Guest Post: 10 Tips for a Smooth PCS with Children

As most military personnel know, PCS stands for Permanent Change of Station, but for families with children, it can quickly transform into a Painfully Complicated Situation. Having to pack up all your belongings, say goodbye to friends, family, and familiar places is never easy. At TroopSwap, our sales teams are composed of military spouses and veterans sourcing military discounts around the country. We’ve polled these PCS-experts, and they offered up 10 tips to make the transition as smooth as possible:

1) Stay Positive.  Kids will feed off of their parents attitude; moving is a pain, whether it’s around the corner or across country, but if you try to stay positive, the kids will have the same outlook. Even if you’re not psyched about your new digs, vent to a sympathetic girlfriend, but don’t let it show in front of the little ones.

2) Get Moving Day Help. Arrange play dates or babysitting on pack-out days so children can avoid the stress. When you’ve got to organize an entire house-worth of boxes, it’s better to let someone else worry about finding the juice boxes.


3) Build the Anticipation. Make moving an adventure. Research the area with your kids to discover all the cool things they’ll get to do at their new home—and then follow up with definite plans. Michelle Trent, a proud Navy spouse, suggests making a “Bucket List” of all the touristy activities the area has to offer. If you know you’ll only be there for a set time, plan out your Bucket List items on a calendar so that there is always something to look forward to.

4) Make Goodbyes Matter. A photo album is a great way for kids to commemorate special friendships and memories. Monika Monize, a proud Army spouse, put together an album of her children’s friends with phone numbers and emails right next to each photo. “It was like a Yearbook of sorts to assure my kids that these friends were not lost, and that they were still going to be able to talk to them and see their faces. Sometimes the fear of loss is the hardest part, not the moving, but the loss of friends and familiar places, so keeping these memories close at hand is a good thing.”

Michelle says, “We made small photo albums for our girls – the first half included pictures of where we currently lived, things they did, and some friends; and the second half were pictures of the new house where we would be moving, the area, people we knew in the Navy who were already there.”

5) Take Advantage of Connections. Chances are, you know other people where you are moving, or you have friends that do. Michelle advises contacting these connections in advance to find out the best pediatrician, dentist, daycare, play group, private school, public school, soccer programs, dance programs, or other activity your kids are interested in. “If you can, sign them up before you get there. That way they will have something familiar to look forward to, and might even have friends-of-friends doing the same activities.”If you don’t know anyone at your new station, make contact with groups like the Scouts, sports teams, or youth church groups prior to moving. The family center at your new station is a great resource and can introduce you to families that also have children. Military kids are very inclusive and will show your kids the ropes.

6 ) Provide Creature Comforts. Jenn Macris, a proud Navy spouse, advises, “Remember to keep loveys, blankies, pacifiers, or special toys separate when packing things up, so that children can access them during the move and have them close at hand when they first arrive at their new home. Keep out ‘big kid’ comfort items too, such as favorite stuffed animals, photos of friends, or a special t-shirt. Even if older kids don’t really use these things any more, having them accessible gives a sense of familiarity and a visual reminder that even in the midst of change, there are things that remain the same.” For teenagers, make sure they’re supplied with their favorite snacks, magazines or books, and gadgets like cell phones or video games to ease the trip and make them feel cared for. It’s easy for parents to assume teenagers can “handle it” because they are older, but moving is hard at any age, and these small gestures remind teens that their feelings aren’t overlooked

7) Keep Memories Alive. Moving on doesn’t mean wiping out the past. Monika uses a special display box for kids to store their “treasures” from each place they’ve lived: “We have a door knob from one house, a special pine cone from one family favorite picnic spot, a collection of special sea shells, and we will keep adding to it with each new home.” Monika stresses, “It’s important to remember, not just move on to new things, but to fondly embrace where you have come from and keep those memories alive. Kids lose enough in the military and are ever fearful of what else they may lose along the way, so the more you can give them to hold onto the better.”

