Review: Raised Real baby food

Food and feeding have always been a part of motherhood extremely close to my heart. From nursing my daughter moments after she was born to introducing her to her first spoonful of pureed carrots, I’ve delighted in watching her voracious appetite and helping to develop her sense of taste.

The more we ventured into the world of real food, though, the more I was surprised to learn how few resources there were supporting parents. It shouldn’t be, but first foods can be a really stressful time for parents. Babies are messy and still learning how to control their tongues, and it can be easy to interpret this as distaste or “picky eating.” Plus, there are myriad rules and restrictions for parents if you want to dive down that rabbit hole, and it can all feel incredibly overwhelming.

I was extremely fortunate that our pediatrician was very helpful with feeding. Not only did they encourage me to try a variety of foods multiple times, but they never seemed fazed by the idea that she might not like something right away. I had also read a book that mentioned that a baby needed to try something up to twenty times before you could really be sure they didn’t like the food, which was helpful for me mentally on the days it seemed like she was being overly picky.

As a result, Vivi has always been a kid who eats just about everything (some of her favorite foods are raw bell peppers and raw onions, which always blows my mind). Despite our good experience, though, I know feeding and especially first foods can be a difficult transition for a lot of parents.

That’s why I was really interested in the company Raised Real when I first heard about them. Raised Real is a baby food delivery service that provides flash-frozen, organically sourced meals for parents to prepare at home. Not only are they on the same page as my former pediatrician when it comes to what kids can eat and when, they also live by a pretty simple philosophy: There’s no such thing as a picky eater baby.

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When they asked if I would be interested in trying a box in exchange for a review, I jumped at the chance.

Each delivery box comes frozen on dry ice and has 20 pouches. The meals themselves are put together by Raised Real’s co-founder and registered dietician Dr. Michelle Davenport, which means they’re not only rich in vitamins and nutrients, but the ingredients are paired in a way that makes them most effective to digest (for example, iron is always paired with Vitamin C for easier absorption). Plus, there’s no added sugar, preservatives, or funky ingredients you can’t pronounce—just like the meals you make at home already.

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As much as I love the food, though, I really love the Raised Real Meal Maker. I used a different steamer/blender when Vivi first started eating solids, but it was fairly cumbersome because it had a separate steaming basket you had to empty when you were ready to blend (AKA, more dishes to wash!). RR’s version steams (most recipes take 20 minutes), and then you simply flip the switch to blend to your desired consistency. New eaters will most likely prefer smooth purees, whereas toddlers can enjoy steamed ingredients whole.

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Parents will like that there’s no need to source, clean, or prepare the food before you start to cook. And clean up? The steaming/blending cup and blades go right in the dishwasher. (Cleaning up your baby is another story, but you probably already knew that.)

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What I love most about Raised Real‘s service is the empowerment it lends to parents. Even if you only used the service for a few months, you would learn so much about nutrition (what your babies could eat and when) as well as get tons of inspiration for recipes you could then make on your own. Plus, every subscription comes with unlimited access to the Raised Real Help Hotline, a number you can call or text to get help from a real RR staff member if you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused by any part of feeding your little one.

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Convenience and peace of mind for parents + nutrition and delicious options for babies and toddlers? Now that’s something I want to dig into.

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Dance like a two-year-old who doesn’t care if anyone is watching.

A couple of nights ago, my parents were in town and we took them to one of our favorite local restaurants. It’s an Irish pub, and every Sunday a few musicians set up camp for an hour or two and play traditional Irish music.

They were just setting up when we arrived, so we were happy we’d get to hear their whole set.

Vivi has always loved music, but the moment they started to play a little jig, she instantly started to dance. For the next 20 minutes, she stomped and kicked and jumped with complete abandon.

I was transfixed by her incredible confidence. The room was filled with strangers (who were very much watching her little display), but my daughter danced on, unafraid of what anyone thought of her. It embodied this remarkable age, where self-esteem is arguably at an all-time high.

It nearly took my breath away.

