I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Sanity-Saving Meal Planning Tips for the Homeschool Momma

Sanity-Saving Meal Planning Tips for the Homeschool Momma {The Unlikely Homeschool}

As a homeschool momma, I have the blessing of balancing both HOME and SCHOOL each day. But, that blessing can quickly morph into a curse if either side of the pendulum swings out of control from lack of organization and planning.

Because I am a firm believer in "slow" food--food that is whole--food that is prepared with my own hands...food that is eaten together around the family table, I count meal-planning and preparing a large chunk of the "home" part in "homeschool". We eat all three meals together. We prescribe to the 80/20 rule. And since The Hubs is not a fan of cold sandwiches or leftovers, and since he comes home for lunch, we have three full meals each day. While I'm no Julia Child, I do think I have learned a few helpful tricks over the years for making kitchen work a bit more homeschool-friendly.

Here are a few of my best-kept meal planning secrets.

Make a monthly meal-plan backward

I've never been one to make an entire 30-day meal plan. That's a bit too rigid for me. I prefer flying week-by-week. But, no matter if you'd like to plan out a whole month or just one week in advance, try putting your list together backward. Don't worry about planning what you will eat. Start by writing down what you did eat. In other words, after you cook and eat each meal, write your just-eaten menu down. Compile a list for each breakfast, lunch, and dinner that you did eat for an entire week. Do this for four weeks in a row and you'll have yourself a skeleton for a monthly meal plan. Then, all you'll have to do is make a few tweaks here-and-there for variety and write them down on a flexible meal planning sheet.

Sanity-Saving Meal Planning Tips for the Homeschool Momma {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Compile a meal list

The summer before my daughter began kindergarten, I knew I had to get organized in the kitchen. In addition to having a very eager-to-start-school girl, I also had a toddler and an infant glued to my side at nearly every waking moment of the day. Meal times were tricky. The thought of adding homeschooling to the chaos was enough to undo me. So in a desperate attempt to shave off as much meal-planning/prep time as possible, I began making a master meal list. I went through every recipe card and book I owned in order to form a list of all the meals that I made. I organized this large list into the following sub-categories:
  • Soup
  • Sandwiches
  • Pasta
  • Mexican (Yep! That one gets its own category. We eat A.LOT. of Mexican food 'round here!)
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Ham
  • Seafood/Other
  • Breakfast
Once my list was made, I typed it all up and included the name of the recipe book and page number where I could find that meal for easy reference.

Each entry looked something like this...
Chicken Scallopini (Fix It! p.37)
Caprese Chicken (Pinterest)

As the years flew by, I continued to add and detract from my master list. Now, anytime I need to put my weekly menu together, I just scan down my menu list and easily select items that are in season, on sale, or just meet my current cravings. Having them organized by sub-category helps to ensure that we're not eating chicken every night of the week...variety!

Cook in big batches

With a larger-than-average sized family, I typically have to cook a larger-than-average sized meal. But, with a little additional planning, I can make big meals more time-efficient with some BIG-BATCH cooking.

Over the years, I've done this in numerous ways. Occasionally, I'll dedicate a Saturday to preparing many freezer meals to squirrel away for an I-don't-feel-like-cooking night. But, this often requires way more prep, planning, and energy than I can usually afford.

Instead, what works better for me is to double meals when I make them. I've learned to modify many of the meals I make to be freezer-friendly by substituting ingredients when necessary. When planning my menu each week, I try to include one meal that can be doubled. Later in the week when I cook that particular dish, I make two portions...one to eat and one to freeze. It takes very little extra time to do the same steps twice. Plus, you only have to do the dishes once!

Prep in big batches

While not every meal can be doubled, many have ingredients that can be prepared in big batches. By preparing and freezing basic ingredients, I can whip a meal together in no time by tossing pre-prepared items together with fresh items. For instance, I always buy large portions of ground beef when it goes on sale. I split half the meat into several 1 pound portions to be frozen raw. Then, I fry up the rest of the meat to be divided into meal-sized portions and frozen in Ziplocks for future dinners. These bags of pre-cooked ground beef can easily be thawed and tossed into tacos, spaghetti, casseroles, or any number of quick-fix meals...cutting my dinner-making time by a third on busy weeknights.

