School Day Breakfasts and Lunches

This is my first year packing a daily lunch for a kid, as well as packing a lunch for five of us one day a week. It’s taking a little more organization than our standard scan-the-fridge-ten-minutes-before-lunch approach. I’ve never been a meal planner for breakfasts and lunches but am very much a habits person for those meals. It reduces decision fatigue and makes grocery shopping easier. While breakfasts and lunches run on autopilot dinner is our creative meal. I rarely repeat the same recipe for supper in a month, or even two, though I do almost always make enough for two or three nights at a time.

Front porch dinner prep so I could supervise that little red speck biking on the driveway.

I usually eat breakfast when I get up two hours before the kids. Ever since childhood I’ve felt nauseous if I don’t eat first thing in the morning. On school days I spend breakfast braiding hair, packing backpacks, or doing our morning time readings while the kids eat. I like to give them meals that are quick to prep, rich in protein, low in added sugar, and with a reasonable balance of nutrients. I’m not a food fanatic but I like to feed the kids whole foods/from-scratch meals when possible. It’s also critical for both catching the bus and the cook’s sanity that everyone eat the same thing at the same time, and that the dish not require much individual or personalized prep. For the kids’ breakfasts we usually rotate between:

  • Fruit plus oatmeal mixed with unsweetened applesauce. I make them with milk, not water, for a little added protein. I’ll occasionally sweeten the oatmeal with mashed bananas (defrosted from my freezer stash) instead of applesauce.
  • Fruit plus bagels with cream cheese
  • Fruit plus scrambled eggs. I usually have one of the twins make the eggs while I deal with other tasks. Sometimes we throw in a little shredded cheese.
  • Fruit plus plain whole milk greek yogurt with a small spoonful of jam or mashed bananas, or honey/vanilla yogurt.
  • Fruit with sausage patties. This one is rare, generally reserved for a night when the Man is on call and I want to be able to cook breakfast the night before and just reheat in the morning.
  • Fruit and baked German puffed pancake. This one is also rare because of the honey/syrup factor but it’s an easy “special” school morning breakfast because it only takes a handful of ingredients and cooks in the oven instead of requiring I babysit the stove or waffle iron.

If the kids want more after finishing their breakfast they can have shredded wheat or cheerios with milk. They’ve yet to discover sugary cereals so for now they’re really excited for the bland stuff “just like Daddy!” ūüėČ . Once a week or so we’ll have “special family breakfast” on a day when the Man is home and we don’t have an off-to-school time crunch. It’s usually something like pancakes, waffles, or bacon and eggs and toast with jam. I’ll also occasionally make a batch of these always-tender whole wheat muffins with bananas, substituting a smaller amount of honey for the sugar. This rotation gives us just enough variety to prevent boredom while keeping things simple and semi-automated. Also, while everybody understands that they get what they get, nobody is stuck for too long with a food that’s not their favorite like egg-apathetic Jenny or oatmeal-resistant Josie.¬†If you’re looking for other low-maintenance but tasty breakfast ideas this post had a great roundup.

Dinner leftovers are generally saved for future suppers unless there’s only one or two servings left. Annie isn’t generally a lunch meat or cheese sandwich fan (she just deconstructs them) so for Annie’s school lunches I follow a basic rotation, prepping the night before and making generous use of her thermos:

  • Unsweetened applesauce (a treat around here), cheese, fruit, sliced raw veggies.
  • Yogurt, fruit or raw veggies, crackers or other carb
  • One pot¬†macaroni and cheese, fruit, raw veggies. This recipe makes a lot. There’s usually enough for two meals for all the kids, who thankfully aren’t picky about reheated pastas. If the adults are both eating it as well it makes enough for a meal plus a couple of people’s lunches the next day.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fruit. Actually Wow Butter and jelly because there are peanut allergies at her school. This is the highlight of her week. I like to keep it to just once a week because of the extra sugar, and because I’m not a big fan of all the soy in Wow Butter. I usually make it on the day of the other kids’ cottage school, with PB&Js for their packed lunches as well.
  • Natural cold cuts, cheese, veggies, fruit.

Once in a while I’ll throw in a little treat like a cookie or a couple graham crackers. While there’s nothing exciting or fancy in her lunchbox it’s enough variety to keep her interested, they’re all foods she likes so I know she’ll eat a full lunch at school, and they’re all foods she can eat without help opening packages or containers. And, once again, it’s all automated enough that I don’t have to think about it or rearrange the grocery list every week.

