Ever wondered how to homeschool AND get dinner on the table? I’ve often wished I could be Mrs. Weasley and just magic some dinner on the table, stirring the pot on the stove with a flick of my wand. But alas, I am a muggle, and have to get dinner on the table the old fashioned way. And after a full day of teaching my little ones it can seem exhausting to fuss over dinner.
What am I going to cook?
Do I have all the ingredients for that?
Maybe I can read out loud to the kids WHILE I cook to get more done.
Nothing sounds good.
Ugh, I don’t want to run back to the store.
I like to cook and family dinners are a priority at our house, but still. . . the struggle is real! By the end of the day I’m tired. In fact, if I try to read to the kids anytime in the late afternoon it’s a GUARANTEE that I’ll fall asleep. And when I say tired, it’s not just the falling asleep kind either. My brain is tired. My creativity is tired. I am out of umph. So when it comes to making dinner on a weekday, sometimes homeschool mamas like us just want to throw our hands up and give up! Before you call for a pizza delivery, here are a few ideas that have helped me homeschool AND get dinner on the table.
Let’s get real. Cooking is not really the problem. DECIDING what to cook is where I struggle. If I have plan, I can totally handle the execution.
- Planning ahead may mean you have a monthly calendar with dinners, shopping lists, and reminders all ready to go.
- Or it might look like a post-it note stuck to the fridge with a few meal ideas of things you’re pretty sure you have all the ingredients for.
- Even still, planning ahead may just be taking a moment at lunch time to get the chicken out of the freezer so it thaws out by dinner.
Any and all of these methods work! Whatever kind of plan you can muster, let it ride. Mine is a list of 7 meals for the week that I know I have the ingredients for. I plan out a week of meals right before I go to the grocery store. I jot the meals down on a little white board that’s on my fridge so it’s right there. Then at lunchtime I decide what we’re having from the list and make any quick preps I need to, like getting some meat out to defrost, washing some potatoes, or starting something in the crockpot. My process is actually a bit more detailed than that, but that’s only because I’m a Type-A gal who LOVES to plan things to death. If you’re like that, you’ll like reading my post on how to organize recipes.
Consider Your Schedule
As you plan, think about your schedule. Don’t try to make a big dinner on a night your kids have basketball or karate or 4-H. If you know it’s a busy day, plan on a crock pot meal or something simple to take along. Make your meal match your day.
Create A Master Meal Ideas List
It might help you to begin planning by making a master list of meal ideas. Then you can easily scan through it and pick from your list. I like doing a quick menu plan right before I go grocery shopping so I can pick up anything we need. Here’s our Famiy-Friendly Recipes Pinterest Board to get you started.
Use The Crock Pot
A crock pot is a homeschool mom’s best friend. At least once or twice a week I make sure to plan a crock pot dinner. The magic of the crock pot is that you can do the work BEFORE the exhaustion of your day sets in. And just when you’re running out of steam, you start smelling those yummy dinner smells wafting through your house. Pop it in at breakfast or lunch time and your dinner will be ready when you are.
At least once a week we have a make-your-own night. We set out components on the counter and everyone gets to make their own dinner. This is also often a paper plate night so we all get the night off from dishes too.
A Few of our Themes:
- Sandwich Station – We set out bread and sandwich toppings and everyone gets to build their own. I just slice up some apples or something to go with it.
- Salad Bar – Since our salad bar IS dinner I usually try to include some protein, ie. hard boiled eggs, diced ham, mini pepperonis, or rotisserie chicken bits. The kids also love toppings like diced cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, croutons, and sprouts.
- Panini Night – This looks like a sandwich station, except we also include a choice of flour tortillas or bread. We have a little panini grill and the kids build their sandwich or wrap and then grill it themselves.
- Cereal & Smoothie Bar – We just set out cereals and oatmeal, yogurt, and milk. Then I make a blender full of smoothies that are packed with fruits and veggies.
- Pancake or Waffles Bar – I make the batter and set the griddle out and everyone cooks their own. We usually put out peanut butter, Nutella or other spreads, berries, or bananas, along with syrup. For variety, you can add different things into your batter for different flavors – blueberries, a pumpkin spice pudding mix, and chocolate chips are all favorite mix-ins of ours.
- Potato bar – I bake some potatoes and warm up canned chili. Other toppings include cheese, sour cream, and sometimes diced ham. They build their own potato.
- Tacos, Nachos, Taco Salad Bar – This involves tortillas and chips, taco meat, lettuce, cheese, canned beans (refried or black) with taco sauce mixed in, sour cream, salsa, and any other toppings we happen to have on hand. The kids take the toppings and choose to either build a taco, nachos, or a taco salad, whichever they are in the mood for. I keep pre-seasoned, cooked taco meat in baggies in my fridge so I can just warm it up in the microwave on Taco Night. This might feel like a lot of ingredients, but it’s really quick and easy to pull them out of the counter. By the time the beans and meat are warm, dinner is ready.
- Picnic Night – This is often a sandwich night too, but in this case they get to eat it on paper plates on top of our picnic blanket. If it’s good weather we’re outside in the yard, but if not, spread the blanket on the ground and let your family have a movie night together while eating.
- Scavenger Night – this is when we eat whatever we can scavenge. It might be leftovers, a sandwich, a bowl of cereal, or a bagel and a yogurt. My kids actually love Scavenger Night because they get to choose exactly what they want. We act like it’s special, but really it’s Mom’s-just-too-tired-to-think-let-alone-cook Night. Either that, or The-fridge-really-needs-to-be-cleaned-out Night.
