Giving back at Ronald McDonald House Tampa

Started my 38th trip around the sun volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House with this group of amazing people! 

These people are the real deal. Kind, smart, funny, and most of all, selfless. When I started talking about getting a group together to volunteer our time at the Ronald McDonald House here in Tampa as a way to celebrate my birthday, they all said “yes!” without a second thought. And yes… we made cupcakes… and YES I had one, of course. It was my birthday after all! 😉


I started volunteering at the Tampa location of the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) way back in once upon a time, time (1995) with my mom and some high school friends. Since then, we have returned as often as possible to cook a meal for the families staying at the house. The last 5 years I have visited the house almost monthly with my best girlfriends, blogger buddies, family, and my husband to give back. 

From the website: What began as one family’s misfortune became good fortune for millions of families worldwide. In 1974, Kim Hill, the 3-year old daughter of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill, was diagnosed with leukemia. During Kim’s three years of treatment, Fred and his wife Fran often camped out on hospital chairs and benches and ate makeshift meals out of vending machines. The Hills watched other parents around them doing the same thing. They learned that many of the families traveled great distances to bring their children to the hospital, but couldn’t afford hotel rooms. The Hills began to think that there had to be a solution. Fred rallied the support of his Eagles teammates to raise funds and help other families experiencing the same emotional and financial traumas as his own. Through Jim Murray, the Eagles’ general manager, the team offered its support to Dr. Audrey Evans, head of the pediatric oncology unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Evans dreamed of a home-like temporary residence for families of children being treated at her hospital. Together, they created the first Ronald McDonald House. That first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974. By 1979, ten more Houses had opened. By 1984, McDonald’s restaurants and local communities founded 60 more Houses; then 53 more opened by 1989. Today, there are 286 Ronald McDonald Houses in 35 countries around the world.

Ronald McDonald House provides a “home-away-from-home” for families with children receiving medical treatment in area hospitals. Between the houses in both Tampa and St. Pete, 80 bedrooms with private baths are offered to families whose children are receiving treatment away from home for days, months or even longer, for little to no cost. The Ronald McDonald House offers families a way to continue to be together, even when far from home. The Houses are all located near local hospitals; most within walking distance. Each house offers home cooked meals, private bedrooms, computer rooms, play areas, laundry rooms, and indoor/outdoor areas for watching television, relaxing or reading. The Ronald McDonald House runs solely on donations and volunteers. Although families are asked to donate toward their stay, they are never turned away for the inability to do so. 

There are so many ways to volunteer at RMH. They’re always looking for house volunteers, including people willing to help prepare home cooked meals at their kitchen. Here’s how it works (for the Tampa location of the RMH):

  1. Visit Take Them A Meal.
  2. In the center of the page you’ll see a section labeled “FIND”. Type “tampa” where it says recipient last name, and “meal” where it says password.  
  3. Once you are logged in you will see directions for preparing or donating a meal at the Tampa location of the house (directions for other Tampa Bay RMH locations can be found here.)
  4. Once you have reviewed the directions, scroll down and you will see a list of available dates to provide meals and which dates are already booked. When you find a date that fits your schedule, click “Take”, then fill in the form. You don’t need to know what you are cooking in advanced and can put “TBD” when asked about the meal. You are required to cook the entire meal at the RMH kitchen and cannot prepare anything at home in advanced. The only exception is if you choose to donate pre-made items purchased at a grocery store or catered from a restaurant (like rotisserie chickens). You will receive a confirmation email when you book a date, and the day before you are scheduled to be at the house. 
  5. Once you have booked a date, now it’s time to recruit a group to help! Because you will be preparing a home-cooked meal for 20-25 guests that are staying at the RMH, you can bring up to 10 friends to help you. I usually create a Facebook event to recruit people to join me and to help stay organized. Volunteers must be 14+ and accompanied by an adult 21+. 
  6. Volunteers are required to provide all the ingredients to create the meal. I typically will decide on what to make, and then post a “shopping list” in my Facebook event so that people can sign up to bring 2-3 items each as a donation. You can also choose to collect $ from each friend who is helping to cook then have 1 person do all of the shopping. The house receives MANY pasta/taco type of dishes, so if possible, think of something else to make. I can help you brainstorm some things we have made in the past that were a hit. The kitchen is fully stocked with seasonings, oils, eggs, milk, utensils, pans, dishes and other essential tools for meal prep. The kitchen is also equipped with two commercial sized refrigerators and freezers, two ovens, 2 stovetops, 2 dishwashers, and 2 deep sinks. Volunteers are also responsible for cleaning up after the meal is done. 
  7. Dinner is typically served between 5pm-6pm, so dinner should be hot and ready to be served between then. Although the website says 6-6:30pm, I often find that families come a bit earlier to take food back to the hospital, so I typically aim for dinner to be ready to go by 5pm. There are crock pots available to keep things warm. I typically arrive between 2-3pm to begin cooking. Although not required, you are welcome to stay and help serve the families as they come through. Additionally, as you’re cooking, families who are staying at the house might stop by to smell what’s going on. This is a great time to get a chance to interact with them and see the appreciation they have for the hard work and time you’ve put in to prepping a home cooked meal for them. It’s an extremely rewarding experience!

Additional information: The house is located on Davis Island, at 35 Columbia Drive, right behind Tampa General Hospital. You can park anywhere you see a space designated “RMH permit parking” outside of the house. To enter, ring the doorbell and a volunteer will let you in. If this is your first visit to the house, the desk volunteer will give you a tour of the kitchen so that you know where everything is. 

