Top tips for feeding a large family

One question I am constantly being asked as a mother of seven is; " how on earth do you feed them all?"

Sometimes the question relates to cost, more often people are daunted by the idea of having to feed half a dozen or more people every day.

It makes me chuckle when I hear people lamenting at Christmas- they have 6,8,10 for lunch. Until recently I had 9 to feed three times a day, every day.

It can be challenging, it can be tedious. It can be just flipping hard work and sometimes as I stand for ages peeling and chopping I imagine my life is not dissimilar to that of an army cook.

The worst bit is menu planning. As you can imagine my children aren't too fussy but still have likes and dislikes. One would eat pasta every day, another is obsessed with mash. DS#2 is the master of sandwiches. He even made a spaghetti bolognaise sandwich once.

There isn't really a single meal they will all eat. They like fajitas but we have wraps, mince, chicken, ham, sausages, cheese, chips, onion rings, salsa and sour cream laid out and they just make up their individual combinations.

A traditional Sunday roast: roast beef, vegeta...
Sunday roast: roast beef, vegetables, mashed potatos, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We eat a lot of roast dinners. Joints of meat are cheaper than chops or steaks and its easy to incorporate a lot of different elements to satisfy everyone's taste.

I obviously need more plates and cutlery than the average household and I have an impressive collection of pans. We use stainless steel at the moment which is easy to scrub with no risk to more fragile non-stick coated pans but one day I would love to own a beautiful set of copper pans. They would look so beautiful on my pan rack.

Food cooked it's serving time. I stand in the kitchen, spoon in hand, veg and meat laid out next to a pile of plates. The assembled family members, and any extras who've found themselves in my house at mealtime, watch me expectantly. I have two methods of serving if its not a posh "serve yourself from the best china day."

Firstly there's the tailor-made supper. I ask; " Do you want...." Then list the available options dolloping a portion on the plate as I move along the serving line.

Or I go for the "hands up" approach. "Hands up if you want peas!" They (and I ) have to be quite alert for this method as it's easy to get confused with whose plate is whose, especially now all but DS#7 have moved on from easily identifiable character plates to the normal, boringly identical dinner plates.

army sized pots and pans
Wouldn't it be fun if they did adult dinner services with a choice of characters? At dinner parties you could choose your favourite TV or film character. Never mind Fireman Sam, bring on Mr Darcy! Come on Denby, you are missing a trick here!

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, feeding time at the zoo.

To the question how do we afford it, the answer is I am lucky enough to be able to spend most of my day at home and can cook things from scratch. Processed foods are expensive-luckily most of my lot don't like chips or ready meals. You can do a million things with cheap mince, eggs, potatoes. Even humble sausages can be tarted up with honey, mustard, garlic, onions. I have a slow cooker, microwave, breadmaker and a steamer so meals can be prepared hours in advance or even days before then zapped in the microwave. We are happy to eat budget brands and products adorned with reduced stickers. And you'd be surprised the food we get given from people's gardens. Potatoes, onions, garlic, rhubarb, apples. All welcome gifts in our house.

My top tip would be to utilise the old fashioned way of stretching meals, especially now we have teens who devour the contents of my cupboards like locusts. I add stuffing, piles of toast or bread and butter, Yorkshire puds- all so that meat joint which proclaims on the label it feeds 3-4 actually feeds 8-9.

My food bill is not helped by the fact that I suffer from dinner party Tourette's. Even though we are always on a tight budget I hear myself with startling frequency inviting people round for supper, Sunday lunch, afternoon tea, full-on formal 12 course dinner party…….

I can't help myself. I don't know if its the Black Country in me, or the fact that the opportunity to do a bit of imaginative show-off cookery is a relief from the chore of cooking tea every single day.

My favourite day is Christmas Day. Because I think it is the only day of the year where I don't have to hear that dreaded phrase:" What's for tea, mum?"

Anyway, better go-I'm feeding 9 again tonight and that slow cooker won't start itself... 

7 hungry people

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