Before I start the post, let me assure you that this photo was taken because of its ridiculousness. Right after I took it, we put back all but one box of ramen and re-shopped for better choices.
I have sons who are 14 and 16 and a daughter who is 12. And it’s summer.
I love summer so much, and I love having my kids home. But they want to eat. Like, three times every single day.
Over the years, I’ve tried different ways of dealing with this people-want-food issue. Today, I’m sharing what we did last year that worked so well we’re doing it again.
For years, breakfasts and lunches in the summer have been fend-for-yourself affairs. I tell myself this is preparing them to be able to feed themselves once they leave home. While they occasionally attempt gourmet creations, I’m happy they all know how to scramble eggs, cook sausage, pour cereal, butter toast, boil pasta, and make grilled cheese or fried egg sandwiches.
But last year, I took this YOYO (you’re on your own) concept another step.
After taking the kids out for pizza on the last day of school in May of ’17, I headed to the grocery store with my kids. I’d explained my new plan while we ate.
I told them they each had a $20 budget to buy breakfast and lunch groceries that should last the next two weeks. I chose that amount of time because we were going to be leaving on our vacation after two weeks.
$15 of their budget would be shareable items, and $5 of their budget could be spent on things they could mark with their own name, not to be eaten by siblings. I would provide basics like bread, milk, eggs, cheese and fruit, so those things didn’t need to be included in their budgets.
There was definitely a learning curve, but this system worked so well for us all summer.
Other than the first round when one kid met me at the front of the store with six 12-packs of ramen noodles (actual photo seen above), I almost never had to send anyone back to redo their trip. They learned pretty quickly that successful grocery shopping does require some thought and planning.
Things My Kids Learned from Doing Their Own Grocery Shopping
Over time, they learned to budget so they could be sure to get enough to last them the two weeks. (I had the ultra-basics on hand for when they didn’t.)
They learned that buying ingredients is SO much cheaper than buying pre-made stuff from the freezer aisle, and it tastes better. For example, breakfast sandwiches. They look amazing on the box, but aren’t usually so amazing once they’re microwaved. For the much-lower cost of sausage patties and frozen biscuits, you can make dozens of better-tasting versions on your own.
My kids learned to work together, both on the shopping and the cooking, to make money and time go further. This mama loves seeing her kids work together.
They learned to make do when it got to the end of the two weeks and the best stuff had already been eaten.
One learned to eat the food he bought “for everyone” first (and fast) and then eat his personal stash later so he basically got to eat it all.
The other two learned to eat that one’s food asap so he couldn’t do this.
These are LIFE SKILLS, people.
Two of my kids told me recently that they’d been thinking how they’re going to budget their $20 this summer. They’re already planning things out.
Another note: Be sure to explain the “marked food can’t be shared” thing to Dad. The marked stuff generally is the tastiest, so he needs to know what’s going on. Maybe this summer I’ll offer to let him put in an order of stuff he can mark with his own name.
We shopped at Walmart because it was convenient, but you could let your kids peruse the sales flyers for other stores if you wanted to also teach them bargain hunting skills.
To help them get started, I made a list of suggestions and costs (found in the Walmart Grocery app).
Examples of foods with prices on my list:
Great Value pre-cooked sausage patties (big bag, enough for all of you for the whole two weeks) – 5.14
Frozen buttermilk biscuits, 20 count – 3.82
Package of hot dogs – 2.74
Package of hot dog buns – .87
Can of Chili – 1.88
Cereal – $3-$5
Hot Pockets, 5 pack – 4.78
Pizza Rolls, 120 count – 7.64
Rotini pasta – .82
Already cooked grilled chicken, 19 oz – 6.62 (I also told them they could cook the chicken I have in the freezer and it wouldn’t count as part of their budget.)
Turkey lunchmeat – 3.48
Can of tuna – .77
Can of ravioli – .88
Poptarts, 8 count – 1.94
Flour tortillas (for quesadillas with the cheese I always have on hand) – 2.28
Bean burritos, 8 count – 3.42
Can of refried beans – 1.32
Rebecca G says
Loved this idea.
