A Menu of Quick-to-the-Table Themed Lunches and Easy Side Dishes

From Our House to Yours

A menu of quick-to-the table themed lunches and easy side dishes helps simplify our homeschooling life! In this Heart of Dakota series, we continue describing a ‘day in the life’ of using Resurrection to Reformation (RTR) and World History (WH). First, I shared our take on homework. Second, I shared our waking up to homeschool routine. Third, I shared our morning chores and breakfast routine.  Fourth, I shared how we rotate teacher-directed and independent blocks of time between breakfast and lunch. Today, I will share about how a planned menu of quick-to-the-table themed lunches and easy side dishes makes lunch a piece of cake!

Quick-to-the-Table Lunches That Follow a Theme

Through the past 17 years of homeschooling, I have found it is a huge help to have a set quick-to-the-table lunch menu. Some years I have had just 5 quick meal options planned, one for each day Monday through Friday. However, other years I have had a variety of quick-to-the-table meals. This year I planned a theme for each day with several quick-to-the-table meal options. As a result, I have some choice in what I make, but I also have a planned menu. For example, Mondays are chicken, Tuesdays are sandwiches, Thursdays are beef, and Fridays are (mainly) soups. On the other hand, Wednesdays are for whatever didn’t fit neatly into a theme. No matter what, each item on the lunch menu must be easy to make and quick-to-the-table.

Easy Side Dishes That Are the Same Each Day

I like variety for the main quick-to-the-table meals for lunch, but I feel just the opposite about side dishes. I find it simpler to keep the side dishes the same, offering just a few choices. Likewise, I make sure to choose quick and easy side dishes. So no matter what I make for the main meal for lunch, the daily side dishes stay pretty much the same. I put an “*” beside each easy side dish to show it is meant to be a part of the menu daily. If I do note a choice of easy side dishes, I put “or” between the two choices. In general, I try to choose quick-t0-the-table and easy side dishes that include fruits and vegetables. I also include healthy easy side dishes like yogurt and string cheese.

Benefits of Having a Set Lunch Menu

There are many benefits to having a set quick-to-the-table lunch menu. First, I know there will be a variety of balanced meals with different meats, fruits, and vegetables. Second, I know what to keep constant on my grocery list, so I can make the list quickly. Third, I can point to the menu when my children ask what is for lunch, but I can also give some main meal options. Fourth, my children can step in and make lunch themselves if need be. Fifth, I always have what I need on hand because some options are frozen or canned. Sixth, I cross off each main quick-to-the-table meal as I make it, so I know what we’re eating. Seventh, I can more easily plan my meals for dinner because I know what we’re having for lunch. Try planning your own quick-to-the-table lunch menu! See if you like it!

Chicken Fries

Rotisserie Chicken

Salsa Chicken

*green beans

*yogurt parfait & granola or grapes

Tuna Sandwich

French Dips

Ham/Cheese Poppy Buns

Cold Ham Sandwiches

*Cheese stick or dill pickles

*carrot sticks, hummus

*cut apples

Mac & Cheese

Tuna Patties

All Beef Hot Dogs on Buns


*cheese stick

*applesauce cups or banana halves




*carrot sticks, guac

*black beans or refried beans


Tomato Basil Soup

Chili Soup


*Mozzarella sticks

*green beans

* pears or mandarin oranges

In Christ,


Keeping a Charlotte Mason-Inspired Common Place Book

More Than a Charlotte Mason Moment

Keeping a Charlotte Mason-Inspired “Common Place Book” in Heart of Dakota

Charlotte Mason kept a Common Place Book herself, and she encouraged her students to do so too. Notable literary figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens, Thomas Jefferson, and Shakespeare enjoyed keeping their own “Common Place Books” by carefully copying passages from classic literature. According to Ms. Mason, if accomplished literary figures such as this would keep “Common Place Books,” why wouldn’t we do so too? While “Common placing” is first and foremost considered a Charlotte Mason teaching method, it has its roots in simply being a personal habit that intelligent people have enjoyed for hundreds of years. At Heart of Dakota, we help children develop their own personal habit of creating a Charlotte Mason-inspired Common Place Book. In fact, we hope to inspire them to do so for life!

