Dear Holly: Your All-Business Approach to Having Nonna Take Care of You

1 year, 6 months.

Dear Holly,

Last weekend I took you and your brother to Alabama to spend time with Nonna and Papa, which gave Mommy a chance to get caught up on work back in Tennessee. I was there with you, of course, but I couldn’t help but notice you chose to rely on Nonna for your needs instead of me.

Whenever you got hungry or felt you needed a diaper change, you simply took it upon yourself to walk over to your travel bag, pull out what you needed, then make your way across the room to Nonna.

With no words necessary, you simply looked up at her without even a smile on your face; but with a diaper in one hand and a fruit pouch in another. It was simply implied:

“Alright, Nonna. You’re the head matriarch figure in this room so I guess I’m supposed to bring this stuff to you. Let’s go ahead and get to work then.”

It’s slightly fascinating to me that you’re wired to having the most mothering person in the room take care of your physical needs. Whenever it’s just you and me at our house, you obviously solely depend on me for these things. You know good and well I am more than qualified to serve you.

But apparently, I become the 2nd most qualified person for the job if Nonna is in the room.

Obviously, you’re not old enough to comprehend that Nonna is actually my Mommy.

That doesn’t matter. You just know you’re better off having her open your bag of organic cheddar crackers instead of me.

Or maybe, this is your way of giving your Daddy a break. Maybe you’re just that intuitive; to realize that Daddy wouldn’t mind being off-duty every once in a while…


You know me too well. I’m always on the clock for you.




Dear Holly: Sharing Spinach Snacks with Your Brother’s Dinosaur? Or Simply Making Them Disappear Another Way?…

1 year, 2 months.

Dear Holly,

Tuesday when I came home from work, the first thing you and Mommy and your brother did was check out our new ride for this week, the 2017 Toyota 4Runner. Twenty minutes later, we finally made our way back into the kitchen.

While Mommy made pizza, and your brother made fossils from his dinosaur toys and Play-Doh, I helped feed you a new bar that Mommy picked up last weekend at Kroger: Happy Tot Organics Fiber & Protein Soft-Baked Oat Bar, Apples and Spinach flavor.

I told Mommy, “Wow, look at Holly! She really likes this apple and spinach snack bar. We need to keep buying these!”

As I was pinching off little clusters for you so that could easily consume them, I noticed you were really intrigued by what your brother was doing with his dinosaurs.

So I borrowed one that had an open mouth, and stuffed one of the clusters in it. You loved the challenge of using your little fingers to remove the green food from the Triceratops’ mouth. To heighten the theatrics of the event, I made low-pitch growling sounds, in an effort to convince you that he dinosaur was wrestling you for the food.

You growled back and you ate the bar, cluster by cluster.

Finally, the bar was gone and I had to open a 2nd one for you!

A few clusters into it though, you finally had your fill. At that point, I took you out of your high chair and we played on the carpet with your toys until dinner was ready.

Fast forward to about an hour and a half later, after you and your brother were asleep, and Mommy and I were finishing up cleaning the kitchen.

As Mommy was wiping down your high chair, she commented, “Either Holly dropped a lot of these bits from that bar… or she was hiding them down here the whole time!”


Holly, you may have done an excellent job of successfully convincing me you were actually eating those apple and spinach bars. Perhaps I was so caught up in playing dinosaur with you, that you were secretly just dropping the clusters beside you without me ever realizing it.

If so, nicely done!



Jill Shell’s Favorite Year-Round Vegan/Vegetarian Chili Recipe: Family Friendly (Mommy) Blog

As promised, I write today to share with you my scrumptious recipe for some vegan/vegetarian chili.  I mentioned before that I look for recipes that are quick and simple, but I forgot to mention that I really try to make an effort to make things healthy and add in veggies where I can (because, let’s face it, I am horrible at eating veggies and fruits throughout the day . . . even though I am a vegetarian).

Jill Shell's Favorite Year-Round Vegan/Vegetarian Chili Recipe: Family Friendly (Mommy) Blog

In addition to this, I am budget conscious and try to keep that into consideration when preparing meals.  I have to admit that we do tend to shop at Whole Foods and try to purchase organic when feasible, but I mostly buy produce that is on sale (for example, if I need tomatoes, I look for the cheapest organic ones that I can get and buy those) and we often choose the Whole Foods 365 brand over the others as it is more budget friendly for our pocket books.

A few disclaimers before we begin:

·         I am not a perfectionist, so often times I have slightly different amounts of ingredients (I sometimes throw in additional ingredients that are in the fridge that need to be used up).

·         This recipe is adapted from multiple chili recipes we have used in the past so it has not been directly taken from any particular website or cook book.

·         You can expect that this recipe yields about 6 adult-sized bowls of chili.  Need more?  Just double the recipe.  (If you are making this for more than 2 adults and a small child, definitely double the recipe.)

