Julie Lyles Carr: Feeding An Army

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Feeding An Army

Welcome to Mount Grocery.

It appears in my kitchen every couple of weeks.

Its summit is intimidating, its peak reaching the sky.

And every couple of weeks I must gird my courage and begin the ascent.

'Cuz I am feeding an army here. And Mount Grocery must be conquered for that to happen.

Perhaps one of the most common questions I get about raising a big family is the whole grocery/cooking/budget/storage thing.

And even though I live it, it still boggles the mind.

There simply aren't home ec classes out there on "Feeding the Abnormally Large Family in an Eat-Out Culture."

Likewise, I have yet to see a class offered on "How to Pack Groceries for Ten in One Cart While Hosting Twins in the Basket and Child Seat."

But here we are...

Now, the following scenario is my ideal. Read here, not that it happens as much as it should or as consistently as it should. But when I pull it off, life is so much less stressful.

I have one fridge and one small freezer and one pantry that's about the size of a shower stall. Not my ideal, but those are the brakes.

I have a menu of fourteen meals that incorporate similar ingredients. Generally, I can do the grocery shopping in a couple of hours and then cook for about 3-4 hours after getting home and have meals and snacks for the next two weeks. It's not exotic fare but it works.

I keep breakfast simple on weekdays. We are hustling to get to the school table and while I love the idea of a hot breakfast every morning, let's face it; that just means more dishes and more mess to clean up. I try to reserve pancakes and eggs and French toast and all the rest for Saturday mornings...unless PMS cravings rule the morn and I must have something with syrup.

The kids have a snack at 10 am. I generally stick to yogurt, string cheese or fruit. Lunch is simple again with sandwiches, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese or leftovers. Another snack is issued at 3 pm, again something like popcorn, cheese, tortilla chips with salsa.

The dinners have been built on Grocery Day and put in the chest freezer for safe keeping until the day's thaw.

I usually come home with 10 lbs of ground turkey, which becomes one of the following:
tater tot casserole
spaghetti sauce with meat
taco meat

I usually purchase 6 to 10 pounds of chicken breasts. I divide them out into 8 -9 breasts per meal and season them in a variety of ways. Some get lemon juice and Italian dressing, some get mesquite seasonings, some get b-b-q sauce. I freeze these pre-seasoned portions and then pull them out as needed for a dinner, ready to pop in the over or stick on the grill. Talapia fish gets the same treatment.

Eggs. Eggs, eggs, eggs. Cheap, yummy protein. I have a killer wild rice quiche recipe that uses Canadian bacon, onions, wild rice and cheddar cheese. My guys LOVE this dish and it freezes beautifully. I bake the whole thing ahead of time and then thaw it when we need it.

A couple of bags of boiled shrimp usually make their way into my cart. I sauté them in butter and garlic and serve it up with fresh tomatoes over angel hair pasta.

I also throw in a couple of pre-made lasagnas. Stouffer's has some great options. For the money, I can justify the portions sizes versus the time I save. By the time I buy noodles, ricotta, sauce, cheese and Italian sausage, I'm basically at the same price point...but then I have to still take it home and cook it all. So Stouffer's lasagna it is. We like the 5 cheese and the chicken.

A perennial favorite around my place is what I call Baked Potato Bar Night. I bake up some big russets and have various topping options such as butter, cheese, guacamole, pico de galo, taco meat, broccoli and sour cream. The kids love, love, love building their own potato and it does seem to stick to their ribs.

I also smoke chicken drumsticks. I smoke them in my stove-top smoker that is AWESOME and then I freeze them up.

And then there's my secret weapon.

I buy a package of foil steam trays at Costco. They come in a pack of 30 for about $6.75 which, according to my calculations, works out to about 23 cents a pop. I freeze up these culinary creations, freeze them in these foil babies, take 'em out, throw 'em in the oven and then toss 'em in the trash. Not green, you say? Do you have any idea the amount of water and soap I would be putting into the system if I were to wash all the casserole dishes necessary to feed this crowd? You see my point.

I can't claim that Mount Grocery days are my favorite. But I do claim that the days following Mount Grocery days are. It is such a good feeling to know that the freezer is stocked, that I have a handle on the food budget, that I have already settled the question of "What's for dinner?" days ahead.

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