4 Ways to Simplify (Home) School Meals

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

Over the last six weeks, I’ve been reevaluating our homeschool. At the turn of the year, I found myself more than ready for a do over. So, I set my sights on an extreme homeschool makeover.

We’ve made some great progress. It took a little while to iron out the wrinkles and get my bearings. I purchased some new curriculum, spent every waking moment for a month reading about homeschooling, and generally put family stuff as top priority. You should have seen my inbox! I ignored everything until I knew we were on a better track.

(And it felt really good to make sure that my day job got the best of me.)

One of the best things I’ve figured out was that I’m not very good at multi-tasking during the school day. If I try to do anything else, I’m liable to get distracted (at best) or completely derailed (at worst). So I developed a time budget for our school days that is really helping me feel a little more on top of my game.

A little.

I’ve got a set block of time in each day devoted to each child. It’s a wonderful time for me to reconnect with each of these sweet people without distractions. And the days are flowing so much more smoothly! Everyone is productive and feeling good about their accomplishments.

One of the things that seems to come up every single day, however, the one thing that has the potential to derail our days is, well, that thing about eating. Ya just gotta eat, dontcha?

Now, as a food blogger, you’d think that I’d be all over this eating and cooking thing. And I am. But, at the same time, I’ve realized that to put my family and our school first, sometimes that means I need to be out of the kitchen. In fact, if I start getting all creative and start cooking up a storm, well, I might not come out for hours on end.

So, big cooking sessions are relegated to nights and weekends, while school day meals have become more simplified. Here’s how:

1. Provide a breakfast bar.

The mornings that go the smoothest are those when I’ve laid out a breakfast bar. Typically this might include bread, bagels, or crumpets for toasting, fresh fruit, applesauce, yogurt, baked goods, juice, milk, and homemade granola. These are mostly non-perishable items that I can set out in the morning and as my kids start rolling into the kitchen at staggered times, each of them can prepare his own breakfast. I keep the cold stuff in the fridge until needed, but everything else is readily available. About once a week I make eggs or some other hot breakfast item.

Overall, the breakfast bar allows for a variety of tastes as well as a fluctuation in wake-up times.

2. Include a snack time.

It seems that kids (and moms) really do need a nutrition break mid-morning. Despite my best efforts to serve a big breakfast, inevitably tummies start to rumble around 10 am and we all need a “second breakfast.” Since every minute of my day is pretty much spoken for, one of my older boys has graciously agreed to prepare a snack for everyone each day.

Easy food items like popcorn, dried fruit, fruit leather, fruit slices, cheese slices, and sunbutter crackers, are all things that he can very easily pull together without a lot of help from me. And he enjoys doing it!

3. Get help at lunch, too.

Last year we prepacked out lunches each night, and the kids really enjoyed that. However, for some reason, this year I just don’t have the space in the fridge for six lunch boxes. Instead, I enlist the aid of my other older son to prepare lunch. He enjoys having a voice in the menu planning and doesn’t mind kitchen patrol.

Again, we use easy meal ideas like sandwiches, pasta salad, “snacky lunch” and leftovers to get us through the midday.

4. Don’t forget tea time.

Right about the time that our little one heads to her nap, the rest of us are ready for a little pick-me-up. That’s the perfect time to brew mom a cuppa as well as pour out hot chocolate or milk for the kids. And a little sweet goes pretty well with the afternoon math lesson, if I do say so myself.

These snickerdoodles in bar form are very nice to have around as are these Easy Apple Turnovers.

Once our afternoon routine is through, we’re ready to tidy up and disperse until dinnertime. But, with a few simple tricks, I know that my kids have had good nourishing meals throughout the day that haven’t got in the way of other activities we might be pursuing.

How do you handle school meals?

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. Yes – second breakfast! That’s what we call it in this house, too – yes, my daughter is a hobbit :)
    Brenna’s latest post: Resources We Love, March Edition

  2. Those are great ideas! I’m a mama of almost-three-year-old triplets (with baby #4 due in June) and we are planning on homeschooling so I am so happy to have just found your blog! But even until we actually get there – I am finding so much good information (and wisdom) from your blog that I can apply to life at home right now! Thank you!

  3. Love all of this! I have also been on a bit of a do-over this new year, but still need a lot of work with my four sons! ;)
    Thanks and I will be subscribing here–love your stuff!
    Aloha,

  4. I would love to hear how you schedule the time blocks for each child. I feel I’m not spending enough “individual” time especially on school subjects.

