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Managing From-Scratch Cooking While Home Schooling (Eat Well, Spend Less)

Back to school. Already?! As homeschoolers, we chose not to take the summer off from academics and worked in some reading and math each weekday. The work was minimal, but I mentally patted myself on the back.

I thought I was ready to start the new school year this month, but boy was I wrong! Having a child in second grade, kindergarten, and pre-K, along with a toddler (18 months) has really thrown me a curve. Someone is always needing help with something. Someone ends up being grumpy, someone ends up goofing off a little too much, or someone is bugging someone else. I'm reliving the "joys" of a struggling almost-reader. Our kitchen table is getting a workout as it functions as our dinner table, school desk for 3, and my computer area -- not all at the same time, of course.

How in the world am I supposed to get "everything else" done during a rigorous school schedule?! (Thankfully, we don't have extra-curricular activities to run to!)

Quite simply, I don't get everything else done as I'd like to. And cooking from scratch during busy seasons of life -- or is all of life a "busy season" for you? -- ISN'T EASY. But, I've been making it a priority. And I think... it's working. So far. Here are my tips!

Plan Ahead

Why is planning always at the top of the list? Because it's so crucial. I hate menu planning, but when I do it (and it does get easier over time... I speak from experience...) so much stress is gone from my day.

Plan simple meals. I probably don't even need to tell you that most of our meals are very simple ones, and have been ever since baby #3 was born, over 3 years ago.

We love to cook, but the more involved stuff isn't an everyday occurrence. It can't be. Frozen vegetables, fresh fruit, and a simple main dish are our dinner staples. Breakfast is oatmeal or scrambled eggs. Lunch is bean burritos, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, or leftovers. On the weekend, or when we have dinner guests, we make fancy stuff, because we enjoy it. :)

Read more about my time-saving and money-saving dinner tips here!

Have A Schedule

Home education is awesome because it can happen any time, any where. We get to set our own schedules and routines.

On the other hand, we have to set our own schedules and routines. For me, this means buckling down, eating breakfast, and getting started on the book part of home schooling right away. I could let housework, laundry, organizing, and goofing off (think playing games... man, kids are so fun some times!) take up the whole morning if I didn't put them aside and make the "work" part top priority. Getting the work done on time means I have time for other things, like making dinner.

Use Appliances

Lighten the last-minute dinner scramble by using a crock pot. There are tons of slow cooker recipes online. I use my crock pot mostly for pinto beans, black beans, and soups. You can cook a whole chicken in there, roast beef and gravy (mmmmm), or macaroni and cheese.

This week, I put garbanzo beans in the crock pot overnight. The next morning, I spent about 15 minutes of hands-on time making hummus. I had planned ahead, done the quick step of putting beans in the crock pot and turning it on the night before, and we had a healthy dip for our veggie sticks at lunch time and dinner time.

Drastically reduce the time it takes to make homemade bread by using a bread machine or stand mixer to knead your bread. Bread needs time -- but not your time. You just need to plan it in advance. A few minutes for pizza crust, a few minutes for a loaf of bread -- but you gotta start early enough in the day.

Having a freezer is one of my time-saving appliances. I like to make large batches of things and freeze extras. Beans, taco meat, soups, rice, burritos, and casseroles all freeze great and cut down on from-scratch dinner prep time!

You probably have some appliances you love that make life easier. Use them! :) And I'd love to hear about them in the comments. (Now that I have a big enough kitchen and house to actually consider having appliances on my counter...) :)

Have Everyone Help

Joshua often grills for our dinners. He also encourages our children to help clear the table after dinner and is a good example to them. After working hard all day and making dinner, having help with the cleanup is MUCH appreciated -- and needed.

Our children are currently ages 1, 3, 5, and 7 and can set the table, unload the dishwasher, clear the table, put away leftovers (I supply the containers), wash the table, sweep the floor (somewhat, haha), and more. Everyone helps!

Do Something Before Bed

I try to do at least a couple things before bed that will help the next day run more smoothly. For me, it's things like filling the Berkey so we'll have plenty of water, making sure the kitchen table is clear and washed so it's ready for use the next day, and getting things ready for Joshua's lunchbox the next morning. I always pack a lunch for Joshua, but planning ahead makes it easier. (Well, that and the fact that he takes things like bananas and apples and almonds, things which take virtually no prep time!) I wrote more about Joshua's lunches here.

Then, I try to go to bed on time. (Ahhh, this explains the scarcity of blog posts around here this month!) Going to bed early is even better! ;) And then getting up on time and getting our day started early. The kids all get up when Joshua's alarm goes at 5am, so I don't really have the option of sleeping in. Overall, this is good, since it keeps us all on the same schedule. And deep down, I am a morning person so once I wake up, I feel ready to tackle the day. Usually.

More ways to maximize efficiency in the kitchen:

Meal-planning before baby arrives (our favorite freezer meals)

How to make multiple freezer meals with just one dish

Easy bean and rice freezer burritos tutorial

How to efficiently load a dishwasher

And don't miss the other great Back-to-School posts from the Eat Well, Spend Less ladies:

Comments

Hi Tammy, I've been

Hi Tammy,

I've been wondering how homeschool moms approach nutritious meals on short time! Timely post for me!

