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!

3 thoughts on “Teens in the Kitchen: The $20 Challenge

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