Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Fire-roasted corn and red peppers

A super simple side dish for family dinner

Fire-roasted corn and red peppers Pinterest image

When it comes to making dinner, I love easy recipes. And super simple sides that work in veggies are the best! I found a recipe for fire-roasted corn and red pepper salad that I decided to try without looking too closely. When I realized it was intended to be served cold, I decided to change it up and make it my own way. That’s how this fire-roasted corn and red peppers side dish was born.

It’s nearly as easy as oven roasted vegetables and certainly as tasty. It comes together in about 10 minutes and doesn’t take much babysitting, which leaves you free to make other things while the fire-roasted corn and red peppers are cooking. The last time I made this recipe, I paired it with grilled barbeque chicken for a delicious dinner.

Prepping

The prep work for this fire-roasted corn and red peppers dish is minimal. Start by opening a can of whole kernel fire-roasted corn and draining it. This is what I used:

Del Monte whole kernel fire-roasted corn blend

Then clean and dice one red bell pepper.

Diced red bell pepper for the fire-roasted corn and red pepper recipe

Cut 2 tablespoons of butter and separate them. Put a medium skillet on the stove over medium-high heat.

Cooking

Put the drained fire-roasted corn and 1 tablespoon of butter into the skillet.

Fire-roasted corn and 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat

Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the butter is melted and the corn is heated. Add in the diced red bell pepper, 1 additional tablespoon of butter and salt and pepper to taste.

Fire-roasted corn and red peppers in a medium skillet cooking with an additional 1 tablespoon of butter

Continue cooking for 5 to 7 minutes until the red pepper pieces have begun to soften. Serve the fire-roasted corn and red peppers side warm.

Fire-roasted corn and red peppers finished in the skillet
Fire-roasted corn and red peppers on a plate
Fire-roasted corn and red peppers Pinterest image

Fire-roasted corn and red peppers

This fire-roasted corn and red peppers recipe is a super simple side that pairs well with so many main dishes. It's a perfect family dinner side!
Prep Time 3 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 13 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 4 people

Ingredients
  

  • 1 14.75 oz. can fire-roasted corn
  • 1 red bell pepper diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter separated
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Open and drain the can of fire-roasted corn.
  • Clean and dice the red bell pepper.
  • In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add the corn and 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook for about 3 minutes until heated through and the butter is melted.
  • Add the diced pepper and 1 more tablespoon of butter to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until the pepper begins to soften. Serve warm, and refrigerate any leftovers.
Keyword canned corn, corn, easy side, family friendly, fire-roasted corn, kid friendly, red bell pepper, red pepper, simple side, vegetables

Funny Christmas gift ideas for coworkers: 25 clean gag gifts

Funny Christmas gift ideas for coworkers Pinterest image 3

25 White elephant gift ideas no one will be embarrassed by

The holiday season is prime time for fun gift exchanges. But finding funny Christmas gift ideas for coworkers or others that aren’t inappropriate or embarrassing can be difficult. Whether you’re shopping for a funny coworker gift or your teen’s secret Santa gift exchange, I’ve got ideas for you!

Many times, funny Christmas gifts tend to be more on the adult side of things. But, some of the best gifts are also incredibly funny holiday gifts! There’s a fine line between appropriate and inappropriate. We’ve found the perfect funny gift ideas that won’t embarrass anyone.

All of these fun gifts are on Amazon, so that makes them even easier. Just place your order and one of these funniest Christmas gifts will show up on your doorstep!

Affiliate links are used in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

Animal themed hilarious gifts

Animals are always popular. Whether you’re a dog lover or cat lover, this wide array of silly gifts is animal themed and sure to tickle your funny bone!

This snail soap dispenser makes me smile. It is a bit on the gross side to think of using snail snot as a soap dispenser, but funny gifts are what gag gifts are all about!

Gag gift ideas: snail soap dispenser

Animal lovers are sure to love this four-pack of animal socks to make your feet look like a dog’s, cat’s or tigers. How fun are these?!

Gag gift ideas: Animal feet socks

I’m pretty sure almost all of us have seen the screaming goat videos. Bring the screaming goat to a tabletop near you with this funny screaming goat figure. It comes with a small paperback book to give you ideas of when you just might need to hear the goat scream. Who doesn’t want to give the gift of laughter?!

Gag gift ideas: Screaming goat figurine and book

This gift sounds gross, but it’s a great gift for juvenile humor and tasty, too. This reindeer barf is actually colorful, chewy strings of licorice. I’d give it a try!

Gag gift ideas: Reindeer barf candy

As one of the most inexpensive gifts on the list, this squirrel hand puppet is a perfect funny Christmas gift idea. It’s a small gift that packs a big smile!

Gag gift ideas: Squirrel hand puppet

More for decoration than use, this hanging cat washcloth is certainly the perfect gift for cat lovers. It comes in a variety of different cats.

Gag gift ideas: Hanging cat washcloth

These cat paw oven mitts are so adorable whoever you give them to will want to start baking right away!

Gag gift ideas: cat paw oven mitts

Food themed coworker gifts

Along with animals, everyone loves food. This Christmas season, a variety of funny items make the best stocking stuffers or secret Santa gifts you can find!

