Why I let my kids eat junk food-2893

I’ve written a handful of times how our family has taken on “just eat real food” mantra that we originally heard Underground Wellness podcast. We love it! It makes grocery shopping and deciding what to eat so easy: JERF or not-JERF.

That doesn’t mean we don’t ever eat junk food. We’re just conscious of what we are putting in our mouths. Want a Snickers bar? Sure! Just know it’s not-JERF, call it for what it is. Not real food. But, enjoy that sugar!

The words you choose are so very important. It’s what shapes your decisions, how you feel, and how you view the world around you. We choose to call soda as, “sugar.” Any food that we can’t grow, hunt, gather or make from scratch, simply, is called,”not-JERF” or “junk.”

For the boys, they fully understand the concept – here’s how we manage our junk food (or not-JERF) consumption, and why, despite all my research and encouraging people to eat more real food, I let my kids eat junk food.

Before you judge our family, please read the entire post.

Why I let my kids eat junk food

I believe in free choice.

I believe in training my children how to evaluate opportunities, understand consequence and have the freedom to choose based on all of the information.

In essence, they are building the muscle that will help them become excellent, responsible, human beings.

Also, we’ve found that the more we banned or denied our kids something, the more they wanted it. Heck, I was like that, too!

But let’s first talk about money

Let’s back up a bit, so that I can explain the junk food thing more clearly. My children do not get an allowance. I don’t believe that they should get used to getting money for free, without work.

I want my kids to grow up not expecting or relying on government freebies, unemployment,  social security (will it even exist? will I even get back what I’ve already put my hard-earned money into?), or any programs. If people are in a dire situation, sure, there are programs that are meant to be a temporary solution, to help people get back on their feet, like unemployment. But, I want to teach my kids to help themselves first, BEFORE expecting someone (or something) else to take care of them.

EDIT: For the record, this has nothing to do with politics. I’m neither a Democrat or Republican, I support different policies of each, but believe the political system is broken, with so many clownhats running the show. I refuse to pigeonhole or label myself as either. I don’t mean to belittle anyone on unemployment or social security. I’ve been on unemployment before, several times. I have family members who depend on their social security checks to buy groceries each month. 

My post is about building the muscle of self-reliance.

My post is on teaching our kids that they have the power and control to make decisions, good or bad — and there are consequences of each. ~Jaden

Instead of an allowance, my kids work

They are free to work in our family business, or to start their own business. We’ve dabbled in them selling our hens’ eggs to friends, but we probably would need a flock of 25 hens to make a decent business.

The boys have found more success in working on Steamy Kitchen. They read and approve comments (and slingshot virtual stink bombs to spammers), create recipes, cook and patiently pose for photographs.

With our 5-acres, there’s always a job to be done. Frankly, it’s too much work for just Scott to handle alone. I’m happy to help when it’s NOT 98-degrees outside with 134% humidity.

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So, Andrew and Nathan earn money pulling weeds, caring for the aquaponics garden, mowing the lawn and any other work that’s outside their scope of “Family Contribution.”

What are Family Contributions? Well, you and I grew up calling them “Chores.”

They are things we have to do together, as a family, to keep our house running clean, smooth, and thriving. They are non-paid activities, they are the baseline for what every member of our family contributes.

There’s a saying that I learned from a baby book, called BabyWise. “Start as you intend to go on.” Meaning, if I want my children to grow up to have a clean home without expecting someone to pay them for doing dishes, or vacuuming, then I start by setting that expectation from the very beginning.

It wasn’t always easy. We used to give weekly allowance, we used to pay our kids extra to do chores, like 50-cents for taking out the trash. But, the boys started expecting and felt entitled to money every time they performed daily household activities.

Very quickly, on our old method, the kids began focusing on the money, and not contribution. “If I wash the dishes, I get $1.00.” vs. “A clean kitchen makes our family feel good.”

Child labor

Andrew is a whiz on the computer. He codes in Java (parents, check out Youth Digital and Code.org!), learns software lightening fast and can type almost as fast as I can.

Have you downloaded the free Asian Masters of Flavor booklet? It’s right there on the sidebar! Well, Andrew helped me design and put it together in Pages, a word processing program on the Mac. He’s awesome in Pages.

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He earned $7.93 per hour, minimum wage in Florida. For one hour’s work, here’s where his money goes:

70% Spending account
20% Savings account
10% Charity account

Andrew earns 8% interest rate.

Nathan helps approve and moderate comments (so please no naughty words in the comments!)


How the kids keep track of money


We use an app called KidsBank to keep track of all of their money. Unfortunately, I can’t find a bank who will provide free checking account DEBIT card for minors.

I know a lot of banks offer free checking and savings accounts for kids, but I am looking for one that:
1) Is connected to my bank account to make transfers easy
2) Offers a free debit card so that the kids can actively PAY for the item they want with their own debit card. Some banks offer debit cards for 16 year olds and older, but my kids are 9 and 11.

