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.
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?