Meal Planning for a Large Family

Planning meals for a family of 8 is no small feat. I have been off and on the wagon of meal planning and budget-based grocery shopping for a few months. Sometimes it takes too much of my brain-space to bother with it and we just go to the store and get what sounds good. That’s been my default plan lately and its kind of killing my wallet.

So for the summer, I decided one major task I was going to make a habit was menu planning and grocery shopping for a crowd of monkeys my lovely family. The caveat here is that I am also trying to slash our grocery bill since my poor infirmed wallet was crying mercy. I don’t do couponing or shop the sales, I just simply don’t have the time or energy to bother with all that. But I do like to control everything and being a organized and efficient housewife major control freak lends itself to succeeding in this area if one puts her mind to it.

Upon investigating pinterest (duh) for menu plans on the cheap, I found lots of ideas but none of them were the perfect fit for our large family – most were for a family of 4 –  and many of them included meals my hooligans wouldn’t eat. And in addition they were almost all for dinners only. My people eat 5 times a day, so I had to be able to feed all 8 of us all day long for about $7/day. Impossible?? Perhaps. But, of course my stubborn side took over and I decided to take my hand at this challenge and come up with my own menu and meal plan + grocery list for a large family 3 nutritious meals and 2 snacks per day for $50/week. I went to my favorite grocer, Aldi, and meticulously followed my list and even added a couple little things like chocolate chips for cookies and a nice big watermelon for cheap! And when it was all said and done, including tax and 5 plastic bags, I came in under my budget by about 40 cents.

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Here is my menu for nearly two weeks worth of meals and snacks. I say nearly because the first Sunday of the 2 week span didn’t count as I grocery shopped on the Monday. Theoretically, though, there is enough food here to do another full day of leftovers somewhere in the middle or a spontaneous new meal from all the goodies purchased. And in fact, this budget & grocery list included a dinner meal and a breakfast meal that we are making for dear friends who just had a baby. So technically that really is the 14th day of meals right there. Kind of awesome and beautiful that this very tight budget and well thought-out menu plan allows for us to still be generous with our time and resources to bless those around us.

June Menu Plan

As you can see the snacks aren’t on here. I allow them to choose their snack pretty often and they get to choose from our snack drawer in the fridge or in the pantry. Some items I always try to have on hand:

Granola Bars
Goldfish
Energy Bites
Popcorn
Cut Veggies
Fruit
Seasoned Pretzels
Cookies
Muffins

 

As well, we often have applesauce, nuts, veggies & hummus, yogurt, crackers & laughing cow wedge cheese, belvita, and apple slices in the house for them to choose from. For this 2 week span, I didn’t stock up on a ton of snacks, as we have fruit, popcorn, veggies, goldfish, and the ingredients to make granola bars and energy bites on hand. I did purchase the goods necessary to make a few batches of cookies and muffins or quick breads.

My shopping list doesn’t include many of the staples you would normally already have in your kitchen. I try very hard to stagger out the purchase of those staples and to buy certain things in bulk which allows for a little more wiggle room on a monthly basis in our budget. When menu planning, I shop my freezer or pantry first: what do I already have on hand that we need to or want to use first and plan meals around that. Then come up with your 3 meals for every day and formulate your grocery list from there.

flour tortillas 4
salsa 2
corn 1
cilantro 1
sour cream 2
shredded cheese 2
Ham 7
bread x4 5
applesauce 2
spaghetti 2
spag sauce 2
cream cheese 4
oats 3
Almond Milk 2
frozen hashbrowns 4
pork sausage 3
Miracle Whip 3
Eggs 4
Apples 3
sugar 1
syrup 2
Chicken Breast 23 23
Gr. Beef 4lbs 8
Mini Bagels 2
hot dogs 3
buns 2
pretzels 2
veg oil 2
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I wrote out every item we would need for these meals, that we didn’t already have, and the approximate cost at Aldi (with the exception of the Chicken Breasts which I had planned on getting from Costco – which is 10lbs of Chicken for $23 – but as it turns out I opted for a smaller bag of chicken from Aldi and was able to sneak in a few little extras into this shop with the overage that provided me). The extra items I ended up purchasing were: watermelon, 2 additional dozen eggs (at $0.68 each!!!!!), yogurt tubes, an additional sour cream, 2 packages of chocolate chips for cookies, an additional pound of pork sausage and an additional pound of ground beef and some canned green beans & corn. I am pretty happy with that last minute change I decided upon. Usually the investment in a large bag of chicken from Costco means more room in my budget next time since I have that in my freezer to shop from but this seemed to make more sense right now for what our menu looks like.