Hamburger is not the only thing I pre-prep and freeze. Other items include:
  • shredded chicken
  • sliced apples for pies and sauces (dip in a mild, salt-water bath to prevent browning)
  • fresh parsley
  • bacon pieces for soups and casseroles (I cut the raw bacon into small pieces and then fry to shorten the cooking time)
  • ham 
  • pizza dough
  • cookie dough
Don't have time to cook up 5 lbs. of ground beef? That's OK. You can apply the same principle of "doubling" to pre-prep. If you need to cook up a pound of ground beef for lasagna one night, cook up 2 pounds instead. Add half to your dinner and freeze the other half in a ziplock bag for "someday."

Sanity-Saving Meal Planning Tips for the Homeschool Momma {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Create a "no-brainer" shopping list

I tend to be a shop-the-sales kinda girl. But, like that of most American households, my grocery list remains constant from month-to-month. To make my shopping list both sanity and family-friendly, I made a master grocery list that I just print off each week.

Since I usually shop at the same store for most of my grocery needs each month, I created my list to reflect the organization of that store. I divided my groceries into sub-lists according to the theme of each store aisle. I wrote down the main things I buy from each aisle in the order that I come to them as I am shopping. (I am a creature of habit and tend to walk through the store in the exact same direction each time.) I also included a few blank spaces at the end of each sub-list (aisle list) for add-on items.

A copy of this master list can usually be found hanging on my fridge each week with a highlighter close by. Now, as I run out of certain items throughout the week, I just highlight them. My husband and children are encouraged to do the same. Highlighting is much faster than writing out each individual item EVERY SINGLE WEEK.

When it comes time to shop, I just have to add or highlight a handful of meal-specific groceries to the list and it's complete. Since the list is organized according to how groceries are displayed at my local store, I can basically walk through the store on auto-pilot grabbing highlighted items as I come to them.

I keep both my master meal list and my grocery list in my family notebook for easy reference.

Prep for a meal right after a meal

I usually begin prepping for a meal right after a meal has been eaten. In other words, right after supper, I begin prepping for tomorrow's breakfast. After breakfast in the morning, I take out the items that I'll need for lunch, and so on. I typically am already in the kitchen...cleaning up, putting things away, stacking dishes in the dishwasher, etc. So, it only makes sense that I should use this time to look ahead to the next meal. I glance at my weekly menu plan to determine if frozen items need to be set out to thaw, the dough needs to be mixed in order to have sufficient rising time, a side-dish needs to be whipped up and tossed in the fridge to chill, etc.

I don't like being rushed. I don't like having five children hovering around me wondering when the meal will finally be ready to eat. I don't like chaos. Having a forward view of "what comes next" helps me to arrive at "the next" with much less stress.

Sanity Saving Meal Planning Tips for the Homeschool Momma {The Unlikely Homeschool}

Use tools in new ways

Like most mommas, I've learned to MacGyver my way through tricky situations. Mealtime is no exception. Since I have a smaller-than-average sized home, I have a smaller-than-average amount of kitchen storage and therefore can't hoard several different large "must-have" kitchen gadgets. Instead, I've learned to use smaller, run-of-the-mill tools in new ways to save time and space. My three current favorite out-of-the-box tools are:

a pizza cutter

Yes, I use them to cut pizzas. But, because I have several little ones that are currently too young to cut food for themselves, I also use pizza cutters to cut all kinds of other dishes including pancakes, quesadillas, omelets, grilled sandwiches...anything that is flat and needs to be cut into bite-sized pieces. A pizza cutter is so much faster and more efficient than a knife and fork.

kitchen shears

Since I don't own a sharp butcher knife, I opt for plan B...a set of kitchen scissors that are strictly used for cutting raw meat...chicken, beef, pork...any raw meat that needs to be cut into strips or chunks prior to cooking.

a box grater

I don't currently have the space to store a food processor. But since I bake a lot of pastry-type items that require me to "cut in" butter such as biscuits or pie crust, a box cheese grater has become my GO TO replacement. By grating very cold or frozen butter over the rest of the dough ingredients, I can sift the butter shavings in the same way that a food processor would.