Even if your recipient doesn’t like pickles, they’re sure to love this fun yodeling pickle! You really can’t play it without having a good laugh.

Gag gift ideas: Yodeling pickle

Everyone knows someone who loves pickles. But would they love pickle cotton candy as a Christmas present? It’s worth a try!

Gag gift ideas: Pickle flavored cotton candy

I mean, bacon is delicious. Embrace your inner bacon lover self — and big sense of humor — with this bacon flavored toothpaste.

Gag gift ideas: Bacon flavored toothpaste

If you love bacon, but toothpaste isn’t quite your thing, check out these bacon bandages! Bandages are usually a practical gift, but these are great choice for a gag gift exchange.

Gag gift ideas: Bacon bandages

Who can resist cheesy jokes? I am a huge fan of cheesy, dad-type jokes. This stack of cheesy joke cards look like cheese slices and are a great way to get some laughs.

Gag gift ideas: Cheesy joke cards

Of all the gag gift ideas I came across in working on Christmas gift guides, this one intrigues me the most. I can’t help but to be curious how these Lester’s Fixins outrageous flavor sodas taste. They come in a pack of six bottles that include soda flavors like ranch dressing, pumpkin pie and bacon.

Gag gift ideas: Outrageous flavor sodas

I love chocolate. These “If you can read this, bring me chocolate” socks are one of those cheap gifts I relate to so much!

Gag gift ideas: "If you can read this, bring me chocolate" socks

Toy and other novelty funny office gifts

The good news is that you’re never too old for toys! These toys and other novelty gifts can be great stress relievers and are sure to be a hit at your Christmas party.

Gag gift ideas that are annoying and funny work well. And this voice changer is perhaps the best way to fit into both categories.

Gag gift ideas: Multi voice changer

If you’re looking for a gag gift that might take a second before you get it (unless you are faster than I am), check out this can of dehydrated water. I love that this gift offers a funny saying without being initially obvious about it. All you need to do to have water is add water! 

Gag gift ideas: Dehydrated water

There’s not a more classic gag gift idea than the good ol’ snake in a can. What looks like a can of chips is really a snake ready to spring out when you pop the top. Classics are classics for a reason!

Gag gift ideas: Snake in a can

This desktop boxing set, complete with a rule book, is a perfect present for an office party. Help your co-worker take out frustration at their desk!

Gag gift ideas: Desktop boxing set with a rule book

This talking Bob Ross bobblehead, which comes with a small book of some of his paintings, is a gag gift that gives back. Next time you need a pep talk or soothing voice to calm you down, just press the button!

Gag gift ideas: talking Bob Ross bobblehead with book of paintings

I’m not sure what to say about these, except that as a child of the 1980s, these mullet socks crack me up! What better way to show some retro spirit?

Gag gift ideas: American mullet socks

I LOVE Mad Libs, oftentimes even more than playing a board game. And I actually have these very Mad Libs. You can’t go wrong combining The Golden Girls with Mad Libs

Gag gift ideas: The Golden Girls Mad Libs

While these record coasters are effective and nostalgic, they’re also hilarious with song titles offering a variety of options like “Don’t spill the tea,” “Protect the surface” and “Rest on me.”

Gag gift ideas: Record coasters

Who said that funny Christmas gift ideas for coworkers can’t be educational? Check out “The Book of Unusual Knowledge.” It’s full of random, interesting facts that can make for great conversation starters!

Gag gift ideas: The Book of Unusual Knowledge

This Christmas hat will keep your head warm and light up. Easily get into the holiday spirit with this festive headpiece!

Gag gift ideas: Light-up Christmas hat

Wrap it up

To wrap it all up, these funny gift bags are a great idea to wrap your gag gift. They have funny sayings like, “Remember it’s the thought that counts,” “Just act like you love it” and “Definitely not regifted as far as you know.” 

Gag gift ideas: Funny gift bags

Looking for more ideas? Don’t miss these lists full of gift ideas!

30 White Elephant Gifts Under $20

Quirky, fun and unique Christmas gift ideas under $25

15 Christmas gift ideas under $25 for everyone on your list

Christmas gifts for men under $35

Christmas gift ideas for people who are hard to shop for

How Christian moms can teach their children about God

7 Simple ways Christian moms can help grow their children’s faith

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

For us Christian moms, finding ways to teach our children about God is important. More than anything, I want to help my children learn about and know God in a personal way. I love them so completely and fully. Yet, I also know I can’t be there for them every moment. It’s neither possible nor feasible. But, God can. And He knows what the future holds for them. He loves them even more than I do.

While we want to be intentional as Christian moms to teach our children about God, we also need to find the best ways to do so. Long theological lectures aren’t going to convince a 6-year-old that she needs to ask God into her heart. Trite, vague answers aren’t going to convince a 16-year-old that he needs to follow God.

7 Simple ways Christian moms can teach their children about God

It’s certainly a precarious balance and one that my husband and I continue to work on as we are raising our kiddos. Just as I want to teach my children how to take care of themselves physically, I also want to teach them how to take care of themselves spiritually.

