Meal Plans and Grocery Shopping in a Large Family
I am Renee, the mom of 14 children, and have been in charge of family meals for the past 22 years. At our maximum, we had 13 kids living at home so I was preparing three meals a day for 15 people. Here are my methods and best tips for keeping costs down and grocery shopping and meal planning for maximum efficiency in our large family. Some of the most frequently asked questions I get on this blog relate to meal plans and grocery shopping for our large family. This post will be my attempt at answering those questions.
How much money does it cost to feed your large family?
We spend $1,200 per month on groceries for our large family. I know this is what we spend and no more because we use cash only for groceries. Every two weeks we put $600 in an envelope and use that to purchase our food. The number $1,200 honestly sounds astronomically huge to me, but then I remind myself that we currently have ten kids and two adults, so that comes to $100 a month per person. Or $400 per month for a family of four. This is interestingly less than USA Today reported the average family of four spent on groceries in 2013. According to the USDA Food Plans list, a family my size, in June 2014, would have spent $441.20 per week on the thrifty plan and $868.50 per week on the liberal plan. So I guess you could say we are doing okay.
Shoud I Meal Plan or Shop First?
Meal plan first, always!
Every Tuesday I grab the sale fliers when they come in the mail and see if there is anything worth purchasing (meat, cheese, or cereal, etc). I may base a few meals off of the sales or I may not.
I have streamlined my shopping list by having a document on my computer with a printed grocery list. This is clipped to a clipboard hanging in our pantry and we highlight items as they are needed. When we use up or run low on something, we simply highlight that item on the list. We also have a list for Walmart where we purchase our toiletries, hand soap, and items like that.
How Do You Meal Plan?
I hate cooking, but you probably already know that. Even more than cooking, I hate meal planning. It really shouldn’t be that hard, since we eat every day of the year, but it really can seem overwhelming to me. The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is there is no reason to reinvent the wheel each week. My family has a list of favorites (as I’m sure yours does) and we eat those on a regular basis.
Life goes so much smoother if I meal plan. With a child with medical needs, other special needs, and me a birth photographer, my days can go sideways fast. Having a plan means a child can start dinner if I’m gone.
Today I went shopping and purchased $159 worth of food. This $159 included supplies to pack five sack lunches each day for the five kids attending theater camp (so 25 sack lunches).Tomorrow I will head to Cash & Carry and buy the bulk of our produce and a few staples (I will probably spend $150 there). I have money “left over” from last week, enough to cover whatever we need.
A Few Notes About Meal Planning
My meal plan is a base plan. I prefer to plan just the main dish and be a bit spontaneous with the rest. Every dinner includes veggies and usually a salad but I don’t write those in my plan. Rice is eaten three or more times per week.
I don’t plan each breakfast. We always have a supply of eggs, rolled oats and the staples for baked goods (pancakes, muffins, etc).
Do you cook in bulk and freeze or cook fresh each night?
Both. I prefer to have the freezer stocked with meals, but that doesn’t always happen. It is so much cheaper (and usually healthier) to stock your freezer with homemade meals instead of premade. Here are some of my top post on freezer cooking for my large family.
A detailed post showing how I prep many meals at once for my freezer.
How to Make Freezer Meals the Easy Way
This post also has great tips on budgeting. I share exactly what each meal cost to prepare.
This post shows how I involve my children in helping me prepare freezer meals.
Large Family Freezer Cooking Hacks
If you are brand new to the idea of freezer cooking this post is for you. It has my tips and hacks on how to make freezer cooking go smoothly.
Weekly Meal Prep
This post shows you exactly how to prep a week’s worth of meals.
How often and where do you shop?
I shop 3-4 times per month. We shop at Costco, Cash & Carry (restaurant supply store), a produce market in the summer, and local grocery stores based on their sales. We shop Costco once a month, Cash & Carry about twice per month and the local stores when we need specific items or there are great sales.
What items do you buy in bulk?
We purchase staples such as oatmeal, flour, sugar, beans, grains. We purchase most of our produce from Cash&Carry bags of apples, oranges, lemons, avocados, six-pack bags of peppers, scallions, potatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, etc.
Where do you purchase meat?
We definitely have our favorite spots for buying meat depending on quality and price.
