The holidays can be a crazy busy time for all of us: full of lists and things to do, last minute shopping, late night wrapping, shuffling snow-suited kids around town, and meeting deadlines on snow days. I think most parents would agree that all we really want to give our kids this season are holiday traditions and memories to carry with them.
A few years ago, when our boys were making out their wish lists, they were calling out what their “hopefuls” for the year were. All three of our older boys said “those boxes!” The boxes they were excitedly referring to are our Christmas Eve Boxes. Because we are a blended family, sometimes we have our older kids for the first half of winter break and other years it’s the second half. Because of that, sometimes they are called Christmas Eve Boxes and other years they are New Year’s Eve Boxes. Whatever the name, they come with the same excitement.
I first thought of the idea of making a box a few years ago when I came across something on Pinterest about making a box for a movie night with your kids. The box would include a movie, pair of PJs, popcorn, and other snacks for a movie night gift. I decided that this was a great new tradition to start for Christmas and that it was the perfect opportunity to work something that I was going to purchase for the kids anyway into a present.
While some parents don’t agree with giving things like pajamas, socks, and underwear as gifts, trust me, this definitely makes it fun! With four kids, my holiday budget goes in a hurry, so I jump at any opportunity that I have for a gift to serve double duty and check a few “spring refresh” items off the list. The kids also like to wear the pajamas to bed that night (and we’ve learned that we don’t have to help the kids find their pajamas from suitcases that night!). As an added bonus, since the rest of the box is filled with consumable items, I am not left with a bunch of extra gadgets around the house. Win-Win-Win!
When I assemble the boxes, I set up all of the boxes on the kitchen table (or my bed) and run it like an assembly line. These last couple of years, I have been making about 6 or 7 at a time because a few of my nieces and nephews wanted in on the fun. You can use any size box you like, but I use the larger robe or oversized robe boxes. I find them two for $1 at the dollar store, and since they already have a fun holiday design on them, I don’t bother wrapping them!
It’s really pretty simple to find the items to put inside of the boxes. Bang for my buck is the name of the game, and I try to find the biggest sales for pajamas, socks, etc. Then I head to the dollar store to find a few activity items and a couple of the kid’s favorite snacks. If I have time, I also add a couple of homemade items that I know the kids love. I wish I could tell you that my boys would be crushed if their Chef Mom didn’t put homemade items in the boxes, but they are also equally happy with putting in more dollar store candy!
Each year is always a little different, but this year the boys' boxes will include the following:
One or two dollar store activities or games
Yo-yos (because they looked fun at the dollar store)
Bag of cookie mix
Marshmallow Santas (they love these things)
White Chocolate Puff Corn (homemade)
Savory Pretzels (homemade)
Crockpot Candy (homemade)
Other items that I have included are toothbrushes/toothpaste, fun flavored chapsticks, deodorants, lotions, peanuts, trail mix, popcorn, hot cocoa mixes, and really anything else fun I find at the dollar store.
For my homemade treats, I change it up from year to year, but I like to pick items that will last at least a week or more without refrigeration. I also like to pick items that can be made quickly after the kids head to bed for the night so that it’s a little bit of a surprise! A few of my favorites are Crockpot Candy, Savory Butter Pretzels, and White Chocolate Puff Corn.
Rocky Road Crockpot Candy is wonderful to make because it is nearly hands-free and doesn’t require any special tricks. You really can choose any sort of chocolate and nut combination you like, but Rocky Road is one of my personal favorites. The slow cooker is a perfect piece of equipment for melting chocolate. The White Chocolate Puff Corn is always a hit - with or without sprinkles. Even I can’t get enough! You might just want to go ahead and double the recipe.
Savory Butter Pretzels are a great add-in because I tend to feel a little guilty about the amount of sugar that gets added into the boxes. To make the recipe, you can use any shape pretzel you like. I love to use the butter braided sticks because it can hold more seasoning in the crevasses, but the boys prefer classic twists or holiday shapes. This recipe does call for hot pepper sauce, but it is not spicy. If you want your pretzels to have a little more of a kick, feel free to double the amount of hot sauce or sprinkle them with a little cayenne or chipotle powder before baking.
Homemade or store-bought, this fun holiday idea can quickly become a holiday tradition in your house!
Rocky Road Crockpot Candy
- 30 oz. almond bark
- 12 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips
- 24 oz. milk chocolate chips
- 4 cups roasted peanuts (plus additional for topping if desired)
- 10 ounces mini marshmallows (plus additional for topping if desired)
Place the almond bark, chocolate chips, and peanuts in your slow cooker. Cook on low heat for 1 hour. Stir. Cook for another hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Be sure to scrape all areas of the crock to avoid burning chocolate on any potential hot spots. Once all of the chocolate is melted, turn off your crockpot and remove the lid. Let stand for 15 minutes to cool slightly.
Line 3 sheet pans with parchment paper (for cooling the candy).
Fold in the mini marshmallows and, working quickly, use a teaspoon or small scoop to dish the chocolate onto the parchment lined sheet pans. Top with additional marshmallows and peanuts if desired. Let cool completely before storing. Crockpot Candy can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, your refrigerator, or your freezer for up to 2 months.
Makes 36-48 pieces of candy
Savory Butter Pretzels
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 10-12 dashes hot pepper sauce (tabasco or other brands)
- 4 tablespoons ranch dressing powder mix
- 16 oz. bag of pretzels
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Melt the butter in a microwave safe bowl (about 30 seconds). Place the pretzels in a gallon size ziplock bag. Whisk butter, canola oil, and pepper sauce together and pour over the pretzels. Shake the pretzels until they are evenly coated. Add the ranch powder. Dust with the ranch powder and shake again until evenly coated.
Pour the pretzels onto a baking sheet and spread into a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
White Chocolate Puff Corn
- 20 ounces almond bark, broke into pieces
- 9 ounces puff corn, regular or butter flavor
- Sprinkles (optional)
Pour puff corn into a large mixing bowl. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper and set aside. In a large microwave safe bowl, melt the almond bark in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until completely smooth.
Pour the almond bark over the puff corn and stir until completely coated. Spread onto the parchment paper in a single layer, top with sprinkles if desired, and let cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks (can also be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months).
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