Archive for large family life

Meal Plan

I’ve been talking on Facebook about meal planning & grocery shopping, so thought I’d post my meal list for the next few weeks.

My challenge lately is that I am eating gluten-free, so I do my best to choose things that are easy for me to sub in a GF whatever when necessary.  For instance, I’ll have corn tortillas with the Korean Tacos instead of flour.  But it’s much harder when I choose meals that are pasta-heavy or have lots of other bread/flour/gluten items as a main ingredient.  And my other challenge is that the teenagers are so busy and Alex is working 2nd shift, so that often means our “sit-down” dinner is me, the 2 little boys and 1 or 2 of the big kids.  Then an hour or 2 later, the other kids trickle in and heat & eat when they get here.  So everything I make has to be easy to keep warm or easily reheatable and not something that is in the “cook and serve right away” category.

As usual, the list is mostly things that our family has had before and I know they enjoy, but a few new recipes to keep things interesting.  The new recipes above are noted with **.  I’m also doing my best to incorporate a few meatless meals now and then.


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A Day in the Life


I sometimes feel like I exist in this strange place of straddling two different “seasons” of life at the same time.   Most of my friends are living in one season or the other – either doing the toddler/baby thing or working through parenting older kids and teens.  It feels like it’s hard to connect with my Toddler Mom friends because we are dealing with a house full of teens and then on the other hand, it can feel difficult to connect with my Older Kid/Teen Mom friends because I’m managing toddlers too.  Each season has its own set of joys, frustrations and issues but because I’m dealing with both, sometimes I end up feeling like I can’t connect easily with my friends – either literally connect and physically get together or figuratively connect in terms of shared experience.

I guess this blog post is my attempt at giving friends a better picture of what our life is like.  Our busyness comes from the sheer number of people in our household and not from being over-committed (at least that’s what I truly believe).  We keep our kids limited to one activity each and Alex & I don’t have much on our dance cards beyond work and home life.  But I often feel like I let my friends down because I just can’t do as much, meet as often, or connect like they can.  I end up missing & rescheduling play dates with my Toddler Mom friends and I can’t do the ladies night out stuff – leaving the littles behind – that my Teen Mom friends can do.  And it’s a bummer.  And sometimes I feel badly about it.  And sometimes it’s a bit lonely. 

I have a few moms in my life who understand all of this.  But they are few and far between.  Our culture just doesn’t often have families with toddlers & teens co-existing.  And that’s ok, it just makes things more interesting for those of us who are out there.  There are parts of this that only another mama in a similar situation can understand.  I hope none of this sounds like complaining, because I’m absolutely not.  I love my life, I love my kids and I chose this.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ups AND downs to it all.

So anyway…..point of this blog post.  A day in the life (this past Tuesday, to be exact):

  • Monday night – I put about 8 pounds of beans out to soak in anticipation of what I’m going to do on Tuesday.
  • Tuesday 6am – get up with the baby.  make coffee.  work hard to make my eyes open.
  • 7:30am – I put beans in 3 pots on the stove to boil.
  • 8am – Alex wakes up and gets dressed & ready for work, he comes out & “tags” me so I can go get dressed.
  • 9am – I run up to the highschool because Olivia had a problem with her 2nd semester schedule and I needed to meet w/the guidance counselor to sort it out.
  • After I get back (it takes about 30 minutes,) we spend the morning eating breakfast, feeding the toddlers.  Hope & Duncan get some direction with their school work (they are both homeschooling right now – 9th & 7th grade respectively).
  • 10:30am – our pastor comes over to meet with us about the home church that we lead, he plans to be here for about an hour, it goes for about 1.5 hours instead.
  • noon – Alex leaves for work, he takes Hope and drops her off @ her meeting with her homeschool advisor.
  • I spend the afternoon feeding the boys lunch and wrangling them down for naps (which Tru fights and ultimately doesn’t take!).  Duncan gets some direction w/school work.  I make 2 or 3 phone calls for appointments, insurance, etc.  Maybe I eat lunch???  (there are a lot of days that I honestly don’t remember!)
  • 2:30 – I start chopping onions, celery, garlic for the burritoes I’m making with the beans.  Get the beans drained and everything ready for when I get back.  I’m also getting dinner ready at the same time – so soup is cooking on the stove.
  • 3:45 – I leave to take Duncan to the Kitsap Transit Bus Stop so he can take the bus into Poulsbo.  We are hoping this will be a workable way to get him into Poulsbo for his 2x/week  KCMT play practice.
  • 4pm – I come home and start mashing beans and making burritoes.  I finish the soup so it’s ready for dinner and I make 40+ burritoes to put in the freezer for after-school snacks and Alex’s lunches.
  • 5:15pm – my mom gets home and pours a glass of wine…..WOW!  It sounds great, but I’ve still got more driving to do!  The soup didn’t turn out so great for some reason, so I am working on a back up plan for dinner – adding toasted cheese sammies to make sure everyone is full & satisfied.
  • 6:15pm – the big boys call, they are done with wrestling and ready to be picked up.  I throw out my dinner instructions to everyone and then leave about 10 minutes later.
  • 6:30pm – Grab the big boys from KHS, run them home and drop them off.  I stay in the van and immediately leave again to drive into Poulsbo to pick up Duncan.
  • 7:30pm – I get home, start working the bedtime routine with the little boys.  Get them to bed and then talk to the big kids about big kid stuff, check in about homework, sports, wrestling, etc.
  • 9pm – The house is pretty quiet, the baby is nursed to sleep.  Big kids are in their rooms.  I eat something for dinner.
  • I spend the evening running laundry and folding/stuffing diapers.  I prop my lap top up so I can see it while I’m doing the laundry.
  • 11:30pm – off to bed I go!

