Maybe you can identify with me as I paint a picture of a common dilemma.
You are homeschooling a child or two (or maybe six or seven😉) and you are in the moment. You’ve taught phonics and grammar, given a spelling test, and led a science experiment. Now you are trying to help a child grasp the concept of long division, and you think they just may be getting it. Then your six-year-old interrupts.
“Mom, I’m hungry. When will we have lunch?”
You glance at the time. What? How can it be 1:00 already? And what in the world are you going to feed them for lunch today? You lose your homeschool momentum because these very real and important physical needs must be addressed, and your mind now needs to switch gears and come up with something. Hopefully something that doesn’t involve peanut butter and jelly… again.
Does this sound familiar? I have certainly been there, done that, and gotten the tee shirt. But I didn’t want to stay there, and I determined to figure out a way to get better at keeping my little army well-fed while juggling their homeschooling needs (and many other needs) as well. And would you know? God is good and faithful, and has graciously provided me every tool that I need to do this blessed work he has called me to.
What follows are the best tips I’ve got for feeding a hungry family while homeschooling. These are THE tools that I use each and every day, and for me, they are effective. I share this in the hope that maybe some of these ideas may help you, too.
To start with, we need to have some sort of plan in place. 1:00 pm is not the ideal time to start thinking about lunch – or at least for me, it isn’t. On the other hand, planning far in advance (a week or a month’s worth of meals) has never been able to stick long-term for me either. I found a happy medium by simply making a daily menu every morning.
In my kitchen hangs a little chalkboard which, in addition to being cute and decorative, is an effective tool to get me started on my daily meal plan (and reminding me to start thawing something for dinner!) I spend five to ten minutes every morning deciding what, exactly, we will be eating for lunch, snack (oh yes, the snacks are a must), and dinner.
For the sake of having a complete menu, I do include a breakfast plan, but really, breakfast never changes. Every morning, the kids have five options: Eggs (often with bacon or sausage), oatmeal, Cheerios, Raisin Bran, or yogurt. However, it is a small chalkboard with limited space, so I simply write it as “Bacon & Eggs or Cereal.”
So let’s talk a little about how to help those meal times run a little more smoothly.
Introducing… The Lunchbox, also known as my best meal-helping friend. Shout out to my favorite large family blogger for introducing me to this idea (Thank you, Sherry… THANK YOU!!! You saved my life. I love you.)
Public schooled children can use lunchboxes, right? We can too! But being that we serve all our meals in the home, we have the benefit of being able to utilize the microwave. This gives us a few more options! In particular, we have the ability to package up leftovers from dinner the night before, right into the cutest little containers! Presentation really does make a difference, and leftovers are quite appealing when we store and serve them in these neat, compartmentalized packages.
We plan for leftovers. We deliberately make more meat, more veggies, more rice – more everything – than we will eat for dinner on most given nights. Then, instead of scooping the leftovers into large containers to be distributed the next day, I just divvy them up right away, after dinner, into the lunchboxes. It takes only a few more minutes than scooping them all into larger containers.
But the next day! When long division is interrupted by lunch, switching gears isn’t quite so difficult. Just start popping lunch boxes in the microwave and call the kids to come grab them as they come out. Round out the meal with fruit or bread, if needed.
Cleanup is a snap too! No large containers to wash, no mess from scooping the food onto ten little plates. Just wash the lunchboxes.
Bonus? If anyone doesn’t want to eat at the same time as everyone else, they can grab a box whenever they want it. This is especially useful for teens who have to go to work, college students who need to finish an exam, or simply for kids who are not quite hungry yet.
I mainly use Ziploc containers, but I also own a smaller set of these bento boxes with multiple colored lids. All are labeled BPA free and microwave safe. Most of us use the ziploc, but if someone needs a particular box, having a lid in a different color helps to identify who that box is for. For example, perhaps the orange lid is for Chelle because it doesn’t have cheese and she hates cheese, or pink and purple are for Faith and Joy because they have smaller portions.
Other Favorite Lunches
Another option for dinner leftovers, especially when we don’t have quite enough food for the boxes, is to use them for soup the next day. We make a ton of soup at a time since our family is so large, so I use a large Rubbermaid pitcher to layer in cut-up chicken, beans, corn, etc. The next day, I just have to pour the contents into a pot, fill it out as needed – some diced tomatoes, perhaps an extra can of beans, or maybe some mushrooms. Then I add some broth and seasonings, often either lemon juice, dry ranch mix, or mesquite seasoning. Delicious!
