Managing your time when you homeschool can be a challenge. One of the things that can go by the wayside is making meals from scratch.
But homeschoolers do have an advantage over parents who work outside the home -- your kitchen's right there, and your kids will (usually) be eating their meals at your dining room table.
And unlike students who have to choose between cafeteria food or bag lunch, your kids can enjoy home cooked meals that cost less, taste better and use healthier ingredients.
Here are some ways homeschooling parents fit home cooking into their busy schedules:
Invest in a slow cooker.
Slow cookers are not expensive -- you can get a decent one for around $20 -- and they're worth every inch of counter space they take up. As one homeschooler raves, "Many dishes can be thrown together in 10 min or less and are delicious! When dinner time comes all you do is serve it and clean the slow cooker."
You may also be surprised at the range of dishes you can use them for -- everything from stews to meatloaf to bread. We keep a few slow cooker cookbooks on hand at my house, but there are lots of great recipes online as well. One of our favorites is "rotisserie-style" roast chicken. Save the carcass to make chicken broth in the slow cooker, too.
Make extra for leftovers.
It usually takes about the same amount of time and effort to double your recipe and save the rest for a later meal. With a little trial and error, you'll quickly figure out what kinds of meals taste just as good (or better!) when they're heated up the next day. My family would much rather heat up a container (or a single plate) in the microwave than make a cold sandwich for lunch.
Prep ahead and freeze meals.
Doing the prep work ahead of time makes cooking from scratch much easier. We cut up vegetables like green peppers or broccoli and throw them in a bag in the freezer, to use as needed. When I make stew, I coat all the meat with flour and spices in a freezer bag, and put away half for another time.
We've also assembled and frozen uncooked calzones and ham and cheese croissants, which can even be heated up one at a time for an easy snack. And we've made our own dry mixes, such as pancake mix and hot chocolate, to have ready when we need it. As one homeschooling mom said, "I would rather have a little processed food than a processed education."
Swap meals with friends.
I've never tried swapping meals, but if you've got friends who like to cook this is a good way to get a little variety to your diet. Each person cooks enough to provide a freezer-friendly meal to each family who takes part, and everyone goes home with a nice selection of ready-to-freeze dinners.
Of course, a simpler way to sample your friends' cooking is to hold a potluck party. It's a great strategy for breaking bread together without creating a ton of work for yourself.
Teach kids to cook.
Meal time can be educational. Get little ones to help you chop up vegetables. Let emerging readers help you with the recipe and measuring out ingredients. Older kids can be taught meal preparation and food safety, and take responsibility for dinner one or more nights a week.
Cooking is a fun hobby, and another chance to be creative. But most importantly, when kids learn to cook, they develop a skill they'll use throughout their life.