Lunch Rotation and Checklists (and a little recipe)

We eat a really good breakfast and a really good dinner pretty much every day.  But lunch is another matter.  It just seems like a little too much.  It’s hard to devote so much time to meal planning and preparation.  But, with three boys who eat like men now, I can’t really get away with not planning something substantial.  So recently I came up with the idea that we needed a regular lunch rotation for Monday through Friday.  I can’t handle eating the same seven dinners on rotation like some people do, but eating the same lunches week after week doesn’t seem as bad, especially considering that half the time I am scrounging for lunch food anyway and not coming up with anything good.  So here’s the rotation that I came up with:  Monday- soup (prepared the night before–crockpot maybe?)  Tuesday- black or pinto beans (soaked the previous day and then cooked in the crockpot overnight.  Some of my kids like to eat plain beans with salt some dress them up a little more.)  Wednesday- Potato and sausage hash (If we’re on top of things, potatoes are prepped by kids the night before–We fry in bacon grease in a cast iron skillet.) Thursday- beans (again–whatever kind we didn’t have on Tuesday.)  Friday- spelt sourdough bread with *huge tons of butter,* fruit, cheese, or whatever (bread is made the evening before-it rises overnight and goes in the oven late morning.  We began with the spelt sourdough starter from Cultures for Health and I follow this no knead recipe.)

The truth is that I don’t think we have followed this exact rotation for a single week since coming up with the plan.  Sometimes we have left overs, and sometimes I forget to soak the beans, and sometimes I forget that I need to be planning for lunch in general.  Having the rotation there is very reassuring though, and maybe at some point it will become habit.  Right now it’s there if I need it (and if I can remember that I have it.)  We pull at least a couple of days from the plan every week and it’s very good to have it to fall back on.

Homeschooling is the other area that I have tried to get more organized with over the past couple of weeks.  I guess those are two of my big priorities for life with a newborn:  making sure that we eat and that school happens.  Years ago I made excel spreadsheets for each of my kids to use as checklists.  They were a good thing, but work for me and I have slacked and stopped using them over the past year or two.  I am not a huge list maker.  Any sort of checklist system that I try to start usually fails, but school checklists have been an exception to that.  They definitely benefit my kids and our homeschooling experience in general.  I don’t know how to explain it:  sort of the difference between floating and being grounded.  This time around each kid has a checklist for the week.  I spend time over the weekend going over the previous week’s work and then filling in the checklist for the following week.  It keeps me on top of what my kids are doing, which is especially important with my two kids who work almost entirely independently.  Larkspur is my most challenging student right now, and having a checklist of what I need to accomplish with her each day is tremendously helpful I am finding.  It also holds me accountable and makes me less likely to think to myself, “We don’t really need to do math today.  We can do it tomorrow or over the weekend (never happens.)”

Finally, while I know it’s time to be talking apples and pumpkins, they still have watermelons at our farmer’s market and we made something really yummy with one last week.  I just have to share the recipe with you:

Watermelon Granita:

3/4 cups raw honey (you could substitute 1 cup granulated sugar)

1 cup water

1 teaspoon lime juice

2 pounds watermelon, chopped and seeded

1.  Combine water and honey in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil.  Remove syrup from heat and let cool.

2.  In a blender or food processor blend watermelon and and syrup until smooth.  Stir in the lime juice.

3.  Pour puree into an 8 inch square baking pan, cover, and freeze until mixture has started to freeze but is still slushy (2-3 hours)  Stir the mixture thoroughly scraping the sides.  Cover and freeze until solid (about 8 hours)

4.  To serve, scrape with a fork and scoop flakes into serving dish.

We used a large watermelon and ended up quadrupling the recipe.  You might need to adjust the sweetness based on how sweet your watermelon is.

Comments

  1. I’m assuming you have a box freezer. If so, I often make large portions of soup and then freeze them in mason jars (some individual size (pint) and some larger). There’s been many a time I’ve looked in the freezer for a lunch idea and been able to pull out a mason jar of soup to take with me. If I’m lucky, I remember to take it out of the freezer the night before so it defrosts in the fridge.

  2. I’m going to try the watermelon granita. Thanks. Crockpots are lifesavers for busy lives and saving money. Do you make black eyes peas in it. These are great with fried potatoes. No meat meal unless I add ham hock or leftover ham or bacon. Very good. Buy dried.

  3. The baked potato trick works great. This was a very good post. Thanks lots.

  4. Check this website Ginny. Lots of really cool, healthy stuff. Not sure how much is gluten free though. Hope you are doing well 🙂 http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/

  5. I’ve just been complaining lately to my husband about lunch. I help him pack his lunch everyday. Make sure there is fresh bread, apples, GORP… but then I can never think of anything to eat. I don’t even have two kids yet. What will I do? Thanks for the ideas. Beans are always great and I’ve gotten out of the cook-ahead-and-freeze habit. We never have leftovers for some reason, but it’s always so nice when we do! If I could only get my husband to not eat it all…

    Keep the helpful ideas coming when you have them!