Beginning at age 8, I teach all of my kids to specialize in at least one or two foods. I don’t try to teach them how to cook all at once. Instead, I just want them to be incredibly competent at one or two things. I taught my oldest how to make breakfast burritos and yummy chili. My second kiddo learned how to make amazing muffins and cook a mean homemade alfredo pasta. Banana bread and scrambled eggs are the specialties of my third kid. And even my littlest, who is not yet 8, can fix his own sandwiches and oatmeal.
Train them so they can do it on their own when you need them to. And teach them how to make all the side dishes too. Once they learn a few things really well and get a healthy dose of positive feedback, they’ll be motivated to expand their repetoire. And in the meantime, you can still have some nights off of cooking if your kids can pitch in. Have a kid cook for you one night a week or so.
5 Simple Meals
Select five simple meals that you know your family likes and make sure to stock your pantry with the ingredients for those consistently. I always have the supplies for potato soup, tacos, spaghetti, chicken roll-ups, and macaroni & cheese on hand. I cook many different things, but those are my five that I know I can always fall back on if my week is falling apart. If it’s been a hard day or a hard week and I didn’t get to meal planning, those five are always there for me to choose from.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Do less, but do it well. Simplify your tasks and simplify your meals.
Simplify Your Tasks
I have been known to habitually burn something while trying to simultaneously whip up something else, return all the phone calls from the day, and make sure the kids were actually getting their chores done. While you’re cooking, keep your focus on cooking. If you feel pulled to check other things off on your to-do list, remind yourself that you can finish your task more effectively and efficiently if you keep at it without distractions. If you feel pulled to teach a lesson during that time, let the lesson be on cooking, and let your kids help. Be present.
Simplify Your Meals
In general, make simple meals that don’t require a lot. I used to feel like to classify as a meal, the dinner table to have at least 4 or 5 things on it – a main dish, a side dish, a vegetable, a salad, a bread, But that just meant a whole bunch of leftovers and a lot of work. Keep your dinners simple. I usually have a main dish that I focus on and two other EASY things that generally require little to no cooking.
Easy Sides You Might Find on my Table:
- a green salad
- fruit salad
- cottage cheese
- carrot or celery sticks
- cucumber slices
- apple slices
- apple sauce
- orange slices
- French bread
- sliced cheese
- canned mandarin oranges
- Toast or bread with jam or honey
- canned peaches or pears
- chips and salsa
- hard boiled eggs
- roasted brocolli (best with parmesan cheese and a little salt and pepper on it)
- fried potatoes
- green beans
- Minute Rice (I have a few different “flavors” I add in to the rice for variety)
- baked potatoes
Or Ditch The Sides
Don’t even want to fuss with that? Don’t. There is absolutely nothing wrong with serving your family spaghetti without side dishes. Throughout most of the places and time periods of the world a bowl of spaghetti would be looked at as a glorious feast, and don’t let Pinterest or blogs or neighbors or your own guilt trip tell you otherwise.
What Simple Looks Like At My House
We have a green salad just about every night. Partly because it includes vegetables that I don’t have to cook, and partly because I’ve taught my kids to make delicious salads. They can manage the salad while I cook the main dish. They are also more likely to eat it if they’ve made it. I keep a drawer in my fridge with a bunch of veggies and a shelf in my pantry with yummy toppings and mix-ins. They can grab whatever they want for the salad.
Along with our green salad, I usually put one more thing from the side dishes list (above) on the table. Like grab a jar of applesauce or pop some toast down in the toaster. I also have a fresh fruit tray that sits on our counter. My kids or I can pull out any of these simple sides easily.
Cooking The Extra Mile
If you are going to make enough for leftovers, you might as well make enough to create two meals out of it. Before you even put it on the table, take half of a large dinner out and put it in the freezer for another night. If I’m making a casserole in a 9×13 pan for my family of six, I build and bake it in two square pans instead – one for that night and one for my freezer. And voila, I just saved myself cooking another night.
I top my freezer meals with a layer of plastic wrap followed by a layer of tin foil that I write the name of the dish on so I don’t end up with mystery freezer meals that no one dares to eat. I also like to make the one for the freezer in a disposable foil pan if I have one. They stack well in the freezer and are a little more compact, plus, less dishes!
A Snapshot of A Week of Meals
So, applying these ideas, my week of meals might look something like this:
Monday: Crock pot ranch pork chops with carrot sticks and sugar snap peas
Tuesday: Make Your Own Salad Bar Night
Wednesday: Homemade Alfredo Pasta with applesauce and garlic toast (My kid is cooking this!)
Thursday: Chicken Club with roasted broccoli and grapes on the side
Friday: Tater Tot Casserole (half goes in the freezer for another night)
Not bad, eh? Most of these whip together in 30 minutes or less. And I still have my five basic meals to fall back on if one of these doesn’t pan out. On the weekends, I can cook bigger meals if I decide to. After all, I really like cooking, I just don’t have the energy to do it on busy weekdays when I’m doing homeschool and running kids around to sports and activities. Don’t let family dinners defeat you. You CAN homeschool and get dinner on the table.
More From Layers of Learning
If you’re struggling to mesh your MOM & HOMESCHOOL TEACHER roles, you might enjoy our Homeschool Planner for moms. It can keep your home and your homeschool running smoothly. You might also like some of the learning units we offer in our catalog. Layers of Learning can give you a creative, hands-on, engaging homeschool without all the legwork of figuring out what to teach.
No doubt about it, homeschool momming can be tough. When you’re tired and overwhelmed, remember your WHY. These little people are the hardest, most wonderful job in the world. And give yourself a break and don’t give into the idea that you, your kids, or your life should be perfect all the time. Just keep being your kids mom, knowing full well that perfect will never happen, but you don’t need it. You’ve got this. Go give your kids a hug and then tell them to set the table. Dinner’s almost ready.
Leave us a comment or come find us on social media to connect and tell us about your homeschool/mom juggling session. What are the toughest things for you to manage between those two roles?