Having six kids in an exercise in perpetual organization.
One of the tricks I have that allows me to get so much done (kids, work, volunteer activity, writing) is that every morning I sit down with a cup of coffee and I write a to-do list for the day.
Every single morning.
And then I move through the list item by item. I even create little checkoff boxes near the tasks so I can see my progress throughout the day.
I do love and live by my lists.
But to be fair,I have always been a consummate list maker, even as a kid I’d organize items and thoughts in one of the notebooks that I always carried. But never was this superskill more helpful than when we would go on our family vacations. I’d carefully write out a list of absolutely everything we’d ever need (Toothpaste, sunscreen, Advil and bandaids. Snacks to keep kids quiet during the car ride. Enough clothing to anticipate a few spills, etc.) Each list would be subcategorized into one for the kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, and would always include a separate list for each child (DO NOT forget the favorite blankie of child #2.)
We’d start every vacation off with the same tired joke “well if we didn’t pack it, we don’t need it.”
When I realized that I’d have to feed my tribe 3 meals a day for decades, my list making skills went into high gear.
On Sundays, I’d sit down and write a menu for the week which included using anticipated leftovers the next day after certain meals. After the menu, I’d create a shopping list based on the ingredients needed for those meals.
Breakfasts were always a choice of frozen waffles, English muffins, or cereal.
School lunches consisted of either dinner leftovers or a sandwich with chips or crackers and a piece of fruit.
Dinners had protein with vegetables and a salad. As the kids got older (especially the boys) I’d also have bread with butter and usually a hefty serving of potatoes – mashed, baked, or sauted.
Snacks were fruit, cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or brownies – the rule was if you wanted a snack then you had to get it yourself. Snacking because you were bored was expressly frowned upon. Food was just too precious.
By writing all this down and having a plan on how to feed my family for the week, I ended up going to the grocery store only once a week and spent about $180 each time I shopped, organization clearly pays off.
As my kids got older and left to live on their own, I started slacking off on the weekly organizing and shopping. I mean seriously, I had put in my time, right? My husband and I started to rely a little too much on takeout and meals at restaurants. Meals at home became a hodgepodge of whatever was available – cereal for dinner? Sure, why not?
And then COVID came along with its enforced lockdown. I have a medical biology background. I understand how viruses and transmission works. I got that you need to protect yourself and your family.
I got it – message received.
I also have a son who is immunologically compromised and while he wasn’t living with us, we still had to make sure that we were “clean” the few times we met up with him to transfer gifts or supplies.
All of the sudden, it became vitally important to go shopping as infrequently as possible.
Once a mom, always a mom – I dusted off my dinner list making skills and sat down once again to make meal lists except that this time I wasn’t making them for a week, I was trying to see how many weeks I could get out of one trip to the grocery store.
Like before I made my meal plans and then created my shopping list. High on the supplies were pasta, sauces, frozen vegetables and eggs. Spices were also important – we have learned that quality flavorful wins over quantity.
After each shopping trip, we’d gorge on the fresh fruit and soft vegetables in the first week or two and then switch to the longer storing items like eggs, potatoes, squash, apples and oranges. Meats were divided into dinner portions and frozen. I’d buy cans of beans so that I could sprinkle them on meals in the same way one would sprinkle parsley. Just a few here and there for protein.
Frivolous foods didn’t make the shopping cut. Items that packed a flavorful punch – sun dried tomatoes, spiced meats, feta cheese, and pesto did.
I paid attention to serving sizes – a handful of chips, not the entire bag. A chicken thigh or two not a full breast. One English muffin with butter for breakfast. The goal was to eat well while making the groceries last.
During the worst of the pandemic, I ended up going to the grocery store about once every 6 weeks and while we did end up eating a little too many carbs (see reference to pasta and cookies) we did end up eating pretty well. We even managed to avoid the dreaded Covid 19 pounds that afflicted so many who were desperate for emotional and physical nourishment.
My family was lucky. No one got really sick from COVID (although it does look like two of us actually had mild cases of it) However, thanks to the extraordinary super-mom-power skills of already running a household with 6 kids by using organizational lists, I was able to help guide my family through the worst of this global pandemic by getting the food we needed with as few trips to the outside world as possible.
Wendy Thomas is a mom of 6, a former NH State Rep, and a protector of all things great and small.