8) Maintain Traditions. Another great way to preserve memories and create a sense of stability is through traditions. Monika says, “We use the first weekend of every month to celebrate the places we have lived. Each month we do a special theme to keep those traditions close: ‘Cowboy Weekend’ for Arizona;  ‘Aloha Day’ with Kalua Pig with spam and rice, and a trip into the water, no matter if it is a lake, river, sea, or pool- we get in and listen to the Hawaiian drums on our CD’s. The next month we’ll do a German theme and listen to folk music, eat traditional foods, and say as many German words throughout the day as we can remember.”

9) Embrace Moving Positives.  A new locale offers new experiences and chances to grow. Michelle said, “Our girls were sad about leaving DC and heading to California for one of our moves and talked about not being able to do the things their current friends would be doing next year in DC. We talked about all of the things they would be able to do in California that most of their friends would never get to do. It definitely made them feel special!” Moving gives children a much broader perspective. “I remember in school one of our girls had to do a project where they listed all of the states they had been to,” recalls Michelle, “and at age 10 she’d already visited 25 states, whereas some of her school friends had only been to 3! Now that our girls are older teenagers, I can really see the benefits of moving: my girls have a bigger view of the world, adapt more easily to change, and aren’t shy about meeting new people.”


10) Offer Extra Support. Remind parents of other children, teachers, and all caregivers to be extra gentle and kind with the kids who are PCS-ing. Jenn says, “Even if a child may appear not to be affected, that doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t struggling on the inside with the adjustments.”

Have you experienced a PCS with your family? Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew then? Share your biggest tip for a smooth transition! 

Jenn Macris is a proud Navy spouse of over 18 years and mom to 5 children ages 6-14. Jenn enjoys working from Annapolis, MD where she puts her business acumen and int’l MBA to use as a Partner Development Executive for TroopSwap’s Washington, DC and Northern Virginia markets.

Monika Monize is a proud Army spouse and mother of 5 children. She has kept the home fires burning through three 12-month deployments, as well as 4 mini-deployments ranging from 2-8 weeks.  Monika serves as Director of Community Outreach for TroopSwap’s Washington, DC and Northern Virginia markets. 

Michelle Trent is a proud Navy spouse and mother of 2 daughters. Michelle’s PCS motto is “Home is where the Navy sends us,” and so far that’s been to California, Washington, DC, and Virginia.  Michelle has seen her family through 9 deployments and 8 moves. Michelle serves as Director of Community Outreach for TroopSwap’s Hampton Road’s market. 


Founded by two Army Rangers, our team is dedicated to working with reputable, military-friendly businesses to bring special deals and everyday discounts to verified active service members, veterans, and their families. TroopSwap provides hand-selected daily deals and military discounts for businesses near you. Troop ID is the first technology platform that verifies military or veteran status online, enabling top brands to securely deliver benefits and discounts to the military community through e-commerce. Troop ID acts as a digital ID card so members of the military community can access discounts, veteran skill training vouchers, and government benefits safely and securely online. 
Note: I was not compensated for this post.
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Guest Post: Perfect Roasted Potatoes

Let me say, upfront, that I’m not an excellent cook. I have many faults in the kitchen, such as not reading recipes all the way through before beginning or substituting spices based on the letter they start with (seemed like a good idea at the time…). So I may not seem like the best source for absolutely perfect roasted potatoes. But I am here to tell you that I have the secret.

And I discovered it quite by accident!

Most recipes will tell you that you need to parboil your potatoes to get them perfectly roasted. I have no idea if that is true because frankly, that just sounds like extra work to me. I always skip extra work (hence not being the world’s best home cook…). In the past, my roasted potatoes were fine enough. But now they rock SO HARD! Read my tutorial below and you’ll discover why!

