Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a magical homeschool cafeteria, where someone else planned, cooked, and cleaned up meals? The reality is that homeschool families have to eat, and eat three times a day. Anything that happens three times a day, every day, should have a plan. Here are five easy ways to simplify meals for busy homeschool days:
1) Do-it-yourself breakfast and lunch, then cook dinner. That knocks out Mom cooking two meals, but who’s counting? Well, busy homeschooling Moms are. This little plan accomplishes several goals: kids learn their way around the kitchen, leftovers get used up, each person is responsible for cleaning his or her own meal preparation mess, and Mom’s brain is saved for other tasks besides planning three meals a day. Just make sure you provide the ingredients for favorite meals. We have eaten cereal for breakfast for the vast majority of our homeschool years. And our five-year-olds learned to stand on a chair and use the griddle to cook a quesadilla for lunch. Most of us underestimate the capabilities of children in the kitchen!
2) Make a simple rotating menu plan. I don’t know anybody who eats a different dinner every day for two months. Most families eat the same things over and over. If you plan three weeks’ worth of menus, that provides enough variety so that it probably won’t feel too repetitious. You can even change the three-week plan seasonally. This way you don’t have to rack your brain for “what to eat this week” at the grocery store. It will save you time and money. If you want to get fancy, make standard grocery lists for each week, and you’ll save even more. Get the family in on this. Assign high schoolers (or younger) to browse cooking magazines and be responsible to cook new dishes to throw in some variety to your plan.
3) Divide and conquer grocery shopping. Of course this only works if you have school-age children and not just toddlers. For many years I went to the grocery store alone if possible. Sometimes it was the only outing I got and was part of “Mom’s afternoon out.” Seven of our children are now grown and since family circumstances have changed, I take all five kids to the grocery store. We often eat a fast food supper as a treat, then divide up the list and spread out at the store. We actually have some fun with this and it takes far less time. I’m not the one pushing the heavy cart, loading the car or putting away groceries. Works for me.
4) Use the slow cooker as much as possible. Get a couple of inexpensive slow cooker recipe books or scour the internet for freebie recipes. Go through the recipes with a pencil and mark the ones to try. You know your family, and you know in your heart if they’re not going to like certain ingredients. You’re trying to make this easy, not prove anything. After you’ve tried the recipe, if it’s a winner mark it with a star or put it in the “yes” notebook of recipes. Then add the meal to your three-week rotation.
5) Do reasonable cooking ahead. I say “reasonable” because we have never once, in twenty-eight years of homeschooling, cooked a month’s worth of meals for the freezer. With twelve kids, a pastor’s weekly paycheck, a very tight budget, and small house, we had neither the time, space, nor resources for such an undertaking. The mere thought of it was too much for me. But we browned 10-15 pounds of hamburger at a time and froze it in baggies, made ham and cheese biscuits in bulk, and flash-froze fresh waffles on a pan and bagged them up for the freezer. We also cooked double amounts and froze the second meal. And our menu plans always include second uses for certain meals, such as chili one night, then enchilada casserole another night, using the leftover chili. Brainstorm with the kids and figure out doable ways to cook ahead or use leftovers.
There will be seasons of life when you are able to spend more time cooking, such as holidays and special occasions. The average homeschool week is probably not one of those seasons. Sit down with your family and figure out easy ways to simplify meals for busy homeschool days. This will look different for every family, and that’s okay. Don’t try to keep up with someone else’s idea of feeding the multitudes. We may think we’ll just go with the flow, but it will lessen stress to have a plan. Just keep it simple and realistic….and delicious!
How has your family simplified meals while homeschooling? Please share your tips!