The last couple of weeks have been surreal to say the least. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are now trying to work from home while homeschooling our kids. We’re all cooking a lot more simply because we have to so I wanted to share 5 of my work night meals and a few tips to help make dinners easier during this situation. Finally, there is also a grocery list to make all of these meals at the end.
Meal plan: Make a plan so you only have to go to the grocery store once a week. We’re trying really hard to do this just to limit our potential exposures. My guide for how I meal plan is here.
Make double batches: If you’re getting tired of all the cooking, make double batches of anything you can. Then you get two meals out of one cooking effort. You can then:
Save the second batch for another meal that week
Use the leftovers for lunch the next day
Freeze the second batch for another meal later on
Eat fresh: There are many items unavailable at groceries store right now but fresh produce has been well stocked. Finding fresh products is easier and has also helped us feel good during the day. We also have our freezer stocked with meats, veggies, and fruit just in case we don’t want to get out for several days but still want to eat healthy items instead of non-perishable items.
Cook your way through a cookbook: Open up that cookbook you’ve been meaning to cook out of for awhile. Add a couple of different dishes to your meal plan each week and try something new. My friend starting doing this and I thought it was a brilliant way to mix things up. We’re both cooking through The Defined Dish by Alex Snodgrass, which I highly recommend.
The Plan:The 5 meals listed below are lined up for the work week. You could have leftovers/carryout Saturday and something from your favorite cook book Sunday to fill your plan.
Soak up some fresh air and sunshine while you make this easy dinner. If the weather isn’t good for grilling, switch to a oven roasted chicken and veggies instead (400 degrees for ~30 minutes.)
This list has all the items for these 5 meals for 4 servings each meal. Add your lunch, breakfast, and other staples and you’ll be ready to go for your grocery trip. Make sure you have olive oil, salt, pepper, and butter on hand.
Salmon (1.5-2 lbs)
Ground beef (1 lb)
Ground turkey (1 lb)
Chicken breasts (6-8 pieces)
Broccoli crowns (3)
Carrots (2 lbs)
Red pepper (3)
White onion (2)
Pineapple (or container of fresh prepped pineapple)
If you ask my son, Bear, what his favorite food is he will typically say salmon. And he means it. Whenever I make salmon he will eat at least a half pound by himself (at age 6). I can’t imagine how much he will eat as a teenager! If I ever ask what he would like for dinner while I’m meal planning, he’ll request salmon. So, we eat salmon at least 3-4 times a month.
Ladybug can do a number on salmon as well, hence why we have to buy 2 lbs of salmon for our family of four!
I sometimes hear from friends that they do not like fish but that they especially do not like salmon. I think in most cases that means they do not like poorly cooked fish and salmon is often very, very poorly cooked. Typically, it is way overdone which makes it taste fishy. Properly cooked salmon does not have that overly fishy taste. Moral of the story: Don’t overcook salmon and you may actually like it (or love it)!
Today I am sharing the way I cook salmon most often. This recipe is great for when you want to have a light, healthy dinner that is made quickly on one pan. If you wanted a heartier meal, you could add some roasted potatoes as well.
1.5 to 2 lbs fresh salmon
Lemon pepper or other seasoning mix
2 Tablespoons butter
substitute with olive oil or ghee to make Whole30 compliant
3-4 slices of fresh lemon
3 crowns broccoli
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Open up a bottle of rosé and pour yourself a glass
Put down a layer of foil to cover half of a large baking tray
Place the salmon skin side down on the foil
Sprinkle a nice layer of lemon pepper or other seasoning mix directly on the salmon
Cut pads of butter and lemon slices
Arrange butter and lemon slices on top of salmon
Place another layer of foil on top of the salmon
Roll the edges of the foil together to create a packet around the salmon
Cut florets of broccoli off the broccoli crowns
Place broccoli on the other half of the pan
Drizzle broccoli with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and lemon pepper or other seasoning mix
Place pan in oven for 30 minutes
30 minutes will give you salmon that is cooked just all the way through. If you like more of a medium rare cook, reduce the time to 20-25 minutes.
After 30 minutes, open foil packet and slice salmon
The salmon should be moist and tender, not firm.
Use a turner/flipper to slide between the salmon and skin so you can serve it skinless
Add broccoli to the plate and serve
And just like that, a healthy dinner is done and on the table!
I started gardening in Colorado the summer of 2008 when we bought our first house. It came with raised beds that had sprinklers and I quickly over-planted and over-watered. Each year has been a bit better than the last mainly thanks to the many classes offered at Tagawa Gardens, my favorite garden center, and making sure to utilize plants and seeds that grow well in our high altitude climate.
I highly recommend the High Altitude Bucket from Seeds Trust. I have been using seeds from this bucket for several years now so the $64 investment has been well worth it.
