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No doubt that you’ve heard the merits of having pre-assembled meals (otherwise known as “freezer meals”) on hand. I can honestly say freezer meals top the list of things that save my homeschooling mom sanity!
For a while, I made these wonderful bulk meals all by myself. Which honestly was a ton of work and left me exhausted and grouchy.
And as I would be standing over a pile of chopped onions and a sea of freezer bags, my family members would come into the kitchen to watch what I was doing.
They’d say, “Hey mom, I want to help chop!” or “Hey mom, I can open that container for you!”
At first I refused their assistance because I was convinced that their “help” would not exactly be, well, helpful. The task already felt overwhelming and I wanted to invite my then six-year-old into the situation?!
But as the months progressed (and I continued to labor alone on freezer meal prep days), I realized that I was missing a golden opportunity: Here were four kids (and a husband) who were willing to lighten my load. They wanted to learn how to chop and do all those meal prep things. Most of all, they missed me on these days and just wanted to hang out.
That’s when I decided to drop my pride and ultra-high expectations… and Family Meal Prep Day became a regular part of our routine.
4 Benefits of Family Meal Prep Day
1) Believe it or not, a lot gets done.
The “strength in numbers” adage rings true here (even when toddlers and tweens are involved). Many hands make light work, especially when it comes to bulk meal prep.
2) Learning opportunities abound here.
Multiplying quantities on recipes. Measuring exact amounts. Discovering the differences between mincing, dicing, and chopping. Even learning which foods can be frozen (most can) and which are a freezer no-no (uncooked potatoes, for example). The list goes on and on.
3) Character training happens too.
The biggest character lessons I’ve seen: service, teamwork, diligence and cooperation. And of course, resourcefulness (what happens when you run out of ketchup and you need to make meatloaf?).
4) It’s a great way to spend family time.
“Togetherness time” doesn’t always have to happen at an amusement park, or a day at the beach. I’ve found that family time centered around everyday moments tends to be the richest. And Family Meal Prep Day is a wonderful time to build closeness and connection as we just hang out together.
20 Tips for a Successful Family Meal Prep Day
I’ll be the first to admit that kids plus bulk meal making can equal a recipe for disaster. How can you plan a Family Meal Prep Day that not only gets the job done, but leaves everyone sane in the process? Here’s what I’ve discovered.
1) Have a plan (don’t miss the free planning sheet at the end of this post).
This sounds basic, but when there are lots of other people involved (especially young children) a detailed plan-of-attack is crucial to family meal prep success. What will you make? How many copies of each recipe will you make? Do you have all the food supplies? Are the ingredient lists and instructions correct? I’ve created a printable you can use to effectively plan your Family Meal Prep Day (see below).
2) Divide and conquer.
How can those recipes be broken down into smaller steps? Can one person complete one aspect, and another person complete another? Is it a fairly easy recipe that a young child could throw together, or is it somewhat challenging with many steps (and thus would be better suited for a teenager or adult)? Categorize and sort your recipes with these ideas in mind.
3) Pre-prep some ingredients.
It’s so much easier (and faster, and more kid-friendly) when recipe ingredients are out and prepped. I’ve found that the more pre-prep that’s done, the less “this is sooooooo hard, Mom!” comments I get. However, don’t feel like you have to do all the pre-prep yourself! On the contrary, think of pre-prep as simply the first part of the Family Meal Prep Day. This is where the food processor can shine (hint: kids LOVE running the food processor!) and enormous mixing bowls are a lifesaver. Or, for the ultimate in convenience, buy food items already prepped.
4) Combine like ingredients.
Do five of your recipes require chopped onions, while three of them use frozen bell pepper? Do two need pre-cooked bacon? How about the four that need peeled, chopped carrots? Consider these as tasks to complete before the actual dinner assembly happens. Just be aware of different chopping needs for each recipe (for example, yes, both recipes use carrots, but one calls for diced carrots and the other uses sliced carrots). Combined-ingredient-pre-prep jobs are fantastic jobs for kids.
3) Gather supplies.
Gather as many measuring cups, measuring spoons and other kitchen tools as possible and make sure they’re clean before the big day. We previously mentioned extra large mixing bowls and a large-capacity food processor as essentials, but I’d also include lots of high-quality freezer bagsin various sizes and several large permanent black markers.
4) Clean the kitchen beforehand.
I know you’re thinking, “Um… what’s the point? Aren’t I about to make a huge mess?!” While it’s true that you’ll be making plenty of dishes, you will absolutely need cleared counters and clean cooking utensils for the meal prep. Which means that, yep, you need to clean the kitchen before.
5) Make room in your freezer.
