Because this mom is DONE.

By Ashley Kappel
April 14, 2020
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If you had told me 32 days ago that I’d be making up week five of my stay-at-home meal plan, I would’ve laughed in your face. I insanely believed that we could lock down for two weeks then get back to business after spring break. This was, of course, when news was unfolding in painful drips, like continuous paper cuts that ultimately left huge, gaping holes. School’s out for two weeks, but now until August. You can work remotely until Tax Day, but actually, make it May. Spring seasons are on hold, potentially until fall. But here we are.

I have spent the last five weeks perfecting my mom-of-three meal plan that has somehow made my life easier in this legitimate disaster while I’m also working and acting as a teacher—all from my dining room table (which my son has suggested it would one day be cool to eat on). And I’ve learned five key principles I plan to take with me into post-quarantine life, should it ever actually exist. 

Make Your Own Routines 

While I normally benchmark days of the week by piano lessons and baseball practice, those touchstones have vanished. I’ve found the only way I can even try to wrap my mind around what day it is is by planning weekly meals. In our house, Wednesday is now Breakfast-for-Dinner, Thursday is Snack Dinner, and Friday is Pizza & A Movie, which is kind of tricky because, let’s face it, every night is “movie night.” We’ve got 15 hours of daylight to kill here, people.

While some might find this restricting, it works for us because of the variety I can work in. Breakfast for Dinner is “mom picks three” of waffles, pancakes, biscuits, fruit, bacon, sausage, and hash browns. Snack Dinner’s real star is the soft frozen Trader Joe’s pretzel, rounding out by a supporting cast of cheese, raw veggies, hummus, fresh fruit, and nuts. For Pizza Night, we try to stick as close to school pizza as possible, nothing fancy here. The bonus to all this is that I really only have to plan four nights of meals a week (sob), which isn’t too overwhelming if I can forget that I’m also planning seven breakfasts, seven lunches, and fourteen snacks.

Eat Your Fruit in Order

Gone are the days of asking people what fruit they wanted. We stock up for two weeks, and the fruit rotation is on point. Berries of all varieties first. If any strawberries get too ripe, I freeze them on a plate in the freezer in a single layer then transfer them to a zip-top bag for smoothies later. Next up is grapes, then pears, then cantaloupe, then watermelon, then, finally, apples, the shockingly durable crowd-pleaser when stored in the fridge.

I keep mandarin oranges, apple sauce, squeezies, and dried fruits in the pantry for desperate times, but no such need yet. While this has saved me with my kids—ages six, five, and two—it’s also taught me how to make better use of my fruit. If the bananas get too ripe, I make banana bread or toss them (peeled!) into the freezer for this weekend’s smoothie. We’ve gone practically no-waste, and only because we’ve become exactingly detailed in how things are consumed now that we can’t run out to the store.

Let Them Step Up

My six year old decided she’d be the reader of the menu to anyone who asks (again) what’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner. My five year old decided the three of them should rotate as servers and clean up for each meal, which thrilled the two year old. The oldest cuts fruit and folds socks. My middle wrangles the clean dishcloths and napkins, excitedly asking, “Mom, do I get to fold these every week? Forever?” Yes. Yes, son. You do. 

In our normal busy lives, I’m the one bustling, controlling, serving, portioning, and refilling because everything feels instant, every need immediate. But now, we’ve got time. Time to pour the milk, to wipe up the spill. Time to learn to fold the squares and stack them in the napkin drawer, wrinkles and all. 

Make School Work for You

 I have a first grader and recognize that I am incredibly lucky. I’m not dealing with hours of Zoom meetings, teaching Physics, or dealing with a kiddo (hi, Kindergarteners!) who can’t read the instructions on her worksheet. I’m also lucky in that her school is encouraging creative learning, so now when we make anything from a mix, she does all the reading and measuring. In the last five weeks, she’s learned the different ways of measuring, fractions, and a little science thanks to our sourdough starter. She doesn’t realize she’s learning and I’m getting help reading the box from across the kitchen. Win, win. 

Play to Your Strengths

 When I get to go to the store, I’m faced with limited products and no time for browsing. I’m not using quarantine to try out my saved exotic recipes. Now is the perfect time to make (and repeat!) family favorites. Kids love repetition, and if you can stomach the leftovers, then your life can be pretty easy, as least meal-wise. 

I don’t have any perfect wisdom to make your time at home easier. Maybe you’re an essential worker barely getting Easy Mac on the table every night. (GOOD FOR YOU, MAMA.) Maybe you’re losing your job and are planning your meals from the food bank’s store. (YOU GOT THIS.) Maybe, like me, you’re lucky enough to be slugging away at home with your people. No matter what you’re doing, what you’re doing is enough, so don’t feel bad if you can only scramble eggs tonight. Add a sprinkle of cheese, announce Breakfast for Dinner, and watch them run to the table.