To start, I want to give you the shopping/ingredient list that you will need to make this dish.  I would also like to preface this post by saying, if you like meat in your chili, go ahead and prepare your meat as you would normally and add it to the dish.  Or if you are vegetarian and not vegan, feel free to top off your chili in the end with some cheese or sour cream.  I’m not biased; I just want you to enjoy a good bowl of chili!


1 medium onion, chopped

3-4 carrots, chopped

1-2 bell peppers (you can use any color or do a combo of each), chopped

1 can of tomatoes (diced w/chilis) or 1-2 small, freshly diced tomatoes & 1 small can of tomato sauce

2 cans of 365 Ranchero Beans

1-1 ½ teaspoons chili powder

1-1 ½ teaspoons cumin

1-1 ½ teaspoons oregano

Salt and Cracked pepper

½  box of 365 Cavatelli Pasta Shells

(Vegan) Butter

Jill Shell's Favorite Year-Round Vegan/Vegetarian Chili Recipe: Family Friendly (Mommy) Blog

Now that we have the ingredients set aside, let’s get to putting this dish together.  I use my food processor to chop my onion, carrots and bell peppers, but if you don’t have one or prefer to cut by hand, I would chop everything into really small pieces (a.k.a. dice ‘em).  As you prepare the veggies, you can just throw them into the crock pot.

Next, I add my cans of chili and tomatoes (if you are chopping fresh tomatoes, I dice them into small chunks for a thicker consistency).

Then add your seasonings: chili powder, cumin, oregano, a splash of salt and a few cracks of pepper.

Stir well and set your crock pot to High.  You can leave the chili in there for about 4-5 hours to cook and occasionally, I come back to stir and let the savory aromas fill the house.

Alternatively, if you are afraid of using crock pots or don’t have the time to deal with it, you can easily prepare this on the stove.  I must admit that I ran out of time this weekend to prepare it in the crock pot and threw this together on the stove.  To prepare on the stove, start by heating a tablespoon or two of olive oil in a pot and then add the onions.  Sautee the onions for a few minutes, then add the carrots and bell peppers.  Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on these sautéing veggies and after a few minutes, toss in the beans and tomatoes.  Follow that up with the spices and let it stew at a low-medium heat for about 30 minutes.  It’s that easy and whether you use a crock pot or a pot on the stove, the chili is delicious.

About 20 minutes before we serve, I put on a pot of water and boil our pasta shells until they are al dente (perfect . . . which for us means, really soft).

When the chili and pasta shells are ready, we each grab a bowl and begin by spooning the shells into our bowl (I usually put in a few spoonfuls to cover about 1/8-1/4 of the bottom of the bowl).  Now please do not miss this next step . . . grab the butter (we use the vegan Earth Balance brand, but whatever brand you have in the house, be sure to use) and add a teaspoon full, then mix it around so that it melts amongst your shells.  Ladle as much chili as you like on top of the noodles for the perfect bowl of chili.

To top it off, you can add whatever fixings you like such as cheese, sour cream, chives, or whatever floats your boat.  On occasion, I like to add cheese, but most nights I enjoy it as it is.  I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about the melted butter over the noodles mixed with the goodness of the chili that is really unbeatable.

And that’s how you make an easy vegan/vegetarian chili dish.



Annie’s Vegan Organic Pasta Dinners (Vegan Mac and Cheese)

Annie’s Vegan Organic Pasta Dinners (Vegan Mac-and-Cheese)

Thursday evening I came home from work, anxious to see the responses I had received after officially announcing just that morning that our family will have a new addition scheduled to arrive in April 2016.

(Take a moment to process that fact if you didn’t already know. That just happened this week.)

But before I could make it to the laptop, my wife informed me that we had received a package from Annie’s Homegrown!

It’s funny because before I even opened the box, I sensed what was inside, and I was indeed correct.

Annie’s Vegan Organic Pasta Dinners (Vegan Mac-and-Cheese)

No one from Annie’s had ever told me they were working on “vegan mac and cheese” but I had a feeling they were; as they are keen to cater to organic, plant-based demographics like my family.

When I opened the box, there was a potato and a pumpkin with special messages for me.

Then I saw the brand-new product:

A box of Annie’s “Organic Vegan Shells & Creamy Sauce”, as well as their “Organic Vegan Elbows & Creamy Sauce”, which is made from rice.

Both options are made with pumpkin and sweet potato.

Annie’s Vegan Organic Pasta Dinners (Vegan Mac-and-Cheese)

Here’s a reminder about vegan food: It contains no cholesterol. It may contain fat, but when you look at the cholesterol percentage, you’ll never see more than 0% on the label.

