facebook pinterest twitter google instagram rss

How to Cook Perfect Dried Beans in the Instant Pot {Soaked or Unsoaked!}

The Instant Pot has been a real game changer for my family – especially its ability to quickly cook dried beans with no pre-soaking! If you want to learn how to cook all sorts of dried beans in a pressure cooker, this post is for you!

How to Cook Dried Beans in the Instant Pot {Soaked or Unsoaked!}

How to Cook Dried Beans in the Instant Pot

Do you know how to cook Instant Pot Beans? Beans can be tricky in the Instant Pot. Sometimes it seems like they come out hard and undercooked and sometimes they are cracked and overcooked. Learn how to get perfect beans every time this post. It doesn’t matter if you cook soaked beans or un-soaked beans in the Instant Pot – learn the tricks to get them both just right! While both ways are totally doable with these useful tips, we prefer no pre-soaking of the beans!

One of the things I love the most about my Instant Pot is the ability to cook un-soaked dried beans relatively quickly. My Instant Pot has transformed the way I cook dried beans. I never remember to soak beans the night before and the ability to simply omit that step is so lovely!

We eat a lot of beans here at SimplifyLiveLove. They are frugal and I always have them in my pantry. Our favorite types of beans to stock in the pantry are black or turtle beans, kidney beans, and pinto beans. I buy them in bulk and store them in 5 gallon buckets. 

Keeping a stocked pantry helps me cook from scratch and having rice and dried beans on hands means we almost always have something to cook in a pinch. Curious what I always have on hand in my pantry to cook from scratch? Read this helpful post on pantry essentials and grab my free checklist so you can stock your pantry too!

Besides that, beans are quite healthy. They are a fabulous way to added necessary protein to your diet, they are high in amino acids, they are rich in polyphenols, and they are lower in calories and fat than other protein sources. Learn more about health properties of beans here.

What do we do with beans?

Like I said, beans are a staple at my house and I almost always have a container of cooked beans in my fridge ready for some purpose. I add them to taco meat to stretch the meat, they’re a staple in my kids’ favorite taco soup, and we make a lot of pinto beans for bean burritos, nachos, and more. We also often have rice and bean bowls with guacamole and all the fixins. We also use dried beans in the best chili ever – also made right in your instant pot!

how to cook unsoaked dried beans in the instant pot

Time Chart for Dried Beans in the Instant Pot

I primarily cook three different types of beans: pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans. But I have all types of beans in my pantry and so I’m sharing this handy chart of cooking times for nine different types of beans. Soak them, or don’t soak them. That’s your call. 

time chart for cooking dried beans in the instant pot (1)

Note: All times are in minutes. 🙂

How to choose a cooking time for unsoaked dried beans

How I choose a cooking time depends primarily on my end goal for the beans. If I plan to use the beans in another recipe, meaning they will continue cooking after I take them out of the Instant Pot, I will cook them for fewer minutes. 

For instance, if I’m using black beans in my taco meat, I’ll cook them for around 22 minutes instead of 27. But if I’m not putting them in another recipe, I will cook them for longer in the Instant Pot so they come out softer instead of al dente. I cook pinto beans for 28 minutes, for instance, instead of 25 if I’m making refried beans.

Water to Bean Ratio for Pressure Cooking Dried Beans 

The water to bean ratio for cooking dried beans in the instant pot is 4 cups water to 1 cup beans. One pound of dried beans is two cups, so you need 8 cups of water to cook one pound of dried beans in the pressure cooker.



homemade opt in

Let me help you Cook from Scratch! Get your free weekly meal plans by clicking here.

In addition to the beans, you’ll also need a good quality oil and salt as well. I prefer to cook with unrefined salt as regular ole table salt has been bleached and has a lot of additives that I’d rather avoid. My favorite type of salt is REAL Salt from the Great Salt Lake in Utah. I love its pretty colors and it has a nice taste and lots of healthy qualities too. There are so many different types of salt. We only use table salt for crafts.

how to cook soaked or unsoaked dried beans in the instant pot

Some things to be careful about when cooking Instant Pot beans

Make sure you do not overfill your pressure cooker when cooking beans, or it will foam and boil over. While the oil helps reduce foaming, one pound of beans (2 cups) is the maximum you can cook in a 6 quart Instant Pot. I know, that saddens me too, but it’s not worth the mess to cook more. 🙁 Also, use high pressure and a natural release for best results.

That said, I cook 4 cups of beans successfully in my 8 qt. Pressure cooker. I highly recommend the 8 qt Instant Pot if you have a large family or like to cook a lot at a time.

Yield: 12 - 1/2 cup servings of cooked beans

How to Cook Dried Beans in the Instant Pot

How to Cook Dried Beans in the Instant Pot

An easy way to cook dried beans in the instant pot. No pre-soaking required!

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Additional Time 15 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Add ingredients to instant pot.
  2. Seal the lid and cook on high pressure for the time specified in the chart.
  3. Use a natural pressure release for at least 15 minutes. You can naturally release the pressure longer if you want.
  4. Manually release pressure and enjoy.

Notes

If you have a larger instant pot, add 4 cups of water per 1 cup of dried beans.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 66Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 330mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 2g
Nutritional information is not always correct.

And that’s it, my friends, how to cook dried beans in the Instant Pot! It’s totally worth the price of the Instant Pot to me, just for the ability to cook dried beans in a relatively short amount of time! Do you cook beans in your Instant Pot? I’d love to hear if you soak them, or skip it!

Want more easy Instant Pot Recipes? Here you go!

More Instant Pot Recipes You Will Love

homemade opt in

Let me help you Cook from Scratch! Get your free weekly meal plans by clicking here.

Here are the secrets to Instant Pot Beans. Cook dried beans, both soaked and unsoaked, with this handy time chart that will help you get perfect instant pot beans every time! #InstantPot #DriedBeans #InstantPotRecipes

 

Delicious Instant Pot Chili + 20 More Soup Recipes for Winter

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is nothing better on a cold winter night than a big bowl of hearty soup. If you’re looking for soup recipes for winter, you will love this Instant Pot Chili Recipe (made with dried beans and ZERO pre-soaking!) plus 20 more winter soups perfect for cold weather!!

instant pot chili recipe

Delicious Instant Pot Chili + 20 More Soup Recipes for Winter

I’m excited to team up with a great group of bloggers to bring you this first ever Houseful of Soups post! You will love the comfort foods so many amazing recipe creators are bringing you today. From hearty chili to chicken noodle soup, lentil soup, baked potato soup, French Onion Soup, and more: we’re covering all of your winter soup needs in one easy post.

First up, here is my delicious instant pot chili recipe made with dried beans, bacon, and hidden veggies. Cooked right in your instant pot without soaking the beans, you will love how easy it is to incorporate heart-healthy and frugal dried beans. I love that you can make this chili all in one pot with minimal mess and clean up!

instant pot chili

Let’s make this easy pressure cooker chili!

I think chili is one of the best soup recipes for winter! Is chili a soup though?? What do you think?

And instant pot recipes are my favorite because of quick cooking time and the easy clean up. Everything is made right in one pot which means fewer pots to scrub! This recipe is pretty versatile and I hope you love it. So let’s get cooking. 

Gather your supplies! It really is much easier if you get all the ingredients out and prepped ahead of time. I can tell you from experience that it takes forever if you’re cooking and chopping at the same time, while also hunting down the ingredients. 


Turn your instant pot on saute, gather and open cans, get out all the spices, chop your veggies, make sure the ground meat is thawed. 

