As a young girl, I remember telling my mom that someday I wanted to have 12 children.   I was blessed to have 8 beautiful children. I never quite made it to my even dozen. Looking back, I have no idea how I did it all. I still don’t know how to do it all today. But, I have learned a bit along the way. What works for me may not work for you, but here are some things I did to feed my family and do the shopping.

I was raised in a large family. Not only is my mom frugal, but she has always lived for “the end”. Food storage is a big thing for her. Our religion constantly put the fear of the “last days” in us and we were taught to keep a full two years of food and other needs at all times. My mom’s parents worked hard to provide their own food. They were more self-reliant than the average person and had a very large yard that they gardened and cultivated. They had various fruit trees and also a walnut tree. Everything was harvested each year and bottled to last the winter or even longer. So, naturally, my mom also followed in her footsteps.

I have many fond memories of canning with my mom in the kitchen as a young woman, but little did she know that during all that time she was shaping me and also teaching me the tricks of the trade. I, too, followed in my mom’s footsteps for many years. Learning these things helped me to be prepared for my future family. But, before long, I had so many children it became difficult for me to can food and I learned to buy for my family differently.

So, here are my thoughts on feeding a large family:

1) Learn to cook. Learn to make as many food items as you can for your family. You will find that this will save you lots of money, but most of all is so much healthier for your family. You do not have to be a chef in order to cook. You will find that as you learn, so many foods seem to be so much alike. Learn from others. Before long, you will be creating your own foods and recipes that appeal to your family. There is so much material out there to help you along. Pinterest is a treasure trove of deliciousness.

Now, one thing that is absolute torture with a large family, is to take them shopping with you. Oh, the days of carting around a bunch of little ones. I can’t even begin to tell you how many days I had to end my shopping trip early because of a crying babies, dirty diapers, whiney kids, etc. Even when I would make it the whole time, most times I would return home with only half of what was on my list. So, this is hint number one:  Do not shop with your kids if you can help it. By the time I had four children, I would put them to bed, leave them with my husband, and go shopping late at night. No, it probably wasn’t the safest time to go, but it worked for me and I was able to get my shopping done, as well as a little time alone. If that isn’t a possibility, try to work it around naps, feeding times, etc.

Make a menu. What does your family like to eat? What new recipes could you incorporate into their meals? What events do you have coming up to plan food for? I had a list of enough meals to last a month. Yes, sometimes we had ramen or pancakes if I couldn’t stick to my menu. That’s okay! Kids love them. Just do the best you can.

Using your menu, make a list. This is key. Since I used the same menu each month, without much variation, I created a list of all the ingredients necessary to make those foods. You can also set this up weekly, bi-monthly, etc. I divided my lists in the order of how the store was set up. For instance, I would hit the personal care items, then paper goods and cleaning supplies, dairy, etc. This made it easier to get everything I needed. I also added items to the list I ran out of or needed on the bottom. This helped me to spend less time at the store and also saved me money by not guessing the things I would need. My list would change over time as I incorporated food storage.

If you are able, buy a month’s worth of non-perishable food at a time. Now, this isn’t possible for everyone, so try to buy even a week at a time or more. This helps you to make less trips to the market, which will save you money because you will be less inclined to buy those impulse items or items not on your list. You can also buy in bulk, depending on the expiration and ingredient, which also saves a bit of money. Until you get the hang of this and really knowing how much food your family eats, you may have to tweak things a bit to make it work for you. But, you will be surprised at how much further you can stretch your money with this process.

If possible, have an extra refrigerator and freezer—whatever size you need. You will be amazed at how much you are able to store that will save you drives to the store.

This is something that drives me crazy. I hate going to the store, but I love fresh produce. When my kids were younger, I didn’t buy as many fresh items. I purchased a lot of canned fruits and vegetables. I also learned how to store my produce in a way in which I could keep things longer. Learn about the food you buy and the best ways to store them. Also, make sure you check dates on such items as dairy. Many times, certain dairy products can last for quite awhile. For awhile there, I would buy 10 gallons of milk at a time and freeze them by pouring out some of the milk into an empty container (to allow expansion) and take out as needed. My family was going through 1-2 gallons a day. You can also buy frozen fruits and vegetables and just pull them out as needed. I bought meat in bulk, divided it and froze it.

Learn to use your leftovers and how to store them. Sometimes my kids go through a phase of eating lots of bananas, so I plan on it when I go shopping. But, there are times those bananas start to over-ripen. This is a great time to make banana bread, banana cake or peel and freeze them for smoothies, etc. If I notice my strawberries getting a little ripe, I freeze them. Lettuce at the end of it’s crispiness; chop it up and serve it. Be aware of the food in your home so it doesn’t go to waste. If you need to adjust your menu to have one meal before another because something is going to go bad, do it. Say you serve tacos one night and have lots of lettuce, cheese, etc. left over. Don’t let it go to waste. Make something that could incorporate those ingredients, such as: enchiladas, taco salad, taco soup, etc. ——If you have lots of leftovers, either eat them for lunch, serve them again later in the week, or save them by freezing them in individual containers. For instance, last week I made lasagna. There were only 3 of us to eat that night. Sometimes I take half to my daughter’s family, but she had already had lasagna recently, so I just grabbed some individual containers and divided it up and froze them. Rob had some for lunch the next day. We pulled the rest out later this week and served them with corn and salad. Try not to waste what you have.