The baby is still breastfeeding, so my typical day includes 3-4 breaks throughout the day when I sit down to nurse him.  That’s usually when I check email & Facebook.  The schedule also includes the normal diaper changes, toddler play time, fielding calls from teens looking for rides because they missed the bus (not happenin’, hope they wore walking shoes!), calls from my hubby and other misc. stuff.  I end up either leaving the 2 littles more than I like so that I can get stuff done more quickly or I have to take them with me and sacrifice naptimes and their good humor.  It’s always a toss up!

This is a fairly typical day.  Obviously it varies.  On Wednesday night, my day was slightly less hectic  and I wasn’t making a gazillion burritoes, but I had a meeting in Poulsbo from 7:30 to 9:30 and I came home and stayed up until midnight laundering Alex’s work clothes and ironing them as he was all out of slacks and clean shirts.

Today didn’t have meetings, but it did have a grand total of SIX round trips from the house to either Poulsbo or Kingston.  I am sooooo tired of being in the van.  And a teenager just walked into the room to let me know that she we have to leave the house at 6:40 tomorrow morning so that she can be at school for Jazz rehearsal.  *sheesh!*

I posted this thinking maybe some of you are curious.  And I posted it hoping that it explains to some of my friends why I don’t return emails or texts or why I totally space that we were supposed to get together.  Or why I just can’t drag my littles out of the house one more time.

Aaaah, the life of a big family!  I wouldn’t trade it for anything!  (but I would love to hire a personal taxi service!!)

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Meal Planning & Grocery Shopping

I ran into a friend at the grocery store last night and we chatted about meal planning, budget and how I do my shopping & planning.  I think I’ve blogged about this a bit before, but I thought it would be worth another post.  Here’s how I typically do my meal planning & grocery shopping.

First, I make a meal list.  Typically I make a list of 10-12 meals and this serves us for the 2 weeks between pay periods.  I do 2 “big” shopping trips each month, planning my meals and going to several stores for the different things we’ll need.  When Alex works 2nd shift, I tend to be even more on my game and we definitely go through almost all the meals I plan.  When he’s on first shift, we often end up only eating 8 to 10.

I write out my meal list and then go back and make the grocery list.  I usually have 1 page for Costco, Trader Joe’s & Central Market, with the page broken into sections for each store.  Then another page for the main grocery store trip (usually Albertsons or WalMart) and  I write out categories – fresh, frozen, dairy, meat, canned/misc – and then as I make my list I add needed items on the page or in the section where they belong.  This helps tremendously when I’m shopping!

I use the crockpot 3 or 4 nights a week and then I try to plan a few meals that are easy enough for the kids to make.  I also try to keep everything in the house for spaghetti or Sloppy Joe’s or something easy like that.  So for this round of meals, here’s what I planned:

All of the starred (**) recipes are new ones that I am trying.  I try to keep my list pretty full of tried-and-true stuff that I know the kids will really like and I know to be successful recipes.  The Gnocchi soup came recommended by a friend, so I’m confident in that one as well as the Indian food as I’ve cooked from that book a bunch and we love it EVERY time!  Everything else on my list, I have made a few times and most are “everyone loves it” type of recipes.

