Teaching a Teenager How to Grocery Shop

One of my foster kiddos is turning 18 in May. She’s nearly an adult, and we’re trying to ensure that we’re helping her acquire some valuable life skills while she’s living with us. We’re all hoping that she’ll be reintegrated with her family before she turns 18, but we can still teach her fundamental life skills… like planning for a week’s worth of groceries and appreciating the cost of those groceries.

When I was a teenager, my own father told me I had $50 to buy groceries for the week and let me wander around the grocery store putting things like Kraft American cheese slices in the cart. I came under the $50 (he wouldn’t let me go back and buy more food), but I also had no real meal plan and ate other food in the house that week. The lesson may not have been particularly effective for inspiring lifelong trends, but it did stick with me all the same.

For our kiddo, I asked her to come up with a shopping list for a week’s worth of groceries. She did brought me a list with things like oreos, chips, milk, oatmeal, and bread on it. I asked her to sketch out some meals that she might like to eat so she knew what she was going to make each night; I explained to her that she would waste less food if she built her grocery-shopping list based off of meals she intended to cook. She sketched out a few ideas, and we looked at some recipes online for some additional inspiration. We discussed how many of the meals she was going to make would allow her to freeze the leftovers to save for later. The list was an exercise; we wouldn’t be buying anything on it.

With our fully formed list, we went to the grocery store. We wrote down prices next to each item on the list and sometimes discussed the merits of different foods. For example, I showed her how dried beans are significantly cheaper than buying canned beans and you get more servings. We discussed the healthiness of different yogurts and compared sugar contents. I showed her how some juices have almost no fruit juice in them; they’re basically just sugary flavored water. She was horrified by how expensive meat was. She stood in front of the oreos, read how much they cost, and declared, “I don’t want them that badly.” I showed her how to evaluate which of two items gave her the better value by comparing the price per ounce and the number of servings in a package.

After we had identified the prices of all the things on her shopping list (or crossed some items off), we tallied up the cost of the groceries. It was $83. We rounded up to $90 for imaginary taxes. She sputtered some, and we all laughed. She admitted that she never thought about the price of the various things that went into the grocery cart, and she said that the idea of working over 12 hours at minimum wage (not including taxes) to pay for those groceries was ridiculous. We agreed heartily and encouraged her to be thinking seriously about career or college opportunities.

I probably should have let her write down her own prices and find the things on the list herself, but my husband was shopping for our groceries too. I knew we would take longer already than he would, so I kept us on an efficient pace by guiding us through the store. Still, I think this exercise was a beneficial one for her, and she seemed to think so too. I imagine that this exercise will become a staple in our house whenever we have teenagers living with us.

Interested in trying this idea out with your own teenager? I created this handy-dandy guide available in meal-plan-budgeting-exercise (MS Word) or meal-plan-budgeting-exercise (PDF). If you do, let me know how your trip to the store turned out!

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