Teens in the Kitchen: The $20 Challenge


After the chicken incident from my previous post, I began to rack my brain, trying to think of a way to best help my boys understand the value of a dollar.  It was my goal to have them realize just how much money it takes to feed a family of five.  I also wanted them to realize that the Lord calls us to be good stewards of all that He has given us, whether that be money, resources, time, talents, or, in this case, food.  All of my guys enjoy being in the kitchen.  They are typically clamoring to help me cook.  Why not put them in charge of a dinner?  Why not give them a budget, hand them the cash, and take them to the store to shop for said meal?  Thus, the $20 Challenge was born.

I sat the boys down and explained the challenge:

  • They would be responsible for planning the menu for a weeknight dinner.
  • Their budget would be $20, not a cent more.
  • They would receive cash and a ride to one store to shop for their ingredients.
  • They would be permitted to use basic supplies from home such as spices, milk, eggs, and butter.  However, if a recipe called for an abundance of one of those, they would need to purchase that item using the money from their budget.
  • The meal that they plan would need to be nutritious and take into account everyone’s various food allergies.  They would not be permitted to purchase prepackaged meals.  No cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches allowed. There would be actual cooking involved, and it would be from scratch.
  • They should have fun!

“So, any volunteers?”  Without hesitation, my middle son, who never shies away from a challenge, volunteered.   Within no time he knew exactly what his menu would be: spaghetti and meatballs with salad and garlic bread.  He also noted that he wanted to learn how to make homemade tomato sauce; he didn’t want to use a can or a jar.  He was really up for the challenge!  This was going to be fun.

Before I continue, I need to explain a few things.  We deal with multiple food allergies in our home, the most severe of which is the gluten intolerance of my youngest son.  While most people can scoop up a box of pasta for $0.88 on sale, we can’t.  Our pasta rarely goes on sale and typically costs $3.00 or more.  Due to these food issues and the fact that we feel strongly about eating real food, free of chemicals, preservatives, and junk, we don’t buy a whole lot of convenience food, and if we do, it’s a clean variety, which always comes with a higher price tag.   The boys knew they would need to follow this eating plan.

Some of you may be thinking that $20 was a generous amount of money.  I thought it was doable.  I didn’t want the challenge to be impossible or frustrating.  I was hoping it would be a learning experience, one where the veil would be lifted from their eyes. I bet there are many of you who can whip up a delicious meal for just a few dollars.  I thought that $20 was a good starting point.  Who knows?  Maybe down the road we’ll tighten up the boys’ budgets and see what they can do!

So shopping day came.  As we entered the grocery store, I handed over the $20, and walked the aisles with my son.  He had his list in hand.  He picked up all the fixings for homemade tomato sauce, some gluten free pasta, the basics for a salad, a bit of Parmesan cheese, and even some bread (I told him I would handle a gluten free alternative for his brother).  Lastly, we headed over to the meat section.  He picked up two packages of turkey chopmeat and was stunned at the combined price.

“This is going to put me over my budget.”

“Yes, it will,” I replied.

“I don’t think one package of meat will be enough.  We really like meatballs.”

“You can make it enough,” I responded with a smile.

“OK.  I’ll just make really small meatballs so it looks like a lot.”

“Good idea!” said the proud mama!

With that, we meandered up to the register to pay.  With a small bit of change in his hand, my son lamented, “Wow, food is really expensive.  I didn’t even get everything I wanted to.  I had to put back the mozzarella (which he wanted to put on the garlic bread) and the extra package of meat.  I can’t believe it will cost almost $18 to make dinner for us tonight.”  And with that, I smiled a big smile inside.  The veil was lifted and my son now saw things with a new set of reality glasses.

That afternoon my son and I enjoyed a wonderful time together.  I was able to show him how to make homemade tomato sauce and meatballs.  But, more importantly, we were able to talk about the great responsibility we have to use what the Lord has entrusted us with wisely.  When we waste money, even on food, it prevents us from being in a position  to use that money in other areas that the Lord may direct us.  The Lord can use even a few extra dollars to provide for His work or provide a need for someone else.  When we are not able to do this because of our carelessness, wastefulness, or gluttony, we lose out on being used by the Lord for something bigger than ourselves.  We lose out on being part of His greater work.