Grocery Stores- We only purchase meat at regular grocery stores if it is cheaper than Cash&Carry or Costco. I check the weekly sale ads and stock up if I find deals. Last time ground beef went on sale for $2.99 per pound, I bought $100 worth of meat and stuck in our freezer. That was months ago and I am still using it. I can often find drumsticks for $0.99 or $1.09 per pound and I stock up then.
Costco: frozen chicken breasts, ground beef, frozen meatballs, and pork loin.
Smart Food Service: We buy huge pieces of chuck or other beef at Cash&Carry which I then cut into small pieces and freeze. This is by far the cheapest way I have found to buy beef.
Watch this video to see how I process the large chunks of meat from Cash&Carry.
Check out my Amazon shop to see my favorite products (many used for meal prep). Every single item in this shop we use in our home.
This is a basic overview of how I meal plan, grocery shop and feed my large family. Do you have any other questions? Ask away!
I’m always amazed to read the USDA plans. We spend about $800-900 a month right now for the 9 of us. $250-300 of that is for Owen’s ketogenic diet. I have to buy only specific brands for him so I can’t always buy by sales. I feel like we are actually eating quite well right now, not on a super tight budget. We have room for some splurge items. I always wonder what they include on the more liberal spending plans. I think keeping the food plan based on whole foods more than processed helps a lot.
Tony- I had no idea it was doing that. It isn’t doing it on my screen….I’ll see if I can find out what is going on. I agree, I hate blogs that require extra clicks and browsing back…
We live in the Seattle area with 12 of our children and love ordering food from the fabulous Azure Standard company. We have ordered most of our staples, herbs/spices and cleaning products for years. They deliver our order in a semi-truck which is a lot of fun!
Ann- thanks for commenting. So are you saying when you click on this blog you are not seeing entire blog posts? Just links to the full posts? That is not what I intend at all and not what I see…thanks for you help.
I have a 2 week menu plan. I’m working on a 4 week for more rotation. Groceries run about $80/week for 5, down from $100-120 when I didn’t meal plan. My eating out budget is also drastically less. It’s so easy to say, “No, we can’t get Taco Bell, dinner’s already in the crockpot waiting for us!” That includes sack lunches for 3 school kids (their private school doesn’t provide lunches.) I have lunch provided at my work (in a daycare.)
We’re vegetarian so that saves A TON of money.
That’s awesome. We rarely go out or grab fast food…in fact, if we do, I probably take pictures and blog about it 🙂 I’m not sure being vegetarian would save money for us…its nice and filling for my kids.
We (well Naomi) made your ravioli lasagne while I was in California with arianna. And WOW, it is a new family favourite. Thanks for always carving out some time to post your meal ideas. Xo
Isn’t it the best??? So glad your family enjoyed it too.
Great resources, thank you for putting this together! We’re not a large family yet, but we’re working our way in that direction quickly as we just added two more through adoption. We want to continue to welcome as many around the table as God calls us too through adoption, foster care and hospitality so I’m always planning meals for larger groups.
I am so glad this was helpful!
I am so glad I found your blog. I am a mom of 7. 6 boys (eat a lot. feels much like a frat house at times) and 1 girl (does not eat a lot). 🙂 I guess I should include the husband as well. I have been spending most of my marriage chasing the day instead of getting ahead of the day. I always have the intention of meal planning, as I know this is the best possible solution. My biggest problem is organization after having all of the ingredients, etc. How many freezer bags will I need (also an expense), do I just cut veggies, or should I spend one whole day dedicated to cooking? So hard to do with little people pulling you this way and that. I also have a hard time saying “not right now” to these little persons of cuteness. Almost like I am on autopilot. THEN, the inevitable….I never get back to the task and so on. I am sure you get where I am coming from. Where am I going with all of this…not sure, only that I am so happy that I have found someone who has done all of the leg work. Thank you. Now I just need to get my unorganized self to filter through what I need to start with. You have a ton of great tips.
Funny thing is, I was researching “Large Family SOCK conundrum”. My biggest defeat. Really just want to throw every single sock out of this house and start fresh with everyone getting the same exact type of white sock. Even the girl.
Looking forward to reading through all of your great ideas.