Menu Planning, Make Ahead Meals & the Busy Homeschool

Written by contributor Jessica Fisher of Life as Mom and Good Cheap Eats

If I had a maid, a chauffeur, and private chef, homeschooling would be a piece of cake. Ok, maybe I exaggerate a little. We know that even the best laid lesson plans sometimes meet with reluctant learners. But what can break a homeschool mom at the knees are those regular household tasks.

Molding young minds and teaching multiplication tables is tricky enough without the meal prep, laundry, and cleaning tasks that compose a well-run household, not to mention the fact that everyone’s home all day to give the place a rather “lived-in” look.

Jamie recently shared some of her tips for tackling the cleaning tasks. Today, I’m here for the food. Careful meal planning and some make ahead meals can save your bacon when it comes to managing your busy household.

salami sub wrap

Get a plan in action.

Just as a plan for your student’s course of study guides your days, so will a menu plan guide your mealtimes. Meal planning is one tool in the homeschool mom’s aresnal of sanity savers.

Meal planning is not difficult. Really. You can do it! It’s as simple as jotting down six or seven meals to serve this week. It can be as elaborate as planning out a month’s worth of meals.

As all three meals are often eaten at home, meal planning is particularly helpful in the homeschool household . Make a plan for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and tack it on the fridge for the family to see. This helps other members of the household

  • to be mindful of mealtimes and to have something to look forward to.
  • to ask “What’s for lunch?” less often
  • to be ready to help with meal prep, lessening your load as a parent.

Make it ahead of time

My most successful days are those in which I’ve made some or all of a meal in advance. Here’s how it looks:

Breakfast – Lay out a fruit, granola, bowls, and spoons before you go to bed at night. In the morning the kids can serve themselves, adding yogurt or milk from the fridge. Even if you’re helping little ones yourself, you’ll still be ahead of the game with the non-perishables already assembled.

Lunch – Pack lunches the night before so that each kid can grab a boxed lunch he’s ready to eat. No need to wait for the lunch bell here! Rather than interrupt you and the student you’re helping, the others can get started eating.

Dinner – Set your slow cooker and bread machine to work in the morning so that when the day’s done, you can put your feet up instead of continuing your work day in the kitchen. Dinner’s ready when you are.

Chill out.

One technique that I often rely on is to prepare many meals at one time and to store them in the freezer for use later in the month. Not only does this cut down on the amount of time I spend in the kitchen, but it also helps us save money. I shop less frequently and buy many ingredients in bulk, further stretching my pennies.

Cooking in bulk also conserves resources of gas and electricity. One hot oven can produce many meals or meal components, instead of heating the oven every night of the week.

Plus, having dinner on ice saves me a few brain cells on days when I’m just plain tuckered out.

Freezer cooking does not have to be the canned cream of chicken casseroles you remember from your mother’s freezer. Soups, stews, sauces, and marinated meats freeze beautifully and buy you powerful minutes to do something else besides cook. Plus, you can control the ingredients you use, an advantage over serving your family store-bought processed foods.

Wondering how to get started in freezer cooking?

Check out these posts:

A Quick Start Guide to Freezer Cooking :: LifeasMOM

5 Simple Ways to Fill Your Freezer :: The Happy Housewife

What Can You Freeze? :: LifeasMOM

Freezer Cooking Gluten Free :: Lynn’s Recipe Adventures

How to Have a Freezer Cooking Day When You Don’t Have a Deep Freeze :: Money Saving Mom

The Best Do-Ahead Breakfast Foods :: Simple Bites

Menu planning and make ahead meals are two wonderful tools to help you do your job better as a homeschooling parent. You know that your family is going to be hungry — for food as well as for learning. By honing these skills you can save time and money as well as providing your peeps with good eats.

How do you streamline mealtimes to suit your family and your homeschool?

About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools her six children, covering preschool through 10th grade. When she's not changing diapers, washing mountains of laundry, or chasing down the wayward math student who's steathily playing video games in the closet, she shares parenting and homekeeping tips on Life as MOM as well as "delicious ways to act your wage" at Good Cheap Eats.

Comments

  1. Wow! I’ve been trying to tackle the menu planning/ grocery shopping/ coupon sorting/ part of life lately…cooking in bulk may be the key to all of this that I am currently missing. Thank you for the resources!
    Jennifer’s latest post: Homeschool Lite

  2. Meal planning saves your bacon? Jessica, you crack me up!

    Thanks for the great tips. I’m not new to meal planning but I need continual motivation to keep at it–and fresh ideas never hurt either!
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: Sewing- Womanly Skill- Not Women’s Work

  3. Even if you are overwhelmed by the thought of cooking mulitple meals for the freezer, there are some things you can still do to help you out. On the day after you go groecery shopping, or maybe even an afternoon when you plan to brown ground beef for dinner anyway, go ahead and brown ALL your ground beef. You can then drain it and put into freezed bags in recipe portions. This way in an afternoon when you need to cook a quick hamburger helper type meal, your ground beef is ready in seconds. Or instantly if you remembered to take it out of the freezer earlier in the day!
    If you make a spaghetti sauce for your family, make more than enough for one meal and freeze the rest. You can easily do this with chili and many other meals. Half the work is in the mental prep and getting everything out, so why not make it count for more than one meal?
    Living the Balanced Life’s latest post: How to schedule your priorities

  4. I make mostly simple vegan foods during this stage of family life. If I want to get gourmet that is for the weekend, when I might have more time.

