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Credit: Wes Frazer
The Way We Eat

The Mom of Five Under 8 in Birmingham, Alabama

updated Nov 11, 2019
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NameLaura Chancey
Location: Birmingham, AL
How many people regularly eat together in your home? 7
Avoidances: None.

When I first called Laura Chancey around lunchtime on Halloween, she was calmly waiting for the Amazon truck — carrying one of her kids’ Halloween costumes — to arrive in time for trick-or-treating, which was set to happen a mere few hours later. While my head swirled with potentially disastrous scenarios, I was soothed by the fact that Laura was completely unfazed. No matter what happened, she would make it work. (Reader, don’t worry — Halloween went according to plan.)

I learned that that’s how Laura (who is an interior designer by trade and baker by blood); her husband, Caleb (who is a freelance photographer); and their five “littles” (ages 8 and under) approach most things in life — especially food. “We are really great at making something out of nothing,” Laura told Kitchn. “We like looking in our cabinet and thinking We don’t have anything … then looking again and using what we have to make something great.”

Here’s a look into Laura’s life in Birmingham, her favorite money-saving ingredients, and the meal she can whip up out of nowhere.

You have a full house! Can you give us the rundown?

My husband Caleb and I have five kids. The first one is Rhodes, who is 8. Coen is 6. Our middle is Opal (she goes by Ollie) and she is 4. Then Emmylou is 2. And our last is Solomon and he is a year old. It is so much fun and so wonderful. They are all just best friends and it’s really sweet to watch.

Wow! Is there such a thing as a normal day for you?

My husband is a freelance photographer so his schedule kind of varies. One day he’ll be home, the next he’ll have meetings, the next he’s out of town. I’m pretty much balancing naps right now so we’re in the house almost all day every day. Unless I’m picking kids up, or dropping them off, we’re here. I pick up our two oldest boys around 2 p.m. and then I turn around and it’s dinnertime. It’s wonderful — but it’s a lot. We also run an Airbnb out of the carriage house outside our home. We have people staying constantly, so that’s another random thing I do every day.

Credit: Wes Frazer

So you’re BUSY to say the least. What do mealtimes look like in the midst of all of that?

Our thing with food is pretty much how do we feed a lot of kids and ourselves with a little bit of money? That typically means that I’m cooking everything from scratch. I was raised in a family where we cooked together a lot, so that mindset is ingrained in me. We have to buy in bulk where we can and we go to Aldi a lot. We just make it work.

We moved to a new house this summer and it has a lot of yard space. Our goal is to plant a huge garden so we can grow a lot of our own food because produce is the most expensive thing to buy.

Credit: Wes Frazer

That’s such a great idea. Can you walk me through breakfast, lunch, and dinner time?

Okay, so breakfast: We just had the realization that we can’t do cereal. Our kids love it but it’s too much money and it’s not filling enough. So we do a lot of baked oatmeal with syrup, especially when it’s cold outside. When it’s the weekends or our kids don’t have school on Fridays, we have multigrain pancake day. I just mix different flours together. We also do a lot of eggs.

Lunchtime, we have a lot of tortillas, quesadillas, and sandwiches. The kids’ favorite thing to have during the day is snack lunch. I just throw a bunch of things I have in the fridge on the plate, like carrot sticks, apples and peanut butter, ham and cheese. They love it. It’s kind of our go-to for lunch.

For dinner, the kids love any kind of rice dish: fried rice, chicken curry with rice, anything with rice really. We also just got a pizza oven in our backyard. We make a ton of pizza at home so we don’t have to order in. I just buy pizza dough at Publix. I’m trying to perfect a dough recipe, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet.

Credit: Wes Frazer

What are your favorite budget ingredients to turn into easy meals?

When Caleb and I were first married, he was freelance and he was just getting jobs so we didn’t have a lot of money and I would have to be creative. So we’d get a ton of potatoes and I’d be like what can I do with these? I’d make everything — gnocchi, hashes, something different every time. We’d also have a lot of eggs, so to mix it up, I’d turn them into a soufflé so we’d have something nice to eat with just a little bit of stuff. We might only have a few things but always get creative with what we eat. To our kids’ disappointment, sometimes that means we eat things they don’t like.