    • I basically just set 60 to 90 minute blocks to spend with each child on a regular basis. I don’t always need the whole chunk of time, but it’s been a wonderful way to make sure we’re connecting (on a personal level) as well as to get the school stuff done. When I am sitting with one child, the others might be doing independent work, reading, playing, chores, or following along with what we’re doing. It’s been working really well.

  5. Thanks for these ideas. It seems my kids are constantly eating–and handling the logistics of meals and snacks during the day can throw everything out of whack.

    After reading this it seems like a little more planning would pay off big for our daytime schedule. Thanks for the nudge :)
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s latest post: Making Time for the Things That Matter

  6. These are great tips! Delegating to the older ones has been a life saver for me. Also, taking time once a week to chop a bunch of onions, garlic, green onions, or whatever I use a lot of and sticking them in the freezer is great. That way it keeps me motivated about cooking at night. When I cook meat, I double or triple what I make and stick the rest in the freezer to use a few days later.
    Carrie’s latest post: Treated like a Servant

    • Yes! The freezer is a major tool we use, too. I actually just finished writing a cookbook full of freezer-friendly recipes. Due out in September. :)

  7. We do two breakfasts, too. I try to make lots of breakfast dishes on the weekend – muffins, egg casseroles, even oatmeal and then stored in serving sizes. Lunch is leftover dinner 90% of the time. So, I try to make very large dinners. Thanks for a great post.
    Savannah@HammockTracks’s latest post: Hammock Home School – Book Review and Give Away – "When Work and Family Collide" by Andy Stanley

  8. For those with young ones, let me encourage you that your children WILL get older and mature. They will soon be able to fix their own food when needed. Enjoy this stage where you can serve them because they grow up really fast. :)
    Heidi’s latest post: Home Based Business Moms

  9. Our meal schedule looks much like yours, except that we cook a hot breakfast, usually oatmeal or porridge, every morning. I have to discipline myself, too, to stay out of the kitchen. I love to cook, but school and kids need to come first. Another thing I do that helps out is to have soup or some kind of pasta or grain salad made on the weekend that we can just heat up for weekday lunch.
    Meals and snacks together are one of my favorite parts of homeschooling my children. I feel like this is a special time to connect and build family ties, and they are getting nutrition education at the same time.
    Jen @ anothergranolamom’s latest post: Marathon-in-a-Month Update and Spring at the Pond

  10. I like the Tea Time idea. My little guy still naps in the afternoon but my 3 yr old is at my side. I like the idea of making this a special time for us, along with some snickerdoodles!
    Emily @ Random Recycling’s latest post: Do you use Spring Cleaning Checklists?

  11. Crafty Mama says:

    Love these tips! Thanks!!

  12. One of my kid’s favorite lunches is “homemade” lunchables. They like that they can put it together themselves. I like it because it’s easy and healthier than the real lunchables.
    Paula’s latest post: Journey to a Healthier Me : Motivation #2

  13. meals are always difficult during school days because it seems that preparation sucks up a ton of time! Thanks for the great tips!
    Gina M.’s latest post: New Twist…

  14. this is a HUGE help for me! I think the kitchen/fixing food party of homeschooling is the most overwhelming to me! this makes it easier, lots of great ideas!

  15. I’ve come to a similar conclusion recently, basically I am trying to do too much cooking and it is getting me down. I’m looking for prepare ahead ideas for snacks, lunches and even dinners! Thanks for the good suggestions ; )
    Emmalina’s latest post: Six Egg Sunday

  16. LOVE these kind of practical, simple ideas, and somehow seeing pictures helps. I sort of forget about cheese/crackers/apple plates but yes! Need to do those more!
    CharityHawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment’s latest post: When Life Gives You Hailstorms, Make . . . a Big Bowl of Hail?

  17. Great ideas! Many of our dinners I would make sure to have leftovers so that they could be eaten for lunch the next day. I did not want to cook in the middle of the day either!
    Bernice @ Living the Balanced Life’s latest post: Cleaning out your emotional trash

  18. your tips are really nice! And the meals on the photos look really delicious, I just got hungry!
    Julie’s latest post: dentist surgery

  19. Liz @ The HomeStyle says:

    Ok so I know you said packing lunches the night before isn’t working for you this year, but I think that might be a really helpful thing for my family at the stage we are in. My husband is a cop, so I’m always preparing his food ahead of time. My oldest is in public school. My middle one is homeschooled, and my toddler has a knack for destroying things while I’m cooking. :) Since I am already making lunches for my husband and oldest daughter the night before, I think I’m going to just round it out and make lunch for all of us at that time. Plus I think my two younger kids would think it is really cool to eat out of their (rarely used) little lunchboxes. Thanks! I always love your ideas.
    Liz @ The HomeStyle’s latest post: Rhubarb Muffins

    • My kids loved it! And I’ve had requests for more. I just don’t have room in the fridge. Which is weird, I know. But, our produce box every week makes it hard for me to get it empty. I suppose that is a good thing. In a weird way.

