Hi! I’m Carrie (or 4MamaBear as I’m known online). My cubs are Sam (11), Julia (9), and Elsa (5). We live in a small rural town west of the Twin Cities on an acre lot with a big garden and small house. I work from home as a book designer for authors who want to self publish or for families who want to create photo books. I don’t work full time in the summer so I can be there for my kids as much as possible, and this summer, I decided to do an experiment to help ease the pain of them asking for snacks all day long.
Why do THE FOOD EXPERIMENT?
Food was becoming a big source of stress between the kids and I. The constant battles over frequency of snacks and the complaining over meal options were driving me batty. There aren’t enough hours in the day to be able to accomplish everything I wish we could so even though I love to cook and bake with my kids and preserve things from our garden, the reality is that day in and day out there are other things that take up our time too. While my kids would LOVE a maid and a housekeeper, they aren’t going to find either in this house.
Can you relate?
On a typical stay-at-home day this is how the food battle goes:
* Kids wake and immediately wander into the kitchen looking for food. (I get it -they’ve slept 10 hours and are truly hungry!)
* I give them 1-3 options depending on how long it’s been since I shopped last.
* They complain about every choice.
* I get annoyed and tell them their options just became ‘take it or leave it’.
Not exactly the most positive way to start the day, right?
It didn’t get any better as the day goes on….
By 9am my youngest is asking for “something to eat.”
The older two hear the sound of the pantry or refrigerator door and come looking for food as well.
I tell them they ate an hour ago and they have to wait. More grumbling and whining.
I tell them that if they are truly hungry they are welcome to eat baby carrots or a banana. All of a sudden they aren’t that hungry.
An hour later this happens again.
By 11:00 or 12:00 I’m looking for something to put together for lunch -none of which anyone is excited about or if I’m lucky 1 out of 3 wants what I’ve scrounged up in the pantry.
They eat, they leave the dishes behind, they take turns returning to the kitchen looking for a snack. By this point someone has asked me for something to eat every hour since I came back from working in the gardens.
By the time 2pm rolls around I’ve completely given up and I hand them a box of Cheez-Its, grateful for the reprieve. It is short lived because of the crumbs I have to vacuum up. Note to self: Stop letting them eat on the carpet!
The box of empty carbs lasts one sitting and even though I just spent $140 on groceries two days ago we are out of snacks and don’t get me started on meals since I wasn’t good about getting ingredients for actual dinners. (Hello! Meat is expensive and 2/3’s of my kids won’t touch beans. Who am I kidding – I hate them too! So….I end up buying some fruit, snacks for on the go, and some frozen bags of veggies with the hope that there will still be some leftover meat in the freezer I can turn into a dinner to feed my husband after his long day at work.)
The evenings aren’t much better since we eat dinner early. Plenty of hours left in the day for mindless snacking.
I quit doing all the shopping.
I quit making breakfast.
I quit making lunch.
I quit handing out snacks.
Now this is what our day looks like:
Kids wake up and get themselves breakfast. (Older sibling makes breakfast for youngest.)
***MAYBE*** the older two have a snack before lunch
Youngest eats a healthy snack mid morning
Big kids make lunch and clean up after themselves while I make a healthy lunch for the youngest and I.
All kids eat an afternoon snack of their choosing.
I make dinner.
Kids eat one after dinner snack of their choosing.
No more begging.
No more whining.
No more mindless snacking.
How did we make such a drastic change? It started with a comment I made over the winter during a particular frustrating day. We had reached that point where the kids had gone through all the snack food that was suppose to last at least a week in less than two days. I told the older two that I would rather give them money to do their own shopping so they would understand the ramifications of eating $6 worth of snacks in one sitting. They loved the idea and asked to start immediately. I decided that summer would be a better time to try our experiment so we could venture to a bigger grocery store on a regular basis when the kids were out of school.
On June 4th with calculators and lists in hand Sam and Julia each got a cart and set off to take charge of their own food choices. I knew it was also going to help them learn to budget money AND food, but they didn’t need to know that.
Here is a breakdown of how it works based on our food budget:
They each get $30 to spend each week.
They are responsible for writing out their menu with a grocery list that has a place on the side for tallying their total.
They shop for 5 breakfasts, 5 lunches, and all of their snacks/treats for the full week.
I am responsible for dinner 7 days a week and for breakfasts and lunches on the weekends.
Any extra money left over from their $30 gets banked for Valley Fair or other festival spending money. (This is huge because then I don’t have to shell out money we don’t have in the budget on top of entrance fees for those extras.)
If they go over budget they have to work off the extra by weeding the garden. (This only happened to Julia once by $3. Lately they have been super careful and are banking $10-$15 a week for future spending.)
If we are at Costco and we want to eat pizza for lunch then I don’t cook dinner – they eat their original lunch for dinner because I paid for their lunch instead of dinner that day.
If we take an impromptu trip we do our best to make their menu fit the outing. They pick pretty simple things that can be switched around as needed.
Soon after we started the experiment I took the kids camping and so instead of heating ravioli on the stove in the kitchen we heated it on the camp stove. The kids packed their cereal for breakfasts too.
To encourage them to value homegrown food they can eat as much from our summer kitchen stash of applesauce, jelly, salsa, tomato sauce, etc…and produce from the garden is ‘free’ as well.
I realize that $30 isn’t a lot of money for that many meals so I take care of any staple items like milk, eggs, butter, flour, sugar, spices. I want them to learn that baking at home is way better than buying a $4 package of cookies at the store and that their money will stretch further if they have a well stocked pantry.
Their food is off limits to Elsa, Daddy, and I unless they offer to share. (They are spending my money after all so if Daddy wants to have a bowl of their cereal they have always said yes.)
The change in Sam and Julia’s eating habits was instant. No longer do they eat a whole box of crackers in one sitting. Sam takes two weeks to finish a box of Cheez-Its now. A bag of cereal lasts up to two weeks instead of two days. Granted it could happen that I pay for three bags of cereal on any given week now to cover Sam, Julia, and Elsa since they have their own bags. Those bags last much longer though.
Best of all the kids are eating when they are HUNGRY not just bored. Nothing bugs me more than boredom eating!!! They have completely stopped asking me for snacks. They are in charge of snacks and they have taken on that responsibility beautifully. Sam even thought to pack snacks for an outing without being prompted.
Unexpected Results: * Kids are trying new foods (especially fruits)* Over time they are adding more variety to their menu
* Grocery shopping is FUN! The kids focus on their lists and don’t distract me from mine. You would think would be more difficult, but they are old enough to handle the responsibility themselves. The checkout can get a little crazy as we divide up the items in the confined space of the lines.
* They worked together to make some meals by sharing the cost
* I HAVE to make sure we get to the store each week so no more limping along on fast food until we get to a bigger grocery store. SAVES money!!!
* They are willing to share with Elsa quite often, but for the most part I try to make sure that Elsa has similar foods or gets to buy that particular food the next time because she saw Sam or Julia eating it.
* They clean up after themselves and are learning their way around the kitchen too!
* I’ve been able to keep my portion of the spending around $80 a week. We used to spend around $120 a week, but then make 1-2 extra trips for $30 each time. Now we only shop ONCE a week.
* I had no idea how much they were eating just to make sure they got what they considered their fair share. Sibling rivalry is alive and well here!
* They really like the idea of spending as little as possible so they can SAVE MONEY.
So there you have it! That’s how we’ve been able to eliminate the food battle in our home and teach some life skills in the process. I would love to hear if you’ve tried anything similar or if you have any questions. You can reach me at [email protected] if you prefer to contact me privately or on my blog: www.campgroundcubs.blogspot.