It’s worth noting that on work days the Man doesn’t require a packed breakfast or lunch because the hospital keeps the doctors’ lounge stocked with basic items like sandwiches, soup, yogurts, hard boiled eggs, and fruit.

What are the go-to breakfasts or lunches in your home? Does everyone sit down at the same time or is it a busier morning where everyone leaves at a different time? How do you handle that? Has it changed with the kids’ ages, number of kids, or homeschool/school/work shifts? What are your favorite easy meals to feed a crowd for breakfast or lunch? Any favorite options for make ahead meals or packed lunches?

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Pause

Tuesday accidentally turned into “everything in a day” on the calendar. After an early breakfast I ran Annie to the hospital for blood work. That child is strong; it took four people. Then we handed off keys in the driveway so The Man could take Jack to therapy, then handed off again so I could take Annie to a different therapy, all before lunch.

In between appointments I helped the girls make a tent under the crabapple trees, then pulled out some colored pencils and paper for them.

After half an hour Daddy and Jack pulled into the driveway, the biting gnats found us, and we were back to our busy day. If this photo had audio there’d be a toddler chanting “WIW YOU DWAW ME A PINK BABY?” over and over as the other kids begin to scatter and she senses an unattended parent.¬†Our life is rarely as serene as the photos look but it’s a good one.

Eating Outdoors

Winters here are long and hard. In summer, we soak up the good weather.

We try to live seasonally as a family. One way we embrace summer is by eating outdoors. However, it’s time-consuming to haul booster chairs and trays in and out for every meal, and squeezing into the kids’ picnic table or balancing plates on our laps gets old. A few weeks back we found a nice outdoor table, chairs, and bench for a steal on a local Facebook sale page. Our house has a nice deep porch on a hill that always catches a breeze so we’ve been eating out there rain or shine for three meals a day ever since.

Berries from our woods, basil and zucchini from the garden, mititei, and juicy summer tomatoes with fresh mozzarella.

Picnics are also working well for us this summer. Last summer picnics were still…not remotely fun. Little children constantly slipped off the benches or kicked over dishes on the picnic blanket, food went flying, toddlers dumped drinks on themselves, preschoolers bolted toward danger, and the parents longed for home. What a difference a year makes. We grab something easy like good thick bread, butter, cold cuts, fruit, and cheese, then head to a park after naps. There’s time for the kids to play, a supper with no cooking and easy cleanup, a walk, then home to put tired children to bed. Another easy picnic option when we’re unprepared is packing water bottles then pulling through the grocery store for some fruit and a pre-made sub sandwich to split. It’s cheaper and healthier than takeout but prep-free on our end.

Martha Stewart is so jealous right now.

Eventually cold weather will come again. On bitter days when darkness falls by mid-afternoon we’ll be happy to eat inside by candlelight. For now, we’ll revel in summer.

In the Kitchen: Pantry-Clearing Meals

Movers won’t generally ship opened packages of food, easily perishable items, or liquids so we’re in a pre-move push to eat up the pantry and freezer contents. My meal-planning this week¬†centered around “stash busting” dishes.

Roast Pork with Dried Apricots¬†from the (so far) infallible¬†Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking. So good. So, so, so good. We sat down to this meal after a chilly afternoon’s hike with the kids and quite literally moaned from happiness over our meal. It’s fabulously flavorful and moist. I used the stovetop method, plus dried thyme and spicy brown mustard because that’s what I had on hand. Bonus, it used up the big pork roast I’d purchased on sale months ago and tossed in the freezer. The kids also liked it – served with…I forget?¬†Definitely one to keep in mind for dinners with guests – it’s very¬†low maintenance and hard to mess up.

Steak with Chimichurri Butter. I received a free subscription to Martha Stewart Living after taking a survey this winter. The most recent volume included this mouth-watering recipe for Chimichurri Butter. I just used some steak from the freezer, pan fried it, and served with the Chimichurri and a big salad. Delicious РI deeply regret waiting this long in my life to discover Chimichurri sauce!

Chicken Thighs with Leeks, Potatoes, and Spinach. This was a good dish! It’s¬†simple but tasty. I used ground¬†coriander and bigger potatoes cut up. I enjoyed using the multi-stage approach to cooking an entire meal under the broiler. The lemons are really key – they provide a large part of the sauce’s freshness. Served with rice to soak up the sauce.