The Benefits of Keeping Common Place Book

A Common Place Book is unique because it is a special notebook for collecting and recording quotes, Scriptures, thoughts, and phrases that have deeper meaning and personally speak to you. Selecting inspirational quotes and thoughts from living books helps children slow down their reading pace to be more thoughtful and intentional. It encourages their minds to act upon the material, rather than to race through it thoughtlessly. When children choose and write inspirational quotes or thoughts in a Common Place Book, they connect more deeply with what has been read. They remember it better, and it becomes special to them because they have recorded it in their special book. Often times, children return to their Common Place Book just to enjoy reading past entries.

Charlotte Mason’s Thoughts on Keeping a Common Place Book

It is very helpful to read with a commonplace book or reading-diary, in which to put down any striking thought in your author, or your own impression of the work, or of any part of it; but not summaries of facts. Such a diary, carefully kept through life, should be exceedingly interesting as containing the intellectual history of the writer; besides, we never forget the book that we have made extracts from, and of which we have taken the trouble to write a short review. -Charlotte Mason (Volume 5, p. 260)

How Heart of Dakota Helps Children Learn to Keep a Common Place Book

Heart of Dakota helps children learn to keep a Common Place Book starting in Preparing Hearts. We begin by describing the Common Place Book in the “Introduction” of each of our guides. Students also need a Common Place Book for their copywork. A Common Place Book is often a bound composition book with lined pages. It provides a common place to copy anything that is timeless, memorable, or worthy of rereading. It is for copying text and not for original writing. Bible verses, classic poetry, and passages from excellent literature with beautiful or vivid wording are often included. Students will add to the Common Place Book throughout the year.

The Progression of Keeping a Common Place Book in Heart of Dakota

In Heart of Dakota, a Common Place Book is typically a bound composition book. Students use this book to keep (in a “common place”) quotes, excerpts from literature, Scripture verses, poetry, etc. that are worthy of being recorded and reread over time. While we do have in mind the traditional Charlotte Mason definition of a “Common Place Book,” to begin with in Preparing Hearts, we “help” children get an idea of things that are enduring and worthy of being copied in the book by assigning entries for them to make in their books throughout the year. Then, in the guides that follow Preparing, they  gain the task of selecting their own entries to make in their Common Place Book.

Keeping a Common Place Book in High School

In high school, students continue keeping a Common Place Book, selecting quotes or passages that are meaningful to them from their classic literature for inclusion in their book. Charlotte Mason advocated this practice throughout high school, and we agree it is an excellent use of students’ time as they watch for notable quotes or passages as they read, select from among them, and accurately copy them into their book for later reference. By the time students finish Heart of Dakota, they will have created their own special Common Place Books as keepsakes of what most inspired them, piqued their interest, or struck them as worthy enough to grace the pages of their own personal book. Heart of Dakota makes keeping a Common Place Book easy, as it is a part of our daily plans. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

In Christ,


Waking Up to Teach Resurrection to Reformation and World History

From Our House to Yours

A ‘Day in the Life’ Waking Up to Teach Resurrection to Reformation and World History

Homeschooling with multiple Heart of Dakota guides looks different in different homes! However, as I’m asked about this often, I’m doing a series describing a ‘day in the life’ of our family using Resurrection to Reformation (RTR) and World History (WH). Since it is easier to describe my day in segments, I began with how our ‘day’ actually starts the night before with homework. In this post, I’ll continue on with our ‘day’ by describing waking up to teach RTR and WH. While your days might look different, I hope this will still give you some ideas how you could most enjoy your own homeschooling! Often times, just a change or two can make all the difference!

First Things First

I love waking up to do my women’s devotional! My sons know how much I love Joyce Meyer, so they gave me her book Trusting God as a gift for Christmas. It is just perfect for this time of life for me! I spend about 15-30 minutes reading and journaling about my devotional. When I was a mom of babies and toddlers, I spent 5-10 minutes on devotions. If the baby had a bad night, I didn’t get my devotions done. So, as I share I love this time, know that you may be in a different stage of life, and that is okay. However, also know, spending time with God each day first thing in the morning – even if it is for 5 minutes – will be the best time spent all day. If you miss it, try not to feel guilty all day, rather talk with God throughout your day. He will love that time you spend with Him too!