Once your pressure cooker is hot, cook the bacon lardons until nice and crispy. It should take about 5-6 minutes. Remove bacon from pan, then add the chopped carrots and onions and cook right in the bacon grease. Cook them for several minutes until the carrots are soft and the onions are translucent and fragrant, then add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Remove the veggies from the pan and add the ground meat, cooking until completely browned.

put chili ingredients in instant pot

Next, add all remaining ingredients, stirring to combine. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to get everything nicely mixed. Lock the lid on the Instant Pot and cook on manual high for 45 minutes. Make sure the gasket on the lid is pushed back so it can seal properly. It will take the Instant Pot some time to get up to pressure, probably 10-15 minutes.

Once the cooking time is done, do a natural release of the pressure for 15 minutes, then quick release remaining pressure. I like the cover the gasket with a towel or washcloth so the steam doesn’t spew all over everywhere. Carefully open the lid, making sure to vent it away from you so the steam doesn’t hit your face. 

Stir the soup again and ladle into bowls. I like to serve chili with a variety of toppings like cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips, sliced jalapeno, green onions, avocado etc. What toppings do you like on your chili? How about queso dip?

instant pot chili made with dried beans no soaking

A few notes about the chili ingredients. 

You can use any type of ground meat you like. We buy organic beef in bulk from a local farmer so that’s what I use most often. My mom makes delicious chili with venison that my father hunts and you can’t even tell that it’s venison. Ground turkey is also delicious in this chili, or you can mix and match any way you like!

One thing I love about my instant pot is that I can cook dried beans without soaking. Dried beans are staples in my pantry. I buy them in bulk (25lbs at a time) and always have them on hand. Using my instant pot, I can cook them quickly from scratch when I need them! Learn how easy it is to cook dried beans of all kinds without soaking in this post.

We like to add carrots because their sweetness is a nice contrast to the acidity of the tomatoes. I’ve found that adding carrots to tomato rich soups and sauces is a great way to sweeten without adding sugar.

Last year I learned from a very good cook that you can use ketchup instead of tomato paste! Let me way I was mind-blown! Now instead of buying little cans of tomato paste and having to deal with leftovers, I just use ketchup. My favorite ketchup is Vegetable Ketchup from True Made Foods. I tried it last year at Expo West and love that it uses veggies as a sweetener in place of the sugar!


20 + soup recipes for winter

Here are 20 More Soup Recipes for Winter!

I enjoy participating in Houseful of Soups blog hop and I know you’ll like all of these recipes. Make sure you head over to check them out and them to your dinner menus!

soup recipes for winter houseful of soups button

Here are a few more of my soup recipes too!

Instant Pot Chicken Noodle Soup

Instant Pot Lasagna Soup

Creamy Chicken Stew – great for immune boosting

Effortless French Onion Soup from Scratch

chili made with dried beans

Yield: 8 servings

Delicious Instant Pot Chili Recipe {made with dried beans, no soaking required!)

Delicious Instant Pot Chili Recipe {made with dried beans, no soaking required!)

This delicious instant pot chili recipe is just what the cold winter weather ordered. Made with dried beans WITHOUT soaking, bacon, and a few hidden veggies, this chili is sure to be a hit with your family!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Additional Time 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

    Turn instant pot on saute. Once it's hot, cook the bacon lardons until nice and crispy, about 5 minutes.

    Remove bacon from pan, then add the chopped carrots and onions and cook right in the bacon grease. Cook them for several minutes until the carrots are soft and the onions are translucent and fragrant, then add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.

    Remove the veggies from the pan and add the ground meat, cooking until completely browned.

    Add remaining ingredients, stirring to combine.

    Lock the lid on the Instant Pot and cook on manual high for 45 minutes.

    Make sure the gasket on the lid is pushed back so it can seal properly. It will take the Instant Pot some time to get up to pressure, probably 10-15 minutes.

    Naturally release pressure for 15 minutes, then quick release remaining pressure.

    I like the cover the gasket with a towel or washcloth so the steam is spewing all over everywhere.

    Carefully open the lid, making sure to vent it away from you so the steam doesn't hit your face. 

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 733Total Fat: 36gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 139mgSodium: 1608mgCarbohydrates: 49gFiber: 13gSugar: 9gProtein: 56g
Nutritional data is not always correct.

So, what do you think? Which of these soup recipes for winter are you most excited to try? And does chili qualify as a soup or is it in a category all of its own?

chili with toppings

Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Spinach & Mushrooms

If you’re looking for a way to eat more salmon, this cheesy salmon pasta with spinach and mushrooms is a delicious way to make that goal!

quick and easy salmon pasta recipe

Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Mushrooms & Spinach

I’m always looking for ways I can sneak in a bit of salmon to get my pickier eaters a serving of heart healthy omega three fatty acids. I like to find creative ways for everyone in my family of six to get more salmon without having to dish out $50 for dinner for us all. My family really enjoys this versatile salmon recipe, and yours will too! 

This Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Spinach & Mushrooms is a wonderfully delicious and frugal way to eat more salmon.

Not only is this pasta delicious, it also cooks up in a jiffy. Cooking salmon is actually really easy and this entire meal can be on the table in under 30 minutes.. So read on and be inspired to try something new tonight!

What’s the best type of salmon to use in this recipe?

I always recommend that you buy wild caught Alaska Sock-eye salmon whenever possible. It’s a little more expensive than farmed salmon, the health benefits are significantly better. Farmed salmon has much more fat that wild-caught salmon and it does not have the beneficial ratio between healthy Omega 3s and bad Omega 6s that are so good in wild-caught either. Read more about the differences here.

plated salmon pasta recipe


Sitka Salmon

I have found wild-caught salmon at both Costco and Aldi, I’ve bought it from Butcher Box, and most recently I was sent some Sitka Salmon to try out. Normally, I’m skeptical of the home delivery foods (I’m not sure why – we buy plenty from Amazon). But the Sitka Salmon was really nice. I appreciate the attention to the packaging too.

sitka salmon share

It included a recyclable plastic liner, compostable foam – just put it in your home compost and watch it disappear! If you don’t have a compost heap, simply dissolve the foam in water and you have a nutritious food to feed your plants! How awesome is that?

Additionally, the salmon is first rate. It’s wild-caught, just the way I like it. It’s traceable to fishermen who are paid an above average salary for their work, and the company purchases carbon offsets and promotes small-scale fisheries and conservation in Alaska too. Finally a salmon I can feel good about having shipped right to my door!

The good people at Sitka Salmon would like to give you $25 off one of their Premium Sitka Seafood Shares. Just click on my link and use SITKASOCIAL. This code is good through March 15, 2020 so don’t delay trying it out!

cook the veggies and the salmon

What type of vegetables can I use in this pasta?

That’s up to you! We really like the combo of spinach and mushrooms. If you don’t like mushrooms, feel free to leave them out. Broccoli and zucchini are also great in this delicious salmon pasta.

banza pasta

How about the pasta?

You can use whatever typs of past floats your boat. I like the organic pasta I buy at Costco, but if you’re gluten-free, Aldi has a great option for you. If you’re on a low-carb diet, I have an option for you too! We recently tried a high protein pasta made from chickpeas called Banza Pasta that is quite tasty too! It has 25 g of protein and 13 g of fiber per serving! 

delicious salmon pasta

How to Make Cheesy Salmon Pasta Recipe

Gather your ingredients, and boil a big pot of salted water for cooking your pasta. When the water is boiling, add pasta and cook according to package instructions. I like my pasta a little al dente, so I don’t usually cook it as long as the package says. Drain, and reserve pasta for later.

