Friday, July 6, 2012

A House of Order, Part 4: Dinner too?

By Melanie Skelton

You spend your day helping children with math equations, reading about the reformation, listening to narrations and going on a nature walk. When these things are done you take a deep breath and think, “Oh good, now I’ll take a few minutes for myself.” Only then, you look at the clock and realize if you don’t plan something for dinner soon, there will be no dinner. And if there is no dinner you will have a house full of grumpy people, including yourself of course. After all your efforts to educate and nurture your children, they always seem to want dinner too.

You could make a pizza run every night, but pizza would soon lose its appeal and gets expensive. You could have sandwiches every night, but that gets old sooner than pizza. Preparing boxed dinners every night might be simple, but they get old too. You want to prepare a variety of meals that are nutritious, appealing and still be able to spend time exploring all facets of education with your children.

How do we keep that balance of everything else we have talked about in this series of articles and fix dinner too?
Be assured that it will not always go perfectly. If it does, then you ought to be writing this article. However, by applying a few simple truths to your balancing act, you will find a nutritious meal on your table most of the time.

One way to simplify mealtime is as basic as having a plan. Write a menu out for a week or two at a time, and do the shopping for those meals. You don’t have to specify what you plan to fix each night, but if you have seven options for a week then it will be easier to make the daily decision of what to eat for dinner. Without this plan it sometimes takes more energy to decide what is for dinner than to fix the meal, and then you might not have all the ingredients.

Once you have a basic meal plan for the week it is easier to choose something from that plan each morning. Make this choice as you are preparing breakfast or at least by lunch. Check your menu plan as you prepare breakfast and decide which meal best fits the activities of the day. If you are going on a field trip or to the library and will be gone all afternoon it will be beneficial to throw something into the slow cooker or crock pot so that you have a meal when you return. If you have a day when the children can help you prepare the meal then you may want to choose a meal that is more involved and make it part of their school day.

Involving children in dinner preparations is a perfect way to accomplish two things at once. Not only will you have a meal, but it is a learning time for your children. Reading the recipe is good reinforcement for a child who is learning to read. Placing biscuits on a cookie sheet in four rows of three is a definite multiplication lesson for the child who needs it. Having time to talk about what you have learned that day as you peel potatoes can add fuel to their interest in a particular subject. Each child should learn to cook and be comfortable working in the kitchen even without these academic bonuses. If they learn the most complicated algebraic equations and can’t take care of themselves what have we accomplished? It may be beneficial to assign each child a day of the week to be in charge of dinner for a season.

Try some of the following tips to further simplify your meals.

Learn to use your crock pot or slow cooker. Try converting some of your favorite recipes to the crock pot. Search the internet and your library for new recipes to try. Using the crock pot or slow cooker gives you a way to prepare that meal early in the day and then be done.
On a day when you have more time, boil a whole chicken (at my house we do two), adding peppercorns, onions, celery and rosemary or another favorite spice to create a broth. Put it on in the morning and enjoy the aroma while you do school. Pick the chicken apart into bite size pieces. Plan your meals for the next several days around this prepared chicken and broth. Getting the meat ready is often the hardest part of fixing meals like chicken enchiladas or chicken and dumplings. Doing this for several meals at a time means you only have to do it once. Freezing the chicken or broth for future use is another way to have an easy meal to pull together. Of course, buying canned chicken is simple also, but more costly than preparing it yourself. Save the money and spend it on something to supplement your curriculum.

Dried beans can work with the same concept. Soak a large amount and cook them either in the crock pot or on the stove. Put them in ziplock bags and keep them in the freezer until you need them or plan several meals around them that week.

Making mixes ahead of time may simplify meal preparation for you. The book “Make-a-Mix” by Karine Eliason includes many recipes for making mixes ahead. This can save time in your cooking process.

Have you heard of cooking once a month and putting it in the freezer? If you like the idea of doing all the work in a couple days and then enjoying the meals for the entire month as you pull them out of the freezer, there are many books about cooking this way. A couple examples are: “Dinner’s in the Freezer!” by Jill Bond and “Once a Month Cooking” by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg. Search for these and others at your local library or online at Amazon.

Be willing to experiment with these and other methods for simplifying your cooking. Not every idea will suit every person, but find the ones that suit you.
Remember, you will feel better and your children will respond more positively if good meals are being served. Behavior problems can be related to food, and children need healthy meals and snacks. Boys in particular seem to be better behaved and more focused when their nutritional needs are being met.
A final note about having a house of order: enjoy the process. If you learn to find joy in the simple things then doing the difficult things will seem easier.

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