Managing the Schedule: Dinners and Activities
The final information is now in and the results are painful as three kids play three different sports. If I'm going to manage affordable and well-cooked meals - family meals are now no longer a given - then I have to work with the calendar and plan ahead of time.
We're a family that actually tries not to have everybody going in different directions, but kids need some activities and that means chaos when they get older. So what's the schedule look like?
Monday - Soccer and Volleyball
Tuesday - Piano and Baseball
Wednesday - Dance (evening, fortunately)
Thursday - Cub Scouts and Soccer
Saturday - Baseball
So for any given week, I've got three meals on the fly. How do I manage that?
First, what are my meal parameters? If possible, I want to make the meals made to minimize cost and maximize nutrition. Second, even if everybody is eating earlier, I want us together as much as possible. Third, I want to only have to prepare one time instead of cooking the same thing multiple times.
My parameters favor crockpot and soup recipes. These are meals that can be prepared in bulk and eaten over several nights. They can also stay warm for the others if one has to eat earlier. Additionally, I can use the evening hours to prepare the next day's ingredients - cutting vegetables, mixing spices into a small holding bowl and assuring that everything is clean for the next day. The leftovers are easily stored and reheated the following night. And frankly, these kinds of foods usually taste better after sitting and letting the flavors of the various ingredients blend further.
So a sample calendar for next week's meals would be:
Monday - Vegetarian Chili. Beans provide ample protein for the kids doing the sports.
Tuesday - Chili leftovers with broiled cheese toast.
Wednesday - Fish fillets. The activity doesn't start until early evening so nobody's running around dinnertime.
Thursday - Potato Leek Soup and sandwiches.
Friday - Grill night with burgers and grilled vegetables, such as peppers, onions and squash.
Saturday - Restaurant night.
Sunday - Lasagna.
There are two benefits to planning ahead. The first is that you can control your cost by creating a decent shopping list. When you shop, you aren't wandering aisles like an itinerant nomad and falling prey to the marketing techniques. The second is that you can gauge how to best use the available time to prepare the meal. Even when you're using the calendar and planning ahead, kids breed chaos and it doesn't stop just because they're no longer toddlers.
Just because the schedule is nuts - and there are requests that my wife and I have denied - doesn't mean that life has to feel chaotic.
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