Beneath my joy, though, there was a small catch in my throat. Because I wondered, “When will she start to care? When will she start to worry what other people think? When will she lose this magical confidence?”

I’ve written before about how motherhood makes me want to be braver, if only because it will hopefully lead to braver children. Vivi’s impromptu dance recital was a sharp reminder to me of that promise I made to her and to myself.

Because I nurse a bubble of hope. That while she will probably start to care what other people think, she will always be confident enough to be herself regardless of her critics. That the conviction she now reserves for refusing to clean up her toys will one day help her stick to her guns over much more important issues of character.

At the risk of sounding too much like a country song, I hope my sweet girl will always dance when the music moves her. I promise I’ll do my best to be there to cheer on every step.

What they don’t tell you about two

The terrible twos carry a lot of noteriety. They’re called “terrible,” for goodness sake.

Everyone tells you the same things, but they all carry the same message:

You’re in for it now.

You’re warned of tantrums and fights and struggle. You’re warned that you’ll just have to bear through them.

And while it’s true that two comes with an abundance of challenges and steep learning curves, there’s so much more to be said about two.

No one tells you that this is the age you get a person. This is the age you get a side kick, a partner in crime, a fellow adventurer.

This is the age of silly, nonsense conversations, stories of horses and planes only she seems to see. This is the age of requests for tickles and cuddles and cookies, for serious chats about pretending to be bears and pies made out of pancakes.

This is the age of mischevious, toothy grins and dancing with abandon. Of singing made up lyrics at the top of lungs and crayon scribbles that are actually people and pets.

This is the age of belly laughs and whispered secrets never told. This is the age of the sweetest “dank you, momma” and the sassiest “I gon ticko you, mommy!”

It’s also the age you enter a new season of mamahood. When you start knowing the solution more often than you don’t. When you catch the sippy cup before it hits the ground and stop the speeding toddler before she knocks the plate off the table.

It’s the age when you carry less and sleep more. When you find yourself relaxing more often than you leap. When you start to trust yourself as well as your child. (Okay, your toddler isn’t still probably lying about not needing to use the potty, but #winsomelosesome.)

Two is the age when you start really parenting, which is great timing because you actually start to feel like a capable parent at the same time.

There’s a lot they don’t tell you about two, and there’s a lot I can’t tell because it would take ten thousand words. But suffice to say, it’s a special, frustrating, magic time.

And I wouldn’t trade two for the world.

Recipe: Cauliflower “Fried Rice” with Grilled Chicken and Crispy Brussel Sprouts

Vivi is almost two, and while most of the time I would confidently say that no one knows her like I do, I also have moments of feeling like, “Um, hi? Who is this child?”

Parenthood is such a wild ride of uncertainty and hard-won moments of confidence. When you finally find something you feel like you’ve figured out, often times, the rug is very suddenly ripped out from under you just weeks or even days later.

With Vivi, I’ve long felt like the two things we had down pat were eating and sleeping. We sleep trained at an early age (something I am a proponent of and happy to discuss further with anyone who wants to know!), so getting Vivi to bed and having her sleep through the night has always gone fairly smoothly.

We also started exposing Vivi to a variety of healthy tastes fairly early on, which eventually turned her into a little gal who loved vegetables, fruit, and other healthy flavors.

All that is to say, I actually felt confident in both things.

But, as we know, motherhood is a constant exercise in humility. As Vivi has gotten older, she has gotten more expressive and her desire for some degree of control over her life has increased.

Hey, I get it! I hate having someone tell me what to do all the time. I love getting to make my own choices. Which isn’t to say it’s not a pain in my backside when Vivi regresses in something or deliberately disobeys, but we’re all learning here, right?

Yesterday, Vivi started crawling out of her crib every time we put her in, so we decided to make the switch to a “big girl” bed today. I had been planning to transition her at the end of the month, but I was feeling anxious because I loved our easy-breezy bedtimes and was worried the extra freedom would bring them to a crashing halt. But once those seemed to be stopping anyway, I at least wanted her to be able to crawl back into bed when she finally decided she was tired.

