I don’t really like cooking. Sometimes I feel guilty about this – surely taking delight in serving up delicious home-cooked meals is a natural part of being a good mum? Then I remind myself that just because my own passions happen to lie elsewhere doesn’t mean I love my kids any less.
It seems unlikely that I’m the only homeschooling mum who feels this way, so this post is for anyone else out there who’s trying to make sure their children eat a healthy, balanced diet while spending the minimum amount of time in the kitchen. I’ll share my tips, and I’d love to hear yours.
When it comes to cooking, I want:
1. To make sure my family eat regular balanced meals
2. To provide access to healthy snacks
3. To make sure we all eat the better part of our five portions of fruit or vegetables a day
4. To encourage healthy eating habits for life
5. For my children to be able to cook for themselves by the time they leave home
absent-minded right-brained and with a slightly crazy schedule, I need all the help I can get when it comes to getting food onto the table.
Apps are life-savers for the organisationally-challenged, and one in particular – MealBoard – has made a huge difference to me when it comes to cooking for my family. (MealBoard isn’t available for android phones, but Food Planner seems very similar. Or you could use an offline menu-planner, if you’re organised enough to keep track of paper.)
I’ve used MealBoard to plan my menus and shopping lists every week for the last three years. It cuts down the amount of time I have to spend planning our meals to about ten minutes a week – yay!
You do have to invest a bit of time at the start, loading your favourite recipes onto MealBoard. You can do this manually on the phone or a computer, or you can import recipes from fifteen different websites, including AllRecipes and BBC Good Food.
Balanced meals and family favourites
You can group recipes into your own categories. I categorise by:
- food type (poultry, pasta …)
- meal type (lunch, snacks, side dishes, crockpot meals …) and
- people (C(9)’s favourites, J(8)’s favourites …)
This means I can easily pull together a week’s worth of balanced menus and make sure everyone gets their favourite dish from time to time. I can plan crockpot meals for days we’re home late, and meals that require more preparation for less busy days.
Once you’ve loaded your recipes, MealBoard lets you create a weekly shopping list at the touch of a button.
If I notice I’m running low on something mid-week – flour, say – I can add it manually to my MealBoard shopping list.
If you’re really clever, you can use MealBoard to cut down menu-planning even more by using templates. You can save and re-use as many menu plans (each up to a month long) as you like. So you could rotate two monthly menus, or save menus by month to reflect seasonal preferences.
I don’t use this function so much, perhaps because my kids’ tastes are still changing so our menus are gradually becoming more sophisticated. (Hey, did I just use the word “sophisticated” in a post about me cooking?)
I do almost all my food shopping online at Tesco. This does mean I sometimes miss out on tempting seasonal produce, but it does mean less waste and saves a huge amount of time.
I create my week’s grocery list on MealBoard, add in “My Usuals” stored on the Tesco website, and make sure I schedule delivery for when everyone’s around to help put away.
Teaching the children to cook
Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither of my children has shown much interest in cooking so far, but I’m encouraging them in small ways. C(9) makes her own sandwich for lunch most days, and she can also poach, boil and scramble eggs.
J(8)’s favourite lunch is rice and peas, which he can make but only by standing on a stool to reach our microwave, so I’m waiting until he’s a bit taller to expect him to get his own lunch daily!
The children also cook at our weekly home education centre visits, and – strangely – their French class!
When we switched to a low-gluten, sugar and dairy diet to help with J(8)’s sensory processing issues, pancakes (made with gluten-free flour and goats milk) became a favourite homeschool snack.
Both children enjoy making a bowl of pancake batter, and C(9) will even cook the whole stack for us to enjoy together while reading aloud. We serve our pancakes with fresh fruit, ham and sometimes a drop of agave nectar.
To answer the frequent cries of “I’m hungry!” I make sure there’s always plenty of fruit available – usually apples, satsumas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, melon and mango or pineapple.
I’m a big fan of the Brave Writer lifestyle, which involves a lot of cakes and cookies. Given my non-fondness for cooking, if it weren’t for our family’s dietary restrictions I probably wouldn’t bake our own – but even I can see that a warm home-baked cake on the table is much nicer than a shop-bought one. When I’m organised, I make a cake on a Sunday for us to enjoy over poetry teas, read-alouds and free-writes throughout the week.
Our food routine
Breakfast – everyone gets their own (sugar-free) cereal, usually oat cereal or oatabix with goats’ milk
Mid-Morning snack – fruit or (gluten & sugar-free) pancakes
Lunch – C(9) makes her own sandwich. I make soup for myself and rice with vegetables for J(8)
Afternoon snack – fruit. If I remember, I get out the bamboo skewers. (What is it about eating it off a stick that makes food more fun?)
Dinner – as dinner time approaches, I check MealBoard to see what’s on the menu. (I love how this makes me feel like someone else has done the planning for me.)
We eat all together at the table whenever we can. At weekends, my lovely husband (who likes cooking about as much as me) cooks a roast on Sunday and pizza, fajitas or burgers on Saturday.
I’d like to enjoy cooking. I’ve tried many times over the years to inspire myself into getting better at it, but nothing seems to stick. It’s not that I dislike anything in particular about the process, it’s that there are so many other things I want to be doing instead.
During one of my attempts to enjoy cooking more, I excitedly told my friend Diana (a mum of three, whose gorgeous meals cooked from scratch leave me in awe), “I’m learning to cook!”. She commented politely that in the twenty years she’d known me, I’d repeatedly described myself as “learning to cook”, and all the while I’d been managing to put food on the table. So perhaps I should acknowledge myself for what I do achieve!
More food for thought
Muffin Tin Monday – fun and creative meal and snack ideas
It’s Not About Nutrition – a blog about encouraging healthy eating habits. I’ve subscribed for a while and I like the message
Jamie’s Food Revolution – A cookbook for beginners that even I can follow. (The UK edition is Jamie’s Ministry of Food)
More from the Homeschool Help team
For more inspiration on the subject of juggling cooking and homeschooling, check out these posts from the other members of the Homeschool Help team.
Cooking Tips For The Homeschool Mom Savannah at Hammock Tracks says “Even if you don’t enjoy cooking, there are ways to conquer the “What’s for dinner?” question without calling Dominos!”
Nutritious Meals, Quick! Hwee at The Tiger Chronicle shares 3 simple tips that have helped her prepare nutritious family meals every day
Realistic Meal Planning For Homeschool Mums Nicole at One Magnificent Obsession on how to avoid eating at Chik Fil A every night
Strategies For Cooking Healthy For A Family Julie at Highhill Homeschool shares 5 strategies for preparing healthy meals when time is an issue
Plating Up Erin at Seven Little Australians says the key for her family to successfully juggling cooking is organisation
Hippie Method: Food Philosophied Bernadette at Barefoot Hippie Girl writes about how she makes easy, delicious (relatively) healthy food from scratch – almost every day
Coming up from the Homeschool Help team
Next week the Homeschool Help team will be talking about homeschool co-ops – why? or why not?