Saturday, October 06, 2007

Feeding a Large Family

Since this blog is really focused upon the life and times of an adoptive father of (soon to be) twelve children, I was thinking about the question I am often asked. It goes something like this, "How in the world do you manage to feed so many kids?" The question can mean anything from "who does all the cooking?" to "how much does it cost you a month for food?" to "where does everyone sit when it's time to eat?"

It's been a couple of weeks since we did a major grocery shopping stint. Typically during the week I need to buy milk or eggs or bread about every other day, so a major shopping stint usually requires one very, very full or two relatively full grocery carts. This morning one of our city's grocery stores had some great coupon deals (like buy one, get two free items), so our fifteen-year-old son Ben (that's what he prefers to be called most days, although some days he tells me to call him "Jimmy," which is what I am most familiar with) and I set out see what we could save.

We carefully picked up the items that were coupon items and only a few other necessity kinds of things. I am the major grocery shopper in the family (and since I'm also the cook that helps, since I usually know exactly what I want and how much I want to pay for it), and I happen to enjoy the process quite a bit. I hate dragging the bags into the house after arriving home, but fortunately I have kids who don't mind bringing in the groceries. As they bring the groceries in the house I immediately put the items away. I try to do it right away for at least two reasons: (a) I can put them exactly where I want them so that I know where to find them when I'm cooking and (2) special items (like chocolate-covered almonds and chocolate chips) can be quickly "hidden" away to avoid the hungry scrutiny of already well-fed children.

Anyway, today we used our coupons and saved 40% on our grocery bill. What started at well over $300 ended up costing us $130 less because of our coupons. And in case you are wondering, I don't buy items with coupons that we might not otherwise buy, and I almost always check prices to make sure that item in question isn't available cheaper with another label. The coupon items might be things we wouldn't always purchase (like frozen shrimp), but things that we would use if we had them. I've finally given up on the idea that convenience foods shouldn't be purchased ... when it comes to breakfast for the kids and such it's really easier (and cheaper when you build in the time to cook and clean up from scratch) to have a few frozen items (like waffles) or cereal (typically healthy ones like Cheerios, but occasionally if the price is right a box of Fruit Loops or my personal favorite Honey Smacks) on hand for the kids. Quite often I will cook breakfast on Friday (my day off) and sometimes on Saturday or Sunday we have "brunch."

The biggest challenge I find with the whole kitchen process is that if someone else is putting items away or in charge of dishes it takes me a long time sometimes to find what I'm looking for. I've had to decide whether to spend time being frustrated occasionally when I can't find my cookie scooper or whether I just want to do everything -- from purchasing, cooking and cleaning up -- myself. So far I have decided not to do everything for myself. While it's irritating not to be able to find what I'm looking for, the extra time it gives me is so far the payoff.

We try to eat together at least four or five times a week, although there are nights that are very difficult to do that with changing schedules for all of us as our kids get older. And it's not always the idyllic scene you might think it would be. Although we sit down to eat together (something, I understand that is becoming largely lost in our culture), often there is friction between any number of us. Occasionally the conversations are pleasant, but typically they are only endurable. I am hopeful, however, that as our children grow up, they will value the times we shared together at the table and that they will want to pass this on to their own families in the years to come.

Our table will be a little fuller and seating space a little tighter in the days to come, but I am looking foward to having another two persons to feed in less than a month. I've always told Claudia it's easier to cook for all twelve of us (we rarely have that privilege any long, with one of our college-aged sons living away from home and now Mike and John who are unable to live here), so I'm looking forward to a fuller table!

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