Thursday, September 04, 2008

Large Family Survival Guide

Planning Is Key:
I say this not because I’m always so good at having everything planned out, but because I keep having to learn the hard way that when I wing it, everyone loses especially me. Planning ahead is a way of multiplying your time. When your family grows and with it time demands on you multiply, but the same amount of hours remain in the day (the stubborn 24) you have to figure out how to become as efficient as possible. Here are my tips.

They absolutely must be planned ahead. The very minimum is one week, although I think planning at least two weeks at a time is best. Once you have your cookbooks out and you’re in the planning groove, you might as well plan as many as you can. One key here is to have this meal plan posted in a convenient place. I have a magnetic pad ($1 at Wal-mart) that sticks on the fridge and it has the days of the week printed on it. I will write down several weeks of meals on it, as well as the cookbook and page number (if applicable.) If your plan is scribbled on a piece of paper and then lost somewhere, it’s not going to be of much help to you. (Again, speaking from experience here.)

Another tip (this was Chris’ idea): Print out a list of your family’s 30 or so favorite meals (with cookbook and page number). Like with the meal plan list, this needs to be clearly displayed and easily found. Mine is taped on the inside of one of the kitchen cabinets.

Grocery Shopping:
Cardinal rule--you must keep a running list of items needed. As before, this list must be kept in a convenient, easily assessable spot. We have another magnetic pad for this purpose and keep it on the refrigerator. It will save you countless trips to the grocery store. With the price of gas, it’s not a bad idea.

I do my shopping once a week. When we had a smaller family, I used to do a big shop that bought enough items to last us two weeks, and went back for a few things like milk and veggies in the off week. I don’t do that anymore because of the sheer amount of items I would have to buy. One overflowing cart barely lasts us one week; I would probably need three carts to buy enough for two weeks. But if you have a smaller family you may want to shop for nonperishables only once every two weeks, especially since you have your meals all planned out now.

Speaking of which, when your meals are all planned out, making your list for the week is simple. I never go to the store without an organized list: produce, meat, frozen, etc. It is best to order the categories the way that your grocery store aisles are laid out and then do fridge and frozen items last. This will keep you from having to waste time walking from one end of the store to the other, over and over.

Here again, a little planning will multiply your time. Have master lists posted or easily accessible with categories of items you may need to add to your list. There are several ways to do this. One is to have tons of lists printed out and each time you go to the store, simply circle the items needed. I don’t prefer this method because then you have a big list to look through. Another way is to go through the list and just check or circle the things needed and then copy only the things you need into the appropriate categories onto your list for the store. You can find these lists on the Internet to get you started and then add or subtract from it to meet your family’s needs. You can have one big list, or you can have separate ones: A toiletries and household items only list—detergent, shampoo, dish detergent, etc. with a separate food list. Within the food list you should also have categories: panty items—canned tomatoes, cream of chicken soup. Fridge items--milk, butter, eggs…You get the idea. Furthermore, customize the quantities for your family. Instead of just having down bread and milk, I have that I need 3 loaves of bread and 5 gallons of milk each week. We need 2 bags of pretzels for lunches, 15 apples, 4 bags of baby carrots. Figure out exactly how much of each thing your family goes through in a week. Otherwise you’ll have apples down, you’ll buy 5 apples and come Monday afternoon, you are already out of apples and no one has fruit in their lunch for the rest of the week.

Two More Hints:
Use a crock pot and double most meals. It may be that you need to buy another crock pot cookbook. For a long time I didn’t use my crock pot much because I didn’t know what else to do with it besides beef stew. Go to a book store and pick out one where the meals are easy to assemble and don’t require exotic ingredients.

Try to double any meals that you can. Some meals don’t work well leftover, tacos for instance. But other meals are even better the second night. For me that means instead of cooking for 7 I’m cooking for 14, but it’s always worth it. When I make chili, I often make enough for even three nights. Beef stew, soups, casseroles, and many crock pot meals double well. How about taking a night off from cooking several times a week while feeding your family healthy, delicious and inexpensive leftovers.

All this planning can be done in the time it would take you to make just one of those extra trips to the grocery store.


Mary Anne said...

I really hope you still have this blog when I have a family...

B said...

Great advice, Leslie! I am taking note and bracing myself for buying 5 gallons of milk a week - yikes! Is that really true? We should do some kind of crock-pot recipe exchange with our friends. I am like you, I do a pot roast and that's about it. I will be watching for more posts on the 'large famiy survivial'. I need it!! - Beth

Jeanne said...

I used to love having the big holiday dinners at our house--we usually had about 15. Planning was the key, because it was important to me to be able to enjoy my dinner guests and feel relaxed. Nothing worse than a grumpy cook to spoil the mood! If anyone is interested, I have some tips for pulling this off.

mom said...

I agree that having a meal plan is the secret to success. There's no fun in a tired mom looking into the freezer at 5 pm and wondering what to serve for supper. Since I know what I'm serving, I can begin meal preparation the night before and often have part of the dinner prepared before my other morning work really begins.

When the older children were young, my own meal chart was a three-week rotation of our favorite meals. I knew I had the ingredients I needed in the house, so I wasn't rigidly tied to the chart, but spaghetti is a Monday night tradition in our family.

Since I have fewer at home now than I had in the past (4 children, down from a high of 10 at one time) I am even more flexible. Monday is still spaghetti night, but Tuesday is Mexican or sandwiches, Wednesday is chicken, Thursday--pasta, Friday--fun!, Saturday--soup or stew, and Sunday--special. I've got a list under each category of options, and make my choices as I shop. This also lets me stretch out to try more new recipes--I've actually got time to read cook books! Only occasionally will I need an unplanned trip to the store for an ingredient I don't have on hand.

Jill said...

Oh,dear! Most everywhere else I post I am "Mom". That last post was from Jill Crum.

David and Elizabeth said...

Yeah, wow. 5 gallons of milk! They must be getting their calcium! We applaud you. We don't even have kids and planning meals is already a huge necessity. =) So, I can't imagine planning for 7!
My favorite crock pot dish is chicken with cream of mushroom soup, some thyme and savory, onions, carrots and potatoes. Then, rice on the side. It's so easy, and yes! It's easy to double and triple!

Leslie said...

Elizabeth, That's great that you already plan meals. It's good to learn those things before you have kids so you are prepared. It is like having a head start.
Much Love,