I am Renee, the mom of 14 children, and have been in charge of family meals for the past 22 years. At our maximum, we had 13 kids living at home so I was preparing three meals a day for 15 people. Here are my methods and best tips for keeping costs down and grocery shopping and meal planning for maximum efficiency in our large family. Some of the most frequently asked questions I get on this blog relate to meal plans and grocery shopping for our large family. This post will be my attempt at answering those questions.
How much money does it cost to feed your large family?
We spend $1,200 per month on groceries for our large family. I know this is what we spend and no more because we use cash only for groceries. Every two weeks we put $600 in an envelope and use that to purchase our food. The number $1,200 honestly sounds astronomically huge to me, but then I remind myself that we currently have ten kids and two adults, so that comes to $100 a month per person. Or $400 per month for a family of four. This is interestingly less than USA Today reported the average family of four spent on groceries in 2013. According to the USDA Food Plans list, a family my size, in June 2014, would have spent $441.20 per week on the thrifty plan and $868.50 per week on the liberal plan. So I guess you could say we are doing okay.
Do you meal plan or shop first?
Meal plan first, always!
Every Tuesday I grab the sale fliers when they come in the mail and see if there is anything worth purchasing (meat, cheese, or cereal, etc). I may base a few meals off of the sales or I may not.
I have streamlined my shopping list by having a document on my computer with a printed grocery list. This is clipped to a clipboard hanging in our pantry and we highlight items as they are needed. When we use up or run low on something, we simply highlight that item on the list. We also have a list for Walmart where we purchase our toiletries, hand soap, and items like that.
How do you meal plan?
I hate cooking, but you probably already know that. Even more than cooking, I hate meal planning. It really shouldn’t be that hard, since we eat every day of the year, but it really can seem overwhelming to me. The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is there is no reason to reinvent the wheel each week. My family has a list of favorites (as I’m sure yours does) and we eat those on a regular basis.
Life goes so much smoother if I meal plan. With a child with medical needs, other special needs, and me a birth photographer, my days can go sideways fast. Having a plan means a child can start dinner if I’m gone.
Today I went shopping and purchased $159 worth of food. This $159 included supplies to pack five sack lunches each day for the five kids attending theater camp (so 25 sack lunches).Tomorrow I will head to Cash & Carry and buy the bulk of our produce and a few staples (I will probably spend $150 there). I have money “left over” from last week, enough to cover whatever we need.
A few notes about meal planning
My meal plan is a base plan. I prefer to plan just the main dish and be a bit spontaneous with the rest. Every dinner includes veggies and usually a salad but I don’t write those in my plan. Rice is eaten three or more times per week.
I don’t plan each breakfast. We always have a supply of eggs, rolled oats and the staples for baked goods (pancakes, muffins, etc).
Do you cook in bulk and freeze or cook fresh each night?
Both. I prefer to have the freezer stocked with meals, but that doesn’t always happen. It is so much cheaper (and usually healthier) to stock your freezer with homemade meals instead of premade. Here are some of my top post on freezer cooking for my large family.
This post shows you exactly how to prep a week’s worth of meals.
How often and where do you shop?
I shop 3-4 times per month. We shop at Costco, Cash & Carry (restaurant supply store), a produce market in the summer, and local grocery stores based on their sales. We shop Costco once a month, Cash & Carry about twice per month and the local stores when we need specific items or there are great sales.
What items do you buy in bulk?
We purchase staples such as oatmeal, flour, sugar, beans, grains. We purchase most of our produce from Cash&Carry bags of apples, oranges, lemons, avocados, six-pack bags of peppers, scallions, potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, etc.
Where do you purchase meat?
We definitely have our favorite spots for buying meat depending on quality and price.
Grocery Stores- We only purchase meat at regular grocery stores if it is cheaper than Cash&Carry or Costco. I check the weekly sale ads and stock up if I find deals. Last time ground beef went on sale for $2.99 per pound, I bought $100 worth of meat and stuck in our freezer. That was months ago and I am still using it. I can often find drumsticks for $0.99 or $1.09 per pound and I stock up then.
Thursday in our house usually means meeting up with our homeschool buddies for some fun group learning. Our activities vary from hiking to dissection, to baking, to playing, to whatever pops into our heads.
Last week we decided to keep it simple and focus on playing some fun math games with the kids.
Before we started in on our math games, Wyatt showed us the AT-AT Walker he has been working on “since the day before this year”…which turns out to be New Year’s Eve 2017. Wyatt is building this out of cardboard, using hot glue to construct it and paint to make it look just right.
The AT-AT Walker includes side panels that open up and Wyatt told us he used a LEGO Minifigure for scale. How cool is that?
