Monday, March 4, 2013

Ten Kitchen Tips ~ Big Family Idea Bonanza Series

I’m giggling as I write this.

Me, writing about cooking.

I’ve admitted it before, under duress. But I suppose I ought to confess it again. I just am not a cook. I know the basics, and I can get by. But I married a wonderful man who, as a teenager, had an inkling he might marry a woman who didn’t know how to cook. So, he learned. Turns out he really enjoys it. I kid him about missing his calling as a chef or a caterer.

Food prep and service can be a monumental task for a big family. So my husband and I put our heads together and came up with a list of coping mechanisms we have adopted as our family has grown.

Use the pizza cutter to cut food for your toddler. We use the pizza cutter for pancakes, French toast, eggs, pasta, sandwiches….

Double or triple your recipes. When we make pancakes, we quadruple our recipe, and there usually aren’t any leftover.

Have a leftover buffet night. It's wonderful when leftovers can be made into a brand new meal, but sometimes it's easier just to set up a smorgasbord. Everyone gets to choose their favorites, and the children have another opportunity to develop the courtesy of letting someone else have what they wanted or say thank-you when they get what they want.

Develop meals that don’t have a recipe. Casseroles are classic for this, but we’ve recently found what we call layered bakes. Meat, cheese, and other goodies layered in a 9x13 and baked until bubbly. When you need more, just make two or get out a bigger dish and eyeball it. Our favorites {so far!} include Taco Bake with seasoned taco meat, cheese, and tortilla chips and Chili Nacho Casserole.

Invest in bigger dishes. This might label me as a dork, but I didn't even know until a few years ago that you can buy dishes bigger than 9x13. I know - please be kind. Pyrex makes a baking dish in a 15x10 size. And those big stock pots? They aren't just for canning. 

Use more than one crock-pot. We have three different sizes, perfect for preparing a meat, rice or potatoes, and a vegetable at the same time.

Add inexpensive ingredients to stretch a meal. For example, a casserole or soup can be stretched by adding rice or pasta. You could also add water, corn starch, and bouillon to thicken and stretch your stock.

Buy extra dishes to accommodate a growing family and to allow for breakage. The days of buying a set of eight place settings are gone for us. Until last fall, we hadn't bought dishes for over ten years. Then I found a set I half off! We bought 20 place settings. That means we'll have enough for company as well.

Delegate. Mom, if you're setting the table, preparing the meal, and cleaning it up all by yourself, you're doing it wrong. Even children as young as three or four can set a table. My 11yo and 13yo regularly load the dishwasher and wash what remains.

Set the table for breakfast the night before. This is especially helpful for Sunday mornings in the crunch to get to church or if you're on your way out on a field trip or a doctor's appointment in the morning.

What tips can you add to make kitchen work easier in a big family?

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  1. Great tips! We have utilized many of the same techniques.
    I keep a pair of blunt child scissors in the kitchen for little hands to cut up pepper strips and olives and such. so fun, and helpful too!

    1. Children's scissors are a great idea! They can do it themselves, but safely. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. Great ideas, Meghan! Our girls are still young and eat like birds, but I know in the near future, we'll be needing to incorporate some of your ideas.

    And yes my 2 & 4 year old girls set the table every meal. That is very important to me.

    1. Just wait until they're teenagers, Keri. Everyone says that boys eat a lot, but teen girls can hold their own! Thanks for commenting.

  3. My three already eat quite a bit. We joke that the time is coming when we'll have to double everything.

    My husband introduced me to cutting pancakes, etc. with the pizza cutter. It was a revelation to me because my family never owned one.


    1. Now that you mention it, Amanda, I don't remember my family ever owning one either. It's interesting what we can come up with when we're desperate for a better way. So glad you visited!

  4. Thanks for the tips. I'll have to look into getting the larger size pyrex dish. My MIL has one, but I've never seen one for sale. I also use a pizza cutter for various things (tortillas, quesadillas, etc.)

    1. I've included in the post an affiliate link to the product on Amazon. Mine actually came from Aldi when they got a few sets in, but you might try Target or a kitchen store. Thanks for visiting, Suanna!

  5. After going through numerous drinking glasses (I have a bit of an aversion to plastic), we settled on using pint size canning jars to drink from (jelly jars fit nicely into smaller hands). They are thicker than glasses, so they are much sturdier. Add a colorful wristband to assign cups for the day.

    Since I have older daughters now, for a few years we've had assigned meal prep; one daughter with a helper preparing dinner one or two nights a week. But then I began realizing how much fun we all have together on special occasions and holidays; all of us in the kitchen working together to prepare the meal. So now we are trying something new; whoever is available to help, joins the food prep party. Many hands not only make light work, but make it more enjoyable as well!

    1. Another great use for canning jars, Cheryl! I agree on the plastic -- it makes everything taste funny. Thanks for the great ideas!

  6. Such great tips!! I've really enjoyed reading your blog tonight.

    A few months ago I discovered the big rectangle pan (stove top) that covers two eyes. Oh, my goodnes...BEST THING EVER! We have 3 small eyes on our stove and only one big one. There are 5 of us and we usually double or triple a recipe to have enough for everyone and some to freeze for later. I have even been known to quadruple or quintuple a batch of pancakes to freeze for weekday mornings! So needless to say, the little eyes don't cut it for much of anything! Cooking pancakes in a little pan took at least an hour. Yeah, not fun. But in just 15 minutes or so on this huge pan I am done! I can actually eat breakfast with my family! That is a very welcome change! My husband keeps eye-ing it when he's cooking bacon (he's the official bacon cooker), but I haven't been willing relinquished it from the pancakes yet. I'll have to let him use it when I'm cooking waffles one day.

    Love the tip to use more then one crock pot. I hadn't thought of that. We do have two waffle makers. One of which my parents received when they got married. It's a sandwich maker also. The cooking surface flips and is flat on the other side. That's actually how I learned to cook pancakes & eggs growing up. It's also a great quesadilla maker or burrito grill. I love when things have so many purposes! Oh, and on that note, pizza cutters are great to cut quesadillas too.

    Totally random "multiple uses" tip: my mother discovered last time she was at my house (lives halfway across the country from us) that the super cheap (thin) spatula I have, that wasn't much good for anything, makes a GREAT sticker remover. My littles like to stick stickers on our hard floor when we're not looking. The thin spatula was perfect to slip right underneath the stickers and get them right up! I had given up and just left them there. Yeah, not a very good look. :)

    1. We sprung a while back for a Pampered Chef griddle, and it sits over two burners. I didn't think about that as a suggestion, so thanks for mentioning it! It allows me to fix a quadruple batch of pancakes also. :)

      Love the spatula for getting stickers up. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Christina!


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