I was chatting with a woman at a networking event recently when she happened to glance at the cover of my book and exclaim “I spend $400 a *WEEK* on groceries – I have two teenagers to feed!”
Now, when you do what I do for a living, a lot of people confess their grocery bill to you :) and this is one of the largest grocery bills I've yet encountered in my neck of the woods. The thing is, I really got the feeling that she felt there was no way she could do better than that. I run into a lot of moms who appear to accept without question the fact that their grocery bills are going to be out of control during the years they're feeding teenagers (especially if they're blessed with boys!)
While it certainly takes more focus to keep your food budget under control during these years, it's entirely possible to do so without resorting to beans and rice every day! I recently shared that our per-person food costs are the same as they were 20 years ago, and I'm now feeding 14 and 16 year old boys (a.k.a. perpetual eating machines). All of the tips I provided in that article apply to feeding teenagers, too.
Here are a few more thoughts on feeding this budget-challenging age group:
1. Junk food is a luxury, not a necessity! Nothing runs up a grocery bill faster than piling tons of snack foods into your cart. I know the pressure can be on to keep the house stocked with pop, chips, and other munchies (especially if there tends to be a whole gaggle of boys hanging out at your house like there is at my place!) I've made it clear throughout my boys' lives that we just don't buy those foods, except very occasionally for birthday parties and the like (after all, not only are they expensive, they're not the healthiest choices, either!) Now that they're teens, when they complain that we don't have pop and chips, I remind them that they are welcome to spend their OWN money on those items if they want them that badly. We always have plenty of popcorn around for stove top popping, and I will buy a bag or two of my favourite good-quality organic tortilla chips when they go on sale, so there are always inexpensive alternatives available to them.
2. Keep beverage consumption under control: Teenage boys are thirsty critters and if you're not careful, they can guzzle away several dollars a day in juice, sports drinks, pop, etc. As mentioned above, we just don't buy pop except as an occasional treat. Teens do love fizzy drinks, and we now have two inexpensive and healthful homemade options in our house: water kefir and kombucha (for those of you who are skeptical that your teens would go for something this "alternative”, I offered a glass of lemon ginger water kefir to a close friend of my boys the other day, and as I was walking away I hear him say to them, “I wish my mom would make stuff like this!”). We have a limit of a 4 ounce glass of juice each per day, and 8 ounces of milk (we get tons of other dairy in our meals). I have trained my family to drink lots of water so when they're thirsty it's the first thing they reach for.
3. Go easy on the meat portions: Just because they are “growing boys” (or girls), it doesn't mean they need insanely-sized portions of meat. Four ounce portions are about the maximum I typically serve at a meal. Yes, they will still get enough protein! Dietary surveys have shown that even teenage boys easily meet their protein needs (in fact, they typically get about double the protein they require) so don't feel like you need to provide massive meat portions to make sure they're adequately nourished.
4. Stock up on inexpensive, high protein snacks: While there's not much likelihood your teens will be deficient in protein, providing some lower-cost high protein snacks will help them feel full longer so they won't eat everything in sight. Scrambled eggs or omelettes, toast with nut butters, sunflower seeds, and roasted chickpeas are all great options that work well in our home (and the last two are great portable snacks for teens on the go). If you have a few minutes to whip together a batch of Chocolate Powerballs, your teens won't even realize they're having a nutrient-rich snack, they'll just think they're enjoying a chocolatey treat :) This recipe is actually simple enough that your teens can make them by themselves!
5. Get into the bread making habit: We typically go through a loaf of bread a day in my house these days, and that can really put a dent in your grocery bill fast! Even if you're buying sale-priced bread, you can save over $40 a month by making your own. It's very simple and convenient to do so using my Whole Wheat Refrigerator Bread Dough (seriously, I don't know what I'd do without this recipe.) No bread maker required! Added bonus: You can use this dough for pizza crusts and to make homemade "pizza pockets", which will make your teens really happy while keeping your budget in check :)
6. Make your own yogurt: If you have a lot of yogurt lovers in your house, it's well worth the modest effort to make your own yogurt, too. You absolutely don't need a yogurt maker or any special equipment to do so – I use this method and my complete detailed instructions can be found in my book (I've had MANY people tell me they had success making yogurt using my method; they are always so surprised by how easy it is!)
7. Granola is your friend: I've heard many horror stories about teenage boys polishing off an entire box of cereal for a bedtime snack. Boxed cereals are another budget-buster, and aren't very nutrient-dense for the cost. Homemade granola is much more filling and nutritious – especially when paired with some homemade yogurt and/or some fresh or frozen fruit, it's a very satisfying snack. My basic granola recipe is so quick and easy, we often get a batch in the oven while we're cleaning up the dinner dishes.
Hopefully, I've convinced you it's not necessary to just throw up your hands in despair and resign yourself to spending $350 a week on groceries during the last few years your kids are at home.
Do you have any great tips on feeding teens on a budget? Or maybe a challenge I haven't addressed? Let me know all about it in the comments!
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