004 – Dinner Hour Meets Teaching Hour

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Episode Summary

The conflict between prime teaching hours and the evening meal can make getting dinner on the table tricky. In this episode, we’ll look at six different ways or tools, if you will, that you can keep in your back pocket to help make dinner happen despite our schedules. My hope is that you might consider there’s more than one way to juggle a teacher’s dinner struggle.


Items Mentioned

Amy’s favorite slow cooker recipes

Key Ideas podcast – Episode 11: Organizing Tips for Piano Teachers with Amy Chaplin

Blog post: Food Prep and the Studio Schedule

Related Content

Facebook group: Cookin’ Piano Teachers



When it comes to living the life of an independent music teacher, dinner time is something we all eventually have to re-think. With after school hours, say 3-8pm, being the prime time for lessons, it can be hard to take on a full-time load of teaching without imposing on those precious meal-time hours.

In today’s episode we’ll walk through 6 different ways or tools, if you will, that you can keep in your back pocket to help make dinner happen despite our schedules. My hope is that you might consider there’s more than one way we can juggle the dinner struggle.

Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast where together we live life as independent music teachers. Hey, everyone, I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. As a piano teacher and independent studio owner myself, I love talking about all things IMT-life related from running and organizing a studio business to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.

I wish I could say I remember the “aha” moment I had when it came to having to re-think our evening meal-time. One thing I do distinctly remember though (and this is something I shared with Leila Viss in episode 11 of her podcast which I’ll link to in the show notes), is that I recall finally having to let go of my “ideal” beautiful dinner time dance. That is, that idyllic time when you pop on the jazz music, gather your ingredients, prepare a long delicious meal at the end of a long day. It’s just not reality – at least not at the end of most long teaching days. Today we’re dealing with the fact that when it’s time for dinner, it’s time for dinner.

First though, I have a burning question in regards to meal times that has always plagued my family. Growing up in the country with a family with a history of farming, the meal-times were called breakfast, dinner, and supper.

When my husband and I got married, we started calling it lunch and dinner. I’m not really sure why the change. It’s probably because the terms “lunch and dinner” were used in college. Plus, with my first teaching job being in the public schools where they referred to the noon meal as “lunch” it just started feeling more natural. When discussing meal times with our parents, we frequently have to clarify which meal we’re talking about or simply use the other’s lingo.

If you’re on social media keep a lookout because after this episode first drops, I’m going to jump on and do some kind of a poll as I’m curious which way you lean.

Let’s get dinner on the table.

The first tool we can keep in our back pocket is, I think, probably the most obvious. Slow cooker meals. Random fact. Did you ever think about the fact that some people say “crock pot” meals but really “Crock Pot” is a brand of slow-cooker. Slow-cooker is more the generic term for that type of appliance. Bet you didn’t know you were going to get such great wisdom and insight today, did you?

While I’m definitely team slow-cooker, I’m also weird about having all of my meals combined in one dish all the time. That, combined with the fact that I cook new stuff half the time, I probably only utilize my slow cooker 2-3 times a month.

It really is fabulous though for what we do because you can prep the meal before you start the teaching day and as soon as you walk out of your studio late in the evening, boom, it’s done. I find this type of meal especially great for evenings I work the latest.

Because I love trying lots of new recipes, I’m going to share a link in the show notes where you can download a list of my favorite slower cooker recipes. Disclaimer though that I’m not a recipe creator per-say, I’m just sharing links to my favorite recipes you can find online. Rest assured if I recommend it, it’s pretty good because I try a lot and am picky on quality recipes.

The second tool we can utilize to get dinner on the table is others in our household. If you’re lucky, your spouse loves to do all the cooking and you don’t have to worry about. In that case, you’re all set!

For the rest of us though…If you have teenage children, consider assigning each one to be responsible for dinner once a month on a night you teach late. While I’m 100% the main cook in our household, sometimes I will get a meal partially prepped and then leave a note for my husband to finish it off such as preheating the oven at a certain time and then throwing a casserole in an hour before I finish teaching.

Maybe they don’t have to plan the meal necessarily, but they can help with final preparation steps.

The third idea we can consider is to schedule a dinner break. Maybe you just do this on night’s you need to teach until 9:00 so you schedule in 30-45 minutes from 6:30-7:00 before finishing out your final few students.

Whether you pack your lunch or time the meal using one of the aforementioned ideas, so it’s ready right as you go on break, just have a plan so you don’t have to use your short meal time to make anything and then be forced to eat quickly.

