These simple hacks won't just help financially, they'll help your kids learn temperence and develop culinary confidence.
If your kids are anything like mine, the beginning of summer brings with it endless snacking and a skyrocketing grocery bill. This year it has also brought us the gift of a broken A/C, which propelled us into budgeting overdrive.
In an effort to keep costs down this summer, we developed a number of strategies — but given that the primary strain on our summer budget is summer snacking, we zeroed in on ways to keep the grocery bill both reasonable and sustainable. With just a few weeks of summer under our belts, I’m pleased to report that we’ve managed to keep the grocery bill at pre-summer levels so far. So if you’re facing the same dilemma, here are the two strategies that helped us turn the key on summer budgeting success.
1Close the kitchen
Without the highly-structured rhythm of the school day, kids tend to default to eating whenever they feel like it — or worse, whenever they’re bored. It starts slowly, but if they’re allowed to graze all day they can easily lose the ability to distinguish genuine hunger from merely “feeling snacky.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise to us adults, since most of us have experienced this slip into bad snacking habits at some point.
Sometimes you know your kids are having a growth spurt, and no parent wants to deny extra food to kids who genuinely need it. If your kids play outside often during the summer, you can also chalk up the extra calories as extra fuel for all that energy they’re burning. Luckily, you don’t have to play guessing games to figure out if your child’s hunger is legitimate — all you have to do is close the kitchen after mealtimes.
I’ve found this strategy to be much more successful with external reminders that don’t depend on parental enforcement — for example, a simple “Kitchen Closed” sign that flips over to read “Kitchen Open” stuck to the fridge has been enough to keep my kids’ attempts to wheedle their way into a snack to a minimum. Sure, they still ask, but all I have to do is point to the sign. There’s the answer, in no-nonsense font that doesn’t care what argument they might lay out.
This puts the kibosh on snacking, which keeps the grocery bill down but also ensures that they’re hungry enough at mealtimes to eat what’s offered — and usually, plenty of it. So when your 10-year-old asks for a second PB&J, you won’t have to worry that he’ll take one bite and waste the rest. Chances are, he’ll finish it off — crusts included.
2Pick your poison dinners
My sister came up with this hilariously named tradition on a night when the fridge was full of leftovers from several different dinners — none enough to make a single meal for everyone, but collectively more than enough to feed the whole house. When the kids asked what was for dinner, she got this maniacal gleam in her eye, threw open the fridge, and announced that they were free to “pick your poison.”
The kids gleefully selected the most hodgepodge mixture of food I’ve ever seen — definitely not combinations we would’ve thought to assemble — and tore into them with abandon. No one had to be coerced into finishing their dinner that night (not even the child who chose string cheese and broccoli dipped in ketchup).
Here’s the thing about “pick your poison,” though: if you’re not careful, it can backfire and dip into your breakfast and lunch supplies … or become little more than extreme snack-time. A little trial and error taught us to set some parameters on “pick your poison” night that significantly maximized the consumption of leftovers. It’s best to keep these rules simple, clear, and consistent so the kids don’t get confused or frustrated. We just say, “there’s no poison in the freezer or pantry,” which is enough to keep the kids from choosing breakfast, lunch, or snack food over real food — and enough to keep them from even trying, since the fun of the game is picking the poison.
At the end of the day, of course, the goal is to teach our kids moderation and temperance. Food, like anything else, can be taken for granted and abused. It can become a pathway to gluttony or scrupulosity, so it’s important to be careful about the way we present food to our kids. Constantly trying to gauge whether they’re actually hungry can spark discomfort, doubt, and self-consciousness in kids … no matter how responsible the fiscal motivation is behind it.
These simple strategies eliminate that altogether. The first one also helps kids learn temperance, since there are doubtless days when they genuinely are hungry well before the kitchen opens. On those days, they learn the important lesson that they can survive the discomfort of hunger without dragging their parents into arguments that often end in anger or tears. The second one can help kids become comfortable with different types of food, since it lets them exercise their creativity and choose unusual combinations. String cheese with ketchup is, regrettably, now one of my kids’ favorite foods. I strongly suspect it’s not due to culinary appeal, but due to the sense of ownership and creativity that comes with having “invented” a new dish.
That’s reason enough to embrace these strategies — even without the added benefit of keeping your grocery bill under control.
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