Having lunch together when classes are finished for the day at Cottage School is one of my favorite things! The kids get to enjoy new food items and play outside together, while the moms get to relax and enjoy some lunch and conversation. When making food for a large group, keep it simple, but also consider 1-2 side options for those children who may have allergies or be picky eaters.
Early on, I (Jenny) attempted to serve lunches that had a theme. This was super fun, but I also ran out of steam after six weeks. Whatever you decide to do, I usually let the families know via text message the night before what the meal will be. Then, everyone can let their kids know and make adjustments accordingly if needed. I used to try to prep everything for the meals before everyone arrived, or the night before, but this became pretty difficult, especially with limited fridge space! Now, I prep the meal a little before everyone arrives at 9:00am, and I finish when classes are happening. If one of the moms is free, she helps with prepping as well.
A few general tips for lunch during cottage school:
- Decide as a group what things (if any) matter regarding food: organic or not, gluten free, allergies, etc.
- Set a budget that each family will contribute towards weekly–plates and forks and cups also add up! Our cost is $10 per family.
- Think about what you can manage, and prep what you can the night before. It’s better to have a bagged salad than no salad at all!
- Have a little variety for the kids who need it–and let them choose.
- Make a dessert when you can, but don’t feel like you need one every meal.
- Allow the kids to practice their manners: girls go first in line, bringing their plates back when they are finished, cleaning tables, etc.
- Do a fun drink or iced tea when you can. Everyone enjoys something refreshing other than water at times!
Here are some meals I have made the kids all seemed to love:
- Greek – For this meal, I usually do 5-6 chicken breasts in the instant pot with seasoning. I purchase two bags of the super-soft pita bread from Costco, along with a few cucumbers, a container of grape tomatoes, romaine, and pita chips and hummus. Feta and tzatziki sauce are nice touches if you can grab them within your budget! The kids make their own pitas, and some just enjoy the chicken and hummus!
- French Bread Sandwiches – Trader Joe’s has a bagged french bread that is narrow, and it can be cut into three pieces for sandwiches. I had salami and turkey with all the fixings, and usually always had a salad and some fruit on the side. We have come to enjoy some of the bagged Trader Joe’s salads, but they can get old, so mix it up when you have the time and energy.
- Pasta Bar – For some reason this is one of my favorites! I like having 1-2 pasta options and sauces. If we do alfredo, I make it from scratch, and I have french bread and a salad. Kids enjoy choosing their favorite pasta and sauce!
- Chili & Cornbread – This is also a kid favorite. I have a red chili recipe that I love (I usually leave out the spicier seasonings though), and I cook up a very large pot. Usually, I triple a recipe like this for cottage school. If there are leftovers, we enjoy them for dinner. I make a large tray of cornbread and a small salad. It’s a perfect meal for winter time when it cools down, even in Arizona!
- Smorgasbord – In some ways, this takes more prep, but it encourages the kids to try new things. Get a variety box of crackers and one loaf of french bread, 2 – 3 different cheeses and meats, a few fruits to cut up and some vegetables and dip. I usually try to put each on their own platter (meats and cheeses, fruits, then veggies). Encourage the kids to try one slice of something that might be new to them. This is a fun time to also have the kids rate and discuss which cheeses or new fruits were their favorite and why!
- Enchiladas – I like this meal because you can prepare a tray the day before and make quesadillas and beans and rice the day of for everyone who doesn’t enjoy the main dish. It’s easier than tacos!
These are just a few meal ideas we have found that work well for our group. Please let us know if you have any new suggestions for us to try next school year!