I’m still learning and growing on my journey as a Christian mom, but over the past 13 years of motherhood, I have found a few things that work for us.

Pray.

Praying for our children is important. Praying for ourselves as Christian moms is equally important. I pray daily that I’ll be the kind of my mom my children need to raise them according to God’s will and plan for their lives. I also pray in the moment. When my kiddos are asking me questions about God, the Bible or anything faith-related, I silently pray things like, “God, give me the right words.”

Faith questions are difficult and even with kids who are only 9 and 13, we’ve already been asked some deep questions. Turning to God to help us answer is my first stop. I’ve been surprised by answers that have come to me as a result and discussions I’ve been able to have with my children. And I know that wouldn’t have happened without God’s help.

Praying with our children is also incredibly important. Each evening before bedtime, our family has prayer time together. This has a been a great time to teach our kids what praying to God can be like. We talk about prayer requests and remind them they can talk to God just like they do anyone else. They don’t need to recite memorized prayers but can really talk to Him.

Be honest.

In order to keep lines of communication wide open, I think honesty with our kids is important. My husband and I have a policy with our children that if they ask us a question, we will answer them honestly. We have adhered to that policy while also keeping their ages in mind. This is true with faith. If our kids ask us something we don’t know, we’re honest about that. We’ve told them that if we don’t know the answer, we will help them find it. We’ll turn to the Bible and our pastor to get a good answer for them.

We are also honest that some topics are debated in Christian circles. So we share our own experiences and interpretations as well as some differing views. But, we also always get back to the fact that no matter what disagreements there are, the most important thing is knowing Jesus died for our sins and wants a relationship with us.

Talk about your faith.

This might seem like a no-brainer to us Christian moms, but I think it can be easier to talk to our kids in more abstract ways about God and less about how He is working in and through our own lives. I have shared stories with my kids that happened recently and in the past of how God has helped me through situations or ways I’ve seen Him work.

You don’t have to get a 20-minute testimony to your children, but taking a minute to point out how God answered your prayer is powerful. It helps our kids realize God is still working and impacting lives today. And it shows them what a daily walk with God looks like. My hope is that it also helps them be able to see Him at work more easily in their own lives.

Listen to Christian music.

Christian music is another subtle way Christian moms can help teach their kiddos about God. I love music and have it on in the car, while I’m working and often in the kitchen as well. My kids notice it in the car the most. Without necessarily realizing it, Christian music lets them soak up the message and promise God’s love and faithfulness.

Christian radio is a great source, but I also love having my own playlist with a wide variety of Christian music. You can find the Families with Grace Playlist on Spotify with nearly 11 hours of contemporary Christian music. I keep adding to it, because it’s the playlist I listen to most often myself!

Get into God’s Word together.

Spending time together in God’s Word is important. I know my own faith walk is strongest when I’m in God’s Word. You can do this in a variety of ways. Of course, you can read the Bible together. Here are some of our favorites:

“The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones is our favorite from when our kids were younger. It’s perfect for preschoolers through early elementary, but it also speaks to my heart just as much as it does to the kiddos!

The Jesus Storybook Bible is great for Christian moms to use for their preschool through early elementary children.

“The Action Bible: God’s Redemptive Story” is a comic book style Bible. It is perfect for more visual kiddos or those who love graphic novels. This Bible works really well for my 9-year-old who is dyslexic and prefers the shorter lines of text in graphic novels.

A comic book style illustrated Bible can be a great option for children who enjoy graphic novels.

“Hands-On Bible” is a great option for third grade to fifth graders. It’s the New Living Translation, but it also has lots of additional content designed to engage kiddos as they are reading.

The Hands-On Bible is a great option for upper elementary kiddos.

“NIV True Images: The Bible for Teen Girls” is the Bible my daughter is currently using and enjoying. She’s now 13, but she got this Bible when she was 12. It’s an NIV Bible with various pull-outs of text targeted to teen girls to help them go deeper.

The True Images Bible for Teen Girls is a

Because my son is only 9, I don’t have a favorite for teen boys or a gender neutral version. However, this “NIV Bible for Teen Guys” looks really similar to what my daughter has, just geared more for males. There is also the gender neutral “NIV Teen Study Bible.”

Along with reading the Bible together, take time to talk about what you’ve read. Mention relevant Bible lessons when your kiddos are struggling with something. For example, if one of my kids is afraid and stressed out at bedtime, I often remind them of my favorite Bible verse from Isaiah 41:10 (NIV), “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I have shared with both of my kiddos stories of how this verse has gotten me through various situations in life.

Try a devotion book.

This goes right along with being in God’s word together. There are a couple of ways this can work. You can read through a devotion book together as a family or read through a book separately and discuss it. Even if this isn’t something you do every day, give it a try.

We always go through a family devotion book together at Christmastime. We use “A Family Christmas,” which is a series of two five-minute Christmas devotion books for busy families I wrote because I couldn’t find one I liked very much for our family. “A Family Christmas Volume One” is ideal for families with preschool through early elementary children. “A Family Christmas Volume Two” works well for families with upper elementary through teens.