A final word

Admittedly, meal times have and probably always will be a crazier-than-normal part of our HOMEschool day. But, by implementing a few simple organizational tools, This homeschool momma has been able to provide slow, more-meaningful meals and hospitality to my family and others while keeping my sanity in check!

Helpful Resources

Family Feasts for $75 a Week
Kitchen Organization Tips and Secrets
Conquering Your Kitchen: How to plan meals, shop, and cook real food with confidence and purpose
Some of my "slow food" recipes

Be sure to head over to iHomeschool Network to learn more helpful homeschool meal-planning secrets from mommas just like me!


  1. Thank you. Why is it meal time seems to get crazy so easy? Several of these I already implement. However, I don't have a master shopping list (Organized by aisle? Genius!) Going to look into this. Once a month I take inventory then make a monthly meal plan starting with what I have on hand. I used to write down a new list each time, but then got smart and printed one off I could mark off things. Then I got smarter and laminated the list. My highlighter wipes off like a dry erase marker (not sure if all do). So if I could add for anyone who is concerned about paper and ink use, a master list also could be laminated and a highlighter and dry erase marker used.

    1. Yes, a highlighter with a laminated sheet would be a great way to do it. I have too many little hands and would be afraid my highlights would get erased. But someday...

  2. Wow... thanks for the great ideas! I'm going to definitely begin writing down what we eat in order to create future meal plans quickly. We are moving toward eating healthier, adding whole foods and cutting out processed foods. I would love it if you would consider sharing some of your meal plans and recipes. It would be such a big help! Thanks!

    1. Our transition to whole foods has been a slow-and-steady process over the last three or so years...maybe four...can't remember. I came from a highly-processed background. So, that is where I started as a wife and mother. With some guidance from a few friends, I have slowly replaced processed with homemade. I'm still a work in progress but find safety in 80/20.

  3. You are amazing. Come over and organize my life, will ya?! Seriously...

    1. Confessional: There is A LOT of un-organization in my life too. I just have the privilege *wink* of sharing the pretty parts and leaving off all the rest.

    2. BTW...My sister-in-law has been in your neck of the woods for a couple of weeks visiting her family. My #3 said that he wished she could pick up your #3 and bring him over to play for a few days. We got his last letter and will be sending one soon!

    3. Very cool! Tell her to stop on by!
      Matthew would TOTALLY do that. He's my fearless kid. Ha!
      I'm hoping that someday our families will be able to meet. :)
      Matt will be very excited to get the letter!

  4. This was so neat! Thanks for the wisdom! I, too, would be interested in what some of your favorite meals look like. I really have no idea what our ratio looks like (80/20 or otherwise)...so there is definitely room for improvement. Sometimes, even when I plan (I usually can only muster two weeks at a time planned out) I find we are eating the same 7 "basic" meals with slight variations. And I am frankly JUST.SO.BORED. I am often proud of our kids for being such good eaters, but I do wish I could throw a curve ball in there once and a while that would be for parental culinary enjoyment and not have a kid picking at his/her plate until bed time on account of it. I love recipe swaps so if you have any good ones I'd be eager to hear them!

    Also, I am glad to hear that others go a little freezer happy with ground beef! The last time we made a batch (we have a 1/4 cow in the freezer so there is tons of hamburger to work with at a moments notice 'round these parts) I did enough to make hamburger patties for the grill, two batches of taco nights, one spaghetti night, and four small square pans of lasagna. Needless to say, by the end of it I felt like throwing up at the mere mention of ground beef....but boy was I glad for all those "ready made meals" waiting for me to thaw out at a moment's notice in the freezer.

  5. Thank you for all of this knowledge! I am new to homeschooling this year and have been overwhelmed by the constant need for me to be with it and have things planned and prepped. Your ideas are easy to understand and apply today for meal planning and prep. Much appreciated!