Fun-Filled, Budget-Friendly Activities for Kids

 

mother and her child preparing healthy food and having fun

I’m not a mom, or an aunt, a godmother, or even a person who has friends with kids. But I am an older sister – to both a natural-born younger sis and as a mentor to a 12-year-old girl in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. And although my natural-born sister lives many states away for college, I am tasked with the challenge of coming up with fun and engaging activities which are appropriate for children but fun for adults with my Little Sister. Also, since I’m not about to spend an afternoon shelling out the big bucks for kid-friendly fun (Why are museums for children so pricey?), I’ve gotten pretty savvy at finding things we both enjoy – minus the hefty price tag.

Here are some of my greatest hits that are a ton of fun without breaking the bank.

Cooking/Baking:

Getting kids started early in the kitchen is a great way to teach healthy eating habits and improve important skills, like mental math and hand-eye coordination.

This one is great regardless of age. Do you have a 3-year-old? Great, have them pick out some fruits they like, put them in a blender with low-sugar yogurt and ice, and once the adult secures the lid (I would hold it down), let the kid press blend! You could also try ants on a log or a Crockpot recipe like Salsa Chicken where you just toss the ingredients in and let it simmer.

Boy eats a lot of sushi

Some kids do really love sushi!

If you’re looking for more of a challenge with older kids, Pinterest is (as usual) a great place to start. With my Little Sister, who loves spicy food and chocolate, we like to get really creative. Our last adventure in cooking was mole sauce, a spicy, savory chocolate sauce from Mexico. Spooned over grilled chicken, it took a blah dish and made it something out of this world. Our next adventure is sushi! But if sweets are more the taste of your kids or young friends, this easy éclair cake is super tasty.

Bowling:

Bowling has made something of a comeback in recent years. Gone are the days of The Big Lebowski-type establishments with dried-up chicken wings, dusty and dated furniture, broken arcade games and a vague scent of stale cigarette smoke. Though these can of course be great fun, they don’t exactly appeal to the kids these days. The iPad-and-Justin-Bieber generation thinks that’s like, totally lame, man.

Luckily, there are more to choose from these days. The website Kids Bowl Free showcases different kid-friendly bowling alleys across the US that, as the name suggests, offer free bowling for those under 18. For example, Brunswick Zone is in many states and is an updated take on a bowling alley, with video games and billiards. They cater to a hipper, younger crowd, so kids (especially those picky preteens) are sure to enjoy.

brunswick zone

Doesn’t this look like a day of fun?

The best part? Those that are in-the-know can join their rewards program for coupons and special offers, so you can get deep discounts. That’s a whole evening of family-friendly fun!

Crafting:

You might be surprised at how popular crafting is with kids of all ages right now. When I was a kid, we twisted pipe cleaners into knots, played with silly putty, and did paint by numbers and called it a day. Now, with crafting booming with the adult market as well, the wee ones are picking up on the new craft trends.

nature weaving craft 5

From Pinterest user Craftiments.

Take, for instance, fellow blogger Melanie’s potted mini gardens from our previous blog post. This is completely doable for kids of all ages, and is a lasting gift – and teaches them the gift of a green thumb (which I am sadly lacking).

sponge tower timeAnother idea is a nature-weaving craft ornament. As we all know, kids spend way too much time in front of screens. So I plan on taking my Little Sister for a long walk once the weather is a little nicer, picking up things like pine cones, flowers, leaves, shells and twigs along the way. Then, together we can craft one of these adorable decorations to commemorate our day! The best part is most of the materials are found in nature; all you really need is some yarn or string and your imagination.

For the indoorsy type, I loved this idea: Sponge Jenga. Buy a pack of sponges from a discount store, cut them up into even strips, and then stack them like Jenga. All of the fun of the game without the loud crashing sounds.

Volunteering:

So much time it seems is spent trying to figure out activities your kids and you will both enjoy, but what about the impact your activities have? Think about it this way: If you both like cooking, why not volunteer to cook for others at a soup kitchen? If you like animals, what about volunteering to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog, or at an animal shelter?

Happy siblings collecting rubbish

Volunteering can be easy as collecting trash in the park.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be an organized, repeated commitment, though there are plenty of websites to help you out with finding one of those. Huge nature lovers can just pick up trash as they walk the beach or a trail with a group of their friends, or to run a bake sale or lemonade stand and donate the money to their favorite cause. Not only are you of course helping others in the process, but you’re teaching the little ones in your life that no matter how small they are, they can make a big difference. And you can’t put a price tag on that (But also, if you could…it would be free!)

