Multiple choice: Would you rather a) Visit the dentist OR b) Take four discontent children with you to do your weekly grocery shop? Some people have been known to punch their dentist (actually my neighbour – he told me). I haven’t punched my children after shopping with them but I do get a tiny bit stressed out; and have also bought things I don’t usually buy during those other kid free times when I’m able to think and shop at the same time. It’s the credit card then that feels the hit and not the kids then. So I have come up with a scheme during the school holidays which means that a) I don’t buy food for my children for a day, b) I don’t cook for my children for 24 hours and c) they don’t complain about my cooking (WIN!!)
Actually my Mother deserves the credit for this one as she did this a couple of times with us when we were little. She gave us the nominal sum of around R10 to buy ourselves our food for a day and sent us off on our bicycles to the local campsite to cook and eat it. We were allowed to pick what ever grew wild to supplement our dinner and we knew of a spot on the way to the site where a stream ran out to the ocean and we could harvest our own supply of watercress. In 1984 the South African Rand was on parity with the US dollar which meant that R10 could buy you a loaf of bread, a tin of beans, an orange and some sausages (but I can’t remember if that was per person or for three of us). This year in January though, due to inflation and depreciation, the Rand hit an all time low of R 17.9169 to the US dollar. Nowadays one dollar will cost you about R14 and a 500gm loaf of white bread is around R12.
So, once a week during the school holidays my kids buy their own food for a day, they cook it too which is a double bonus. This is how it works: I divide our weekly grocery budget by seven days and then by the six people in our family. This is roughly our daily budget per person. They then have to buy all their meals for the day for this amount and it’s quite difficult. In the process they have learnt a huge amount. Firstly, it’s more cost effective to pair up with your sibling and double your money or even better combine all four together. Secondly, my kids have learnt to be a bit savvy with pricing and value per kg or per litre. Thirdly they have had to add up with a pencil and paper or in their heads when they forget the calculator, so they are unknowingly doing homework during the hols. Fourth it’s very empowering – they take such pride in their food choices and the cooking of it. Fifth the kids co-operate and negotiate with one another over such things as who can use the cooker when, or how to set multiple timings on the oven. Sixth they see how valuable it is to budget as well as how expensive treats and desserts are compared to essential food items. Seventh meal times are so relaxing for me, I’m only cooking for two and they never ask me what time dinner is as they can cook whenever they like.
I try not to get too involved in their choices but do lend a hand to the younger ones if necessary. However, I generally don’t see them much during the time we are all in the supermarket. It’s soo peaceful. The only limitation I set is that they need to buy some fresh item of fruit or veg. They are allowed to pick any herbs or veg from the garden (not often much there though) and they can use butter, mayonnaise and ketchup or other sauces from the fridge.
What is noticeable to me is how cheap it is to buy processed food. Tinned spaghetti, pizza and chips costs far less than a fresh salad and a cut of meat, which is criminal really if you think about it. Kids love junk though and it’s seen as a treat. The funniest part of it all is the concerned looks the littlest ones get from other mothers in the shop. It’s not every day you see a couple of young unattended kids discussing what they should buy for their supper. Today the cashier was really sweet, she took time out to explain to the girls how they could go online and enter a survey rating the supermarket’s performance which could win them €100, for them a small fortune or a whole trolley load of pizza and chips.