Holiday Book Advent Calendar, Year Two

Last year I wrote a post about trying out a holiday book advent calendar with my son, who at the time was 20 months. It was an idea that I hadn’t seen or paid attention to prior to having kids, but fell in love with after little man arrived. It was a huge hit with both of us—he loved opening a present every night, and I loved reading different holiday-themed stories each night. Needless to say, it was a no-brainer to do it again this year—although I did add a bit of a twist.

I started with the bin of books I put away from last year. I weaned out the true baby books and some I just didn’t particularly like. To replace those, I went a little nuts on Amazon creating a list of potential new books for this year. Under Christmas stories for toddlers I searched for his interests…er, obsessions: dinosaurs, anything Disney Junior, Paw Patrol, Give a Mouse a Cookie, lift-the-flap, and scratch and sniff books. Then I added a few classics like Snowmen at Christmas and Bear Stays Up for Christmas. We had been gifted The Polar Express this summer to cover the train obsession, as well as the books-to-make-mom-cry category. (Seriously, I sobbed during my first reading of that one!)

A few flash sales later (and one email to his grandmother with a link my wish list) and bingo, I had more than the 25 books needed to fill out the month. This weekend I wrapped them all, combining a few sets, and leaving the Gaga (his name for gramma) books at her house to be opened and read with her on Fridays when they’re together all day.

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Last year I stacked the books and let him choose a book randomly from the pile. This year I put them in a plastic bin loosely ordered to assure the newer books will be opened early, so we can enjoy them all month.

December 1st falling on a Saturday this year, I also chose a special book to be opened first, Christmas Cookie Day, and along with it a small present I found on sale, the Melissa and Doug Christmas Cookie set. If all goes well, I’ll let him open both after nap and we can bake a batch of real cookies together to eat while we read the first of many holiday books!

The only other change I’m making to our holiday book advent calendar this year is adding an element to try to teach my little guy about giving, not just receiving. Our thankful turkey and focus on gratitude this month left me looking for ways to continue teaching and modeling positive qualities. I made a “Give, Make, Help” list of 25 things to do, with the idea that before we open a gift from the book pile each night, he’d first do something nice for someone else. I kept everything pretty simple, age-appropriate, and, with only a few exceptions, mostly things we can do right at home, such as help feed the cat or clean up toys, make a card or picture for someone, or give hugs or kisses. I’m sure it won’t be flawless, but it’s a small way of beginning to teach him that the holidays are about caring for others, and gifts are only one way we show that.

Frankly, I’d prefer snuggles and books with my boy to any present.

Happy Holidays and happy reading!

For those looking to add some new stories to their own holiday list this year, here are some affiliate links to some of the books in my little guy’s advent book calendar this year.

Meal Delivery Review: Hello Fresh vs. Blue Apron

Cooking as a single woman was easy. If I felt like cooking, I did. If I needed to run out mid-recipe for an ingredient, I could. If I didn’t want to clean up that same night, I didn’t. If I had no motivation to even call out, I dined on the tried and true favorite of single women everywhere: cereal and wine. Life was good—not always healthy, but good.

Now that Little Man is starting to eat real food (lots of it!), I need to up my dinnertime game. Not particularly good at planning meals and grocery lists for the week, or keeping a well-stocked pantry, and definitely in need of some motivation to actually cook even when I buy the right ingredients, I decided a meal delivery service might be good for me.

I was lucky enough to have friends who used the two most popular companies, Hello Fresh and Blue Apron, which allowed me to try both free for a week. Then to be fair to each, I tried them both for a second week, as well.

First, let me tell you what meal delivery companies don’t do. They don’t prep the food, watch the hangry baby, cook the meal, or clean up after it. So those parts still suck. You also do need some basic cooking skills. If you can burn boiled water, you probably need more help than these services deliver. They do, however, both indicate which meals are more complicated and time-consuming to make, which allows you to make wise decisions. (If you don’t read this before selecting, you end up making risotto at 9pm for the next night, since you know there’s no way the baby will safely let you stand over a hot pan for 30 mins.)

But getting past my fantasy of having a personal chef, as well as my problem with not reading directions carefully, I found both Hello Fresh and Blue Apron to be time-savers, not to mention I wasted less food, cooked healthier meals, and didn’t stress every night about what I could make for dinner.

These companies work by having you create an account where you put in your preferences, choose meals from a handful of options that match those each week, then pick a day for delivery. When the box arrives, it contains all the ingredients (except a few basic staples like oil and salt and pepper) in the right amounts, with recipe cards for each night’s meal that walk you step-by-step through the cooking process.

Because they only give you what you need, you’re not having to buy extras just to make the recipe, a constant problem of cooking for one (and a half). I also don’t need to sit with three different recipes and create a shopping list and then scour the tiny town grocery store for the one ingredient they are sure not to have. And since I signed up for the two-person, three meal plan, the recipes and ingredients are already portioned out, so I don’t find myself eating the same bowl of chili for weeks on end, as I do every time I pull out the crock pot. Every. Time.

As you can probably tell, I’m sold. Not that I won’t take breaks here and there, especially as grilling and salad season approaches, but another great feature of both Hello Fresh and Blue Apron are that either site allows you to skip weeks whenever you need or want to.

That said, one woman and her baby do not need two meal delivery kits in one week. I learned this the hard way when I accidently forgot to cancel a delivery. Though from this, I learned you can freeze the meats if needed! I also suggest setting a reminder on your phone to remind you to choose your meals (otherwise the company chooses for you based on your preferences) and/or to skip weeks you don’t want deliveries.

But which to choose?

Things that were comparable between Hello Fresh and Blue Apron:

  • relatively easy account set-ups and fairly user-friendly websites
  • price ($59.94 for three two-serving meals)
  • similar plan options for larger families and vegetarians and other dietary needs
  • free delivery with a choice of days
  • additional nutritional and cooking information available online prior to choosing meals

And honestly a lot more. They are clearly competitors and know they have to offer what the other does to keep up.

Differences:

  • Blue Apron overlaps some ingredients, which somewhat limits your meal choices. Once you choose one meal, it limits what others you can choose based on what ingredients are similar. My top choices of course didn’t line up either of the two weeks I tried it, so I had to pick some meals I wasn’t as excited about.
  • Hello Fresh, on the other hand, gives you six choices (and a seventh breakfast choice, which is new) and you can choose any three. I put in the “fit” preference, so it automatically sends the three healthiest versions unless I go in and change it, which I almost always do, because, of course, the higher calorie choices always sound too damn delicious to pass up.
  • Because Hello Fresh doesn’t overlap ingredients, the delivery contains three small boxes with everything you need except the meat, which both companies package separately on the ice pack for delivery. While some people might not like the added boxes in the fridge, I liked the individual packaging because I could grab a box and go, without having to worry about putting back the remains of certain items for another meal. (I’ve heard people say they won’t do a meal delivery system because of the added waste, but most of the packaging is recyclable, and you’re wasting less food, so it seems no more wasteful than shopping at the store.)
  • I felt like both companies’ meals took a good amount of time to cook and prep, especially that first week, but got somewhat better the next week when I was used to the system. Blue Apron was a bit more time consuming on average, though, and had more unique ingredients, so I feel like I’m less likely to recreate their recipes later on my own.

So my overall verdict: Hello Fresh was the best fit for me. More choice and a little less time to prepare and cook (especially now that I prep the veggies for a couple meals at once during a weekend nap, see pic below).

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If you’re interested in trying Hello Fresh, I’ve got three freebie weeks to give away to the first people to share and/or Pin and comment. For everyone else, here’s a link for $40 off your first week!