Tips for Easy Meal Planning When Homeschooling
Mealtime Made Easy: Homeschool Edition
When you started homeschooling, chances are you were not thinking about food preparation. You were focused on curricula research, lesson planning, buying books, and all the academic stuff. Then you finally dig in to homeschooling and suddenly food preparation becomes a much bigger issue than you anticipated. Not handled properly, it can be a considerable source of daily stress.
Why is food prep challenging when you are homeschooling? Because food is so routine, we tend to underestimate the amount of work and forethought it takes to feed a family. When I used to plan my daily homeschool schedule, I’d simply write in “LUNCH” from 12:00-1:00 without much thought. I put a lot more thinking into how we were going to do math or history than how we were going to do lunch. But there was a lot that needs to be considered in that one hour space.
That little blurb that said “LUNCH” included all of the following—
- Deciding what I will make for lunch
- Actually making it
- Cleaning the dining area in preparation to eat (since schoolwork was usually done at the dining room table)
- Getting the kids together for prayer before meal
- Actually eating—including feeding myself!
- Cleaning up afterward
- Time for “recess” after eating
- Sneaking in some parent rest time before diving back into school
That’s a lot of stuff! In retrospect, I see I was naïve to think it would be easy to swing all this every day with zero planning and make it all fit in a tidy little hour. And, as any homeschooling veteran knows, there’s so many variables that can mess up your day and throw you off your schedule. You can have behavior issues. Or the kids all start clamoring for lunch earlier than you anticipated. Or you go to make lunch and you’re out of the ingredient you need. Or when lunchtime arrives, you’re too tired to make it. Or the dog made a mess on the carpet and you need to stop everything and clean it. Or any infinite number of other factors that throw a wrench into your plans. When this happens, you’ll find that feeding your kids takes a lot longer, pushes your day back considerably, and becomes a source of stress.
Does any of this sound familiar? It doesn’t always need to be this way! Let’s review some pointers on how you can take the edge off of meal time so it’s a more relaxing experience.
Plan Ahead With the Grocery List!
This is absolutely essential! Just take a half hour each week to sit down and plan what you want to make for lunches for the coming week. Shop with intentionality, so that you’re not left scrambling at the last minute. So much of the stress of food preparation is deciding what do make when kids are already hungry and asking to be fed. If you plan this out ahead, you won’t have those moments where you’re staring at an empty fridge wondering “What on earth can I make?” while a bunch of kids are yelling, “What’s for lunch!?” over your shoulder.
For those times when kids get the munchies, rather than handing them a pop tart or something sugary, keep a plate of fresh fruit, vegetables, and bread on the counter. When they need a snack midday they can just pick from the plate without you having to stop to make anything—and its healthier fare! Remember, too, that when the body processes sugar, there’s always a down time that comes later; kids who eat sugary snacks in the morning are drowsy and lethargic in the afternoon. Leaving a healthy snack tray out is the way to go!
The Crockpot (or Instant Pot) is Your Friend
Use a Crockpot o slow cook something that can be easily served when lunch time arrives. Crockpots are extremely versatile, allowing for a variety of dishes. Goulash, tchili, soup, bisque, ribs, shredded tacos, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, the list is endless! With a small bit of prep in the morning, by lunch you can have a full meal ready to go, and kids can self-serve.
Conversely, an Instant Pot will pressure cook something that needs to be cooked in a hurry. You don’t even have to defrost fozen meat first!
Paper Plates and Disposable Utensils
One of the most astonishing things about children is their ability to make a total mess really quick. Cleaning the kitchen and the dishes after lunch can be a time consuming chore, especially if you have a big family. While there’s no way to deal with feeding kids without some clean up, you can make things a little easier on yourself. Over the years I’ve noticed homeschool families (especially larger ones) using paper plates and disposable utensils for many meals. This makes cleanup time go a lot easier!
Getting in a Mindset
Finally, and probably most importantly, you need to get into a certain mindset about mealtime: it’s not something extraneous to your homeschool day; it is part of your homeschool day. This part your homeschooling needs to be thought about and planned just as you would plan a class. Preparing food for a gaggle of kids is always going to take effort, but there’s no reason it always needs to be an anxiety-inducing time suck. With a little planning, you can streamline mealtime to fit seamlessly into your homeschool day.
What kind of tips do you have for making mealtime more manageable? Share in our Catholic Homeschool Community!