Many times I've been asked how we afford to feed all these boys. Many wonder how in the world I cook so much food all the time. I love cooking. But honestly, I found preparing meals to be overwhelming for a time when our family grew so quickly all at once. Here is a list of some of the things I've learned to do to make preparing meals a manageable task:
* Plan a menu. Not having a game plan is a losing situation. It comes down to 5:00. Everyone is hungry, and there's nothing that can be fixed without taking lots of time. What happens? We spend too much money trying to find something fast and easy to eat.
*Keep convenience meals on hand. There are days when time is short. Always have readily available some quick and easy meals. Mine tend to be bean burritos, peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti, taco's, and quesidillas. I keep the ingredients for these on hand. I keep some browned hamburger in the freezer. This way when we have a supper emergency, I have something that can be ready in 15-20 minutes.
*Cook meat ahead of time when possible. I cook up large amounts of chicken in the crock pot. I brown hamburger. I cook roast in the crock pot. I cook and chop ham. Then I package it and freeze it. When I need this meat for casseroles, etc, it is easy to pull it out and dump it in the dish. Pre-cooking my meat cuts preparation time in half. I don't set a day to just cook up a bunch of meat, but when I have to brown some hamburger, I'll brown some extra pounds and freeze it. When I do a chicken, I'll do two, etc.
*Involve my children. My oldest, ages 16 and 14, both have a designated night of the week which is theirs to cook. They get to choose something off the menu to make. Then they make the main dish while I do any sides and clean up the kitchen. They both enjoy their night to cook, and adamantly refuse any other siblings the privilege on their night. My twelve year old boys will soon be joining in this process.
*Stretch the meat. Perhaps one of the biggest money saving techniques I use is to stretch the meat dollar. I do this three different ways. One, I use beans for protein about twice a week. Two, I use less then the amount of meat called for in some recipes. Three, I fill in the empty spaces in the stomach with healthy wholegrain bread, vegy's, and fruit.
*Avoid convenience foods in small packages. I simply do not buy things like pudding or jello cups, individually wrapped cheese sticks, small bags of chips, soft drinks, etc. It always cost more for the extra packaging. Mix up the pudding from the box, buy large bags of chips, and buy the two liter soft drink bottles when you must have the junk food. Pre-packaged foods will drain the grocery budget in a hurry.
*Buy in Bulk or at an Aldi's. There are certain items that are much cheaper for me to buy in bulk from Sam's or to stock up on from Aldi's. Neither of these stores are close by, so I keep a running list of the items I use from these stores. When we are out of town which usually happens about once a month, we fill the list. One must be aware and calculate carefully when buying from Sam's though. They carry name brands, and many items are not cheaper then buying smaller amounts of the generic product.
*Shop the grocery ads. When I make my menu, I base it on the local grocery store ads. Our meat dishes for the week are usually based on what is on sale this week or what I bought on sale a previous week and froze. We eat the fruit and vegy's that are on sale. I stock up on things like butter when it is on sale.
*Double and triple the recipe. I never make a single recipe. It's never quite enough. I make enough for two meals most the time when I cook. This way I have leftovers. I count on leftovers for lunch the next day.
*Only cook supper. Generally I only cook supper. Leftovers or sandwiches are used for lunch. For breakfast we do cold or hot cereal, toast and sometimes fruit. This enables me to not live in the kitchen and keeps me from growing weary of cooking.
These are the top 10 things that I practice to save money and keep my sanity while cooking for a family of nine.