Jolene Collins says
Renee Hess says
This is brilliant! My 14 year old son eats me out of house & home EVERY summer!
I love this idea. My children are too young to be given this much freedom with their food choices, but I have let them choose snacks from a predetermined budget before. Right now our focus is on swapping out junk food for healthier options. My 5 year old is struggling!
This makes a lot of sense, and prepares them for food planning and budgeting when they’re on their own. And I love the concept of YOYO days – we used to have them with our kids years ago. It was a treat for them and for me.
Elizabeth McD says
I love this! I don’t have teenagers yet, but I do have 6 kids and I’m already trying to think of ways to streamline the process of feeding bigger growing people. It’s only a matter of time…
Thanks so much for sharing.
I love this idea! I am longer at home when my kids get up and eat breakfast and their dad was letting them eat crap (lots of sugary cereal) and letting healthier stuff (fruit, yogurt, etc.) go bad. So this past school year I started having the kids take turns helping me set a breakfast menu for the week for them so they had some control over what they ate, but they also had a better idea of what all we had, and what needed to be eaten before it went bad (strawberries, raspberries, etc.) They don’t love doing it, but they are eating much better. I love the idea of budgeting, letting them shop, etc. Those are GREAT life skills! They’ll be way ahead of the curve come college time!
I have implemented YOYO for breakfast and lunch since my kids were little, they are now 15 and 16 year olds. They have always got tremendous satisfaction from creating new dishes with mixtures of:
1. rice, pasta, mac & cheese, or shredded hash browns
2. canned alfredo, spaghetti, or cream soup “sauces”
3. meats like tuna or diced and fried spam or hotdogs
4. extra spices and shredded cheese or sour cream
They also mix together a couple different canned soup mixes with various added spices to come up with unique soup flavors. Some of the meals they’ve served my husband and me, I was actually afraid to try because of the strange combinations, but they were amazingly delicious and I was very surprised and impressed. They now LOVE cooking and talk about opening their own food truck business!
Great Idea. I’m usually on top of food and groceries, but since the kids finished school a week ago I’ve been to the store at least five times. Not sustainable and it’s driving me crazy.
Brittani A says
My son’s 16th birthday I tossed him a 12 pack and said happy birthday. He was excited! Then worried that was all he was receiving (after choosing a $40 a person dinner and expensive shoes, yeah that’s it.) Teen boys are easy.
I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has a kid who thinks that much ramen is okay. LOL But I love this idea so much, now I just need to implement it.
I have 2 boys 10 and 13. I went shopping last Thursday expecting the food would last a 7-10days. Four days later and I need to go shopping. (seriously the youngest has had 5 meals a day the past 2 days–growth spurt??)
My husband is always surprised when I need to increase the grocery budget over the summer, but even I’m stunned at how much they have already eaten this year.
Thanks for the suggestion from Walmart, my kids have similar taste. 😉
Love this idea! Can’t wait until my granddaughter gets a little older to cook. She’s 7 and her brother is 12. They both eat like longshoremen and think I’m the best cook on earth much to their mama’s chagrin, but in reality, they act like I’m a short order cook!
I have a tip to share…when there is on,y one slice of cake or a hunk of pie left, I let one cut, but then the other one chooses first. Only had to do this a couple of times until they realized what’s fair. Sometimes they even offer the larger piece to the one who cut. That makes me smile!
Linda Marlene says
This reminds me of the time we stayed at our grandparents’ house so my mom could keep up with their huge garden while my grandma and grandpa were out of town. Mom made a raspberry pie and later noticed that there was only one piece left. My oldest brother had eaten almost the entire pie and thought he was being generous by leaving the last piece! Boy, was Mom mad!
PTSD anxiety trigger for me while reading this
Mom ALWAYS let my older brother (by 2 yrs 5 mths) choose FIRST on everything, not just food, because he was the oldest.
