I spend an inordinate amount of my time thinking about food.
I mean, who doesn’t?
Not so much food for me, but how to feed the ever-growing appetites of my young men. Flipflops and MacGyver are both teenagers now and can demolish the pantry and fridge in a single bound. Even Little One, age 10, has a hearty appetite.
So the question becomes, how do I..
…keep enough food in my house to satisfy their actual hunger
…teach good eating habits (a balanced meal is not a cookie in each hand)
…not go broke
I’ve been at this for just over 2 years and I think I might possibly have, sort of, kind of come up with a system that seems to work for right this very moment. Which, of course I will share with you.
1. Meal Planning
I cannot say enough about meal planning (see my previous post on the topic). Seriously, just do it. I honestly do not know how people without a meal plan go grocery shopping. How do you know what to buy?! How do you know what to make?! How do you resist the urge to say, screw it, I’m ordering pizza? (totally what I do when I don’t bother meal planning).
Since we moved, I shop at Wal-Mart for weekly groceries and Costco twice a month for bulk items. We used to do Costco every week…but Costco also used to be a LOT closer, so we adjust.
2. Shop with a list, but don’t be ruled by it.
A list keeps you on track. However, if you need it once, you’ll probably need it again. Buying a can of beans? Pick up a few and next time you won’t need to buy one. Walking through Costco and see mac’n’cheese is on sale? You’re going to need it eventually, so pick up a case now. You weren’t planning on buying dish soap until next time, but it’s a 2 for 1 deal? You’d be silly not to capitalize on that.
I also tend to use my grocery store for small quantities of dairy like sour cream and yogurt. The truth is, while I might pay a little more for it, we can’t use the large container before it goes bad, so that’s just money down the drain.
A Note of Warning
While most things are cheaper in bulk, not everything passes the Costco (or Sam’s Club, BJ’s, or other Wholesale Market Clubs) test. For example, 5 dozen eggs (most economical quantity) at my Costco runs $7.99 or $0.13 per egg, while 18 eggs at my Wal-Mart (again, most economical quantity) runs $1.83 or about $0.10 per egg. It’s only $0.03 per egg, who cares?! We go through about a dozen eggs a week, so it’s only 36 cents. In a year, though, it totals just under $20, not including high egg holidays like Christmas baking and Easter.
You have an extra $20 you don’t need? I’ll send you my address.
3. Snack Drawer
I can’t take credit for this one, I was inspired by Jordan Page from www.funcheaporfree.com. I have a French door refrigerator that has a shallow, wide drawer at the bottom of the fridge portion. Most people use it for party trays or veggies or whatever, mine is for snacks. The rule is that you can grab one snack FROM THE DRAWER anytime without asking. This gives the gremlins some freedom and I have control over what goes into the drawer. I got some cheap drawer organizer bins from Wal-Mart to keep things separated so it doesn’t become a mess.
Depending on the week and the sales, I usually keep the drawer stocked with fruits and veggies, yogurt, string cheese, and sometimes half sandwiches in individual snack backs. If I buy baby carrots, I divvy them up into snack bags. Same with grapes and anything else that might be easy to overdo if you’re not careful.
We just started this summer with the drawer and so far, it’s been AMAZING. I think it will also make the school year run more smoothly.
4. Boundaries and Consequences
I used to be much more controlling about food choices. I got so tired of fussing and nagging and yelling. Kids don’t care about the relative morality of the kitchen. They’re either hungry or bored and they’re going to find a way to bend or break the rules.
I don’t stand for disobedience or disrespect, so I had to ask myself an important question: why does it matter so much to me? Do I really care if they have an extra apple, or do I just want control of the situation? How much effort am I willing to exert to have my own way?
So here’s my new strategy: I go grocery shopping on Sunday. I go to Costco every two weeks for larger bulk items. On Sunday night, there is plenty of food in the drawer for the week. If the snack drawer is empty by Wednesday because you ate 6 nectarines, 4 string cheeses, and 3 yogurts a day, then you’re out of snacks by Wednesday. #sorrynotsorry.
I’d been buying cookies and packing them into serving sizes. The rule was one pack of cookies per day. Suddenly, 30 servings of cookies were gone by Thursday night. So, I didn’t buy any cookies this week. Bummer. Maybe next time you’ll be more respectful.
It’s not a perfect system, but it works, for now. Let me know in the comments, what are your methods for feeding a crowd of kids?