Contributor Amida writes for Journey Into Unschooling.
One of my biggest challenges when it comes to homeschooling is not the schooling itself but the fact that we are always home — and hungry. Because we are home the majority of the day, mealtime — and hence meal prep — takes up a huge amount of time for me.
Being the sole cook in the house, some days it feels as if I am a permanent fixture in the kitchen, making breakfast, cleaning up, prepping for lunch, and brainstorming for dinner. By the middle of the week, I am usually clear out of ideas or tired of cooking. On the days the children have multiple classes outside the house, it becomes even more challenging as I figure out how to feed them quickly and healthily.
It would be awesome if the children could cook for themselves, but that is just not always practical, especially for the younger crowd who still require supervision and a parent helper. To help move things along, there are a few short cuts and techniques that I’ve found helpful in the daily struggle to feed everyone (and still have time left over for life outside the kitchen!).
In the same boat and need ideas to get you started? Read on!
Rethinking Snack Foods
Who says meatballs have to be served with spaghetti? They make excellent snack foods, especially when served up in toothpicks and a bowl of sauce on the side for dip. Conversely, snack foods also make the best meals.
The kids love when I serve hors d’oeuvres for lunch. I try to keep a stock of fun finger foods that can be easily whipped together for a quick bite:
- fruit (frozen or fresh, washed and ready to go)
- carrot sticks
- crackers (with hummus, nut spread, cream cheese, smoked salmon, salami, olives)
- cheese sticks
- bread (with avocado and hummus)
- yogurt (with granola, jam, and honey)
- tortilla (with cheese and beans for quick burritos)
- pretzel rods
- tofu cubes
- boiled eggs
- nut mixes
I actually learned this one from a friend of mine who never seems to have a shortage of awesome meals. Her secret? Whenever she pops something in the oven, she makes double the amount she needs — one for now and one to freeze, ready for another meal. So the next time you set out to make a pan of enchilada or lasagna or roast a chicken, make an extra serving and pop it in the freezer.
These don’t always have to be complete meals. If you have extra meat, slice it up and store it. Eat polenta mush right after cooking and pour the rest into a pan for later use (great baked with marinara sauce and spinach!). Cook more rice than you need and store the rest in single serving bags and freeze them. It doesn’t take all that much more time and you’ll have the means to make a quick meal the next time you’re running late. As for general left-overs, they are lifesavers, as my kids eat them up for breakfast or lunch.
Keeping your pantry well stocked is half the battle when it comes to home cooking. Even a novice should have little trouble whipping up a meal of pasta and sauce from a jar. Add in some frozen meatballs and extra veggies and you’ve got yourself a hearty dish in less than 20 minutes.
Blend up some black beans with salsa and Greek yogurt for a yummy soup. Boil buckwheat noodles, drain, and top with dried seaweed for awesome soba. Other good choices include:
- Tuna (sandwiches)
- Broth (add frozen veggies and rice for a hot meal)
- Canned beans
- Tortilla chips (for chili, nachoes, soup)
- Enchilada Sauce
- Pasta Sauce
- Curry Sauce
- Canned tomatoes
- Noodles and Pasta
- Grains (rice, couscous, quinoa)
“Package Plus” is what my son calls my method of extending a packaged meal by adding more of the ingredients on its label.
It is a simple way of increasing the portion size of single serving, pre-made meals. You can read more about my Package Plus Punjab Choley here.
Soups and Sandwiches
A kid favorite in my house is miso soup with rice, seaweed, and tofu. I always try to have the ingredients necessary to make this on the spot — for breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner. When I’m making soup, I store the leftovers in jars for serve-yourself-portions later.
Every once in a while, I turn an entire loaf of bread into individually wrapped sandwiches and leave them in the refrigerator. They never last long enough to go bad.
Use Your Small Appliances
Everyone knows the Crock Pot is a life saver when it comes to fix it and leave it meals. But are your other small appliances earning their keep? If you invest in a good rice cooker, it will come in handy for quick one pot meals (lentil and rice pilaf), porridge, soups, and yes, even cakes. The food processor is great for prep work — but only if you actually use it! Take it out of the cabinet when you have a moment, cut up your carrots and onions, and store them for easy additions to your dishes throughout the week.
Forgo the Jamba Juice and make your own smoothies at home. It is a delicious way to get in some extra fruit or vegetable servings. We make ours in the blender with only soy milk and frozen fruit, with an occasional splash of orange juice for a “Sunrise” version.
Your own food arsenal will look different from ours, depending on your family’s eating preferences. Do you freezer cook? Buy your veggies in prepared packages? Serve pizza every Wednesday? I’d love to hear how you keep your family fed — and still have a life!
What are your strategies for feeding the family throughout the day?