While the pasta is cook, heat butter or oil over medium heat in a large pot. I love my 7 1/4  qt, oven proof Le Creuset Dutch Oven, by the way. It was expensive but worth every penny!

Once the butter is melted, salt and pepper salmon fillets, then cook skin side down for 3-4 minutes. Flip salmon and cook for 3-4 more minutes. The skin should be crispy and easy to peel off after you flip it, so peel that skin off. 

If you need another tablespoon of butter, or olive oil if you prefer, add it now. Then add diced onions and sliced mushrooms and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook another 1 -2 minutes. Put the salmon back in the pot

Take off the skin from the salmon, and using your spatula, break it into small pieces. Also add spinach and mushrooms, cook for 2-3 minutes, until everything is cooked through. {By the way, I’ve found that by chopping my spinach up very small, I can claim it’s an herb, and my picky eaters don’t even notice it. If I didn’t have picky eaters, I would not chop it so small.}  By now, your pasta should be finished cooking and you can add it to the pot with the veggies and the salmon.

Reduce heat to low. Add two cups of shredded cheese and stir until melted. You should end up with an ooey-goey delightful pasta. Remove from heat and top with the Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste. 

Grab a fork and dig in! I think this dish is so tasty, I don’t even need to bother with a plate. 😉

Want the printable recipe? Here you go!

Yield: 6 servings

Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Mushrooms & Spinach

Cheesy Salmon Pasta with Mushrooms & Spinach

Quick and easy pasta recipe and a great way to stretch salmon so everyone in your family can have a serving without breaking the bank.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 12 ounces salmon {preferably wild caught from Alaska}
  • 2 tablespoons butter, split
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, chopped small if you're feeding picky eaters
  • 6 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded cheese {I used a combo of French Comte & sharp white cheddar}
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Boil a pot of water and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat one tablespoon butter over medium heat in a pan big enough to accommodate the finished dish.
  3. Add the salmon skin side down and cook for 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Once flipped, remove the skin from the salmon and discard.
  4. Add another tablespoon butter if needed, then cook the onions and mushrooms for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
  5. Reduce heat to low, add the 2 cups shredded cheese and stir until the cheese is melted.
  6. Remove from heat, add Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Enjoy!

    Notes

    I recommend wild-caught Alaska salmon in all my salmon recipes. Feel free to experiment with veggies based on your preference.

    Nutrition Information:

    Yield:

    6

    Serving Size:

    1

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 540Total Fat: 32gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 108mgSodium: 612mgCarbohydrates: 28gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 35g
    Nutritional data is not always correct.

    What’s your favorite way to eat salmon?

    salmon pasta with mushrooms and spinach

    If you’d like more salmon recipe inspiration, here you go!

    Salmon Street Tacos

    Greek Salmon Sheet Pan Dinner

    Creamy Salmon Pasta with Lemon Caper Cream Sauce

    10 Minute Greek Salmon Salad

    And don’t forget to save $25 on your first salmon order today!

    Fun, Affordable Family Skiing in Colorado at Sunlight Mountain Resort

    Located about three hours from Denver and just outside Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Sunlight Mountain Resort is our pick for most family friendly place to go skiing in Colorado. If you haven’t been there, here’s why you must go to Sunlight Mountain for you next ski vacation!

    Sunlight Mountain Resort in Glenwood Springs CO

    SimplifyLiveLove occasionally receives complementary products, hosted travel, and/or compensation related to the content shared here. This story may contain affiliate links which means we receive a small commission on your purchase.

    Last year, my family took an amazing spring break to Colorado. One of the best things we did on that trip was take our kids skiing as the guests of Sunlight Mountain. Not only were they able to take their first ski lesson, but we enjoyed exploring the mountain for three great days of skiing. Thank you to Sunlight Mountain for hosting my family. Almost a year later, the kids still talk fondly about their skiing adventures in Colorado.

    skiiing-at-Sunlight-Mountain-Resort.

    photo courtesy of Troy Hawks, Sunlight Mountain Resort

    Fun, Affordable Family Skiing in Colorado at Sunlight Mountain Resort

     

    At first glance, Sunlight Mountain might not seem like that much when compared to some of the mega resorts. With only three chair lifts, the resort is not ritzy when compared to the giant resorts in Colorado. But don’t let that stop you from exploring all it has to offer. Free parking, no waiting, small crowds, powder all day, and over 700 skiable acres are just a few of the reasons Sunlight Mountain is perfect for skiers and riders.

    ski swim stay sunlight mountain

    Affordable Family Skiing

    For about half the cost of other Colorado ski resorts, you don’t have to break the bank to take your kids on a family ski trip. With four kids, we’re always looking for ways to save when we take our kids on vacation. While we want to save money, we definitely don’t want to sacrifice fun. Luckily, you won’t have to sacrifice anything at Sunlight Mountain!!

    short lift lines at Sunlight Mountain

    Small Crowds & Short Lift Lines

    Crowded slopes and long lift lines are often the worst parts of skiing. And crowds with kids is just a real disaster as far as I’m concerned. It’s so much nicer when you don’t have to worry about people crashing into you, or your kids crashing into other people, or losing your kids in a crowd. Luckily, we didn’t have to worry about any of that, and if we had wait to wait more than two minutes for a lift at Sunlight, that was a long time!

    ski lessons at Sunlight

    Great Ski School For Kids and Adults

    I grew up skiing in Europe and when I was young, my parents enrolled me and my sister in week long ski lessons almost every time we went. Not only did they enroll us, but they took lessons as well. Lessons were pretty much the norm in Europe, but I don’t really see that same emphasis on lessons here in the States. 

    Personally, I think the best thing you can do for your kids (and even yourself) is take ski lessons whenever possible. I need to take some more myself.

    Since this was the first Colorado mountain experience for our kids, it was important to me that they have a lesson from someone other than myself. We enrolled each of our four kids in one lesson and they loved it. 

    My eldest daughter had a panic attack the first time she got off the lift and the instructor was not only able to get her down the mountain, but he also gave her the confidence she needed to go back up. I can’t wait to put them back in ski lessons! They really enjoyed the lesson and the confidence they gained from it.

    Sunlight Mountain Ski school offers one of the best values for first time skiers, called the Learn to Shine program. With 3 half day lessons, ski rental, and lift tickets –  plus you get an additional 5 full day lift ticket,once completed. For just $450 for the 2020 / 2021 ski season, this is a real steal!

    Mt Sopris from Sunlight Mountain Resort

    Runs for Advanced Skiers Too

    While Sunlight Mountain is a great resort for beginners, they also have a lot of slopes that more advanced skiers enjoy too. With 67 trails through 700 acres, there really is something there for everyone. And the views of Mt. Sopris and beyond are simply stunning!

    Glenwood Springs Hot Springs

    Ski, Swim, Stay Package Vacations

    The great thing about skiing at Sunlight is there is more than just skiing. Located Western  Colorado near the White River National Forest, Glenwood Springs is known for its amazing hot springs after all! Take advantage of Sunlight’s Children’s Center and snowmobile tours at Sunlight and so much more.

    Book a Ski, Swim, Stay vacation and enjoy everything that Glenwood Springs and Sunlight Mountain Resort have to offer! With beautiful hotel partners in Glenwood Springs, relaxing natural springs, lovely restaurants, local shops and more, your family will enjoy any vacation you book!

    Make sure to watch the progress of their East Ridge expansion project which will add a new lift and 100 acres of additional ski trails!

    Do you enjoy skiing in Colorado? Where have you been and what did you love??