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It was a LOT of food. My guesstimate budget was $101 and my actual total at the checkout was $100.53. I know. Even I was impressed with myself. Ha. I got so excited by this little victory that I decided to share the awesomeness with you all. Because that’s what friends do. Or as they say: friends don’t let friends spend too much on groceries. Wait, they don’t say that? Well they will now. I am basically a trend-setter y’all. 

I will plan to share some of my recipes and details on how I use some of this food to stretch it across 14 days worth of meals in my next post. Including the recipe for this delicious breakfast casserole!

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Stay tuned!

 

 

 

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Lost & Found

If we have met in person, and talked for more than 5 minutes, you probably know that I have a passion for story-telling. More specifically, telling stories through photography and preserving those photos in beautiful scrapbooks for my family.

Years decades ago, when I was first introduced to scrapbooking, it was all pretty paper and cutesy stickers and glue. Lots and lots of glue. But then, as all things do, scrapbooking evolved. And now, in order to scrapbook an entire year of my family’s life, all I need is my handy laptop, an external harddrive, and a moscow mule. Change is good.

Well, most of the time.

Long story short, and three laptops later, and online photo-hosts being bought out and getting rid of all files in my account… I was pretty sure I had LOST the jpeg files of the scrapbook pages of Emma’s baby book. This is a book I completed 6 years ago and have not ordered. And part of the reason I scrapbook digitally is to have a digital copy of these files should anything happy to the hard copy. But in this case, I had not yet purchased a hard copy and I was panicked to find the digital copy!

So tonight, I pulled out my old dinosaur HP laptop and said a little prayer. And while we watched Once Upon a Time as a family (GREAT show by the way!) I slowly combed through the files only to successfully recover these images! I am so happy!

Here is a little sneak peak of Emma’s baby book images:

Emma's Baby Book - Page 001 Emma's Baby Book - Page 002 Emma's Baby Book - Page 005 Emma's Baby Book - Page 012 Emma's Baby Book - Page 013 Emma's Baby Book - Page 029 Emma's Baby Book - Page 032 Emma's Baby Book - Page 040 Emma's Baby Book - Page 046 Emma's Baby Book - Page 049 Emma's Baby Book - Page 052 Emma's Baby Book - Page 054

Revisiting a Favorite Recipe

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Chicken Farfalle with Balsamic Poppyseed Reduction Sauce

1 box Farfalle pasta – the bowties!

6 boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins (again, you can adjust this. I have made it with less when I had less on hand….and more when I can – I have even made it without meat at all!)

1 tsp poppyseeds

Shredded Asiago cheese to taste (we put about 1/3 c in the dish once it’s cooked up, and then use some to sprinkle on our own plates once it’s served)

Marinade:

1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar

4 cloves garlic, minced

6 TB water

4 TB Dijon Mustard

8 TB sugar

Stir together the marinade ingredients and pour it over the chicken. Allow to marinade anywhere from 3 hours to overnight. Boil the pasta. Grill up the chicken. Once it is all grilled up, cut into small bite sized pieces – small enough for the little ones to eat! Boil the excess marinade until it reduces by half. (When I don’t use meat, I just do this as a sauce.) Add the poppyseeds. Toss everything together, top with extra asiago cheese shreds and serve with your favorite colorful salad!

#wearethefosters

Life has been an adventure around these parts the last 3 weeks or so. We got our license to foster parent in writing just about a month ago. Dec 4th.

It was a Wednesday.

Then we spent the entire weekend wondering if we would get a call. And we did not. It wasn’t disappointing of course, it was just nerve-wracking. We had our dear friend’s oldest daughter who goes to college in a nearby town over to our home all weekend so she could rest, eat real food, and I could do her laundry and buy her groceries. Just loving on her. So we were busy. But it was on our minds.

