Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Easy and Inexpensive Meal Planning for Big Families

When we went from three kids to four, we became a big family. And not only are we a big family, but my kids can eat...a lot

We struggled for years to figure out how and when to meal plan and grocery shop. We were blowing so much money on running to the grocery store multiple times a week to get "just a few things." It was also stressful to realize at 5 p.m. that we didn't have a dinner plan.

Sure, we could run to town and grab some drive-thru food. But it's expensive and unhealthy. Not to mention, a sandwich and fries doesn't fill my kids up. 

If you face a similar struggle, I have good news! We finally figured out how to meal plan for our big family. Easily. And conveniently. I'm excited to share our method with you.

Creating a meal schedule eliminates the "what are we going to eat?" drama, excessive trips to the store (which always blow the budget), and complaints about the meal.

Here's how you can plan meals for your big family-easily and inexpensively.

1: Write down all dietary restrictions and preferences.

Don't skip this step! It's important to have this foundational info so you don't waste time and money on meals your family won't eat.

In our family, we have one person who is gluten free, two who are dairy free, and one who has a tree nut allergy. I also have a child who is super sensitive to pineapple (of all things!). We also prefer vegan or vegetarian meals with a few exceptions. 

We are big-believers in eating lots of fruits and veggies, buying organic when possible, and making easy meals that don't cost a lot. (Yes, this IS POSSIBLE to eat frugally AND healthfully--especially since we don't buy meat).

I suggest having a family meeting and asking family members what they don't and do like. Have them be very specific. State which individual foods are preferred (this includes fruits, veggies, entrees, etc.) as well as recipes. 

Soooo... we’re working hard here to eat a mostly plant-based diet. Our exceptions: eggs and wild caught Alaskan salmon. πŸ₯šπŸ₯¬πŸ₯πŸ’πŸπŸ₯¦πŸ†πŸ πŸ₯’πŸ…πŸŒ Why?! Dairy and meat are inflammatory. Expensive (we buy organic). Bad for your heart. Dairy causes all sorts of digestive issues. Gut health matters to the entire body. Don’t get me started on estrogen. (yes, we supplement b12 and vitamin d3!) 🧘🏻‍♀️🧘🏽‍♂️ Fiber is where it’s at! And all the nutrients in fresh fruits and veggies are magical! 🌟 We stick to mostly gluten free whole grains, because I’m gluten free. One for all. All for one! ☝🏾 You might be wondering, what do we eat?! Lots of veggies and fruits. Black beans galore. Some tofu/soy milk. Nuts (switching to almond butter). Quinoa. Organic brown rice. Lentils. Water, water, water. Green tea. Stevia and erythritol for sweetener. Olives (my kids LOVE olives). Hummus. Etc etc etc. πŸ—’ We are not interested in shakes, supplements, potions (lol). So don’t bother DMing me. I don’t want to be on your team or buy your stuff. πŸ’΅ This is a new adventure for us. One that’s going to require some work. Feeding six people is a challenge given all our needs, health histories, allergies, sensitivities, and preferences. πŸ’ͺ🏼πŸ’ͺ🏼πŸ’ͺ🏾πŸ’ͺ🏿πŸ’ͺ🏽πŸ’ͺ🏿 Anyone here vegetarian? vegan? Favorite accounts I should follow? I need recipes that are gluten/dairy/meat free. πŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸ½πŸ‘‡πŸΎ . . . #breastcancersurvivor #plantbased #vegetarian #vegan #recipes #bigfamilylife #dairyfree #glutenfree #whitesugarbrownsugar #type1diabetes #eczema #adviceplease #tuesdaythoughts
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2: Get organized: purge away!

Get rid of all your outdated and unused cookbooks and recipes. I had two folders full of recipes I'd torn out of magazines that we never even tried. I kept the two cookbooks hand-made by our moms (wedding gifts) and two other specialty cookbooks. 

Donate what's leftover--to the library or to a donation center. If the book is warped, stained, or very outdated, recycle it or let your kids use it for an art project. 

Take a look at what's left. This is your getting-started point. What recipes do you have now that you can put into your meal schedule? 

3: Create the master list.

I created a Word doc, using the table feature. (I told you! Easy!) Across the top: the day of the week and category. Downward, columns to type that day's recipe title.

We decided to create a four-week schedule using categories. Ours are as follows:

-Monday: Asian 
-Tuesday: chili 
-Wednesday: pasta
-Thursday: soup
-Friday: easy-peasy 
-Saturday: potato-centric
-Sunday: Mexican

Have fun with the categories! Notice we have a "potato-centric" day and an "easy-peasy" day. Also, depending on your family, it might be easier to create a two-week schedule versus a four-week schedule. Definitely start with two weeks; you can add more recipes later.

4: Add recipes to your schedule.

This is the part of the planning that takes the most time.

Start filling in your schedule based on your categories. Use the recipes you already have. Once you fill in those, start searching for new recipes. 

There are so many fabulous blogs that offer free recipes. You can also order cookbooks from your local library to browse. I recommend printing or copying the recipes you want to try. Try these new recipes once to see if your family likes it or not. If it gets the stamp of approval, you can then add it to your binder (see step #5). 