    For more of our fun family adventures, check out these posts:

    Our Amazing Colorado Spring Break

    Fun Family Weekend in La Crosse, Wi

    Heidelberg Germany – my childhood home 

    Custer State Park, South Dakota

    Mother – Daughter Teen Vacation in Panama City Beach

    Family Fun at the Grove Resort Orlando

    Must Know Travel Tips for Taking the Amtrak Empire Builder

    All aboard! It’s time to consider a trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder! Vacations by rail are gaining in popularity in the United States as more people decide to travel coast to coast on an Amtrak train. If you’re curious about rail travel in the US, here’s what it’s like to ride the Amtrak Empire Builder – how to buy tickets, what to pack, how to sleep, and what to do on the train.

    Amtrak coach class empire builder

    *This post on staying healthy during train travel in the US is sponsored by Boiron. All opinions are mine.*

    Must Know Travel Tips for Taking the Amtrak Empire Builder

    Even if you aren’t familiar with US train travel at all, you may have heard of Amtrak’s California Zephyr or the Empire Builder trains. Both are iconic long distance train routes, that go from Chicago to California and the Pacific Northwest respectively.

    Travelers certainly don’t normally choose long haul Amtrak routes because they’re an efficient way to travel, but sometimes train travel makes a lot of sense. The journey to a vacation destination can be as fun as the vacation itself!

    That’s particularly true when you jump on an Amtrak train and chug through North America. Train travel is nostalgic and fun, and a great way to see our beautifully diverse country. 

    california zephyr outside glenwood springs

    Our entire family enjoys every train trip we take – we really think it beats driving and we’d love to encourage more families to take train trips as well. We took the California Zephyr from Mount Pleasant, Iowa to Denver, Colorado a couple of years ago on a spring break trip. It was a 14-hour overnight train ride and was a very practical way for our family to get to Colorado.

    Deciding on Amtrak Empire Builder

    For our most recent trip, we decided again on Amtrak to get to our family vacation in Whitefish, Montana instead of driving or flying. We boarded the Empire Builder train at Union Depot in Minneapolis- St. Paul, Minnesota and spent 24 hours on the train through North Dakota and Glacier National Park. 

    We got on the train at 10:20 pm and arrived in Whitefish at 10:30 pm the next day. While we consistently arrived at stops ahead of schedule and had longer than anticipated stops all along the route, we did end up an hour and half hour late to our final destination. I’d like to gripe about being late, but how many times is air travel disrupted??

    inside the empire builder

    Our entire trip to Whitefish was very smooth except for the delay at the end. There were very few people on the train and we had almost an entire car to ourselves! I know from past train trips that’s not normal, but we took full advantage of the extra space!

    Even though we arrived 90 minutes late, we really enjoyed our 24 hours on the train and do encourage more people to travel by train. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to take a ride on the Amtrak Empire Builder.

    union depot at night MSP

    What to Expect on the Empire Builder from Minneapolis-St Paul to Whitefish, Montana

    When we originally decided to take Amtrak to Whitefish, we weren’t sure where to board the train. The California Zephyr is what crosses Iowa and options to go north on Amtrak from Iowa are non-existent. 

    From Iowa, our choice was to find a stop along the northern route – either go to Chicago, Wisconsin, or Minnesota to get on the Empire Builder, or take the Zephyr to Chicago and change trains there. Changing trains in Chicago didn’t look like a very convenient option.

    Why we chose to board in Minneapolis

    We decided to drive five hours to Minneapolis to catch the Empire Builder there. Not only did it shave a few hours off the trip even with the longer drive, but it also saved us money on parking. It’s a lot cheaper to park in St. Paul (only $2 per day!) than it would have been in at Union Station in downtown Chicago. Another good option might have been to get on the train in LaCrosse, but we’re happy with our decision to board in St. Paul.

    Not only did we save a little bit of time on our total trip by driving five hours, but we also saved some money. And score – we’ll be able to spend a couple days on our return trip having fun at the Mall of America too!

    amtrak station whitefish montana

    From Whitefish, the Empire Builder continues on to Spokane where it splits into two west coast trains: one heads to Seattle and the other heads to Portland, Oregon. The entire trip from Chicago to Seattle is 2,205 miles and takes 48 hours. 

    Billed as one of the most scenic train rides in North America, we think more US families should take their kids on Amtrak trips through the United States. 

    If you’d like to take a trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder, here’s what you need to know

     

    How much does the Amtrak Empire Builder Cost?

    We have found train travel to be pretty cost effective. For our family of six, air travel is often out of our budget, so we generally drive. However, when you factor in hotels, meals, gas, wear and tear on your car, driving does add up. It also takes us longer to drive. The train keeps going all through the night, but we have to stop to sleep when we drive. 

    Train travel isn’t as cheap as driving, but it’s not outrageous either. It cost $1380 for our family of six to travel from Minneapolis to Whitefish in coach class, or $230 each. Just so you know, one kid rides for 50% off with each adult fare, so my price is averaged. We could have driven for less money, but it would have taken us longer. Flying our family to Whitefish was totally cost prohibitive. 

    coach class empire builder

    Coach vs Sleeper Car

    Definitely, the most economical way to travel on Amtrak is via the coach cars. The difference is pretty big – around $200 per person in coach versus much much more in a sleeper car. 

    There are three different options for sleeper cars: the Roomette (sleeps 2), the Family Bedroom (sleeps 4), or the Superliner Bedroom (sleeps 2-3 + private bath). For our family of six, we would need two sleeper rooms. 

    I have slept in a sleeper car on a train before (in Thailand) and we honestly didn’t sleep much better on a bed than we did in the seats. The included meals, ability to shower, and privacy of the sleeper car is nice, but I doubt it makes much of a difference as far as sleeping goes.

    sleeping on the Empire Builder

    Sleeping in Coach Seats on Amtrak

    You won’t get a great night’s sleep on an Amtrak coach chair, but we think it’s ok. The chairs on Amtrak trains are much nicer than coach on airplanes. There’s a lot more room to stretch out in, with footrests and leg rests as well. I’m 5’9” and I can stretch my legs from my coach seat and barely touch the seat in front of me. Imagine doing that on an airplane! There’s also plenty of overhead space to store your bags. 

    How to Book a trip on the Amtrak Empire Builder

    It’s really easy to book your trip on Amtrak’s website, but be prepared to do some research to figure out what to book. Options are often more limited with fewer trains than airplanes so you will have to be flexible.  Also, the further in advance you book, the cheaper your tickets will be. Plan far in advance when booking Amtrak to get the best price.

    Where to sit

    You don’t get assigned seats, but when you book your tickets, you have to choose the upper or lower deck. The choice is yours to make. We prefer the upper deck because the views are nicer. It’s also the only part of the train you can walk through. If you want to go to the dining car or the observation car, you have to walk through the upper cars.

    That means that lower cars don’t have as much traffic walking through, so it might be quieter. You also don’t have to walk up the narrow steps to get to the upper cars if you don’t want. A final reason to you might prefer to stay on the lower deck is that’s where the restrooms are located. There are no restrooms on the upper cars.

    Checking your Bags

    It’s not possible to check your bags at smaller stations, but if you’re getting on the train at a larger station like Chicago, Seattle, or St. Paul, I highly recommend that you check your bags. Amtrak allows each traveler to check two bags for free and it’s really an easy process. 

    Simply arrive at the station an hour before boarding and hand over your luggage. Amtrak does not have security screenings like airports and the process is pretty quick.

    Amtrak waiting area union depot

    Boarding the Train in Minneapolis St. Paul

    Boarding Amtrak is not like boarding trains in Europe. Instead of walking out to the platform and getting on the train like you do in Germany, with Amtrak, you wait in a large hall and head down to the train in a group. Sometimes, you’re assigned a specific train car before heading out to the platform, sometimes that happens at the platform. 

