One of the first questions folk ask about having eight kids is how on earth do we feed them… and another friend who keeps asking me to write “How Do You… ?” Posts… This is going to be one of those. In fact, the more I though about “the what, the when and the how we eat” I realised that it really needed to be a series… Because if I tell you what we eat then you are going to want to know what is in our pantry. And if you know what is in our pantry then you are going to want to know what are our favourite tools. And if you know what tools we use then you are going to want to know if we have any food rules. In fact, the more I thought about it – food is so central to our lives running smoothly that I could probably write about it for weeks… I won’t… but I thought I would spend a week in a series:
Table for Ten
Part 1: The Food Rules
I never realised that we even had food rules until I started to write this post… but horrors we do and lots of them!!! So I thought I would begin the series with se7en + 1 unspoken food rules in our home. A lot of our rules have evolved as the kids grow older and become more capable so the rules do change, they are a framework freeing us up from making major food decisions every single day. The rules are there to rely on but they are also their to be broken from time to time and I would never pin them up on the fridge and say… this is how it is done. Because families change and times change and needs change…
- We Cook And Eat and Clean-Up Together:
- We Eat in One Place:
- We Eat Three Meals a Day:
- We Cook From Scratch, Mostly:
- We Eat Out, But Not Take-Outs:
- We Don’t Eat or Drink in Transit:
- I Don’t Buy “Treats” Very Often:
- Keep it Fun:
There is a culture of food in our home and it has everything to do with creating thirty meals a deal for our family and being ready at any time for the number of announced or unannounced guests that arrive at meal times. Turns out as soon as my kids are able they begin to contribute to meal times, it isn’t about coming of age but far more about being part of a family. The only way for us all to spend any time out of the kitchen is for us to work together in the kitchen as a team. There is always a task someone can do and we clean up as we go. By the time we get to the table the only cleaning up left to do is for everyone to put their dishes in the dishwasher afterwards and for somebody to wipe the table. We do eat all our meals together, my kids wouldn’t know any other way… I guess it is a family priority… by the time a mealtime arises everyone is quite keen to be at the table!!!
Either at the Kitchen Table or outdoors. We do not eat around the house, we do not eat in the lounge, or our beds… we just don’t. I cannot imagine the thought of cleaning up crumbs and trails of food around the house – it is so much easier to have it contained in one spot. We eat lunch out doors every single day – rain or shine. Or if we eat at the table then we head outdoors after lunch for an hour or two – I am a firm believer in fresh air and picnics are a great way to get it.
We just don’t need to snack. I understand that between a year and two years kids eat constantly. Someone once told me, when my firstborn was about 18 months old and was eating a bunch of bananas every single day, that he ate just like her twenty year old son. ‘Tis the truth!!! Tiny people do need to eat all day to fuel those engines and keep them ticking. But they grow out of it. None of my kids eat a bunch of bananas a day right now… in fact we don’t snack!!! Gasp!!! I just find that meals are enough and snacks an endless distraction from being busy. There came a time when as soon as we settled down for school it was snack time… and then as soon as we got involved in a project – it was once again… snack time… needless to say we started getting busy with our work and discovered that we weren’t missing snacks and that for most of us we would rather finish a project and have more time to play. So snacks flew out the door. That doesn’t mean that if someone is starving they cannot have a piece of fruit from the bowl… we just don’t designate snack time.
If you can cook it from scratch it is just so much more fun. If you can gather it in the garden then even better!!! My kids would not dream of buying a pizza ever… they would’t dream of buying bases and putting them in the freezer!!! If you are going to have a pizza then start with the bread flour and a packet of yeast!!! Even a cake mix, wouldn’t dream of it… you still have to add eggs, oil, water or whatever… why don’t you just pop your own dry ingredients into a bowl. I know I learnt to cook pretty much from cake mixes as a kid – loved buying those box mixes and baking from them… but to be perfectly honest when I realised that I could make dozens of pancakes with my own bag of flour instead only six from a pack of mix – I was sold. Economics spoke to my young heart. Forget about the fact that you won’t be eating all sorts of additives and preservatives – that is just a bonus!!!
My husband is diabetic and take-outs are the devil!!! My kids know that take-outs are bad for them and would rather not eat them – ever. On a road trip last year we had take-outs on the first night, breakfast in a roadhouse and by lunchtime they were crying out for real food… Sounds like a disaster to co-ordinate in a pinch we can stop at a supermarket and buy some fresh bread and cheese, some fruit and we are good to go. That being said, we do eat out and we love eating out!!! Obviously not very much a table for ten comes at a price!!! But when we eat out we eat real food in real restaurants.
We never eat in the car… I know this sounds mad – but why would you want crumbs and papers all over your car – one of life’s mysteries!!! And I know who would have to clean that mess up!!! Okay, but what if my kids are hungry… well then why would we be in the car? If my kids are hungry then it must be breakfast, lunch or dinner time!!! Why have we become a culture where our kids have to eat constantly, I never drive for longer than half an hour in the city and usually it is just after breakfast or lunch – so why would they need to eat. Really we can wait half an hour until we reach our destination. Similarly for outings, there were years when I spent hours preparing for snacks to take on outings… and if friends were added into the mix – then baking!!! Outings are traditionally after breakfast or lunch anyway, nobody realistically plans an outing just before dinner!!! One day I just didn’t take a snack to the beach and we were all fine and it was less stuff to carry – epiphany – we have never looked back!!!
A couple of months back when a friend visited us she asked if I ever gave my kids treats? What did she mean!!! I take them to the beach, I read piles of library books to them, but I know she really meant food!!! I hadn’t really thought about it until then – but I don’t really. Occasionally we will take a trip to the bakery and pick something out for fun, but mostly no… my kids have enough!!! When I was a kid we had a small amount of pocket-money that we used to buy a small amount of sweeties, once a week at the corner store… Now it seems that every time kids go to the store they get a treat at the till, or a stop in at the store on the way home from school specially for a cool drink and even every time they go to gym they get something at the tuck-shop on the way out. Apart from the fact that it just isn’t healthy or realistic… with eight kids that sort of lifestyle gets enormously expensive really quickly!!! Honestly, I don’t get a treat for behaving nicely in the store!!! Anyway my kids are privileged with two grannies that visit most weeks, that always bring a treat and another favourite friend that visits every week and always brings sweeties. That’s enough already!!!
And the se7en + 1 th Rule…
I know this one should go without saying… but honestly when a day runs out of time and guests are impending or you have to rush out as soon as you are finished breakfast, the fun can stop quite quickly!!! It takes a little planning and a then some discipline to keep things on track. We have a plan, but if I laze just a little longer before beginning the work on a meal then we often have to turn to Plan B, C, D… it is easier in the long run just to be timeous!!! We also try lots of new things – there are always a couple of fresh cook books in the library pile and plonked on the lounge table for a browse and to inspire potential chefs. If we do buy books then it is often a cook book, because it is something we can all enjoy together… Yes, food is definitely family time for us!!!
There you go the basic food rules in our home, they work for us right now and follow up posts in this series we will tell you about the “hardware” of cooking – tools we love and tools we love to hate; the “software” – what we eat and what we don’t… and our rough and our very flexible meal planning!!!