Menu Planning for Large Families: My Kitchen
Creating a Reusable Menu for a Large Family: Sit Down at My Kitchen Table
I have six kids!
I've been cooking meals for my family for over nineteen years, and as each bundle of joy has arrived, my cooking responsibilities have increased. Now that every child is old enough to eat table food, I have had to come up with a great way to plan, shop and cook meals for a large group of people.
Something that is strangely unique about the way I plan and prepare meals, is that I rarely use leftovers!
It's just the way my cooking style has evolved over the years, and with few exceptions, I seldom have much of a meal to clean up. Even without leftovers, we manage to keep our grocery costs down.
Every area is going to be different because of Cost of Living conditions...for example, Californians are going to pay more for some groceries and less for others, and Midwesterners are going to have a lower Cost of Living, unless it comes to more tropical food that is available for cheap in warm coastal states!
For us, we can feed our family of 8 on 140$ a week.
Menu Planning Tools for the Modern Family - Here Are a Few Menu Planning Tools You Can Use Right Now
A couple of them are FREE! I don't know if this is a temporary promotion or not, but check it out!
I'm going to download this for my Android right away!
For .99 you might save fifty bucks on your grocery bill!
Sit at My Table
What Will Your Family Eat?
Sit down with pen and paper, or pull up your laptop or shine up your Smartphone...the planning stage can be fun! This is where you jot down all of your family members' favorite meals. If your spouse or kids are in the room with you, even better. Get their input. You might even assign kids a night to cook their favorite meal, freeing you up to do something else you enjoy.
Make note of the calendar...are there any holidays or celebrations coming up? What about soccer game night? Consider the timing in all of your meal planning. There might be a week where it's hot sandwiches every night for the sake of saving time. And hot sandwiches doesn't mean eating out!
Also take a walk-through in your kitchen and pantry. Do you already have half a bag of potatoes? An unopened bag of shredded cheese? Perfect...you just found a meal for a chilly day. (Cheesy Potato Soup). Using up food you already have on hand in your menu will save you money at the grocery store!
The Kitchen Laptop is a Great Resource - So Many Kinds of Meal Planning and Cook Books
Digital version or hard copy? At one point I got rid of all my hardback cookbooks because I knew I could get on the computer and find what I needed. Now I'm cycling around to repurchasing favorite cookbooks because I like having it in my hand when I'm in the kitchen!
This one looks great! I might have to buy it myself...
This one also comes in Kindle format.
This one is a best seller. Consider the health needs of your family members.
Another book with some food lists and tips to lose a couple pounds. Available digital or paperback.
Open the Fridge and Look Inside
Just Don't Stand There with it Open!
Take inventory of what you already have. You will be using on-hand items to supplement your grocery list and meal plan. This saves you money, time, and food.
Don't you hate that guilty feeling when you toss out an unopened bag of salad that you forgot you had in the crisper drawer? When this happens to me, I punish myself by not buying one for a couple weeks. Argh!
Plan a menu...make note of what you have and how you're going to use it. You will feel so much better when you do this.
I've heard that some families post a photo of the inside of their fridge on the door!
Other families use a dry erase marker to write things that just ran out. Not a bad idea!
So while you're looking in that fridge, what have you got? What are the expiry dates on your dressings? Have lunch meat? What about staples...have enough butter for baking? That's right, check it all out. If it looks like your salad has one more day, then plan on using it TONIGHT. Salad goes with everything.
Get That Fridge in Tip Top Shape - Can You Find What You're Looking For?
Get a couple things to help you organize your refrigerator.
Have you seen anything cuter or more fun for your fridge?
Open the Pantry
Smells Like Cereal in Here
We all know a well-organized pantry is a pleasure to use. It just doesn't last! For me, if I organize my pantry, it's a mess by the next day! Oh well, at least I tried.
So what have you got in here? Crackers, chips, cereal, canned goods, pasta, spare granola bars, some toaster pastries? What are you supposed to do with this stuff?
Sounds like a casserole in the making, if you ask me. Plan a casserole for a night when you don't have to go anywhere, because you'll need a couple minutes to assemble it, and then at least thirty minutes to bake.
