Feeding My Family Outside the Box

 In the January/February 2016 issue of Rachel Ray Everyday magazine, there was an article about meal kit subscription services and whether they are worth your time and money. Of the four subscription services profiled in the article, all four ran about $10 per meal per person. The food items all came individually packaged in plastic bags or boxes, and included uncut ingredients.

These meal services are clearly marketed to households of two people but as a mom to 7, I have several thoughts to share about this topic that might give others with similar numbers of mouths to feed, or far fewer, something to chew on.

Think like a big family and multiply the cost

Whether it’s food, clothing, entertainment, or other costs, think like a big family and multiply the costs.  One of the first thoughts I had while reading the article was: Can you imagine how much that would cost for our family?

$10 x 9=$90 one dinner

$90 x 7 days=$630 per week

$630 x 4=let me get a pencil–$2420 per month

That’s just for dinner, people! What about breakfast, lunch and snacks?

The author of the article says she’s too busy to plan and shop for meals.  Let me tell you about busy.  If you present a food item to a person, could they not name off several meals that could be made with it?

Consider the “sustainability” of the food packaging

My second thought while reading the article and which I consider when I shop for our groceries is all of the wasted packaging that has to be thrown away.  All of the dinners shown in the photos had 10 disposable bags, bottles or containers each except for one that had 8.  Again, multiply the number of items to be thrown away for our family for these meals:50 bags per dinner x 7=350 baggies per week, x4=1400 baggies per month!

Would those baggies need to go in the “wet trash” or “dry trash”?  Since we live out in the country and don’t have a garbage or recycling service to pick up what we throw away, we have developed a system.  We compost anything we can including paper that can be shredded.  What’s wet and can’t be composted goes into “wet trash”, dry stuff that’s burnable goes into “dry trash”, and anything that can be recycled gets set aside to be dropped off in town once a week at a recycling station.  Suffice it to say, our “wet trash” is minimal even by two-person standards.

Simplicity and the number of ingredients

I’m thinking about what’s on our menu for this week.  Marinated pork chops with baked potatoes. Waffles, eggs and bacon. Chicken pot pie.  I don’t think any of these meals have 10 different ingredients in them.  In fact, most of our meals are simple–and elegant I might add.  And the more I include fresh vegetables, I appreciate how elegant simple foods can be.

Locally sourced foods

Two of the meals in the article included salmon and shrimp. I live in the heartland of our great nation.  It takes a lot of miles on a truck to transport shrimp and salmon to my our dinner table.  If I’m going to feed my family protein in the form of meat, I look to animals sourced closer to home: beef, chicken and pork.  They live closer to me than the grocery store.  I realize that salmon, especially, contains vital omega-3 fatty acids, but it’s cheaper and smarter for me to buy a bulk bag of flax seeds and grind them into smoothies for my kids.

I do have to admit, one of my thoughts while reading the article was: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a box show up at my door with all the ingredients thawed and ready to be made into meals? No comparison shopping. No list-making. No grocery bag-hauling into the house.  It’s the stuff [a mom’s] dreams are made of.


Frugal Greetings

Time and money are short these days but I never want a birthday or holiday to go unremembered for the very special people in my life.  I also want to make sure that my kids see me caring for others and using my creativity to make their days brighter.

My card making setup is currently in our master bedroom atop a formerly used small dresser that was turned into a changing table for our youngest.  I keep bits of card stock in a 12″ x 12″ pretty box, punches and stamps in a cosmetics case, and washi tape in a nice dispenser for easy access.

When I receive a thank you or pretty cards in the mail, I deconstruct them and either quickly reassemble them into something new or “file” them away for future use.  Years ago I cut embroidered patches off children’s clothing to glue on to paper and use for Christmas tags.  After they were used this last Christmas, I set them on my dresser and reconstructed one of them into a Valentine’s Day card for my dad (in a nursing home dementia care unit) and made another quick valentine for my husband’s grandma (also in a nursing home). I know they will both be thrilled that I took the time to make and send them.

Being able to be creative is such an important part of who I am.  If I don’t use my creativity for simple things like greetings, I feel like I’m letting myself down as well as my family.  Saving money by using my creativity is something I want to pass on to my kids.  How about you? Are you O.K. with buying cards or just sending emails?

5 Ways Large Families Save Money and You Can Too


Running a large family can be expensive! As mom to 7 children, I have long (and often) considered what money saving ideas are worth my time as I seem to be running short on time, that is, these days.  So here are my top 5 money saving ideas that I have used as our once small family has grown bigger.


