There are 11 of us with teeth. That means I need to feed these 11 mouths at least three times a day, plus snacks and treats. My renditions of bland spaghetti, random casseroles, ambitious soups, and tough meats are foisted on my mostly-understanding family.
Mealtimes with this many people to feed could be complicated if we tried to do it small family style. When I was a kid, our family of five passed around bowls and platters of food, dishing it onto plates by ourselves. I could put 13 green beans on my plate, making them look like more by artfully spreading them about my mom’s flowered Corelle.
Until recently, our dining table was actually two tables shoved together. The same thing happens in restaurants. Everywhere we go, people must shove multiple tables together for us. If I started my blog today, I might call it Tableshovernut. Even with two tables shoved together, it was still a tight squeeze. It forced us to adapt. My kids do not know the joys of passing the mashed potatoes to a brother. Also, we do not have footmen to serve us because I am not the Dowager Countess, although I aspire to be just like her someday.
We have a single, longer table now, but have kept many of our serving philosophies.
BREAKFAST: This is the most chaotic meal of the day, especially during school-year weekdays. Kids tumble into the kitchen on their own. If you’re old enough to go to school, you are old enough to pour yourself a heaping bowl of cereal or make waffles in the toaster oven. They make oatmeal in the microwave, too. Once they hit age 10-ish, they are allowed to cook eggs if they have time. I’ve never been one of those moms who cooks a full-on massive breakfast every day. That’s a Saturday or Sunday (or dinner!) thing.
LUNCH: During school breaks and summer vacation, lunch is something try to plan carefully. The crazy-casual breakfast vibe grows up into planned sit-down meal with assigned lunch helpers. At the beginning of the week, I assign jobs to the older kids. They are either Lunch Helpers or Lunch Cleaners. The Lunch Helpers assist with all aspects of food prep and serving. I usually have 2 or 3 helpers, depending on how much needs to be done. They adore being Lunch Helpers. If you are not a Lunch Helper, you get to clean up. They rotate and I make sure to change up pairings.
When the big kids are at school, they make their sack lunches the night before and store them in the refrigerator. This has helped mornings run more smoothly. That leaves the little ones and I at home during the day. We eat like toddlers and preschoolers whenever we are hungry. I cut off crusts and mop up at least one spill per day.
DINNER: I try to plan out meals at least a week in advance, keeping an eye on the calendar for busy nights like most families. Those nights require the crockpot or something light and easy. My husband loves to cook, so he prepares several dinners a week. When everything’s done, we begin scooping onto plates, starting with Ollie, going in order of age from little to big. I started it this way so by the time I got to the adult plates, the little ones’ food would be cooled down enough to eat. We stand at the stove and counter and pass plates to the table, where, ideally, everyone is sitting with their drinks already poured. One kid gets that job every night—usually someone who can be counted on to not spill. If they want seconds, they get up and serve themselves but must ask who else anticipates wanting seconds so they keep themselves in check.
Before we eat, we say a prayer. Usually, the kids rotate through this, too, although Teddy insists on praying every night. After thanking God for Thomas the Tank engine, we thank him for our food. Also, we prayed for Ollie when he had an illness recently. Now, at every meal, Teddy prays for Ollie to “feel better soon” even thought Ollie (knocking on wood like a deranged woodpecker) is currently enjoying good health. Coincidence? You be the judge!
SNACKS AND DESSERT: I have always tell the kids they can have all the fruit and veggies they want. They have free reign, but I appreciate being asked first in case I had plans for those strawberries or that bunch of rapidly decaying bananas. Consequently, all of them eats fruits and veggies every day and I don’t have to force it. We have crackers in the house occasionally, but then I realized a box of graham crackers lasted about 17 minutes. Sometimes, I’ll stock up on Babybels or string cheese, but sometimes cheese is problematic. Plus, they always put cheeses on their school lunch sandwiches so calcium isn’t an issue.
Desserts are not an every night thing. Sometimes, we will stove-pop some popcorn in coconut oil or scoop ice cream. If I’m bored during an afternoon, i might bake cookies or cupcakes and that ends up being dessert.
Keeping mealtimes running smoothly and sanely is something I still work on and adjust.