Meal Planning for Homeschool Families

We are all set to start our new homeschool year towards the end of this week — I am super excited, my kids maybe not quite as much;).

Want to see our plans for this year? Click here!

We spent some time this week getting ready for our new year. It is super important to me to try to be as organized as I can this year, because we have so much going on….among other things:

Sports — sooo many sports & outside classes – I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it does mean we need to be quite organized to get stuff done!

Home construction — we started adding some bedroom space over the summer (and by “we”, I mean the people we hired) and while I was hoping it would be over and done before we started school, it — isn’t. So we will be homeschooling to the tune of drywall sanding and nail guns.

My new job — I’m so excited to be joining the staff at Brave Writer this fall! I’m teaching The Writer’s Jungle Online class.

So anyway, back to the organization. I did a whole bunch of stuff this week to get myself feeling ready. Or, more ready anyway. Here, I’m going to share my meal plan for the whole month of September!

Yes, really. At the risk of sounding like a total braggart, I am so gosh-darn impressed with myself for doing this.

Meal planning is my nemesis. With six people in the house and crazy-busy schedules, planning our meals is a must, but it’s a real pain to do every week. I had the idea of just doing it once a month and having it done. I got the kids involved and assigned them a couple nights to cook, too.

I assigned “themes” for each day of the week, based on what we’ll be doing. Then, I just plugged in some matching meals on a printable calendar page and had the kids fill in their nights. We used erasable pens so we can adjust as necessary, because obviously, plans will change!

FYI, I adore these erasable pens — they have totally changed my life.


So here are the themes we came up with and what we’re going to make!

  • Monday ~ My oldest (who happens to be vegetarian!) will cook
    • Pineapple tofu fried rice
    • Tofu tikka masala
    • Chickpea cauliflower gyros
  • Tuesday — Quick sandwich or pasta night
    • Turkey, cranberry, stuffing sandwiches
    • Eggplant or meatball subs
    • Lasagna (made ahead and popped in the fridge)
    • Fettucine-Broccoli Alfredo
  • Wednesday  — Crockpot (mostly) chili 
  • Thursday — Take along dinner (My youngest has a late gymnastics practice, so I got her a thermos and plan to make something she can take along with her)
  • Friday — My boys will cook
  • Saturday — Burgers-on-the-grill
  • Sunday — Sunday dinner
    • Grilled pizza
    • Grilled brats/sausages
    • Homemade lobster rolls
    • Thanksgiving-in-the-smoker ~ we smoke a turkey breast, then serve with fixings

One other thing I did — I put the meal plan in a folder and added in print-outs of any online recipes. I hate trying to follow a recipe from my phone!

So, that’s it! A whole month of meals planned in under an hour!

The IKEA Raskog Cart for Homeschooling

I picked up a Raskog cart on one of last year’s IKEA jaunts. I am pretty much in love with this little cart! For the first few months it lived in our laundry room holding detergent and bleach and other not-so-exciting-but-necessary-stuff. One day I was dragging books out of our home library to start our homeschool day, and it occurred to me that  wheels would make the job a heck of a lot easier and more fun. So the little cart moved into our library and now I use it to store the books I need to work with the kids each day.

Every morning I wheel this baby out to the kitchen, where it is central to everything we are doing. We are very much a “homeschool all over the place family” but I tend to center operations in the kitchen. I originally thought I would store supplies like pencils, erasers, scissors and such plus books on this cart, but we have a lot of books so there is not enough space. On my next trip to IKEA, I am planning to get my Raskog a sibling and use her to store those sorts of things.

I use this cart for the books I need most days and the contents switch up as we finish books and start others. Each kiddo also has a crate of independent materials. So the cart is really for the subjects I do with them. I arrange the contents in roughly the order we work each day. I start the day with my youngest and the top shelf holds:


Going down a shelf, my older kiddos do much more work independently, so their shelves are shared.