"A Family Christmas" devotion book volume 1 is ideal for families with children in preschool through early elementary.
A Family Christmas devotion book, volume 2, is ideal for families with upper elementary through teenage kiddos.

Try a journal and devotion book combo that get you into and talking about God’s Word through writing. My daughter and I published a faith-based mother and daughter shared journal last year called “Connecting with Grace.” It’s great for moms and daughters to get to know each other even better and share about everything from boys to school to faith and more.

Connecting with grace is a faith-based mother and daughter shared journal.

Another great option for moms and daughters is a devotion book from Stacey Pardoe and her tween daughter Bekah. “Girl to Girl” has 60 mother and daughter devotions designed to help moms and daughters deepen their faith and grow their relationships.

Girl to Girl is a devotion book for Christian moms and daughters to use together.

Go to church.

I know there can be many feelings around going to church. Unfortunately, some Christians don’t show the love of God as they are supposed to. But, being at church is important. The Bible tells us to meet together with fellow believers. Find a Bible-believing and preaching church for your entire family to get involved and grow in your spiritual walks together.

My husband and I pour so much into our children; however, having other Christians who pour into them as well is important. They hear other perspectives besides our own. And sometimes kiddos listen better to people other than their parents.

Creamy tomato soup and ciabatta grilled cheese

An easy homemade, creamy tomato soup recipe to warm you up

I’m sort of late to the tomato soup and grilled cheese party. I know it’s been a staple kind of meal for generations, but I never got on board. The closest I got was Spaghetti-Os and grilled cheese. Canned tomato soup just never did that much for me. Then I tried making a creamy tomato soup recipe and not only loved the flavor but also loved how easy it is to make!

Creamy tomato soup with ciabatta grilled cheese

The same recipe I started with and have modified also recommended making grilled cheese on ciabatta rolls instead of with bread. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. And I’m glad I did. Seriously. Pair this creamy tomato soup with ciabatta grilled cheese and you have a dinner hit on your hands. Even my particular eaters get down with this meal!

Making the creamy tomato soup

What sets apart this tomato soup from others is the garlic base. We love garlic in my family, so I use 4 cloves of fresh garlic. If you’re not as big on garlic, use 2 cloves. After you peel the garlic, use a grater to grate it finely. The first time I made this recipe, I didn’t have a grater and just chopped my garlic as finely as possible, so you can do that, too.

4 cloves of grated garlic for the creamy tomato soup

In a medium sized pot over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter has melted, add in the garlic. Cook the garlic for about 30 seconds until it’s fragrant.

Garlic, butter and vegetable oil in the pot for the creamy tomato soup recipe

Then add 4 tablespoons of flour and whisk constantly for another 30 seconds until a paste forms.

Garlic paste in the pot for the creamy tomato soup recipe

Next, add a 29-ounce can of tomato sauce, 3 cups of water and 3 teaspoons of sugar to the pot. Add a good dash of salt and pepper as well. Bring the soup to a boil over high , then reduce the heat back down to medium-low and simmer until the soup thickens a bit, about 5 minutes.

The creamy tomato soup cooking on the stovetop

Soften the cream cheese and stir it into the soup. Once the cream cheese is melted, turn the heat off the creamy tomato soup, but leave it on the stovetop or cover it to keep it warm.

Cream cheese being added to the creamy tomato soup

Making the ciabatta grilled cheese

While the creamy tomato soup simmers, prepare your ciabatta rolls. Slice them completely apart and top the bottom of each roll with about 1/4-cup of shredded cheddar-jack cheese.

Ciabatta grilled cheese sandwiches ready to cook to go along with the creamy tomato soup

Add the tops onto the sandwiches.

A ciabatta grilled cheese sandwich ready to cook to go along with the creamy tomato soup

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1/2 tablespoon of vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Place two of the ciabatta sandwiches into the skillet.

Two ciabatta grilled cheese sandwiches in a skillet with melted butter and oil

Use a second skillet to press down onto the tops of the bread and cook for three minutes; flip the sandwiches and cook three more minutes until the outside is golden and crispy and the cheese is melted. I don’t hold the skillet down the entire time the sandwiches were cooking, but I press down every minute or so.

Cooking the ciabatta grilled cheese by pressing down with a second skillet over the top

The sandwich will get a nice crisp on the outside but still have a gooey cheese center. So yummy!

Ciabatta grilled cheese with a crispy outside and gooey, cheesy center pairs nicely with the creamy tomato soup!

Serve the creamy tomato soup in bowls along with the ciabatta grilled cheese. You don’t have to dip the grilled cheese into the soup, but that’s our favorite way to eat it!

A bowl of creamy tomato soup with half a ciabatta grilled cheese sandwich garnishing it
I didn’t soften my cream cheese before I made the soup this time around and it resulted in a few cream cheese “chunks” floating around in the soup. Those are the white specks you see in this photo.