Probably the biggest thing I have learned over the years is that you cannot just do it all on Mother’s Day (as many people recommend) and think everything will work out. Mother’s Day is perfect for about 1/3 of what you will plant but too early for another 1/3 and too late for another 1/3. It is best to spread everything out from March to June and plant when it is ideal for that individual vegetable.
Here is my Colorado gardening timeline, tips, and some of my favorite resources learned from over 10 years of amateur gardening experience.
Clean up your beds
Add a good mix of garden soil, compost, and composted manure (do not use fresh manure because it will burn your plants)
Cover the beds with plastic sheeting so the soil will start to get warm
Sow peas, snap peas, or snow peas directly in your garden (old American tradition that brings good luck to your garden)
Also sow kale, radish, and spinach seeds directly in your garden.
Start seeds for warmer weather crops (tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, green beans, herbs, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, etc) inside
I like to make mini greenhouses with egg crates, seed starting mix, labeled popsicle sticks and gallon sized plastic bags. You can buy lights to help things get started but I have had success simply placing my mini greenhouses in windowsills on south-facing windows.
April 1: April Fool’s Day
Plant seedlings of cool crops in garden (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts etc)
Plant bare roots of asparagus
Sow beet, carrot, celery, and lettuce seeds directly in your garden
Some green beans and other vegetables waiting to be planted outside.
Uncover warm crop bed
Plant green bean and herb seedlings
Sow additional green bean and pea seeds
Plant additional cool crop seedlings and sow second round of seeds
Take pictures with family by garden and celebrate what feels like the real start to gardening season!
Plant tomato, cucumber, zucchini, other squash, melon, eggplant and pepper seedlings or plants purchased from garden center
Do not feel like you are cheating if you purchase plants!
Perennial plants I highly recommend:
Asparagus (ask for bare root variety recommendation at local garden center)
Blackberries: Triple Crown
This is a variety recommended by the CSU Master Gardener Program. It does not produce suckers and does not have thorns. The berries are huge and sweet. I have two of these plants now and plan on adding more due to how well they are producing and how much fun it is to see my kids enjoy eating straight from the vines.
Grafted fruit trees:
Fruit salad or multi-variety apple trees are a great option for small gardens. These trees are self-pollinating so you do not need multiple trees to achieve pollination, which is necessary for fruit to grow. It is worth going to a quality garden center and spending a bit more on your tree to make sure you get every variety that is advertised and varieties that will grow well in your climate.
Your garden center will likely advise you to pick 100% of the flowers off the first year, 75% the second year, 50% the third year and 25% the fourth year. While that is hard to do when you really want to see fruit growing on your tree, it will help the tree to put down good roots and grow strong branches that will not break under the weight of the heavy fruit.
Keep trying! Gardening in Colorado is a little hard. Sometimes it feels like a bit of an experiment each year. Our summers can be very different year-to-year so if something doesn’t work well one year, ask your local garden center for advice and try again. If something works really well, write down what you did (when and how you planted, etc) so you can do it the same next year.
Bear and Ladybug had been asking us to have a lemonade stand all summer last year and unfortunately, we just never got around to it. When Christmas rolled around, we thought they would still be excited to have a lemonade stand even if it was a few months late.
I started pinterest searching and found lots of different plans. The plan we went with is here: Fantabulosity Lemonade Stand. Building this took one trip to Home Depot and one afternoon of time. It was built entirely my yours truly with some simple power tool use. I did make a few small changes to the plan:
Only one crate is flipped to the front. I did this in order to provide more storage in the back.
I put the rods for the sign on the inside of the crates, not the outside. This was to clean up the outside edge of the stand and make sure little bodies wouldn’t bump into the rough edges of the rods.
I used a drill and sturdy screws in addition to hammering in small nails. This was just to make sure it would last, especially since we were planning to have it live in their playroom when not in use outside.
And the result…. Very happy kids who happily sold hot cocoa and homemade cinnamon rolls to our neighbors on a December Saturday morning. I posted on our neighborhood facebook page that the kids were out and what they were selling. I also put a cup with some quarters at the corner just in case someone didn’t have cash but still wanted to come by. The kids had a lot of fun and were excited to count the money they earned and put it in their banks. They are looking forward to having a lemonade stand this summer already.
When the stand is not in use in front of our house, we have it in their playroom where they use it as a grocery store and restaurant.
I thought I would share this now in case anyone was looking for Easter or birthday ideas for their kids.