Then the call came. Tuesday, Nov 10th.

Our sweet, sweet littles came into our home that night. Late that night. They were tired and for sure a little bit scared. I fed them some animal crackers and milk and whether they were stress eating or really hungry, I couldn’t quite tell, but they munched for a long time while we got to know each other a little.

“Princess” is 4 1/2.  But really she is more like a very young 2-3 year old. She is verbal, but can be very hard to understand. She does not have most of the developmental markers of a 4 year old. We have no idea yet if this is due to an actual delay, or if she just hasn’t had the right stimulation/environment to nurture her along. She is also in 2T clothing, so it helps to remember her developmental stage, since she is so tiny. She is truly delightful and we are enjoying loving on our little Princess.

“Dash” is 2 1/2. But he is really more like a young one year old. He is also very small – wearing 18 month clothes and even they are roomy. He is smart as a whip, just like sister, but when he came to us he only said the following words:

bye, hi, drink, no, and he could sign ‘more’.

Since living with us, his speech has improved dramatically and his vocabulary has increased by at least 100 words. It’s been awesome to watch.

Highlights:

Emma & Timmy adore Princess & Dash. They dote on them and snuggle with them and tell them how much they love them. This was exactly what we were hoping for when we made the decision to bring children into our home for whatever season God had in mind.

Princess & Dash are both incredibly happy. They have adjusted really well to life in our family. It’s been kind of ridiculously easy. Natural. Right. Even things like family prayer every night, they each get settled in for it and can’t wait to bless everyone. Tonight we skipped because we did evening mass & devotions around the Advent dinner table and at bed, Princess couldn’t stop blessing me and asking for blessings. Beautiful.

Everything is just more fun with littles around. Going for a walk, going to the park, going to the store. Everything is more fun. They are so adorable, and so easy that we spend a lot of time giggling. Giggles are a balm to the soul.

and

Lows:

All.The.Diapers. I mean, for real, that’s not really a low, but kind of. I mean, we haven’t had diapers in our home for nearly 8 years and so this is just a bit of an adjustment.

All.The.Plastic. I am working really hard at doing some things differently than how we did with our littles – you know because you learn some things along the way. And as we get older, you know, things just shift. I love wood toys and soft felt things and creative experiences instead of plastic and lights and sounds. But then life happens and people are generous and give you things and you pull out the toys and they love them so much, that you just clean them up again and stick them on the shelf and you acknowledge that perhaps you have bigger fish to fry.

Mom. The kids call me Mommy. And mama. So when I talk about Mom, I am talking about the dear sweet woman who gave birth to these two sweet souls that sleep in the other room. Those sweet souls who call me Mommy and look to me for comfort when they are sad, or for just an extra touch of security when we are out of the house and they want to know I am still there. Friends, this is by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. I still simply cannot wrap my mind around this reality. It seems so completely impossible to me that some where tonight there is a woman whose children are absent from her life, from her home, from her sight and that she is so broken that she doesn’t seem to care. I am not saying she doesn’t care. But when you are supposed to have the first visit to see your children the week of Thanksgiving and you cancel, it really makes it seem like you don’t care. And my brain? It CANNOT figure that out. This tragic world has got me completely wrecked. And so I just do the next thing: I feed the children, homeschool the olders, fold the hundredth load of laundry, bathe the children, rock them to sleep, sing them all the songs, and pray my guts out over them. Then I crash into bed and do it all over again the next day.

Because really, I can’t wrap my brain around it. So I just live it.

All in all, our season of life, our experience of foster parenting thus far has been nothing short of miraculous. While I cannot wrap my brain around the tragedy of the situation itself, it is not lost on me that I am participating in the very real work of the Gospel and that is humbling and encouraging in a way that is just so authentic. I have never felt more fully alive. We are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing and for that I thank God every moment.

This video speaks to what foster care means when lived as a calling for the Kingdom.

You are not foster children, you are engrafted into my home.

I am your Mama. Everything that belongs to me, now belongs to you.

Same way with the Kingdom. Now you’re engrafted into the Kingdom of God and everything that belongs to the Kingdom of God belongs to you.

