It’s been a grueling, but satisfying homeschool day. School is finally finished when you suddenly realize it’s 5:00 – and you totally forgot about dinner. Nothing is thawed. Nothing is cooking. Now what do you do?! One of the biggest challenges we homeschool moms face is finding time to cook. I’m always on the lookout for easy, nutritious meals, and always forgetting to plan ahead. Here are a few easy ideas to get you going.
- Allow your kids to do the cooking. Not only is it educational, but it’s fun as well. Starting at about kindergarten-age, little ones can make sandwiches and pour cereal. By the age of 8 my kids could make eggs, frozen pizzas, canned soups, grilled-cheese sandwiches, boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, tuna salad, oatmeal, spaghetti and meatballs (using store-bought meatballs and sauce), and they could heat up leftovers. This is assuming, of course, that they fully understand safety rules. By age 12 my kids could make just about anything, if I provided the recipe. Put an educational twist on it by having them teach a young’n how to cook.
- Utilize the crock pot, preparing your dinner first thing in the morning or on lunch break.
- Casseroles – I always make double, then freeze one for later use. It takes the same amount of time to throw together two meals of the same kind as it does to make one. Meals that fit well into this category are lasagna, many casseroles, chili, and soups. I often freeze chili or soup in empty yogurt containers for single-servings. Then each kid can pull out the one he wants and heat up his own favorite for lunch.
- Cook ahead large quantities of ground beef, ham, sausage, or chicken. I never do this as a separate event. Whenever I plan a meal that requires, for example, a roast chicken, I’ll cook 3 chickens. I’ll serve one for dinner, then pick the other two apart to be frozen in various-sized bags. When I bake a ham, I cube and freeze the leftovers for use in soups, mac ‘n’ cheese casserole, or quiche. If I’m making something that requires a pound of ground beef, browned, I’ll brown five pounds so I have enough for later. This way it takes no extra time out of my schedule, but I have plenty of “instant” meals in my freezer. My kids can easily pull these out for use in casseroles, soups, tacos, quiches, or to top salads.
In the end, if you suddenly realize it’s 5:00, and you totally forgot dinner, it’s no big deal! Here are some instant-meal ideas.
- Check the refrigerator for leftovers and create a leftover buffet. Each family member puts together his own plate and heats it in the microwave. You’ve just taught a lesson in frugality.
- Make pancakes or French toast.
- Make creative sandwiches. Add cheese or chili to a hotdog. Burgers can have cheese, mushrooms, onions, bacon, parmesan cheese and sauce, etc., added to them. Add a pineapple slice with a little homemade honey-mustard sauce (equal parts honey and mustard mixed together) to a ham sandwich, top with a slice of cheese and broil open-faced in the oven. Make fried egg sandwiches topped with ketchup and a slice of cheese. Whip up some tuna salad, ham salad, or chicken salad (pull out one of your pre-cooked meats from the freezer).
- Make creative salads. Taco salads can be topped with taco meat (again, pulled already-cooked from the freezer), shredded cheese, corn, taco chips, salsa, and sour cream. Chef salads can be topped with lunchmeat, hard-boiled eggs, cheese. You can make oriental salads, Greek salads, and more. You can top salads with fruit slices, chicken salad, nuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, and more. Turn it into a salad bar.
- Keep a supply of pasta on hand. You can make a pasta-and-sauce meal in no time. Add some of your frozen, pre-cooked burger or sausage, and stir in some cheese for ziti or shells.
- Make a baked-potato bar. Put out dishes of crumbled bacon (another one of those handy meats that you can double-batch and freeze), chili, broccoli, cheese, onion, and sour cream. My kids love this and it’s so easy!
- Make omelets or quiche for dinner, which is a quick and easy, but really yummy meal that even kids can make. I always make crustless quiche, since I have celiac disease. Put a layer of cooked meat (pull one of your pre-frozen bags out of the freezer) on the bottom of a pie plate (crumbled sausage, ham, shredded taco-flavored chicken, lunchmeat, crab meat, etc.). Add chopped veggies if desired (onion, peppers, broccoli, finely-shredded carrot, mushrooms, etc.). Top with a thick layer of your favorite shredded cheese. Whip up 6-8 eggs (depending on family size) with a dash of salt and pepper and a dash of milk. Pour over your ingredients. Bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes or until “solid.” These make yummy leftovers and also freeze well.
- And, if all else fails, there’s always cereal! An occasional cereal meal won’t harm anyone!
Sisters, in the end, remember this is one of the most challenging seasons of life that you will walk through. “Little” things like meal prep can seem huge at the time, but you can rest assured that your kids will live to adulthood while eating leftovers, cereal, and pre-frozen meals. Teach your kids to cook, and count it as school. Utilize their help – even if it’s not exactly to your standards. (I guarantee it won’t be to your standards…but they’ll learn!)
And finally, don’t be anxious. Learn to laugh over those “oops!” moments when you forget to get a meal started. (Oops! It’s 5:30 right now as I type this! I had no idea it was so late! I need to get dinner started!) Rest in God’s infinite love for you, take a deep breath, and go joyfully make whatever you have at hand. And now, please excuse me while I go make dinner.