    By the way, we make apple sauce in the crock pot. Cut all the apples up (not need to peel or core if you have a food mill). Add a little water to cover the bottom. Put on low and stir every once in a while. Sometime you will stir and it will all be mushy and you can just food mill it. It’s so nice to not stand over the stove stirring to prevent burning!

    I’m interested in why kidney beans can’t be cooked in the crock pot, as one commentor said…

  6. Lunches have always been a bear for me – I like to just open the fridge and nibble! But with a child (11) and husband home every day we try to all sit down and meet up mid-day. My son hates sandwiches but likes hot dogs so he and his dad have those @ 2 times a week. He also loves salad so that is easy! And since he has always loved cooking – 1 time a week he will make a pasta lunch for everybody while I clean up home school stuff or fold some laundry. We also love to make our own pizza and that has been a big hit. Of course I am not feeding a whole classroom so it might be a bit easier!?!

  7. I try to plan our meals out in advance as well…I know it only helps with our grocery budget. We tend to eat a lot of beans since we are vegetarian and I used to forget to soak them sometimes and with working full time and going to school full time, sometimes the beans just took too long to cook for that night’s dinner. So we finally got a pressure cooker at the beginning of this year and boy did it change our lives. Now I only have to wait 30 minutes for my black beans to cook, without soaking them beforehand. It allows for less stringent planning and more spur of the moment meal ideas…which is great for me, because we always have a variety of beans in our pantry. If you don’t have one, I suggest that you take the plunge into Pressure Cooker Bliss.

    • I absolutely second the greatness of a pressure cooker! Beans, whole chickens, sweet potatoes…truly so very much can be done!!

  8. I struggle with lunches too! I have a breakfast rotation for the week and just love waking up and not having to think about what to fix – I need to do that for lunches too. I love your idea of prepping things in the crockpot overnight.

  9. Double, triple or quadruple your beans and freeze them. You can also freeze rice, and rice plus beans is a complete protein. I have a rice steamer, which is a lifesaver. I can make much more than we need for a meal and freeze it.

    PS Don’t ever do kidney beans in the crockpot. They produce a toxin which will make you sick. I know you said you do pinto or black, so that’s good.

  10. I recently scored a bread machine at a yard sale for $5. It is a lifesaver. I still love the homemade bread-making process, but the bread machine is so wonderful for achieving the economy of homemade bread and most of the yumminess on those crazy busy days/weeks. Pour in the ingredients and press a button. Presto, bread!

    Another super helpful timesaver…soak and cook large batches of beans in the slowcooker (I like to cook them in chix broth) then freeze in small batches to thaw for lunch.

    Maybe you know these tricks already, but I hear ya, lunch is a real challenge. Any tips help!

  11. Never underestimate the power of the ploughman’s lunch. Any bread + cheese + fruit/veg = lunch! Online has some great inspiration for add ons like pickles, meats, olives, etc. Great way to get food diversity but keep everything oh, so easy. Pitch things over your shoulder out of the fridge and its done!

  12. LOVE the idea of a lunch rotation, especially to make shopping even easier on a regular basis. I’ve started menu planning breakfast lunch and dinner in the past few weeks and I can’t believe the difference it makes, but lunch is definitely the one that isn’t really happening according to plan. But, even when we don’t stick with exactly what was planned and switch stuff around a bit, it’s still so much easier to have the ideas there. It’s nice to know what we have to work with as I think about prepping and as a reminder to just look there and get in the habit of thinking ahead instead of opening the fridge at mealtime and starting from scratch then. Definitely going to try the watermelon granita!

  13. I am so impressed you homeschool all your kids! I would need a checklist just to remember to wake everybody up and get them dressed! 🙂

    That granita looks so good! I am really excited for fall, but it’s taking its sweet time here in California. I think I can still find some watermelons…

  14. i love the idea of a lunch rotation. lunch seems to be lost in the shuffle here and my kids can EAT! i really need to put a bit more effort into that.
    and my schooling schedule. LOL what i want more than anything is to have a nice flowing rhythm before our baby comes in jan. so it can be a bit “seamless” or maybe that is just too much to ask for. LOL

  15. I use a slow cooker, sort of a crock pot to cook my baked potatoes and they come
    out great! I just love the crock pot and my slow cooker. I just love the smell
    of soups and stews stewing all day in them. I can just make up some biscuits
    or bread and a small salad to serve with them. YUM! We basically eat with a sort
    of a food schedule, we always have, and it works out great….I guess I am a bit
    of a schedule person. I just find that it keeps me on track and I feel better knowing
    that things are getting done. I just love your family photos….love the cat reading upside
    down…how great is that! It sure looks like a lot of fun and goodness at your home schedule
    or not…..!
    Corinne

  16. And I thought I was the only one that didn’t like coming up with lunch ideas! You are so right…dinner and homeschooling keep me so busy. Who wants to make lunch??? I wish I did. Thanks for your ideas!

