At our house, I need to step up and sling a meal on the table three times a day. (That’s around a thousand meals a year!) But, I am not a “foodie.” I would rather be reading or walking or writing or sewing or shopping. However, my family is counting on me, and they like meals that taste good. Some people in the family even want healthy meals, and everyone likes variety in the menu. How can big families make tasty, healthy, budget-friendly meals happen regularly? Here are 5 meal planning tips for big families on a budget.
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Buy in Bulk
As you probably know, buying food in larger packages is more economical than buying several small packages of the same product. I buy shredded cheese in the largest bag possible, then separate it into plastic containers. Purchasing products in larger volume at stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, or through a buying club or co-op may be one way you are already saving money.
Cook Two Meals at Once
It saves cooking and cleanup time to pre-bake all the chicken breasts at once, using the same big pan. Once everything is cooked, you can chop all the meat and freeze half of it for later. Chop and store your vegetables the same way, setting some aside for future meals.
Whenever you can, make meal preparation simple. My true confession? I seldom use recipes. I usually make something fast out of the raw materials lurking in my pantry. If you have grains, some meat and a few vegetables, you almost have dinner. Meals don’t have to take a lot of time. You can often prepare something in five or ten minutes with what you have on hand. I used to run to the grocery store if I was missing an ingredient. Now, I have learned to “make do” with a substitute ingredient. Some of the best new recipes are born that way.
Let Them Help
Many mothers of big families enjoy cooking alongside their children. Since our kitchen is tiny, I often prefer to cook alone. However, I want my children to have working kitchen knowledge, so sometimes we bake or make soup together. The older children can cook an entire meal, while I get other housework done. (When anyone prepares the family meal, they are excused from all the cleanup!)
Use Easy Recipes
Meal planning for big families can be easier than you think. Cooking at home is cheaper and healthier than eating out. Over the years, I have collected some simple meal ideas and (mostly) healthy recipes that my family loves. Take a look and try a few out. Maybe your family will come to love them too. (To make meals even more healthy, consider these tips from the experts.)
Lydia’s Baked Oatmeal
2 cups milk
1 cup oil
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
6 cups old-fashioned oats
2 T vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees & lightly grease a 9 x 13 pan.
- Combine ingredients and pour into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes and serve.
We serve this for a quick breakfast, or when we host a large family overnight. Everyone can scoop up their favorite additions, and eat within minutes. Start with a scoop of quick oats, and add toppings. Cover with hot water or milk.
- Bite-sized dried fruit
- Blueberries, sliced strawberries, pineapple tidbits
- Coconut flakes
- Milled flax seed
- Sunflower seeds
- Chopped nuts
Big Family Egg Bake
You can play around with different ingredients for egg bake, so use what your family enjoys.
1 dozen eggs, whisked
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup of cooked meat (ham, bacon, ground beef)
4 slices of bread, cut into cubes.
1 cup of cooked vegetables (optional, but a great way to add nutrition. We often use steamed and chopped cabbage or broccoli)
1 cup milk (any kind, unsweetened)
Choose seasonings to taste: salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, garlic, lemon pepper, taco seasoning
- Mix together and pour into two greased 9×13 pans.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes.
- Let rest for 10 minutes; serve.
When you must feed several people fast, cooking pancakes on the stovetop seems to take forever. Oven pancakes are more efficient and make sense for big family breakfasts. Here is an easy, healthy recipe for oven pancakes.
Oven Pancakes Ingredients
6 cups of flour (we use ½ whole wheat flour and ½ white flour)
3 large eggs
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ stick melted butter
½ T salt
3T baking powder
3 T sugar
Oven Pancakes Instructions
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Choose two standard sized cookie sheets with sides, and line the cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately.
- Combine all together until there are no more lumps.
- Pour the batter onto the prepared cookie sheets.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 15-25 minutes.
- Cut into squares; top with syrup, or yogurt and fruit.
The Blue Smoothie is a healthy, quick way to get protein, vitamins and minerals into those growing bodies, and a few handfuls of spinach hide nicely in this version.
2 cups coconut milk (you can also use almond, oat, or 2% milk)
2 ripe medium bananas
2 cups of cottage cheese
4 cups frozen wild blueberries
1 cup fresh spinach
Add sweetener to taste, if desired.
Instructions: Blend together until all lumps are gone. Serves 4.
Casserole / Hot Dish
Sometimes I create a dish out of last night’s dinner. (You may call it a casserole, but here in Minnesota, we call it a “hot dish.”)
