5 Ways to Simplify Dinner in a Homeschool Kitchen

Written by contributor Heather Bruggeman of Beauty That Moves

There was a time when I looked at homeschool families and thought they must have it all together at home.  I imagined dreamy, organized living spaces and multi-course meals spread on the farm table three times a day. After all, they were home – they must have plenty of time on their hands for such things.

Then I became a homeschooler.

Very quickly I learned that although I’d be spending more time at home than I ever had in my adult life, my home would become messy and the dinner hour would come fast. Oh, and most importantly, I learned that homeschooling is a very full time job and some days down right exhausting. As it should be for the responsibility that it is.

In addition to homeschooling, I also work from home. I know many of you can relate to the engaging, inspiring, and tiring sort of days I’m talking about.

There was a time when making dinner found me slipping into the kitchen around 5:00, turning on NPR, and pouring a glass of red to be enjoyed while I prepared the planned meal for the evening (I always did work with a menu plan). Nowadays, it is easy to feel done for the day just as soon as we check that final item off our homeschool list.

I actually love to cook, so this lack of dinner hour enthusiasm saddened me. I needed a freshened up approach to making dinner. The kitchen is one area that I have trouble handing over the reins, it is my happy place, my domain… but I knew I needed to enlist some help and shift my own perspective in order to energize the dinner hour.

How to simplify dinner.

1. Menu plan.

This is something I have done with varying degrees of commitment for years. My family is always better fed and I am far more organized when I stick to it. Like many things, it is easy to stray from and requires a certain amount of discipline to stay on task. But it is so very worth it.

If you need a place to start, here’s the Weekly Menu Plan I use in my kitchen.

2. Enlist help.

Long ago, my husband and I divided household tasks not by committee or gender, but rather by natural preference, interest, and time available. For many years I happily picked up a bigger share of the domestic duties, as he was the primary provider.

I don’t feel that way anymore. My work life is busier these days, and homeschooling is always busy. His work has slowed a bit. More than ever before I feel like “we’re all in this together” and if it means I ask my husband to be in charge of dinner a couple nights a week, no problem. This homeschooling thing is a family affair, and that includes chores too.

3. Use the freezer.

I read an article once written by a French chef who said the freezer is the most under-utilized tool in the kitchen. It sits there ready and waiting to hold soups, casseroles, quiche, lasagna, baked beans, chili, and so on – but is it full? Do you have meals ready and waiting for a night that you just don’t have the energy or time?

Once a week plan to double one of your meals, serve one and freeze the other. It takes practice to get into this habit but before you know it you will have extra meals to pull out for your family one or two times a week!

4. Call it school.

With the arrival of warmer weather (and even in the colder months) my daughter would much rather be outside with friends or her basketball than by my side helping with dinner. I understand this. She is still expected to come in and set the table, but aside from that she really needs to burn off some energy.

Because our family eats a whole food diet, there is quite bit of chopping involved with mealtimes. To help with those tasks (and easing my mealtime prep tremendously), we take time during the school day to wash, chop, dice, or otherwise prep anything that can be done ahead of time. Prepped food can be stored in the fridge until mealtime.

This doesn’t happen everyday, but it does make entering the kitchen at dinnertime more inspiring (for a busy mama) when much of the work has already been done.

5. Relax.

Or shall we say lower your standards? Either way, between menu planning, enlisting help, freezing meals and putting the kids to work during the day…dinner will get made.

Maybe this isn’t the time for us to be worried about nine step meals with a dozen ingredients. Perhaps the delicious (5 ingredient, 10 minute) offerings of a blog like Stone Soup fit better for us right now.

Homeschool days are indeed long, but the weeks and months fly by as our children quickly grow and learn. A healthy dinner is possible, but a perfect meal served three times a day around a farm table (I don’t even have a farm table!) is not my reality.

What are your best tips for planning and preparing meals at the end of a full homeschool day?

About Heather

Heather follows the mantra “a life that is led simply and deliberately is a life fulfilled.” She is a dedicated yoga teacher, artist, holistic health coach, mother and wife. Heather’s blog Beauty That Moves is enjoyed by readers for its kind honesty, shared beauty, and simple guidance.