On the middle shelf, I have:


Then, on the bottom shelf I have:


I honestly could not do without my little cart….and as a plus, it is just too cute. The only thing I am sad about is that I really wanted to get a blue one, but they were out of stock and it seems they don’t make a blue Raskog anymore. This color is the red/brown and I like it, but I have my fingers crossed there will be another fun and different color by the time I make it back to IKEA.

Preparing For a New Homeschool Year

While we haven’t technically finished up last school year ~ looking at my two olders who still have several math lessons to go ~ I am definitely thinking about next year and trying to squeeze in a bit of planning time each day.

Here are the things I am hoping to get accomplished in the next few weeks:

  • Finalize basic curriculum plans for each child
  • Consider online classes for my oldest – I’m thinking about Bravewriter
  • Decide on a family art and music plan for the upcoming year
  • Place curriculum orders
  • Plan for and sign up for extracurricular activities
  • Create a 36-week plan for each child 
  • Order a teacher planner and fill out the first week ~ I love Plum Paper for this
  • Set up my working teacher binder
  • Order student planners ~ possibly from Plum Paper as well?
  • Submit samples and plans to school district for review
  • Check supplies – pencils, binders, notebook paper, etc. and make a shopping list
  • Purchase art and lab supplies needed for whole year
  • Clean off school shelves, file all papers, store or toss curriculum, restock for a new year
  • Pre-read Sonlight Core 300 history & literature 
  • Deep clean the house – I always want to do this and usually don’t get very far, so we’ll see!
  • Plan Five in a Row for the year
  • Read some inspiring books
  • Plan a routine for next school year – how our days & week might (ideally) look
  • Set up a fall meal plan – meal planning takes me too much time; I’d like to try to do it ahead
  • Update chore chart 
  • Update (by which I mean start!) high school transcript for my rising 11th grader

In addition to these things, I really need to get in gear about late highschool/college. I keep putting this off and really just need to put my head down and get going. So be expecting a second list detailing my checklist for that…after I research, talk to Grace, and wrap my brain around things a bit. I keep telling myself no one said this would be easy!

Thanks for visiting!

A Summer Bag (To Keep in the Car)

We have such a busy summer planned, and I have been trying to brainstorm ways to make it easier on all of us, especially me, the designated family taxi-driver. I have spent a lot of time lately waxing nostalgic about the days when the kids had one or two weeks of day camp in the summer (if that) and the rest of the time was ours. I would like to go back in time and tell my former self to appreciate those totally unscheduled days, to savor all those empty squares on the calendar. I would insert a photo of our summer calendar here, but I can’t bear to turn the page to July. It terrifies me, quite frankly. 
I like for us to have a lot of time at home, for the kids to be able to just hang out, go in the pool, play games, stop by the library, go to the lake, read in the yard, or have friends over without planning weeks in advance.  I like to have time to work in the garden, hang out with the kids, and prepare for our new school year. I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around a summer that seems like it is going to be mostly spent in the car ferrying kids to one thing or another. And yet, that is the season I am in right now, and while I do my fair share of complaining (mostly in my head), I see much value in the activities they have chosen.  And it’s nothing new really, just more of the same, and more in-depth. Counselor-in-training, tennis clinics, horse shows, summer practices…oh my, the summer practices, especially for my soon-to-be competitive gymnast! If I think about it too long it makes my head spin, especially taking into consideration that not one single thing is closer than 25 minutes away. 
So, I have been brainstorming ways to ease the load a bit and keep this summer from disappearing in a haze of driving.  We might not have many lazy days at home, but we will have lots of little moments here and there when a sibling is not quite ready to be picked up, when we get somewhere early, or when practice is running late. It’s for those sorts of times that I made up my summer bag to keep in the car. 
I found this large tote bag with lots of outside pockets at L.L. Bean. It’s sturdy and stands up by itself, which I love, because it is super easy to pack. The plan is to keep it stocked with things to make our driving trips easier and more fun. 
 First of all, this bag has lots and lots of pockets, which I love. Pockets are key; I have a big tote bag with no pockets that I thought about using for my car bag, but I really hate spending tons of time digging through a big bag looking for a tube of sunscreen. There are some small pockets on the inside….