Creamy tomato soup and ciabatta grilled cheese

A creamy tomato soup and ciabatta grilled cheese recipe that is hearty enough for a family dinner. Even your picky eaters will like this one!
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course, Soup
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people

Ingredients
  

  • 2-4 cloves garlic grated
  • 1 29-ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 4 ounces cream cheese softened
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil divided
  • 4 tablespoons butter divided
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar jack cheese divided
  • 6 ciabatta rolls
  • salt
  • pepper

Instructions
 

  • Finely grate 2 to 4 cloves of garlic, depending on how much your family likes garlic. (We use 4.)
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir occasionally for about 30 seconds until the garlic is fragrant.
  • Add 4 tablespoons of flour to the garlic and cook, whisking constantly, for 30 seconds until a paste consistency is formed.
  • Add into the pot the can of tomato sauce, 3 cups of water, 3 teaspoons of sugar, a dash of salt and a dash of pepper. Stir together and cook over medium-high heat until it boils.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the soup thickens slightly.
  • While the soup is boiling and simmering, cut apart the ciabatta rolls. Divide the 1-1/2 cups of shredded cheese among the bottoms of each roll (about 1/4 cup of cheese for each). Place the top bun on the sandwiches.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of oil and 1 tablespoon of butter per two sandwiches. (My skillet fits two sandwiches at a time.)
  • Add the sandwiches to the skillet. Place a small skillet on top and press down on the sandwiches to flatten them. Cook for three minutes; flip the sandwiches and cook for three more minutes.
  • While the ciabatta grilled cheese is cooking, add the softened cream cheese to the soup. Stir and let it combine.
  • Serve the hot creamy tomato soup along with the ciabatta grilled cheese immediately.
Keyword autumn dinner recipe, ciabatta grilled cheese, creamy tomato soup, fall dinner recipe, family dinner, grilled cheese, hearty soup, tomato soup, winter dinner recipe

Looking for more soup recipes? Don’t miss these!

Taco soup

Slow cooker potato soup

Taco ranch meatball soup

Slow cooker potato chili

5 Thanksgiving tips to make your holiday even better

Thanksgiving tips to make your life easier

5 Thanksgiving tips to make your holiday even better and less stressful

With Thanksgiving just a couple of weeks away, I figured this was a great time to share some Thanksgiving tips I’ve learned through the years to make life easier. I have gone other places for Thanksgiving Day, and I’ve hosted. The past two years I was hostess, and I will be again this year.

To be honest, I really enjoy hosting Thanksgiving dinner. I get a chance to make recipes I don’t usually cook, my kids help out in the kitchen and I love food. (Is food considered a love language? If so, it is 100% my love language!)

Of course the biggest Thanksgiving tip is one I have for pretty much everything: give yourself grace. Remember that you don’t have to have a picture perfect Thanksgiving dinner in order to have a good holiday. It’s about spending time with those you love. In fact, I have had great Thanksgiving dinners of tacos, lunchmeat sandwiches and at restaurants. I’ve also had great Thanksgiving dinner filled with delicious homemade food. Even though I do love food, I love my family more. Being together with them is the best part of the holiday. I don’t have to focus on it being picture perfect — and neither do you!

With that in mind, let’s get down to five great Thanksgiving tips to make your holiday even better!

1. Organize your menu and cooking plan.

Because it is a food-centric holiday, Thanksgiving meal planning is important. I am a HUGE list maker and love being organized. In the past, I have used spreadsheets to organize myself for Thanksgiving meal planning, but this year I opted to make that spreadsheet a bit prettier and made a Thanksgiving menu and cooking planner for myself that I shared in the Families with Grace Etsy store.

It’s literally everything I do for menu and cooking planner. I start with the dinner planner and figure out what food we’re having, who is making it, when it should be made and what recipe we’re using to make it. Some foods (like desserts, rolls and cheeseballs) can be made the day before, so I plan for those. Other things have to be made the day of. My dinner planner helps me sort that out.

Thanksgiving dinner planner

Then I move on to ingredients. I like printed recipes, so I’ll print recipes out and look through the ingredients. I’ll make a list of what I have and what I need to buy using the shopping planner.

Thanksgiving shopping planner

Finally, as Thanksgiving Day gets closer, I organize my cooking planner. I list each food, when to start prepping it, when to start cooking it and when it should be finished. I consider my oven space as I do so to make sure I’m not planning to overfill it.

Thanksgiving cooking planner

These three pages are what my Thanksgiving dinner plan relies on!

2. Find the right recipes.

If you’re having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, deciding what recipes to use is important. It can be a good time to experiment somewhat, but for the most part you want to stick with reliable recipes. And you want to go for easy things. I’m big on making things from scratch for my Thanksgiving, but sometimes it doesn’t make sense. Be flexible!

This year, for example, I thought about making pecan pie from scratch. I’ve made it before and it’s good, but I checked pecan prices and found that I could get a frozen pecan pie to thaw and eat for less. And that frozen pecan pie tastes just as good. So I’m saving myself time and money.

I’m also opting to make dressing as a doctored up version of boxed dressing mix this year. My brownies, which my family loves, also start with a box mix.

But other items I am making from scratch like yeast rolls, party potatoes, corn casserole and mac & cheese.

