Meal timesavers, and preschool math

Sue Zipkin’s meal planner pad hung on my refrigerator for years, created, recreated, copied for the next month … Pizza Night, Fridays … Popcorn Night, Sundays … pasta, fish, soup … handy!

When there’s a child in the house with school projects, music lessons, and soccer games, kitchen efficiency counts. Eat healthful, home-cooked meals by reducing the prep time and increasing the life skills.

Make extra

In COVIDtine, it’s hard to imagine that, when I was a young mother, women would get together and do massive cooking projects to share with each other’s families. And, while I never did that (we were low sugar, all organic, no mammals, so not an easy fit), my husband and I did do a “Month of Meals” weekend food prep event. Once. It was just too much work. I quickly switched to the Make Double, Freeze Half approach to meal planning.

It’s a wonderful time saver especially if you have room for an extra freezer. Ours has always been in the basement, and going downstairs to retrieve a ready-made meal in minutes never gets old! One friend even keeps a list on the freezer of what’s inside — an extra-credit home economist that one. (For me, the delight of discovering that saved bowl of ready-to-bake chocolate chip pecan cookie dough I’d forgotten about on a chilly evening at home far outweighs the brilliant organization of an inventory sheet. 🙂 )

A useful plan

Consider making a general plan for the month and the week and use it to create an ongoing grocery list for: a weekly soup night, pasta night, chicken night, fish night, pizza night, leftovers night, etc. Once you get a plan everyone likes, repeat it from week to week, keeping some favorite dishes and introducing new ones as the season, tastes, or schedule allows. I like to have an “international night” where we try something completely different at least a couple of times a month.

Having this outline helps avoid that crazy 4 o’clock phenomenon of not remembering a single thing you ever cooked that anyone ever liked. Wait, was I the only one?! Nope – here’s a link for rescue ideas.

There’s no end to online meal planners. For this free, printable PDF to get started, click here .

Protein for breakfast

Try serving a wide variety of protein-rich options for breakfast —traditional eggs and frittatas, toast with nut butter, breakfast burritos, egg-and-bean bowls, baked potatoes with protein toppings. Throw out the rule book and be as creative as you like with your proteins. Here’s a quiche recipe that goes together easily, freezes well, accommodates a nice assortment of tastes and ingredients, and feels fancy.

Cross-curricular lunches

Preschool is a wonderful time to teach children to make their own food. Let them smell the spices. Teach them how to use tools. Give them the freedom to mix, chop, spray, pour, spill and clean up. Kids who cook early become adults who will always be able to feed themselves and others good food.

Have fun. Let your children help make their own lunches. Sometimes, pack picnic lunches for the park, or just the porch. And remember to make handwashing the first step every time.

Sometimes, make meal preparation part of your lesson plans. Math — whole sandwich, cut it in half, two equal pieces; two groups of two peaches equals four peaches; you get the idea. Addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, all so easy in the kitchen. Teachable moments. Art — use markers or paints and paper to create “place setting placemats” for each person in the family. Laminate them, then let your preschooler help set the table by matching up the plates, silverware, glasses and napkins to the pictures on the placemats. Same idea, sponge paint fall pictures, and laminate them for use as placemats. So many fun things to do!

Budget help

Finally, use your meal plan to help hold the reigns on the food budget. Buy extra when your frequent foods are on sale, check sale ads, and stretch your food dollar by using your leftovers wisely. I still find mystery or mushy items that got pushed to the back of the refrigerator and have to be thrown out, but I hate to see it. Handy storage tips help; for example, before that beautiful bunch of basil goes to waste, freeze dry it, or make a little pesto and freeze portions in an ice cube tray then store the cubes to a zip-top bag. Have fun being a smart shopper and savvy chef.

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