I’ve playfully said to my kids many times – Didn’t I just feed you? But the reality is… I’m pretty sure I did. The running joke is the second born has a tapeworm, she can eat more than any of her sisters combined sometimes!
Some nights it’s garlic mashed potatoes with roast beef and roasted veggies, everything carefully cut and seasoned to perfection. I’ll be painfully honest – other nights it’s time to leggo of my eggo… Those are the nights I simply love my toaster, peanut butter and jam. Raising four kids is hard… Raising kids period is hard!
I’ve tried it all too, fancy meal prep calendars, white boards, bulletin boards, planner sections dedicated to the perfect food plan. Then, it comes dinner time and the kitten & baby are in the playpen together sharing a bottle while the other three kids are circling the wagon about to eat each other because heaven forbid – dinner prep hasn’t started and they wanted food yesterday. Insanity ensues. I cry. I boil water and grab the KD.
I kid… I really do. But at the same time I really don’t. When your a big family, you have a little budget. Sometimes ingenuity is the name of the game as the funds dwindle but hunger doesn’t. We live in northern Alberta, Canada which means cold days and colder nights during the winter so we need a hearty meal to fill those bellies and warm the soul.
When I had only two kids, I tried to meal plan using a Happy Planner which was tops. I found it perfect! Simply picked a theme for each day – “meatless Monday” and the like. I kept it unspecific for a reason, Taco Tuesday isn’t inspiring, but International Tuesday lets you pick a quick rice dish or pasta, a good taco still sure works! As our family expanded it started to not be something that worked for me. Picking out a challenge every day, spending money on ingredients we may not use again. Researching the recipes and stuff once fun and enjoyable became a chore. Three kids became four, and just when I thought I had it all figured out the wind got knocked out of me.
My girls are all at different stages. They are 9, 6, 5 & 16 months. Baby led weaning helped save my sanity – but that’s a topic for another day.
How I survive meal times
My biggest tip is know your pantry. Know your supplies – you do NOT want to promise your kids something and suddenly you can’t deliver.
My budget staples are your typical building blocks –
- Rice – Feeding five plus people in the most cost effective way includes a lot of rice. A little goes a long way and it doesn’t spoil.
- Potatoes – I keep a variety of different types on hand when I can. But the best bang for buck is a 10lbs bag of russet potatoes. They fry, bake, boil and deep fry perfectly.
- Frozen peas and corn – while I loathe anything frozen and packaged, I don’t mind *some* frozen veggies. Peas and corn don’t go soggy when cooked, and retain taste.
- Carrots – I buy in 5lbs bags usually, but wish I could get a ten pounder.
- Onions – I like red onions again for price and versatility.
- Broth – Both beef and chicken.
- Pasta – I go overboard. I buy the biggest bags I can get in all the shapes and sizes I know my family will like.
- Oatmeal – Filling, healthy, used in baking and for meals.
- Protein – My family are omnivores, but however you find your protein – you do you boo.
- Spices / Eggs / Milk
I can literally feed my entire family with just those items. When the chips are getting low they are the best things I have at my disposal, and I can feed the kids the same thing just cooked differently. I could honestly write an entire book on how I survive dinner time, so I’ll leave you with some minimal Prep meal ideas to go with our budget groceries and come back again with more!
Minimal Prep Ideas
- Roast beef with veggies – toss it all in the crock pot/instapot with your spices and broth then BAM. I do potatoes, carrots, corn & peas.
- Pasta with sauce – white sauce, cheese sauce, red meat sauce… Plain with butter if your kids like it! Pasta is my go to meal when I’m in a time crunch and nothing sounds good.
- Stir fry – peas, corn, carrots, rice and your choice of protein. You would need some spices for these, but you can reuse the same sauce in tons of different meals.
- Roast potatoes with veggies and chicken/tofu – cube the potatoes, toss your veg in with cheese and cubed chicken/tofu. If your out of cheese or don’t like it toss it with more oil.
- Protein fried rice – I do chicken or ground beef/pork typically – again peas, corn, rice, egg & your protein BAM done.
- Oatmeal – I boil frozen fruit with water then add it to the oatmeal to emphasize taste.
I hope that helps inspire you to survive another dinner night, stay tuned for more fun dinner ideas and a real and honest look at parenting and motherhood.