Toronto Zoo

Feeding the family

Between my own children and the homestay students that our family is hosting, the dinner table at our house currently seats myself, my wife, my mother-in-law, and also five boys – aged 18, 17, 14, 12, and 8.

Now, if you’ve ever had to feed teenaged boys, especially active ones who play sports or work out seriously, you’ll have some idea of what having five of them at the table means in terms of grocery bills and sheer food production at dinner time. Make a six-pound meatloaf? Gone. Roast three chickens? Don’t plan on having any leftovers for soup. Barbecue 20 sausages? They’ll still be arguing over how to split up the last one. The three oldest boys recently ate sixty (60!) homemade chicken strips between them, and that was while watching a movie after they’d already eaten supper.

The potatoes. Oh, the vast number of potatoes. And the rice. And the pasta. Any carb rich foods that will fill bellies and provide energy for active bodies. Endless loaves of bread, boxes of cereal, bagels, crackers, corn chips, and popcorn. The 12-year old will eat two huge bowls of cereal for breakfast, down half a bag of corn chips with melted cheese after school, eat a plate full of potatoes at supper, and still boil himself a pot of pasta after basketball practise before he goes to bed.

We go through a dozen eggs most days. Plus several litres of milk. Plus almost a pound of butter. They consume several buckets of yoghurt each week, block after block of cheese, mounds of cream cheese, sour cream, and parmesan cheese. I caught my youngest once literally eating sour cream from the bucket with a spoon. Several times I’ve caught him taking a spoonful straight from the butter dish.

We try to keep things as healthy as possible. We buy no candy or cookies, no chips or pop, not even juice very often. We shove vegetables into them at every opportunity. We avoid processed foods and try to make most things at home. But that just means there’s more work involved with preparation.

We address that by having everyone make their own breakfasts and pack their own lunches, but this would mean utter chaos in the kitchen in the morning, so we try to pack lunches in the evening. Even so, the rule for breakfast is, “Get in, and get out.” You get what you need as quickly as you can, and then you get out of the way, so that the next person has room at the counter, and the toaster, and the stove. The toaster never cools. The egg pan goes pretty well solid for an hour. My 12 cup French press coffee maker often has to be run twice.

Dinner preparation is generally my domain, and I try to vary things as much as possible, given that each meal needs to contain substantial amounts of protein and carbs, not to mention the vegetables that they don’t really want to eat. On several nights each week I try to make huge batches of things that store and reheat well for big kid lunches – chili, stew, pulled pork, and so forth. I also try to plan a meal or two that I know they’ll especially like – hamburgers, or sausages, or homemade pizza. On Thursday we have leftovers (usually Saturday too).

All that preparation and eating produces an extraordinary amount of dishes, which, fortunately, my mother-in-law has taken on as her job. We don’t have an automatic dishwasher, so at least three times a day (often four, depending on what’s for afternoon snack), she fills the sink and does a load of dishes. Most times what she washes never makes it back to the cupboards. It gets pulled straight from the drying rack to serve the next meal before she even has a chance to put it away.

There are days when it all seems a bit much. But then I remember that my parents had five boys all on their own, spaced across only nine years. We all played some combination of rugby, football, wrestling, hockey, and volleyball. We all ate tremendously (we used to have a large pizza each while playing video games in the evening after supper on Friday nights). If they survived those years, I figure, than we can make it too. Or that’s what I tell myself anyway. I hope it’s true.

Luke Hill has been the parent of birth kids, adoptive kids, foster kids, and just-need-a-place-to-stay kids for fourteen years. He’s had experience with kids in homeschool, public schools, and alternative schools. He’s been a teacher, a camp counsellor, and a coach. He’s also taught parenting courses for Children’s Aid for almost a decade. When he isn’t working with kids, he’s a writer, a publisher, and the director of a non-profit organization that supports book culture.