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Monday, April 20, 2020

Quarantine Cooking: Tips for Managing Meals

One of the biggest challenges with this whole stay at home situation is all the cooking! And as we try to avoid going out in public where we can, planning ahead to avoid frequent grocery store trips has become a necessity. This is also the perfect time to get the whole family more involved in the kitchen since everyone is at home! Here are my tips for planning out meals and minimizing shopping trips, and getting children- no matter their age- more involved in cooking.

1. Meal Planning

If you weren't a meal planner before I'm betting you are now! I've been meal planning for years now and it truly does not have to be complicated. The key is to have some reliable recipes on hand, know how to be realistic when you are choosing your meals, and getting organized before you go to the store (or order your groceries). Here are some specific tips for simplifying the meal planning process so you don't have to stress so much over what to cook or what to buy.

2. Family Cooking

There is no reason for one person to be shouldering all the cooking responsibility for the whole family when everyone is home, and this time while they're not at school is perfect for introducing some kitchen skills to kids! My daughters have been helping with cooking in some form or fashion since they were very young, and now they are each in charge of one dinner per week, from planning to cooking. Here are my tips for getting kids involved in the kitchen:

I also highly recommend getting everyone involved in the planning process for other meals, even if they aren't cooking. I don't have my daughters cook more than one meal a week, but I do have them pick out one breakfast each week as well. Half the battle for me is just coming up with ideas for what to eat- meal planning systems help a lot with that but having others share in the decision making is so helpful.

3. Use What You Have

One of the biggest epiphanies for me during this time at home has been the realization of how much food I have laying around. It's a little like looking at a full closet and lamenting having "nothing to wear"- I have all these staples that I keep on hand that I don't really count when I'm looking at what I have available for next week's meals. I've been trying to start limiting my grocery store trips to every 2 weeks instead of weekly, and it has been a lot easier than I thought! Here's what has worked for us to make this happen:

  • I still only plan 1 week's meals at a time. My brain can't handle that much decision-making at once right now to plan out 2 weeks of meals. So before my grocery store trip, I plan out the week's meals with my daughters and make a list of what I need for those meals like I normally would. 
  • When I go to the store, I pick up a couple of extra fruits and vegetables that will last longer, like sugar snap peas, potatoes, melons, etc. If we're getting close, I might grab an extra milk or carton of eggs. But otherwise I just buy for the 1 week we've planned.
  • For the 2nd week my daughters and I come up with meals using what we have left. It has been amazing to me to see how much we can make with the random stuff we have left in the pantry and fridge! The first time we did this I truly thought we would be eating scrambled eggs and mac and cheese all week, but actually we ate different meals every day and it wasn't that difficult to come up with ideas. 
  • I normally save leftovers from dinner to take as lunches to work. Now I freeze the leftovers instead. That gives me another dinner I can pull out in a couple weeks! 
I'm compiling all of my posts related to school closures/ stay at home social distancing for school and home in one place to make it easier to find. Be sure to head over there for more:

I hope these ideas make quarantine cooking a little less stressful! Stay safe and happy cooking :)

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