When you have a large family, the rules around meals change. It is not affordable to go out for dinner on a regular basis. Nor is it possible to have seven-course meals even a few times a week. Over the years I have found a few key factors in keeping your kids fed and your bank account in the black.
Feeding An Army of Children
The great thing about kids is that they like simple meals. Yes, they might have favorites that are complicated like Lasagna or Lobster or Steak. However, they tend to be okay with simpler fare. These foods happen to also fall into the less expensive categories. Sandwiches are great for lunch and are good for snack times. That doesn’t mean you can’t sneak in a grilled cheese night or something like that for dinner at times. Hotdogs and fish sticks are also typical and affordable options. These meals can get boring though so let’s look at some other options.
Ground Beef – The Swiss Army Knife of Meats
Ground beef tends to be one of the cheaper “dinner” meats and can be used in many meals. You can even reduce the meat to sauce ratio if you need to cut back. Tacos and taco derivatives are not only filling and cheap, but they are also often quick to make. Sloppy joes and various hamburger helper options also fall into this category. Of course, we can’t ignore hamburgers and spaghetti. All of these can be adjusted to reduce the meat content if you have to, but can still be pretty filling. Throw in some fries, chips, fruits, or vegetables to add depth to the meal and don’t scrimp on the bread. A loaf of Italian bread with some melted
Bread – It’s Whats For Dinner
A loaf of Italian bread with some melted cheese is a low-cost way to fill everyone up. You can also find rolls that are inexpensive and quick to make. Bread is, of course, a great way to fill people up on the cheap since so many restaurants use the same trick. Yes, I know this may be why Americans are getting heavier with each generation, but bread is a great staple for a meal. Practically anything that doesn’t get served on a bun can pair with bread. Even the tacos mentioned above can include buttered warm tortillas. It is virtually buttered bread but still has that “Mexican” feel to the meal.
Leftovers – The Gift That Keeps Giving
One of the most important concepts for feeding a large family is leftovers. I try to keep all of my meals in a category where they can be reheated or eaten cold a day or two later. Most pasta dishes and casseroles fall into this category, and some are as good reheated as freshly made. Meats are not always as good the second time, but a microwave can keep you from a lot of waste.
The thing about leftovers is that you can plan for them. If you cook meals that have leftovers a few days in a row you can take a night off. Just declare a night to be “left-over” night. Tell the kids to find something thy like in the fridge and warm it up for them. Better yet, we have “fend for yourself” nights where they find food, reheat it, and clean up. This is a mini-vacation of sorts, so I try to have at least one night a week that falls in this category.
Pasta – Built for Armies
Pasta dishes are almost all made for mass consumption. You can feed a ton of people cheaply with spaghetti sauce, noodles, and some meat. The meat can be of several varieties and can be a small part of the meal. I like meaty sauces for spaghetti but can still feed a dozen with a couple of pounds of beef. Pasta is also easy to reheat. Thus, these are perfect dishes when you are not sure who is eating and when. This ability to support multiple dinner groups is key when you have older children. The schedules never seem to match, and friends seem to randomly show up for meals as well. Since weekends are the worst cases of these multiple seating dinners, I highly recommend you do pasta dishes on the weekends.
Kids like dessert. That is just a fact of life. The good news is that desserts can be cheap and easy to prepare. We used to get the freeze pops at the local warehouse club for a few cents a piece. These are perfect for Summer days when the kids are out of school. They can run through, grab a freeze pop, and get back to playing. You just have to keep scissors around so they can open the darn things. If you want to upgrade then those little ice cream cups aren’t too expensive and are self-contained. The hardest part of these desserts is picking up the trash.