If you are able, try to purchase a year’s worth of non-perishables in advance. Watch for the sales. Be careful though, sometimes stores try to get rid of items that are about to expire. Make sure you check on this. I used to buy all my canned goods and baking supplies yearly. Now, I buy them monthly since my family is smaller. Do what works for you. But, learn to rotate your items. If you are able, buy the rolling food storage units that keep all the fresh goods in the back. If not, use the older items first. I also tried to buy all my personal items such as; shampoo, deodorant, lotion, toothpaste, etc. a year in advance. This was super helpful for me in managing a large family. This is not possible for everyone, so don’t beat yourself up over this. I will be doing a segment on food storage at a later date and will give you more tips on how to make this possible.

Watch the sales and use coupons. Buy the no name brands when you can. At one point, I was really into the couponing and such. I was thrilled when I was able to get things next to nothing. But, this was also a part-time job for me and about drove me nuts. I had to focus so much on getting the right item, size, etc. and I would find myself at the store forever. Not only that, I realized that I was buying foods and items I would normally not buy just because I could get them for a good price. Most of the foods were unhealthy. I was spending money to carry the papers, print out the coupons, etc. Taking all these things into consideration, I realized this wasn’t the thing for me. This took a toll on my family. I still use them once in a great while if I am able to find a coupon that pertains to what I am getting, but my strategic game play is over with this. This may work for you if you have the time and patience. The key is to wait for an item to go on sale and then use that coupon to purchase that same item. This can really add up to great savings.

Make your meals or ingredients ahead of time and freeze them. When I was pregnant with my 7th child, things weren’t going too well with my health. I had a feeling that I was going to be out of commission for awhile. I decided to put together as many meals as I could and put them in the freezer. That way, my husband would have to do minimal work to prepare food for my family if I should become disabled. Lo and behold, I ended up in the hospital soon after for quite some time. Here’s how I did it. Since I had that menu, I would look at the items I could make in advance. If I could do a whole casserole, I would create it and put it in a disposable pan that could be put in the oven. If it was something where only part of the ingredients could be prepared, I would prepare those ingredients. For instance, I would cook up the hamburger for spaghetti and make the sauce. That way, my husband would only have to make the noodles. If it was something like stew, I would prepare it all and freeze it in a bag so he would just have to put it in the crockpot. If you really look at your menu, you will see how easy this can be and will save you a lot of time. Most times, you can get about a month’s worth of meals made in one day.

Try to eliminate the junk, but buy what your family will eat. When my kids were young, I could control everything they ate. If I didn’t want them eating a certain food, I just wouldn’t buy it. But, as my children grew and began to have a voice for themselves, they began to revolt at the fact that I didn’t buy them the foods they wanted to eat. This has been a hard balance to find.

One thing I have always tried to do is to have a cupboard my kids can get into anytime to get food. I was raised in a family that didn’t get many processed foods. I remember my mom buying Doritos….one of my favorites. I would gorge on those babies because I didn’t want my siblings to get them and I didn’t know when I would be able to have them again. I ended up having some serious eating disorders as I got older and had to get some help. My relationship with food was not good and still to this day I struggle with it. So, because of that, I have the mentality that if you have lots of things in your cupboard (even the taboo), eventually your kids will get used to them and not go overboard. I implemented this with chips. I literally have to throw chips away because they go bad. I always kept things like Pop-Tarts, crackers, pretzels, goldfish, granola bars, popcorn, etc. Most times, I end up throwing things away or not even buying those items anymore.

The problem I run into now is that my teenagers love frozen processed foods. I hate them. However, your kids are going to go where they can get the foods they want, and I prefer to have my kids and their friends at my house. I can’t tell you how many extra teens I have fed in my house. I run into a problem in buying healthy snacks at times in that they are expensive and usually the kids will eat tons of them. This can be rough on the budget. There has to be a balance. I still keep a large supply of the healthy stuff, but I also buy the items they want as well. I know this may not go over too well with some of you, but this is what works for me. You will have to make that decision for yourself. That being said, it is amazing how much of the “good” foods kids will eat if you present it to them already prepared. Try to keep cut up fruits and veggies, meat, cheese, etc. available. I try to make my own cookies and baked goods. This is often healthier than other options, as well. I notice that if I am making something “real” and the kids come home, they usually will take that over the crap in the freezer any day.

Lastly, just do the best you can.  Raising a large family isn’t one bit easy.  It can be exhausting and super expensive.  There is no judgement here.  Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.  You’ve got this!  

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