What are the kids doing while I am doing my devotional?

While I am doing my devotional, the kids are doing their independent work. We set a time to get up for each of them. This time is based on how much work they have, how much of a morning person they are, and how much they can do on their own. Once my children reach high school, they usually get up earlier. They have more work to do, so getting up earlier leaves more free time in the afternoons and evenings. This is the case with Riley, my 10th grader in World History. Though he is not as much of a morning person, he chooses to get up at 6 AM. My oldest son doing online college gets up to do Geometry with him. They came up with this plan. (Though I love math, I’m apparently not so patient at teaching it.) Then, Riley does Spanish and Literature Study. Emmett, my 6th grader in RTR, gets up at 7 and hits snooze. Then, he really gets up at 7:10 AM to do his Bible Quiet Time.

Where is everyone while doing this?

You may wonder where everyone is while they are doing all of this. Well, I am in my bedroom, doing my devotional, thoroughly enjoying my first cup of coffee. Riley is partly in his bedroom and partly downstairs at the dining room table – his choice. He has proven himself to be responsible. Emmett is in his bedroom. This helps him stay on task, as he is just down the hall from me.

My Meeting Time with Wyatt

At 7:15 AM, I start my first meeting time in my room. I actually begin with Wyatt, my college-aged son. Though I am not teaching him anymore, I still love to talk with him about his college and the day ahead. We stay connected this way. We make plans for the day together. Appointments, HOD work, errands, and activities get coordinated quickly, as we figure out who is driving where and when. This is an informal time where we share many things. It is precious time to me.

My First Teacher-Directed Meeting Time with Emmett

Around 7:30 AM, I start my first teacher-directed meeting time with Emmett. First, we correct his Bible Quiet Time Hidden Treasures workbook. I ask him if he said his prayer, practiced his Scripture memory work, and sang with his CD. Every 4th day of each unit, I have him say all of his Scripture memory work for me. Then, we do the top right rotating box. Two times a week this is his parent-led Bible Study of Boyhood and Beyond, From Boy to Man, and What Is God’s Design for My Body? (completed in the year in that order). Once a week we do the RTR Poetry Study. Finally, once a week we do the RTR Looking at Pictures Charlotte Mason-inspired picture study. These are perfect subjects to enjoy in our pj’s in the comfort and privacy of my room! I check off all work as we correct it in the RTR guide. Then, Emmett goes to his room to get ready and study his dictation.

My First Teacher-Directed Meeting Time with Riley

Around 7:50 AM, I start my first teacher-directed meeting time with Riley. First, we correct his Bible Study’s written work. He reads his answers aloud to me from The Most Important Thing…, while I look at the answer key. Then, he has the option to show me his prayer journal or ‘flash’ it if he wants to keep it private. Last, depending on the WH plans, he says his Bible memory work for me or I ask if he sang his Selah hymn. Next, we go through his Literature Study box. We go through the Introduction question(s), he flashes me his annotations, and shows me his Common Place Book. Then, I have him read aloud his literature journal response, while I check off each question in his WH guide as he addresses it. Next, we correct his Spanish. He reads aloud his workbook answers, while I follow along in the answer key. Last, we go through his Living Library literary analysis sheet. Riley then heads off to do his Biology and chores independently.

My Second Teacher-Directed Meeting Time with Emmett

Around 8:10 AM, I have gotten coffee #2! Emmett and I do his dictation in my room. He has already made his bed, showered, and studied for his dictation, so this goes fairly quickly. As soon as we finish his dictation, we check it off in his guide. Then, we look at his Independent History, Rotating History/Shakespeare, and Reading About History boxes. He has until around 9:10 AM to do these, and we number them 1, 2, 3 in the guide in the order he wants to do them. He does these downstairs at his desk or on the couch in the living room. From 9:10 to 9:30 AM, he does his  morning chores.

