Life

5 Quick and Easy Back-to-School Crafts and Snacks

It’s hard to believe that it’s time to start talking about Back to School already. I mean, it feels like summer just started! But a quick glance at the calendar tells me that the big day is practically here.

I won’t lie – there’s a small part of me that will be doing a little happy dance that first day when the bus pulls away. There’s been a lot of bickering and arguing among my five kids as of late…

But I’ll also miss the one-on-one time that summers afford me, as well as being able to schedule spontaneous family outings any day of the week. So we’ll be making the most of our time before school starts by cooking and crafting and creating fun memories.

I’m still planning exactly what projects we’re going to tackle, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites that we’ve done as a family in the past.

Washi Tape Personalized School Supplies

School supplies just don’t get any cuter than these basics that have been doctored up with Washi tape! Young children will need some help using the X-acto knife for trimming the tape (or scissors will work as well), but they’ll have a blast choosing colors and patterns and wrapping the Washi tape to personalize all of their school supplies.


Create A Homework Box

This is a little project that we complete every year as we’re shopping for school supplies. We pick up an extra or two of all of the items on our list that we may need to use for homework assignments, and pick up a plastic storage box that will house them all. It makes homework time so much simpler because the supplies are specifically designated for homework only, meaning those house-wide hunts for a glue stick or scissors are a thing of the past!


DIY Friendship Pins Kit

Do you remember friendship pins? I put this adorable kit together for my girls when my youngest was starting first grade. She was a little nervous about being in school all day for the first time, and showing her how to make friendship pins was a great way to get her excited about going to school. She couldn’t wait to pass out her creations to her classmates – the pins were the perfect way to help her connect with old and new friends!


DIY No-Crust Frozen Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches

Prep for school lunches by making a huge batch of these homemade No-Crust PB & J sandwiches. Dare I say my kids might prefer their custom creations to the store-bought variety? Making a huge batch in the days before school starts will make packing those lunches a snap!


No Bake Peanut Butter Bars for Back To School

I’d recommend waiting to whip up a batch of the no bake PB bars until the night before school starts; any sooner and they just won’t last! Three main ingredients, plus your choice of mix-ins, means that this recipe can be made to please. They double as an on-the-go breakfast and a delicious after school snack!


My favorite aspect of all of these projects is that they take very little time and effort, leaving plenty of time for laughing and chatting about the upcoming school year. We all start to go a little stir crazy when the hottest days of summer are upon us, but activities like these always bring us together and end up being tons of fun.

Tara Kuczykowski is the mom behind the blog Unsophisticook.com and is a member of the Walmart Moms Program

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Business

Hello, Nicaragua! Welcoming Walmart to Managua

My team ended 2015 in a big way. After months of hard work, we opened the first Walmart store in Nicaragua, offering our everyday low prices on a wide assortment of 40,000 products – a very significant value proposition for the Nicaraguan market. We know this to be true because people are welcoming us with open arms.

The day we opened, literally hundreds of enthusiastic people attended the grand opening of our supercenter in Managua, ready to save money on everything from clothes, electronics and paint to toys, appliances and groceries. Watching the excitement and knowing that this store is making a difference for these people reminded me once again of our mission to help people live better by simply paying less for the things they need.

This is a $17 million investment in a modern, comfortable store of 5,890 square meters (over 63,000 square feet) that created 150 direct jobs (the associates that will work in the supercenter) and 1,575 estimated indirect jobs (jobs as a result of the supercenter such as cleaning crews and suppliers). And, because we strongly encourage the growth of local businesses, a great majority of our assortment comes from small and medium-sized Nicaraguan suppliers.   

Walmart operates 87 stores in Nicaragua under other formats like Palí (discount), Maxi Palí (warehouse) and La Union (supermarket), but this is the first Walmart-branded location. We are now offering the distinctive standard of service, price and assortment through our iconic Walmart supercenter. And the excitement we’ve seen is definitely our major reward. 