And, I have to add, make food that your family likes even if it isn’t traditional. My husband and son don’t like most traditional Thanksgiving food, so my menu also includes skillet queso with tortilla chips and a Parmesan ranch cheeseball.

3. Shop well.

While we think of Christmas as being the holiday with the most shopping, Thanksgiving can be right up there for food shopping. There are two tips for shopping well for Thanksgiving that I use: shop ahead and use grocery pick-up.

Part of the reason I menu plan early is so that I can start stocking up on what I need. Three weeks before Thanksgiving, for example, I purchased extra butter, flour and sugar knowing that I’d need those things. And they have a long shelf live. Adding in a few ingredients here and there is good for my grocery budget and makes finding difficult ingredients easier. It reduces my stress to know I have what I need and am not scrambling around trying to find a store with canned pumpkin or frozen hashbrowns in stock.

The other thing I highly recommend is using grocery pick-up. I started using grocery pick-up pre-COVID and haven’t stopped. I love being able to shop from anywhere I am (usually at home) with my phone. It gives me more time to think about what I need and consult my list. I can better compare prices and make the best choices. And I end up not buying extra items that we don’t really need! That’s not to mention the time it saves me in actually going through the grocery store.

4. Have some easy family activities planned.

Having some easy family activities is a great Thanksgiving tip for keeping your family happy and hanging out together even longer. But, especially if you’re hosting, you certainly don’t need any more work to do, so go for easy activities everyone will enjoy. These easy activities can be as simple as everyone saying what they’re thankful for or going around the dinner table and having everyone say something they are thankful for about each person.

Some of our favorites are watching the parade together on Thanksgiving evening, watching a movie together or playing games together. Thanksgiving specific games can be especially fun. For those, I love and highly recommend printable games that you can print out a few days before Thanksgiving and pull out for some family entertainment. You can get them in bundles or separately.

25 Thanksgiving games and activities bundle

You can find all sorts of Thanksgiving printables in the Families with Grace Esty store!

5. Keep it simple — and ask for help!

Find what you enjoy and do it, but keep things simple. I love cooking and baking more than decorating. My Thanksgiving décor this year for dinner will include a tablecloth that I found on sale at Walmart for $1 and some paper plates and napkins for dessert that say something about being thankful. I’m thinking I might pull out my nice dishes this year, but they’re dishwasher safe. Simple and effective.

If decorating is more your thing, do that and cut back on homemade dishes. Find shortcuts, make something nontraditional or buy your dinner and decorate away.

Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for help. This is one of the most important Thanksgiving tips! Your family wants to spend time with you. And if we’re honest the version of you who isn’t overwhelmed and stressed is much more fun to be around. (I say this as a reminder to myself, by the way!) Asking for help really isn’t a sign of weakness, I promise. Ask your children to help with food prep or cleaning. You can even ask those coming to dinner to bring along dishes as well.

If you are organizing a large Thanksgiving meal for lots of people, consider making it a potluck and using a sign-up sheet so that you don’t end up with everyone bring mashed potatoes and nothing else!

Thanksgiving potluck sign-up sheet
Thanksgiving potluck sign up sheet

15 Cyber safety tips for parents

Tips to stay safe online from a cyber security expert

As a child in the 1980s, I didn’t do much at all with technology. That’s not at all true for my own kiddos. They’ve been using tablets and computers since preschool. And that’s just at school. Unlike other parenting strategies my husband and I can draw from our own childhood experiences, online safety is all new. Parents like us have to figure out how to keep our kiddos safe online and navigate the challenges that come with technology. Knowing some cyber safety tips can help.

Let’s go a step further than basic cyber safety tips. Instead let’s take a deeper look into how to keep our kids safe online. I recently sat down with my husband, a cybersecurity expert who is a certified ethical hacker, and talked with him about cyber safety for families. These 15 cyber safety tips come through him and what works for our own family.

15 cyber safety tips for parents from a cyber security expert

1. Be aware of what you post about your children.

We parents get the blame for everything. But the truth is when it comes to cyber safety, we have to be just as careful as our children. While social media may be your outlet, be aware that what you post about your kids can impact them and affect their safety. Gulp.

I have some strict rules in place for my family that we all adhere to. For example, I don’t share on any public platform our specific location, the name of my children’s school or even the full names of my children. I’m very protective of their information and their photographs. I try to always consider how what I post could impact my kids if the wrong person got that information. And I assume the wrong person will get any information I post publicly in order to keep myself on track.

2. Set up their email accounts to go to yours as well.

One of the settings offered in Gmail (and pretty much any email service you use) is mail forwarding. Our daughter, who is 13, has been using her email address for the past two years. The rule from the beginning has been that all messages are forwarded to her dad’s email address. She doesn’t get anything that he doesn’t get as well. While we trust her, we also want to be aware of what she’s doing and with whom she is interacting. The biggest thing we’ve found with getting her emails is what kinds of things she’s signing up for online, which is important.

(Check out these directions for how to automatically forward messages on Gmail.)

