Monday, April 7, 2014

Planning Meals (Homeschooling in the Kitchen)

Homeschooling in the Kitchen: Planning Meals

Making dinner can be one of the most stressful things in your day.  The first step, however, is planning, and it should happen long before anybody says, "Hey, what's for dinner?" Many variables go into planning a successful dinner, including accounting for food allergies, preferences of your diners, family schedules, and your budget.

One of the major steps of planning is creating a balanced meal, assessing the nutrition provided by the five major food groups - grains, fruits and vegetables, fats and oils, dairy, and proteins (meats, fish, nuts, legumes).  What makes this extra tricky in our family?  Accounting for dietary restrictions.  We have lots of food allergies here, and cutting out entire food groups (like dairy) so nobody has a reaction makes it extra challenging.


Though ANY food can cause an allergic reaction, 90% of food allergies are caused by dairy, soy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.), fish, and shellfish.

And please, don't cheat and think "It's only a tiny amount, it won't hurt!"  That tiny amount could kill your guest, or at the very least leave them really, really sick.  I can tell you from personal experience that nothing ruins a meal more than saying, "I'm itchy and my throat feels funny." (Well, except for if you need to leave the table to go to the emergency room.)  It's not worth it.  If somebody says they're allergic to a food, take them seriously. 

With planning and practice, most recipes can usually be adapted for allergies.For example, it may be as simple as replacing cow’s milk with coconut milk in recipes. Sometimes, one needs to consider the favor/texture profile of the ingredient. For example, sometimes a solution of salt, Marmite, and water can be used to substitute for the salt and umami properties of soy sauce. When baking, eggs can be replaced after considering why they are part of the recipe; common replacements are fruit or vegetable puree, baking powder and oil, and gelatin, but which substitution that will work best depends on the what is being cooked. Instead of using a nut butter as a protein source, use protein-rich sunflower seed butter; whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa provide carbs and fiber that is lost from a wheat-avoiding diet. Though allergies can be a difficult setback, with a little practice and perseverance, working with allergies will not be a problem and will become second nature to you.

Another factor in planning dinner is assessing preferences. With children, it could be a minor detail - from taking turns choosing entrees to giving a choice of would the diner prefer tomato sauce or butter on their pasta.

Or in our house, the preferred condiment is ketchup.  Many nights, you can hear this conversation:

Child: What's for dinner?
Adult: Chicken.  Yes, you like it.  Yes, you can put ketchup on it.

Sometimes, it’s a compromise on the meal as a whole, and just having something each person likes helps because you can say, “I know that chicken isn’t your favorite and you like hamburgers, but look -- we have tater tots to go with it! Another time, we’ll have hamburgers.” If you have an adventurous family, then search the web for exotic recipes; if your family is on the shy side, create a repertoire of tried-and-true favorites. Assessing your diners’ preferences will make your dinner a success.

Planning dinner also requires proper timing. It definitely helps to ask your diners when they will be around for a meal, so that you don't have a meal ready and nobody to eat it!  If your recipe takes two hours to make, and you plan to eat dinner at 5pm, then you need to start at 3 pm at the latest. Don’t wait until 4:30, or you’ll all starve waiting! If your family has lots of afternoon and evening activities and a common meal time isn’t possible, consider what cooking methods are being used and what food is being served when saving their supper. For example, if you are using a crock pot to cook dinner, leaving a serving or two in the crock pot will work. If your meal won’t survive being “kept warm,” a plate’s worth of food covered and placed in the fridge can be reheated. For something best served “freshly cooked,” like an omelette, save the missing diner a portion of the raw product, and cook it when they get home. Planning appropriate meals for the right number of people and right times helps avoid waste from overcooked food, and knowing there is a meal waiting at home will help avoid the “desperate trip through the drive-thru,” on the way home.

plan your grocery list based on budget and time

The final factor in planning for a successful dinner is purchasing the ingredients for the meal, while not exceeding your budget. You want to make sure you don’t spend all of your budget on one or two ingredients for a meal -- if you spend all of your budget on steak and don’t have any left for potatoes, your plate is going to look a little empty. You’ll also want to consider how to make one trip to the grocery store last longer. You might want to try “two-for-one” food options -- for example, roasting a larger chicken to have enough for a chicken dinner tonight and then leftover for chicken quesadillas tomorrow! Sometimes it might be make sense to purchase extra of a particular item on sale, then double or triple a recipe and freeze the extra for a quick meal on a busy night. (Or, if you have a growing teenager like me, you can make a double recipe and put the extra in the fridge for lunch.  Don't worry, it will get eaten.) Make sure, however, you get the deal that gets you more for your money. Always pay attention to the price versus the size of the package -- sometimes bigger isn’t always cheaper!

Before you even start cooking, there is a lot of plannning involved.  So many things need to be accounted for to make a meal successful. Food allergies can be a major hurdle, but one can overcome them with time and practice, and still create nutritionally balanced meals that are safe for all to eat. Although sometimes a compromise about what's on the table may be needed, usually you can find something that everyone will agree on. Planning around schedules makes sure no person goes hungry or food goes to waste. Finally, planning your ingredient purchases wisely helps you avoid extra trips to the store. Benjamin Franklin once said, "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Don’t let yourself fail by not planning ahead!

Do you need help cooking with food allergies? Check out the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation.  Trust me -- their Recipe Database and Food and Cooking Forum (both free!) are good reasons we haven't starved!

Click to read other posts in this series:
Real Men Make Quiche
Food and Kitchen Safety
Mis en Place and other final prep
April Blog Hop

This post is part of the Schoolhouse Crew Review 5-Day Blog Hop.  There are over 60 families blogging about just about everything homeschool related you can think of.   Here are some friends you might like to check out (and what they're writing about):

Nicole @ Journey to Excellence ~ Missouri
Dusty @ To the Moon and Back ~ Babywearing
Kristi @ The Potter's Hand Academy ~ Spring Studies
Jennifer @ Royal Little Lambs ~ Essential Oils
Annette @ A Net in Time ~ Science
Jen @ Happy Little Homemaker ~ Frugal Fitness
Meg @ Adventures with Jude ~ Homeschooling from the Kitchen
Lori @ At Home: where life happens ~ Favorite Books
Tauna @ Proverbial Homemaker ~ A Christ-Centered Home

If you have a few extra minutes and would like to check out all of the blogs in the hop, click on the banner at the left!

©2012- 2014 Adventures with Jude. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.


  1. I do that with my boy... I always make something he likes to go along with whatever I am making. makes new things go down easier. :)

  2. Planning is always the hardest part of meal prep for me. Once I get a plan, I'm pretty good at running with it! It's just getting there... ((sigh)) Thanks so much for these tips!

  3. I'm so glad you included that about food allergies. I know it's something you all have to consider as well. Before we started eating gluten free, I was still trained to think of it because my sister has Celiac, and I liked to keep her in mind if I cooked something for the extended family. Now, I really appreciate it when people who are cooking think of me :-)

  4. Meg @ Adventures with JudeApril 10, 2014 at 11:37 PM

    It's funny - I think sometimes once you're in the mindset, it's hard to get OUT of it. I had to send something in to school and I was thinking "How am I going to make this...oh, wait! I can don't have to swap things out!" I was so used to changing things out in my head that I automatically started making substitutions!


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