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Plating Up

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!?”

This post is part of the Homeschool Help Series, I am honoured to be joining a team of awesome writers, feel free to click on the links below to see how other families manage to juggle cooking and home education.  Next week we will be chatting about ‘Co-op or Not….Why or Why Not?’

3 simple tips that help to prepare nutritious family meals everyday.

Julie at Highhill Homeschool – Strategies for Cooking Healthy for a Family
Five strategies for preparing healthy meals when time is an issue.

Chareen at Every Bed of Roses – Homeschooling and Cooking a Healthy Adventure

Bernadette at Barefoot Hippie GirlHippie Method: Food Philosophied
How to make easy, delicious, (relatively) healthy food from scratch-almost every day.

Nicole at One Magnificent ObsessionRealistic Meal planning for Homeschool Moms

How to avoid eating at Chik Fil A every night
Even if you don’t enjoy cooking there are ways to conquer the “What’s for Dinner?” question without calling Dominos!
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  • Deanne Langford

    Meal planning is a key- we have been winging it the last couple of months only deciding after breakfast what to have for tea that night- the kids are complaining when it is their turn to cook, so I have done a plan for this week and will be doing a monthly menu for the next month before the monthly shop next week- been very slack I know!
    As I am out very day I do a slow cooked meals on the nights it is my turn.

  • Savannah McQueen

    Once a month shop…I am so impressed. I had to give that up when the 3rd child was born. Seemed I just couldn't buy enough produce then. Thanks for a great post and I am so glad you are a new member of the team. -Savannah

  • Lula B @

    I was exactly the same about menu-planning – I had to learn it as an adult, and it took me until I was in my late 30's!

    I feel exactly the same as you about not having to make a decision about what to cook – for me that's the hardest part of the process. I love checking my MealBoard app at around 430pm and seeing what's on the menu (luckily the app gives me reminders to defrost or marinade – as long as I've programmed it right!)


  • Erin

    How's it going being 'back on track?'. I always find life flows so much easier when I'm organised.

    A new fav illustrator I've just found is Margaret Tarrant. and I've long loved Jessie Wilcox Smith

    How's your rhythm going now?

    I've enjoyed it, it's been good to be challenged by a topic and deadline.

    Then you understand what an accomplishment it is!!:)You may be tempted by your app love

    That's it, I don't want to think either!

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