And then the whole outside is lined with deep pockets.

The pockets go all the way around the bag, and I have things stashed in every one of them.

Here’s what I have decided to keep in my summer bag:

In the main compartment:

  • A large blanket – to use at the beach, on a picnic, or just to spread on the grass at the park to play games or read on
  • A couple of towels – for drying off after impromptu wading, sitting on when bathing suits are wet, or just putting over hot car seats
  • An empty reusable shopping bag – for separating wet items, carrying groceries, or just as an extra place to stash stuff
  • A Frisbee, and a ball to play catch with
In the inside pockets:
  • Quarters – for meters and vending machines
  • A tiny bottle of hand sanitizer
  • Stick sunscreen 
In the outside pockets:
  • Sunscreen – a tube of regular sunscreen, a tube of facial sunscreen, plus spray-sunscreen for reapplying at the beach
  • Bugspray
  • Wet wipes
  • Napkins
  • A little bag of sporks, plastic knives, and one sharp travel knife 
  • Bottles of bubbles
  • Baby powder – the easiest way I have found to get sand off of everyone’s legs and feet!
  • A deck of cards and another small game – currently it’s UNO; I plan to rotate games for variety
  • A small first aid kit with band-aids, antibiotic wipes, and Tylenol
  • A small hairbrush and extra hair elastics – for redoing ponytails before practice
  • Ziploc bags – for stashing little treasures and other things
  • Plastic grocery bags – to use as trash bags for carry in/carry out parks
  • Doggie bags
  • A small coloring book/drawing pad and box of crayons
I was going to keep the bag in the car at all times, but have decided that it’s better to bring it back and forth to the house each day. That way I can easily restock it.

In addition to what is in the bag, we may also need to bring along:

Sun hats and sunglasses
A cooler with extra water
Snacks and/or lunch-to-go
Reading material
Swimsuits and towels
Change of clothes/shoes
Other sports equipment

I have a little sticky note on the side of the fridge with these “extra” items listed on it, to jog my memory as we get ready to head out the door. I am already in love with my bag, and I’ve only taken it along twice so far. 

My Homeschool Command Center

A.K.A. the kitchen counter! I have been setting up this little “command center” for myself each homeschool morning, and I thought it would be fun to share. I claimed the end of our kitchen counter peninsula as my spot. It’s right near the dining table where the kids do seatwork and just a few steps from the living room where most of our reading happens, plus it’s in the kitchen where we usually do science experiments and messy activities. So it’s a nice central location where I can keep everything I need for the day.

Here’s what I keep here:

  • A box of tissues – Because someone always has a cold lately!
  • A glass of water – I try to fill one up each morning, otherwise I forget to drink. 
  • A timer – This comes in handy if someone has a cooking project or science experiment.
  • Sharpened pencils – I sharpen a bunch each evening – no more hunting for pencils!
  • My cell phone – I keep the landline ringer off during school hours to minimize distractions, but I keep my cell on for my husband. 
  • A big mug of tea – I like to use a travel mug so it doesn’t get cold!
  • Our chore chart & a dry-erase marker – So I can keep track of what needs doing. 
  • My planner – I often leave this open, so I have a spot to quickly jot down to-do’s and notes about various things as they occur to me. 
Not shown are our language arts and math work crates, which I keep just in front of the counter. 
 I feel much more organized and professional since I started setting up my little command center each morning. Something about laying everything out helps me get my brain in gear for the day!