This kind of goes without saying, but I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been in the midst of a Family Meal Prep Day when we’ve discovered that our freezer is almost already full. Yikes.
6) Make sure everyone is fed and happy.
I try to make a nice big meal before we start (something with a good quantity of protein) so that we don’t have to stop and eat in the middle of the Family Meal Prep Day. And speaking of feeding…
7) Plan for an easy dinner meal.
Decide to eat out or to have a crock pot meal ready for that night’s meal. Trust me on this one. You are NOT going to want to cook that night.
8) Give detailed instructions for each task assigned.
Break each meal down into small chunks, and give specific, step-by-step directions. I can’t promise zero drama on Family Meal Prep Day (there always is some!) but giving everyone specific instructions really goes a long way towards peace and meeting expectations.
9) Consider having someone on dish duty.
If you’re making a bunch of recipes, you’ll find that your measuring cups and supplies will be dirtied rather quickly. ‘Nuff said.
10) Allocate lots of time.
Some things will take longer than you think. Someone will have a meltdown. Someone else will need to eat, or will get distracted or… you get the picture. Expect it.
11) Task kids to work together.
I love it when my older kids can work with my younger ones because then are they not only getting a (little!) extra help, but they’re teaching their younger siblings how to accomplish that specific task (not to mention how to be a servant).
12) Create a fun atmosphere.
We turn on fun music, sing songs and even practice our memory work for school. And speaking of school…
13) Incorporate math learning into every moment.
Math is a natural fit for meal prep, especially since many freezer meals are made in bulk and thus the ingredient amounts need to be doubled or tripled. You can ask a child, “If I need 2 cups of flour for one batch, how many cups do I need for 4 batches?” Or, “If this recipe requires 2 teaspoons of cumin, how many tablespoons of cumin would I use for 3 batches?”
14) Switch tasks around.
You wouldn’t want to be stuck dicing celery all day, would you? Maybe today’s the day that you finally trust them to try a new cooking task, or to tackle a recipe all on their own. Or, maybe they can simply shadow an older sibling.
15) Keep it light and positive.
We don’t require our kids to help, but each time we have a family cooking day, all of them end up helping in some shape or form (even the ones that were resistant at first). We entice them by turning on upbeat music and keeping a cheerful attitude. With our words and actions we tell them this is fun and where the party’s at!
16) Offer incentives to helpers.
We give a “diligence award” (a monetary bonus or special privilege) to the child that shows the most hard-working, cheerful spirit. And did I mention that I also give myself a reward at the end of Family Meal Prep Day (sometimes, all I want is 30 minutes alone with a book outside)?
17) Give kids regular breaks.
Usually my kids cycle in and out of the kitchen on Family Meal Prep Day. Which is totally fine because, honestly, it would be overwhelming if they were all there at once! Bottom line: a kid will let you know when he’s ready for a break, and if they’ve been exhibiting diligence, then I happily let them take it.
18) Engage in conversation.
This is the heart of the event. I can’t tell you how many incredible one-on-one conversations I’ve had with my kids while peeling carrots or dicing sweet potatoes. This is when they tell you about that kid in the neighborhood that bullies them or how they dream of becoming a herpetologist when they grow up. Critically important parent-child moments can happen here!
19) Take whatever help you get (and be truly happy for it).
They may take longer than you would. They will make enormous messes. But the point is that they are in the kitchen with you. They’re learning from you. They’re spending time with you. Relax and try to keep your focus on the big picture.
20) Stay calm and cook on.
I promise you there will come a moment (because it happens to me every time!) where I think what in the world have I done?!? My kitchen is in utter chaos!! That’s when I just keep going. I tell myself that the recipes will get done and the kitchen will be normal again. And then I dream of how wonderful it will be to have all those completed meals in my freezer!
Free “Family Meal Prep Day Planning Sheet”!
Here’s a worksheet I created to make this process even easier and more streamlined.
Here are three other resources you may find helpful:
- Homeschool Sanity Savers (Part 1): Monthly Meal Planning, Monthly Shopping, Freezer Meals and the Crock Pot
Let us know how your Family Meal Prep Day turns out! We’d love to hear any suggestions you have too!
Alicia Kazsuk writes about living the beautifully imperfect homeschooling journey at VibrantHomeschooling.com. She has been married to her best friend for 14 years and together they spend their days lovingly guiding their four passionate and creative kids.
Alicia is also the author of Plan to Be Flexible and the creator/producer of Vibrant Homeschooling’s online video courses “bloom: A Journey to Joy (and Sanity) for Homeschool Moms” and “rhythm: Guiding Your Family to Their Ideal Learning Flow.”
Free Diligence Lesson
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