It’s not rocket science. It’s just a hot dish. Pick one of each item below, mix together, and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes:
- Rice, pasta or noodles
- Cooked chicken or ground beef
- Cheddar, Mozzarella, or Parmesan cheese
- Can of condensed soup or 1 cup of salsa, spaghetti sauce or milk
- Steamed or canned vegetables
Soup and Easy Cheesy Biscuits
Easy Cheesy Biscuits
Whip up a comforting soup and pair it with our delectable Easy Cheesy Biscuits. Made with whole wheat and white flour, melted butter, and a generous helping of grated cheese. Irresistibly cheesy goodness in every bite!
Keywords: cheesy biscuits, family, meal
Recipe Yield: 6 Servings
Preparation Time: PT0H10M
Cooking Time: PT0H25M
Total Time: PT0H35M
- Whole Wheat Flour
- White Flour
- Baking Power
- 1. Mix dry ingredients and shredded cheese together.
- 2. Combine milk and melted butter.
- 3. Stir all ingredients together thoroughly.
- 4. Prepare a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper.
- 5. Spread biscuit dough onto the prepared pan.
- 6. Bake at 425 degrees for 15-25 minutes.
Soup is easy to fix if you have a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. There is virtually no right or wrong in the process of soup making. Choose your favorite soup recipe, then add a salad and these easy, cheesy biscuits:
Soup and Easy Cheesy Biscuits Ingredients
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
2 T baking powder
1 t salt
1 stick butter, melted
2 cups milk (any kind, unsweetened)
2 cups grated cheese
Optional seasonings: pepper, basil, garlic, etc.
- Mix dry ingredients and shredded cheese together.
- Combine milk and melted butter.
- Stir all ingredients together thoroughly.
- Prepare a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper.
- Spread biscuit dough onto the prepared pan.
- Bake at 425 degrees for 15-25 minutes.
Little Bit of Everything
For some reason, my children enjoy eating small tidbits of many foods. Prepared bits of many different leftovers can almost look fancy. Enlist your older children to prepare a “little bit of everything.”
- Slice a few leftover sandwiches into tiny triangles and arrange on a special plate.
- Cut the last of the cheese block into cubes and spear with toothpicks.
- Core apples and slice into rings instead of wedges
- Heat up the last few cups of chili and serve in tiny bowls, sprinkled with cheese and paprika.
- Spread the last few pieces of bread in the package with butter, cinnamon and sugar. Toast, slice into strips and serve.
- Make a petite fruit salad with that last apple, orange and banana. Sprinkle with coconut.
International bowls are an ideal meal for big families. Everyone can serve themselves, and family members can choose exactly what they like. It’s also a sneaky way to serve everyone a huge healthy salad, with delicious toppings they enjoy. This meal is like one of those protein bowls at your favorite restaurant, but with a global theme, such as Mediterranean, Mexican, Indian or Asian. Chop lettuce and greens, add 1-2 kinds of meat, and place bowls of additional salad fixings on the table, according to the theme. Common ingredients include:
- Cooked grains (white rice, brown rice, quinoa)
- Chopped onions (green, yellow, red, white)
- Chopped vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower)
- Olives (black, green, Kalamata)
- Chopped hard-boiled eggs
- Crispy fried noodles
- Slivered almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds
- Cheese (cottage, feta, bleu, mozzarella, parmesan)
The biggest tip in meal planning for big families is to keep things simple. Although I have listed recipes above, your family will have your own personal preferences, food sensitivities, and cultural specialties. Use these ideas as an inspiration to build your family’s arsenal of healthy meals that fit within your budget.
How can I stretch our big family’s grocery bill?
It can be a serious challenge to stay within a limited grocery budget. If you consistently come up short, you might try cutting out products that are pricey, but don’t really add nutritional value. There are countless DIY recipes online to substitute homemade (and healthier) versions of condiments, desserts and snacks. If you have space for a garden, consider growing some of your own vegetables and herbs.
What are the best places to buy inexpensive, high quality food?
We enjoy shopping at Aldi. They have consistently low prices, and offer reduced prices on products that are nearing their expiration date. Costco and Sam’s Club sell products in bulk, and we buy what’s on sale. Walmart sells discounted bakery products. In our local Walmart, there’s also a clearance shelf where you can find non-perishable discounted products. (It’s the first place I look!
How can we make big family meals more enjoyable?
Family meals can be an opportunity to relax and enjoy one another. Try to avoid stressful conversations during a family meal. This is a perfect time to express gratitude for one another, and to report on the day’s highlights and events. Some families make a “no complaining” rule for mealtime