Before we gathered around the table Kym led a fun game where she placed pieces of paper with numbers 10-20 on the floor. She called out math problems (addition, subtraction, and multiplication) and the kids had to go to the paper with the answer. To make it more fun, she would call out an action (hop like a bunny, slither like a snake) and the kids had to do that action instead of running.
The kids LOVED It.
Next, it was off to the table for math games.
Kym did the work for these games. She printed worksheets off from Futuristic Math and brought some fun math manipulatives. The kids worked in groups of 2-4 depending on the game.
We adults all took turns playing games with the kids. I was actually surprised how much the kids enjoyed this. Because we have done some pretty spectacular things in our group (candy sushi, anyone?) I was afraid math games would miss the mark.
But I was wrong.
The Match the Stars game you see here was so simple. We each rolled one, two, or three dice, added the total and then put a marker on that number. Apollo, Wyatt (and yes, Mordecai) loved this game. It made me realize I am probably missing out on some great learning opportunities with Apollo during the day.
Because (confession time) when I envisioned motherhood, I was definitely going to be the mom who played Hi Ho Cherry-O for nine hours a day. Then I had real-life kids and decided I was not going to be the mom who played Hi Ho Cherry-O for nine hours a day. Or nine minutes if I could help it. That’s what I made all those siblings for…so they could play games with each other. But Giggle Wiggle? That one I could play for hours.
But I digress.
Not too long ago I was talking to Kym about some wailing and gnashing of teeth struggles I was having with a certain seven-year-old and math. She told me how much he loved playing math games while at her house when I was in New Zealand.
After that conversation, I bought Yahtzee and have enjoyed playing it with Apollo. The game is challenging for him and includes a variety of math skills. The best part? Thirteen rounds and the game is over.
No matter what.
Mordecai carefully added up the scores when we finished Match the Stars.
So much learning going on! After this Apollo set up one of his current favorite games, Monopoly.
Favorite Homeschool Math Games
Here are a few of my favorite games that teach math skills. Please add your favorites in the comments!
Loose Change is a fun, fast card game when players learn to make exactly one dollar in change. This game will increase your child’s addition speed while teaching them the important skill of making change for a dollar.
The Number Chase
Number Chase includes cards numbered from 1-50. To play the game the numbers are laid out in sequence. One player picks a number and secretly writes it down on a slip of paper. The other players ask questions to try to guess the number. If the guess is wrong, the card is flipped over. This game is simple enough for a 4 or 5-year-old to play and teaches patterns, sequencing, greater and less than, and more.
(You can see my kids playing both these games in this post) from 2011.
Yahtzee is, of course, a dice game where you are making pairs and sequences. There is a Yahtzee Junior. I’ve never played it but Apollo at age seven has no trouble playing this game.
For the past couple of summers, Chuck and I have had it a goal to go on Sunday afternoon adventures. We both love the outdoors and love living in the Pacific Northwest. We have found that Sunday afternoons are a great time to visit local parks, State Parks, the beach, or just go on a nice hike.
But if you know anything about me, it’s probably that I hate the cold and I hate snow. So we generally take these adventures in the summer. But when Chuck recently suggested we go on a Sunday afternoon adventure…despite (because of?) the snow, I just couldn’t say no.
I mean, when a cute guy asks you out, you say yes. Right? Last week we were driving this 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser and I’m pretty sure Chuck just wanted to take it out to test it’s snow capabilities. FYI: it has some real mojo and handled like a dream.
Large Family Travel Tip:
Fast food is expensive for a crew our size so we almost never go to fast food restaurants. What we do on adventures like this is grab a sub sandwich or two, and some chips, and fruit & veggies. We have found this much cheaper and more filling option.
Cutting board, knife, napkins, garbage bags, sanitizing wipes, cups, and paper plates. This means we can swing into a store and grab subs, or even sandwiches fixings, for a quick on-the-go meal.
Sunday after church Chuck grabbed two sub sandwiches (eight bucks each at the grocery store), chips and cookies. I brewed a pot of coffee and filled a thermos. Chuck loves tailgating it when we are out adventuring and the kids love eating.
So we were all happy.
These boys are hearty Boy Scouts. They have been winter camping, snow caving, and snowshoeing. The cold doesn’t bother them!
And me? How did I weather the cold?
By eating my lunch in the warm Land Cruiser, sitting on my heated seat, reading on my Kindle. Yeah, it was perfect.
Jubliee was happy to pose for some photos which thrilled me because I have been envisioning this:
And I was thrilled that she shared my vision.
So I shared my coffee.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better (photographically speaking) it began to snow.
Yeah, it really doesn’t get much better than this!