On this round of shopping, I hit Costco, Trader Joe’s, Albertsons & Central Market.  I just recently made a trip to the Bread Outlet so we are set on bread right now.  Sometimes I’ll go to the Grocery Outlet or Cash & Carry too.  Central is usually where I go to get any specialty produce I need or bulk foods or for their great bulk spices.  Trader Joe’s is the go-to for snack items for the little boys and for Alex’s lunches.

My totals this time around were:  Costco – $144.82, Trader Joe’s – $58.68, Central Market – $52.07, Albertsons – $142.75.  That will be our groceries for the next 2 weeks, with the exception of going to pick up milk or maybe fresh veggies for salads once the stuff I got from Costco runs out.  This includes toiletries, laundry detergent, paper products and other misc. household stuff as well as staples like cold cereal, lunch meat, yogurt, eggs, etc. for lunches and breakfast.

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My first foray into couponing

I admit it:  I’ve been coupon resistant.

We already save a LOT of money on groceries just because of how I cook and the foods I choose.  Our grocery budget is (I think) ridiculously low for a family of 11.  And every photo I saw that friends posted (“look at all this food!  $94 of groceries for only $3.21!!!”) was usually a bunch of pizza pockets, diet soda and Snackwells cookies.  So it didn’t seem like it would help as those things are not things we purchase or consume.

But I have a lovely friend, Diana (hey, girl!), who has been posting some of her couponing finds and she is getting great deals on things like pasta and healthful cereal.  So I gave in and asked her to give me some tips to get started.  First off, she referred me to the site Coupon Connections.  It’s a blog posting all the great deals that are out there.  I’d looked at blogs like this before and felt pretty uninspired by the thought of driving to Walgreens or Safeway – neither of which are local to me.  But the Coupon Connections website is a blog by a lady who lives locally so the deals, coupons, store references make a lot more sense.

I went to Albertsons yesterday, really only armed with a few store coupons and a fresh set of eyes.  Albies right now is running a special deal where if you purchase a certain number of something (say 3 of  a certain brand of pasta), you get a “catalina” (which prints @ the register when you check out) for $1 off on your next purchase.  So because I don’t have any coupons really from the paper yet (& my printer was down so I couldn’t print any), I just looked through the circular that had come in the mail and went with the idea of using the catalinas to my advantage.  After a quick phone call to Diana to answer some questions, I headed out.

I primarily bought stuff that we would be using anyway – soup for the kids’ lunches, pasta, salad dressing, chicken breasts.  But I was mindful of what was going to get me those catalinas!  I did 3 transactions – earned $12 in catatlinas on my first and then when I checked out w/the 2nd transaction, I used those “cats” on that transaction.  I earned $4 on the 2nd transaction and then used those on my last transaction – which was chips for Alex’s lunches, something I buy for him regularly, and w/that purchase I got a free gallon of milk!  My savings was $49% on one, $45% on another and 42% on the last.  

I was also able to get him sodas for his lunches – something he loves but is often not in the budget.  Albies was doing a sale on Coke products 3 (12 packs) for $10.  There was a peel off coupon on the Coke for $2 off when you buy 2.  And then there was a peel off on Sprite for $1.50 off when you buy one Sprite product (or any other Coke product) + 1 box of Cheez-its (which I regularly get for Alex’s lunches).  So my 3 – 12 packs of Coke were $6.50, which definitely brings it down to “budget-friendly” for us.

I got Nathan into it a little too!  He was along (he is our oldest, the 18 year old who just graduated) because I recently asked him to take on cooking dinner once a week.  He gets a budget ($25) for the meal and then has to plan his meal, do the shopping and get it cooked up & on the table.  I felt like all these things – the planning, budgeting, shopping *AND* cooking would be helpful to him in the near future.  He was purchasing 2 packages of chicken patties that would earn him a catalina so I explained to him how to separate his groceries into 2 transactions so he could “roll” the catalina onto the 2nd transaction.  Good thing he did, too!  With the $2 catalina and his $25, he ended up getting just a few cents of change.  If he hadn’t used the cat, he would’ve been over budget.