Sometimes it happens that we have no leftovers to work with. In that case, my favorite trusty plan is to serve salad wraps and fruit. We always have tortillas on hand, so we like to lightly pan fry them in a little oil, fill them with salad, and roll it all up. Serving salad this way gives it extra crunch and flavor, and makes it more fun for the kids to eat. We sometimes enjoy buying salad “kits.” My guess is that they aren’t quite as healthy as making salad from scratch, but they certainly are tasty and simple.
Daily requests for snacks are one thing we can pretty much bank on in my family. Perhaps you’ve experienced some of these snack phenomenons:
The dozens of requests. “Mom, can I have a snack?” (spoken by six or seven children at various times between the hours of 2 and 4pm).
The head scratch. “Have a piece of fruit… What? We are out?” (scratching head trying to remember what is in the pantry.) “Hmmm… Have a tortilla then?”
The inevitable mess in the pantry. This comes from children helping themselves, and it is often accompanied by…
The surprise (which should not have come as a surprise) of experiencing the crunch of goldfish crackers underfoot. My pantry can get destroyed rather quickly when my children are in pursuit of snacks!
The mysteriously disappearing snacks. My children believe that the word “snack” actually means “feast,” and they can tear through an enormous bucket of animal crackers faster than you can say animal crackers.
All of those snack mishaps could theoretically be avoided if, as mothers, we give this all some forethought and always distribute the snacks ourselves. But this can be trickier than it sounds for the busy homeschool mom, especially when lots of children involved.
My first great snack helper has been addressed above – having a plan. With a plan in place, I don’t need to scratch my head to think about what snack to give my children, because I decided that in the morning. The children can see for themselves what they are allowed to have, because it’s written right up on the menu chalkboard.
Meet my other snack-helping best friends: Individual servings of the snacks all ready to go!
Fruit is easy. God already designed it to be perfectly sized for one serving.
I am also a fan of buying boxes of single-serving snacks from Sam’s Club. Single serving containers of applesauce, mandarin oranges, and other fruits are great to have on hand for when we run out of fresh fruit.
But what about berries? Raisins? Goldfish crackers? Animal crackers? These snacks are the makings of messy pantry (or fridge) nightmares.
Taking a cue from the lunch box solution, we found a solution to these too. I bought small, reusable snack containers with lids, and I fill them myself. About once a week, or whenever we are running low on single servings, I fill up a few dozen containers with snack-sized portions so that they are ready to go. No more huge feasts of goldfish at 3pm to ruin dinner appetites, and no more (surprise!) crunch underfoot as I walk into the pantry.
If you have multiple children, surely you have experienced the Saga of the Cups: A dozen used cups scattered around the house, a handful in the sink, another dirty dozen (or more) in the dishwasher, and not a clean one to be found. Yes, this actually happens frequently when a dozen people live under one roof, especially when they homeschool and consume all their beverages at home. Fellow moms of multiples unite! We have all been there, haven’t we?
The solution that has helped us with the saga is to give each family member their own specific cup. In our case, we mark each cup by using drink bands or simple rubber bracelets. Each member of the family gets their own color to wrap around their cup. We mainly drink water, so most cups are fine to be washed only once a day. When someone is thirsty, they find their own cup and fill it up, rather than messing up a clean one.
Little Children’s Dishes
Moment of embarrassing honesty here. My kids recently broke several cabinet doors off the hinges. Sigh. The damage was caused as little ones repeatedly climbed up those cabinets to get to their cups and bowls. I appreciate their initiative and desire to help out, but they tend to ignore the fact that we actually do own step stools that could help them in their quest for dishes. Alas, it seems that pushing up with their feet against the cabinets is so much more efficient.
All repairs have been complete, but in the process we decided something needed to change so the cabinets would not be broken again. I decided to move all the small dishes to a place more accessible to the young children. I put all their little cups in one basket and the little bowls and plates in another, then put both baskets in a lower cabinet. No climbing necessary; problem solved!
So there you have it, friends. My favorite tools in my arsenal that help me keep my little army fed. Nothing expensive or earth-shattering, but sometimes simple solutions are all we need!
What tips and tools do you have to feed your family during a busy homeschool day? Please share in the comments!