One of the only drawbacks that I can think of to teaching piano is that our prime teaching time is right at dinner time, so it’s difficult to plan, prepare and enjoy that important meal!
I love cooking and playing in the kitchen. Before I had kids, I would often spend a lot of time on weekends and the early part of my teaching days cooking. These days, with 2 small kids, time is of the essence and my kitchen time has to be extremely efficient!
Before kids, I would teach late into the evening most days. I honestly can’t remember what our dinner time routine was like, but we likely ate a really late dinner or just ate in shifts.
Once our kids came along, it became more important for me to establish and be involved in a dinner and bedtime routine with our kids. I currently always finish teaching by 6:00 or 6:30, but since that is the time that we want to be eating in order to get the kids to bed at a reasonable time, dinner has to be ready to go when I finish teaching. Here are a few tricks I’ve been using lately to make meals seem somewhat normal for our family.
1. Instant Pot
I recently jumped on the Instant Pot bandwagon after having heard about it over and over for the the past year. The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker. It’s about the size of a crockpot and it cooks almost anything very quickly. Since we don’t eat meat, I wasn’t sure if it would really be worth it for our family. It has proven to be a great addition to our collection of kitchen gadgets.
I really prefer it over our slow cooker. In the winter, I tend to make a lot of soups in the crockpot. We are vegetarians and I’ve found that there’s no real advantage to cooking vegetables slowly, except that you do the work on the front end. I never thought that vegetable and bean based soups taste any better from a slow cooker. Also, this might not be a issue to some people, but I don’t like how I can smell my dinner all day long when I use a slow cooker. I find it distracting for both me and my students.
The instant pot solves these problems because it cooks so fast and I don’t actually turn it on until my last hour of teaching. And, I really do find that food tastes better when pressure cooked, rather than slow cooked.
I’ve tried a number of different meal planning services, but Wildtree is the first one that has really worked for our family. When our second child was born, we got into a huge food rut! We were eating the same few meals over and over again and we relied on fast food or carry out way too much. I couldn’t find the time I needed each week to plan and prepare decent meals for our family.
A friend invited me to a Wildtree Freezer Meal Workshop. I was really intrigued, and even though I couldn’t attend the workshop, I bought all the supplies and figured it out on my own. I’m happy to report that thanks to Wildtree, we’ve been out of our food rut for 16 months!
Here’s how it works:
- You select a menu from Wildtree that includes 10 freezer meals. There are currently 12 menu options, but they occasionally change with the seasons.
- You order a bundle of Wildtree products that corresponds with the menu you chose.
- Wildtree emails you a shopping list and a prep guide. The shopping list includes meats, veggies and maybe a few grains or other ingredients. In our case, since we are vegetarian, I sub all the meats for tofu, tempeh, beans or lentils, or anything else that sounds good.
- You do your grocery shopping from the list you received. When you get home, you bag everything into freezer bags as directed on the prep guide.
- You add the ingredients from the Wildtree bundle into each bag and stick them in your freezer. (Normally this step would happen at a Wildtree workshop, but you can also just do it at home if you order a bundle on your own.)
The whole process is really simple. It has been perfect for our family for a number of reasons. First, all of the thinking and planning is done for me. I used to spend hours browsing food blogs and websites searching for recipes for the week. There is just so much out there that I would waste tons of time wading through recipes to find the ones that met all my standards: healthy, not too complicated, in season, not too many ingredients, etc.
Second, it makes all the difference to do the bulk of the work for several meals all at once. In the past 16 months, I’ve done 5 rounds of freezer meals. Each time, I’ve prepped anywhere between 10-28 meals at a time. While it’s a lot of work on the front end, it means that the work is very minimal on a daily basis. This is key for us and why it works so well. We just pull a bag out of the freezer and a lot of time the prep is as simple as dumping it in a skillet or on a baking sheet. The meal-time recipes that you follow are really simple. Even if you’re the main chef in your family, you can easily delegate this part to another family member.
Wildtree also has us eating a wide variety of foods. Each time I prepare my freezer meals, I repeat a few of our favorites, but we haven’t even come close to trying all the different menu plans yet.
The 10 freezer meals make quite generous servings, which means a lot of leftovers. The leftovers are often enough for another complete meal for our family – either lunch or dinner.
Also, Wildtree ingredients are super clean, which is really important to me. I often seek out organic and non-gmo foods with minimal ingredients. It’s nice that I don’t have to study labels with Wildtree.
Honestly, when I saw the price of the Wildtree bundle, I was a little turned off by the price. But, at that time, I was so desperate for a good solution that I decided that it was worth it to “splurge” if it would save me time, energy and brain space. It turns out the the freezer meals end up costing about $3/serving, so it’s really an economical option considering we rarely rely on fast foods and convenience foods these days.
I ended up signing on as a Wildtree rep, initially because I wanted access to better pricing and to have the inside scoop on all the different meal plans and recipes. But, I also love helping people get out of food ruts. If freezer meals sound like they might be a good fit for your family, check out the different bundles. You can purchase one right from the link. Leave a comment or email me if you’d like to learn more!
3. Salads In A Jar
Salad In A Jar is my very favorite way to make a big, filling meal happen quickly! I prep my salad jars early in the week and then eat a salad for at least 1 meal a day for most of the week. It’s usually lunch, but it’s just as satisfying for dinner.
To make a salad in a jar, you pour dressing into the bottom of a quart-sized jar, then add any toppings you want on your salad. Lately, my favorites are garbanzo beans, cooked grains, green onions, red bell peppers, sunflower seeds, gherkins, and artichoke hearts. I like layering wetter ingredients or things that would marinate well at the bottom, then placing the dryer ingredients on top of them. Then you stuff the jar full of any kind of greens.
When you’re ready to eat the salad, you just dump it into a bowl and mix it around. This would be a good time to add meat or soft foods like avocados, since they may not keep as well in the jar. I use a big mixing bowl to eat my salads and they make a big, filling salad. They always keep me full through my long afternoons of teaching. These stay fresh in the fridge for about a week. I usually make about 5 each week and I’ve never had any problems with wilting lettuce or spoiled veggies!
4. Super Simple Meals
I tend to make things more complicated than they need to be at times, so I have to frequently remind myself that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a legitimate meal. I’d love to make a hot cooked meal every night, but some nights it just makes more sense to have something super easy with minimal dishes involved. PBJ, quesadillas, cheese and crackers, and grilled cheese do the trick.
So there’s a little peek into some of our mealtime routines. I’d love to hear what is working for other piano teachers or busy parents who are driving around a lot during dinnertime! Do you have any great meal solutions to share?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using this link.