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HumankindNESS: Growing Up in the Checkout Line

By Jennifer Richardson
When our children were much younger we realized that there did not seem to be much preparation for practicality in our modern day parenting. The–here is what you need to know to be a functioning adult–kind of lessons.

There was plenty of love and concern for their self-esteem and a healthy dose of making sure there were enough activities, hobbies, and friends to make them well rounded. And these things were all good.

But we looked at our three daughters and we decided that, along with the important character lessons and the care for their happiness, we also wanted them to be ready for practical issues like grocery shopping, cooking, and budgeting.

So when life threw you a curveball and you needed to be ready to care for yourself or others, you could.

We devised a plan. The summer between eighth grade and high school would be the summer for understanding how to shop for groceries and plan to feed a family of five.

The child would create the grocery list and shop for the groceries each week. The responsibility also included basic meal planning, and getting the food home and put away neatly for family use.

In return for this work, the child doing the shopping would have total control over the grocery money and what was purchased. If they managed to provide sufficient meals and still had money left over by the time grocery day rolled around the next week, the money was theirs to keep or use as they wished. Like real life for most of us.

Despite the smiles and raised eyebrows of a few friends, we began the process with our first daughter several years ago when she was fourteen.

I gave her a list of basic grocery items to use for reference, the recipe cards for common meals we made, and a tour of the pantry and refrigerator. I told her she needed to be ready for five sit-down meals per week, plus enough healthy items to provide breakfasts and lunches as needed.

With her list in hand, she went forth into the adventure that is the grocery store when you are holding money that you can spend any way you like. I accompanied her and made a few suggestions but allowed her the final say over what was purchased as long as she stayed within her budget.

The first few weeks were very interesting. We ate frozen pizzas and diet pudding. We saw items that we had not routinely kept on hand before, like ice cream sandwiches and even soda. Lima beans were eliminated as a potential source of nutrition. The family began to grumble about needing real food, and we sent the complaints straight to the new shopper in our house.

By the third week, she had the process down. She chose five recipes to shop around, checked the kitchen for what we already had, compared it to her list of common grocery items, and shopped for what we needed.

She bought food for our family of five for the entire summer, and did a fabulous job. At fourteen years of age she managed this very important and practical aspect of family life.

We continued the tradition with our second and third daughters. They each had their own experiences, and we certainly chuckle over some of the unexpected food combinations we enjoyed in the beginning of their reign over the grocery money. In the end they all did very well.

A few years later, when my youngest was sixteen, I saw her perusing one of the kitchen shelves. She identified some food items we were running low on, secured some grocery money, drove herself to the store, purchased what we needed, and came home and put the food away. She didn’t think twice, she just did what needed to be done.

I took a moment to marvel and appreciate. And I smiled a little remembering those who said it was too much to ask of a teenager. Our children are capable of so much. Ask them to learn, give them real life opportunities to practice, and then stand back and let them amaze you with what they can accomplish.

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