Some other things that make Annie’s vegan organic pasta dinners special compared to the average “mac and cheese” dinners is that these contain no artificial flavors, synthetic colors or preservatives.

I’m the vegan of our family (my wife and son are vegetarians) and I must say it sure was nice being able to eat mac and cheese for both dinner Thursday night and lunch on Friday.

Consider this: I’ve been a vegan for exactly 2 and a half years as of this week. That means no mac-and-cheese for that whole time for me… until now.

My wife was very delighted to see Annie’s had also sent a very nice vegan cookbook; as my wife is by default, a vegan chef. After all, she’s now exclusively been making vegan meals every day for our family for the past 2 and a half years.

Annie’s Vegan Organic Pasta Dinners (Vegan Mac-and-Cheese)

It just so happens we are planning to launch a spin-off of Family Friendly Daddy Blog, which will feature my wife’s journey of “baby #2”, who is currently 12 weeks old inside the womb. My wife plans to also focus on cooking vegan meals as well.

Our son Jack was happy because he took it upon himself to decorate the pumpkin that Annie’s sent us.

So there, you heard it first from me: Annie’s now carries “vegan mac and cheese.”

Annie’s Vegan Organic Pasta Dinners (Vegan Mac-and-Cheese)

Unboxing Of Annie’s “Grass Fed” Surprise Package

Last night as I got back from Jacksonville for Toyota’s “Family Reunion Preview”, I noticed there was a box waiting there for me at the door.

I have been expecting a book that I will be reviewing about managing time as a family in the age of smart phones, so I thought that’s what it was. However, this box was bigger and heavier than a box for a paperback should be.

So after using my knife to cut open the box, I found a letter from Annie’s Homegrown. Plus, I felt something sort of cold, and moist, and alive, with the tips of my fingers.

My wife suggested that she film me opening the box; after all, people apparently love “unboxings” these days.

And that’s exactly what happened. What you see in the video below is completely unscripted, unplanned, and unpracticed:

As you can see from this unboxing video, Annie’s sent my son 2 boxes of their new “grass fed, organic, non-GMO” mac and cheese along with a really cool wooden plant holder with live grass to celebrate their new grass fed mac and cheese.

Like I said in the unboxing video, I accept their grass plant as an early housewarming gift; as we are scheduled to close on our new house on January 29th, with our townhouse currently on the market as of this week.

Something I am quick to point out is that I strictly only feature brands and products I believe in.

Unboxing Of Annie’s “Grass Fed” Surprise

Just in the past month, I’ve turned down about $450 in gift cards because between 3 different companies all reaching out to me, wanting me to promote their products on Family Friendly Daddy Blog. However, their products include high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and dyes, and were obviously not organic or non-GMO.

With that being said, I’ve always proudly believed in Annie’s Homegrown. It’s hard to argue with that non-GMO label on their boxes.

I’m happy for Annie’s and I’m happy to see them growing as a company, finding larger distribution.

Thanks to Annie’s for helping me be able to spread the good word about food without GMO’s and artificial junk!

Experiment: Compare Annie’s Homegrown Ingredients A Year From Now in September 2015

Last night I posted Why I’m Happy About Annie’s Homegrown Being Bought Out By General Mills, to which a friend who actually was instrumental in my own transition from vegetariasm to veganism responded with this comment:

Monica Lang I’m not buying it. Keep a box today and compare the ingredients a year from now.

Actually, I think she’s got an excellent idea! She makes a great point. So I literally am going to do exactly what she suggested…

Experiment: Compare Annie's Homegrown Ingredients A Year From Now

I took close-up pictures of the Annie’s Homegrown products we happened to have in our pantry. (In case you’re wondering, my son is a vegetarian, not a vegan- which explans the mac-and-cheese.)

A year from now, I will take and post pictures of the same products, if available, and compare them for everyone to see.

Experiment: Compare Annie's Homegrown Ingredients A Year From Now

While I definitely could be wrong, and would quickly admit it if I am a year from now, I doubt think General Mills will mess with Annie’s Homegrown’s dedication to keeping their products organic, non-GMO, and free of artificial dyes and flavors.

Experiment: Compare Annie's Homegrown Ingredients A Year From Now

The reason I am confident to say this is because General Mills can’t afford to “Monsanto-size” their newly acquired product line. The whole point in them acquiring Annie’s was because they know how much money a market we organic/non-GMO consumers shell out each year.

Experiment: Compare Annie's Homegrown Ingredients A Year From Now

If they General Mills changes Annie’s ingredients, then people like me would simply start buying products of other food companies who do still have integrity.

I believe General Mills will make the right decision- not from the heart, like Annie’s always has, but because of the bottom line; it’s directly related to them making a profit.

So, let’s watch together how this works out. None of us can know for sure until September 2015.

See ya in a year!