    The nice thing about traveling in a family or a group of four or more people is that you are generally able to head to the train ahead of the masses to help you find seats together.

    One thing you may want to be aware of when waiting in large train terminals, especially in the winter: oftentimes they are warm, dry areas in urban locations. It’s not all that unusual to see homeless people in the waiting areas as well. 

    Empire Builder Lounge MSP

    If that makes you uncomfortable, you can wait in the private lounge if you book a sleeper car. It’s just worth mentioning because we’ve had to have conversations with our kids about the people at train stations.

    stanley montana from an amtrak train

    When to Take the Train

    You can take the Empire Builder train at any time of year, but there are a few things to be aware of before you book your trip. One of the highlights of the Empire Builder is traveling through Glacier National Park. 

    The East Glacier stop is closed after early October, but the West Glacier stop stays open year round. If you’re heading west from Chicago, you won’t arrive at Glacier until after 8:00pm. In the winter, it’s dark and you won’t be able to see anything. 

    Summer is probably the more scenic time for train travel. The fields are green and it’s light longer. We’ve only taken the train in the winter and spring and while we haven’t had lush green scenery to behold, we did enjoy the beautiful frosty, foggy days anyway.

    coach toilet on the empire builder

    What are the Bathrooms Like?

    The two downsides to the Empire Builder would have to be sleeping in the seats and the bathrooms. While the bathrooms aren’t terrible, they aren’t all that great either. Think airline toilets, but not as nice. 

    They are small and cramped and sometimes overflowing with trash. The good news is there are five or six toilets per train car, so it’s usually pretty easy to find an open one. The bad news is, they aren’t always very clean.

    There’s also a lounge bathroom on each car that includes a seating area, a larger sink with a stool and a separate toilet. This is where you probably want to go in the morning to clean up and get ready for the day. It’s a nice sized area, but the door to the sink area doesn’t lock which I think is strange.

    Amtrak dinner reservation card

    What about the Dining Car?

    You can buy food on the Empire Builder at two places: the lounge and the dining car. The lounge sells drinks (soft drinks, coffee, mixed drinks, beer & wine) and snacky convenience food like chips, cookies, ramen, etc. 

    dining car food on the Empire Builder

    The dining car serves meals. Breakfast and lunch are first come first serve, but you’ll need to make a dinner reservation. Attendants walk through the train to make the reservations and assign an eating time. Eating in the dining car is a lot of fun!

    Only four people per table, and they do assign you to tables with other people – a great time to meet someone new. The food can be described as edible, but not overly delicious. I’ve heard it used to be made from scratch and served on fine china, but it’s not like that these days. Nonetheless, it’s a fun experience to eat in the dining car and one I wouldn’t miss.  You can see the Empire Builder menu here.

    Is there WIFI on the Empire Builder?

    Gasp! There’s no WIFI on the Empire Builder, though some Amtrak trains do have WIFI. The Empire Builder travels through desolate areas in North Dakota and Montana, and oftentimes even cellular data doesn’t work. 

    enjoying a mixed drink on amtrak

    What Can I do on the Amtrak Empire Builder?

    Believe it or not, there is plenty to do on the train even without WIFI. Bring along a good book or magazine you’ve been wanting to read, work on your computer, walk to the observation car and check out the beautiful scenery. Try a Bloody Mary. Eat a meal in the dining car. 

    sightseeing car on the amtrak empire builder

    Some trains also participate in Rails and Trails program where national park volunteers give informative talks about the area! If all else fails, watch a movie on your iPad or try to sleep. The train provides lots of opportunities to talk to new people if you like that. If you don’t enjoy it, step out of your comfort zone and give it a try.

    train mural in montana from amtrak

    Can we get off the train?

    The train will stop repeatedly throughout your journey. Most stops are just quick in and out. Let people off, and let new people on. A few stops however, last a little bit longer, around 20 minutes. You might have time for a quick walk outside or maybe enough time to walk to a nearby bar or restaurant for a bite to eat. 

    The longer stops are in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN; Minot, ND; Havre and Whitefish, MT. If you do a little research ahead of time you might be able to come up with a game plan for a quick activity at those stations. 

    The train cannot leave a stop earlier than the published departure time, so if you happen to arrive at stops early like we did, you will have a longer break. 

    What to Pack

    Be very prepared for your Amtrak trip! If you’re sleeping in coach like we did, bring a pillow and a blanket. The temperature fluctuates quite a lot on the train, so I recommend wearing layers. It’s easier to take off than put on after all! Here are a few more things you’ll want to bring along too:

    • Snacks – you can buy snacks in the lounge car, but you can also bring your own favorites which I highly recommend. Technically, you’re not supposed to eat food you bring on board at your seat, but every one does. Instead you’re supposed to eat your own food in the sightseeing car.
    • Drinks – According to Amtrak, you may BYO if you’re staying in a sleeper car but “private stock alcoholic beverages may not be consumed in public areas.” Alcoholic beverages are for sale on the train and can be consumed anywhere, but in our experience, discretion works pretty well too if you happen to bring your own.
    • Toiletries – if you’re sitting in coach you won’t be able to shower, but that doesn’t mean you can’t clean up. Bring your toothbrush and toothpaste, cleansing wipes, deodorant, and any makeup that you may want to wear.
    • Change of clothes – I’m sure you won’t want to wear the same clothes the entire 48 hours if you’re on the train that long! Make sure you have easily accessible clothing to change into and / or sleep in! 
    • Face mask – If you’re sensitive to light, you may want to pack an eye mask. There are curtains on the windows, but there’s still a little light. 
    • Same with noise – if you’re sensitive to noise, bring noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs too. It’s pretty quiet on the train, but sometimes you can hear the train horn, and when other trains pass, it is very loud and startling. 
    • Slippers – it’s pretty gross to sit around in your bare feet in public areas, so I highly recommend that you bring a pair of socks and some slippers for walking if you won’t want to wear your shoes all the time.
    • Electronics, charging cords, camera. Amtrak is nicely equipped with 120 volt plugins at each seat so charing your devices is no problem if you have your cords!
    • Small games – some of our favorites include  a deck of cards, Sushi Go, Dutch Bliss, and uno.
    • Reading material: Books, magazines. Wifi is not always available so make sure you have other things to do as well.

    small first aid kit

    Small First Aid Kit and Homeopathic Medicines

    The holidays are the busiest travel times of the year, right in the middle of cold and flu season. Being in close contact with lots of people means exposure to germs so I I always stock my small first aid kit very carefully during winter travel. It’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared when traveling, especially if you have kids along. Bringing along a small first aid kit is very important. I always have the following items on hand in my small travel first aid kit:

      • Tissues and hand wipes
      • Headache medicine
      • Allergy medicine
      • Cold and flu medicine – Cold Calm & Oscillococcinum
      • First aid ointment
      • Bandaids and mole skin
      • Arnica pellets & ointment for sore muscles
      • Lip balm
      • Honey 
      • Germ fighting essential oils

    Oscillococcinum ad in amtrak magazine

    Boiron Oscillococcinum for Flu

    I’ve been using Boiron products for years. I started with Arnica pellets when my kids were younger and always getting bruises. Gradually we added more and more of their homeopathic remedies to our natural medicine cabinet and I love them all. Boiron Oscillococcinum is a great homeopathic flu medicine recommended for everyone age two and up that really does work better than anything else. I was excited to see a full-page Boiron ad in the Amtrak magazine too! Learn more ways Boiron can help you stay healthy when you travel!