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice. This was also a nice recipe worth making again. It’s another one that used up lots of ingredients from the fridge and pantry. Some recipes for Louisiana red beans call for ham hocks. We didn’t have any on hand, but this version was still delicious. I more or less followed the recipe except for not measuring, using red pepper instead of green, and throwing¬†in some oregano since parralel¬†recipes called for it. Delicious served with rice. Nice flavors, but still mild enough for the three-year-old contingent with just a touch of background heat. If we didn’t have young kids I would increase the spice.

Also cooked recently: waffles for a big waffle breakfast with friends, smoothies to use up our frozen fruit, a so-so double chocolate skillet cookie from Martha Stewart Living for Bible Study, and chicken nuggets (also pretty unexciting thanks to really tough meat).

Veterans Day

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Veterans Day came as a pleasant surprise since we’d forgotten the Man had a work holiday. We woke up to a perfect fall morning, hiked and hit the playground, then built¬†a backyard fire in the afternoon with our very own veteran. We used to make¬†bonfires¬†a lot before kids but haven’t lit¬†many in recent years. It’s just a lot of work to get everything set up and herd¬†staggering toddlers away from tempting flames. Now the twins are finally old enough to have a (small) sense of self-preservation. They loved the fire. Jack and Annie¬†wanted to help break up sticks; I spent half an hour feeding the fire with tiny one-inch twig¬†fragments they proudly supplied. We headed in smoky and happy as dusk fell for a dinner of corn chowder and cornbread followed by bed for all the little folks.

I think one of the things you learn as kids grow is the balance between too little and too much. It is, frankly, a lot of work to do¬†anything with small children. That can keep you from attempting something fun. On the other end of the spectrum you can easily go overboard setting your hopes high for hours of idyllic¬†family time with roasted hot dogs and s’mores and kumbayas¬†’round the campfire. We¬†try not to let the work keep us from trying things, but also try not to spend an eternity preparing elaborate events that the toddlers just won’t appreciate. Everyone stays¬†happier when those two extremes are in balance.

Incidentally, did you ever wonder why the British commonwealth memorializes the war dead on November 11th, while in the U.S. we commemorate those who died in wars on Memorial Day in May and honor all war veterans on Veterans Day? When Armistice Day observances began after WWI the US already had an existing spring war memorial thanks to the Civil War fifty years before. Dates and their exact meaning wobbled around for a few decades, but Memorial Day eventually won out as the day to memorialize the dead while all war veterans receive recognition on Veterans Day.

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2014 in Review, Part 1: January – June

It seems everyone on the internet wrote¬†family reviews covering¬†the past year. I like the idea because I only wrote¬†sporadically in 2014 but there are many details I don’t want to forget. Our year was blessed, busy, and¬†full of big ups and downs: illness, travel, a back injury, extreme work stress through the winter and spring, a new baby,¬†weeks in the NICU,¬†another¬†new baby… Fair warning that this¬†is a long, unedited post full of run-on sentences and giant photo dumps. All but the grandmothers, beware!

January

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(All photos from our Illinois trip, bottom three by my awesome sister-in-law, who runs her own photography business).

After hosting the Man’s family at our home¬†for Christmas we flew¬†to Illinois to spend New Year’s with my family.It was so nice to catch up with my parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, niece, and nephew. After several days at my parents’ place we drove¬†into Chicago to spend¬†a few days with the Man’s family as well. Unfortunately we all caught a vicious cold¬†that knocked most of the family off their feet for four solid weeks.¬† Rather than spending time out in the snow or exploring in downtown Chicago we mostly stayed in by the fire and coughed. I ended up in the ER with¬†pleurisy (…it felt so…Dickensian. Who knew that was still a real diagnosis?). Even after we flew home we all slogged through most of the month feeling feverish, miserably sick, and sleep-deprived from¬†pathetic babies who coughed so hard they vomited at night for many weeks. In¬†addition, the Man’s hospital started the new year deep in preparation for a major inspection that kept him away from home and stressed much of the time. It was a rough start to the year! Bright points in the month included catching up with our families,¬†Jack learning to walk in Illinois (cheered on by crowds of relatives), celebrating our niece’s first birthday after a medically rocky year, visits to Daddy at work when he couldn’t come home for evenings, and welcoming our fifth anniversary at the end of the month.

