Monday, May 6, 2019

7 Tips for Feeding LOTS of Teenagers

One day my husband and I were running some of the multitude of errands required when one lives in a third world country. In Bogota no bills could be paid by mail or online, each one required a personal visit to the office where the money was due. No one store carried everything (or nearly everything) you needed to live. Bread came from fragrant bakeries where it was baked several times a day, and was only fresh a few delicious hours. Milk was not pasteurized completely and went sour the second day, so had to be purchased daily. Nails and screws and light tools had to be bought in one part of town, sewing supplies in another. Furniture was downtown. Notebooks, printer paper, pens, and other office type supplies came from only a few stores--if they had them in stock. That particular (and not unusual) day we went out early to accomplish four errands that would take less than an hour in the small city where we live now, and found ourselves running past lunch and starving. We stopped at a restaurant to eat and ended up spending the equivalent of a whole day's food budget for the six so that just the two of us could not feel hungry. And the food wasn't even that good.

That's when we made the decision.

We decided we would bring sandwiches along, or go home for sandwiches, rather than eat out when the only thing we needed was food. That's probably not a typical point of view. But we both have a frugal DNA. I just couldn't see spending $10-15 each for lunch when I just needed a 50c sandwich from things I had at home. Eating out was for special occasions or when home was too far away.

That said, I soon discovered that there is a time to not skimp on food: 

When you feed your teenager's friends. 

Scrimp and save in every way you can, but don't hold back on feeding teens!

Yes, it gets expensive and, no, they probably don't appreciate the fact that it is costing you a lot of money. (I always got upset when they took food on their plates and soda in their glasses and left half of it.) But it's not worth being frugal. The idea is you want those kids in your house and food is a huge enticement. If you can offer lots of food (it doesn't have to be fancy, exotic, or expensive), they will come.

The other draw is being an honest to goodness family. Sadly many of the kids around our kids don't have that. My youngest even went to a small Christian school in the states for high school. One day she came home and told us that of the nine people on the student leadership team, she was the only one living with her biological mother and father! And multiply that by the non-Christian families in your average public school.

So yes, it is expensive, but if you want to be the house where they hang out and you know what they are up to and can have an influence, you need to budget for feeding them.

All hospitality is costly--in food bills, wear and tear on your furniture and house, chipped and broken dishes, and even missing toys, pens, pencils, books, and more valuable items. It can be frustrating and messy and thankless (at the moment) but it is very worth it.

I have a friend from church who had some very good ideas that she implemented when her now grown children were teens, that I will share with you in future posts, but today I want to give you some tips on how to make having this kind of food possible:
  1.  Put it in the budget -- If you need to, rework your budget to allow for feeding your teens and their friends. The amount depends on your ability. If you can afford to order in great, but if you your budget is more frozen pizza and store brand soda, do that. It's all food and that's what they are looking for.
  2. Make a way to store it -- if you are going the frozen pizza route, you need some freezer space. Cans of soda, pasta, jars of spaghetti sauce...whatever you are serving needs to be available at the moment you need it, so clear out some storage space.
  3. Don't worry about peer pressure -- Our kids' friends had TVs in their room, name brand clothes, and their parents took everyone out to eat at expensive restaurants. Peer pressure never bothered me in high school, but it did when my kids were in high school! Not because I had to live up to the others, but I was concerned about what my kids were thinking was important. (Spoiler alert: my kids have amazed me with their grown up lives!)
  4. Make the meal the activity -- Whether you ask them to pitch in and help or you have a taco bar, DIY sandwich, build your own potato, or top your own pizza, this will work out cheaper than ordering in, make it fun, and give them food they like, because they make it themselves.
  5. Teens don't mind not fancy  -- In fact, most of the time they probably prefer it. Paper plates and cups mean there's less clean up for you and for them and they just want to hang out together and eat.
  6. Make it easy on yourself -- Teens aren't impressed by beautifully displayed gourmet food, don't pressure yourself to serve it they way you might for your friends. Cartons on the table? Sure! Communal knife in the mayo? Why not? Two liter bottles of pop? Okay! Sure, some families can have individual brand name cans of soda and buy store produced food trays, but the teens aren't expecting a classy buffet. As I said, they just want to hang out and fill up.
  7. Offer your food cheerfully -- no need to apologize for quality, quantity or the state of your house. This is important. I have learned that whatever you do with confidence, you can pull off. So just make them feel welcome--like you really want them there--and they will come back.
Not everyone has the personality to be THE hangout place. some people can just make themselves a part of the group and others are more comfortable in the background. Some parents thrive on noise and activity and some like quiet. Some have others who live in the house to consider, a small place, or a personality that needs a certain amount of order. Don't kick yourself for not being like that other Mom. Do things according to your personality, your kids' personalities, your budget, and your abilities. 

I will talk more about specific things you can do in future posts, so come back to get the scoop!

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