An Open Letter to our Family about Foster Care Part Two

Dear Family –

As you know, we are in the process of getting licensed as foster parents. If you would like to read more about our decision to pursue fostering, please read:

https://justameasureofgrace.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/a-journey-of-love-heartache-and-hope/

And if you are just tuning into this series, you can read part one HERE

Thank you for all of your support and love through this process. We are so blessed to have family and friends who have helped see us through to this point. Very soon the real work begins, and we’re going to need that love and support more than ever.

We know that our decision to foster will affect you as well, and we are hoping that this series of letters will help to answer some of your questions and set us all up for success in helping these little people through this rocky patch in their lives. In fact, YOU are one of the reasons we are doing this in the first place. We know that any child who comes into our home doesn’t just come into our little home, but rather, they step into a large, loving family and suddenly their bench becomes very deep. They will forever have a humungous team of people on their side, ready to cheer them on when they succeed, cry with them when they hurt, and pray for them when they struggle. Thank you for being our ‘bench’ – and thank you for opening your hearts to the littles that need you so very much to be on their bench as well.

Here are more details about what to expect:

Pictures
DCFS policy is that pictures of foster children may not be posted online. We won’t be able to post or email pictures of the kids, and we’ll need your cooperation in not posting pictures that you may take of the kids. We will ‘get around’ this by taking pictures from behind or of just their feet, etc. And we just ask you to err on the side of not posting anything of our kiddos who are in care.

Inclusion in Family & Gift Giving Policy
Other than confidentiality issues, we will treat these children as members of our family. We must insist that everyone respect this policy. The kiddos who come into care in our home for a season  will be treated equally to how our biological children are treated, especially when it comes to holidays, birthdays, or other gift-giving occasions. We never expect gifts for any of our children. But if you choose to give gifts, you’ll need to plan to give equally to all of the kids who are in our care at that time.

Behavior and Discipline
While we are taking in relatively mild-mannered kiddos, you may still observe unusual or seemingly alarming behaviors from them. Accordingly, you may also see us utilizing some unusual discipline techniques (varying from very easy-going to very strict). We ask you to remember that we’re working with a team of professionals on a behavioral and discipline plan tailored to each individual child. If you have concerns that you feel the need to discuss with us, please bring them up in private, away from the child. Comments like “Oh, can’t she just have the ice cream,” when said right in front of the child, can result in a major setback that may make very little sense to you, but for all you know the child may have MAJOR food triggers due to having gone for days and weeks without food at home. Again, trusting us to take the lead here is key.

Also, DCFS law states that ONLY the foster parents are allowed to discipline the foster child. If you’ll be spending time with the kids, it will be very important for you to understand and adhere to this policy.

Meeting Their Needs

It is very important for these kiddos to learn healthy attachment. To make a long story short, this comes down to bonding through the hierarchy of needs at the most fundamental levels in order to promote healthy psychological growth. We as their foster parents need to meet all of their most basic biological needs. We must be the ones to feed them, clothe them, rock them to sleep, tuck them in, discipline them, hug them, hold their hands, and take care of their personal hygiene needs. When all their needs are being met through us, bonds of trust form that can actually begin the healing process for much bigger wounds they may have endured. We have taken many classes on this subject and Stacey has completed training on Trauma Parenting and would be happy to answer any questions you have about this.

Holidays and Special Events
We LOVE seeing all of our friends and family for holidays and special occasions and certainly hope to be able to incorporate any new kiddos in our family into these cherished events. However, some of them may have difficulty with the stress of large groups, new people, new food, and higher expectations for behavior. We ask for your patience and understanding when we may have to miss an event, arrive late, leave early, or perhaps one parent has to stay home with a kiddo who isn’t going to have a very successful time at that event.

What Do They Call Us?
Any new kiddos that come to stay with us will have the option of calling us Ms. Stacey & Mr. Tim, or “mom and dad,” or something similar. We’ll invite them to address you with the same terms that our biological children use (grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, etc.).

What Do We Call Them?
This is so important. No child wants to be known as “the foster kid.” We will refer to any children in our care as our kids, our son, our daughter. We ask you to please be sensitive to this, and do not refer to a child or introduce them as a “foster child,” particularly in that child’s presence, and to your own children – as that would get repeated. If you could refrain from using that phrase at all, that would be awesome. Feel free to refer to them as you would with our biological children (my grandchild, niece, nephew, etc.). Or, if that isn’t comfortable for you, you can refer to them as our child (my brother’s son, my friend’s daughter, etc.).