If a bank doesn’t have the free debit card, it’s not worth my time (or the accountant’s time) to have 2 additional checking accounts to keep track of and balance.

Right now, it’s just easier to track via an app. The great thing about KidsBank app is that it gives a very satisfying “cha-ching” sound for transactions!

Spending Saving Giving

Anything in their Spending account is theirs, free to do whatever they want. They’ve earned the right to spend that money, and they are learning responsible spending habits.

This past weekend, they chose to spend their money on junk food.

The money in Savings is for big purchases or gifts they want to buy for Christmas or birthdays.

Their savings account is NOT for college

I don’t want them to save for college or even a car yet. For those big ticket items, I want them to create a business that will generate TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars.

I want them to learn to create value in a big way. Scott and I made a decision from the start to raise our kids with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Do you remember the movie, Robots, Inc.? There’s a quote that I love in the movie, “Find a need, fill a need.” The boys grew up watching that movie.

We’ll wait until they are just a little older to start them on that big journey. Right now, they need to focus on their grades (ahem, Nathan.).

Perhaps, if there is enough interest, I’ll write about business + kids in another post.

The Charity account is self explanatory. Andrew only has 70-cents in his charity account because he purchased a laptop for a student in his school who is incredibly gifted, but is currently in less than ideal family circumstances.

We chose not to know who that student is, we have an understanding with Ms. Douglas, the registrar of the school, that if there is ever an opportunity to help a student in a massive way, to let us know.

Andrew and I went to the store, picked out the laptop and purchased it. He delivered it to Ms. Douglas.

I don’t tell you this to impress you, our giving doesn’t come from a place of ego, but I want to stress the importance of kids giving back in a real, concrete way. In a “right in my backyard” kind of way, to support our local community, right here at home.

We’ve always taught the boys to take care of our fellow neighbors first, do as much as we can to uplift our hometown. I’m not saying that donating money to helping those in other countries is bad in any way — this is just our family choice.

But back to the junk food

Yes, it’s nasty stuff. Full of empty calories and chemicals. But if they spend their own money to purchase the junk, and they cook it themselves, that’s fine by me.

When I shop, I fill my cart with the good stuff, or “JERF.”

If the kids want not-JERF, they have to pay for it themselves. When kids consciously make that decision to spend their hard-earned money on something, they begin to appreciate things more.

Before we took the allowance away, when we would go shopping, they would just toss things into the grocery cart without a thought.

Now, we find what’s on sale. 2-for-1 deals and calculate the biggest value purchase. Or we go without the Cheetos, it’s their choice.

They cook their own junk

If they want a dinner made up of…

“Enriched Macaroni (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Corn Starch, Salt, Enriched Flour (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Sugar, Ricotta Cheese* (whey, milkfat, lactic acid, salt), Tomato*, Monosodium Glutamate, Maltodextrin, Citric Acid, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Modified Corn Starch, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Paprika, Spice, Color (yellow lakes 5 & 6, yellows 5 & 6), Mono and Diglycerides, Cheddar Cheese* (milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), Yeast Extract, Enzyme Modified Blue Cheese (milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), Cream, Whey, Enzyme Modified Cheddar Cheese (milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes), Butter Oil, Nonfat Milk, Blue Cheese* (milk, salt, cheese cultures, enzymes), Sodium Caseinate, Silicon Dioxide (anticaking agent), Sodium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate, Calcium Caseinate, Enzymes.*Dried”

(basically, those are the ingredients in the Cheeseburger Macaroni), then they have to cook it themselves and clean up afterwards.

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Do you like my temporary outdoor camping stove while my kitchen is being remodeled? I’ve been cooking there for the past 2 months! My kitchen is allllmoooost done!

For a lot of kids, even the hassle of cleanup is such a chore, that they’ll just decide they don’t want the food anyways. But, for Andrew and Nathan, they enjoy cooking and cleanup is part of their everyday family contribution, so that pressure really doesn’t work for us.

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A game at the dinner table

Another thing that we do while we enjoy that yummy, “Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil,” is that we’ll take the box with us at the dinner table and we’ll make a game out going through each and every ingredient and trying to figure out which ingredient is where in the food.

Hmmmcan you taste that chemical Sodium Citrate? Where do you think it is? In the sauce or pasta?”
“Do you see the Yellow 5 & 6 food coloring? What do you think it does to your body?”

Hopefully, these types of conversations will dissuade them from making bad food choices, but at the very least, it makes them think carefully about what they choose to put into their bodies.

Making the conversation more like a game than a lecture definitely helps get through to the kids.



KidsBank (iPhone app) $2.99 – they have a free version as well. We’ve been using it for a couple of years now. The interface isn’t as smooth and slick as I’d like it, but it works.

I created a Free Kids Spend/Save/Give Worksheet for you. Would you like a copy? I hope it helps you and your children talk about money, earning money and giving back to the community.

I’d love to hear from you – do you have any strategies to help kids manage their money, spend their money and eat less junk?