If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know that I am a mom of 7 and that I often get funny comments about my family. “Are they all yours?” “Is this a church van?” “Is this the hotel shuttle?” We laugh about it too – something about being a large family draws a bit of attention. We empty out the van like clowns climbing out of a circus car. But every now and again someone will ask me a more practical question like, ‘How do you cook for a large family?”
Well, first off, we didn’t become a large family in one day. We grew into it with each pregnancy and each baby. So it was a process, a fairly gradual one, and there were lots of opportunities to realize that the cooking process needed tweaking. I don’t know why it takes me so long sometimes to realize I need to add another chicken breast to the pan sometimes! (I kid you not, after many a child switched to solid food I did not cook enough for dinner and would end up feeding everyone else dinner and I ate peanut butter graham crackers with milk later on. Why I did that more than twice before adding more food to the dinner menu is beyond me. Blame it on postpartum fatigue, I guess. I could milk that excuse for years.)
But there are some things I have learned along the way and over the years that make cooking for a large family a bit more manageable.
You have to plan ahead at least in the sense that you can’t just pull a meal out of nowhere at 5pm for 9 people. (Ask me how I know? Umm, I buy peanut butter and graham crackers both by the case, and milk at least 4 gallons at a time. And I plan meals a week at a time.)
Menu planning, at least for dinner, has saved my hide more than once. And there are some meals we have regularly – like frijoles and Mexican Rice every Tuesday for dinner, pancakes every Saturday morning and pizza night every Saturday night. Those meals I don’t have to think about.
There is also an element of planning ahead that is looking at your calendar and figuring out which nights need to be a crock pot dinner and which nights can handle a little more time in the kitchen. For us, Tuesdays are commonly referred to as Crazy Tuesdays and dinner needs to be a crock pot meal. Hence the frijoles.
I also have a child who camps a lot and who loves burgers but refuses to eat meatballs. If he’s gone, we eat meatballs. Plan ahead. And Daddy doesn’t love sloppy joes but the kids do. So if Daddy is gone,we eat sloppy joes. Easy peasy.
Have a few meals that are flexible.
I do not cater to my childrens’ taste buds. What’s on the table is what’s for dinner. You may eat it now while it is hot or you may eat it cold for breakfast. That being said, it is nice to have a few meals that most people like but with a tiny bit of tweaking everybody will be happy. For example, if I’m browning meat for haystacks I can easily pull some out and make it into sloppy joes. Everyone is happy. Same with fajitas. We can all have chicken fajitas, but Heather, my 8 year old, doesn’t like them so she opens a can of black beans and has black bean fajitas. Everyone is happy.
Stock the freezer and pantry well.
Even when you plan well, you need to have a well stocked pantry and freezer. We buy beef by the half cow and Daddy got an elk and a deer this year, so we are covered for meat. I buy not-quite-organic-grade-chicken when I have a coupon and/or it is on sale, but we rarely are without boneless skinless chicken in the freezer too.
Bags of frozen peas, peas and carrots, and green beans are also in the freezer along with frozen chopped spinach. What else?
I have beef and chicken broth I buy when they go on sale in the fall for $0.50 each. Also black beans both canned and dry, canned corn, canned soup, canned tomatoes. I have sauce that I made and canned and lots of jam that I made and canned. Peaches, pears, mandarin oranges, and pineapple. Pasta and rice. Wheat berries, flour, sugar.
The Recipe Book
The biggest thing for me over the years has been to keep a 3-ring binder with page protectors in it for all of the recipes I have torn out of magazines or printed off the internet. I know which ones are favorites, they don’t get ruined if they get spilled on, and if I don’t make something after about 6 months, I can pull it out and get rid of the recipe. But having that collection of recipes, especially if they have pictures with them, makes it easier to plan meals. If nothing else, I can set the book in front of a child and tell them to find one thing they want to eat for dinner this week.
The hardest part
The hardest part of figuring out how to cook for a large family has always been that adjustment period when the youngest starts eating real food and all of a sudden the number of chicken breasts I made for dinner isn’t going to be enough to go around. And then I need a plan. What do I do? Make more vegetables. Cut up a bag of sweet peppers and add it to the table. Throw together a salad. Whip up some biscuits. Fix a plate of cheese and crackers. Add dessert. Any one of those will work.
Don’t forget this part
The most important lesson I have learned over the years of cooking for an increasingly large family is to make sure Mom eats. It is an easy and slippery slope to put everyone else first and not take care of yourself. It seems honorable, heroic, loving, to feed your kids and husband first. But it will come back and bite you in many ways. Trust me. I’ve been there. I don’t want to go back. So now if I notice that there might not be as much as I would have liked, I make sure to serve myself at least some. It is important for the kids to see that everyone gets fed, not just them. And that’s a topic for another post!