Food Rules: Setting Up a Self-Serve Pantry for Kids

You may remember a while back when I attempted an experiment in Family Style Eating. And how that didn’t work out so well. I loved the idea of giving the boys more power and control over their own meals and food portions, I loved the idea of letting them do more things themselves and learn by trial and error. But that particular endeavor involved a lot more error than seemed worth it! Lots of mess, lots of wasted food, not much actually being eaten. They just weren’t ready for that level of food prep.

Not to worry, I am willing to admit when I’ve fallen on my face, and I’m always game to try again. I still really love the general idea of empowering the kids to do more things themselves. So over the weekend as I surveyed the mess inside the pantry and planned to clean it out, I also decided to rearrange things.

As the kids have gotten taller and more curious, we’ve tended to move the food they like higher and higher so they WE could dole it out when asked. But this suddenly struck me as slightly illogical since 1) they end up asking over and over and we get tired of doing waitressing duty 2) they already have access to the fridge and rummage for things to eat in there so what’s the difference here?20140720-223850-81530411.jpg

So now as you can see, the food they like is on the bottom. We don’t restrict how much of this stuff they can eat anyway so now they can reach it themselves – crackers, cereal, applesauce, and in the back are some stuff they wouldn’t bother with like unpopped popcorn and dry pasta.

It probably won’t surprise you that I no longer insist on the kids eating meals with us. Often we do eat together because we enjoy it, but usually that’s just breakfast. After that their appetites tend to be somewhat unpredictable and it began to seem irrational to throw away uneaten food from my attempts at forced mealtimes, then dole out snacks anyway! I figure, they know when they are hungry and they know what they want to eat. They have healthy options to choose from, so I let them choose. Mike and I enjoy eating dinner together while they do their own thing. I would rather encourage healthy eating habits (eating when you are hungry, not eating when you’re not) than force convention.

(I will add that to help us stick to a budget we do keep some bulk-bought food in storage downstairs and bring out a set amount weekly. So for example we buy applesauce in large amounts at Costco but only put 12 cups per week in the pantry. If they eat all 12 in two days, so be it! The pantry will get restocked the following week.)

The main way this could go horribly sideways is with the mess factor, but then that factor applies to their fridge raids. I just try to stay on top of things when they start hunting and gathering. I do get agitated about wasting food, though. Sometimes a little overly crabby and uptight about it – I’m sorry, it’s a thing with me! It makes me absolutely crazy when they feed good food to the dog just for fun or eat two bites of a banana and say they are done. I do my best to recycle but sometimes I just get annoyed and snap at them about it, I confess.

On a related note, one of the blogs I’ve started following in recent months is by an unschooling family called the Martins. They recently made an adorable vlog post about “freedom shopping,” in which they give each of their kids a set amount of money to spend on food at the supermarket and let them buy whatever they want. I was impressed with their daughter’s reasoning through whether the bigger, more expensive hunk of cheese was a better deal than the cheaper, small hunk. So cute. They challenged their readers to do a Freedom Shopping Challenge, something my kids are not old enough to do yet but I’m mentally filing that away for someday!


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