Meal planning is a universal necessity. We all need to eat. Even if we don’t work. Even if we don’t homeschool. Even if we have no children. Even if we’re not married. Well, you get the idea.
For a homeschooling mom that is home most days but occupied with a million other things, making meals can be an inconvenience. Sometimes I find I’m just getting into the groove of the school day when someone is hungry. Or I’m so thankful to wrap it up and grab a cup of coffee, but it’s time to make dinner.
Here a few tips, tricks and shortcuts I use often to give us healthier meals without making me totally exhausted at the same time:
- Let them eat cardboard….er, from cardboard, once in a while. While cereal is not ideal for a healthy breakfast, there are healthier options available. We don’t have it every morning, but I buy a box or two a week. When it’s gone, it’s gone. This is a great breakfast kids can serve themselves on co-op mornings. Add a piece of fruit and the nutritive value goes up a bit.
- Use the microwave. I know there are concerns with radiation and your food. However, on busy mornings, I love to send my kids to mix up an egg or two in a coffee cup and microwave it for 45 seconds to a minute. All but my 3-year-old can manage this breakfast on their own. If you are a Trim Healthy Mama fan, there are a ton of options for microwave muffins, breads, cookies and cakes—all perfectly healthy, even for moms who are trying to slim down.
- A toast to a great day! Using the toaster was one of the first cooking lessons I taught my daughter. Besides the obvious toast, it can be used to heat up pre-made waffles or English muffins (homemade, of course <wink, wink>). If toast is all that’s available, the kids can still own their breakfast by choosing from jam, honey, peanut butter or butter and cinnamon to top it.
- Prepare ahead of time. I like to get a variety of healthy snacks and lunch items and prep them as soon as I get home from the store. I cut a whole package of celery into pieces and cover with cold water in a container in the fridge. It keeps crisp for several weeks. The kids like them dipped in peanut butter or Ranch. I buy large bags of nuts (pistachios are our current favorite) and divide them up into individual bags ahead of time so they can just grab one.
- Buy healthy convenience foods. One of my splurges is the string cheese sticks. They are easy for anyone to grab. My kids like to wrap them in slices of deli turkey or ham. To be healthy, lunch meats should be nitrate free, but I confess that we get a couple packages a week like the cereal. Grapes and apples are convenient to prepare and grab as well. I like to split the bag of grapes between a fridge and freezer container for variety. Another great option is hard-boiled eggs.
- Make it fun and educational….sometimes. I’m usually just happy to get lunch over with, but on calmer days, I sometimes incorporate it into my lesson plans. Everyone decorate their own pizzas using whatever “crust” I have on hand. That’s Art. For a recent lesson on macronutrients, I got out my 12 cup muffin tray, raided the fridge and pantry and chose three proteins for one row, three fruits for one row, three veggies for another row and three fats for the last row. We talked about balanced diets and how they should choose one from each row before doubling up on anything else. That’s Health.
- Keep it simple. When I was growing up, a meal just wasn’t a meal unless you had meat and potatoes and bread and a few colors besides. While I still enjoy a colorful table with a large variety of food, it just isn’t healthy or doable on a daily basis. Most days our meals are just a meat protein, a higher fiber starch and a green veggie. White potatoes and bread make it onto the table a time or two a week. Easier for me, healthier for us all.
- Make part of the meal ahead. While it sounds like a great concept, I’m not a fan of make ahead freezer cooking. I don’t have the time or patience to devote an entire day to cooking. I also think that freezer meals usually taste….well, like they’ve been frozen. I’m sure it’s just me. However, I like to have cooked meats prepared ahead of time, onions already chopped and in the fridge or freezer and broth and spaghetti sauce in the freezer to thaw quickly. Taco Salad, Spaghetti and Meatballs or a Chicken Pot Pie come together quickly this way and can be made with homemade ingredients.