February 

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Things finally began to improve on the illness¬†front. The Man and I celebrated our anniversary a few days late by hiring a babysitter and taking a day away by ourselves to hike in the snowy woods, grab some Mexican food, and enjoy baby-free conversation. Extended time together and long outdoor expeditions¬†without kids’ on our backs are very rare treats these days; our hiking day was one of the high points of the year. We also enjoyed a few rounds of beautiful snow. While the Man’s work continued to be intensely stressful, things felt¬†quieter on the home front. I got the house back in order after our sick month, cooked, played with the twins, and took them out as often as possible for walks, hikes, and outdoor time. Just for fun at the end of the month we took a quick¬†weekend trip to Charlotte, NC. Everyone¬†enjoyed the break from work tension and the chance for¬†a little “city time”.¬†We rented a small cheap apartment downtown via airbnb and spent a couple of days walking, hiking, enjoying treats like French pastries and Chinese takeout, exploring the city center¬†and old neighborhoods, eating breakfast out, and (wheeee!) wandering IKEA for an afternoon while the Man stayed with our napping toddlers. There isn’t an IKEA for hours around our home, which is probably a good thing for our bank account. We also racked up our first (but far from last) call to poison control after the kids found a scent diffuser plugged into the apartment wall, broke it open, sucked down the gel, and vomited on the rental’s couch. Lovely!

March 

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For the most part, I stayed home with the kids while the Man¬†battled ever-increasing inspection tasks¬†at work. There were lots of long days and late nights. On weekends off, we always loved¬†gathering for worship on Sunday mornings, and joining our small group for Bible Study and a shared meal together on Sunday nights. The friendships we’ve made through church, and, in the last year and a half, our small group have been a rich source of encouragement, edification, and fun. Several months of increased stress on my back finally sent me to the pain clinic; several months of doctors visits, x-rays, chiropracter visits, and PT followed. As the weather warmed up, the kids and I spent many days out on walks or in the yard clearing up after winter and prepping the gardens for Spring planting.¬†At 18 months Annie finally started walking one day as I played with her in the backyard (she’d had us nervous¬†due to other developmental delays). At the end of the month the Man’s¬†stepmother flew down to watch the twins for a long weekend while we drove off¬†for our very first kid-free getaway together. We went to Savannah, Georgia, and absolutely loved the gorgeous architecture, much-lauded squares, food, and ambiance. Unfortunately, the Man’s work once again intervened. Mid-way through our first full day in the city hospital staff¬†began calling and texting non-stop about the inspection. By that evening we learned we were being called back early. We left first thing the next morning. While we thought Savannah was amazing, incessant work interruptions and the Army cancelling our leave¬†really put a damper on our special trip¬†away sans kids. Perhaps another time.

April

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We kicked off the month with a miserable bout of stomach flu. Once recovered, we headed to New York City with the twins for some meetings and time with extended family. From our fairly isolated town Manhattan is a very¬†inconvenient place for a trip with small kids. Add in the logistics and costs of packing, sitters in another state, transportation with car seats, etc, then reversing the whole process two days later and it’s an enormous amount of work! However, most worthwhile things take some effort. It¬†was a good change of pace to dress up, eat fancy dinners out, walk a bit in the city, sit in meetings, and catch up with family as the cousins played. We were glad to survive the trek back¬†and resettle the kids into their usual¬†routine, though! Once home we planted our vegetable garden. We also went through a very rough stretch of toddler tantrums with Annie (as in, four hours of screaming a day for a full week). We celebrated Easter with local friends (who patiently endured more toddler screaming, and took the family photo above) and spent lots of time outdoors soaking in the beautiful springtime South.