Tonight was our first night with the new bed, and Vivi cried for about 20 seconds before putting herself back in bed and passing out per usual. *phew*

As for eating, she still has a pretty open-minded palate, and most of her favorite foods are nutritious options. That being said, getting her to try new things has become more and more of a struggle. Which is why I’m always on the prowl for simple ways to incorporate more and new vegetables in familiar ways.

Tonight’s recipe was an experiment gone right, so I thought I’d share. Happy toddler feeding! (Note: Also good for grown-up taste buds.)

Cauliflower “Fried Rice” with Grilled Chicken and Crispy Brussel Sprouts

Ingredients:
2 cups brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
avocado oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 head cauliflower, pulsed in food processor to rice-like consistency
3 T amino acids or soy sauce
2 T white vinegar
2 grilled chicken breasts, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Toss brussel sprouts in 2 T avocado oil and salt and pepper and spread onto a baking sheet in one layer. Roast for 30 minutes or until crispy.

Heat 2 T avocado oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Once oil is hot, add garlic, onion, carrots, and salt and pepper. Stir until onions are translucent.

Add cauliflower, 3 T avocado oil, salt and pepper, amino acids, and white vinegar. Stirring frequently, cook mixture for about five minutes.

Add chicken and cook for additional five minutes.

To plate, spoon cauliflower mixture into a bowl and top with crispy brussel sprouts. I find it’s helpful to continually tell your toddler about the “yummy rice!” you are about to eat.

Enjoy!

The good and bad of small town living

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I really thought moving would give me a lot more to talk about on this little blog. And, well, it probably has. But I’ve also found that I’ve become so busy with getting settled (on top of my already packed schedule of mom-ing, pioneering, working, et al., I rarely have time to sit and work my thoughts into something coherent.

But this morning, Vivi woke up extra early (yayyyyy…) so I was able to knock out breakfast, a workout, and cleaning the kitchen to settle in for our daily viewing of Zootopia and work on a post from my phone. I’m also waiting for a box spring to be delivered, so it’s not like I can run any errands anyway.

Captive blogger syndrome! Great for creativity! Who knew?!

Anyway.

I realized I had been I intentionally cagey about our recent move when a few people remarked to me that they were so curious where we had ended up.

So today, I’m throwing back the curtain: We’re officially Virginia residents. We live in a small town about an hour and a half outside D.C.

And when I say “small,” I mean it.

I’ve lived in smaller cities before. I’ve even lived in small suburbs outside smaller cities. But this is the smallest town I’ve ever lived in.

For the record, I love it almost all the time. I was mentally prepared and oh-so-ready to leave the big city and relax in a slower-paced lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean small town living doesn’t come with its share of challenges.

Con #1: They’re serious about that slower pace thing.

In NYC, you could decide you wanted to redecorate your bathroom and have a contractor over within 24 hours and your new towels shipping from Jet.com that afternoon. Here, I’ve spent three weeks trying to find a handyman willing to make the 20-minute trip to come paint my staircase. And if he wakes up the morning of our appointment not feeling 100 percent? He’s not coming after all. Sorry not sorry.

Pro #1: But people are so. nice.

The checkout ladies chit chat, the town hall clerk calls me “hon,” and the guy delivering my dining table compliments our floors about four times. In short, people move a little slower, it they also use that time to treat you like an actual person.

Con #2: Not everything is quite so convenient.

We’re currently in the market for a second car because very little is walkable around here. My friend lives less than a mile away, and the only way to walk to her is to skirt a major road without any sidewalks. If I want to go to Target, Lowes, or a major grocery chain, I’m looking at a 20- to 30-minute car ride. I can still get most of what I can’t drive to delivered, but I have noticed it typically takes about a day longer than it used to. To switch our water bill into our name, I had to GO to the town water building in person and I couldn’t pay the deposit with a debit card. So I had to walk a block to a nearby bank, but the only ATM was outside in the drive-through. So I had to wait in line with a car, in the 90-degree heat, and then walk back to the town building to get my hand-written receipt. So, yeah.

