The kids are back to school in our corner of beautiful Ontario, Canada. Along with preparing the kids for their new academic year with school supplies and new clothes, parents everywhere are turning their attention to getting back into the school routine. There's the hurry up and out the door breakfast, brown bag lunches, starvin' Marvin after school snacks and only 20 minutes to eat before soccer practice dinners. Parents become busier themselves as organizations they are involved with resume activities after their summer hiatus. For many families, Sunday is reserved for religious activities leaving only Saturday for a catch-up day which often ends up being a day to do something more enjoyable like a trip to the orchard. Complicating the time restraints and heavy demands is the increasing number of parents who themselves are either starting or returning to their academic studies (been there, done that). At any rate, September marks the beginning of an increasingly hectic time for many which in turn creates mealtime issues.
September brings with it pack lunches, quick snacks and easy to prepare weekday meals. The problem is as the days get busier many families resort to take-out or fast food because some days it is simply easier to eat en route in the car than to sit down and eat at home. Unfortunately, this is the worst solution on many levels. Here are a few ways to avoid the take-out or fast food rut in favour of delicious, healthy and lower cost meals during those busy time:
- be organized - Schedule in meal prep and perhaps one or two baking sessions for cookies or other baked goodies for lunches. For best results, write it into your planner or put it on your kitchen reminder.
- plan ahead - I'm not a huge fan of menu planning but for busy families, menu planning can save a lot of headaches while keeping the cost of your grocery bill down.
- prepare ahead - Clean out your fridge before grocery shopping. When you return from grocery shopping, set aside those items that can be easily prepared for the following week. Wash fruits and put into a fruit bowl for easy self serve after school snacking. Cut carrots and celery for lunch snacks. This will only take a few minutes at the end of putting groceries away but save both time and money while encouraging healthy snacking habits. Cooked beans, rice and pasta all keep well in the fridge. Cook a larger batch of one or more depending on your family size then use as a basis for meals throughout the week.
- bulk cooking - Once a month cooking or bulk cooking can easily put a month's worth of prepared meals in your freezer with only a day's worth of cooking AND only once a month. I relied heavily on once a month cooking when the kids were at home and I was in university. The method works well but should be modified to meet your family's needs. Kids can help with the prep work and my husband has always been a huge help in the kitchen so helped with these sessions as well.
- enlist help - Enlist the help of each member of the family. Even a small child can help put together snack packets for the following week. Kids as young as six can make a meal with guidance. Older children can be given increasing more complex kitchen chores and are often able to make complete meals after school ready for a family sit down meal. Make this easy by doing a bit of prep the night before so all they have to do is put the casserole in the oven, turn it to the correct temperature then set the table.
- the slow cooker - The slow cooker can be a busy family's best friend. It is truly amazing what can be cooked in a slow cooker including breads and cakes so think outside the box. Using your menu plan, prep the ingredients for the next day's dinner the night before. The next morning put the ingredients into the slow cooker, set to program or low and when you get home dinner is ready. All you need is to add a side salad
- KISS - Keep it simple, silly! You don't need to spend an elaborate amount of time in the kitchen to put good food on the table. Many meals can be made in 30 minutes or less ; several 15 and 30 minutes meals are in this blog's archives. Seriously, there is nothing wrong with having pancakes for dinner or an easy meal of soup and sandwich.