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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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32 Comments

  • Vanessa says:

    What a great idea!I have four children and they would love to do this.

  • Karen says:

    This is a a great idea! I like that you said what better place to fail then at home. It is so important that we teach our children but also that we let them learn some things the hard way. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Jordan says:

      You’re very welcome! -Jordan, MSM Team

    • Teresa says:

      Karen, I’m so glad you liked the idea! It’s definitely a challenge to watch them fail, but also so rewarding to see them grow from their mistakes! 😊 I remember when my son spent all his money at a fair one summer day trying to win a game. He came home broke and prize-less but learned a valuable lesson. He’s my biggest saver today!

  • diane says:

    This reminds me of a dorm I lived in. We had a budget and had to have our menu approved and then cooked all the meals for 7-8 girls/young women for the week. We submitted our receipts and were reimbursed.

  • Lisa Rose says:

    This is great! My older son (13yr) has been cooking some for the last two years. Usually, it’s something snacky for himself and his brother (grilled cheese, popcorn chicken). BUT just this week my husband and I were outside working and our son came on the porch and announced dinner was ready! He had cooked hamburgers for us all! This was without any prompting and definitely appreciated!! I like the idea of having the kids budget and plan especially since we’ve been home so much lately. That is something I will have them do this summer. Thanks for the ideas!

  • Hope Ware says:

    Great idea! I love how you framed the takeaways in such positive terms. We have our sons take over our family budget for six months before they graduate from high school. Planning the weekly menu and shopping are all a part of the experience.

  • Stacey says:

    Love it.. Our complaining teens go to pbj if they refuse to eat dinner.

  • Debra Lee Murrow says:

    Yes… perfect… Great summer idea… Thanks

  • I didn’t do it in the kitchen, but my kids wanted brand name clothing & shoes. I then told them I would give them the amount I would spend at WalMart for clothing & if it cost more for what they wanted… they had to pay for the extra. I taught them to head for the clearance racks in stores, they could even shop in second hand stores too. They still do what I taught them & teaching their kids the same.

  • Miranda says:

    Love this idea! How clever! And I love that your lesson turned into a fun experiment for the whole household:) One of our adult boys had to move back in during this stay at home period and he is SO appreciative at dinnertime!! Nothing like bachelorhood to make your kid thankful for home cooked meals!! Ha!

    • Jordan says:

      I still love going over to my mom’s for a good home cooked meal! Something about mom’s cooking always hits the spot! 😉 -Jordan, MSM Team

  • Kathleen Underwood says:

    I love this idea. Not sure how my daughter could do this with her 5 kids ages 16-7. The 9 year old has Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes which has made meals more complicated.

    • Jordan says:

      Maybe the kids could come up with the idea and your daughter could do the shopping to make sure that all of the ingredients meet the necessary dietary restrictions. After that the kids could still cook and serve the meal! -Jordan, MSM Team

    • Allison says:

      I have an 11yo with celiac (and I have celiac)– those life skills related to cooking, meal planning, and shopping are probably more essential for him than for many others. Most convenience foods are just not an option for our household.

  • DB says:

    This is a great idea. Just last night I was talking to my husband about being frustrated that all our normal summer outings/ activities are closed. I needed ideas of how to keep our six kids productively busy.
    After reading this, I think this will be the summer the kids learn practical lessons- plan, shop, cook their meals, learn to do their own laundry, mend their own clothing and keeping their rooms clean and organized, just to name a few. Thanks for the idea and know that we love the input of other mothers.

    • Jordan says:

      Keep us updated on how this goes for you! We love hearing about our readers’ experiences! -Jordan, MSM Team

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