We also do one bean night a week, just because beans are so cheap. That means a lot of chickpea stuff. We love falafel and Greek-inspired anything. We also use a lot of potatoes.

How do you handle when you kids don’t like what you make?

We have a three-bite rule. They have to try three big bites of whatever it is to decide if they like it or they don’t. We learned that from Pete the Cat. We try to instill in them to keep trying things. Your tastebuds will change when you grow. We saw that with how our really picky firstborn has evolved into someone who will try more things.

Credit: Wes Frazer

Do you find yourself ever meal planning (or prepping) or do you prefer to wing it?

There are too many variables in our life to hold fast to a meal plan. Caleb does the general grocery shopping and I pick up the pieces! We have a Costco membership but it’s so far from our house so we go like once a month or every two months. We got a second fridge, though, so hopefully we can add more Costco bulk shopping trips. Caleb does most of our grocery shopping which is really nice. Before those trips, I would sometimes meal plan, make a list, then he’d get everything on the list, and I’d lose the list a few days later. I’m always working on the fly.

Since you can’t always make it to Costco, where does Caleb go instead?

He does an Aldi run probably once every two weeks. Walmart pickup has been awesome. If we’re coming from carpool, I can order groceries on my phone and they’ll just deliver it to my car. I wouldn’t have gone to my Walmart otherwise, but they just started doing that a month ago and it’s amazing.

Credit: Wes Frazer
  • Biggest challenge in eating? Budget, picky kids, and getting to the market as often as we’d like!
  • How much do you cook at home every week? We cook at home five days per week.
  • 5 things on your grocery list every week? Milk, eggs, bread, chicken, apples.
  • Where do you shop, primarily? Aldi.
  • Top 3 default dinners? Nachos, chicken and rice, pasta.
  • Favorite drink? Cappuccino.
  • Best underrated snack? Toast.
  • Favorite thing to eat while watching TV?: Pizza.
  • Most reliable kid snack?: Popcorn.
  • Most ingenious cooking tip anyone ever taught you?: Salt everything!
  • Most-loved kitchen tool?: My cast iron pan.
  • Your best budget tip?: Use frozen and canned vegetables. And chickpeas are a great source of protein!
  • What’s the best cookie of all time?: Maw Maw’s chocolate chip cookies (it’s the Nestle Tollhouse recipe)!
  • Cookbook you actually cook out of?: Smitten Kitchen.
  • Who does the dishes?: Everyone.
Credit: Wes Frazer

You said you’re really good at making something out of nothing. What’s the last thing you whipped up out of nowhere?

Everything we eat is the result of me going in the pantry and looking at what we have. The other day, I made biscuits because we had flour and butter and that’s really all you need. Biscuits in this house go a long way. The kids love them — we could have them with every meal.

Also, soup (like chicken noodle or potato leek). We make a lot of it in mass amounts and then I’ll freeze it. I’ll have a bunch of random ingredients, throw them in the pot, add water, and we’ve got soup!

Credit: Wes Frazer

What’s something you splurge on?

Produce is a big one. It feels very luxurious to me to have fresh greens. One thing I’m excited about when we finally have a garden is having a salad daily. If we buy greens, they don’t last long enough. We’d have to eat them really quickly. If I can eat a salad that’s not covered in ranch, that would be great. We eat a lot of vegetables but most of them are frozen. Like, getting a fresh head of broccoli that roasts, would be so luxurious. As our kids grow, we’ll start to have more of that. But right now, it’s like feeding the masses.

Credit: Wes Frazer

Is it true you’re famous for your pies?

When my grandmother passed away, I started making pies all the time, because that was her deal. My family missed her pies so much so I assumed the role of pie maker. Caleb is such an idea guy, so he was like, that can be your venture. He wanted us to have a pie shop. I started writing recipes and selling pies through Instagram. Especially Maw Maw’s apple pie. And this salted caramel pie. It’s randomly been a source of income when we need it.

Thanks so much for sharing, Laura! Everyone: Follow her and her inspiring family on Instagram.

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. How do you overcome challenges to feed yourself? If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.