Chicago moms with large families give tips on getting family life in order

Have you ever glanced over at those large families—the ones that topple out of the minivans as if they were clown cars—and wonder just how they function?

Turns out, it’s possible to have a large family (or a small one) and stay organized. And sane.

In fact, says Janeen Hayward, founder and president of Chicago-based parenting-consulting company Swellbeing, it’s essential that parents figure out how to stay organized.

“For some of us, it takes a significant amount of intention, but it is well worth it,” Hayward says. “Children really thrive when there is a rhythm to the day, and they know what to expect, more or less. Taking the time to create this kind of rhythm will naturally lead to more organization and the feeling of being ‘with it’ versus being behind the ball.”

Not on the ball? These three relatively large families (they all have four children) shared their tricks and tips to getting organized ASAP.

Sheri Davis and family

In the kitchen

Make double or triple batches You’ll save time by doubling your batches and freezing them. Of course, it should be food that your kids really like and are likely to go through—and I wouldn’t try this the first time you try a recipe.

Get an extra freezer This will cost you more upfront, but I don’t know what I’d do without mine. I actually have four. I have one big 21-cubic foot upright freezer in our playroom, and it comes with an alarm if the freezer is left open. Having an extra freezer allows me to stock up on things that go on sale, or things that I use a lot—so I’m spending less time at the store. It also allows me to freeze lots of things. When my kids are hungry, they often go straight to the freezer, not to the pantry.

Double or triple your spice combinations I do this for taco seasoning, hamburger seasoning, red potato seasoning, chicken fajitas, garlic lime chicken, etc. When I go to make these, I cut down my prep time by not having to make the spice combinations right then and there. This saves a lot of time and reduces the stress of making dinner. It’s just as easy as using a package of packaged seasoning.

Make ahead Anything you can make ahead of time, do it. If you can make a marinade for tomorrow’s dinner after the kids are in bed—and not crawling around at your feet or calling for you to make them more juice—you will go faster and save time. Less interruptions means less time in the kitchen. I also do this during nap time. Although I won’t be making dinner for another couple of hours, I know this is the only time I won’t have the baby, so I get as much done for dinner as I can. Sheri Davis, a stay-at-home mother of four kids 3-13, Elgin

Meal plan My husband or I will cook dinner every other day. We make enough to have leftovers for dinner the next day. This is a great timesaver when juggling multiple kids, homework and their activities. We also allow two days during the week to eat out. With this arrangement, we only have to spend two-three days a week actually in the kitchen cooking. I usually coordinate our leftover days with my kids’ practice days. Therefore, when we get home, we don’t have to wait for dinner. Amanda Cole, resource planning analyst for United Airlines and mom to four kids 7-13, Flossmoor

Amanda Cole and family

General organization

Laundry Sort clothing according to articles of clothing rather than colors (whites are the exception). I started sorting socks into their separate pile, and it’s been nearly life changing. When socks get their own pile and their own time in the washer, they rarely get lost, and they are quicker to pair. Sorting laundry by pants, shirts and towels helps organize your piles. My kids put away their own clothes, and when I tell them to put their pants away, it is more likely that they don’t put their pants in the linen closet with the towels now.

Repack your diaper bag Do this as soon as you get home. Restock the diapers you used, replenish the onesies, replace anything and everything while it’s fresh in your mind, because the next time you need to get out the door, your bag is right next to it ready for anything.

Babysitting competition I discovered that the most tedious task was communicating with prospective babysitters. Calling one, waiting to see if he or she could do it, then making my way down the list. And then it dawned on me, I should simply text these babysitters. I took it one step further. I had a healthy list of 8-10 babysitters and I would text them all at the same time. The first one to get back to me got the job. It became a competition for them. And I had my babysitter within 90 seconds of me requesting one almost every time for years.

Get rid of the toys If the toys don’t fit into the dozen or so boxes or into the one shelving unit, some have to go. The answer was to never buy more containers, because inevitably, that meant more toys, not better organization. Kate Butterly, part-time personal trainer and mom of four kids 6-9, River Forest

Homework time Kids do their homework right after school or after practices. I typically circle around from kid to kid to make sure they understand the material. If there are any difficult assignments or homework, we help by re-teaching or explaining the subject matter. If a particular problem is giving them a challenge, they will have to act as the teacher, and teach us an example problem. If you can teach it yourself, then you know it. —Cole

Kate Butterly and family

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