Sunday afternoon adventures. We may just have to do more of these in the winter too.
Winter is upon…which often means little or no work for Chuck. While we don’t love it (no work = no paycheck) we try to make the best of it. With all the kids except Apollo in school on Friday, we decided to take a little road trip to the Lynnwood Rec Center.
We have a local aquatic center that we love to swim at, but I had heard from friends that the Lynnwood Rec Center has several waterslides and an indoor water play area. So, once the kids were off to school, we were off to Lynnwood.
A light snow was falling as we left and Apollo cracked us up by saying, “The snow falling makes Star Wars more menacing”.
Unfortunately, the Lynnwood Rec Center is very popular and the rec swim was full when we arrived…
Fortunately, Zeek’s Pizza was just around the corner so we headed there for lunch.
As you probably know, we are pizza fans in our house. Zeek’s Pizza has a very PNW feel with rustic wooden tables and booths. They have a huge selection of beer and cider on tap (if you are into that kind of thing) and some pretty amazing pizza options (see menu above).
Apollo, predictably, went for an all meat pizza. A year after his g-tube was removed and he still feels the need make up for all his years of missed eating!
After lunch, we still had time to kill. The Lynnwood library is right down the road from the Rec Center, so we popped in there while we waited. Apollo was rather disgruntled because he couldn’t find any good books about Greek mythology.
20-year-old Judah and 7-year-old Apollo enjoy reading side by side.
As you probably know, I am a reader married to a reader raising a houseful of readers. We love books in this house. So many good books to read (and share) and so little time. I have so many good intentions about sharing all the great books with you here but, well, let’s just say the road to h-e-double-hockey-sticks is well paved. By me.
But here I am, anyway, with some of my favorite reads from 2018 so far.
I was working on my computer the other day and glanced up to see this. Yes, there is an innate love of reading shared in our house.
And, with no further ado, the best books I’ve read so far in 2018.
This is such an important book for parents of teens and preteens to read. I took this book to New Zeland with me and read it in between holding my beautiful grandson. This book explains the science behind why teens make such risky choices and how we can keep them safe along the way. This was a real eye-opener for me. In fact, it may be swaying me about teens and sleep. I have never been a proponent of later start times (I’m an early to bed early to rise kind of girl) but it’s hard to argue with science…and the importance of keeping our kids safe. This book is definitely worth taking the time to read.
A couple of years ago I read Kayla Aimee’s first book Anchored a couple of years ago (in fact, I wrote about it here) so I was excited to see she had a second book out. In Bloom is a bit different from Anchored. It still has Kayla’s signature humor but talks about her life in middle school and has more “life lessons” thrown in. I am going to be completely honest…I preferred her first book (I don’t do sap) but this one is still worth reading.
This book is so good and practical! It talks about the seven pillars that will make your child resilient and how to accomplish those goals. The seven pillars include: tolerating frustration and managing emotions, sustaining focus and attention, developing courage, building motivation and more. Seriously? Every parent should read this book because every parent is going relate to these common struggles. This book is short (just under 100 pages) and offers real, attainable goals and practical suggestions on how to accomplish those. Each chapter ends with a list of action steps for reaching the pillars. You can read it in just a couple of days and if you are anything like me the book will be filled with underlined sentences and highlighted passages.
I am really, really enjoying this book. I studied Linguistics in college and love to learn about the origin of language and how it develops and changes over time. I think you will enjoy this book even if you don’t have a particular passion for language. Did you know ketchup was originally fermented fish sauce? Did you know the more letters there are in the menu description the higher price you will pay? I am not finished reading this one yet but just had to share my excitement.
What are your favorite books so far in 2018? Please share in the comments (or better yet leave a link!)
All of that wet, unpredictable weather means time off for Chuck. Neither of us particularly like this but we try to make the best of it. Last week, when we had just Apollo home, we took him to Pizza Hut to get his free pizza through Book It!
And one of my lovely teenagers, upon hearing of our adventure, said, “Oh, I bet you just loved going out with just Apollo so you had your perfect little family” to which I replied, “Pretty much”.
The only thing I hate more than the cold is Cold with a side of Darkness. Don’t believe me? Pretend to be my friend and invite me out for coffee. Past four PM. Go ahead, I dare you.
4. Winters are Nearly as Beautiful as Summers
I hate to admit it but it’s true. They don’t call Washington The Evergreen State for nothing. We generally have green grass all year around this winter we have had many mild days, warm enough for hikes and walks. Even if I have to force myself.
In fact, I was all geared up to visit the spot in these pictures today when I looked at the weather forecast. It is currently 25 degrees.
So, nope, that’s not happening. Looks like I’ll add a few logs to the fire and do some photo editing.