Fourth is to keep some easy, prepared meals on-hand. Even for people like me who love to cook, sometimes I need a backup plan. Thanks to Trader Joe’s, I’ve been keeping some pre-made meals in the freezer at all times. Leftovers would fit into this category as well. Plan a few meals during the week and make extra. Double the soup recipe, add an extra piece of chicken breast to the casserole, or serve a bag salad alongside the meal to allow for more leftovers of the main meal, making it go a little further.

I generally plan on having one meal a week I grab out of the freezer like Trader Joe’s Chicken fried rice and one or two meals with leftovers.

The fifth way we can help ourselves get dinner on the table is to simply set a teaching schedule that is a compromise between the two. Take on more adult students or homeschool kids that can come earlier in the day so you don’t have to work as late.

I’ve personally never done the teaching until 9:00pm thing. However, I have done the 8pm time for a few years a couple of days a week. For me personally, I don’t love taking a break between lessons as it’s easy to quickly lose that time with student staying a few minutes past or arriving a few minutes early. When I’m done, I’m done. Plus, I find those dinner hours are also prime teaching time. Not many students want to come after 7:30 anyway.

The life balance I’ve landed on is that I’m done by 7pm M-T-W so we can eat by 8pm. Usually I need 15-20 minutes to wrap up in the studio so I don’t necessarily get upstairs to start dinner right at 7. Thursdays I quit by 5:40 because we have regular church activities at 7:00 and Friday I don’t teach at all. I like to get my full work load into 4 days as much as possible. This is something I’ve gone back and forth with over the years but that’s a topic for another day.

So, find a life balance that works for you, your family, your budget, and your meal times.

The sixth and final way I have to share with you has become a major part of my daily routine. That is, to make food prep part of your regular schedule. I used to always think of food prep more in terms of making bagged freezer meals but really, it’s just about staying a little ahead of the game so you don’t have to do every step of the recipe when you’re short of time.

I address this in a lot more detail in a blog post on Piano Pantry titled “Food Prep and the Studio Schedule,” which I’ll link to in the show notes. Rather than rehashing it completely here, I’ll give you a big picture idea, then let you jump into that post for more in-depth commentary if you’d like to delve in a little further.

They are (1) Prep as much as you can ahead of time whether that’s washing the vegetables, cutting them up in pre-measured segments for your recipe, mixing together a spice mix, or whipping up a dressing or sauce ahead of time.

(2) Prep less more often plus visualize your plans and know exactly what it will take to make the meal your happen (i.e. read the recipe ahead of time if using one and know all the steps and time involvement). That last thing you want is to start a recipe at 7pm and realize it needs 90 minutes to simmer on the stove. Pizza delivery, anyone?

(3) Arm your kitchen. That is, lay all of the ingredients you can ahead of time including canned goods, pots, pans, and utensils. This has been a life-saver for me and can easily cut 10 minutes out of your time when it comes to cooking the meal.

I hope today’s first food-focused episode has given you some options when considering how to get dinner on the table with strange schedules that overlap what many would call in the manufacturing world 1st and 2nd shift. If anything, I hope it has inspired you to realize there are a multitude of things we can rely on to make it happen.

If you have any follow up questions about this episode, send me a voicemail through the link at the bottom of the show notes. Don’t forget to jump into the show notes as well for links to items mentioned in this episode including the article on Food Prep and the Studio Schedule, the podcast with Leila Viss, and to get the free download with links to my favorite slow cooker recipes.

If you’re online, you can find me at PianoPantry.com/podcast, on Facebook @PianoPantry, or on Instagram where I love being @amychaplinpiano. Don’t forget to jump onto Instagram stories the day this episode drops to take the poll on what terms you use for meal times in your home.

If you’re enjoying this podcast, consider hitting the “subscribe” button and jumping over to Apple Podcasts to share a review.

Thanks for staying around for today’s fun fact. In the first episode, I shared that I could say the alphabet backwards in less than 5 seconds and invited you to send me a voice recording of you doing so. Today, instead of sharing a new fun fact about myself, I’m happy to report that I am not alone in my awesome alphabet skills.

Let’s give a listen to a message sent to me from a teacher friend in Canada:


Thanks to Sylvia for taking the time to send me this message for to all in enjoy. I have listened to it multiple times it never fails to put a big smile on my face and give me a chuckle. I especially love the Canadian twist hearing “zed” Y X.

Well, if you’re like me, you’re leaving today’s episode with a smile on your face. Keep all those happy endorphins going and go prep a little something for an upcoming meal.