    Oscillo is so easy to take – simply dump the small vial of pellets under your tongue at the first sign of flu symptoms and let them dissolve. I usually pair the pellets with elderberry, lots of water, and extra rest and am able to kick the flu very quickly. I’m not alone thinking it works either. Clinical studies show that Oscillococcinum is effective at reducing length and severity of the flu.

    Just so you know, Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic medicine which means it has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. However, it has been used for over 50 years in more than 50 countries and is the best-selling flu medicine in France. 

    The most important tip about using Oscillococcinum is to have it on hand. For it to be most effective, you need to take it right away. So do yourself a favor and grab a pack right now using this $2 off coupon! You can find it at Walmart, Target, Amazon, Walgreens and more.

    Now that you know everything there is to know about riding Amtrak Empire Builder, what are you waiting for??

    Many thanks to my sponsor, Boiron, for helping us all stay healthy when we travel. Please leave your thoughts on train travel in the US in the comments below!

    For more family fun travel posts, read these:

    Family Fun at the Grove Resort Orlando

    Top 11 Secrets to Planning a Trip to Walt Disney World on a Budget

    Fun, Affordable Family Skiing at Sunlight Mountain Resort

    New Year’s Eve Games for Family Fun Ringing in 2020!

    If you’re hosting a family-friendly New Year’s Eve party, you’re in the right spot. These fun New Year’s Eve Games for Family Parties keep my kids entertained and occupied. Enjoy this round-up of fun ways to celebrate the New Year with your family!

    family friendly new year's eve party activities

    Our Family Traditions for NYE

    What are some of your favorite ways to ring in a new year? We have a lot of traditions that we look forward to each year. Whether we’re with friends and family or just on our own, here are a few of our family traditions:

    • We love having fun with sparklers around outside
    • The kids don’t always enjoy this, but we love a NYE raclette party – a stinky yet delicious melted cheese from the Alps that is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve all throughout Europe, but especially in Germany.

     

    • In the German tradition, we watch the completely inappropriate British one-act play called Dinner for One. Originally recorded in 1963, the story features two British comedians who re-enact the birthday celebration of Miss Sophie. In this play, she turns 90 and all of her friends have died, but the play is so funny that I cry every time we watch it. I think my kids know it by heart, we have watched it so many times. 

     

    • Of course, we have to watch the ball drop in Time’s Square, too.
    • Toasting with sparkling grape juice is totally necessary. 
    • Big muah kisses are a must. <3



    If you’re looking for a few more ideas for fun things to do with your family on New Year’s Eve, I hope you will enjoy this list of options we’ve put together for you!

    Don’t Miss These New Year’s Eve Games for Family Parties

    New Year's Eve Games for Family Parties

    I can't believe that in a few short weeks we will ring in another new decade! My 15 year old said the other day that will will be her third decade already!

    Not full decades of course, but it will be the third decade that she has been around for at least a while! I'm not even going to admit how many decades that makes for me... LOL!

    If you're looking for a fun way to spend New Year's Eve with your family, we've got you covered!

    From crafts, to games, making your own time capsule with printables, NYE recipes and more - this list will help you celebrate the best New Years yet with your kids!

    What are some of your favorite friendly New Year’s Eve activities?

    family friendly new year's eve activities

    From Scratch and Delicious Instant Pot Lasagna Soup

     Want all the fresh from-scratch lasagna flavors in a fraction of the time? Try delicious and hearty instant pot lasagna soup, one of my favorite one-pot meals on the table in about 30 minutes.

    lasagna soup made in the instant pot

    From Scratch and Delicious Instant Pot Lasagna Soup

    At 6 pm the other night, my kids said they wanted me to make lasagna for dinner. I love making lasagna, but it’s not a meal I can start at 6 pm if I want to feed my family before 8 pm. While I can’t make lasagna from scratch in a hurry, I can make a quick lasagna soup in my instant pot! 

    I know what you might be thinking. Lasagna does not sound good as a soup, Michelle. I understand where you’re coming from, but please believe when I say this is absolutely delicious. Even my super skeptical kids actually like this soup. 

    In fact, my eldest daughter even said she thinks it taste like Chef Boyardee canned raviolis. You know what? I’ll take it. LOL!

    I love that Instant Pot lasagna soup is a quick and easy meal I can make in a hurry! It’s hearty, delicious, and filling. If you want all the flavors of lasagna from scratch, but don’t have the time on hand to make it happen, try this delicious instant pot recipe instead!

    delicious and easy instant pot lasagna soup

    Let’s Make this One Pot Lasagna Soup in the Instant Pot


    Put the oil in your instant pot and heat it using the sauté function. Once it’s hot, add beef and cook until it’s mostly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes longer until the onion is fragrant and translucent.

    If possible, I recommend using organic ground beef. I source mine from a farmer right down the road, but if you aren’t that lucky, I highly recommend checking out Butcher Box. I’ve personally tried Butcher Box and think it’s a great way to get 100% grass-fed beef, heritage breed pork, and free-range organic chicken delivered right to your door! Use my affiliate link to get free bacon for life

    I use my 8-qt Instant Pot for all my recipes. I used to have a smaller 6 QT version, but I love the 8 qt even more. For my family of six, it just gives me a little more capacity.

    Now add chicken broth, tomatoes, seasoning, and noodles. You can cancel the sauté function first if you want, but I leave it on as it helps heat everything up before I start the pressure cooking.

    Lasagna Soup - easy one pot meal from SimplifyLiveLove.com

    What type of noodles works best in lasagna soup?

    For the noodles, I recommend breaking up lasagna noodles, or using any thicker noodles – rotini etc – that takes at least ten minutes to cook. Don’t use quick cooking noodles or they will over-cook in the instant pot and turn to mush. That’s a yucky thing to have happen.

    Stir to combine. Put the lid on the instant pot, lock into place, and make sure the pressure valve is set to sealing. Cook on manual high for four minutes. It will take about 15 minute for the pressure cooker to come to pressure.

    lasagna soup in bowls

    While the noodles are cooking, mix the cheeses together in a separate bowl. Spoon desired amount into soup bowls, top with soup and enjoy all the goodness of lasagna in about twenty more minutes!

    After the 4 minutes are up, naturally release pressure for 5 minutes, then manually release the rest.

    Carefully open the instant pot. Ladle soup into bowls and add a couple tablespoons of the cheese mixture, and enjoy!


    best ever lasagna soup

    Yield: 8

    Hearty & Delicious Instant Pot Lasagna Soup

    Hearty & Delicious Instant Pot Lasagna Soup

    Quick, easy, and delicious one pot meal made right in your instant pot- on your table in about 30 minutes.

    Prep Time 5 minutes
    Cook Time 10 minutes
    Additional Time 15 minutes
    Total Time 30 minutes

    Ingredients

    • 1 tablespoon high heat oil, avocado oil is my go-to
    • 1 pound ground meat, ground beef or Italian sausage or a mix of the 2
    • ½ yellow onion, diced
    • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
    • 6 cups chicken broth
    • 1 14.5 ounce can tomato sauce
    • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
    • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (ketchup works in a pinch too!)
    • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1 teaspoon dried basil
    • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
    • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • ½ teaspoon pepper
    • 8 ounces noodles

    Cheese Filling

    • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
    • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
    • shredded mozzarella cheese, if desired.

    Instructions

    Heat oil using sauté function of instant pot, then add beef. Cook until mostly browned, about 5 minutes.

    Add onions and garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes.

    Drain off excess grease, then add all remaining ingredients except the cheese.

