Aug 7, 2013

5 Days of Housekeeping for Homeschool Families: Day Four The Food

When I first got married, I couldn't hardly cook at all. Oh, I could boil water and we didn't starve, but most of what I know about cooking, real cooking, I learned from my husband. Back in those days, we ate a lot of convenience foods and I used a lot of boxes. We scrambled for meals a lot and mostly, we spent a lot of money that we really didn't need to spend. As the years have passed, and we had kids... and more kids, we have made changes to how we feed ourselves around here.
A few years back, I had a bunch of demanding little people always hanging on me. I was trying to be housewife and teacher. I didn't like to cook anyway, so I thought I would go the quick and easy way and let someone else do all the work for me. See, I thought that cooking from a box was easier. However, we made the decision to try to eat more healthily, so I started making our favorite box foods from scratch. Instead of a box of Hamburger Helper, I bought some noodles and cheese to cook and mix with my hamburger. And made several surprising discoveries... One, it was so much cheaper! Two, it wasn't that much more work and it really didn't take me any longer to boil a pan full of noodles and melt some cheese and milk into sauce that it did to open a box and mix it in with my meat. Three, it was more satisfying to cook this way. I said before that I didn't like to cook, but it might be a little more accurate to say that I strongly disliked it! But there is just something about creating a healthy meal for my family from a bunch of ingredients that is just... pleasant. Don't get me wrong, I still won't be knocking anyone over to get to the kitchen, but instead of dreading cooking, I don't mind it at all. My final surprising discover was that my family preferred the taste of my from-scratch meals to that of Betty Crocker.
So that's my first tip. Cook from scratch. It's cheaper. Oh, so much cheaper. And not that much more work. And it will make your family happier. And healthier.

My second tip is to plan ahead.
I think I might have mentioned before that I am a planner. I like lists. So one day, I sat down and wrote on a sheet of paper every meal that my family would eat. (This didn't take me as long as it might take you, because I might or might not have some picky eaters in my family and they might or might not be the children. I can't really say.) Then I sorted those meals into a four week rotation, trying to mix it up a little and not have the same type of meals too close together. Because I am a planner, I did this for breakfast, lunch, and supper. I was impressed at how much money this simple menu planning saved me. Before shopping each week, I looked at the menu and wrote out a list. No longer did I have to wander the grocery store, keeping track of recipes in my head as I struggled to find the required ingredients for 21 different meals. No longer did I impulse buy, thinking, "Well, maybe I'll feel like eating a baked potato this week!"
And how much easier it became to cook, because I didn't have to think about it in the heat of the moment. As I fixed lunch, I checked the menu and took out any meat that needed thawing. No longer did I stand in the middle of the kitchen at 5 pm, wondering desperately what I was going to do for supper.
Of course, eventually, our family changed. We added more foods that the picky eaters would eat. We dropped a lot more convenience meals from our diet. The kids got bigger and we got involved in activities outside the house. Suddenly, our evenings were no longer predictable and static. My monthly menu plan was no longer working for me.
So I adapted to the method I now use. I have a master list of meals that we like. It's easy to add to, because I can just write a new meal on the bottom of the list. I like to cruise for ideas, and friends are always posting recipes on Facebook. If it looks good, I'll try it. Sometimes they flop, but sometimes they are a fantastic hit and it gets added to our list of regulars.
But I no longer plan out four weeks of meals at one blow. Instead, I made a chart by creating a table in Microsoft Word and printing it out. I laminated it and keep it on the fridge. Once a week, (if I can beat Kaytie to it) I write out the menu for the week. Then I create a grocery list. The benefit here is that if we get home late or have to leave earlier than expected to our evening gig, and wind up getting pizza or eating sandwiches instead of what I had planned, then that meal can just be bounced to the next week and I'm not left hoping those ingredients last until their next rotation. It gives me a lot more flexibility in my plans.

We use the bottom part of the sheet to keep track of needed items that probably won't be noticed in specific meals the next week: like graham crackers and teriyaki sauce. The children often write these items down so I sometimes have to call for translation when I write my list.
Another thing that we have learned to do is to rotate meals as needed. Say I have baked potatoes planned for Wednesday night, like I did last night. And say I tell a certain child to go scrub potatoes and that child decides instead that his/her time is better spent trying to con his/her sibling into doing the job so that when it comes time to put said potatoes into the oven there are no clean potatoes. Well, then, we eat PB&J instead and have potatoes the next night. Or even if I just get to lunch time and don't feel like having what is on the menu, then I switch with the next day's meal and it's no big deal. So even if you are a mood eater, or don't like to be boxed in all the time, having a menu is still possible for you!

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