  17. I signed up for e-meals about 6 weeks ago….wow, it changed my life! I now have no stress about planning supper and grocery list and we are eating great foods! This has relieved enough stress for me that I can focus on other meals too. I am like you…we eat great breakfasts and suppers, but lunch was an after thought. I finally embraced this thought instead of fighting it and it has helped. Reality is, when your homeschooling, running a home business, farming, gardening, housekeeping, nursing baby, etc., etc….you can’t stop in the middle of the day to prepare a big meal. So lunch is relaxed for us …yogurt and fresh fruit and vegetables every day and usually a sandwich. No fuss and the kids can do it themselves if they have to. Of course leftovers are slipped in there some days if I feel like it, I usually remake them a bit, or add some cheese on top. I just keep telling myself that I have to do what works for me, and not compare myself to anyone else.
    Have a wonderful day…

  18. The crockpot is a great time saver. There are tons of meals that can be made with it.

    I love the idea of having the children help start it the night before.

  19. Hi Ginny – we tend to have sandwiches almost every lunch time and then I add fruit, salad, nuts etc on the side to give us some healthy things. On weekends we have something more exciting such has tortillas with chicken and guacomole etc or jacket potatoes. Like you , however, I usually feel that lunch is something I don’t want to spend ages on because it breaks into the day’s activities.
    I know exactly what you mean about ‘floating’ in home school. It happens to me too and I only have one student. Once we have moved house (next couple of months or so) I think I will try the spreadsheet so that Little Son can have it as a checklist and can see himself getting through everything. That way he gets rewarded for getting it done earlier too and we all know where we are. Lily. xxx

  20. Hear, hear! I have struggled with lunch for ages, and constantly intend to come up with some sort of “plan”, but after planning dinners I usually am more than ready to move on to something else and we revert to our default plan of leftovers, sandwiches, and, on a bad day, ramen or chef boyardee (*i know*). 😉

    I did accidentally do soup in the crockpot on Sunday night, lunch on Monday thing a couple of weeks ago, and it was dreamy. I’m thinking a snack rotation might work well too–the other thing I keep meaning to plan. Mama on autopilot in some areas can be a really good thing!

  21. Love your simple meals!! The kids eat the saaaame thing for breakfast and lunch every day. Breakfast is oatmeal, banana, and eggs (if there’s enough). Green smoothies on days when I plan for it. For lunch, peanut butter and honey sandwich, fruit, and a few small pieces of cheese (on very fortunate days, they get yogurt). They’ve never complained and I am so grateful for that. Planning dinner is more than enough for me!

    I love having lists and plans and schedules but I very often stray from them. To me it is comforting to know, that I *could* do it if need be and I can make all the things work. Silly, probably! Thanks for sharing what works for you. It’s helpful to see how other people make things work!

  22. I love the idea of the lunch rotation – but I need it for breakfast. We have a good breakast, and good supper too. And usually a good lunch which means an awful lot of cooking for Mama. But breakfast is the one I hate thinking about & preparing. Thanks for this idea!

  23. The only meal I can seem to keep up with is lunch. I need to make a dinner rotation. And yes, checklists for homeschooling. I seem to have spent all summer ‘cleaning up’ with lessons and projects that I deem essential but I kept sweeping over to the next day. Great reminders! That granita looks amazing, thanks for the recipe!

  24. I’ve been baking potatoes (white or sweet) in the crockpot for the past year. This helps because I can think about baked potatoes in the morning and deal with them then rather than trying to time them for dinner in the evening. Also, in the summer, they don’t heat up the house. When I really have my act together, I bake some for dinner and extras for potato soup for later in the week.

    • It has never occurred to me to bake potatoes in the crockpot!

      • I have never heard of baking them in the crock pot. Do you just put them in and how long do you cook them for?

        • I place some crunched up foil (used from leftovers, etc.) in the bottom of the crock. This keeps the potatoes on the bottom from getting hard and overcooking. I also microwave the potatoes for two or three minutes. Then place them in the crock and cook on low for three or four hours. Works great.

        • For sweet potatoes, I tend to wrap them in foil or line the CP in foil if I don’t want to deal with having to soak it (the SP “ooze”). For russets I just throw them in. Think of the CP as a 300F oven, basically (on low). So, depending on the size of your potatoes, they’ll need a couple of hours. You could probably throw them in at 8 and have potatoes by noon (?) if you cook them on high.

          I found this “recipe”: http://www.theyummylife.com/Slow_Cooker_Baked_Potatoes

          I made potato soup tonight 🙂

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