That evening I sat down to enjoy the most delicious spaghetti and meatball dinner of all time.  Just the look on my son’s face made me swell.  He had worked hard to plan, shop, stay on budget, and cook.  He did a great job!  He stepped up to the challenge, learned a few lessons along the way, and, I believe, pleased the Lord in the process.  I have to seriously say that my son’s spaghetti sauce was better than mine.

Next up, my oldest son, who is determined to make dinner and dessert with his $20.  We may have watery potato soup for dinner, but I can guarantee that we will have a yummy dessert with him as chef.  I’ll keep you posted!

The Case of the Missing Chicken


I believe that it is no coincidence that most parents begin to go gray at the very time their children become teenagers.

Teens have the reputation for being a challenging bunch, and no doubt, they can be at times. I’ll admit that my children can vouch for the fact that they have audibly heard me reminding myself, “Children are a gift from the Lord. Children are a gift from the Lord.” Raising teens, especially in today’s culture, is tough. They are bombarded with so much more than we ever were at the same age. I believe that it is important to remember that parenting is a privilege, not a chore. You’ve been hand selected to walk through life with your children. That journey will involve laughter and tears, triumphs and defeats, and, yes, some gray hair.  I am so thankful for my three boys, two of whom are teens.  Frankly, I love being their mom.

This past year has seen me make some startling discoveries about teens:  teenagers do indeed have bottomless pits, their hunger is never satisfied or quenched, and as soon as one meal is finished, they are ready for the next.   When my children were younger, I can remember overhearing other parents lamenting over the fact that their teens were eating them out of house and home.  Naively, I thought that that must be a gross exaggeration, hyperbole, a stretching of the truth.  Nope.  It’s spot on.  I’ve concluded that teens will in fact make you broke…if you allow it!

Case in point.  Chicken was on sale a few weeks ago.  I purchased three packages, for a total of twelve chicken breasts.  While making dinner one evening I decided that I would cook up all, I repeat, all of the chicken.  My plan was to make enough for dinner that evening with plenty to spare for lunches for the entire week.

You can see where this is going.

After making up everyone’s plates for dinner that evening, we ventured into the dining room to eat. Dinnertime is one of our favorite family times. We all take turns sharing the tidbits of our day. Laughter is a guarantee at dinner…and I like it that way! Well, on this evening, my husband and I remained at the table a bit longer than usual. The boys began to clear the table while we chatted. We were there for a good 20 minutes or so. When I finally made my way into the kitchen, I stopped dead in my tracks in front of the baking sheet. There sat one lone chicken breast. One. You’ll remember that I began the evening with twelve pieces of chicken. I served six pieces at dinner. I looked at my two teens and asked them what had happened to the chicken. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt here; take the innocent until proven guilty approach.  Maybe the chicken fell?  Without skipping a beat one replied, “We ate them. We were hungry.”

Hungry? We just finished dinner.  How is that humanly possible?  My guys are fit and active; I know they need fuel, but five extra chicken breasts…in addition to what they ate at dinner?  I began to laugh; then I paused.  Suddenly, this was not funny anymore; it was gluttony…not to mention a supreme waste of money.  I lovingly sat them down to talk with them.  I wasn’t angry, but I did want to make it clear that we are living on a budget, and that obliterating the contents of the cupboard and refrigerator is just not an option.

The next morning, a plan came to mind.

Next up:  The Plan

A Fun Family Craft: 3D Snowflakes

With three boys ages ten through nearly fifteen in the house, craft time is, well, becoming a thing of the past (understandably). However, there is one craft that still gets them all, hubby included, to the table to join in: paper snowflakes. We’ve been making these little gems since the kids were toddlers. It’s a downright cheap craft with potentially spectacular results. I simply adore my wintertime windows bedecked with these handmade beauties.