Experiment: Compare Annie's Homegrown Ingredients A Year From Now

Actually… please come back before then. I just mean, I’ll do a follow-up post on this in September 2015.

Why I’m Happy About Annie’s Homegrown Being Bought Out By General Mills

This week on Facebook, Annie’s made it public that they have been purchased by General Mills (for $820 million):

Hi Annie’s Fans,Today we announced exciting news that Annie’s will join General Mills. We are thrilled because this opportunity will fuel Annie’s future growth and allow us to more rapidly expand our line of high quality, great tasting products made with organic and natural ingredients that you’ve come to love over the last 25 years. So what does this combination mean for you, our loyal fans? Expect to see Annie’s in more stores, in more categories and in more varieties.Annie’s has never been a company that compromises on its values. With General Mills’ support, we will stay true to our mission and committed to doing well by doing good. We remain dedicated to real food; simple, organic, non-GMO and natural ingredients; a clean planet and sustainable business practices. These values are part of our DNA and they will remain so.

Thanks for being a loyal Annie’s fan and celebrating this new chapter in our story.

John Foraker
Annie’s CEO

Since then, the current CEO, John Foraker, has assured Annie’s supporters that Annie’s integrity will remain intact:

I want you all to know that our mission, culture, and values and the things we stand for will remain the same. We’ll continue to make the same great products, more of them actually, using ingredients we are proud of, business practices that are respectful of the environment, and that make our planet a better place. We’ve spent 25 years building trust with consumers, one interaction at a time. We will continue to do that. Count on it. I always ask people to listen to what we say, but more importantly, watch what we do! We will not let you down! Our mission: We cultivate a healthier, happier world by spreading goodness through nourishing foods, honest words and conduct that is considerate and forever kind to the planet. that mission is hard won and has been built with integrity. We will never abandon it, but rather we will further it, by putting our product into millions of new homes, which will expand our positive impact even more. I have given 15 years of my life to that mission and I am not stopping now. Best, John, Annie’s CEO

In the past couple of days, I have observed the astonishment from many (but not most) Annie’s fans online, that a company like Annie’s that has pushed for mandatory government labelling of GMOs, would join forces with a company like General Mills that is known for investing money to keep mandatory GMO labels off their food products.

Why I’m Happy About Annie’s Being Bought Out By General Mills

However, that doesn’t personally bother me.

I’m simply neutral on that- I don’t see why we need the government to force companies to label whether or not their products contain GMOs.

Here’s why:

The free market will decide anyway. As long as Annie’s packaging continues to advertise itself as “non-GMO,” and that it contains no high fructose corn syrup, or artificial dyes or flavors, and it’s organic… I will continue buying Annie’s- even if it is actually now a division of General Mills.

Because I’m not caught up in the war against labelling. I represent the Annie’s fans who are actually happy for Annie’s products getting better distribution and more opportunities to get their higher quality products to the mainstream.

For those of us who are passionate about avoiding GMOs in our food, we already check for the voluntary non-GMO label on food when we are shopping.

We also know that if a company doesn’t make a deliberate effort to make it known that there are indeed no GMOs in their food, then it must be assumed their food indeed contains GMOs.

Any company that is catering to non-GMO consumers would be stupid not to flash it all over their packaging and advertisements.

Based on what the CEO of Annie’s is telling everyone on Facebook, it sounds like he’s promising that Annie’s will continue to be dedicated to staying organic, non-GMO, and free of high fructose corn syrup, artificial dyes and flavors.

If not, he knows that families like ours would stop buying Annie’s. However, I truly do not believe that will be the outcome.

Why I’m Happy About Annie’s Being Bought Out By General Mills

Here’s why:

A huge company like General Mills sort of needs Annie’s at this point. Influential food bloggers like Food Babe are educating the general public about how unethical GMOs are.

She has been helping to inform Americans about GMOs in Cheerios, for example.

The result? General Mills gave in to the pressure, announcing their plans to start making Cheerios without the GMOs.

It appears General Mills is already losing enough money to Annie’s. It’s apparently cheaper, easier, and more efficient to just join Annie’s efforts than to try to beat them.

But… they know to be taken seriously, they have to continue the “organic, non-GMO, no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial flavors or colors” commitment that Annie’s is known and respected for.

I am remaining completely optimistic. This means that snacks that are organic, non-GMO, and have no high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or colors will be integrated into the mainstream even more.

Personally, I’m happy about the buy-out. I’m cool with just the voluntary food labels; ones that are not mandated by the government.


I say, let the free market decide. I say, celebrate the good news that Annie’s products will be more accessible (and possibly more affordable) to those who wouldn’t normally consider buying Annie’s food and snacks.

The way I look at it, it’s what on the inside (no GMO’s) that matters, not the outside (government-mandated labels).