Does it sound crazy?
Maybe a little, but believe it or not, letting my kids plan, buy, and cook all of their own food was one of the highlights of our summer.
Hi, I’m Steph from CheapskateCook.com, where I teach people how to save money and eat healthy at the same time. I’ve been learning how to save money and eat healthy ever since Chris and I were first married and had $25 a week for groceries.
During the really lean seasons of our lives, I was grateful for all of the life skills I had learned while growing up. My parents taught me how to cook and plan meals and get creative in the kitchen. They showed me what it looked like to stay on a budget and live within your means.
My main regret is that I wish I had practiced more before I was out on my own. Chris and I were on a scary tight budget for a long time. We needed to be able to pay our bills and keep food on our table, but we were so new to all of those things.
I knew that for my kids, I wanted them to reach adulthood a little better equipped.
I Let My Kids Meal Plan for a Month!
My oldest two sons are 11 and 9 years old. Thanks to Kids Cook Real Food (which they’ve been through multiple times) they know how to cook, and they know why we want to eat real food. We don’t eat real food because Mama says so. We eat it because Mrs. Kimball taught them the science behind real food and why cooking is such an important skill.
My sons are also tweens, which means they are pushing for more independence and autonomy. I don’t dictate what they eat anymore. I don’t fix their plates or nag them about how many vegetables they’ve eaten today (okay, maybe just a little).
Sure, I make sure we have good, real food at home, but my kids are learning how to be more independent.
I wanted my tweens to have more hands-on practice eating well on a budget. I also wanted them to understand how much food costs and why we eat the way we do. It was easy for them to ask for the expensive snacks or compare our meals at home to what their friends eat. They had no idea how much it actually costs to eat well and how much work goes into our meals.
So we decided to experiment.
More Posts from Steph about Cooking with Kids:
- Plant-Based School Lunch Ideas Kids Can Make
- Why My 5-Year-Old is My Most Helpful Kid in the Kitchen
- Kids Cook Dinner Night! Dinner Recipes Kids Can Make
- Breakfasts Ideas Kids Can Make
- How I am Working Myself out of a Job
Raising Confident Kids: Meal Planning for Kids
For one month, Ray and Chase each received $30 a week. With that cash, they got to plan their own meals, buy their own groceries, and prepare all of their own food.
During this experiment, they were welcome to use my spices and a few staples at home (baking supplies, etc), and if I made a special dessert on the weekend, they ate it with us. But besides that, they were completely independent.
They already knew how to cook, and they knew basic nutrition. All they needed to do was apply some math to these skills and get some real-life practice doing something they will need to do their entire adult lives.
Teaching Meal Planning for Kids
We started our experiment by sitting down and explaining the rules:
- You have $30 a week for all of your food.
- At the beginning of the week, before grocery shopping, you will create a meal plan for all 21 meals this week, plus snacks, then make a grocery list based on that plan.
- I will take you to the grocery store once a week. It is your responsibility to bring your cash and your grocery list.
- No going over budget. If you get to the register and you don’t have enough money to pay for it all, you have to pick something to put back.
- You can save any extra money from the previous week and use it for the next week’s groceries.
- No, you cannot just pocket any extra cash and buy video games with it.
- You can use any of my spices and baking supplies at home, but the rest is up to you.
- When we get home from the grocery store, label your food with a permanent marker so everyone knows it’s yours.
To keep it simple, we did most of our shopping at Aldi. The very first week, I sat down and helped them figure out approximately how much each food they wanted to buy costs at Aldi. Thankfully, 10+ yrs of being an avid Aldi shopper helped me rattle off the prices no problem.
If I hadn’t known the prices, we would have made an exploratory trip to Aldi before the experiment, where they could write down the prices for things they thought they would need.
(Pssst! This is also a great first step for adults when trying to save money and eat healthy for the first time!)
Meal Planning Resources
Here are the meal planning services (in no particular order) that I endorse for you to pick based on you and your family’s needs!
PrepEar Connected Cooking App (previously Super Healthy Kids Meal Plans)
Try out their freebies (some even have tree trials) to see what fits your personality and preferences!
We started the experiment with absolutely no healthy eating rules.
Listen, I love real food, but I have 2 boys who are about to be teenagers. They love junk food. While they understand the difference between what fuels their bodies and what doesn’t, that doesn’t stop pizza from being delicious.
Honestly, that’s okay with me. My kids have to make their own choices when they grow up, so I wanted to give them a chance to practice now, while they still live under my roof. They already have the tools they need to make good decisions. That’s where my job ends. The rest is up to them.
That being said, two weeks into the experiment, after the boys were comfortable with meal planning and prepping, we applied Katie’s rule for her kids: no artificial sweeteners or colors. This simple rule helped my boys practice reading ingredient lists without adding too many restrictions.
My Kids Can Cook…Now What!?
This experiment was a perfect application for all the skills my tweens learned through Kids Cook Real Food over the years. Ray and Chase are confident in the kitchen and knowledgeable about what their bodies need.
They know what to look for at the grocery store. For example, when they purchased cheese, they knew the slices labeled “processed cheese food” weren’t the cheese they wanted.
They also knew that in order to save money and avoid unwanted ingredients, they should buy a block of cheese instead of pre-shredded cheese. Mrs. Kimball taught them that (never mind that Mama also taught them that – sometimes we just need to hear it from another trusted adult!).
Did my boys eat super healthy during this experiment?
Not really. They’re 9 and 11 and were so excited about frozen pizza.
Did they learn to listen to their bodies?
Absolutely. After a few weeks of eating very few plants, my son told me his stomach wasn’t feeling great, and he realized he needed to eat better. By the end of the month, he was eating more big salads with his meals.
Did they gain a better respect for how we eat?
Yes. After planning, shopping, and cooking for themselves, my tweens understand how much healthy food costs and they respect the time I spend cooking. They are happier to eat family meals and quicker to appreciate the more expensive ingredients we bring home.
I have to admit that this experiment was good for me too. With a few less mouths to feed (our youngest child still ate with me and Chris), I got a much-needed break. It was also fun to see my big boys practice their independence.
Meal Planning for Kids: Encourage Independence and Confidence
As a parent, my goal is not to raise perfect children. My goal is to raise confident, independent adults. While my kids are under my roof, I want them to have plenty of chances to learn and explore, try new things, and fail. This experiment taught them (and me) so much.
Meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking are skills we have to use our entire adult lives. For something so universal, too many kids get absolutely zero practice before adulthood.
If my goal is to raise independent adults, I want to give my kids the chance to learn some of these skills before their own paycheck depends on it.