Cook and drain your pasta. Mix in a can of 'cream of' soup, a can of veggies or two, canned chicken breast or canned ham, OR...if you have some leftover lunch meat or hot dogs, you can chop those and put them in too. Top your casserole with shredded cheese and then crush up the rest of the potato chips that no one will eat and put those on top. Bake at 350 for thirty minutes. Serve with a side salad or make an easy fruit salad with canned fruit and a fresh banana. You can also have crackers on the side.
A Pantry to Die For - I love when everything is in its place. It just doesn't happen all that often!
A couple items can transform your pantry from a jumbled mess to a pleasant destination in the middle of cooking.
The next can rolls right into place. Easy and convenient.
I use something similar for my spice rack. Triples the space in the cupboard!
Nosing Around the Cupboards
Looking for a bone?
As you have been writing your meal plan, (Suzie wants chili, Katy requested fresh rolls, DH wants meat and potatoes) poke your head in all the cupboards.
Do you have all the seasoning packets you need? If you make your own chili, do you have enough chili powder and cinnamon? Do you need a taco seasoning packet from the store? What about chocolate chips if you're taking cookies to the school on Friday? Make sure you have yeast for those rolls too.
The cupboards are your final stop to make sure you have what you need and to give you ideas for another meal if you need one. Maybe you found that bag of fifteen bean soup you forgot about...and you just saw a box of cornbread mix in the pantry...perfect!
Back to the Kitchen Computer
Do you carry your Smartphone everywhere?
Have you tried any grocery apps on your smartphone? They probably have several! You can print out your grocery list at the computer station, or handwrite it or tattoo it on your arm.
If you want a reusable meal plan, I recommend typing one up in Word and saving it. If you plan meals for three weeks, you can rotate it and your family won't even notice that you get the same things all the time. If you only have chili once every three weeks, they won't mind at all.
So now you type up your menu. It might look something like this:
Monday: Suzie cooks chili, cornbread on the side
Tuesday: Cheesy Potato soup in crock pot, Katy makes rolls
Wednesday: Jack wanted hot dogs, use leftover chili too!
Thursday: Hot sandwiches, soccer game
Friday: Casserole with fresh salad
Saturday: Order pizza
Sunday: Roast and potatoes in crock pot
If you have your meal plan, and you know what you already have available, your grocery list might look something like this:
Chili seasoning packet
hot dog buns
catsup (we're out) DOH! It's on sale, buy two
Thousand island dressing
fresh green beans
Now you have everything you need for your week, if you were including the things you found in your fridge and pantry!
Free Meal Planning Lists - Here are some free printables to help you get started!
- Free Meal Planner from About.com
I love free printables! Get organized, plan your meals, start saving money.
A Couple Recipes to Get You Started
I keep mentioning Hot Sandwiches...what are those?
In this meal plan, Katy made rolls on Tuesday night. Hope she made a double batch, because you can use leftover rolls to make these hot sandwiches. Split the rolls, fill with lunch meat, Swiss cheese, and a dollop of Thousand Island dressing. Wrap in foil, and bake in 350 degree oven for fifteen minutes. Easy and delicious! Kids can carry them in the car to eat on the way to the game.
Cheesy Potato Soup
Dice all the potatoes you think you'll need. Simmer in four to six cups of water. If desired, add some bouillon cubes to the water too. Saute a little onion and celery if you have it and throw that in too. My kids hate onions and celery! I use them as much as I can.
In a separate pot, make a white sauce with flour and butter and a cup of milk. When it gets nice and thick, add as much shredded cheese as you would like. Once you have your cheese sauce, pour it into the gently simmering potatoes. It's done when the potatoes are tender when pierced.
Making Your Countertop Work for You - Choosing the Right Containers Makes All the Difference
I actually use an assortment of glass vases to store all my dried beans and popcorn. It looks pretty and keeps them handy.
I love being able to see what's inside.
I love my apothecary jar that has brown rice in it.
A jar full of bean soup mix is so pretty to look at, and inspires you to cook as well.
Pretty Pictures from the Kitchen - Pretty colors on your table means good healthClick thumbnail to view full-size
I hope you enjoyed visiting my kitchen today. Have a hot cup of herbal tea with honey and sit a spell.