May 

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As the twins¬†edged closer to the two year mark we privately started talking about adoption again. We didn’t feel ready to adopt right away, but knew that the process can be very long.¬†Since we knew¬†that another lickety-split adoption like our first was highly unlikely (*cough* yes, well, we’ll see…), we mentally set a time frame of four years until another child came home. We hoped for something much faster, but didn’t want to get our hopes up in the face of long timelines and the usual bureaucracy. We quietly started to do a bit of internet research and talked about special needs adoptions. At the end of the month my parents visited. We celebrated my Dad’s birthday and then spent several days renting a cottage together right on the beach. If you’re traveling in a group, it definitely pays to rent a house; even though we stayed right on the beach and had a whole cottage¬†to ourselves¬†we spent far less than if we’d booked a couple of cheap hotel rooms further inland since we cooked our own meals. We loved the¬†convenience of space to spread out and having the beach right out the door – no packing sandy toddlers¬†and gear in and out of the car several times a day.¬†We all soaked up time¬†playing in the ocean, walking on the beach, boogie boarding, digging in the sand, exploring the local historic town, eating ice cream, watching dolphins, sea and skies out the cottage windows, wandering the marinas, playing games, and watching movies together.¬†Unfortunately the tension of the never-ending inspection at the Man’s work continued to hang over our heads and interrupted the trip a few times. Regardless, it was so nice to spend time as a family,¬†relax, and enjoy the ocean. Having¬†my parents’ extra helping hands and staying right on the beach made it a real vacation for the Man and I (perhaps less so for the grandparents!). Nothing makes you appreciate your extended family like having small children! We don’t live near any of our family members, so their visits are always a treasured treat.

June

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Southern summer settled in. We played in sprinkler with the kids, took family bike rides, picked blueberries in our yard, grabbed homemade ice cream at the farm, ate dinners on the porch, and watched with pride as our toddlers took their first hike on their own legs. It’s a milestone as big as anything on the pediatricians’ charts in this outdoors family! On Father’s Day, our usually silent Annie who hadn’t really spoken in half a year¬†and had never sung a “real” tune, surprised us by humming through “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” perfectly in its entirety unprompted. Definitely one of those “blink and stare at your child open-mouthed” moments. We put out preliminary inquiries¬†to a few agencies for information packets on¬†their domestic, international, and special needs adoption programs. We also emailed our old adoption agency just to see if adopting through them again was¬†even a possibility. We mutually confirmed that another adoption¬†with our old agency¬†was not a good option since we’re likely to move out of state within the next year or two.

I stayed back with the toddlers while the Man¬†headed to Chicago for some quality one-on-one time with his sisters, Dad, and stepmom. We had colds. He had dim sum, went to the Art Instititue of Chicago, and swam in Lake Michigan. It’s possible one of us had more fun :). I was so glad he got to enjoy a visit without the distraction of busy toddlers and their needs, though. The month ended on a sad note as we passed empty houses around town and empty pews in church. We’re in a military town, and June is peak PCS season.¬†At least half a dozen of the families we knew best¬†all packed up and moved to new postings simultaneously. Military life¬†can be a gift when¬†it brings new friends from all around, but it’s hard when duty calendars coincide and all your closest friends¬†leave in a flood.

Twins: Simplifying the First Year

For the most part, caring for two babies¬†requires the same tools as caring for one, or having a baby and bigger kids who can already walk and follow basic instructions. However, there are a few areas where having two infants presents unique logistical, spatial, or financial challenges. Getting two immobile humans from one spot to another, finding room, and paying for it all can be hard. There¬†are a few things that really helped us manage life with our little herd of babies. I find product reviews hard to do because not everyone¬†needs the same things in theoretically similar situations. Likewise, “need” is a relative term. Plenty of babies around the world grow up happy and healthy with no more specialized equipment than a stack of cloth diapers and a nursing mother. Still, these are specific items that¬†made our first year with twins much easier, so hopefully they’ll be of use to somebody.

Baby Trend Double Snap-N-Go Stroller Frame

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This is, hands down, the item that made the biggest difference in our first year with twins. I used ours every day for long walks and everything from grocery store runs to getting the kids into church by myself. This tool actually made it easier to get out of the house than to stay at home, something I never imagined could be true with baby twins!

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It’s incredibly light (about 10 pounds) which makes it effortless to fold, load, and unload one-handed. It took up very little room in the trunk.¬†It had a good sized basket underneath so I could walk to the store for groceries.¬†Instead of having to transfer babies from car seats to stroller (or attach car seats into an already heavy double stroller with built-in seats) the kids’ infant car seats snapped right onto the light¬†stroller frame for quick and easy transitions between home, the car, and destinations.

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They retail for around $80-$90, but we got ours used in brand new condition off Craigslist¬†for $40. It was worth every cent.Because it’s designed to be light vs. durable long-term, I would not buy a used one unless it’s in new condition like ours.

(Credit for the bottom two pictures goes to the Man’s sister)

Infant Car Seats

I know many people love convertible car seats because you only have to buy one instead of two as the kids grow. Pre-twins I used to roll my eyes at infant seats – why spend the extra money? And how was it easier to carry a big ole’ car seat instead of just holding the baby? However, with two babies that opinion dropped by the wayside. Infant car seats made getting to and from destinations much easier, and they gave me a safe and familiar place to set one baby down while caring for the other when out and about.