Last year while shopping I encountered paper snowflakes like I had never seen before. These gigantic creations, roughly three feet high, were three dimensional and looked so intricate and complex that it left me stunned. How in the world were those made? Each time I entered that store, I admired their beauty but never gave a thought to investigating how to make them myself.

A few weeks ago as I was planning for a project for my co-op’s art class, those snowflakes came to mind. With a few spare minutes I hit Pinterest. I did a quick search for “3D Snowflakes”, and, voila!; there they were! After doing a bit of reading, what had initially seemed like an impossible task, now seemed doable. My art class is comprised of children ages eight through ten; I was confident that they would be able to complete this project with a little assistance. That evening I made one for myself. I was amazed at how easy it was. In the morning, when my ten year old came downstairs and took a look at the snowflake, he asked, “This is not the art project for today, is it? We’ll never be able to do that!” I assured him that it appeared much more difficult than it actually was. I kept reassuring him that he and his class could indeed do this!

My art class gasped when they saw the project of the day. They too, like my son, thought that I had gone off the deep end and presented them with an impossible task. I assured them that as long as they listened and followed instructions they would create this spectacular masterpiece with their own two hands. Listen and follow instructions they did. By the end of class, there was a flurry of gigantic snowflakes and great big smiles! Success.

What you’ll need:

  • 6 pieces of sturdy, white craft paper, each cut into an 8″ square
  • a stapler
  • clear tape

How to pull this off:

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Begin by folding one of the paper squares in half diagonally, creating a triangle.  Run your finger along the seam to secure.

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Fold the same triangle in half again, forming a smaller triangle.  Again run your finger along the seams to secure.

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Repeat these steps with the remaining pieces of square paper.  You should then have six identical, folded triangles.

Position one triangle in front of you with the single, folded seam in front of you horizontally ( as pictured below).

Starting at the bottom, left corner of the triangle, measure off four, one inch segments, marking each with a dot.

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Beginning with the outermost marking on the right side, draw a 5 1/2″ diagonal line.  The line should run parallel to the edge of the paper. (I used a dark pencil for demonstration purposes.  I suggest lightly drawing your lines with pencil.)

Moving to the next mark, draw a 4″ line, again running parallel to the paper and the previous line drawn.

Next, draw a 2 1/2″ diagonal line from the next mark.

Finally, from the last mark, draw a 1″ line.  All of the lines that you just drew should run parallel to one another, as well as parallel to the outer, right edge of the triangle.

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Beginning at the bottom seam, gently cut along each line, being sure to stop at the end and going no further.

Repeat this same process in steps 5-10 with the remaining five folded triangles.

Gently unfold and flatten one of the cut triangles.  Have the paper positioned with the tips of the paper facing up and down, in a diamond shape.

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Have a small 1″ piece of tape ready.

Working from the inside, bring the two center pieces together, tips overlapping a bit, forming a tube.  Secure the pieces together with tape.

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Flip the paper over.  Have another piece of tape ready. With the next two center pieces, bring them together, tips overlapping by about 1/4″-1/2″, forming a slightly larger tube than the last.  Secure with tape.

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Flip the paper over again and have another piece of tape ready.  Bring the tips of the next two pieces toward one another, and tape together.

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Flip and repeat this process twice more.  You will find that as you move outward and work with the larger sections of paper, the space needed to overlap becomes greater.

Upon completion, you will have joined all corners together into a series of alternating tubes.

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Repeat steps 12-18 with the remaining five cut triangles.

Take three of your completed pieces and join the bottom tips together.  Staple together.  Repeat this with the remaining three pieces.  This will leave you with 2 stapled sections.

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Bring the stapled portions together, overlapping by at least 1″.  Staple the two sections together to form one unit.

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Using a stapler or a bit of tape, work to secure the upper portion of each individual section to each other to prevent “flopping”.

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This is the snowflake made by my 10 year old son! He just needed a little help taping and stapling!

NOTES:  To create a smaller snowflake, you can simply begin with smaller size squares of 6″, 5″, or 4″.   Regardless of what size you decide on, remember that all six squares need to be identical in size.  Just keep in mind that the smaller in size that you go, the finer the work needs to be with your fingers.