Comments

  1. These are great tips! I am still sad that I don’t bake fresh bread every day like I thought I would when we started homeschooling!

    I try to get a crockpot meal in once a week when I know we’ll be extra busy. Getting the kids to pitch in is always good, and it makes for some extra fun times together :)
    Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s latest post: A Mission Project for Your Kids

  2. My children are still young and my husband doesn’t get back from work until later so we eat separately. We are always eating each others left overs. For example, if they have sausage and mash for dinner I make too much mash and reheat it for us later. This needs thought and planning but it does mean that I am not cooking millions of different meals a day.
    Also we have pizza or homemade burgers every Friday. The girls eat it on sofa watching a dvd (supper on the sofa!). It is their treat and means that by the end of a busy week I get to chill out and not be cooking. I use this time to have a bit of a tidy up before the weekend.

  3. The crockpot is a great time-saver — I can pull everything together in the morning and get it going and dinner is ready without a lot of work at the end of the day. Also, our park play days can run late, so we sometimes plan to have my husband meet us at the park after work and have a picnic dinner, which is fun for everyone and doesn’t cut short a wonderful outdoor play time during the warm weather months.
    kathy’s latest post: Wildflower Hike

  4. I really love points 3 and 4! I’m good at repurposing leftovers but I should really learn the art of freezing.
    Jessica’s latest post: Why this site is filling up with Messes and Planks

  5. Thank you so much for this post. As a work from home, homeschooling mama I feel you! In fact I have to saythat dinners are my biggest struggle right now. Part of it is finding meals that everyone likes. I find it really frustrating to spend a lot of energy cooking only to have people not eat it.
    We also have multiple food sensitivities which adds to the challenge. I’m going to go check out stone soup. Thanks for the encouragement!

  6. Great post! Making a weekly menus SAVES me! I get stressed out when I don’t know what I’m fixing for supper. Ideally I make out a menu and shop each weekend for the coming week. Makes life so much simpler!
    Sarah at SmallWorld’s latest post: The Carnival of Homeschooling

  7. Our family get the cooking, cleaning and washing out of the way in the morning. We have our main meal at lunch time and its great. The kids help with the preparation…called [home science] here in Australia. Sometimes we organize a little of the a project or do some maths or writing but by 1pm we are all cleaned up house and kitchen and then we have a long stretch of hours to focus on schooling ..crafting and gardening projects. Dinner time is usually a sandwich or leftovers and the children prepare that for themselves which they love doing and clean their couple of dishes. And yes the beloved crock pot is a huge bonus. I have that already with ingredients in it the night before and when I wake up early take it out of the fridge and turn it on ..ready to eat by lunchtime.

  8. We just keep the dads meal if he is missing..Its always ready when he walks in the door. No waiting and its better to eat I think earlier than go to bed on a big meal. We got really funky for awhile and had main meal at breakfast. It actually worked out great and I only ended up eating two meals a day dint feel hungry at all. Hmm they say Eat breakfast like a king…lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper…
    Michelle’s latest post: First Thoughts

  9. Yes, yes, yes! I agree on all counts. It also helps here to have a basic list of tried and true meals that are our go-to meals and to keep quick staples on hand at all times. For instance, we always have spaghetti, jarred sauce and some sort of frozen veggies for a 15 minute meal when I get behind on what I was planning to make or suddenly realize it’s 6 p.m. and I have no clue what’s for dinner. :)
    Magic and Mayhem’s latest post: Kids can do activity pages for free books from Scholastic!

  10. heather,
    this is such a great post. I definitely appreciate the inspiration.
    and I love the idea of doubling a meal for freezing – so smart!!!
    thanks so much ~
    amanda

  11. these are really great tips! I’ve seen dozens of meal plan sheets and I usually have to adapt them for my needs… this is the BEST one I’ve seen, for the style of our meals! Thanks so much for sharing!
    misty’s latest post: Peaceful- Easy feeling

  12. I homeschool during the day and go to work at night (5pm-1:30am) so I have to make sure dinners are ready and easy for Dad to handle. Otherwise they would live off pizza and frozen pre-packed dinners. I use my crockpot as much as possible and I do use my freezer a little. When I make lasagna I make 4 or 5 in aluminum bread pans and freeze for quick meals. I also do the same for stuffed shells and cabbage rolls. When I feel motivated I also make dough for a bunch of pizzas. I cook the dough and when it cools I pop it in the freezer for quick lunches or dinners. I’m the only one who will eat soup that has been frozen so I only freeze leftovers.
    Robin (rsislandcrafts)’s latest post: Flashback and the famous

  13. I do try to think of meal prep as “quality me” time. Often the kids will be watching a video then. If Steve is home I’ll chat with him, otherwise I listen to a podcast while I work–I find it so relaxing!