These are just my favorites. What are some of your suggestions for on-the-cheap activities to do with the kids in your life?

Blogger Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, not-so-secretly wants to be a little kid again eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch while reading Nancy Drew.

New Year, New You

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions

Who, me? Blogger Katie agrees with Calvin! © Bill Waterson

Come mid-December, we start wrapping up the previous year and looking forward to the upcoming one. During this holiday season, as we sit around with friends and family, recounting the trials and tribulations of 2015 – we end up eating cheese plates and cheesecake, drinking beer and wine and soda, maybe capping the long nights with a cigar and heading to bed way past our bedtimes. But while this type of over-indulgence is what the holidays are about, the New Year is always about the New You!

Champagne and Cake.jpg

Cupcakes and champagne – I’m about that life!

That is, until it’s February and you realized you didn’t even keep your New Year’s resolutions for a month. And you wouldn’t be alone. According to Franklin Covey, a time management firm, 30% of New Year’s resolutions are broken by the end of January. The thing is though that when you start to backslide, you think, “Well, I already got off on the wrong foot, might as well try again…later!” and get discouraged, and give up.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can successfully set and keep – and even exceed! – your New Year’s resolutions if you keep three things in mind.

  • Set Realistic Goals
  • Think Short-Term, Dream Long-Term
  • Plan It Out

All too often we think of our resolutions as make or break it. Trying to commit to huge changes like, “I’m going to write a book in 2016!” when you haven’t so much as written a paragraph in 2015, sets yourself up for failure. Instead, we outline the three most common New Year’s resolutions and small ways you can make big changes, leading to a happier, healthier you!

Fat to Fit Before After Diet Weight Loss Success

1. Lose Weight

Ah, the most common resolution we make. Who doesn’t want to lose a few? Actually, according to some estimates, between 30% and 40% of us vow to shed some lbs annually. If your plan is to incorporate more veggies in your diet or hit the gym more, this might just work. But science says setting a goal to lose 30 pounds is most likely not going to work. Why? For the same reason that agreeing with your aunt you’ll meet her coworker’s friends’ daughter’s boyfriend for coffee in three months: you’re making vague, faraway promises you can’t (or won’t) keep.

The best way to lose weight is to make small lifestyle changes that can lead to you losing those 30 pounds. For example, set the goal of determining your ideal daily caloric intake and then logging your calories each day with a site like http://www.caloriecount.com/. At the same time, start a workout routine that’s appropriate for your lifestyle and level of current fitness; again, it’s all about moderation! Throwing yourself into a new rigorous workout is a good way to throw out your back.

Are you a person that’s worried they’ll judge you at the gym, and you’re just not cut out for running miles and miles outside in the snowy January weather? All the more power to you if you can, but if that’s just not you, check out SmartPerks’ solution: The Total Gym machine. It offers complex workouts, utilizing all of your muscles that need to firm up, but without putting too much strain on your body. I know a huge factor that keeps me from working out as often as I should is the struggle to drag myself to the gym, so getting a full-body exercise in my own home is a huge plus. If it’s good enough for Christie Brinkley, it’s definitely good enough for me.

Losing weight is a commendably healthy goal to set for 2016, so we don’t want you to let yourself down. Just go slow!

2. Eat This, Not That

Similar to the losing weight resolution, but not fully, because you can be at a totally fine weight, but still eat too much chips and guac or French fries. Most of us could stand to eat better, even if we think we’re really on top of our diet. And while the SmartPerks office is a great place to work, there is one downside: the abundance of snacks. Between the homemade toffee, apple pie bars, caramel popcorn, and bowls of Hershey’s kisses, it’s a sweet tooth-owner’s dream. Tasty though these treats might be, they’re certainly not good for my thighs.

Popcorn

How could anyone say no to a handful of these?

So, one of my personal 2016 resolutions is to cut back on the daytime snacks. When my blood sugar levels are dipping around 10:30 am and 3 pm, I need to turn to something wholesome like a piece of fruit or dried soybeans, not those delicious, mouthwatering, scrumptious apple bars… dang it, Mary!