How I Plan FIAR

Rose and I have been using Five in a Row since the start of our school year, and we both love it. If you haven’t guessed from reading this blog, I am a pretty dedicated box-checker/laid-out curriculum type. When we first started homeschooling, I did much more of my own planning and pulling together. I loved doing it, but it took a lot of time and energy, both of which tend to be in short supply around here. I also found that, for whatever reason, the more energy I put into planning and pulling together resources, the less likely I am to actually use my plan properly.  I suspect I enjoy the planning more than the doing, or that I burn out on the planning, and then don’t have the energy to actually do it. 

I don’t want to spend a ton of time planning extra stuff anymore, but do like to spend a little time. FIAR fulfills my planning urge nicely. It takes only a short amount of time to plan each book, and I have a ton of fun doing it. So today, I thought I would share how I go about planning a row. If you aren’t familiar with FIAR , it’s called a “row” because you are supposed to read the book five days in a row, doing related activities each day. We usually take more like two weeks to row each book, because we are doing this alongside Sonlight Core B.

I am currently in the process of planning our next three FIAR books: MadelineMike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and Katy and the Big Snow. Once they are planned, I will let Rose decide which order we do them in. I use a few resources to plan a row: my FIAR manual, the FIAR cookbook, and a couple of blogs.

The first thing I do is crack open my current FIAR manual: Volume 1.  There is no particular reason to finish one volume before starting the next, but that’s how I have decided to do it. (If you are curious about what we have rowed so far, you can click here). I am going to plan Madeline first, so I flip to that section of the manual.

I also start a Word document on my laptop. FIAR provides planning sheets in the back of the manual, but I prefer to type my notes.

I divide my Word document into sections that match the subjects covered in FIAR:

  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts
  • Art
  • Math
  • Science

I add a fifth section “More Fun” for anything that doesn’t fit in the above categories.

I start by looking through my trusty FIAR manual and adding any ideas I like to my document. Looking at the geography section, I decide I want to have Rose look up France on the map, talk about why cities are located on major rivers, discuss how to have compassion for others, and bring up some of the historical aspects of the illustrations. I do not spend a lot of time going through the manual or making these notes. I just skim the manual and type an abbreviated note in my document, something like:

 “Discuss history in illustrations” (m).

The (m) reminds me that there are discussion notes in my manual, and I will refer to them while we are doing FIAR.

Then I move on to the Language Arts section. By the end, I have a decent list of ideas, just from the manual itself. I do not do everything listed in the manual, though. I pick and choose based on what I feel like doing and what I think Rose will enjoy. If something feels like it would be busywork, repetitive of something we have done already, or will take too much effort,  I skip it. For Madeline, I decide we will not take a trip to a working riverfront or ride on a bus. Both ideas sound great, but it’s the middle of winter and we live in a rural area, so neither is easy to do. However, we have visited rivers and ridden on buses in the past, so I will mention that to her as we read. I am always amazed and inspired by the imaginative things I see families doing with FIAR, but for us, it really is just a fun extra. I don’t want to get overly stressed with a long list of to-do’s that will be hard to fit into our regular day. So, I keep it simple.

After I’ve checked the manual and noted down the ideas I’d like to use, I turn to the FIAR cookbook. The cookbook includes two or three recipes for each story, but I aim to make just one recipe per book (okay, sometimes two).  For Madeline, there are recipes for quiche, french rolls, and a fruit platter.

Rose does not like eggs, so quiche is out. Rolls would be great, but to keep things simple, I think we will make up a fruit platter for dessert one night. I add a note under my “More Fun” section.

Next, I go to one of my favorite FIAR websites Delightful Learning. There are tons of helpful and inspiring FIAR posts there, and I almost always find a neat idea or two to add to my list. I might visit one or two other blogs for ideas, then I look over my notes to see if anything jumps out at me. This time, it occurred to me to look up the Eiffel Tower’s website, where I found and bookmarked an online tour activity we can do, plus a page just for children.

I think I have plenty of ideas now, so I make sure the list looks neat and pretty by adding some bullet points and colored headings before printing it out. Now we’re ready to go!