Consign the Good Stuff

Though I buy a good deal of my family’s clothing used, my first money saving idea is a money maker. Years ago I asked a friend of mine (mom to 10 kids!) whose husband worked for our church diocese, “How do you buy clothes for your family?”  She told me that an older friend of hers loves to shop at garages sales and has quite an eye for stylish clothes and great deals.  This person will shop the sales and then consign them for a profit–to the tune of 30,000 items per year. My friend just gives this gal a list of her kids’ sizes and her friend brings things over to her house and lets her “shop” occasionally.

Since that conversation, I have made it a point to use my local consignment store to “rent” our clothes.  Here’s what I do: I buy name brand newish looking clothing at garage sales, Goodwill, and Salvation Army. At the end of the season of wear, I box up what will be “consignable” and mark the box for what month it should be taken to the consignment shop. (My consignment shop only accepts seasonal items through certain dates.)  Often times the shop limits the number of boxes or bins that can be dropped off on a given day, so having these ready to go is a time saver since I might want to go a couple of times per week.

I make it a point about once a month to go cash out my consigners account.  The amount can really vary but typically, I’ll get about $25.  That can go a long way, the way I shop.


Multi-Task Your Errands

We live out in the country; in the middle of nowhere, I like to say.  Though close to an interstate, it is close to nothing else.  I don’t have the time to go do errands everyday so I have learned to multi-task my errands.  I start with fixed appointments and work from there.  For instance, two of my kids take art classes on two separate days of the week.  I allow 30 min to get them there and then 15 min for each stop I have to make before dropping them off.  Today we dropped off boxes at the consignment shop and stopped at Sally Beauty to use up a coupon that will soon expire on items I always use (more on that below). After dropping off my child, I continued to the library for some uninterrupted (quiet) writing time.  After I picked them up, we drove straight home to catch dinner that my husband had made while we were gone.


Plan Ahead

I am a list-keeper.  Many and often.  It keeps my brain calm(er) because I’m in a perpetual state of planning.  Dinner for 9 doesn’t just happen when you live in the middle of nowhere.  Frozen meat for 9 doesn’t defrost in short order.  By planning our meals a week at a time, we plan backwards in getting them ready.  On the menu tonight is homemade pizza.  My husband made the recipe for the dough this morning and pulled the frozen mozzarella cheese out of the freezer to defrost.

At breakfast, I’m thinking dinner and what can make it go more smoothly. Sometimes I even write notes to myself about when to prepare for meals.  This week, we’re having Ham and Bean soup and No-Knead bread for dinner. I’ll have a sticky note in my planner the day before to remind me to soak the beans overnight and to mix the dough and put it in the fridge.

Planning ahead is vital in other areas, too.  When our kids began Tae Kwon Do, I kept my eye out for sparring gear that they were going to need.  New, it was $250 per set.  Times three it would cost us $750 just for the equipment.  I made it my job to check Craigslist and Goodwill for the next few months.  Since our kids have “graduated” out of TKD, I still buy used sets if the price is low (between $25-$50) and resell them on eBay for around $180.


Use the Internet to Learn a Trade

Out of our 7 children, our oldest child has had his hair professionally cut–once.  And our oldest daughter has had hers cut a handful of times. Other than that, I have given each and every haircut in our family. Early on, I learned through trial and error and more recently, have turned to You Tube to learn how to give bob cuts for my little girls.

A couple of months ago, one of our showers stopped putting out hot water.  After having a plumber come out to fix it, he told me that I would have to order the new cartridge because he couldn’t get the one I needed or he could replace the whole faucet set.  I ordered the piece off Amazon and then watched a You Tube video on how to reinstall it (mostly because the water was shut off to that bathroom and I wanted it back in use!).  I put it all back together but it wouldn’t work, so I called the plumber back out and he checked my work all over, stumped as to why it wouldn’t work as well. I didn’t realize there were two water shut-offs, one for hot and one for cold.  We just needed to turn on the hot one.  Lesson learned! The next time the cartridge needs to be replaced, I’ll be all over it.


Only Use Coupons for Non-Food Items

Because we live so far from anywhere, we aren’t able to receive the Sunday newspaper with all the great coupons.  But even when we did live in town, I didn’t find them to be worth my time and organizational patience, for food, that is.  My favorite is couponmom.com.  I am able to get a summary of my favorite store deals with links to printable coupons and ordered by price savings (FREE deals first).

I carry a small cloth zippered envelope in my purse with savings cards and coupons in it.  After looking through it this morning I realized that I had a $5 off offer at Sally Beauty Supply (no minimum purchase required) that would expire at the end of January.  I only buy my hair coloring supplies there (after watching a you tube video on how to professionally color my hair at home).  I was able to get 4 months of hair color supplies for $1.04 just for taking the time to check my envelope and plan 15 minutes of errand time.

And there’s no reason not to be able to use at least a 40% off coupon at craft stores like JoAnns, Hobby Lobby, and Michael’s.  You will often see me trying to use several coupons/discount cards in a single transaction.  It never hurts to try.