  20. This foods are really delicious and nutritious, I will prepared like this for my children…
    Jones24’s latest post: Ways To Find Love

  21. Love this blog!
    I had no idea that you had this blog. I subscribe to your Life as a Mom blog.
    Thank you for sharing this. I am gluten free and then in the last 2 weeks found that I have a ton of other food allergies including CORN!! Corn is in everything
    :O(
    So pretty much our only child has been coming up with meals for him and dad these 2 weeks, while I pout and look for safe food for me to eat. It’s been a blessing to me that our son is able to come up with food items for him and dad.
    Schooling does go better when meals are planned and I have an idea. Otherwise I think we get too hungy, then grouchy and then school goes out the window! lol.
    Thanks again for this.
    Moe
    http://AdoptiveMomHomeSchoolingAnOnlyChild.blogspot.com/
    Moe’s latest post: I said I would NEVER do it again, but I did it again…….

  22. Because of my husband’s schedule, we eat our main meals at breakfast and then at “tea” which is usually 2-3 pm. That way the kids’ engines are fully stocked for sports and ballet. Then when we all return to the house in the evenings it is make you own snack : cereal, oats, toast, yogurt, fruit etc. For morning snackies we have granola bars or crackers and cheese. Amazing what you can come up with once you start working outside the box.

  23. Wow…you echoed my sentiments exactly! I am often distracted and am horrible at multi-tasking (in my opinion, I got jipped…aren’t women supposed to be supernatural at multi-tasking???) so I completely relate to this post. And I, as well, have been overhauling our homeschool and have also implemented alone time with each of the kids, which has helped completely. Thankful for your ideas. Such great ones. I keep wanting to implement an afternoon tea. Thanks for your inspiration! :o)
    Jen W’s latest post: Holland’s Picnik Creation

  24. Hi there, great article, really like what you are doing helping out people, helping them save money, highlighting special offers that will save them money and so on, we also try to do something similar at Special offers Malta obviously this site is regional, ie for Malta, but if you have any readers from Malta, I am sure they will find our special offers site quite useful; or maybe you might be thinking of coming to holiday in Malta, there are great offers on restaurants, museums, etc Will keep the advice of this article in mind, our little one is only four months old but I will be honest these are some great ideas for the office as well.
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  25. Sometimes reading your own thoughts in writing from someone else’s keyboard does so much to confirm convictions! I simply feel exhorted by reading what you had to say today, thanks!

    If these are your pictures and not stock ones, where did you find an apple slice to make such thin slices?
    Kelly’s latest post: Treasure Hunting

  26. Thank you for the great tips! The snickerdoodle bars look exceptionally delicious!!! I to take advantage of a breakfast bar of sorts, but never thought of such a cute name for it (thanks)! This is really helpful to keep my 23 month old grazer happy and fed. :)
    We all enjoy our lunch break and working together to make lunch, whether it be leftovers, sandwiches, or good ole mac and cheese w/ veggies.
    I do wish we had more time in the day for fun and lengthy cooking lessons such as those snickerdoodles.. :)
    Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site’s latest post: Can the “Wake to Sleep” Method Help Lengthen Your Baby’s Short Naps?

  27. Queen Mommy says:

    I LOVE this! It seems like this is what works best for us during the day too. I could find myself spending all day in the kitchen, if I’m not careful. When fixing meals, I try to get the biggest bang for our buck. Pumpkin bread in a bowl is super easy and filling (it’s on the chocolate covered Katie blog), breakfast cookies (I have several different varieties I make and try to stuff them full of whole grains, protein, nuts, and other good things), fruit, and green smoothies. It is amazing how filling a breakfast cookie and a green smoothie can be! My oldest daughter usually makes sandwiches and fruit for lunch, which is a huge help to me. Dinners are usually when I try to fix a real meal. If the girls need a snack during the day, I try to have lots of fresh fruit for them to choose from. Apple or Banana Nachos are great too (apples or bananas drizzled with runny peanut butter, fruit sauce, maybe a bit of chocolate syrup, topped with coconut and almonds).

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