3. Check their direct messages.

While teens still email, they do much more when it comes to direct messaging. For any account our daughter has, she has to give us her username and password so that we can check in on it. Right now the only social media she has and uses is Pinterest. She and I are connected so I can see her boards, but I can also log in and check her stuff.

For a while, especially during quarantine, she was really into a writing app that I didn’t use. I had the app on my phone and set up with her account so any time she got a notification, I did, too.

4. Utilize YouTube Kids.

Kids love videos, and YouTube Kids is a great way to let them have access to videos without worrying as much. We started both of our children with YouTube Kids and only in the past two years let our daughter have access to regular YouTube. While it isn’t completely locked down, it does keep the content mostly child friendly and help keep your kids from accidentally (or intentionally) getting onto a video that is inappropriate.

Whether they are on YouTube Kids or the regular version, periodically check their search history and the videos they are watching. Last year, my daughter was talking about a pastor she really enjoyed watching on YouTube. I checked out the videos to make sure they were solid and was pleased that they were. In fact, when Sarah Jakes Roberts came to a city near us earlier this year, I got tickets and the two of us went to see her in person. But it could have been a different story if the “pastor” wasn’t Biblically sound or was otherwise a negative influence

5. Know their passwords.

Anything that requires a login and password is something that our kids are required to give to us as well. If there is ever a question, problem, issue or a need to do a random check, we are able to do so. The same is true for their devices. If they have a lock-screen, we have to know the passcode to get in. We haven’t had an issue with our kiddos (really just our 13-year-old right now) not sharing this information or keeping us updated, but if we did, the consequence is loss of technology.

When it comes to cyber safety tips, one of the most important things for both adults and kiddos is to keep passwords protected. Find a system that works for you. My husband trusts Bitwarden to manage passwords, so I use it as well. I like that I can have it installed as an extension on my laptop and on my phone, so I always have log-in information and passwords easily accessible. Consider using a password manager to more easily keep track of your kids’ passwords (and your own!).

6. Pick the correct usernames.

Usernames for apps and games are public. Help your kids choose an appropriate username that doesn’t reveal personal information. Our rule is that usernames can’t include their real name. My daughter uses favorite fictional characters to comprise her usernames. We have also used variations of favorite animals. Regardless, definitely don’t allow usernames that include their name or their full name for games, apps or social media.

7. Approve of their profile photos.

Many apps and programs require a profile photo, even if it isn’t social media. Be sure to approve of your child’s profile photo for apps before they post them. Our rule is photos of themselves are typically not allowed. There are so many fun alternatives they can use instead. In fact, my daughter’s Pinterest profile picture is a funny meme.

8. Talk about liars online.

A huge cyber safety tip for parents is to talk about online stranger danger. Most adults these days know to be cautious on who you trust online, because people aren’t necessarily who they say they are. But, kids don’t know that as well. Our 13-year-old has gotten tired of hearing it, but we still remind her that you never know who you’re talking to in many situations. Just because someone seems like a fellow fan of a book who is also in school doesn’t mean they are. Instead of being a 13-year-old girl, the person could be a 30-year-old man looking for an inappropriate relationship.

15 cyber safety tips for parents from a cybersecurity expert

9. Remind them of the permanence of online content.

Just like we talked about in what we post about our kiddos, we all need to know that what we post is always online, even if we delete it. Someone can access it. My husband’s online philosophy is that he assumes anything he posts will eventually become public, even if he is sharing it to only friends on social media. Chances are that won’t actually happen, but it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure that you aren’t oversharing or posting inappropriate things. Our kiddos also need this information and reminder.

10. Utilize filters and device managers.

Figuring out what to use for filters and device managers can be a challenge. I’m fortunate in that my cybersecurity husband is on it. I can’t tell you what’s best, but I can tell you what works really well for us and both are free. Our kids’ computers have Microsoft Family Safety installed on them that filters internet content and generates reports.

What we use the absolute most, though, is Google Family Link. It works on both Apple and Android devices, including Chromebooks. This allows us to see what our kids are doing on their device, set time limits and prohibit them from installing apps (even free ones) without password-protected permission from us. The time limits include being able to set times that their device shuts down. For example, our son’s tablet is set so that he can’t use it before 7 a.m. or after 7:30 p.m. We can go in and modify that for one-time or ongoing instances.

11. Don’t allow them to install apps without permission.

I trust my kiddos. Neither of them have given me a reason to not trust them with technology, but for right now, neither of them are allowed to install apps on their devices without permission from us. Through Google Family Link (see the previous point), their devices are set so any app installed on their phone requires password-protected permission from us.

The biggest reason we’ve instated this policy is to keep them from installing apps that will fill up their devices or are otherwise spam-y. But it also serves to make sure they aren’t able to install nefarious apps to hide things. I know there will come a point at which they are allowed to be responsible for their own app management, but right now they are 9 and 13. I don’t see that happening any time soon.

12. Keep passwords and passcodes secret.

Our kids want to be good friends and trust their friends. And they should be able to, but they also need to understand that sharing passwords and passcodes is not OK. In order to stay safe online, our kids’ devices and accounts need to be controlled by them (and us). Allowing anyone else access to them is asking for trouble.

