I know sometimes people are curious about what life looks like when you’re raising a bunch of young kids. Every once in a while I get the, “How do you do it?” question. While most of the time I just laugh because the reality is I don’t feel like I generally do “it” very well (whatever “it” may be), there are some tricks I’ve learned along the way that have simplified our lives. Not all large families make these choices, but if you’re a mom who needs structure and organization to thrive you might find this helpful. Having lots of kids can seem like total chaos, but many of us find ways to create routines that help us make order out of the hectic crazy of our lives.
When we were houseparents at a group home I was responsible for meal planning for our home. We usually had 6-8 boys (mostly teens) and they could EAT. Some of them also struggled with some anxiety about food. If you haven’t had consistent meals at some point in your life, you can start to become a little obsessive about knowing what your next meal will be. In order to make my life simple and make life consistent and predictable for our kids, I decided we’d eat the same foods for breakfast each day of the week. So for the nearly five years we worked there we ate muffins on Mondays, cereal on Tuesdays, oatmeal on Wednesdays, cereal on Thursdays, waffles on Fridays, and cereal over the weekend.
Having that level of predictability meant we weren’t forever answering the question, “What’s for breakfast tomorrow?” every night. The kids knew. We knew. I didn’t wake up and wonder what I had to make. I had an easy time making my grocery list every week because I knew exactly what I needed for breakfasts. Not every home is going to need that level of routine, but it really worked for us.
I should also mention that I stink at doing anything mentally taxing before 9 a.m. You should not trust me with a recipe or a hot burner because I am just not a really conscious human being at that point. I value simplicity in the mornings and I make a big dinner in the evenings. If you love doing a big breakfast, have at it. The point isn’t about eating a particular kind of food, but about the benefit of having a routine.
We also had a snack routine for the boys so I wasn’t always having to make decisions about what was an appropriate snack for the day. The decision fatigue involved in parenting a large family is intense. Sometimes you just need decisions to be made ahead of time. For some reason, kids are a lot less likely to argue with a weekly schedule on the fridge than they are likely to argue with you when you’re making decisions on the fly.
Dinners were more varied, although we did have a specific night for leftovers, a night they made their own dinner, and Fridays were always pizza nights. We kept a menu on the fridge so they could see what they’d be eating each day and we were able to look through each day and week and be sure they were getting a well-rounded selection of healthy foods.
Now that I’m raising kids who don’t struggle quite as much with food issues, I’m able to let go of a little of that rigidity. We don’t have a snack list, dinners aren’t quite that predictable, but I do stick to a breakfast routine. At this point we do oatmeal on Mondays, cereal on Tuesdays, eggs and toast on Wednesdays, cereal on Thursdays, fruit and yogurt and toast on Fridays, cereal on the weekends.
I am not proposing this as some kind of nutritional ideal or the way I think every family needs to do things, I’m just giving you a peek into what makes our family run smoothly. For some people this kind of a strict routine would squelch their joy, but it helps me embrace mine. My kids know what to expect which keeps whining to a minimum. They can help get things ready before I’m even in the kitchen, if need be. They have breakfasts they love and they learn to tolerate other options as well. The 7 and 10 year-olds have learned how to make fried and scrambled eggs. We’ve varied the routine as we’ve found new things we want to incorporate or old standbys lose their luster.
Motherhood is about finding what works for you and your kids. If you’re struggling in the mornings to get your kids to eat a healthy breakfast, or you’re struggling to maintain your sanity in the chaos, maybe a breakfast routine is worth a try. Let me know if you do! And I’d love to hear what makes your family run smoothly, too!