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The cosmonauts, ready for space travel, I mean a walk

Now that the kids have outgrown their infant seats it easily takes me two or three times as long to get out the door – a lifetime in precious between-nap baby hours. I can’t carry two non-walking kids out to the back of our car at the same time because there’s nowhere to put one wiggling kid while I maneuver the other into her car seat. One baby must stay inside while I situate the other, but¬†since they’re mobile the baby left in the house must be strapped in somewhere safe while I take care of the other. Compare the simplicity of buckling your kids into their seats¬†in the house, snapping them into the car one-handed, then snapping them onto¬†the stroller at your destination to the craziness of carrying one baby downstairs, strapping him into a bouncy chair for safe keeping, running back up for other baby, carrying that baby out to the car while the¬†first baby screams at being abandoned, strapping the¬†kid into a car seat, locking the car so nobody kidnaps baby, running back into the house, freeing the second baby, running back out,¬†strapping¬†in second baby, locking the¬†car, running back into house for library books/purse/whatever we’re going out to drop off, driving to our destination, then reversing the whole process to get them into the stroller, then getting them back from the stroller to the car and from the car to the house. All those extra little steps add up quickly.¬†It’s a lot of bending and back strain, and it’s time consuming. With infant seats, I could safely buckle the kids in while we sat together in the house, carry them out, and just snap the infant seat into its base (or the stroller) one-handed.

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Likewise, if they fell asleep on the way home I didn’t have to wake them to carry them into the house, possibly never getting the remainder of their nap (as now happens with their convertible car seats *sob*).¬†¬†Our kids napped better in the cozy, cocoon-like environment of their infant car seats than anywhere else, and I let them take one nap a day in those seats on the floor of their bedroom.¬†We really miss the three hour naps that ensued (sigh).

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Whatever you do, pick a safe car seat model and make sure it’s compatible with your stroller. Most people recommend against buying a used car seat because you don’t know if it’s been in an accident, or because the plastic may have aged in the sun. I would probably only buy a used car seat if I knew the seller well and trusted them to be truthful about the seat’s accident exposure and age. I fully understand peoples’ concerns about babies being left in infant seats too much, carrying them places in the seats rather than holding them. I try to cuddle my twins as much as possible, but with two babies, it’s just impossible to tend to both their needs while holding them both. The ability to have a place to comfortably and safely set one baby down while holding the other when out of the house made it possible for me to regularly get out alone with the kids to things like¬†Bible study, church¬†when Carl was on call, friends’ houses, and the like. Our seats were Graco Snugride 30s, bought from Walmart with free shipping and $10 off coupons. Now that the twins are out of them we plan to sell one and save the other for future kids.

A quality baby carrier or two

Sometimes you just don’t have enough hands. We¬†have two¬†Ergos and we love them!¬†Individuals differ in build so, much like shoes or clothes,¬†I wouldn’t suggest buying a baby carrier blind without trying them on. We visited a couple of local baby stores and tried on multiple options before settling on our Ergo Sport models. It is worth investing in a good model (ours were a gift from the Man’s mother). We briefly used a cheap $20 carrier right when we brought the kids home and it was terribly uncomfortable for all involved.

Look at that sweet baby not falling into shark-infested waters thanks to a good secure baby carrier!

Look at that sweet baby not falling into shark-infested waters thanks to a good secure baby carrier!

We both have back problems, so constant babywearing is not an option for us. However, the ability to safely strap on a fussy baby during household chores, go on a family walk while getting in some cuddle time, or carry one baby through the store hands free while the other sits in the cart makes a big difference!