13. Don’t let friends have free reign on devices.

This goes right along with protecting passwords. Nobody else should have free reign on our kiddos’ devices. Again, friends should be trustworthy, but not everyone has the same rules and standards for cyber safety.

For example, a couple of years ago, a friend of my daughter’s nabbed her tablet and starting messaging with someone on a writing app my daughter was using. Our rule was that our daughter couldn’t use her real name on the app at all, even in private messages. Her friend started to send a message to someone that mentioned her real name. There wasn’t an issue in the end, but even just those sorts of things can happen without malintent.

14. Talk about what information is OK to share and what isn’t.

When it comes to cyber safety tips, this is sort of a no-brainer. We all know we shouldn’t share personal information online. But our kids don’t have those years of experience or even always think about how what they are sharing could be used against them. In our family, our kiddos aren’t allowed to share where they live any more detailed than the geographic region of the country. They also cannot share their school name or their real names. Those are our rules for their protection.

15. Keep lines of communication open.

Being able to talk with your kiddos about what they’re doing online and any issues they encounter is important. We want our kids to come to us with questions. We also talk with them about various situations and how to be safe online. Technology is part of their world, and we can’t pretend it isn’t.

My husband and I are doing our best to help our kids navigate technology and the internet in safe ways. That means giving them chances to use technology and not forbidding it. It means trusting them, but arming them with information about how to stay safe. And it also means having consequences in place for breaking our technology rules.

One of the other things we do in communicating with our kids about cyber safety is to be sure to praise them when they make the right choices. I’ve seen my oldest handle direct messages with well when the sender seemed suspicious or was telling her something required more help than she could give. I complimented her for her responses to highlight to her what she did well. Giving praise is just as important as doling out criticism and advice.

Skillet queso recipe

Restaurant-style skillet queso made easy!

Skillet queso recipe

I can’t resist a good queso. The mix of tortilla chips dipped into creamy cheese is just divine! I’ve tried making a few queso recipes through the years and this skillet queso recipe is one of my all-time favorites. It tastes almost exactly like the skillet queso we order at a chain restaurant named for a pepper.

Basically, you put all the ingredients into a skillet or pot, let them melt and combine together and then serve it with chips. I’ve made this as a side. (In fact, I made it for Thanksgiving last year as a side for my particular eaters.) Or you can also use the skillet queso as a topping for nachos rather than a dip. My son prefers them nacho style. I like it both ways — nacho style or dip. No matter how you eat it, it’s yummy!

Getting started

The most work you’ll do for this skillet queso recipe is prepping the cheese by cutting it into cubes. Not too shabby at all. It uses cheese loaf that is known for melting. The name-brand is Velveeta, but I use the store brand without an issue.

(If you’re not a fan of this processed cheese, don’t let that stop you from this recipe. This is the only thing I cook using it and does not have a strong flavor of the cheese, I promise! )

You need 16 ounces of the cheese. The last time I made this skillet queso, I was only able to get a 32-ounce block. So, I cut it in half by looking at it, wrapped one half in foil and placed it in a zip-top bag in my freezer. (You’ll notice I used the brand-name label just for easy identification!)

Put the cheese loaf on a cutting board and slice it into cubes for better melting. I first slice it in about 1-inch increments.

Then using two or three squares at a time, I cut those into nines.

And now you’re finished with the hardest part of this entire recipe. I told you it was easy!

Putting it together

Pull out a deep skillet or medium-sized pot and put it the cubed cheese into it. Place it on the stove over medium heat.

Add 1 cup of milk. I make this using 1% milk because that’s what my family drinks, and it works just fine.

Add in all the seasonings: 2 teaspoons paprika, 4 teaspoons chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 tablespoon lime juice. (You can use fresh-squeezed lime juice, but I usually just buy a bottle of lime juice and keep in my fridge.)

Finally, add in one 15-ounce can of chili with NO beans.

Give it a good stir and let it hang out over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the cheese is melted. Stir it every few minutes to keep the cheese from sticking to the bottom.

Serve the queso with your favorite tortilla chips. You can use it as a dip or as a nacho topping, whichever you prefer!

You can also make this skillet queso in a slow cooker if you prefer. Put everything into your slow cooker on low and let it set for about an hour until melted. Alternatively, you can make it on the stove and keep it warm until serving from your slow cooker. It’s incredibly versatile and scrumptious!

Skillet queso

This skillet queso recipe tastes like something you'd get at a restaurant, but comes together in 15 minutes. Super easy and delicious!
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Mexican

Ingredients
  

  • 16 oz. processed cheese loaf (like Velveeta)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 15-oz. can chili with no beans
  • 4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Instructions
 

  • Cut the cheese into approximately 1-inch cubes.
  • Place the cheese into a deep skillet or medium-sized pot over medium heat.
  • Add the milk.
  • Add the paprika, chili powder, lime juice and ground cumin,
  • Add the can of chili, and stir well.
  • Continue cooking over medium heat, occasionally stirring, for about 15 minutes until the cheese is completely melted and smooth.
Keyword cheese dip, nachos, queso, tortilla chips