Kitchen Simplicity: How We Handle Large Family Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Monday, November 25, 2019

About a year and a half ago, I got serious about menu planning—it made a huge difference in streamlining grocery shopping and eliminating stress from a normal day, but people often asked why I didn't "plan" breakfasts and lunches.

The reason?

We eat the same thing every day.

Does it get boring? Honestly, no. The kids appreciate the stability, it eliminates decision fatigue, cleanup is a breeze, and it's all stuff the *kids* can make themselves if/when I'm otherwise occupied.

It seems so obvious to me that this would be a reasonable solution, but every time I mention it, multiple moms *cannot believe* what a huge difference this makes!

So what do we eat?
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For breakfast:

Bread & spread. This can mean a lot of things - we always have homemade sourdough, sandwich bread, and usually bagels. Then we have butter, homemade jam, peanut butter, honey, and usually cream cheese. The kids decide what they want on any given day, and anyone 6-and-up makes it themselves. Then they help their younger siblings if I'm not able to.

I banned cereal ages ago; it either ended up on the floor, languished soggily in bowls, or got snuck outside of regular mealtimes, leaving detritus all around the kitchen. Plus they were hungry again 30 minutes later! With the bread & spread option, they're able to make things themselves with minimal mess, they stay full longer, and they've got plenty of variety. They also generally have fruit to accompany it, either banana, pear, or clementine.

On special occasions they get to pick something for breakfast, which usually means I make pancakes, waffles, or baked oatmeal. The older kids can also cook oatmeal or eggs for everyone, but my rule is that I do not cook breakfast. I love to cook, but if I tried to make three hot meals a day, we'd be drowning in dishes and nothing else would get done!

For lunch: 

Fruit/veggie, protein, starch. Generally this means apple + cheese + tortilla chips or pretzels. I cut everything up and set it out on a cutting board on the table, and the kids serve themselves. They can make it themselves if necessary, because the older ones all know how to use an apple cutter, and the 8yo and 10yo can both use knives properly.

Sometimes we get "fancy" and they eat peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, or they use the cheese and sandwich bread to make melts themselves in the toaster oven. Occasionally I'll reheat leftovers or they'll eat leftovers cold. The fruit or veggie gets swapped out seasonally, with tomatoes or peppers or peaches in the summer. But by-and-large, they have "regular" lunch, which means apples, cheese, and pretzels. No meal planning necessary, no complaining, since this is something they all like to eat. And it dirties hardly any dishes!

For dinner:

I like variety for dinner, so we eat a pretty good assortment of meals. But the kids still love to help, and I prefer cooking things people will actually eat, so especially when it comes to side dishes, we've got a pretty limited assortment.

As far as "green veggies," everybody will eat:

Salad (toddlers usually won't, but they get a pass sometimes)

Roasted broccoli (raw for the haters)

Green beans (cooked or raw)

Raw peppers & cucumbers (on their own, generally we don't do dips)

So that's all I cook for veggie sides, and the kids love helping! The younger ones can use a butter knife or a crinkle cutter to cut up cucumbers fairly easily, everybody loves using the salad spinner (or occasionally I'll buy pre-cut lettuce or baby greens), everyone can trim and snap green beans, and they really adore using this to peel garlic, which we use a LOT of.

As far as larger dishes, the older kids can cook rice on their own in the Instant Pot, make simple soups, bake no-knead bread, make quesadillas using the griddler, and do a variety of other helpful kitchen tasks.

Do I love having a kitchen full of "helpers"? Honestly, not really. I generally limit it to just one or two kids helping me at a time, and it's often not a huge help but the investment in time is worth it! Because on days when I'm stuck on the couch nursing a growth-spurting baby or pregnant and too sick to cook, we don't have to order pizza!

I started our own "family chef training" at a pretty early age, but if I had had the resources from Kids Cook Real Food five years ago, I would have jumped at the chance to use them!! You can download their free list of snacks kids can make, or for a limited time, you can sign up for their online cooking classes, a $400 value for only $150! If you're anything like us, that'll end up saving you money in the long run because you'll have a household of helpers who can pick up the slack and keep you from resorting to pizza delivery or other expensive takeout on a difficult day. And what better time to try this out than as a clutter-free Christmas gift?

14 DAYS ONLY!! Don't delay - sign up for the Kids Cook Real Food online cooking classes for kids TODAY. The doors close on December 5th!!  

Update: They are open again, and you can get your first two weeks free!! If you're suddenly homeschooling, this would be a great way to keep your kids busy while learning practical skills ❤️


  1. Your lunch meals sound like mine for the kids : carb (crackers, pretzel. or similar). yogurt, and apple slices or sauce. They like it and eat it - no waste! I applaud you for embracing the simplicity of this menu plan.

    1. Exactly, little-to-no food waste this way! And I honestly think it's better for us all to be eating simpler meals :)

  2. This was so fun to read! Love your ideas for breakfast and lunch. So smart. I only have 2 kids and I feel like I am drowning in dishes. Sometimes I do cook 3 hot meals a day. SILLY! I need to stop that! No-cook breakfasts and lunch are in my future.

    1. Drowning in dishes is such a problem!! I think we're just about to the point where we need to start running the dishwasher twice a day... It's nuts!

  3. I love this. I had never thought of doing same breakfast, even though generally the kids tend to want same thing most mornings (but it's usually oatmeal, and they can't reach our microwave so I"m stuck making it). I like the idea of a range of spreads and different breads, because everyone besides the 1 year old can make toast and spread butter, etc on it. And they love when I do "platter" lunches (tray with meats, cheese, dried fruits, hummus, carrots, apple, etc). I should do those more often, even though it takes a few minutes to cut and place everything, it's probably still faster than multiple sandwiches a la carte. :)

  4. Talk to me about sourdough. Have you posted or can you post your recipe and how often you feed it? I have a starter in the fridge that I remember to feed... occasionally... and I use the discard it to make crackers and throw it into my yeast sandwich bread, but I've never been brave enough to make actual sourdough bread. If you have a method and recipe that works well for you I'd love to hear it. :)

  5. I had a mom of 7 tell me when I was expecting #3, "Never do for yourself what your children can do for you." 20+ years later, our children have glorious servants hearts and know how to do for themselves and others. Our oldest two are married now and having a hard time learning to cook for only two! LOL Simplicity is definitely best.


I *love* reading your kind comments and will always try my best to reply right here in the comment box so we can keep the conversation going! If you have a blog of your own, please do link to it so I can visit back :)

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