Booster Chairs instead of High Chairs

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Two babies often means two of everything. Two of everything can get crowded (and expensive!) quite quickly. Rather than getting high chairs that would take up even more floor space in our kitchen, we opted for boosters that strap onto our regular kitchen chairs. They provide the same function as high chairs for a fraction of the cost. They¬†take no extra space, are removable if we have a big crowd of dinner guests, and they grow with kids when they’re too big for their high chairs. Not all booster seats are created equal. Some, like a Target brand option an acquaintance let us use when we were visiting, are incredibly flimsy. However, my brother and sister-in-law brought the Fisher Price Deluxe Booster Seat¬†on a family vacation for their son¬†before we adopted the kids, and we were very impressed. We bought two for our kids, and my Mom has since bought another two for visiting grandkids because they’re so handy. The chair folds up small with a carry strap for meals at friends houses or travel. It’s very sturdy. The whole thing wipes clean. The seat height and tray setting are adjustable. The tray comes in three parts – a bottom tray, a snap on covering that’s dishwasher safe, and a snap-on lid to preserve food if you want to prepare it in advance or save the leftovers. Compared to a regular high chair the only con I can see is a slightly smaller tray (it doesn’t wrap around the sides). At $25 for a new one, that’s not nearly enough to change our minds!

Extra Places to put the Babies

In an ideal world, you could tenderly cuddle your child all the time. In the real world, that’s just not feasible even if you only have one baby. Maybe there are times when it’s not safe because you’re cooking something in spattering oil, bathing another baby, cleaning with chemicals, or¬†have an¬†older sibling who needs attention. With twins, it really helps to have at least one safe and comforting place you can put the baby when tending to the other or taking ten minutes for a cup of tea to regain your sanity. A couple of different options to prevent baby boredom are even better. When Daddy is gone for bedtime for the fourth day in a row, both babies are hungry, tired, and melting down, and the first baby you feed is taking 45 minutes to eat while the other gets hungrier and hungrier it’s nice to have something soothing like a swing to calm the waiting baby.

Exhibit A: A non-screaming baby

We didn’t really stock up on anything in advance (due to seven days notice before adopting our twins) but swings, bouncy seats, and bumbos can be found inexpensively used, traded, or as handmedowns. I’m not sure there’s much point to going straight for brand new on most of them (excepting perhaps jumperoos since the springs really get a workout). We bought one bouncy seat (the cheapest they had at Walmart) the day after we brought the twins home because Carl was going back to work the next day and I literally had nowhere to put the spare baby while I simultaneously cared for the kids and battled food poisoning in his absence. After that, friends¬†handed down two¬†swings and another bouncy seat, an Aunt sent us two Bumbo seats (really awesome once your kids can hold their heads up for letting them join you as you work in the kitchen or eat at the table), and I got a jumperoo new at Target for around $20 (worth every penny – my kids LOVE that thing).

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If you know you’ll be having twins from a pregnancy vs. a tentatively planned¬†adoption there’s plenty of time to find quality used options. It’s hard to predict in advance what a kid will like – our boy loved the swing, but wasn’t at all comforted by a bouncy seat. Our daughter found swings very blas√© but was instantly soothed by the vibrating bouncy seat. If you have a two story house with infant twins it makes life a lot easier if you have one set of seats upstairs, and one downstairs, whatever combo works for you. Saving time on the little steps like running up and down to bring seats back and forth leaves you more time to cuddle the kids.

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Heh. That face. She really loves her Bumbo, I promise.

A set of four seats¬†could easily cost as little as $15 (or nothing) if you look around on craigslist or at thrift stores. After looking through the various donations/gifts we received, the things I would look for are: a machine washable and dryable¬†cover (lightly padded vs. just one stretched sheet of fabric without reinforcement like the cheapest options), mechanics that still work (heck, you could even take batteries to the thrift store for testing), a reasonably sturdy activity bar (the cheapest one from Walmart warped and broke under the kids assaults, while the brand name swing and bouncy seat toys¬†are still going strong). Around here, used Bumbos typically go for $10 or so on Craigslist, but hold their value well for resale, and are sturdy if you’re handing it down from kid to kid. I don’t like clutter, but for the sake of making life a bit simpler, a few extra seats go a long way. It’s only for a year.