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Life

From Lanterns to Lions, Ringing in Chinese New Year

Feb. 8 marks the start of Chinese New Year, China’s most important celebration for families. Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is a weeklong public holiday during which families celebrate a year of hard work and wish for good luck in the coming year.

Those shopping in our stores in China see lots of Chinese New Year decorations and traditional foods stocked for this busy time. For readers who aren’t in China, here’s some background on the celebrations.

Traditional Family Meals

Before the first day of the first month in the lunar calendar, people all over China travel to their hometowns to unite with their families and decorate their homes in red — a color that symbolizes good luck and joy — and prepare for Chinese New Year celebrations. The night before the Chinese New Year, we prepare a feast made up of symbolic foods:

  • In Chinese culture, a fish course represents wealth in the future, while peanuts signify longevity and good health.
  • Some food symbolism in Chinese New Year dishes is more visual, such as hot pot, which involves simmering meat and vegetables in a round pot at the center of the table. The shape of the pot represents perfection and satisfaction.
  • Dumplings are an example of a food with a more historical tie because they resemble the gold currency — Yuanbao — used in ancient China. Today, dumplings are still thought to signify wealth in the coming year and are a delicious treat stuffed with different fillings.

Celebrations

Like with New Year’s Eve in the U.S. and other western countries, Chinese New Year involves staying up late. We light firecrackers at midnight, a tradition that dates back to ancient folklore. Though the New Year is a cause for celebration now, legend has it that Chinese villagers used to stoke their fires with bamboo to keep away a terrifying, sharp-toothed monster that arose from the sea at the end of the lunar year to prey on people and livestock. Now, we use firecrackers to celebrate the new year and also scare off any bad luck that might be on the horizon.

Celebrations culminate in the Lantern Festival, where people gather to admire the illuminated lanterns (some floating, some carried by children, some fixed as decorations) and guess riddles written on them. On New Year’s Day, people also watch lion dances, in which participants don elaborate, mythical lion costumes that seem larger than life — and eat rice dumplings.

One of our family traditions is for children and grandchildren to wish elders in the family good wishes for the new year and, in turn, the elders will give children a red envelope of money for good luck and to buy toys and books.  Children often sleep with the red envelope under the pillow to bring good luck throughout the year.

The Year of the Monkey

This year is the year of the monkey, the ninth of 12 animals in the recurring 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. People born in the year of the monkey are believed to be energetic, witty and mischievous. I look forward to greeting the year of the monkey surrounded by my family and enjoying the snacks and festivities that come with the celebrations. No matter your Chinese zodiac, may the New Year bring good fortune to you and your family!

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U.S. Manufacturing

The Dish on Gumbaya: A Foodie Follows a Dream

When I moved from Michigan to Myrtle Beach, S.C., five years ago, it marked a new beginning for me. I was stepping away from 20 years in the insurance business, into a warmer climate and yearning to return to my culinary roots.

When I was growing up, my family owned a food processing plant. I was running a restaurant up north by the time I was 19. I’ve always been curious about flavors and what’s out there. Whenever I travel, I’m that guy who only eats local cuisine. And when I began digging into my new surroundings, I discovered the history of gumbo in the U.S. – which people naturally associate with Louisiana – can actually be traced back to South Carolina in the 1600s.

The first recipe I developed when I set foot in Myrtle Beach was my own gumbo. There were so many beautiful ingredients down here – fresh shrimp, whitefish, Andouille sausage, okra – and when I dipped my spoon into that first bowl, I had a moment. I thought, “This is it. I’ve really got something here.”

I knew this was a recipe that would make South Carolina proud. My gumbo immediately started winning people over at local farmers markets and festivals. I looked into opportunities to get my product on the market, from selling to local restaurants to partnering with a delivery service in the area. But the day the district manager at our local Walmart gave me 15 minutes of his time – that was the day everything changed.

That was Dec. 17, 2013. When I walked out 45 minutes later, it was with the understanding we had a deal. By May 2015, my Carolina Gumbaya was being sold in the frozen section of 17 Walmart stores in South Carolina. Today, that’s grown to 137 Walmart stores in five states, including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

It really has been an amazing experience, to see so many people embrace this recipe I created in the kitchen of my own home. But when people ask me if it has taken me by surprise, I have to tell them, “Honestly, no.”

