By Jaimi Erickson
I signed up my children for all the sports thinking my active-duty spouse was going to be home. He was in a non-deployable billet — so we were told. There was going to be no long-distance travel on the agenda. Well, as a seasoned military spouse, I should have known better.
My plan was for my husband and I to share driving duties. We would alternate taking the kids to their activities. I got a rude awakening when my husband was called up to travel for a last-minute mission.
The kids and I lived in survival mode for months. For some reason, dinnertime was the hardest time of day. I know all of you know how that goes — basic life tasks can feel hard when you are parenting alone.
I had over-scheduled and under-planned thinking my spouse would be home. I made quesadillas for dinner at least a couple of times each week. Healthy eating was put on the back burner while my husband was deployed.
Back-to-school season is on the horizon. I can almost feel the carpool stress creeping into my life. But, this fall, I am going to stop stress in its tracks before I get overwhelmed. I am creating a management mindset. Home management is essential to a well-functioning life in our military household, and it helps keep the overwhelm away.
I want my household to be functional, peaceful, and organized. High expectations, I know. We live in a time where the hot mess, express life is perfectly acceptable. I think it’s good that we have learned to give each other grace in the trenches of raising children. However, I want to teach my children how to avoid being chaotically busy. I want to teach them to focus on peaceful productivity. Having back-to-school systems are how we get there.
We are leaning into systems of time management, schedule coordination, and clear communication. I think that last point — clear communication — is the key.
Time Blocking for Meal Planning
A time management step I take is to plan my meals every week. It’s a game changer when it comes to peace at dinnertime and peace in the budget. A well-planned week of dinners saves us money.
Grocery shopping one day a week to purchase ingredients for a week of meals is so much better than running to the store every other night. There is less whining from the kids at dinnertime, because you know what is on the menu. That results in less stress for the one doing the cooking.
Even if you have carpool Tetris going on with driving the kids all over town to activities, knowing what you are having for dinner takes that item off of your plate… pun intended. To simplify meal planning, we use an 8-week rotating meal plan. It helps to have healthy recipes gathered together, making them ready to go each week, allowing us to jumpstart our outlook going into the new school year.
The recipe collection is ordered, so each week you know what you are making. Each meal can be adjusted if anyone in your home has food allergies. Each recipe includes kid ideas, too. We use them to keep the grocery expenses in check for our household of six.
Everyone Helps Get Dinner on the Table
When we have a clear meal plan, older children can help us make dinner — or at least get it prepped while we are running other kids to activities. My spouse is happier when he knows what is on the meal plan. He will often ask what he can do to help prepare dinner.
Taking the guesswork out of dinnertime eliminates one stressful task from our schedule. You can use a menu board or a shared note on phones to keep everyone aware of what meals are coming up this week.
In our house, we only use meal planning for dinner. Everyone gets their own breakfast and lunch, since those are grab-n-go from the fridge.
Meal Planning for Back to School Balance
Back-to-school season is making its way onto our calendars again. We will be squeezing in a few more pool days and time in the sunshine before kicking off our homeschool year. I know this year I can take the lessons learned from years past to work towards balance at home.
Establishing a system just for meal planning alleviates stress at home and keeps everyone more content. Meal planning takes teamwork and communication. Everyone knows what is for dinner, which means that older kids can even help getting it to the table.
After all, with the craziness that military life can provide, working towards peace in our homes is essential.