Before kids, Beast and I used to get 20+ ski days in a year. With little kids it is a lot harder to get up the hill so we have been rather impatiently waiting for Ladybug and Bear to be old enough to start skiing. We did a single ski lesson for them in 2019 at Keystone Resort. It was fine but very expensive. Each time we spied on them, Ladybug was sitting and eating snow so we were’t so sure that we were getting what we paid for. This year, we signed them up for a 4-week Kids Club session at Arapahoe Basin. Bear is in Kids Club and Ladybug is in Little Kids Club. I have been really impressed with their progress and how much they are enjoying lessons! The cost is also much more reasonable. In addition, Arapahoe Basin has been our go-to ski resort since we were in college. (At one point we were known by name by one of the bartenders and had our own mugs each year behind the bar.) The food, drinks, and coffee are all very good too (including the raw bar on Sundays) so it is an overall win for everyone!
At the drop off each week it has become pretty clear that many parents struggle with finding the right ski gear for kids so I thought I would share the items we have found (after some trial and error) that work extremely well.
My two main pieces of advice:
Do not overdress the kids. I can still remember the ski instructors I had as a kid getting frustrated when kids were overdressed. If kids get overheated and then sweaty it is really hard to keep them warm the rest of the day. It goes better if you focus on keeping the core warm and everything else covered.
Let the kids pick out their gear as much as possible. It is a lot easier to get all of that on them when they like the colors/patterns. A few of the things my kids picked out do not exactly match or were not exactly what I would have picked but they happily put them on which makes my life easier.
Skis and boots: Epic Mountain Gear has a fabulous program for kids called their Junior Trade Program. We bought used gear at a reasonable price as part of their Christmas present and then will get to trade it in towards new gear when the kids need longer skis/bigger boots.
I’m sure you’re asking, “What is a balaclava?” Just the absolute, most perfect item to go under a helmet without being too bulky and cover the neck/chin without being too hot. They come in a ton of fun patterns and my kids really enjoyed picking out exactly the pattern they wanted. I liked the kids’ so much that I wound up buying an adult sized balaclava myself and now I will not ski without it.
I love primary.com because the clothes are soft, tag-less, and the kids love picking out their favorite colors. The clothes mix and match very well and are very good quality, which means I can easily pass them down from one kid to the next. Also, I feel like they are just touch longer in all the right places so the clothes last just a bit longer than average.Get 20% off your primary.com order with promo code PRIMARYMELISSAG71 or here.
I strongly recommend this lightweight jacketinstead of a bigger, bulkier jacket. It has the right amount of warmth and is thin enough that the kids can easily move around in it.
Ski pants: Hand-me-downs or VarageSale/Facebook Marketplace finds.
This is a great item to look for used because you can find deals that are in great shape or barely worn. I like the overall/bib style for little kids so they don’t get snow up their back when they are rolling around in the snow.
The extra long sleeve on these keeps snow off the wrists. My kids leave these on better compared to other mittens.
We have used this set up many times now and it has worked very, very well. We have not heard any complaints from the kids about being too cold or too hot and they have happily skied even in really cold weather with lots of snow coming down.
Again, you can get 20% off your order at primary.com the following ways:
Fall is one of my favorite times of year. The air is cooler, the leaves are changing and hopefully my Kansas City Chiefs and CU Buffs are doing well on the field. Plus there are all the things I love to cook this season.
Chili is definitely something we have at least a few times a month October through the end of winter. This recipe is a blend of my mom’s recipe that I grew up on plus some additions that give it a Colorado touch (i.e. diced green chile peppers).
1 lb ground beef
2 red peppers, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 package chili seasoning (Williams seasoning is my favorite but it isn’t available in Colorado. Here is hoping I now have a few packets in my stocking when we go back to Kansas City for Christmas!)
1 15 oz can black beans, drained
1 30 oz can of chili beans
1 14.5 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1-2 4 oz cans diced green chile peppers or 4-8 oz of fresh roasted peppers (I would use the hot version if cooking for adults and the mild version if cooking for kids.)
1 lb ground pork (I like to add an extra pound of meat when I am serving a crowd)
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (This is a great way to sneak some additional veggies in.)
Diced green onions/scallions
While meat is browning, chop vegetables
Drain fat off of meat(s) if needed
Add chili seasoning to drained meat and cook for a couple of minutes
If the bottom of the pan gets crusty, add a little water or beer if you have a can open to deglaze the pan (You want all the seasoning making it into the crock pot, not sticking to the pan.)
Scrape meat and seasoning into crock pot
Add all vegetables to crock pot
Add all canned items to crock pot
Cook on low for 8 hours
Serve with toppings in bowls for people to add what they like
I typically mix the box following their directions and spoon out a couple of muffins worth into a muffin pan (these will be for the kids). Then I add a can or fresh green chiles to the mix and spoon out the rest of the batter into the muffin pan (these are for the adults). For those at high altitude, make sure to follow the high altitude instructions of adding a bit more milk and flour.
