The Home School Court Report
Vol. XXV
No. 5
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September/October
2009

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Early Years Previous Page Next Page
by Vicki Bentley
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Do-ahead Dinner Ideas for Busy Families

You may wonder, “What is an article about getting supper on the table doing in the Court Report?” Well, most people who give up on home education don’t quit because they can’t teach science or find the perfect curriculum. They quit because they despair of educating their children and feeding the family and tackling the laundry and clearing an entry path from the front door … so they think something has to go—and guess what that something usually is? You guessed it: homeschooling.

Recipes taken from The Family Table: From “books gone” to “dinner on” in 30 minutes or less

Bountiful Baked Potatoes

Baked potatoes make quick, easy, nourishing suppers. Poke a few steam-vent holes with a fork in a scrubbed potato and microwave on high for 4 minutes (add 3–4 minutes per additional potato); or put in oven at 375° F for an hour before suppertime. Top with a ½ plain yogurt-½ sour cream mixture, minced turkey ham, chopped leftover vegetables (broccoli is especially yummy), leftover chili, shredded cheese, shredded carrots, etc.

Hawaiian Chicken

Use those ingredients you prepared earlier in the week! (Feel free to substitute fresh ingredients for canned items.)

1 quart bag of cooked rice (from freezer)
1 quart bag of chopped cooked chicken (from freezer, or defrosted in fridge all day)
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
½ onion, chopped
2 cans cream of chicken soup
9 or 15 oz. can crushed pineapple, with juice
non-stick spray or a splash of olive oil

Defrost rice (and chicken, if not thawed) on high in microwave for 4–5 minutes, until warm. Meanwhile, sauté onion and bell peppers in splash of oil or non-stick spray in skillet or large saucepan. Stir cream of chicken soup into sautéed vegetables until smooth and heated through. Stir in crushed pineapple with juice. Fold in warmed chopped chicken. Serve over rice. Serves 4.

So even though Getting Dinner on the Table the Same Day You Homeschool may not seem like one of the more necessary homeschooling topics, your husband and kids will thank you, and you will have hope for another day of science and language arts.

A recent survey of National Merit scholars of the past 20 years revealed one common denominator—without exception, recipients came from households who made family dinnertime (all at the table at the same time!) a priority, even if just three nights a week. “But,” you think, “our family is pulled in so many directions—how can we eat together?” Or, as a busy homeschool mom, you wonder how you can clear the books off the dining table, get something more substantial than ramen noodles or Cheerios on the table in a timely manner, and still have energy to eat!

If you can get supper on the table in 15–30 minutes, you are more likely to eat together and chat a bit before you divide and conquer for the evening. Here are some ideas for do-ahead meal preparation that can greatly reduce your time in the kitchen after school (or work), and even the food prep can be family time, if you work together.

1) Make menus.

Whether you plan one week at a time or a month at a time, having a plan will make daily meal preparation more automatic. Without a menu on my fridge, I am more likely to delay preparation so that our meal is later than I’d planned, or send someone out for burgers. Having a plan relieves me of the stress of thinking up a meal every day; I combine the stress into one hour of planning!

Plan ahead for family dinners.
www.istockphoto.com
...
RECIPES TAKEN FROM
THE FAMILY TABLE:
FROM “BOOKS GONE”
TO “DINNER ON”
IN 30 MINUTES
OR LESS.
...

2) Keep a stocked pantry/freezer.

I grocery shop from my list, which is made from my menu plans. It helps to make a master list, using your grocery categories or your local store’s layout as a guide.

3) Do as much as you can ahead of time.

Even if you aren’t a master of once-a-month cooking, you can develop your own “faster food” ingredients by planning ahead and spending a few extra minutes in preparation all at once. Earlier in the week, when you can carve out an hour or two at home:

>> Cook a huge pot of rice and put the leftovers in zip-seal bags in the freezer. Gently flatten the bags as you pop them in the freezer so they will thaw faster. (This is a great way to have rice on hand quickly. It thaws in the microwave in less than five minutes, or overnight in the fridge.)

>> On the stove, put a large pot full of water, onions, carrots, vegetable trimmings, and several cut-up chickens or parts. Simmer for an hour (while you cook rice and chop veggies), then de-bone chicken, tear or chop into bite-sized pieces, and pop into zip-seal freezer bags for future meals. Strain broth and refrigerate in jars overnight to harden any fat (remove fat before moving jars to freezer). Or use some broth that same evening for chicken soup after that tough grocery trip.

>> Speaking of chicken: when I use boneless skinless breasts, I slice each horizontally into two thinner slices (be careful of the palm of your hand). Because I keep the width, they still look like full-sized portions, but I can feed eight from one four-pack of breast halves, and they cook much faster because they’re thinner.

Here for You

HSLDA members may contact our early years coordinator, Vicki Bentley, for advice on teaching preschoolers through 8th-graders.

>> Now if you want to serve 24 from that same four-pack of breast halves: The smaller you chop your meat, the farther you can stretch it. Instead of chopping, I mince chicken for enchiladas and can get at least five more out of it.

>> While you’ve got the chopper or food processor out, chop several onions or a whole bag of nuts or shred several pounds of cheese, and freeze them. Next time, the chopping will be done. If you plan to use them within the week, chop bell peppers and carrots now, and store in the fridge for salads and casseroles.

>> Chop hard-boiled eggs, shred cheese, carrots, etc., and have on hand for salads.

>> If you make doubles (casseroles or entrees) every day for a week, you’ll have seven extra meals in the freezer at the end of the week. Or freeze casserole leftovers in meal-sized portions and Dad can grab lunch out of the freezer on his way out in the morning to thaw in time for lunch.

Homeschooling and feeding your family aren’t incompatible goals! A little planning ahead and preparation can help you prepare a healthy meal, enjoy dinner with your family, and reduce stress.


About the author

Vicki Bentley is HSLDA’s early years coordinator. This article was excerpted in part from her book Getting Dinner on the Table the Same Day You Homeschool. For more tips, click the “Organization” tab on our early years page.