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out! I would be happy to help you!
Steph 🙂

Easy oven baked ribs

I can’t recall the first time I had ribs. 
But I remember NOT liking them.

I’m not much of a “eating meat off the bone” kind of lady, so gnawing on chicken wings, T-bone steaks, and ribs just isn’t my thing.

But then, I decided to play around with making a version at home and that’s when these delicious, tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs came into my life. 

And I was forever changed. 

These ribs are totally fool-proof, can be whipped up on a slow-paced Sunday afternoon, and are definitely a crowd-pleasing dish. You can serve the alongside a dollop of potato salad, or remove from the bone and serve over a bowl of creamy polenta. Mmmmmmmmm……..

The best news? If you omit any bbq sauce, these ribs are Paleo and low carb! Here’s the recipe! 

Foolproof ribs
Serves 2
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
3 hr 30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
3 hr 30 min
  1. 1 full rack of pork baby back ribs
  2. 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  3. 2 tbsp. sea salt
  4. 1 tbsp. black pepper
  5. 1 tsp. red pepper flake (optional if you don't like heat)
  6. 2 tbsp. garlic powder
  7. 1 tbsp. onion powder
  8. 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  9. 1 tsp. chipotle powder
  10. 1 tbsp. liquid smoke
  11. the juice of 1 lime
  12. **Optional- your favorite bbq sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 250(F).
For the rub
  1. Combine all of the seasonings together with the liquid smoke, lime juice, and coconut sugar. Mix with a fork until well combined. Set aside.
Prep the ribs
  1. On the back of the ribs there is a thin membrane to remove before cooking. I usually run a sharp knife down the enter length of the back of the ribs, then use a spoon to tuck under the white membrane and peel off. I usually use a knife to pry up a corner of the membrane, then I just pull it down the entire length of the ribs. It's ok if it tears, just find a new spot and repeat the spoon method again until it's all removed.
  2. When the membrane is removed, rinse the ribs and pat dry.
  3. Massage the rub on the front and back of the ribs. Wrap loosely but completely in foil, place on a sheet tray and bake at 275 for 3 hours. No peeking!
  4. At 3 hours, unwrap the ribs and turn up the oven to 350. Bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. **If you like your ribs saucy, this would be the time to baste your ribs with your favorite bbq sauce.
  5. Finish outside on the grill to ensure a crispy exterior, or broil an additional 5 minutes on high heat watching carefully not to burn the ribs. Enjoy!


Oat Flour Pancakes

I first saw pancakes made with oat flour (ground up oatmeal!) a few years ago. I remember trying them and being floored at just how delicious they were! I made them so much that I kinda grew tired of pancakes! (I know what you’re thinking- how? HOW?!).

Until today. 

These fluffy flapjacks are gluten free, refined sugar free and full of flavor! Here’s the recipe: Continue reading


Chipotle sweet potato fries with Chimichurri aioli

Happy Memorial Day!

I hope you are having a restful long weekend celebrating with family and friends, and remembering those who lost their lives for the freedom to do so. <3

Whether you are looking for something to whip up this afternoon to go alongside your grilled burgers or steaks, or if you would like to bookmark this recipe for the future, these sweet potato fries are going to be a HIT whenever you make them!

They are spicy and flavorful and are a perfect, PERFECT match to my cool chimichurri aioli dipping sauce. 

Not a fan of spice? Feel free to half the amount of chipotle or cayenne pepper in the coating. They will still be delicious! Continue reading


Nashville Hot Chicken

A few weeks ago I was in Nashville for work. We are currently supporting 13 rural districts in Western Tennessee as they develop a beginning teacher mentoring program in conjunction with the University of Tennessee Martin. 

Martin, TN is about 2.5 hours from Nashville, so my co-worker and I typically fly into Nashville, rent a car and drive to Martin the day before our first day of presenting to the mentors. We will stay in Martin for two days, then drive back to Nashville after the 2nd day of professional development. Because we end around 4pm, by the time we make the drive back to Nashville, it’s usually too late to catch a flight back home so we’ll stay the night and fly early the next morning. Continue reading


Healthy cooking for beginners

Out of all the searches that drive readers to my blog, the top search phrase has always been “healthy cooking for beginners”. I get a LOT of questions about how to meal plan, how to shop and how to cook. I’ve had people tell me that their eating habits are horrible because they “can’t cook”, and resort to pre-packaged foods, fast food and dining out. I’ve heard this on the blog, social media and even in person. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that healthy cooking is EASY. No seriously, I promise! Here are my tips for getting started in a healthy meal prep routine… and making a habit of it!  Continue reading


Friendsgiving brunch with my favorite chicas

As you know, I have a sweet love and appreciation for Thanksgiving- a time that is strictly about family and friends, traditions, togetherness, and of course, the star of the show… food.

On Thursday, a big group of my family and friends will be coming together share our Thanksgiving meal. But I wanted to carve out some time with my nearest and dearest girlfriends before the big day to share a meal, and give thanks for the deep friendships and bonds we have formed through the years. 15181257_10154803736137474_2165906126094205104_n Continue reading


Delicious baking & snacking with Simple Mills! #Giveaway

#Brought to you through a partnership with Simple Mills and Orangespoken. I was provided compensation in the form of product for this post and giveaway. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

A few months ago I was wander the aisles of my local Fresh Market when something caught my eye in the baking mixes section. B0176XXD8E_LEFT_jpg_1024x1024

Almond flour cake mix? Made with just 6 simple Paleo-friendly, gluten-free ingredients including coconut sugar? 

It was too good to be true.  Continue reading