Why You Should Read Percy Jackson Instead of Harry Potter
Apollo has recently expressed an interest in reading Harry Potter. I know, we’re about 20 years late to the party, but his friends have been talking about it and he wanted to read it. Thus began our search for a (free) copy of the book. Lo and behold, our local libraries didn’t have book one in stock so we requested it. Enoch caught wind of our search and came to me, in all seriousness, and explained to me the “three reasons why you should read Percy Jackson instead of Harry Potter.”
So here it is, straight from Enoch’s mouth, the case of Percy Jackson vs. Harry Potter:
First of all, It’s very educational. It’s about the Greek gods and myths and stuff, right? So it teaches about Greek mythology. I know so much about Greek mythology that I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t read the Percy Jackson books.
Second, I have all the books so you wouldn’t have to worry about checking them out, or buying them, or an anything else.
So that, my friends, is how I have ended up deeply immersed in the lives of Greek gods. A topic, I assure you, I have zero interest in. Yes, I know, Apollo was a Greek god. But my Apollo? He was named for the disciple in New Testament.
Apollo apparently told one of his teachers at school that we are reading Percy Jackson, so she, naturally sent him home with this book. So now I spend my “free time” reading all about Greek Mythology to Apollo.
Hurray for him.
Me? Not so much. But that is part of following my kids’ passion. Just send in coffee and alpaca yarn. Looks like I’ll be camped out here with the Greeks and Romans for a while.
I sent a picture to my homeschool cohorts, Kym and Danielle who were equally enthusiastic about the project.
I let them know I would have candy sushi supplies available. Danielle offered to bring teriyaki chicken and rice and Kym said she’d make steamed buns. All that was left to do was a bit of internet research, a trip to the library, and to Walmart for supplies.
This is how so many of our homeschool projects begin. An idea.
This book is about a very grumpy pug who sleeps half the day away and then when everything goes wrong, wishes he had slept the other half away too. This book has beautiful illustrations and a funny surprise ending. Apollo loves this book!
I really enjoyed this true story of one of the world’s first female sushi chefs. This book tells the story of how Hiromi’s parents immigrated to New York City from Japan. Apollo literally gasped when I read the sentence, “She ate after her husband finished his meals, and when they went out, she walked behind him”. Such a great introduction to Japanese culture and sushi.
This book is all about how a panda named Stillwater befriends some human friends and teaches them lessons about friendship and contentment. There is a section on Zen in the back of the book (after the story) just a heads up if that is something that bothers you.
I have DIY Candy Sushi tutorial in this post if you want to see more details on how to make these. The kids loved this activity. It was perfect (but challenging) for the seven-year-olds. The younger kids in our group definitely needed more help from us moms, but all had fun.
Joey figured out how to use his Pocky as chopsticks. He was so proud and we were so impressed with his skills!
Indi and Joey were very excited about making LEGO sushi. You can see Mordecai holding LEGO chopsticks he made.
Pinterest has some great LEGO sushi inspiration if you are looking for ideas.
I am working on a blog post right now about how to create your own unit study. I am not an unschooler nor do I subscribe to one curriculum or one homeschooling philosophy. This was a fun day for Apollo and his friends. Apollo and I read stacks of books about Japan and located it on the map. If this sparks an interest in him we will continue. Otherwise, we’ll move on to different books and different topics.
You all know I don’t like to cook. If I were rich, I would totally have a personal chef who would cook me nutritious, perfectly balanced meals every day. Huge chicken Ceasar salads, juicy hamburgers made with lean beef and tons of roasted veggies. Oh, and every so often, bake me monster cookies.
But, alas, this blog has yet to make me rich and my kids still want to eat every day, still outgrow their shoes, and expect us to pay for dental visits. So instead I have been forced to experiment time and time again until I perfect my favorite recipes. And today, I am sharing with you The Perfect Monster Cookie Recipe.
First off, a few words about monster cookies. They should be BIG and chewy, so you want to make sure you don’t overcook them. I have found (through rigorous testing) the exact balance between M&Ms, chocolate, and Reese’s Pieces. Don’t mess with this!
Also, are fans of Adams Natural Peanut Butter, but do not use the natural peanut butter with these cookies. To get the right texture, use regular peanut butter. For these, I used peanut butter purchased from Brandless (more on that later since I am working on a review).
Monster cookies don’t contain any wheat flour. I have found that to get The Perfect Chunky Chewy Texture you need to make some oat flour. All you need to do it take a cup and a half of old-fashioned oats and whir them in the blender for a few seconds. This will give you a beautiful oat flour to use in your monster cookies.
And now, with no further ado, The Perfect Monster Cookie Recipe.