Meal planning is so important as a freelancing mom. If I had to stop and think about what to cook for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack every single day, there’d be no room left in my mind for other things.
Besides taking brain power to actually think through what’s in my cupboards and what I can create, I’d also have to deal with the questions. Take seven kids who are all curious about what they’ll be eating next, and that’s a whole lot of questions!
Mommy, what’s for breakfast today?
Mom, I’m hungry, is it snack time yet?
If you’re a parent, you know how it goes. The never-ending questions.
So I simplified meal planning by creating an annual meal plan. We’re still using this plan, and it works well.
But, Changes Were Needed
As I’ve started doing some content editing for a fourth grade ELA curriculum for a client on a regular basis, I’ve had less time to cook.
Even though my meals were simplified, there were still plenty of steps to take to actually get each meal on the table.
And I didn’t always have that time on a daily basis.
So, I started thinking about ways to build even more efficiency into my day. And I changed a few of my go-to recipes, simplifying as a I went.
Here’s what I tweaked:
Including More Easy Recipes in My Rotations
The kids and I went through our meal rotations for dinner, and made some changes. If a meal took more than 45 minutes or so of active time, it got replaced.
So now each category is full of meals that are fairly simple to get on the table.
I also made sure we had a super quick, or super hands-off, meal in each category. That way I always have a backup if I run out of time. Right now, those meals are:
- Soup/Sandwich Night: Hamburger Vegetable Soup
- Seafood Night: Toasted crab salad on french bread
- Mexican Night: Quesadillas
- Asian Night: Chicken noodle stir fry
- Noodle Night: Spaghetti and Meatballs
- American Night: Hamburger Gravy over toast
- Dutch Oven: A frozen whole chicken with some root veggies and water thrown in the oven before heading to church
I also have two meals in each category that gets meals on the table in 30 minutes.
Talking Through the Meal Plans at Our Morning Meeting
Some of my hands-off meals still take thought. I have to make sure meat is defrosted. Peeling vegetables might need added to the kids’ to-do lists.
So now as part of our morning meetings, we talk through all the meals and snacks for the day. It only added a couple of minutes to our routine, but has helped immensely.
Even though they’ve been planned all along, it really is important to bring each meal to mind each day.
Focusing on this every morning helps me make sure I get all the ducks in a row so we actually eat on time. If it’s a crazy day for me work wise, and I need the kids to step up to help more with cooking, we talk about it.
I give them each the tasks they’ll handle, and let them know about what time it’ll need done.They’re more involved, and our meals get to the table on time.
Using More Prepared Food
I didn’t see this as a path that I’d go down, but when your plate is full, you do what you need to. I’ve started purchasing more prepared foods instead of trying to make everything from scratch like I used to.
We still prefer the homemade food, and I try to make as much as possible (or have the kids make it), but some days it doesn’t work. Especially with a newborn in the house!
So I’ve added somethings to my grocery list. Things like:
- Sliced bread-it’s insane how much bread we go through, an entire loaf for a meal of sandwiches!
- Bisquick (did you know you can make delicious muffins from Bisquick?)
- Veggies that are prepped a bit more, like baby carrots and celery hearts
- Prepared meatballs
These things save time. And that time adds up to help make the overwhelm not feel as overwhelming.
They also make things easier for the kids to divide and conquer. That way I’m not relying solely on my teen to do the bulk of the cooking.
My younger kids can safely cut the baby carrots in half for soup. They can follow a simple recipe that uses Bisquick and I don’t have to worry that they’re mixing up baking soda and baking powder. Or stand over their shoulders supervising so much.
As they get older, their cooking abilities will improve. But for now, these shortcuts are helping so much!
Another change I’ve made is to be a bit more creative. If we want fresh bread to go with our soup, I can mix up a batch of rolls and have them baked in just over an hour. Most of that time is waiting, so it’s not as labor intensive as the bread I typically make.
We also have wraps instead of sandwiches frequently. Tortillas are always in the fridge. Sliced bread may not be around.
On oatmeal breakfast day, we might have oatmeal bars that I baked the night before. Or baked oatmeal. It doesn’t need to be plain ol’ oatmeal. And some of these options are easier to prepare than others.
So by switching things up, we can have the meals the kids helped pick last summer, but with less effort. Win-win!
Increase My Bulk Cooking
If I’m frying up a pound of hamburger, I’ve started defrosting and frying five or ten pounds. Thank you steers we raised–plenty of meat in the freezer!
I typically just cook it with garlic and onions. Once it cools, I measure it out into quart sized bags, trying to get about a pound in each bag.
Then I freeze the bags. Now when I want to make hamburger vegetable soup, I don’t have to take time to defrost meat. Or wait for it to brown.
I just dump the contents of the bag into the pot and let it defrost as the rest of the meal cooks.
This speeds me up considerably! And honestly, browning five pounds of hamburger doesn’t take that much longer than frying one.
We can batch cook many things. The kids and I enjoy making large batches of cookies. Then we can freeze some to pull out another day.
We’ve frozen some meals, but honestly, I’ve found having cooked meat around is the biggest time saver for me. So I try and keep shredded chicken and cooked hamburger in the freezer. These can be used for:
- Rice bowls
And plenty of other meals. So it really jump starts cooking.
Has Freelancing Changed Your Meal Planning?
I’d love to hear how you’ve adapted to your growing to-do list when it comes to feeding your family. Please share in the comments.
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