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What Is It Like to Cook for 8 Kids?

By Heather Michelle Williams on October 31, 2023

What’s it like? It took me a long time to get a system going for getting groceries and planning meals. It’s still a work in progress, but I think I have a few tricks up my sleeve that are worth sharing.

Planning ahead is not my strong suit. However, it is really nice to have some things in place for the ability to make spontaneous options. Rarely can I tell you what I’m having for supper by breakfast time. Sometimes I do not know what’s for supper until I walk into the kitchen and make it. I’m not sure if this is normal or not, but it is my norm. Many times, I have kind of an idea of what it will be. Note: To state the obvious, I haven’t gotten to my tips yet! I’m telling you what personality I have to work around that I have made things work with!

One time, I implemented this awesome idea of making a menu and taping it to the inside of the cabinet. I made sure to get all the indredients for that list of meals. And so, I wouldn't have to hear that annoying question, "What's for dinner?" I could have someone pick a meal for me to cook, and I wouldn't have to think so hard. I had some regular meals and some pretty interesting meals on there, too. I know one was Philly cheesesteak on hoagie bread. Maybe another was chicken parmesan. I did not continue that idea for some reason after those items ran out. It was probably due to the inconsistent schedule of ever being able to get out and get groceries with a clear mind. That was back when I had another parent in the house. But it never seemed okay to just go out and do what I needed to do,

Another struggle I face is that I STILL do not have any set grocery shopping times. When we get low on food, I have to take all eight of my kids into the store with me. They do pretty well, but there is a limit to my ability to focus on what all ingredients will make the meals for the next two weeks while hearing, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, can I, can I can, I…”! Not to mention, there is a limit to how much one cart holds!

So, pretty much, what happens is I go in, and it’s like shotgun spray. I just get a bunch of stuff hoping that will meet most of the needs for the next week or so! I feel lucky if at least the meals and snack needs are taken care of for the next two days so that I won’t have to enter another store with eight kids again until a few days later!

You may be thinking: Just order online! That seems like a novel idea. But online orders take me too stinking long. It is too much thinking and deciding, also while still hearing many interruptions constantly. If my kids see me on my phone, it's like attention competition. A Walmart pick up order for household items, not really groceries, was convenient once I finally decided to try it. But I have not braved figuring out a grocery store pick up!

Anyway, now that you understand my struggle, let’s get to the tips! Here is what works for me. I make sure to get several packs of meat—usually ground beef and chicken. I keep one of each in the fridge and maybe put one of each in the freezer for another time. In passing the produce, I just grab stuff that I think that I might cook. Believe it or not, my kids beg for stuff in that section. I give in a lot there because, why not?! It’s fruits and vegetables! And then they feel like they got something that they picked. Win, win!

Between meat, veggies, and after grabbing some milk, cheese, and butter items, now the cart is already almost full. Do I stop there? No way! We get quite a bit of cereal. I make sure to grab bread and tortillas, water bottles and maybe a pack of flavored drinks. That covers a lot of it. I am sure I will find myself back in the store for something else within a few days. By this time in the store, my cart is overflowing with needs/things the kids asked for, and I am getting looks. I used to feel bad and get so nervous that the cashier will have something to say about me giving him/her so much work, especially if it is near closing time and they don’t feel like doing anything else. Just a side note: I think the atmosphere can feel if you are dreading something like that. I was at one of my most fragile times one evening. I could barely sneak away from the house when the kids were in bed, the husband was on the video games, and before the store closed. My self-image was low, thinking everything I do is wrong to somebody. My big dread was to make the cashier feel burdened by my purchase. And did she say it and give that huff and puff?? Oh, yes—when I was already so fragile that my self-image may not could take one more blow at the time. I overcame by using reassuring self-talk that it IS her job, she is young and doesn’t think about things like how you make others’ feel, I should NOT have to apologize for existing… You never know what people are going through and should always take care to treat people with kindness, respect, and gentleness. It is very important.