Exercise, Getting Ready, Praise Music, and Breakfast

As Wyatt, Riley, and Emmett are doing their independent work, getting ready for the day, and doing their chores, I have time to do things too! From around 8:20 to 8:50 AM, I exercise. Then from 8:50 to 9:10 AM, I get ready for the day and make breakfast. Around 9:10 AM, Emmett starts a Christian praise music playlist. About this time, everyone is on to their chores, and I’m getting breakfast to the table. I love this time!  Christian music playing, everyone doing their thing, and all of us working together to do our part. People are humming, whistling, singing – we are happy while we work. I think the praise music sets the tone. Our homeschool days are quite cheerful! Not perfect. We still get cranky sometimes. We might oversleep sometimes. But the majority of the days follow this plan. So, we start our days feeling ‘ahead’ in our homeschooling.

In Closing

If you have little ones, these ideas might not all work. Little ones are less predictable and less independent. However, they have much less time they are homeschooling too. So, there is not the need to be quite as planned nor to homeschool as early. If you have some older children, you may enjoy trying these ideas with them. I love starting our day with a plan that still has us in our pj’s and cheerfully spending time together. I’ve also found I like to plan time to correct things that have been completed in our morning meeting times. Hope this helps you see one way of approaching homeschooling in the morning!

In Christ,


How should I handle the English credit for MTMM for 9th grade?

Pondering Placement

Question: My daughter will do MTMM as a 9th grader. I have it all figured out, except how should I handle the English credit?

I’ve been mapping out my 12 year old’s progression through Heart of Dakota. She’s in Resurrection to Reformation now. I am confident using Missions to Modern Marvels for 9th grade, except for the English credit. My daughter reads on grade level, but she has to work extra hard to do so. Until this year, I have read all her history, science, and a read aloud to her, while she read mainly historical fiction novels to herself with questions. This year she is reading most of history herself, science by herself, and the DITHOR books herself! She has a hard time with step-by-step directions, which we are working on. She has been apathetic in the past, not caring and only doing j.u.s.t. what was required of her. I just wondered what my options for English credit for MTMM for 9th grade might be?  Thanks in advance!

Carrie’s Reply:

It sounds like your daughter is making good gains this year in RTR. Looking ahead to MTMM’s English credit, you have several good options. To earn English credit you would need to combine the Rod and Staff English level your student is doing (English 6 is scheduled in MTMM, but is very advanced so we typically use it for 8th graders), plus the composition scheduled in MTMM (which is Write with the Best II – and is definitely high school worthy), plus the literature you choose to do. If you desired to keep the guides intact coming up, you would do Drawn into the Heart of Reading for your literature portion. You could use either the level 7/8 book pack or choose harder selections of your own. Either would work for grade 9. Together the grammar/composition/literature would equal one English credit for grade 9.

Or, you could borrow the literature from the guide ahead for another option.

If you borrow the literature from the guide ahead, the only potential problem is you may at times need to borrow the full English credit. This would be to keep needed balance. For MTMM, you could either use the writing program as written and borrow just the literature from World Geography, or if the composition and grammar from World Geography seemed a better fit than the composition and grammar in MTMM, then you could borrow those from World Geography too.  The following year you would borrow the literature from World History. Depending on what you did for composition and grammar the previous year, we would then decide whether to also borrow the grammar and composition from World History or use what was scheduled in World Geography.

You will want to consider how much your daughter is used to reading on her own each day when you make this decision.

One thing that will make a difference in how you handle literature will be how well your student does in this area and whether she is used to reading quite a volume on her own each day. There is quite a difference in volume between what is read for Drawn into the Heart of Reading and what is read for literature in the World Geography guide.  There is also a difference in level of difficulty, vocabulary, and in the level of literary analysis. So, you have several good options for literature for high school English credit!  Either will be fine, so just choose the one that fits your daughter best!


Follow-Up Response from Poster…

Thanks for helping me think this part through! I had two main reasons for switching to HOD. I fearfully decided to switch after 7 years with another curriculum. One was because my girls became very passive in their learning with our previous curriculum/style and the. The second reason was their relationship with the Lord. At 7-1/2 weeks in, I will say that both of my older daughters are not as passive, and they are engaging with the material more with HOD’s teaching! I was skeptical when seeing people rave about HOD, but now that we’ve dipped our feet in, I have become one that raves. Even if it is silently to myself, I am elated with how this is working for us. In fact, the girls beg me to switch totally over to HOD (which we will next year in Rev to Rev). Surprisingly, it’s not because it’s easier. On the contrary, it is much more challenging than before. It leads me to believe that the reason they want more is because they are interested and engaged. Bravo!!