Then my younger brother (by 4 yrs 5 mths) got to choose because he was the youngest.
So I always got the smallest, broken, burned, ugliest food. And toys after broken or with missing pieces.
I used to do that with my two young daughters. The one who cuts tries to make it as equal as possible and the one who chooses figures she got the best deal. Lol
What a great idea! My son is 11 and starting to be interested in cooking (at least that’s what he calls his food-based science experiments). I think I may try this to give him a better appreciation of food and money.
One thing I want to know is if the kids have their own debit or credit card and have to actually pay? I can’t recommend that enough! My boys are 10 and got their own debit cards a year or two ago. We try to have them pay for a couple of things each month (snacks from a gas station or grocery store, a meal out, etc.) and then reimburse them, but they learn how to use the card (like physically sliding it in the slot, pin numbers, etc. which seems like it’s so obvious, but wasn’t at all!), and they learned about tips (how to leave a tip, how much, how to calculate the right amount, etc.), as well as budgeting/taxes (if you only have $20, you can’t buy stuff that costs 19.99…). No to mention reviewing monthly statements (so you aren’t charged twice for same transaction!), depositing checks, interest, etc. It’s been far more educational than I expected, and super handy when we aren’t around but they need to pay their own way like dinner with friends, or when one is at a swim meet on one side of town and the other is on the other side of town and I am single parenting and can’t be both places at once.
Juanita Williamson says
What a great idea! How did you set up the debit cards/accounts? Can you share more details? How much is a good starting point? What things are they responsible for buying? What happens when the card/account is empty but there’s more days left before payday? I have a 15 yr old and think this would help him understand and appreciate hard work and money better. So I’d appreciate as much information as possible on how this works. Thank you!
Oh my! I LOVE THIS!! Thank you so much for sharing 😊 This goes along with our approach of teaching our kids how to save money and budget! Perfect…thank you for sharing.
Laughing, my husband had never made biscuts before me, his family always bought the biscuts in a can. I told him like I told a good friend before him, I can make homemade 20 minutes start to finish. Neither believed me. Really…..4 ingred. for simple.
I love this! My 10 year old is home this summer and really good in the kitchen. I know at our house we’re working on more fresh fruits and veggies and fewer packaged snacks this summer. For that reason I think we’ll shop together and learn about making healthier choices vs budget. Anything we can do to get our kiddos involved in cooking and smart shopping= life skills!!!
This was one of my most favorite ideas from your podcasts that you shared! Thanks for breaking it down. We homeschool, so we’re always feeding 6 of us (plus one more when my husband is home for dinner) so I’d like to implement this AT LEAST for summer. Thanks for writing it all out!
We’ve done the debit card thing for my boy since they were little, like 6 and 8. One of our goals was for our kids to have some financial literacy as they grew. My kids are now young adults, 18-20 and are comfortable managing money. We started with an automatic deposit of their allowance, but found as they were teens it was awesome to be a let out send them an etransfer to pay for something they needed to grab. I think this is an awesome way to feed teens and develop money management skills!
Jessica C. says
It’s sad that all the budget-friendly food items are the worst for you, but I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Hopefully our summer vacation with a house full of vegans doesn’t drive us broke! Luckily, there’s a discount grocery chain nearby that offers a lot of vegan options. I’m definitely going to use your idea to grocery shop with the 4 kids as soon as school lets out next week!
I wish my parents had done this with me. My first grocery shopping trip was a disaster. It looked almost as bad as when Gwenyth Paltrow did the food stamp challenge (if you haven’t heard about that then Google and see how ridiculous it was). I bought some Swiss cheese, 3 lemons (why?) a bag of chicken nuggets, orange juice, a frozen pizza, and a box of fruit snacks.
Also if you are providing the basics does that include like flour, baking powder, eggs, etc? Because making homemade biscuits is super easy and costs pennies.
This is fabulous! Thanks for reposting through your weekly email.