At the end of our excursion, I felt pretty satisfied.  I can definitely see that with a little practice, getting more familiar with the process and getting the Sunday paper so we can clip coupons, we can shave even more $$ off of our grocery bill.  I feel like it possibly helps solve a few other grocery shopping “problems” I have:  when I do one massive trip every pay day (so every 2 weeks), it is absolutely exhausting!  If I plan on couponing regularly, I will most likely go once a week, which means a shorter trip that will hopefully leave me much less grumpy!  Also, because I plan 2 weeks of meals before I shop, I can’t get all of the fresh stuff we need or all of the milk for that 2 weeks.  And with additional trips for lettuce or milk or apples, comes additional expense.  I think a weekly purposeful trip may help cut back on the “extras” that find their way into the cart when the trip is supposed to be “just milk”.  And lastly, I love looking at cookbooks and recipe sites and dreaming of trying new things.  When I have everything planned out for the next 2 weeks, I can’t get excited about a new recipe I want to try because everything is already set in stone and shopped for.  But a weekly trip will allow more flexibility in my meal planning, I think.

So for all of you who have been encouraging me, I wave the white flag.  I surrender.  You have won me over.  I am now a couponing mama.

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Groceries…..oh yeah!

I get a lot of questions about groceries:  how much we buy, how much we spend, how we get it done, etc.  So I thought I’d document the process so you could see.

I typically shop just after every pay day, so every 2 weeks.  I make a meal list of about 10 meals (the other days I figure we’ll have leftovers or do what we call “fend for yourself” night).  I have a pre-made shopping list that I can print off that has all of the staples listed w/checkboxes.  It is organized according to sections in the grocery store (dairy, meat, fresh, etc.).  I go through the pantry, cupboard, fridge & freezer and take a look at what we have.  I take into account what meat or other things are in the freezer when I am planning what meals to make.

I ended up spending a little over an hour today @ Albertsons and filling almost 2 carts – one cart completely full & a little mounded, the other about 3/4 of the way full.

Here’s the back of the van after everything was loaded into it:

And here’s everything once it was unloaded in the house:

This does not include the handful of things I need to get at Costco.  And we will make trips here & there before the next “big” shopping trip for more fresh fruit/veggies and for milk.  Also, I don’t shop for bread @ the regular grocery store, I get that at the bread outlet, so there’s no bread here.  This is all food, no soap, toiletries, or other non-food in this trip.

It does include almost everything for the meals I planned as well as stuff for Alex to make his lunches, stuff for kid lunches, snacks and breakfast stuff.  There’s not much milk there because it wasn’t on sale.  Usually I wait until I see it for under $2 a gallon & then I buy about 6 gallons.

And check out the receipt – it’s taller than me!!

Anyone wanna guess what the price tag was @ the end of this excursion?  (seriously, take a guess.  Then scroll down.  I’ll put the total at the end of the post.)

A couple of other notes:  No, I don’t do “extreme couponing”.  We don’t eat a lot of processed foods and I purchase a lot of fresh stuff & store brands.  Basically, the way I shop/cook doesn’t really work that well with the coupon craze.  I do however watch store specials.  For instance, I had a pork meal planned but when I got to the store, they had a BOGO deal on beef cuts, so I switched gears and bought some beef, knowing I had plenty of potatoes in the pantry (because I just took “inventory” before I made my list), I knew I could make beef stew or something similar with what I had at home.

Usually I take someone with me – hubby or my mom – to help with the extra cart.  This time, Alex stayed home with the 2 littles (big kids were @ school) and I went alone.  So I filled one cart, parked it and then went back for the rest.  I stick to my list pretty closely and rarely buy more than 3 or 4 things that aren’t on the list, and most of those things are actual “needs” that I remember when I’m in the store or that I spaced when I was writing down ingredients for a particular meal.  Also, I carry a calculator and keep a running total as I shop so that we don’t break our budget.

In case you are curious, here are the meals I have planned from this trip:

  • Chicken Enchilada Chili
  • Crockpot Lasagna
  • Tacos
  • Pulled Pork Sandwiches
  • Sloppy Joes (someone gave us a TON of hamburger buns – that’s why this & the pulled pork)
  • Vegetarian Chili w/Cashews
  • Apricot Pork Chops (recipe linked is chicken & in the crock pot, I do pork in the oven)
  • Tamale Pie
  • Chicken & Brown rice Crock Pot Casserole
  • Beef Stew

Ok, curious about the total?  $369.08

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Stone Soup

I am often asked questions about our big family:  how overwhelming is the laundry?  How do I deal with cooking for 11 people every day?  What sort of vehicle do we drive?  I have the best of intentions to post answers to those kinds of things here on this blog, but time gets away from me or I procrastinate and it just never gets done.  But I have decided to do my best to post more often & try to give people a little window into our family life.

