In our early years as a family, many an afternoon I would ring my husband at 4.30pm at work and ask him, “What will we have for tea!?” Not planning properly and frozen in decision making, we consequently bought pizza on far too many nights!
I came to realise that the key to success for us in our cooking juggle was organisation. On the days that I thought about tea immediately after breakfast and removed meat from the freezer accordingly, were the days all went well (at least in the meal arena;) It became apparent that I functioned far better with a plan, I was not good at making last minute decisions, I liked being told what to make (albeit my own plans telling me) although another key was self-discipline in following through, but for me that wasn’t as difficult as the decision making.
First step was to write up a weekly menu, with a menu plan from there I developed a shopping list, then I simply needed to go shopping, which back then was a weekly occurrence This probably all sounds so basic and obvious and yet it wasn’t for me, I hadn’t grown up with menus and shopping lists, so I was starting from scratch, re-inventing myself. As the years rolled on our system evolved to a monthly menu and a once a month shop. Recently I fine-tuned our system by adding a master pantry list (taped to inside of pantry), this mirrors the shopping spreadsheet but has figures designating the number of items needed, I only need to check of number of items in the pantry and jot the ‘missing’ amount onto the shopping list. It might sound daunting but the benefit once again is I don’t have to think once the system is in place.
What does our menu look like? We have our family favourites and tend to plan for them on a weekly/fortnightly rotation. All family members opinions are taken into consideration, though it is impossible to please all every meal, however if someone really hates a meal we will remove it from the menu. When introducing new meals we tend to try out two new ones each month, and all give a ‘point rating’ determining if the meal makes it back onto the menu. Our menu rotates on a seasonal basis, obviously salads are more prevalent in summer, stews and soups in winter. On the North Coast of Australia we tend to have two predominant seasons, a long summer and a short winter, spring and autumn tend to be noticed as part of summer.
How does organisation tie in with the actual cooking? Well it is only with a plan in place that we are able to confidently tackle the job of cooking. The actual cooking is shared between myself and our teenage boys, 16 & 13 (when our college daughter and son lived at home they also helped cook), and all of the children help in meal preparation, though the bigger part of meal preparation is undertaken by the girls, 11 & 8 and the older boys. We believe it important for children to be involved in food preparation from a young age and a 2yr old is quite capable of chopping up a banana with a bread knife, a 4yr old call pull apart a lettuce and a 6yr old can cut up capsicum (pepper). The older boys are totally responsible for cooking 1-3 nights a week, depending on the sporting seasons demands, as I’m the chauffeur on those nights. On non-sport nights I generally cook though the boys happily help if asked and our 11yr old is now keen to begin cooking meals.
The most important logistic of meals running smoothly is to have pre-checked the menu before bed and after breakfast, ascertaining if food needs thawing or knowing how much time needs allocating that day for preparations. If it is a muffin breakfast I need to begin preparations at 6am, if a cooked lunch I may need to leave the children working on an independent lesson so I can dash into the kitchen an hour before lunch to prepare and load into the oven. Generally though I plan low preparation meals for breakfast and lunch. For tea we need to begin preparations between 4pm-5pm for a 6pm meal. When we first became grain free 2 years ago we noticed our kitchen time increased dramatically in the beginning, although preparation time has now become more streamlined than initially, we’ve been stretched and have now settled into a more regular rhythm.
We have never been big on baking and since going grain free the children are still learning the new recipes, so I tend to do most of the baking, more of an afternoon after lessons (our core learning hours tend to be 8:00am-12:30pm at least for the younger children). Favourite snacks are popcorn (not GrF) fruit and veggies.
Each season in life has its ebbs and flows, some seasons run far smoother than others and life is never stagnant, certainly not in a large growing family with changing dietary needs. However after all these years we have developed a fairly typical rhythm that has become ingrained contributing to our success of juggling cooking and a home education lifestyle. I no longer ring my husband desperately at 4.30 wailing “What will we have for tea!?”
3 simple tips that help to prepare nutritious family meals everyday.