    Lock the lid on place, make sure the pressure valve is set to vent, then cook on manual high for 4 minutes.

    Naturally release pressure for 5 minutes, then manually release remaining pressure.

    Carefully open lid away from you so any steam doesn't hit you in the face.

    Pour soup into bowls and add 1-2 tablespoons cheese mixture.

    Grate fresh parmesan cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.

    Enjoy!

    Notes

    If you'd like, you can use a jar of marinara sauce instead of the tomatoes. You might want to reduce amount the seasoning if you do that.

    You can also use cottage cheese in place of the ricotta cheese if you want.

    Nutrition Information:

    Yield:

    8

    Serving Size:

    1

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 436Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 92mgSodium: 1493mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 33g
    Nutritional data is not always correct and varies depending on how much cheese you put in each serving.
    If looking for more instant pot recipes? Here are a few of my favorites!

    More Instant Pot Recipes You Will Love

    Have you tried lasagna soup? What do you think?

    Keep Your Poinsettias Beautiful All Season with These Tips!

    Wondering how to take care of your poinsettia plants this holiday season? These five poinsettia care tips for growing poinsettias indoors will help you keep your lovely Christmas flowers looking beautiful all season long.

    5 Must Know Tips for Growing Poinsettias Indoors

    Keep Your Poinsettias Beautiful All Season with These Tips!

    What is a poinsettia?

    Poinsettias are striking plants best known for their green and red foliage and the striking Christmas displays they’re used in. Indigenous to Guatemala and Mexico, the scientific name is euphorbia pulcherrima. 

    Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous to people and only mildly toxic to dogs and cats.

    Selective breeding means poinsettias now come in all kinds of beautiful colors, from deep reds to beautiful pinks and stunning whites. They are beautiful to use in all kinds of decor.

    How to Take Care of Poinsettia Plants

    I love poinsettias during Christmas time, but I have had a horrible track record of keeping them alive. If you’re wondering how to keep your own poinsettias alive during the winter months, you need these tips too!

    Buy a healthy plant

    You can probably tell if the plant is healthy just by looking at it. Choose a plant that has vibrant green leaves with no brown spots. You’ll want to get a plant with open flowers as poinsettias bloom very slowly. You’ll also want to make sure the flowers are bright and pretty looking.

    Keep Your Poinsettias Beautiful with these 5 Must Know Tips

    Don’t let it get cold during transport from store to house

    Poinsettias are very susceptible to cold. If you buy a plant during cold weather, make sure you cover it with a bag before you take it outside to keep it from getting shocked. Also, it’s important that you don’t leave it in an unheated car. 

    If you have a lot of errands to run, make sure you pick up the poinsettia last and take it straight home. It’s better for the plant to take the bag off as soon as possible.

    Poinsettias make their debut around Thanksgiving and they prefer temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees. Higher nighttime temperatures will cause their leaves to turn yellow and fall off. Temperatures 55 degrees and under will also cause them to lose their leaves.

    Watering and fertilizing a poinsettia

    Over-watering is often the number one killer of poinsettias so make sure you let the soil dry to the touch between watering. When the soil feels dry, it’s time to water. Make sure to plant poinsettias in pots with draining holes! 

    It’s important to allow the water to drain completely from the plant to prevent root rot. Check to the bottom of the dish and empty any excess water so your plants aren’t sitting in water for days on end. Poinsettias also like humidity, so if your house is dry, you might want to give them frequent mists of water.

    Do not fertilize poinsettias while they’re blooming, but if you want to make them last between until the next year, you will have to fertilize after they’re done blooming. Any high quality all purpose fertilizer should be fine, but stop fertilizing while the flowers are blooming.

    5 Must Know Tips for Growing Poinsettias Indoors

    Poinsettias need bright light

    Growing poinsettias indoors is not hard, but they need a lot of light. The best place to keep them is near a south facing sunny window. If you notice your poinsettia turning light green, you’ll want to move the plant to a spot that gets more light. It should also be kept relatively warm, with ideal temperatures in the 60-70 degree range.

    Protect poinsettias from drafts in your home

    Poinsettias are tropical plants and as such are very susceptible to cold drafts.  Make sure that no part of it touches a cold window. You’ll also want to keep it away from a furnace vent or a fireplace as well.

    Want to try to save your poinsettias until next year?

    If you’d like to try your hand at keeping your poinsettias alive for several years, here are a few tips:

    Keep them alive by keeping them in a sunny location and continuing to water as described above. They’ll still need that humid environment they needed during the holidays. You’ll also need to fertilize them lightly in the spring and fall. Don’t be alarmed if they turn completely green during this time. 

    To restore their holiday colors, they’ll need at least 14 hours of complete darkness at night for eight weeks before you want them to bloom. If you want blooming poinsettias at the end of November, that means they need 14 hours of complete darkness starting at the end of September. Read more about turning your  poinsettias red again here.

    And that’s it! Follow these steps and you should have beautiful poinsettias until Valentine’s Day and maybe even beyond.

    Grow Beautiful Poinsettias with these 5 Must Know Tips

    If you follow these poinsettia care instructions each year, your flowers will shine at home! Now the big question is, what do you do with your beautiful flowers after the holidays?

    If you liked this post on growing poinsettias indoors, you might like these posts too:

    Start a Family Tradition by Cutting Down Christmas Tree at these Iowa Tree Farms

    10 Healthier Christmas Cookie Recipes – Refined Sugar Free

    Homemade Christmas Decorations made with Natural Items

    DIY Christmas Gifts for the Entire Family

    12 Best House Plants that are hard to kill

     

    Create Show Stopping Planters + How to Care For Succulents Indoors

    Create show-stopping succulent planters and learn how to care for succulents indoors with these tips for potting soil, sunlight, watering, and more! If you’d like to learn how to care for succulents, my quick and easy tips will help them thrive in your home too!growing succulents indoors

    My grandma used to grow the most beautiful plants and they make a lovely addition to my own home now. One of the funnest things for me is seeing my kids also getting interested in them. My eldest daughter has a lovely collection in her room and has started propagating them too.

    These types of plants have really grown in popularity the last few years because they are just so versatile and easy to take care of!

    How to Care For Succulents Indoors & Create Show Stopping Planters

    Some people think they’re are hard to take care of, but I think the opposite is actually true. If you live in an area that gets cold in the winter, you will need to bring them indoors during the winter but can put them outdoors in spring and summer.  

    Growing succulents in your home is not hard if you follow these tips for potting soil, sunlight, and watering. 


    Potting Soil for Succulents

    Getting the right potting soil is very important. Many succulents that you buy in nurseries are planted in thick soil which retains a lot of moisture. Since they don’t need so much water, make sure to use the proper soil once you get them home.

    When you bring your plant home, transfer it to a pot with a coarse potting mix or well draining soil to facilitate better drainage and aeration. Succulents planted in the right potting soil will do so much better!

    Specially made soil for cactus and succulents that you can find at Home Depot or the local nursery work really well. I also recommend adding pumice to your potting mix to avoid compaction and have better drainage.

    Remember to wet the soil mix a little bit before transplanting to evenly distribute moisture throughout your container. This little tip will help your succulents thrive.

    Sunlight is so Important!

    Your plants will be happiest in a south facing window that gets at least six hours of sun every day. If you don’t have a south facing window, east facing windows also provide nice light. 

    You can tell they might not be getting if enough light if you notice thinning or see them extending toward the light. If you notice these signs, consider finding a new home for your indoor succulents so they can get more sun exposure. 

    Watering Your Plant

    You do not need to water these indoor plants a lot. Remember, they are originally desert plants and overwatering can kill your succulent. Wait to water your succulents until the soil is drying, usually no more than once per week.