Now after getting all of that food in the house and situated, my meals kind of go like this. I like to cook up enough chicken for a few days. So, I cook that, use some, and bag some up. If you cook it on low with some kind of fat (oil and/or butter) and the lid on, it will fall apart very easily. I am no bland girl and like to put plenty of seasoning. I like to tear it up to bag it, especially if I am going to put some in the freezer. This makes it very easy to just get how much I need out and not waste. If I am going to freeze some, I put the shreds into a freezer bag, push all the air out, and flatten it out so I can actually break some off once it is frozen since I probably will not be defrosting the whole bag the next time I will need chicken—only a couple of chunks.

Chicken goes with many things, as does beef. I do the same thing with ground beef to save and use. Some staple meals include rice with meat, meat and cheese quesadillas, pasta with meat, sandwiches with heated meat, loaded nachos, "mashed potato volcano," which is just a pile of mashed potatoes stacked up with ground beef and cheese piled somewhat like a mountain, and then of course, just meat along with sides. I won’t use the meat I have left in the fridge for more than a few days. I know some people will go a week using the same meat. I can’t do it. I’d rather freeze it if I will not use it in the next two days. On day number two, I feel the need to sort of reinvent it a little so that it does not feel like the same meal again.

You know how adulting is, feeling obligated to use leftovers and not waste. But leftovers do not bring much excitement to the table. I know every meal doesn’t have to be exciting, but look, I am trying to feed little ones who have no concept of adulting and no concern for wasting food. So, on day two and three, that meat needs to be used in an entirely different type of meal or we, including myself, may not touch it regardless of all of my great intentions. I will just throw some meat into a pasta or something totally different than what I cooked the first night. Veggies, unfortunately, will hardly ever get any attention on day number two. I figure I better only cook what we are eating during that meal.

I try to include at least one fruit or veggie in each meal. This can be challenging with the fast pace of feeding many kids, and I am not always successful at it. But I have to stick to it, not wanting our health to decline. I count myself very lucky that my kids are, for the most part, not picky, and they do like veggies. There are many ways to include veggies into meals. For sandwiches, you got toppings, or you can sauté some fresh chopped mixed veggies, such as squash, zucchini, onion, mushrooms. You can boil some type of frozen blend or fresh carrots or broccoli. My trick here is the seasoning. Don’t make it plain and boring. Add more flavor than you think it needs. Seasoning is usually good for you anyway. My go-to is sea salt, black pepper, garlic (fresh or powder), onion (chopped or flakes), Italian seasoning or fresh basil and oregano. Oregano is very easy to grow, by the way! I planted one a long time ago. And it was so vigorous that I separated it and moved it to three places in my yard. It just keeps growing with absolutely no maintenance year after year. I enjoy having fresh oregano in several types of meals. Another way I slip good foods into our diet is making smoothies. If there was no veggie in the meal, I sometimes will add a scoop of moringa powder or other greens powder to some frozen fruit in a smoothie. My kids like this. In addition to these ways of eating veggies, there are always canned goods, if nothing else. One good dish that can include several vegetables is chopped cabbage; add in shreds of carrots, cooked beef, a little turmeric and other spices and maybe one other veggie that you like. My kids eat it—and say thank you!!

I feel like that was briefly just some general ideas to go for. Feel free to leave comments or get in touch with some of your own tricks and ideas or what makes things normally work for your household!

I will leave you with this. One day I must have been excited about the season change. I came across an idea of making pumpkin harvest soup… and using the pumpkin as the serving bowl! I thought it was an incredible idea! And so fun!

Harvest soup can include whatever you want in it! I used pumpkin, butternut squash, broccoli, and maybe potatoes? I can't remember. If you want a creamy soup, you need something to thicken it such as heavy cream, cream cheese, other cheeses, sour cream. I like the experiment. I have learned a lot over the years by my curious experimentations. Never be afraid in the kitchen to mess up or you will dampen your passions!!

Pictured is my fourth son, my helper that night, who was most excited about my use of the giant pumpkin! You may have seen my pictures on Facebook of my Pumpkin Harvest Soup.

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16 de dez. de 2023

Great tips! I’m going to try some of these. I’m always amazed at how you seem to effortlessly provide meals and they are always yummy

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