Perfect Roasted Potatoes

Ingredients you will need:

  • 1 sweet potato (trust me…throwing a sweet potato in the mix makes it all the better!)
  • 3 or 4 red potatoes
  • Italian seasoning (or whatever seasoning you like best)
  • olive oil
  • garlic salt
  • Reynolds aluminum foilingredients needed to make roasted potatoes

Wash and peel your potatoes. Then roughly chop them into bite sized pieces. Place all potato chunks in a large bowl.

cut up potatoes for roasted potatoes recipe

Add roughly a palm full of Italian seasoning. I don’t measure. Measuring takes extra work, and that’s not how I roll.

palm full of Italian seasoning for roasted potatoes

Now do the same thing with your garlic salt. Any type-A folks out there cringing over the lack of specific measurements? I’m actually type-A, myself, except for in the kitchen. Take a deep breath, and just go with it. You will be pleased with the end result, I promise!

palm full of garlic salt for roasted potatoes

After you have added the seasonings to the potato mix, it is time to add lots and lots of olive oil. I added 1/3 of a cup, but the main thing to remember is that your potatoes need to be generously coated. Mix everything up thoroughly.

cubed potato chunks with seasoning and olive oil

Now, here’s where the secret to perfect roasted potatoes lies: you need to let everything sit right in this bowl for a minimum of one hour. I recommend letting it sit for 3 or 4 hours if you can. I think the seasonings become stronger when they have time to mingle with the olive oil, and I also think some of that starchiness in the potatoes comes out during this time. But I’m not sure. I discovered this step a few months ago when I was trying to make these for lunch and then got distracted with the kiddos. I got to this step and then had to stop, so I decided to just make them 4 hours later for dinner. And they BLEW. MY. MIND.

When you are ready to do the roasting, make sure your oven is preheated to 400 degrees. Don’t put them in before the oven gets that hot. They really need that blast of heat from the start! Trust me! Also be sure to put them on a foil lined pan (you’ll thank me at clean up time) and spray the pan with something like Pam. Yes, even with all that olive oil, I still recommend this step. Also make sure that your pieces are not sitting on top of each other.

sweet potato and potato chunks for roasting

After they have been in the oven for 20 minutes, take them out and flip them all around.

flipping potatoes half way through roasting

Pop them back into the oven for another 20 minutes. The flip them again. Then they need one more round in the oven for 10 minutes. And this is what you will get after that final roasting session:

roasted potatoes

Oh, they are heaven, folks. They are a bit time intensive in that you have to babysit them a little once they are in the oven, but other than that, it is a very easy recipe, as long as you get started well in advance! I hope your family enjoys these as much as mine does! If you loved this recipe, would you consider pinning it on Pinterest or sharing it on Facebook so others can give it a try, too?

Tiffany Merritt is the blogger behind Stuff Parents Need, a website dedicated to sharing products and services that make life a little less hectic and a lot more fun for parents of young children. She gives away great prizes every week and keeps entries simple to make it easy to enter (and win!). Stop by and see if there’s anything you’d love to win for your family! Tiffany is also currently a finalist for the Reynolds Real Moms ambassador program. She’s sharing great tips and tricks on the Reynolds Facebook page every Wednesday for the next 6 weeks. She would be totally thrilled to earn your vote there!

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Guest Post- Cooking with Kids: Meatballs

UPDATED 11/19/13- Nicole Elizabeth is launching a new website soon! In the meantime, I don’t have access to the photos for this recipe, so the links were broken. I will hopefully be able to add them back in eventually, but the recipe is still accessible below. You can check out Nicole Elizabeth’s new Facebook page HERE.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard comments from students and friends that paint a picture of how they imagine my life in the kitchen must be. Their comments are usually peppered with words like “organized,” “focused,” “effortless,” “relaxed,” and “efficient.” The general idea seems to be that I always cook in a well-lit kitchen with my photo-ready mise en place and my professional-grade range. I leisurely work my way through recipes while my children play contentedly at my feet, and I somehow manage to keep my vintage-inspired apron free of stains, smudges, or any other signs that I have actually been cooking. Oh, and did I mention I cook in heels? The whole image is very warm, homespun chic, and couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality of most days in the kitchen usually involves me in my cramped, poorly-lit apartment kitchen, still wearing last night’s yoga pants and some ratty t-shirt that I pulled from my husband’s side of the closet, hurriedly cramming as much ingredient prep as I can into nap time. Once the kids are up, the majority of my cooking is either improvised or on autopilot and done with a baby or toddler on my hip while I cook over a stove with only three working burners, two of which are crooked. Martha Stewart, I am not.

