We are pulling out the books and starting back to the daily school routine, and it seems like whatever time I once had in the kitchen evaporates as soon as the school books open. It’s a shock to the system- because not only do I have less time, but I care even more about what my kids are eating. Did they get fiber and protein for breakfast? How can I make sure they have what they need to stay focused and learn effectively? Do we have a plan for a quick and filling lunch? How am I going to pull dinner together with so little time left in the day?
The stakes are higher; we are not longer simply making the day happen, we have to focus, learn, and pay attention. And yet, there seems to be so little time.
So this year, I’m doing a few things to prepare my kitchen for home school.
Prepare the plans
I’m looking over my menus and recipes, making notes of which things can be made ahead as freezer meals and crock-pot meals, with the goal of giving myself a quick reference guide for when things get busy.
We have co-op potluck dinners twice a month, and I’m taking notes on what I can make for those meals ahead of time.
Think through lunch. A few years back I noticed one of Mystie’s weekly schedules included a small box at the bottom, with a nice weekly meal rotation for lunch preparation. I have always admired the simplicity and delegation.
This year I am trying out a rotation for breakfast and lunch, assigning each kid a meal. Of course, the 5 year old will be a helper for his meal and the 14 year old will be able to complete his unsupervised. But there are two lovely things about this: first, they feel responsible for their meal, freeing up my time and attention to other places. Second, I know what to get and prepare each week for the first two meals of the day, decreasing decision fatigue.
This helps me make sure we are getting things like protein, carbs, etc. in our diet. It also helps with variety, because when mental exhaustion sets in, the first thing to go is my creativity in food-prep. This plan sidesteps my shortcomings in this area and sets our days up for success.
Prepare the food
The first few weeks of the school year will undoubtedly be busy. In addition to lessons, it’s the end of gardening season, the middle of canning season, and the beginning of fall and any sports.
Give your future self a little gift and brown and freeze some ground beef and chicken breasts; assemble a freezer meal or two. You could also make a few jar soups.
As long as your plans are in your mind or in your own planner, they are yours alone. When you communicate, you open up the possibility for others to help.
Ways to communicate:
Post recipes: I have a friend who posts their current family recipe for pancakes on her cabinet door. When one of her big kids goes to make pancakes, there is no hunting for the recipe or multiplication; it’s right there, already modified for their family size.
Post plans: Make an easy-to-follow menu and assign people to carry it out. Here is my current plan, posted in the kitchen next to the fridge. My plan is to have this rotation through August and September, and make a new one for October/November. I am hoping it gives us enough time for the kids to get confident in their assigned meals. This one little plan- posted- has reduced the “Mom, what are we having for…” questions dramatically!
Download: Tracy’s School Menu.
Post lists: In addition to the recipes and menu plans, you could simply post lists of meal options or snack ideas. Anything you can communicate will take the pressure off you.
Plan for atmosphere
“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” – Charlotte Mason
“If you cannot boil an egg or make a bed, but you can and do make a nice cup of tea or coffee on the right occasion and serve it appealingly, you have gone farther toward making a good home than many a gourmet cook or compulsive housecleaner. You are getting right to the heart of the matter.” – Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts
Every fall, I try to stock up on an assortment of teas. This allows my older kiddos to make a cup to enjoy with their math, or for everyone to have with a read-aloud. Something about a warm cup of tea inspires a feeling of coziness and warmth, and helps build an atmosphere of calm contemplation.
Plan for fun
Homemade playdough has been my go-to option for my occupying my youngest learners during the school day. Not only is it an endless creative outlet, but it helps build fine motor skills. It’s quiet, relatively low-mess, and can be made simply – in about 5 minutes- with ingredients you probably have on hand. However, It takes one key ingredient I always stock up on this time of year: cream of tartar.
Cream of tartar is one of those things I never remember to get during my normal grocery runs, so I grab enough for many batches and keep it in the pantry for use throughout the year. While I’m at it, I grab extra boxes of salt.
We give so much thought to our school plans, and rightly so, but we need to remember the rest of our world still needs to keep moving along. Taking a bit of energy up-front to plan, make, and communicate when it comes to the food in our homes will help us stay calm and consistent as we begin the new year.