Switching from AO to 3 HOD Guides and AO or HOD Books for DITHOR/Storytime?

Dear Carrie

How can I best switch from AO to 3 HOD Guides? Should I try to use my AO Books for DITHOR and Storytime?

I’m switching from Ambleside Online to Heart of Dakota. I need something laid out for me and with more handholding. I’ll be doing 3 different HOD guides. I’ll be using Saxon math with my children, and I’m pretty sure that will add time to the day. I’m thinking of using my AO books for Storytime and DITHOR, but matching them could be cumbersome! So, how can I make my day with 3 guides flow smoothly? How can I – or should I – use my AO books for Storytime/DITHOR? Or should I use HOD books instead? I guess those are my questions for now! We’re very excited to start this curriculum, and my children are really looking forward to crafts and experiments!


“Ms. Please Help Me Switch from AO to 3 HOD Guides”

Dear “Ms. Help Me Switch from AO to 3 HOD Guides,”

I will share a few things that will make your year go much better! First, let me begin by having you read a previous post. In this post, I shared about my own journey with Ambleside Online with my oldest son. The reason I share this is because it will help you better understand the suggestions I am going to make. Simply click here and scroll down to read my post.

By substituting AO titles for Storytime, you’ll miss important connections to history.

Now that I’ve qualified my next comments, I’m going to suggest you not spend time matching Ambleside Online’s books to Storytime. Storytime HOD books were chosen specifically for the age and listening level of the HOD guide. They were also chosen to add a needed element to the history study done at that time in the guide. Often Storytime books are scheduled to add another point of view or differing perspective. Or, they may be scheduled to bring to life a little known aspect of the time period that is needed to better understand it. Or, they may be chosen to bring forth a spiritual awareness of the time period and to bring the listener closer to the Lord, sharing ways of dealing with trials and tribulations in a God-honoring way. By substituting other titles, you’ll miss important connections that will bring your study of history to life!

Heart of Dakota books were specifically chosen to fulfill a special purpose within the curriculum.

I have one question for you to weigh before substituting an AO book. It is whether the book list from Ambleside Online is so exceptional that it needs to be substituted in place of HOD books that were specifically chosen to fulfill a special purpose for each part of the HOD curriculum. This is an important question! While I do feel that some of the AO books were very good (and we do use those books along the way within our curriculum), I was less sure of the stellar qualities of some of the other books we read through AO. Keep in mind that only some of the books on the AO list were actually ones selected by Charlotte Mason. Additionally, it’s good to note that Charlotte Mason did not have access to the wealth of reading material that we have available today.

Heart of Dakota is a mix of the old and the new! I spent much time sifting and sorting to find a good balance.

I do know from what I’ve read that Charlotte Mason spent extensive time choosing books each year for her students to read. That was where her focus always was! I think she might be surprised to discover that we aren’t using some of the newer wonderful book selections and instead are simply continuing to pick off of her older book lists! What we schedule within HOD books are a mix of the old and the new. We spend much time on the book selection process, sifting and sorting to find the very best mix. The emphasis is always on the books. If you try what we have scheduled I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

AO’s book selections require more time to process because they are consistently very difficult.

Through my years with AO, I found that the book selections were consistently very difficult. They required much time to process. While that was fine when doing only a few books each year as AO had scheduled, by the time we add in the volume and richness of the HOD program, to add an AO book on top of it would be expecting way too much. To do that would be replacing a book that was meant to function in one way with a book that was meant to function a different way in a different curriculum.

The less substituting you do, the more the program will function the way it was designed.

You will discover as you do HOD (and probably did discover as you did AO) that both of our guides are so much more than just a book list. They are a philosophy or a way of learning. While within AO, each book has a specific place and a specific purpose, the same is true within HOD. This means that the less substituting you do, the more the program will function the way it was designed. This makes for less stress and more enjoyment all the way around.

With DITHR, we are having the child think critically about the story, and if the reading is really difficult as well, the lessons become too hard too fast.