Also, some "recipes" aren't even recipes. For example, on Sunday, one of our Mexican meals is a rice bowl. It's this easy: organic brown rice, black beans, sliced black olives, sauteed peppers and onions.  The additions are salsa of choice, guacamole, and cheese. This makes for great leftovers and can be personalized. 

We also have a lot of buffets. For example, a Pad Thai buffet. I prep all the ingredients and set out the sauces. The kids go down the line, one at a time, and create their own. This way no one can claim they don't like the meal--and I can make sure there's healthy options.

5: Create your binder.

You can create a sturdy recipe binder for less than $15! (I told you: inexpensive!) You need a three ring, pocketed binder, plastic sleeves, and divider tabs.  (I put recipes-to-try in the pocket.) 

At the front of the binder (in a sleeve) is the master list. After that, the tabs keep the recipes organized. My categories are: breakfast, chilis and soups, sides, desserts, and other main dishes. You can always divide your recipes by day-of-the-week or category. Do whatever works for you! 

Don't skimp on buying the plastic sleeves! These keep the recipes protected when you're prepping and cooking.

When I prepare a grocery list on Saturdays (we grocery shop on Sunday afternoons), I pull out my binder, look at the schedule, then write down the ingredients we need from each scheduled recipe. It doesn't take long at all. Practice makes perfect.

πŸ‘‹πŸΌ it’s been awhile since I introduced myself- so here goes. I’m Rachel. I realized the other day at preschool pick up that I’m one of the old moms! 🀦🏼‍♀️ my husband and I have been married 16 years, and we have four kids from a tween to a toddler. Yes, they were adopted. Yes, they know this fact. And yes, they know they’re Black and we are white. No need to whisper. 🀣 I’m a type 1 diabetic - which is why we adopted. I also have anxiety and, a real doozy, I’m a breast cancer survivor. πŸŽ€ writing and speaking about race, adoption, health, faith, and special needs is my passion. I have a blog (link in my profile), I’ve written hundreds of articles (often for @scarymommy , been on podcasts with @jamieivey And @michellemadridbranch And @jamiegraceh , and appeared on @cnn @msnbc @cbstv @npr and more. My most recent book is #thehopefulmomsguidetoadoption and my most popular book is#poemsforthesmartspunkyandsensationalblackgirl - co authored with my oldest girls and illustrated by @coilyandcute πŸ“Ί πŸŽ™ ✏️Most days, I’m wearing my hair on a top knot with no “makeup” other than @burtsbees lip balm. I eat mostly vegan. I think The Office is hysterical. I’m a woman of faith who leans left politically. Gray is my fave color. My weakness is cheese fries. I love pumpkin but I think the PSL is nasty! ☕️ πŸ’„πŸ‘±πŸΌ‍♀️ whether you’re a new follower or a long-time friend, tell me three things about you! πŸ‘‡πŸΌπŸ‘‡πŸ½πŸ‘‡πŸΎ . . #whitesugarbrownsugar #introduction #type1diabetes #breastcancer #author #speaker #adoption #multiracialfamily #adoptivemom #mondaymotivation #mom #christian #theoffice #bigfamily
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Other tips that work well for us:

-I cook dinner during the day. As a WAHM I have that flexibility. I hate cooking when the kids are "starving" and complaining. 

-Keep fruits and veggies on hand. When my kids get hungry before a meal, they know the rule: get a piece of fruit from the fruit bowl. You can keep baby carrots in the fridge for this same reason. The fruit is enough to curb hunger enough without filling them up so much they won't eat dinner.

-Double recipes that freeze well. Soups and chilis are easy to double and freeze. Plus, if you're like me, I sometimes need a day off from cooking-and the freezer meal comes to the rescue!

-Change up your meal rotation based on season. Soups and chilis are awesome for winter and fall, while salads work great in summer. 

-Utilize the appliances you love. I'm a Crock-Pot kind of girl. I don't own an Instapot or Air Fryer. You do you!

-Make a double serving so that you have lunch the next day for the fam! Invest in good thermoses for your kids to take warmed food to school.

-Spend money on what matters most. I just bought a new, jumbo cutting board. I'm also eyeing these copper-bottom pots and pans because ours are sixteen years old. 

-Replace your dishes. I donated our dishes (also sixteen years old) because they were bulky and breakable. Instead, I bought white Corelle dishes. They're lightweight, they don't break, and they stack easily. Corelle has a variety of designs to choose from.

-Decide who-does-what and stick to it. Kids can help with grocery shopping, planning, and prepping. Though if you're like me, I sometimes proclaim that everyone (including my husband) needs to exit the kitchen NOW so I can focus. 


Here is a fave (vegan or vegetarian) meal of ours from each of our categories to inspire you!

Monday (Asian): Hearty Vegetable Miso Soup

Tuesday (chili): Homemade Vegetarian Chili

Wednesday (pasta): Loaded Greek Chickpea Pasta Salad

Thursday (soup): Vegan Winter Lentil Stew

Friday (easy-peasy): frozen pizzas + frozen veggie + fruit 

Saturday (potato-centric): wild-caught Alaskan salmon patties (Sam's Club), Alexia frozen fries (bake 'em!), and a frozen veggie

Sunday (Mexican): Sweet Potato Quinoa and Veggie Enchilada Bake

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