    Now that you know how to care for succulents, here are tips for creating beautiful indoor planters!

    colorful succulents

    Want to Grow Succulents Indoors in Planters?

    Indoor succulent planters are perfect for so many people. Now that you know how to care for succulents, here are a few things to consider for growing them in planters. Not only are they lovely outside, but they are also great inside too. 

    Containers for Indoor Succulent Gardens

    Many containers make beautiful homes for succulents. I’ve used terra cotta, milk glass, mason jars, cans – there are so many options. The most important consideration when it comes to containers is drainage.

    It’s best to use containers with drainage holes. Also you will want to choose a container that is at least 1-2 inches larger than its original container from the nursery. 

    I love lots of pots I love that don’t have drainage holes, so if you’re like me, you will either want to drill drainage holes, or add rocks to the bottom of your containers so the water will drain without holes.

    If you do use glass jars as containers pay attention to the roots. Technically, glass containers are not not advisable for long-term use because often the roots rot. I personally have used lots of glass type containers for succulents without issues, but I always make sure to add rocks to help with drainage.

    beautiful succulent container garden

    Trailing succulents add a lot of visual interest in your indoor planters

    Trailing succulents are lots of fun too! If you want to add interest to your succulent planters, add trailing varieties like String of Bananas or String of Pearls. 

    Always be sure to check the labels that come with the plant so you’ll have an idea about their sunlight needs, size, and growth spread of your juicy new succulents.

    Need Succulents for Shady Spots?

    If you want to place a succulent in a dark and shaded corner of your home, you may want to consider getting a plant that can handle low light. Mother-in-law’s tongue can be the perfect plant for a shaded region at home. Hens and Chicks and aloe also do well in shade. One of my favorite succulents is called Saucer Plant and it does well in the shade too.

    Where to Buy Succulents

    Succulents are gaining in popularity, but they can still be a little tricky to find. I have found them at places like ALDI, Lowes, and seasonal garden centers, but we also love succulent subscription boxes. Do you have a favorite place to buy succulents?

    What’s your favorite succulent or succulent planter container? I’d love to hear!

    If you liked this post on how to care for succulents, you might like these posts as well:

    The 12 Best House Plants that You Can’t Kill

    5 Minute Succulent Garden Gift

    Succulent Container Garden DIY

    Colorful Shade Loving Perennials for Show Stopping Containers

    Everything You Need to Know About Hosting a Raclette Dinner Party at Home

    A raclette dinner party is a true experience every cheese lover should have! If you’d like to host a raclette dinner party at home, here’s everything you need to know: what it is, where to buy it, what to serve with it, and how to get your kids to eat it! You won’t regret enjoying a raclette dinner this holiday season!

    raclette dinner spread

    Everything You Need to Know About Hosting a Raclette Dinner Party at Home

    My mother likes to tell the story of the first time our family had raclette. We had been skiing in Switzerland and the hotel we were staying at had raclette night. They weren’t cooking anything that night other than the traditional Swiss dish featuring melted cheese: raclette. My dad says there was a huge wheel of raclette that was put under a broiler in the middle of the restaurant. 

    raclette cheese dinner party

    As soon as the top layer of cheese was melted, servers would swing the wheel of cheese out from under the broiler, scrape off the top layer, and run it out to the waiting restaurant patrons. It took hours to eat the meal and the servers really got a work out on raclette night.

    That night we were served raclette I probably really threw a fit. I really didn’t like cheese at that time – especially cheese that I thought smelled bad! The restaurant owner promised me that if I tried it and didn’t like it, he would cook me a steak.

    Remember, they weren’t serving anything other than stinky cheese at the restaurant that night. Well, I ended up with a steak. I’m only glad I can’t really remember that, because it’s a little embarrassing to admit now. I may or may not have been  a slightly bratty child. LOL!

    raclette cheese from aldi

    What is Raclette Cheese?

    Raclette is a semi-hard cheese made from cow’s milk and usually sold in a wheel or a block. It’s very popular in Switzerland, Germany, France, and Austria. I think of raclette as an upgraded cheese fondue.

    Originally from the Alps, the word raclette comes from the French word meaning “to scrape.” Raclette dinner parties are all the rage in Europe and raclette nights are hours long affairs best enjoyed with dear friends and family.

    The cheese is usually melted via a table top grill or over an open fire, and served over boiled potatoes. It’s a meal fun to serve on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.

    Many counties have their own version of the cheese, which my kids also think is a stinky cheese. Depending on the country of origin, this cheese can have quite a strong smell, which some people pretty bad. Don’t let that smell fool you though, the cheese is so so delicious!

    I find Swiss Raclette to have the strongest flavor, and also the strongest smell. When I was a kid, I hated raclette night with a passion. When my mother would serve up raclette to friends, I would leave the house for the weekend. Granted, I did not like cheese when I was young, and the smell really made me sick.

    raclette cheese

    Where to buy raclette?

    Raclette can be purchased at your local grocery store deli counter. I always find it seasonally at ALDI and Trader Joe’s, and you can even order it online at Amazon. I prefer to buy the pre-sliced cheese instead of the wheel because my raclette grill heats slices. If you have a fancy raclette melter that melts cheese from the wheel, buy it by the wheel instead!

    It’s on the pricy side, around $10 + per pound


    What’s the best raclette grill?

    The best grill will depend on a number of factors: how many people are you serving? Do you want to have the ability to grill vegetables too? Do you want to cook slices of raclette, or scrape the melted cheese off a wheel?

    I have a teeny tiny Boska Raclette grill for two. It’s fine for my husband and I, but it is much too slow if we want to include other people in our dinner party. I haven’t used this one yet, but when I upgrade to a larger grill, I think I will go with this Swissmar Raclette Grill for 8.

    scraping melted raclette cheese onto a plate

    How much raclette cheese do you need per person?

    If you’re serving a traditional raclette cheese dinner, you’ll want to have 1/3 to 1/2 pound on hand per person. So, for an 8-person dinner party, you’ll want 3-4 pounds of raclette cheese.

    potatoes with melted cheese dinner

    What should I serve with raclette?

    Traditional accompaniments to the cheese include cured meats like salami and prosciutto, pickled gherkins, crusty bread, and white wine.  It’s fun to have vegetables like mushrooms and onions to cook on the grill. We’ve also served raclette with shrimp, a nice salad, crusty bread, and good wine. Fresh fruit is also a good side!

    White wine pairs better with cheese, but I prefer a dry red, so that’s what we have! Don’t forget the wine – but you do you!

    Can you freeze raclette?

    Yes, cheese actually freezes quite well. Just make sure to wrap it tightly (maybe even vacuum seal it) to prevent freezer burn. Thaw it overnight in the fridge or for a couple hours on the counter. It should still melt just fine.

    Will kids eat raclette?

    If your kids are put off by stinky cheese, this might not be the meal for them. No matter how good the cheese tastes, sometimes it’s just hard to get past the overpowering stench that is raclette. There’s really no sugar-coating it. The raclette smell can be powerful! It might be a good idea to have a less stinky option for kids like gruyere or emmentaler cheese. 

    You can also try to find a milder form of raclette for the kiddos. German raclette is not as overpowering as Swiss or French raclette, for example.

    If you’re hosting a raclette dinner party at home, serve these side dishes too:

    Pear & Pecan Salad with Parmesan Crips

    Rainbow Fruit Platter with Homemade Dip

    Fresh Veggie Tray

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on raclette cheese? Have you tried it? Have you ever hosted a raclette dinner party? Let me know in the comments!