While you could use some of the free reads from AO with DITHR, I wouldn’t be very quick to plug too many of those titles into DITHR either. The books on the free reading list for AO are very advanced and often are scheduled way too young, in my opinion. Yes, the child may be able to read a book like that at the age suggested, but how much richer would his/her experience be with the book if he waited until he was a bit older?

Also, keep in mind that with DITHR we are having the child really think critically about the story and draw out connections and themes. This is not easy to do and if on top of that a really difficult book is added to read at the same time, the lessons will become too hard too fast. When using DITHR at first, it is better to error on the side of the book being too easy, rather than too hard, simply because of the extra mental work required to complete the DITHR exercises!

Some AO books are wonderful and are included in DITHR packs, but others have some issues.

Some of the AO books are wonderful, and as such we have included them within our DITHR packs already. But others on the AO list have issues, which we discovered as my older son was reading them. I found that simply being on the AO list did not guarantee that a book was great. It did not mean I could hand the book to my child without pre-reading! While you may potentially have some issues with HOD books as well, we make every effort within our guides to warn you of those upcoming issues. We hope to leave you with less or no pre-reading to do. I think you will also find that the balance of HOD books within our DITHR packs help your year with DITHR flow better, as the books are chosen to create an ebb and flow as to difficulty, length, and content throughout the year.

So, I’d encourage you to do HOD if you’ve decided to do HOD!

So, I would encourage you that if you have decided to do HOD, to do HOD. Try your best to stick with the suggestions and the scheduling we make. Make good use of your AO books for free-reading or family read aloud time, but don’t spend tons of time trying to plug them into an HOD guide.

I’d highly recommend sticking with the plans the way they are written as much as possible.

As far as teaching the guide goes, I would highly recommend sticking with the plans as close to the way they are written as possible. Routinely shifting boxes to other days or making a schedule that takes the plans apart will quickly result in losing both the flow and the ease of use of the guide. When we talk to families who have left HOD and then returned, they always share that they did too much substituting and too much moving of boxes and randomly moving through the guide. This seems to be a pitfall for those who aren’t successful with HOD. When families return, they often share with us their goal to stick much closer to the plans.

I suggest trying hard to complete a day of plans within a day to keep connections strong.

So, I suggest trying hard to complete a day of plans within a day. If you do have to slow down, split one day of plans over two days as needed. I’ve had to do this for seasons myself! But try not to move boxes from various parts of the plans to an extra day at the end. Each day is specifically written to make connections among the boxes of plans on that day. Moving boxes means the connections fall apart and the plans begin to feel random and fall apart too.

Teaching multiple guides is harder to do when you add or substitute resources, as precious teaching time is lost.

You can do 3 guides, as we have done 4 at our house for years. But, I have to honestly say I couldn’t have done 4 guides if I had done many of the things being pondered here. This is because adding and substituting resources takes time to plan, which often results in precious teaching time lost. It also means that no one can just open their guide and go for the day (including you). Moving boxes to different days takes time to plan and manage, and again now no one can just open their guide and know what to do today. It also makes the program feel random as the connections are lost. Adding a time intensive math program for multiple students will really add time to your day.

I would recommend using Singapore Math with your youngers if at all possible.

With this in mind, I would look carefully to see if any of your kiddos could benefit from Singapore math. It is easier to start a child in Singapore math when they are younger. Perhaps, you could do Singapore with your younger kiddos and just do Saxon with your older child or children. These are all things to consider, to keep your day manageable and your teaching time in line.

We do have many families using HOD successfully with different math or grammar programs; just bear in mind the time these changes add to your day.

Of course, you may feel differently and as the teacher you will need to make your own decisions. We do have many families successfully use HOD with a different math or grammar program. We do have families select their own books for DITHR and thrive with the program. You’ll just need to bear in mind how much time each of these changes are adding to your day or whether the substitutions are making your day go very long.

I want you to have every opportunity to enjoy HOD, so hopefully these thoughts will be a help to you!

I pray these thoughts will be of use to you as you ponder what is best for your family. I’ve learned the things I am sharing with you the hard way, in the trenches from years in the classroom and years schooling my own kiddos with HOD. I just want you to have every opportunity to enjoy HOD with your kiddos and not get overwhelmed.