About Building Attachments
The question is sometimes raised with foster care if it isn’t detrimental to encourage children to become attached to their foster family. In fact, there was a time about 20 years ago when foster children were intentionally moved to new foster homes on a regular basis to avoid this attachment. We now know that learning to build attachments is one of the most important elements to living a happy and satisfied life. As children bond with us they gradually learn the joy that comes from bonding and how to trust safe adults, and it builds their sense of self-worth. If the child can learn to attach successfully, they can then repeat that attachment process with others throughout their life. This is a vital process, even if they are not with us forever.

The challenge is for us to bond, fearing the pain of losing the relationship when they leave. We expect that you may have this fear as well, but we ask for you to keep the children’s best interests in mind, and open your heart to them.

Stay tuned for Part 3: How you can help!

An Open Letter to our Family about Foster Care

Dear Family –

As you know, we are in the process of getting licensed as foster parents. If you would like to read more about our decision to pursue fostering, please read:

https://justameasureofgrace.wordpress.com/2015/06/12/a-journey-of-love-heartache-and-hope/

Thank you for all of your support and love through this process. We are so blessed to have family and friends who have helped see us through to this point. Very soon the real work begins, and we’re going to need that love and support more than ever.

We know that our decision to foster will affect you as well, and we are hoping that this series of letters will help to answer some of your questions and set us all up for success in helping these little people through this rocky patch in their lives. In fact, YOU are one of the reasons we are doing this in the first place. We know that any child who comes into our home doesn’t just come into our little home, but rather, they step into a large, loving family and suddenly their bench becomes very deep. They will forever have a humungous team of people on their side, ready to cheer them on when they succeed, cry with them when they hurt, and pray for them when they struggle. Thank you for being our ‘bench’ – and thank you for opening your hearts to the littles that need you so very much to be on their bench as well.

We’ll tell you now that we’re sorry this is so long, and we’re sorry it sounds so bossy. We were trying to keep it as brief as possible, so it may sound a little “short” in some places. But know that we love you, and we don’t mean for it to sound “short.” If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask – we love talking about this stuff! Otherwise, we’ll let you know as soon as we get our first placement!

Placements to Expect
We anticipate being fully licensed and waiting for a placement in the next couple of weeks! We are open to one to four kids, ages birth through ten years old. We’re open to any gender or race. We could get a call for a placement the day that we’re licensed or it could be several weeks or even months before we get a call. The kids could be staying with us anywhere from a few days to several years.

Confidentiality
When we get a placement we will of course share with you the children’s names, ages, birthdates, personalities, and other such details. However the family history, reasons for placement, medical status, and other aspects of the children’s lives are confidential and we will not be able to share these details with you. It’s just not our story to tell. We ask you to trust us when it comes to this information. We would never knowingly put any of our biological children, or yours,  in harms way. The screening process is incredibly detailed and rigorous, and we have been very clear about what types of behaviors we would be willing to parent. Of course this list is pretty personal, but to give you a basic run down, here is how we have classified things:

We will accept green flag behaviors/situations

We have to think/discuss/pray about yellow flag behaviors/situations

We will absolutely not accept any red-flag behaviors

So what are these flags? This was Tim & I’s personal classification system that we came up with while we were in the 13 week formation of foster parents/adoptive families. Here is a sampling of our flags, which will give you an idea of what types of kiddos might be placed in our home:

Green Flags: wetting the bed, lying, ADD, asthma, not sitting still in school, talking back, swearing, wears glasses, etc.

Yellow Flags: more serious medical needs, stealing, hitting, subjected to physical abuse, etc.

Red Flags: abusive behaviors, sexually acting out, starting fires, harming pets, destruction of property, inability to attach, etc.

So as you can see, we are really on the list to take in larger sibling groups who have suffered (typically) some form of neglect, as opposed to severely abused children with extreme behaviors – we know that there is a need for these types of foster homes, we just don’t feel as though we are in a place to provide that right now.