Pro #2: Convenience is relative.

Life in NY is “convenient.” Meanings, yes, a million things are geographically nearby, but getting to them (let alone enjoying them) is a never-ending struggle. I couldn’t do laundry without strapping a baby on my back and lugging my dirty clothes a block away in a cart. I couldn’t get my hair done without a 30-minute train ride and walking half a mile. If we drove anywhere, we had to factor in up to an hour of time to find parking. Here, I may have to go farther, but there’s rarely traffic and there’s always parking.

Pro #3: More SPACE.

We’re renting the sweetest little townhouse, and I’m totally in love with it. Besides the natural light and extra bedroom for guests, we also have three bathrooms, a basement for storage, and a laundry closet. Basically I feel like a princess. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our two glorious parking spots right outside.

Con #3: …actually, I’m tapped out.

Okay, okay, I know it’s not actually perfect here. But I was so burnt out on city life, it’s hard not to get a little *heart eyes* when I look around the gorgeous landscape I live in now. Because, yeah, there’s actually a landscape here. And it’s pretty stunning.

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Will I tire of small town living? I really don’t know. For now, though, I’m soaking up the smallness.

How to: Healthy Zucchini, Carrot, and Apple Muffins

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It is amazing to me how much Vivi’s approval means when it comes to my cooking.

Let’s be clear: I don’t let Vivi dictate what we eat in any way. I don’t think toddlers have developed enough palates to know what is “good,” and I think we all know that, if they had their way from the first stages of solid foods, they would just eat bananas and buttered pasta for the rest of their days.

In short: I’m the boss of dinner, and Vivi either eats what I make or doesn’t eat.

Which, of course, means sometimes she doesn’t each much, especially when we’re introducing new foods. The French have a philosophy that if your kid is a picky eater, it reflects more on their character — and your parenting — than any other behavior. I don’t know if I would go that far, but I definitely feel a sense of failure when Vivi refuses a meal or throws some food on the ground (which, in our house, is grounds for ending the meal completely).

It’s my fault her palate isn’t developed enough.
I should have served in more distinct courses.
I shouldn’t have let her have that bite of (insert random snack) an hour ago, it totally squashed her appetite.
I should have cooked it differently.
I’m totally screwing this whole thing up.

Basically, I’m insane.

But just when I’m convinced I’ve blown it and she’s only going to eat meatballs for the rest of her childhood, we have a meal that goes perfectly. She eats every bite of shrimp and rice and broccoli without any fuss and asks for more broccoli (this seriously happened!), and suddenly we’re all going to be just fine.

Im always on the lookout for veggie-packed recipes to make sure Viv gets as many servings as possible. I posted on Instagram about some veggie muffins I make for Vivi, and a few people asked for the recipe, so I’m sharing it here. Enjoy!

Zucchini + Carrot+ Apple Muffins

2 zucchini, shredded with excess moisture removed
3 carrots, shredded with excess moisture removed
1 apple, pitted and shredded with excess moisture remove
(For all of the above, I run them through my juicer and use the dry pulp. Just be sure to remove all apple seeds before juicing.)
1/2 cup apple sauce (no sugar added)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Combine the wet ingredients in a medium bowl, then add dry ingredients and mix until well combined.

Scoop into ungreased muffin tin (I use papers). Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tops are golden and inserted knife removes cleanly.

The muffins are very soft from all the veggies, so I suggest freezing what you don’t eat right away and thawing when you want to eat them so they don’t spoil. They are much more savory than sweet, so add a dollop of honey butter if you need a bit more sweetness.

Adapted from The Lean Green Bean.

Four Lipsticks for Non-Lipstick Wearing Gals + My Favorite Way to Whiten My Teeth

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a lipstick person. It has always been the one cosmetic that I’ve shied away from, and even in recent years (when I’ve become admittedly more into makeup), it has been a struggle to find anything that a) I like, b) is comfortable to wear, and c) actually stays on my mouth.

