is so simple and intuitive your kids will have something amazing created in 30 minutes (no joke).

3. Give that personal touch and prepare many presents at one time by making large batches of soup, jams or cookies. 
These are personal gifts that are great for family, teachers, and neighbors that your kids will love helping you with in the kitchen. Or, if you don’t have time to cook, have your kids help you layer all the dry ingredients to your family’s favorite cookie recipe in a mason jar. To really give that homemade feel, tie a ribbon around the jar with the present tags your kids made – one side is a holiday greeting from your family while the cookie recipe is on the other side. With thoughtful presents like these, you don’t just save money but also keep the kids entertained when it’s too cold to go outside.

4. When you need to be efficient, have some fun learning activities for your kids to do while you get the holiday prep done. 
You don’t have to just plop them in front of the TV, there are some great computer programs out there like Crayola Color Draw and Sing, Dreamworks Story Producer and Spruzzle that are fun and help them be creative at the same time. “Holiday Lap Books” are another fun alternative – search Pinterest for free templates that you can print out and watch your kids create their own! They learn and you get your holiday list done!

5. Wrap presents as soon as you can after you buy them. 
Avoid the last minute gift wrapping marathon. Hint: don’t put the bows on until you’re ready to put them under the tree so you can store and stack the gifts easily. Wrapping the presents right away also helps prevent nosy kids (and significant others) from peeking at their presents early!

6. If you need some last minute holiday craft ideas don’t reinvent the wheel. 
Sites like Pinterest have a ton of great ideas that aren’t complicated and don’t involve leaving the house to buy materials. You can find great ideas for kids and adults.

7. Plan travel ahead of time in order to save money, time, and stress. 
And be sure to allot extra time into your schedule for any weather conditions, traffic and long lines.

8. Create new gift giving traditions. 
Let’s face it; it’s hard to buy presents for everyone in your extended family and your friends. This year, instead of spending a ton of time and money shopping for everyone, crate a new tradition: have people draw one name out of a hat for a present and one name to make a stocking for but keep these names secret. Each person then shops for only those two names using an agreed upon budget that everybody sticks to. This helps you focus your energy to find really special gifts for two people instead of everyone! We do this with my extended family and it alleviates so much stress.

9. Make Lists, and Check Them Twice. 
Write on post it notes, dry erase marker on your mirror or on your smartphone – whatever is most convenient for you. Then, as you go through the list, cross things off so you don’t forget anything, like the gift for the babysitter or your great Aunt who can’t make it to the holiday dinner. Find what works for you to keep you organized during this stressful time of year. Also, plot out your course for running errands ahead of time. This will save time, gas and headaches.

10. Last, but most important: Remember to say, “No.” 
You can’t do everything so why stress out trying? Keep the most important things as your priority so you have more time to focus on those.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: Anki DRIVE Race Set, Family Fun or High Tech Flop?

Anki DRIVE race set review

I'm always on the lookout for products that can help parents in different ways. It doesn't always have to be a parenting tool, sometimes it can be a really cool product that changes everything you know about toys. Actually, It might be unfair to call the Anki DRIVE just a toy. It is a toy, app, video game, and family competition all in one. Honestly it was nothing like I've ever experienced before.

Anki DRIVE race set review

The race set comes in a long, fairly thick box. The packaging itself is pretty sleek and impressive. Before I opened it I thought, "this will be a shame to throw away." The practical side is that you keep the packaging because it is made to store all the parts in. The drawback is, due to it's size, it might be hard to find a good place to store it. Each starter set comes with a race mat, charger, two cars, car storage/charging docks, instructions, and wheel cleaner.

Anki DRIVE race set review
Once you crack it open, it is fairly easy to get racing. First, roll out the race track mat. It is 3.5 x 8.5 ft. so it takes up a bit of room. Next, download the free app. Then, go through the tutorial. Last, race against your friend or the computer. I tested the Anki DRIVE with all ages from my 4-year-old through older adults (it is recommended for ages 8 and up). I can honestly say most everyone who played was impressed. The nearest I can come to describing it is it's like Super Mario Kart, but in real life. It even reminded some adults of the old slot car race tracks.

The beauty of the Anki DRIVE is that my kids had no problem getting the hang of driving. Unlike normal toy race tracks, you do not steer the car, it steers automatically. This means you don't have to go chase it under the couch and put it back on the track. You can control speed and tilt your phone to steer to the outside or inside lane. This lets you focus on the fun stuff like using the weapons. You are able to race against human opponents or an AI controlled robot car. Four cars can compete in each race. You can choose to compete in race or battle modes. A race consists of a set number of laps while battle is all out virtual destruction. 

Anki DRIVE race set review

Each car comes with specific weapons such as tractor beam, vulcan cannon, or speed boost. You can also buy upgrades for the cars using points collected by winning races. These upgrades can improve speed, steering, or even give you different weapons. Younger kids will have a harder time understanding when to use some of the weapons and how to upgrade the cars effectively. However, these features are exactly what keeps adults like me coming back to race again and again.

My favorite car is the expansion car Corax. It is heavily armored and has the vulcan cannon and EMP blast. The EMP takes out cars immediately around you, which is helpful in a crowded race. A fun feature with Corax is that you must beat him in battle mode first before you can use him yourself. 

Anki DRIVE race set review

Anki DRIVE is a great idea with a myriad of future possibilities. They have recently released two new tracks as well. However, there are a few things to be aware of. Each player must have their own iPhone, iPod, or Android phone to play. Each phone must have the app and currently Apple devices cannot compete against Android devices. The track gets dirty easily and should not be stepped on. This can be a challenge around little kids. It can, however, be cleaned with Windex and a cloth. Each car lasts for around twenty minutes on a single charge. It takes eight to ten minutes to recharge. It really is more fun to have expansion cars so that you can continue to race while other cars are recharging (you can charge up to three cars at once). The issue is that buying more cars means a bigger investment. If you can get past these few challenges, then you and your family will have a ton of fun.

Anki DRIVE race set review

Maybe you can tell by now that I highly recommend the Anki DRIVE. The starter set retails for $149.99, but I have seen it on sale recently for $99.99. Regardless, it is worth every penny. I tested this with about twenty-five kids, teenagers, and adults. When I told people the price, the were immediately looking it up to see where to buy it. Each expansion car retails for around $49.99 and comes with a separate charging/storage dock. This set is great for a family game night or when you get together with friends. It is also very portable.  My advice is to get the Anki DRIVE. Now. You can buy it straight from their website, Target, or a number of other online retailers.

Disclosure: I received these products for free from Anki DRIVE. I have received no other compensation for this post and the opinions I’m expressing here are solely my own.