Looking for a summer project that keeps your tween occupied and learning, benefits the family and satisfies your tween's need for control while making your life easier? I've got one for you! I'm a fan of having tweens help with meal preparation, but this Saturday, I took things a step further. I took my tween to the local farmers market, gave her money, and said that I looked forward to a mostly healthy dinner prepared by her with whatever she chose to buy on the premises. This has now been named The Great Farmers Market Dinner Project.
The results? An awesome experience for everyone. The unexpected bonus is that my tween learned even more than I anticipated.
* Discuss your parameters ahead of time. How much money will they have? How much time shopping? Can they use items you have at home in the meal prep? Nutritional expectations? (I said it had to be mostly healthy.)
* Have your tween research what's in season in your area so they can start formulating a vague idea of what food they'd like to purchase.
* Day of: Load up those canvas bags and head to the market. I saw myself as my tween's security detail (and sherpa when the bags got heavy), but tried to stay out of the picture. She really appreciated the sense that she was shopping on her own.
* Discuss food safety, and help with food prep when needed for safety.
How much did I give my tween?
$25. I figured that it's in the ballpark of what we'd spend on dinner out, and this was more nutritious, fun and educational. I also knew that my tween wanted to grill some meat, and that ended up accounting for half her budget.
How much did she spend? What did we get?
$24. For dinner we ate grilled butterfly pork chops, green beans, corn on the cob, Michigan cherries and lemon tart for dessert.
Did you really eat what your tween fixed?
Yup! It was delicious.
What did your tween learn about from The Great Farmers Market Dinner Project?
* Where our food comes from: It's been a good year for cucumbers, corn that is all white is not as sweet as the mixed white/yellow, that cherries grow in Benton Harbor, MI. We can have a summer dinner with all items coming from approximately 100 miles away or less.
* Budgeting: She kept close tabs on exactly how much she had at all times. It may not have been high level arithmetic, but there was a little mental math practice.
* Marketing: I didn't see this lesson coming, but she noticed that the man loudly promoting his "BEAUTIFUL CORN" repeatedly had more business than the farmers who were quieter and not announcing their goods. She also noticed that it was easier to know what she wanted based on the signs and clearly displayed pricing. She didn't want to have to ask how much something cost.
* Food prep and meal planning.
* Herself: She can be a bit shy, so she learned that she can handle talking to the farmers and that they will be both kind and knowledgeable. I wasn't thrilled when the pork chop guy cut her a deal because she's "so stinkin' cute" but it did illustrate that talking to someone and just being nice and polite can have it's rewards when it comes to bargaining. (Because rude children are never cute, right?)
What surprised me about the project?
* How into my tween was. When I first suggested the idea, she got superexcited. The idea of being fully in charge thrills her (God help me) so why not channel that? She even talked at 4 p.m. about what time she should start making dinner. Hello, advanced planning! When cooking at home, I call her my sous chef. She was excited to flip the tables and make me her sous chef. Her speech is a bit impaired since loosing her last tooth and she said "chous sef", which is now a family joke.
* My tween's nutritional awareness. Although I told her it couldn't be all junk food and had to have some fruits and veggies, I don't think colorfulness was necessarily her goal, but our plates were very colorful. If you go by the advice to "Eat the Rainbow" for good nutrition, she knocked it out of the park.
* That my girl can have more self restraint than I think, sometimes. I really thought that she'd come home with kettle corn. Frankly, at the market (and we learned about the safety gear they wear when making it), it smelled so good and the samples were so tasty that I likely wold have caved, but she resisted. She also loved the flowers but decided that she was focused on the food and didn't want to spend her money on the centerpiece.
Is the Great Farmers Market Dinner Project a one hit wonder?
Absolutely not. In the car on the way home from the market, she asked if we could do it monthly. I think it will be fun to see how dinner changes month to month based on what's in season and allow her to try out some new recipes and learn more.
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