Trade handmedowns, shop used, and buy neutrals

Babies can go through a lot of clothes, especially if they puke on themselves forty times a day like our son. A new cotton sleeper at a typical Old Navy/Target/Babies R’ Us type place typically runs around $12-$15. On sale, it might be $8. At a chain consignment shop it might be $4. At a major consignment warehouse event it might be $2. At a thrift store it might be $0.50 – $2. At a garage sale it might be $0.25. Therefore, the difference in a weeks worth of PJs for twins¬†bought new at full price vs. entirely at thrift stores is roughly $190 vs. $14. That’s a lot of money. Now multiply that by onesies, pants, shirts, sweaters, socks, shoes, dress clothes, swimwear, coats, sleep sacks, etc. The difference can easily run to thousands of dollars, and babies change sizes every three months. I don’t have time to go to thrift stores every day or even every week to find every single thing that my kids need, but I try to stop by about once a month, and always have a running list of what we’re still lacking for both the kids’ current size and the next few sizes up. Thrift stores and garage sales¬†typically¬†have the cheapest prices, but anything I haven’t found there I try to make up at the giant consignment sale held twice annually in our area. It’s massive, and it’s critical to go in with a list or you may end up with 14 pairs of really cute baby pants (when you really only needed two more) and no shirts (when you really needed eight). I carefully inspect each item for stains, rips, and working zippers/buttons. I watch for good sales, coupons, and military discounts, but try to only hit the “real” stores as a last resort¬†after I’ve given thrift stores, consignment, and handmedowns a good chance. This requires advance planning, but saves a lot when you’re clothing two babies of the same size who obviously can’t wear one another’s handmedowns as a typical set of siblings might.

In addition, centering boy-girl twins’ wardrobes on neutrals can save both money (either kid as well as future siblings can wear it with fewer special outfits required) and laundry headaches as you fold and sort. Each of our kids have some special gender-specific outfits, as well as cute gender-specific shirts/pants/other clothes we’ve received as gifts or I’ve picked up. However, the core of their wardrobe is lots of shirts and pants that can go on either kid. Jeans and a striped shirt look perfectly boyish on a boy, and perfectly appropriate on a little girl – a few girly cardigans or bows can tip an ordinary set of clothing into a cute baby girl outfit with minimal extra expenditure. For items worn at home I’m even less picky.¬†My daughter currently wears blue¬†motorcycle pajamas because they were $1 at the thrift store and the only PJs I could find in her size.¬†This is, of course, a matter of taste and some people care a lot about having all-girl/all-boy wardrobes. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s your preference, I’m just a cheapskate. The handiness of neutrals extends to things like crib sheets, swings, and utensils. It’s just a little bit easier if you don’t have to find the gender appropriate color for each baby every time you do something.

One cheap umbrella stroller

I very rarely go out with just one twin, but it happens occasionally for things like¬†medical appointments. On those occasions, it’s nice to not have to push the big ole’ twin stroller. Many times it’s easier to just hold the baby or use a carrier, but it’s nice to have a place to set the baby down during long waits (or in, say, public restrooms). I’m not usually much of a helicopter/ewww germs! parent, but thanks to my husband’s job I’m very wary of letting my kids roam on hospital floors. A little immunity is good, basking in a soup of deadly bacteria is not. Likewise, after my son had a minor outpatient surgical procedure it was initially uncomfortable for him to be carried and my hands were full with bags, instruction papers, etc. getting around the hospital. Umbrella strollers are $15 at our local Walmart, and even cheaper used. When not in use¬†ours hangs up out of the way on our garage wall.

Amazon Prime

The Snap-N-Go stroller definitely made it easier to get out the door, but sometimes you’re just exhausted, or the kids are having a bad day, or you don’t have time to go store to store hunting for something, or you don’t have enough hands/a big enough cart/car to go to the store with the babies to pick up a large object. A $70 annual Amazon Prime membership gets you free two day shipping on most items, and we have recouped far more than the membership fee in free quick shipping for items we need but can’t get out for (or can’t get locally). And, of course, there are other nice perks like free movies/show episodes (lots of BBC!), Kindle books, etc (we do not have regular TV, cable, Netflix). We used Amazon Prime¬†for everything from extra bottles and tips¬†when they weren’t available in local stores to¬†a¬†second crib. Amazon made navigating the logistics of life with twins just a bit more manageable. It was especially awesome for Christmas shopping and shipping in the weeks immediately after we brought the twins home in late November.

Last¬†but not least, one thing I wish I’d done earlier and may still do

I wish I’d set up a second diaper changing station downstairs – something comfortable at waist height vs. a spare changing pad on the floor. Running up and down for diaper changes wasn’t a big deal when a) the babies are small and light and b) not mobile, but oddly enough, babies grow and start to move. The constant weight starts to take a toll on one’s back, especially when every time you need to change one baby you have to catch the other and strap them down or pen them in so they don’t climb the stairs, crawl into the fireplace, or eat the trash while you’re upstairs. It’s not something you must do before a baby arrives or in the early months, but it’s¬†definitely something to consider as they grow.