I am finally homeschooling my 3rd grader and preK children while keeping the 3 year old twins home from any sort of preschool/daycare (I've gotten grief from people by not placing the youngest three in preschool). The oldest is still attending a gifted education program across town again this year.

I'm not stressed out. . . just sort of gliding into thing. But I certainly needed some tips on this subject!

Thanks!
Emily

Great post

Love this post! People seem to think scratch cooking is difficult, but, as your post illustrates, it doesn't need to be. We, too, make liberal use of the bread machine and other handy small appliances. The kiddo knows how to run the popcorn popper, and we buy popcorn by the 50-lb bag. We save time by not taking out the trash (because it takes us a couple months to fill a small grocery bag), not having to cut out coupons or shop often (because we buy whole ingredients in bulk) and are sure to make plenty of leftovers when we cook. We have a repertoire of easy recipes that we can make again and again. I'm not much of a preplanner in general, but when I read your post, it makes me realize I sort of am. I don't make a menu, but I do think ahead when it comes to making dough, or soaking and cooking the beans, even though I might wait until meal time to decide what I'm going to do with them.

http://www.LaurasLastDitch.Etsy.com

Time Management

I know this post was to focus on your kitchen, but I would love to see your daily routine for your homeschooling days. I currently have 3 boys; 7, 5, 3. We are also a homeschooling family, but I feel our days are unorganized and would appreciate some inspiration from someone who is going through this phase also.

I appreciate all of your tips and ideas. You have definitely made trying to save money an easier and more enjoyable experience for me.

Thanks for all your help!
Michelle

Thanks!

Excellent article! I know we *know* this stuff, but it helps so much to have you write it out, so we can say, "Check, check, doing okay in that department," or "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that, and now I know why we're having trouble!"

(((hugs)))
~Anne

homeschooling and cooking from scratch

Snap!!!
Our kids are 7 (nearly 8), 6, 3 and 2. We homeschool too, and cook everything from scratch...including bread and ice-cream!

What homeschool curriculum do you use?
We're just starting on Heart of Wisdom. It's a Messianic curriculum with an emphasis on family learning - teaching several ages at once. It really is a blessing :)

My favourite cooking from scratch ideas at the moment include:

making a batch of 36 bread rolls (in the bread machine - takes two batches of dough) and freezing them. I reduce the cooking time by 5 mins. Then I get one of the kids to put 6 in a cold oven just before lunchtime, they turn the oven on, set the timer for 8 mins, and voila! Fresh bread rolls for lunch every day (except Shabbat, when we have challah ;)
Sounds like a lot, but I'm teaching my 7yr old (Joshua) to make the dough (weighing and measuring), so all I have to do is oversee him, and then take the dough out of the machine and cut it up into 18 pieces. Easy :)

Another one is meal planning. You are so right - it is essential. I've been doing it for years on a weekly basis, but it takes me ages! So with more serious schooling starting this year, I decided to go simple and make a plan for the whole month. I'm still working on it, but using a repeated theme for each day (mon pasta, tues fish, wed rice, thurs ..... etc. ) I hope will take out much of the guess-work. That will also allow me to bulk buy when things are on offer.

Also shabbat prep. I try to spread the preparation through the week by using daily lists for things like housework etc. I wrote out everything I would like to do by shabbat, and then took an index card for each day. Then I divided the tasks up according to the time I had available on any given day, and the likelihood of the work being messed up before shabbat ;) (bathrooms are saved for thursday)
Each sunday I sit down with a cup of coffee and go through the cards with a notepad. I make a page for each day, and use the cards as a starting point for a to-do list for each day of the coming week. I also include meal-prep. That way, even in the blur of everyday like with kids, I just work from the list and I know I'm on the right track.

As for homeschool scheduling, Heart of Wisdom have free printable daily schedules for the next 14 weeks, so that REALLY helps!!!

I hope this might be of use to someone...

Vicky

Tammy, I have 3 boys ages 3,

Tammy,

I have 3 boys ages 3, 6 and 8. You mention they get up at 5:00. What time do you put them down for bed?

I love reading your blog.

Thanks,
Tracy

Yummy

You've got some yummy recipes there and the photos does really help, mouthwatering

similar to your family

I have 4, 5, 7 - pre-K, K, and 2nd grade, and two 1 1/2 year olds. Very similar to your ages. I have not started school with all 3 yet; we're waiting a few weeks. Thanks for the suggestions. I am sure I'll be looking for any ideas in a few weeks.

Snackk for the kids

I was looking for healthy snack for the kids and finally i found your blog which have all different kinds of recipes now im all hooked up on this blog. trying to print out the recipes i would like to do for the rest of the week. thanks for sharing my kids will love these

Menu Planning and Budget

Hi Tammy.

I have never been a meal planner and really don't want to be. But I'd like to be convinced :-).
I like to cook one and eat 2,3 or 4 times and I kind of go by what's in the freezer, what is on sale, or what is coming in from our garden and CSA.

For me, I think that planning would tie me to buying more expensive items. Or does planning really just mean that I have an idea of breakfast, and a main meal and then I go from there, adding in the veggies and starch and stuff.

I think the simplicity might help me and I could use that since I am not sleeping well and am struggling w/ one of my kids' anxieties and need some relief here somewhere.

I'd appreciate any thoughts you can give. Thanks!

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