    Thanks so much for sharing your kitchen here, Heather!
    Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s latest post: 5 Ways to Simplify Dinner in a Homeschool Kitchen

  14. Durgai Garrettson says:

    I can’t say enough about the beauty of the crockpot! I plan my meals and cook out of the crock pot four times a week. It’s a quick and easy addition to my morning chores before school time and then I have the whole day to smell what’s cooking. Also, there is always enough for leftovers and so we eat leftovers for lunch most days of the week. So all the stress is gone from two meals a day. I even throw in oatmeal at night and have breakfast ready in the morning a couple of times a week.

  15. “Enlist help.”

    As our children have grown older we have delegated more of the meal preparation to them. It makes my wife’s life easier, and helps prepare them to be adults.
    Henry’s latest post: Amazing – the Worlds Most Complicated Goldberg Machine

  16. Oh, we are kindred spirits for sure! Glass of red, NPR, cooking by myself? Yes, that was me exactly! But this is OUR first year homeschooling, and I too am continually amazed at how much my daytime routine has changed. We have a baby, too, and he’s never been happy to play by himself while I’m fixing dinner!

    We’ve started eating simpler foods. I love to cook, but something had to be streamlined, and keeping our food choices pretty basic have helped a lot.

    Summer is coming–and I am really looking forward to the ease of grilling while the kids play in the backyard!
    Anne’s latest post: Generational Trends and Unschooling for Grown-Ups

  17. I agree with many of the other posters that the crockpot is one of my best kitchen friends. I rarely have a meal that isn’t a crockpot, gril, frozen ahead of time, or something that takes under 20 minutes to make. I also really liked cooking especially complicated, intrique recipes but learning and having fun with my family has a much higher priority in my life right now.
    Christina Pilkington’s latest post: Why Mom’s Interests Matter

  18. Emily @ Random Recycling says:

    Although we don’t homeschool, I feel a similar challenge with a two year old and a newborn. As a nursing mom I feel obligated to provide healthy meals for the family, but not get run down from doing too much. Love the freezer suggestion…so nice to have some back up meals when the day gets away from me!
    Emily @ Random Recycling’s latest post: Lunch box makeover- plus a Giveaway

  19. what an amazing post! and yep, the crock pot is a good friend to us. ; )
    christina’s latest post: happy

  20. This will really help not only in preparing foods, but specially when you have a relationship. I loved the part of “Enlist Help”. Thank you very much for the tips you shared with us here.
    Lawrence@CreditDonkey’s latest post: Are Credit Cards with Event Perks Worth the Annual Fee

  21. Great post, Heather. I also recommend taking a look at the Secrets of a Busy Cook:
    http://www.menus4moms.com/kitchen/busycooks.php
    These are 5 great “secrets” that you can implement in your menu planning to help cut your time and money investment even more. Homeschool moms have the advantage of being home during the day at some point so we can turn on a slow cooker meal or get an early start on prep work for dinner, which helps a lot.

  22. Why is it that I’ve read a hundred blog posts with these ideas or variations of them, but this post is the one that makes me say, “Ah! Okay, I can do this!” ??? These five points are great. Thanks!

    …And my crockpot is looking at me now from across the room, wondering why I have yet to implement all the great meal ideas I’ve read about online…
    Valerie’s latest post: When My Heart is Overwhelmed…

  23. My Sister is currently homeschooling her kids and we have been trying to figure out some sort of dinner plan. What we have found is that couponing helps out a lot, along with the freezer. Always be sure to stock up on supplies when there is an abundance of coupons!

    Also, highly consider looking into the $5 cookbook. This is one of the best investments that I have made! =]

Share Your Thoughts

*

CommentLuv badge