Meal Prep and Planning for a Large Family

A few years ago I made a decision to be more mindful of my consumption habits, and last time I updated you on how I was doing.  Today I want to tell you how we handle food now that we have 4 kids!

Before I can tell you how we eat now, you must understand my past.  I was a weird food kid.  My parents are two of the pickiest eaters I know!  As a result, we weren’t exposed to a lot of different foods.  I had salad for the first time in college and eggs for the first time after I was married.  I never had a fresh green bean until well into my 20s and didn’t even know what asparagus was until I met my mother in law. When the husband and I first started dating I wanted to impress him by cooking.  This was a big problem since I didn’t know how to cook!  I knew that tacos were simple enough so I bought the seasoning packet and read the instructions.  He came over while I was browning the beef….on the George Foreman grill.  It was the only way I knew how.

So if healthy eating is overwhelming to you, I can relate.  I’ve been there.  When I started this journey I had no idea what quinoa or lentils were.  I didn’t know where to find goat cheese in the grocery store and I couldn’t even identify kale as a vegetable.  I didn’t learn these things overnight and you don’t have to either!  But over time and through a lot of trial and error I have developed eating habits for my family that look significantly different than those of most families.  We’re not even close to perfect eaters, but we have created some habits that I want to share with you.  Today I’ll share some general philosophies and next time I’ll share some specific tips.

When you’re starting to eat healthy, I think the first thing you have to think about is what healthy means to you.  Everyone has different goals and what’s suitable for my family may not work for yours.  Are you trying to eat low-cal or low-fat?  Want to reduce your grains or eat less animal products?  For our family I don’t worry about fat or calories or sodium or any of that, really.  We’re not trying to lose weight and have no special health issues, so these things are not important to me.

What is important to me is eating whole foods, or food that is minimally processed.  What is in the food we put in our bodies?  Is it stuff I recognize- Flour, sugar, yeast, vitamins, chocolate, oils, tomato sauce?  Or is it totally unrecognizable stuff- Red #40, sodium citrate, guar gum, polysorbate 60, carrageenan, digylcerides, maltodextrin?  If it’s not stuff I have in my kitchen, I don’t really want it in my body.  When I started caring about this a few years ago my grocery trips took significantly longer as I read the labeling for nearly every product I bought.  It was shocking to see what was actually in my food!  I was disgusted by some of the food I used to buy regularly (though I did mourn the loss of Cool Ranch Doritos in my pantry for months and still binge on them at barbecues).  I found that if I was tempted to put something processed in my cart, I could just read the label and be instantly turned off by what the item was made from.  It’s not always intuitive- some foods I would think are processed actually aren’t that bad and other seemingly healthy food can be processed- I once found frozen fish preserved with carbon monoxide!  No thanks.

Another thing to consider is how you plan to implement healthy eating in your life.  How can you make this work for you?  What is your budget?  How much time do you have to cook?  Will you have a cheat day?

I learned pretty quickly that cooking after work is way too stressful for us.  After school/work is a crazy busy time with everyone getting home, serving snacks, going through backpacks, putting lunchboxes or school projects away, and the kids always have way too much energy. Even the 30 minute meals are just too much (and they always take longer than 30 minutes anyways).

I also learned early on that I have to have a plan.  When we only had Wiggles we could wing dinner time and rely on leftovers or make PBJs if necessary.  That doesn’t work anymore, and if I don’t have a plan I end up getting to know my Papa Murphy’s guy too well.  It took months of trial and error, but we have a well-oiled system down now.  Each Friday I make a little Excel chart (nerd alert) detailing our next week.  It’s a little watered down since I’m not currently working full time, but this is our weekly Bible that keeps everything straight.  We print it out and put it on our refrigerator.

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My meal ideas were getting a little stale, so I made a giant list of everything we occasionally eat so I can look at it for inspiration.  If I can’t think of a meal, I just refer to the list, and if nothing on that floats my boat I Google to find a new recipe and then add that to the list.  As I’m putting our dinners on here I take stock of our pantry and create my grocery list.

Baked Potatos
Baked Ziti
BBQ Chicken Sandwich
Beef and Cheddar Casserole
Breakfast Casserole
Buffalo Chicken Lasagna
Burgers
Burritos
Calzones
Chicken Enchiladas
Chicken Nuggets
Chicken Teryaki
Chicken Tortilla Soup
Chili
Cilantro Lime Chicken
Enchilada soup
Fettucinni Alfredo
Fish
Fish Sandwich
French Toast
Grilled Cheese
Lasagna
Lentil Tacos
Meat Loaf
Mexican casserole
Mexican Stuffed Shells
Monterrey Chicken Casserole
Omlets
Pita Pizza

I shop as soon as I get the chance and then cook everything all at once in a 2-3 hour block over the weekend (maybe longer if I have little “helpers”).

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So, the weekends kind of suck as I do a lot of planning and prep.  But the week is smooth as molasses!  All I do every single work day is plug in the crockpot or preheat the oven and I’m done!  No chopping.  No cleaning oil splatters.  No mixing.  No measuring.  No cleaning pots and pans.  Just fresh, healthy, homemade food all week long!  When I first started doing this I thought it would be a pain in the butt to find a large block of time every weekend, and sometimes it is.  But I find myself really guarding that time as it is so necessary to make our weeks run how I want them to run.

Our philosophy is to eat mostly healthy most of the time.  We very rarely eat out (having a 9-month-old and a toddler pretty much ensures this), cook at home a LOT, and try to snack on healthy things.  But we have some fun too!  Join me next time as I share specific examples of what our kids do and don’t eat.

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3 Comments

Filed under Natural Living

3 responses to “Meal Prep and Planning for a Large Family

  1. Rebecca

    I realize my situation is unique, but guar gum (and xanthan gum) are legit and very necessary ingredients in the gluten free world. I have a bag of xanthan gum in my pantry. I would much rather see guar gum on a label than wheat flour.

  2. Christina

    I’m surprised you don’t have some traditional Ethiopian meals as part of the regular line-up or on the list. Have you thought about adding a few and having Ethiopian meals more often?

  3. justjames44

    Yeah, I should probably do more research into Guar and Xanthan gum as I really don’t know a ton about them. In your situation there’s few things more harmful than wheat flour!

    That list is only a partial list! I didn’t want to take up my whole blog with a super long list. But in full disclosure we don’t eat Ethiopian food at home as often as I’d like. Maybe your comment will be the inspiration! My two excuses:
    We’re friends with an Ethiopian family and visit them regularly, every time we do they cook for us
    In order to eat Ethiopian food you have to have injera. I’ve tried to make injera at home and it’s super hard, and it’s kind of expensive and inconvenient to buy (and it has to be fresh so you have to stop and get it on the day you plan to eat the food)

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