Frozen food has come a long way in recent years. Carolina Gumbaya – a name drawn from the words gumbo and jambalaya – isn’t packed with fillers and preservatives. The label doesn’t have words you can’t pronounce. There are 12 whole, wild-caught shrimp in every one-quart container. And the blonde roux I developed, along with my secret spices, are a few of the differentiating factors.

Turn on any food channel or open a food publication and you’re going to hear about the flavor of the South. It’s the South’s time to shine on the culinary stage – so products like mine have an opportunity to spread across the country. Along the way, Walmart’s commitment to domestic manufacturing is opening the door for small entrepreneurs like my business partner, Laura Spencer, and me. Products like Carolina Gumbaya are helping create jobs at growing U.S.-based companies like Duke Food Productions, the company who helps produce our product. These kinds of stories are a win-win for everyone. And we’re just getting started.

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Sustainability

Hold the Salt: A Story of Reformulating Food

Big change is coming to the grocery aisles.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has mandated that partially hydrogenated oils – most commonly found in industrially produced fats and oils – be eliminated as a food ingredient by June 2018. Research clearly shows a link between trans fats and cardiovascular disease. So a timetable has been set to take action.

A big reason why I work for Walmart is that we’re constantly looking for ways we can help people live better – oftentimes, before federal mandates like these are handed down. In fact, by the end of this month, we anticipate having successfully removed all partially hydrogenated oils from Walmart private brand food – such as Great Value – sold in our U.S. stores, a goal we’ve been working toward since 2011. But we’re not stopping there.

Simultaneously, we’ve been working to reduce sodium in Walmart’s private brand foods and national brand food products by 25% and added sugars by 10% by the end of December 2015. We’ve long since surpassed our sugar-related reformulation goal. And, while we’re tracking about 5% behind our sodium reduction goal – results through December 2015 are being vetted and will be announced publicly this spring – we continue to work toward completion and are proud of the precedent we're setting across the grocery industry.

There have been some big wins along the way to help us move the needle. One example was when we set out to reduce sodium in all varieties of Great Value Potato Chips and Great Value Kettle Cooked Chips. We successfully removed a combined 30 tons of sodium from 36 million bags of chips annually. And, according to test data, we did so without compromising taste. To put that into perspective, 30 tons is equivalent to an entire Walmart truck (cab and trailer) or about 70 Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

In the end, every slice of progress in the reformulation of the thousands of private and national brand food items Walmart sells contributes to a healthier tomorrow for our customers. But the reality is, you can’t simply go out and turn the dial down on sodium, sugar and trans fats and say, ‘We’re there. We did it.’ Our palates are accustomed to certain tastes, so the key is taking small, incremental steps toward long-term change. You're basically giving consumers’ palates a chance to adjust rather than shocking them all at once.

Every step forward involves extensive time, testing, evaluation and more. Many of the wins we’re realizing today are several years in the making – and, in most cases, there was no road map for how to get there. As senior director of private brand food initiatives, I’ve been deeply entrenched in helping develop a road map. We recognized, for example, that the majority of sodium in the diet of the average American comes from processed foods. So we’ve focused our efforts on the 47 most popular processed food categories, which include such examples as cheeses, cereal, crackers, canned tomatoes and more.

One interesting discovery along the way was that the sodium within the recipes of our own Great Value breads varied from one production facility to another. So by working with each facility to understand needs and challenges, we were able to develop a standardized process that, in turn, helped produce long-term results in sodium reduction. There are a variety of hurdles and challenges to reformulation work within private brands, and there is the potential for even more with national brands. But we’ve already proven that, with a relentless work ethic, real progress can be made in the areas of sodium, sugar and trans fat reformulation. We continue to identify and zero in on additional opportunities.

There was a day when all of this seemed so overwhelming. But we’re creating a road map. We’re building best practices. We’re growing relationships, learning from our experiences and helping to influence a healthier tomorrow. 

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