What Do We Tell Our Children?

This is where we let the kiddos really amaze us. It can be quite simple.

You: Uncle Tim & Aunt Stacey and the kids are coming for Thanksgiving and this year they will have 2 new kiddos to spend Thanksgiving with us! They are 6 & 7 and they love to play sports & legos.

Your kid: Well, who are these kids? Why are they coming?

You: They are just two little boys who needed a family to spend Thanksgiving with and isn’t it great that we have so much family that we can share it with others?

Your kid: Yep. Wait…. are they adopting these kids? Will they be our new cousins?

You: Well, we don’t know anything about adoption so lets just not worry about that. For now, you can treat them like you would your cousins because they are living with Aunt Stacey & Uncle Tim and they are being loved and cared for just like they are family – so that’s how we will welcome them, okay?

Your kid: Sure. Where are their real mom & dad?

You: That’s a tough question, kiddo, and one I don’t know the answer to. Maybe we can talk about that some other time. But I do know this, it might make them sad to talk about it, so do you think you could not ask them about it while we are at Thanksgiving dinner?

Your kid: Yep. Can I have some goldfish?

Kids amaze me at how very wise & resilient they are. And they can ask questions directly to the kiddos that are placed with us – we often take their lead and let them answer – it’s important if you overhear a conversation like that to just send me a text or let me know privately what you heard – so that we can know what ‘story’ they are telling – gives us a LOT of insight into how to best love them. Like if mom is incarcerated but they tell everyone she is dead, I would need to know, obviously.

What about you & your interaction with the new nieces or nephews? It’s simple. Just introduce who you are (how you would like them to address you) and what your role is. And then be super casual. Please don’t offer them food. Let us do that. But offering to show them where to go play is perfectly fine.

You: Hi, Wolverine, my name is Aunt Susannah, and I live here. I am Tim’s sister. These are my kiddos: Spot, Daisy, & Willy. My husband is Uncle BillyBob and we are really happy you are here. Would you like to see where the toys are?

Wolverine: Hi. Yep.

I have many books that I will send links to if you are interested in getting your kiddos more comfortable with the idea of temporary cousins. 🙂

Flexibility is the name of the game – more than anything, just know that we are all going to navigate it together.

Stay tuned for the next in the series…. with some more practical tips.

Superheroes

We have not yet received our license.

It’s been weeks.

Still, we have gotten a call about providing respite for 2 little boys over Thanksgiving. For 9 days. Two little boys that have one more little brother. The agency is hoping we can get to know them over the course of those 9 days and let them know if we think they’d be a good fit in our family….forever. We will call them Wolverine & Ironman & the youngest one we will call Flash.

superhero-kids-day-1

Wolverine is 7. Ironman is 6. And Flash is 2. (this is NOT them in the picture above) 

From all accounts they have been in care for 2ish years and their biological parents rights have been terminated. They are looking for their forever family.

We said yes that we would be happy to provide respite for Wolverine & Ironman over Thanksgiving while their foster parents go out of the country. We wish Flash could come as well but we are not sure about whether or not that will work out. He is in a different foster family and I think we will at least get to meet him, and maybe even have him come over night just to see how it goes.

But all of this hinges on us getting our license in time. It’s the craziest thing I have ever experienced, this slooooooooow moving train.

Because they say there are so many kids who need foster families. And yet they seem to take their sweet time licensing those of us who are willing and able to take kids yesterday. Meh. Stupid broken system.

And in the meantime…

We have been matched for adoption with yet another sib group – this time there are 5 of them. We wait the long wait now as they compare us on paper and in pictures to 2 other families who would love to give these kiddos a forever family. Praise God there are 3 families to choose from that legitimately WANT these sweet kiddos. So on that we just wait.wait.wait. Always an adventure.

***Edited to add:

Well today we got a call for 4 littles. Could they come tonight?

Um, sorry, we still don’t have our license.

What in the world?!?

So I actually called DCF and the lady there checked on our license and it was actually being worked on “right that minute”. Hmph. Convenient.

So now, we wait for their person to come out to ‘survey’ the inspection that has already been done on the house, and then we should have a license in the next week or so. Ha. Who wants to bet it takes another 2 months?