So, when I tell you that I like these four lipsticks, you should know that years of searching have gone into finding them. Respect.

I don’t wear lipstick every day, or even every week, but here are the shades I find myself reaching for whenever I do want to look a little more put-together.

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My nude lip….Beautycounter Lip Sheer in Twig.

Remember when I said I don’t wear lipstick every day? This is the one exception. I haven’t tried Beautycounter’s other lip sheers, but if the Twig shade is any indication, they are perfection. Creamy, moisturizing, and with build-able color that looks as great as it feels.

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My pink lip…Marc Jacobs Le Marc Creme Lipsticks in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

I got this lipstick as a free gift from Sephora, and I was immediately in love with it. The texture is really nice and not drying at all, and the color is bright but still pretty universally flattering. I wear it a lot more in warmer weather, but it’s a good semi-neutral pop to have in my back pocket. (LITERALLY.)(Not literally, it would probably melt.)

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My mauve lip…Buxom Big & Sexy Bold Gel Lipstick in Sultry Mauve.

Despite what the name implies, you do not immediately turn into a sexpot when you put this lipstick on. I actually find it to be really subtle, almost like a brighter version of my natural lip color. Great for almost every season, this is the anti-lipstick girl’s answer to bolder purple-y hues.

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My red lip…Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Fiery Red.

True life: I have always been deeply intimidated by red lipstick. It always looks so great on other people, but on me, I always felt like it to too loud, too pink, too orange, too…something. So I resigned myself to a life of neutrals (and secret lipstick envy of my braver friends). And then I got this version (again, in a trial set from Sephora). You guys. It is actually a true red, not too anything, and it somehow looks exactly right with my super pale skin. My favorite thing about it is that I barely have to wear any other makeup and my whole face looks brighter and more pulled together. Efficiency!

Of course, there’s one thing that helps every one of these looks (and really, any lipstick) look even better: white teeth. I’m fortunate that my teeth are naturally pretty white, but as a coffee addict drinker, I had definitely noticed that my chompers were looking a little worse for the wear. My dentist confirmed that my teeth were healthy, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t use a little boost.

So I was pretty excited when Smile Brilliant reached out to me about doing a blog partnership. Their teeth whitening kit is different from other strips and pastes I had tried in the past because they create custom whitening trays exactly fitted to your smile. Here’s how it works:

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First, Smile Brilliant sends you a kit to create your custom trays. It seems a little intimidating, but all you have to do is mix two putties together, put them in the blue trays, and then bite down for a minute.

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Next, after letting the trays dry overnight, you mail them in a pre-paid envelope back to Smile Brilliant for them to create your teeth whitening trays. The custom whitening trays will arrive about a week later.

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Then you’re ready to start whitening! The process has two steps, whitening and desensitizing. The length of time you spend whitening will depend on your own sensitivity, but I typically left my teeth whitening gel on for 50 minutes to an hour (AKA, the length of a TV show on Netflix). Then, the desensitizing gel goes on for 15-20 minutes, and I found that it really helped with tooth sensitivity. You can view a really simple how-to video by another blogger here, and here are some things to know before you whiten.

It will take 7-10 treatments to see full results, but I noticed my teeth started looking significantly whiter after the third treatment. I really liked how the trays were custom fit to my teeth, so there was no sliding and the treatment gel stayed right on the surface of my teeth. They were very comfortable, so I didn’t even mind wearing them for an hour. It was a little hard to capture the change in a photo, but my teeth are at least a shade or two whiter (before on the left):

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PLUS, Smile Brilliant is hosting a giveaway where you can win your own whitening tray creation kit and whitening/desensitizing gels! Click here to enter. But if you just can’t wait, you can also use the code stopmeifyouveheardthisone to get 5% off a kit at Smile Brilliant’s website — easy-peasy. Happy whitening!

Whitening kit provided as part of a partnership with Smile Brilliant. Opinions my own.


Professional Teeth Whitening
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