    I also enlist help. Kids help prepare, Daddy and kids are in charge of clean up. I plan and do most of the cooking.

    • One thing I love too, Renee, about cooking vegan/vegetarian fare, is how much time it saves in the kitchen! Definitely simplifies our life, for sure.

      Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us in this area, Jessica!
      Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool’s latest post: Creating a Visual Schedule for Kids

    • Jessica says:

      My cookbook has a “bigger-than-I-thought-it-would-be” meatless main dish section. I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting and even pulled off some vegan recipes that are freezer friendly. {kinda proud of myself since I’m not vegan – LOL}

  5. I use the crockpot and the freezer a lot too. I also use the freezer to make meals ahead for the days before and after we go on a trip. I also like browning meat and freezing it and cooking a whole chicken or turkey and freezing the meat off it so I have that option and I can add it to other things to make something. Same with cooking and freezing dried beans. When I use my crockpot, I try to make two batches (I now have 2 crockpots both gifts) and eat one, freeze the other for another day.

    I also depend on leftovers for lunch and plan enough to eat the next day.

  6. I found a recipe book that has 6 weeks of meal plans with 3 meals a day AND a shopping list for each week! We have been using the book for 9 months and have been swapping out recipes we dont like for favouites. Then I just add the ingredient to the list!

  7. Kristen says:

    Not overly exciting, but I serve almost the same thing every week. Monday-fish, Tue-chicken breasts, etc. Meal planning overwhelmed me when I tried to add variety and honestly my kids are not at the stage where their very adventurous eaters anyway. I know it is important for them to try new things, so I do add new meals when I can. At this stage in life though, I think the most important thing is that I fill their bellies with healthy food. My very boring meal plan gives them a much healthier diet than when I was scrambling last minute and settling for take-out.

  8. I have a menu plan of easy to fix meals. My spring/summer menu plan covers 5 weeks. I made an ingredient list for shopping for each of those weeks, too. This saves me time when it comes to going shopping. I just print my pre-made list, cross off anything I already have on hand and add anything that is on my general shopping list that I want to buy that day. it has helped me so much, just to have a plan (which does occasionally get swapped around during the week). I also have about 1 day a month that is called try a new recipe day, if I found a new recipe that I want to try we try it on that day or sometimes we eat leftovers or do something else for dinner that night. Also when I am making something I will cook extra. Monday’s are crock pot days so I make a crock pot meal and we eat it on Monday night, then the leftovers are planned into another meal or two during the week. This makes for one major cooking, but gives me some quick meals using up our leftovers or freezing it for another week where I have it planned into our menu.
    Suanna’s latest post: Working Weekend – Around the House

  9. I find my biggest challenge to be lunch. With 3 kids homeschooling, it’s such a time-sucker to stop, fix lunch, eat, and clean up, and then try to get back on track. I’d love to hear other ideas for easy lunch meals. I never know what to fix for lunch!

  10. Hmmm…sensing a trend here. I plan a homeschool schedule and then let my and the children’s interest overtake our day…plans get thrown out the window.

    I plan our meals and let my and my hubby’s (he’s a chef…so more, really him) interests overtake our meal…more plans out the window.

    Maybe I need to rethink my strategy! LOL
    Amy @ simply necessary’s latest post: Garage Sale Blessings

    • If your family can function well being spontaneous, I don’t think you have to change anything. Just find what works. ;)

  11. I’ve struggled with the meal planning idea for the longest time and your post gave me the mental breakthrough I needed on it. I’ve always looked at it from a strictly frugal living standpoint and hadn’t considered how much it could streamline our homeschool life! Thank you for the a-ha moment today!

    • I love it when that happens. ;) Sometimes, I have to push my frugal side away and let my productivity side reign for a little while, too.

  12. My incredibly smart friend created a new website called eatficiently.com that makes meal planning so easy. It offers ideas for every meal of the day, every day of the week, and when you print a recipe or meal plan, it even attaches coupons for many of the items you need to prepare it! The site is organized around the mantras Be Organized, Be Thrifty, Be Together and Be Well. I’d sure like to BE all that! I’m telling all my homeschool mom friends to check it out. Hope ya’ll will too.

  13. Great ideas! I especially like the idea of using boxed lunches just like you would if your kids were going away to school. I hate lunch time. I think I might try it! This is my 15th year homeschooling. That’s a lot of lunches.

  14. I love these ideas! I am just starting homeschooling our soon-to-be 5 year old daughter. I also have a 9 month old and 2 year old! But, I know I can do it! Planning meals like this will certainly help. I’ve got something in the slow cooker right now. =)
    Michelle’s latest post: Recipe for Killer Orange Raspberry Margaritas

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