A couple of days a week, however, I try to set aside the usual frenetic pace of our afternoon and evening routine and, instead of going to the park or doing arts and crafts with my toddler, we cook dinner together. Most people are surprised that I would enlist the help of a two year old in the kitchen because of the extra cleanup involved, but cooking is much easier when she is happily helping than it is when I’m trying to work around her, so it just makes sense to let her help. She is inquisitive, bright, learns quickly, and is already quite the little sous chef, and nothing beats her smile and her contagious laugh when she is doing something she loves.

How does someone let their child get involved with cooking from such a young age? It takes a little advance planning and patience, but not much else. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

First, don’t tackle a recipe that intimidates you. Cook something you are comfortable with and have made a few times before so that you don’t have any surprises sneak up on you when you already have your hands full with your child.

Second, take a look at the recipe and separate the steps that your child can do either alone or with help from the ones you have to do by yourself. For example, in the meatball recipe below, my daughter didn’t help with any of the steps that involved raw meat and eggs since I know she will do everything in her power to taste whatever she is working with. She mixed the dry ingredients by hand and squeezed the excess liquid from the spinach on her own, and she measured the seasonings with my help. Knowing ahead of time what your child can do will help you with time management and organization.

Third, plan more time than you think you will need. Cooking with your kids isn’t just about cooking. It’s about spending quality time with them, teaching them skills that will benefit them for the rest of their lives, and connecting with them in a way that not many other things allow. You’re elbow to elbow with them for a couple of hours straight, working toward a common goal, with no electronic distractions and plenty of time to talk. Give yourself enough time to really enjoy it.

I have two favorite meatball recipes, and this is the one I usually make before it gets too cold outside. These are not heavy, fatty meatballs, but they’re still substantial enough that you only need a couple on your plate to feel satisfied. As I said in my example above, there is plenty for even a young toddler to do here, and older children can do more, like help incorporate the dry ingredients into the meat and form the meatballs, or even swap out ingredients and change the flavor profile. I like to make double or triple batches and freeze the extras for days that I’m short on time. Keep a small batch of tomato sauce in the freezer, too, and you’ll always have something on hand to throw over rice, pasta, or polenta. The amounts given in the recipe below are for a double batch, which is about 55 meatballs for me, but that will vary depending on how large you make your meatballs. If that sounds like too much, cut the recipe in half for a single batch.

Baked Meatballs

Adapted from Alton Brown

1 lb. each of ground pork, ground lamb, and ground round

2 eggs, lightly beaten (toddler can help beat the eggs)

10 oz. chopped frozen spinach, thawed, and squeezed of excess water (toddler-friendly task)

1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

3 teaspoons each of dried basil and dried parsley

2 teaspoons each of garlic powder and kosher salt

Up to 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

1 cup bread crumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two jellyroll pans (cookie sheets) with parchment.

2. In a large bowl, add the ground meats, eggs, and spinach, but to avoid excess mixing (which makes for a tough meatball), wait to mix them together until the dry ingredients are added. Set aside.

3. In another large bowl, add cheese, herbs, seasonings, and bread crumbs and mix thoroughly with your hands. Toddlers love this part.

4. Add the meat mixture to the breadcrumb mixture and lightly mix until well incorporated. Try to avoid mashing the meat, as this will make tough meatballs. You can use the mixture immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to a day.

5. To form the meatballs, roll pieces of the meat mixture into generous golf ball-sized portions and place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 2o minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.

Nicole Muvundamina at The Fresh Kitchen teaches in-home cooking classes in the western Chicago suburbs. She works with home cooks of all levels, but she has a soft spot for moms who feel completely clueless in the kitchen. Her goal is to take the intimidation out of cooking and make it fun and approachable for newbies, and to get people who already know their way around the kitchen to step out of their culinary comfort zones and try something new! Follow The Fresh Kitchen on Twitter @TheFreshKitchen and Facebook: TheFreshKitchen.

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