There’s been a lot of coverage in the news over the last few weeks about large US families, and it’s fair to say that many people are curious about how they run, hence the popularity of TV programmes such as ’19 kids and counting’. Glossing over the many and various religious and political agendas flying around (I could write at least ten polemical posts on all of that, but I won’t), in this post I’d like to peel back the layers a bit of our own household.
We often have anything up to eight people around at home at any one time, and all this needs a careful hand at the tiller in order to prevent chaos. Here are ten ways larger families streamline life to make more time for the important things, such as hanging out with the kids.
1. Try not to do more laundry in a day that you can wash, dry and put away. This avoids your home looking like a refugee camp.
2. If your house looks like a tip, go around with an empty laundry basket and pick up all the rogue items lying around in the wrong place, and put them in it. Then make one of the kids put it all away. Pay them to do this if necessary.
3. If you find a room hard to tidy up, you either have too much stuff or not enough shelving. Sort out either or both of those to remove mess and related energy drain.
4. Children do not need to attend dozens of expensive clubs in order to mature properly, with parents driving them around like wannabe Uber chauffeurs. To simplify children’s extra-curricular lives, allow everyone a maximum of one after school music activity and one sports activity a week, preferably in similar times and locations, and that’s it. If these can take place at their school at minimal cost, so much the better. If they don’t want to do extra-curricular activities, that’s fine. Let them just play out with their friends after school.
5. Your home is not a restaurant. Allow people to eat three square meals a day, the same food at the same time, then the kitchen is closed. No grazing, no picking, no making of mess. If people are hungry between meals, direct them to the fruit bowl, or if they are teenagers or sporty people, allow them to make toast as long as they clear up afterwards. You will save money and a lot of time cleaning if you are suitably draconian about this. It also becomes easier to manage your children’s weight and nutritional intake properly.
6. Specify quiet hours where people need to keep noise and music down in order for everyone to get enough rest. Ours are 9pm to 7am, for example. Yours will depend on the ages of your children, working hours and so on.
7. When there are a few things that are getting annoying, such as acts of selfishness or rule breaching, we call a family meeting. Everyone sits around the table, we all get refreshments, and we have an agenda. We discuss the points of annoyance and agree a way forward. We then sign a short agreement confirming what has been said. It works miracles, frankly.
8. If children repeatedly get in trouble with school for forgetting homework, uniform, PE kit, lunch money and so on, make them responsible for the consequences rather than you. After alerting the school to your cunning plan, supply them with a list of what is required on which day, and stick it up somewhere obvious. Do not run into school with forgotten items for them. Allow them to get into trouble and get detentions if necessary. They will soon work out what they need to remember. If you mention this at a parents’ evening consultation, any teacher will back you up. Teachers love nothing more than children learning to take responsibility for their own stuff, supported by parents.
9. There’s a lot to be said for keeping a Box of Last Resort to hand. You can find out how to create one here. https://austerityhousekeeping.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/box-of-last-resort/
10. When the going gets tough, the tough go out for a family walk. Many arguments and difficulties are caused by sitting around the house too much. Fresh air followed by a hot chocolate or a cup of tea can solve a lot of problems.
I’ve been nosying around my winter survival cupboard today to see what needs topping up, and I am about to make a big trip to the cash and carry to stock up on tins. Interestingly enough, a lot of tinned foods have more vitamins in them than fresh food that things that have been lying around your kitchen for a week or so. Here are some great additions to a store cupboard that I will be bringing home later.
Tinned tomatoes – these come in different forms but particularly useful are the ones with garlic and herbs already in the mix. Passata in large jars can go onto home made pizza bases with a big of grated cheese and some salami for a Saturday treat.
Pulses – try different kinds such as lentils, chickpeas, borlotti beans, butter beans, mixed spicy beans and canneloni beans. Great with mince, in salads, to bulk out a bolognaise or shepherd’s pie, or to make an instant vegetarian chili.
Stone fruits – cherries, plums and mirabelles make great crumbles and pies, can be served with cream or yoghurt for a quick dessert, and can even be added to smoothies or put on top of muesli.
Exotic fruits – pineapple, lychees, mangos are all wonderful to have around, and give you the makings of a very sophisticated winter fruit salad, but look for tins which state they are in their own juices rather than in syrup.
Fish – Sardines, mackerel, salmon, tuna and even shrimps are all great for sandwiches, pasta dishes, fish pie, salads and little toasts to have as a nibble with a glass of wine.
Image: xedos4 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Here are the top ten items you should make sure you always have in your kitchen, to produce easy lunches or suppers in super-quick time.
2. Bacon or ham
8. Pasta or noodles
Here are some dishes you can concoct in emergencies from these ingredients:
1+2+6+7 – Scrambled eggs and ham
2+3+5+7 – Fried potatoes with bacon
1+2+7+8 – Pasta with ham
1+2+6+8 – Spaghetti carbonara
1+2+9 – Fried egg and bacon sandwich
1+2+6 – Omelette
1+7+9+10+cinammon/sugar/Nutella/honey – French toast
4+5+6 – Potato gratin
1+10+flour+sugar – Pancakes
For more inspiration, check out this blog as well, which has wonderful quiches and a great one-pot carbonara recipe: http://saltandcaramel.com/?p=1258
By popular request, here are two nettle soup recipes for you to make the most of all those lovely vitamins and minerals in the tops of the nettles. Just make sure you are wearing gloves and only remove the young, fresh shoots from the top of each plant, and avoid collecting them from areas that are too near traffic or where they might have been sprayed with pesticides.
1 lb nettle tops or enough freshly picked ones to fill your largest saucepan, pressed down a bit
Tbsp olive oil
1 pint chicken stock
Sprinkle of nutmeg
Dash of creme fraiche
Chop the nettle tops roughly and saute them with the onion, allowing the mixture to sweat in the pan a little. Then pour over the chicken stock (you can also use vegetable stock if you prefer). Cook until the leaves and onion are really soft and then puree the soup in a blender and season with salt and pepper as desired. Add nutmeg to taste. Serve with a cheeky little dash of creme fraiche.
1/2 lb nettle tops
1 lb floury potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
2 oz butter
1 1/2 pints chicken or vegetable stock
4 tbsp double cream
Chop the nettle tops roughly and saute them with the onion, allowing the mixture to sweat in the pan a little as in the previous recipe. Then pour over the chicken stock (again, you can also use vegetable stock if you prefer). Cook until the leaves and onion are really soft and add the potato. Cook until the potato is soft enough to mash into the soup. Strain the soup to remove lumps (a French mouli-legumes is best for this, but if you don’t have one, just strain it through a colander. Don’t use a blender or food processor as it will get gelatinous). Finally stir in the cream and season to taste. Good served with bacon bits sprinkled on top, if you have any.