Of course, it might be obvious to cut down on the sodas and sweets, but often our biggest issue is our main meals themselves. Oversized, low on fiber, or high in sugar, we might be able to fool ourselves into thinking our veggie burrito is healthy, but we’re not fooling the scale. Even something like salad dressing can be a shockingly caloric addition to an otherwise healthy salad. For example, Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian, a vinaigrette-style dressing, is loaded with unhealthy ingredients – two tablespoons is 130 calories, 13 grams of fat, and 320 milligrams of sodium. Certainly not a good option with which to top your greens. Something I do to cut down on calories but not on flavor is I make my own dressing.

Katie’s Apple Cider Vinegar Dressing:

Salad dressingThis dressing is excellent on kale salads, roasted vegetables, or any kitchen sink salad. This makes ¾ cup, and after using you can keep in a Mason jar or Tupperware in the fridge.

 

  • 1 small shallot, diced small
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar – I often use closer to ½ cup to thin out the dressing
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey (or maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or any citrus – grapefruit works great!)
  • Pinch each of salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine ingredients in mini Mason jar, and shake until your preferred consistently! Store in tightly closed jar for up to two weeks. Upon use, shake jar to re-emulsify ingredients.

Two tablespoons of this dressing equated to 14 calories, .5 grams of fat, and 214 milligrams of sodium, without losing out on any flavor.

Another way of managing your eating habits? Subscribing to a food delivery service like Blue Apron or Home Chef (Pro Tip: Use the SmartPerks promo code “SP30FREE” to receive $30 off your first order.) The best thing about weekly meal kits is they’re chef-curated so they’re probably more inventive than anything you whip up. You can also pick and choose which weeks you want based on the meal plans listed online. Also, since they’re specifically portioned, you know exactly what nutritional value (including calorie content!) your meals have.

On top of that, they are usually very balanced, representative of the good parts of the food pyramid, so you know you’re getting your veggies, too. For example, one of the available meals for Home Chef is “Winter Quinoa and Arugula Salad with Blue Cheese, Candied Walnuts, and Apricots.” Now, doesn’t that sound healthy and yummy?

Quinoa Salad

Home Chef’s winter salad

If your New Year’s Resolution is to eat healthier in 2016, know that you can do it, it just takes some planning, self-control and motivation. And for your coworkers to not bring in treats.

3. Break the Habit

Always Late

Whether it’s smoking cigarettes, biting your nails, being perennially late, or procrastinating on the job or elsewhere, make 2016 the year to break the bad habit.

nail biting

 

 

We’ve all got something we do that we shouldn’t, right? If your resolution is to finally learn some healthier habits, we encourage you to get to it! Though some are worse for you than others, anything that negatively impacts your life should be stopped. For example, I’m a nail-biter, guilty as charged. Whenever I’m nervous, bored or tired, I gnaw on my nails like there’s no tomorrow. So far, nothing has helped…though I hold out for next year! I’ve heard no-bite nail polishes can really help, but I’m not so optimistic about me actually taking the time to paint my nails.

Another issue I face – like an estimated 50 to 70 million Americans – is sleeping problems. Sometimes, even after getting 7 hours of seemingly restful sleep, I’ll wake up groggy and exhausted. There are plenty of tips out there for getting a better night’s rest, including avoiding caffeine, alcohol and nicotine (go figure), consistent sleep scheduling (“catching up on sleep” on the weekends is a big no-no), and regular exercising (perhaps a New Year’s resolution double-whammy!).

In addition, setting up your bedroom as a sleep sanctuary can help get you in a relaxed mindset. Just recently, I bought some black-out curtains for my bedroom windows to keep out light and a new cozy throw blanket to stay warm during winter. I also light lavender candles in my room about an hour before bed for aromatherapy. I have found that buying a new set of really soft sheets, a fun duvet, or a great pillow help to make your bed the most inviting place for you to unwind from a long day and catch some z’s.

Cozy bed

How cozy does this look? From MessageNote’s Pinterest

To help you in The Pursuit of Sleep, check out SmartPerks’ deal for My Pillow, a machine-washable, always-cool foam pillow that cradles your neck and head, helping to guarantee a sound night of sleep. Use promo code “smart2” for 50% off your first order! Saving money and sleeping better? Say no more!

Whatever your New Year’s resolution is, whether it’s specific or vague, big or small, a lifestyle change or a daily tweak, SmartPerks wishes you the best of luck in accomplishing your goals for the new year. And as we head into 2016, don’t forget to enjoy the remaining days of 2015!

Blogger Katie U., a Smart Perks employee, bit her nails the whole time she was writing this blog post.