One of the things that we have done over the last few years is attempt to be more “green”, reduce our family’s carbon footprint and also save money.  We want to be using the resources we have wisely and we do our best to not be wasteful.  So on that note, one of the things I make every few weeks is something we call Stone Soup.  (It also gets called “Dump Soup”, but that honestly just doesn’t sound as nice!)

The “recipe” for Stone Soup involves first cleaning out the fridge.  Everything that seems like it would work in soup gets pulled out of the fridge & cupboards.  Then I take a look at it and decide what kind of soup it will become.  Because I had about a pound of ground beef in the freezer and a lot of the leftovers we had were from an Irish Supper of corned beef, I knew this one would be a beef-vegetable based soup.

Here is what I came up with for ingredients:

  • 1 lb. frozen ground beef
  • Corned beef dinner leftovers (the beef & a big bowl of boiled potatoes & carrots)
  • about 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1/3 package of broccoli slaw
  • mushrooms
  • 4 mini peppers (these were used in an Italian pasta salad – why didn’t  use the last 4 peppers????  weird.)
  • a few wilted stalks of celery & the heart – which I cut up leaves and all for soup
  • 2 packets of Beefy Onion Soup Mix
  • 1 can Kidney beans
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 package frozen corn
  • package frozen peas & carrots mix
  • Three different halves of onions that were wrapped in plastic (seriously people??)
  • 1/2 tomato – probably leftover from someone making a sandwich

My method for defrosting/cooking frozen ground beef (this was rock solid frozen) is to put it in a deep skillet with a little water in the bottom.  Put it on medium heat with a lid and let it cook.  Every so often you have to sort of scrape the cooked layer of meat off of the still-frozen inner chunk.  But it gets it cooked up quite nicely.

I put the barley to boil on the back burner.  Chopped up the onions, celery & peppers and put them, along with the broccoli slaw and quartered mushrooms, in the bottom of my big stock pot with a little olive oil.  I cooked this for just a bit to get these veggies softened up.  I cut up the leftovers of the corned beef and also cut up about 1/2 of the boiled carrots & potatoes.  Then comes the “dump” part – it all gets dumped in the pot.  I first added about 6-8 cups of water & the 2 packets of soup mix. 

I put the tomatoes & kidney beans in undrained to create a “pot likker”.   When I make soup like this, as I empty cans or toss in leftover remains, I usually give the container a little rinse to get whatever is left in there.  It just adds to the flavor of the soup!  I added some granulated garlic (I didn’t have any fresh or I probably would have added that w/my veggies at the beginning) and some salt, pepper & Italian seasoning.  When the barley was softened up, I added that along with the little bit of cooking liquid that was left.

This was the end result:

By the way – my kids LOVE this dinner.  Every time they find out I’m making Dump Soup, they get really excited.  No joke!  We ate this with dinner rolls and they had seconds and even thirds!  It is very filling and really healthy with all the veggies.

How does this fit in with our goal of living more green?  Well, if we’re not wasting food by throwing away leftovers, then we’re not buying more.  So take the boiled potatoes that went into the soup.  I purchased potatoes – it took energy to grow those, fuel to get them to the store, etc.  If I throw them away and buy more, then obviously we’re using more energy for those potatoes to arrive at the grocery store to be purchased, not to mention the gas for our trip to the store, etc.  But by using the leftovers, we’re reducing our waste & consumption.  I don’t know how much of a dent this makes in our family’s carbon footprint, but it’s a little drop to add to the bucket.

Also, we’re saving money.  By recycling leftovers, I’m saving on our grocery budget.  Quite a bit of this dinner was stuff that might have gone bad in our fridge – the broccoli slaw definitely.  Same with the onion halves and the tomato.  Those things would have just sat there until they got squishy or fuzzy or otherwise scary looking.  Also, the corned beef dinner had already been picked over once or twice and reheated, so it definitely would’ve been tossed in the next day or 2.

Last pic for this post…..what do you do when you need to cook dinner & you’ve got a crabby baby?

So go clean out your fridge/cupboard/freezer & make some Stone Soup!

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