Now add some football and a cool night and you have a perfect fall evening meal!
We are incredibly lucky to have a fantastic library branch in our county (Douglas County Libraries). They offer a summer reading program with lots of incentives to encourage kids to read more over the summer and all of their facilities are kid-friendly, cool spaces to beat the heat on super hot days.
While I absolutely love having library books in my house, I’m one of those people who doesn’t like the library books mingling with our own books. I live in constant fear of losing a library book for really no reason. When my mom gave the kids some new canvas bags we decided to use them as new library book bags but wanted to get the kids a bit more excited than they have been about previous bags.
I had them sign up for their first library cards and the summer reading program on the same day. A quick hole punch and a key ring let me attach the cards to the bags for safe keeping.
Now the kids keep their library books in the bags and usually have them hanging from their bed. When we go to the library they can use them to carry the books they want to check out. When it comes time to check out, they have their library cards handy and can easily check out their books by themselves. Our library has a pretty cool check out system where they literally can just place their bags on the check out desk and the system will know which books they have.
They have really loved being able to do the check out process themselves. I have loved having a dedicated spot for the books and not having library cards floating around.
This would be a great Easter basket gift or special outing for the start of summer. I hope you are having a great summer!
The other night I was planning on grilling my Chicken and Rainbow Veggies but a windy rainstorm thwarted my grilling plans. I pulled a quick switch to a one pan dinner. What really makes this meal is the grated fresh ginger. You can read about how I easily always have ginger on hand here. It is really easy to grate when it is frozen.
4-6 chicken thighs
1 cup broccoli (florets cut from crown)
1 cup carrots (cut in long pieces)
2 small or 1 large zucchini (cut into half-moon chunks)
1 cup snap or snow peas (with ends trimmed)
1 Tablespoon garlic (minced)
2 Tablespoons ginger (grated)
1/4 cup prepared Hoisin sauce
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper
Optional add-ins: Red or other bell peppers, bok choy, or other vegetables you have on hand.
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
Chop all vegetables
Mix chicken thighs, vegetables, and garlic in an oven-safe pan with hoisin sauce, drizzle of olive, and salt/pepper to taste.
Push the chicken thighs to the bottom of the pan.
Grate the ginger over the top of the chicken and veggies making sure each items gets a little bit of ginger.
Cook for 25-30 minutes.
Serve over steamed rice or alone. Red chili paste and soy sauce make good condiments.
This is a great way to get a variety of veggies in front of my family quickly and I hope it works for your family as well.
To make them just a little extra lemony, I zested the lemon prior to using the juice and put all of the zest in the mix.
I poured the mix in the kids’ popsicle freezer molds and had a little bit extra left over. I poured the remaining mix in an ice cube tray and stuck some popsicle sticks in. Now we have some mini popsicles on hand as little treats that have been perfect for after dinner. And enjoyed by kids and parents alike.
There was a little extra leftover after that so I decided to go ahead and freeze in it a plastic cup for thawing later. I’m thinking on our next pool day I’ll be blending that with some rum for a quick daiquiri. Moms need treats too.
We have a bit of a blizzard happening today in Colorado. Schools are closed, my patients are rescheduled, and we will be snuggling inside all day. Instead of our typically rushed morning we got to stay in our pajamas and ease into the day. We made pancakes and I finished off an entire pot of coffee. So today I thought I would share my favorite pancake recipe.
My recipe is based on this recipe here with a couple of additions of my own. Because I think cinnamon and vanilla extract make all things breakfast even better. I also like to keep my cooked pancakes in the oven until they are all ready so we can all eat together once everything is cooked. This also helps if the pancakes are not entirely cooked through in the middle. The middle will cook through as the pancakes stay warm in the oven.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees and put in a cookie sheet
Preheat griddle or non-stick fry pan
Whisk dry ingredients in large bowl
Whisk wet ingredients in second large bowl
Push the dry ingredients to the side of the bowl and pour the wet ingredients on the other side
Mix the wet and the dry ingredients until batter comes together
Let the batter sit for 5 minutes (do not remix)
Scoop 1/2 to 1 cup of batter onto a hot griddle or fry pan
Flip when bubbles break the surface
When golden brown on both sides, put the pancake on the cookie sheet in the warm oven
Once all the pancakes are done, serve with butter and real maple syrup
Tip: We use real maple syrup in our house because of the not so great ingredients in most pancake syrups. Yes, it is more expensive but it has a stronger flavor so you use less of it. If you have not used real maple syrup regularly before, start with the lightest you can find (Grade A Light Amber) because it will have a more delicate taste.
I hope you enjoy these pancakes on your own snow day or a weekend sometime soon!