School starts Monday, and with it comes the structure of a weekday schedule. No late dinners around the pool — Jon David does not do well with getting up early in the morning, so a decent bedtime is a must.
Jon David also takes his lunch to school. A couple of years ago he wanted to try buying lunches, but we found that he didn’t like or eat a majority of what was being served. I am not okay with my kiddo going hungry until 3 in the afternoon, so packed lunches are a necessity.
Having a toddler, a school aged son, and working from home makes for busy days. If we are being honest, I often don’t feel like messing with packed lunches or a big dinner. It’s so tempting to just order in or have everyone fend for themselves! And although that DOES happen occasionally, feeding my family is a priority for me. Not only do I want to send my son to school with a lunch I know he will eat and enjoy, but I love sitting down as a family for dinner.
I am always surprised to hear that sitting down for dinner is no longer considered “normal”. It’s how my life has always been, and I truly enjoy that time with my family. Sometimes Lucy Goose is rowdy and throwing food, sometimes Jon David is picking at what is on his plate, but it’s the one time of the day where the phones and iPods are put away and we all sit and communicate with no distractions. I never fail to learn something new about Jon David, whether it’s a new dream or passion of his, or just something funny that he thought of. It’s truly the best part of my day.
Enter — PLANNING! Packing lunches and making dinner every evening is something that has to be thought out and planned unless you want to drive yourself crazy! I have a system that works perfectly for me and my busy life, and that is what I want to share with you!
- Don’t wait until morning or late night to pack. A good time for me is right after school when we are all in the kitchen getting snacks. The kiddos are occupied, I’m up and in the kitchen, and then it’s just done.
- Have your kiddo help you! Trying to pack a lunch for Jon David is like trying to read his mind. One day he’s obsessed with turkey and the next day he never wants to look at another lunch meat sandwich again. I make him be part of the packing process, even if it’s just handing me things out of the fridge.
- Use a cold pack. This allows you to pack fun stuff like apple slices, grapes, baby carrots, or string cheese. Buy some tiny containers with lids for ranch dressing or even dip for chips! Sometimes instead of a sandwich, I will slice cheddar cheese and include a bag of crackers. I keep the lunch in the fridge overnight, then throw the cold pack in when we get his lunch out to put in his backpack. The point is that you want your kiddos to be excited about their food.
- Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with lunch foods. You are more likely to pack a good lunch if you have everything you need on hand.
- Include a small treat. What is life without treats?
- Meal Plan. I cannot stress this ENOUGH. Sit down every week and plan a menu for the week ahead — including side dishes.
- Make a list of go-to meals. Tacos, pasta dishes you love,crock pot dinners, anything easy that your family enjoys needs to go on this list. When you’re stumped for meal ideas while planning, consult this list.
- Pinterest. Make a dinner board and pin meals that you want to try. When you’re meal planning, consult your board for new ideas!
- Choose meals that you can manage according to your lifestyle. With the season I’m in right now, anything fast, anything that can be prepped ahead, and anything that can cook in a crock pot are a life saver. Toddlers and dinner preparation don’t mix, and this keeps things short and sweet. If I want to make something that is more involved, I do prep during naptime. I’ve even made and baked meatloaf during naps that I reheated at dinner.
- One you have your Meal Plan, make a grocery list. This grocery list needs to have everything you need for your dinners, including side dishes, as well as lunch items for the week. I usually try to write my stuff down in groups according to where in the grocery store it is. I always start in the back, and work my way to the front with the produce, so that is how I order my list. It’s much easier than searching the middle or bottom of your list right after you get to the store!
- Buy EVERYTHING AT ONCE, and buy bulk where you can. You are MUCH more likely to cook dinner when it’s not only planned, but you have everything you need on hand. A trip to the store is just another complication in the process. If you can buy your meat or other items in bulk at a wholesale club, do it. It’s less trips to the store and saves you cash in the long run. I know that doing a week (or two) worth of shopping at once sounds like a lot, and it can be difficult. But I’ve done it through two infants and toddlers, and trust me when I say it can be done, one way or another.I’d rather have one long trip to the store with a screaming toddler than four short ones! If you have to sneak off one evening a week or get up early and do it while the kiddos stay home with your partner, do that. Just make it happen!
- Buy extras and freeze. You’re already at the store — buy extra lunch meat, butter, loafs of bread, anything you can freeze. It’s nice to need bread and just grab it from your freezer! I buy several cartons of Horizon milk at once and store it in the garage refrigerator– it’s ultra pasteurized, so it has a very long expiration date! It’s nice to have it on hand and not make late night milk runs so we have it for the next morning.
- Write your meal plan where everyone can see it. Whether you have a list taped to the fridge, or a special chalkboard or dry erase board dedicated to family meals, this helps keep you accountable. If the family has been anticipating lasagna on Wednesday all week, you are more likely to stick to the plan.
Family meals are something that I truly care about. Sometimes it’s hard — sometimes my husband has to step in and take Lucy to play or take over the stove so I can wrangle her and make salads.
Jon David’s rule is that his electronics are turned off by 5 so that he can be available to help me with his sister during dinner preparation — it’s a family responsibility, not just one that I put on myself. We all pitch in to make it happen. I truly hope that some of these tips can help you make it happen, too! And if you have your own tips, I’ve love to hear them!
For coupons to assist you in the meal planning and grocery shopping process, be sure to follow Horizon Dairy on Facebook!
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Horizon Organic. The opinions and text are all mine.