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Why I Made My Teenagers Buy Their Own Food


children buy their own food

Guest post from Teresa of TeresaWhiting.com:

It was nearing dinner time, and the question kept drifting through the kitchen… “Mom, what’s for dinner?”

My answer was met with varying degrees of dissatisfaction. I was growing really frustrated when suddenly, I had an epiphany!

“I’m not buying groceries, or cooking at all next week!” I announced.

My four kids, ages 12-17, were curious and a bit concerned. But I had a plan that would teach everyone just how grateful they should be for all my planning and preparation.

Our Family’s Meal Planning Experiment

The next week, I took out our budgeted grocery money and divided it up evenly between the six of us (my husband and myself included). It came out to only $35 per person.

I told the kids they would be in charge of planning, purchasing, and preparing all of their food for the entire week.

I admit that my motives weren’t exactly pure when I had this idea. I wanted to teach everyone a lesson in gratitude. But despite my distorted motives, something wonderful happened!

I was so impressed with my kids. They definitely took the opportunity to buy things that would never make it into the house on my watch; but overall, they did a fabulous job!

It was fun walking through Aldi and hearing them strategize with each other…

“If four of us go in together, we can each get one stick of butter from this pack.”

“Does anyone want to split a loaf of bread with me?”

At home, we unloaded the groceries and labeled everything with our initials.

The evenings got a little chaotic with six people in the kitchen, all preparing meals, but overall, the week was a huge success! When it was over, almost everyone asked, “When can we do this again??”

The first time we had a BYOF (Buy Your Own Food) week was about seven years ago. Since then, it has become a fun activity we do a couple of times a year, with some variations!

One year we had them take turns shopping and cooking for the entire family. They bought breakfast and lunch items as well, but weren’t required to prepare those meals for everyone.

At times when we needed things like paper goods or toiletries, we had everyone pitch in to cover those costs, or we assigned each person something to buy.

Here were some added benefits to BYOF week:

  • Everyone was a little more aware of and grateful for the work of being a planner, shopper, and chef.
  • My kids learned to budget, plan a menu, shop, and prepare basic meals.
  • When Greg & I had to travel together, we knew the kids wouldn’t spend the whole week eating frozen pizza for dinner!
  • As they’ve all grown up, they’ve taken these skills into adulthood and built on them.
  • What started out as a mom’s desperate need for a break and a reality check for her kids, morphed into a well-loved family tradition!

Person holding produce bag

Is this something you would try with your kids?

If so, here are a few suggestions:

1. Set general guidelines.

For example:

  • You have to buy at least 2 fresh items – fruits/vegetables)
  • You have to make at least one meal that involves a recipe (you can’t have all frozen dinners).

2. Think about the ages of your kids.

My kids were on the older side when we started this, but I definitely think an 8-year-old could handle it. If you have a wide range of ages, maybe pair a younger with an older to help in the kitchen.

We had been rotating the chore of “Dinner Helper” for some time, so my kids knew the basics already. Before starting something like this, make sure your kids have SOME experience in the kitchen with you.

3. Let them eat cake.

One week of junk food won’t kill them. I remember the first time we did this, the child with the most junk food was most grateful for my cooking the next week!

4. Help them make a plan.

It helps to give them ideas of a sensible menu and an idea of prices to get them started.

5. Allow your kids to fail.

What better place for them to learn than in the safety of your own home?

I’d love to know how this goes if you decide to try it. Your kids’ choices may surprise you. And who knows? You might start a new family tradition!

Teresa Whiting lives in Northeast Ohio. She is a mom of 5, grandma of 1, writer, speaker, and ministry wife. Through spoken and written word, her passion is to hold out hope to women in the midst of their mess. Visit her at teresawhiting.com.



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