As a homeschooling, work-from-home mom of 5 children under 8 years old, I challenged myself to make ALL my children’s snacks for the month of January. Here’s what happened:

1. We saved $1400 in groceries in the first month!

Having five kids and picky standards for our food, our grocery bill is higher than many families, so ditching the packaged snacks made a life-changing difference for us that had me asking, “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”

I came to realize that buying packaged snacks was like paying for a personal chef to make food for you, except by purchasing from multiple brands, you’re paying for multiple chefs and their multiple factories.

2. We bought a kitchen island

No exaggeration, this thing has been life-changing. I’ve long-envisioned my children in the kitchen with me, “helping” me make food and learning a life skill they could pass along to their own families one day, but our poor kitchen layout left me yelling constantly, “Out of the kitchen!” We were able to pour all the money we saved into our kitchen - buying new, non-toxic baking dishes and a rolling kitchen island where my kiddos can join me as I make their nutritious snacks. Now I’m inviting the kids into the kitchen when I work and enjoying their company.

My husband likes to use the island to set up his coffee and his Bible while he cooks (more Bible time!), or he pushes it against the wall and sets up a spacious pancake-making station with our griddle.

Bonus: the first view when entering the kitchen every morning is a clean island rather than kitchen counter clutter. This helps stabilize my mood in the morning, helping me focus on my tasks and be more emotionally available to my children throughout the day.

3. My kids don’t miss the packaged snacks!

I thought this challenge would have been more of a transition for my kids, but in two-and-a-half months since I began the challenge, my kids haven’t once asked for any of their old snacks or complained about the ones I've made for them. Instead, they compliment my food, calling it “delicious,” rating it with many thumbs up, and rolling their eyes in delight as they eat.

4. My kids and I snack less

When we bought only packaged snacks, our 4 boys would go through an entire snack drawer in just a few days. They were constantly asking for snacks, and my husband and I frequently considered putting locks on the snack drawers but worried how that might affect their relationships with food as they grew older. Now, they seem more satisfied by the nutrient-dense foods I provide. I think this is partially why they haven't once asked for any of their old snacks.

I snack less because I know all the work that goes into making the snack. When I want a cookie but see that there are only a couple left, I ask myself, “Do I have the time, ingredients, or motivation to make more of these soon” and then, “How hungry am I really?” What I find much of the time is that, no, I’m not able to make more of those today and, no, I’m not actually that hungry, so I put the cookie back and save it for my kiddos.

5. My kids respect and appreciate my cooking

I think my children also realize how much work goes into my cooking because instead of hearing the snack drawer opening and closing throughout the day, I now enjoy the sound of, “Mom, may I have one of your delicious cookies?” They also have a single serving each time (rather than an entire sleeve of plant-based Oreo knock-offs in one sitting) without asking for more except on days when they are particularly hungry.

6. My husband eats more food

We’ve had our share of financial struggles over the past several years. To help our family save money and to make sure our children had the highest quality [pre-made] food we could find, my husband has sacrificed himself by eating a lot of inexpensive, low-quality food or skipping meals altogether to the point where he had little appetite (a sign of undernourishment and a slow metabolism). With all the money we’ve saved, he knows there is now plenty of high-quality, homemade food to go around. It is a delight to watch him fill his lunchbox with plenty of nutrient-dense foods every day, including all the fruits we can now afford (See 13), and he’s got his appetite back!

7. My husband can touch his toes now

Once a young, fit Infantry Marine, my husband has had increasing mobility issues in the 10 years since leaving the Marine Corps. At the end of January, he surprised me by showing me that he was able to touch his toes and to comfortably move in ways he hasn’t been able to in a long time. We’ve long thought his mobility issues were solely a result of his service-connected disabilities, but it seems his poor diet was causing inflammation that made mobility difficult and painful. It’s amazing the effect diet has on our bodies!

8. I’m becoming more efficient in the kitchen

As I’m learning multiple recipes in a short time, I’m learning some basics (such as creaming butter and sugar together) that make me more efficient in the kitchen. I’m also learning how to use the same ingredients for multiple snacks and meals, so I’m able to bake and cook multiple foods in one kitchen session!

All the baking supplies we were able to afford (like my new standing mixer) help with the efficiency.

9. I’m making more meals too

As long as I’m in the kitchen making snacks, I use the time to go ahead and cook more meals too. When my kids and I are full on meals, we snack less!

10. Less waste

There is less food waste because 1) I am constantly in and out of the fridge, meaning I better remember what foods we have and therefore don’t forget about them, 2) I value the food more because I put time into making it, and 3) I use up ingredients that I previously didn't use often, like buttermilk and cream cheese, instead of having the leftovers expire before I found another use for them.

There is less garbage now because there aren’t so many individual wrappers throw away! It now takes our family of seven about a week to fill up a 13-gallon trash can. As my husband says, “You know you’re crunchy when you generate more recycling than trash.”

Not only that, but the companies from which I source my individual ingredients tend to implement low-waste or zero-waste practices.

11. Less mess

How are packaged snacks always so crumby??? I am able to choose to make less messy foods and, as a standard, my kids grab a plate for their snacks rather than using ripped-up packaging to try (and inevitably fail) to catch some of the crumbs. Speaking of packaging, there is no more of that lying all over the floor as my children forget throughout the day to clean up after themselves. And, because I know all the work that goes into making the snacks, I am more intentional about making sure my kids eat all their food, so less food is left on the table to fall onto the floor or get snatched up by the toddler.

12. Control over ingredients

Interestingly, my husband and I noticed positive changes in our digestion within the first couple weeks of eating all homemade food, which had me really questioning even the “natural” additives of highly processed food. I was suddenly disgusted by all the unnecessary ingredients of store-bought food like gums and “natural” preservatives, no matter how much I preferred the “natural” additives to the synthetic alternatives. (What even are “natural flavors”?) While I had for years settled for a few extra ingredients, I no longer had to compromise for the “best" available.

I also became more mindful of how much sugar and how little protein we were all eating. I’m not against sugar at all - our bodies need carbs for quick energy - but I do try to support balanced blood sugar, which means balancing carbs with protein! When I first started making all our snacks, I basically tried to recreate all the snacks we were buying from the store. I soon realized how quickly I was going through sugar, so I adjusted the foods I was making to include less sugar and more protein and healthy fats. I love using high-quality eggs and dairy, and I add unflavored collagen powder to every batter.

Not only is the quality control better, but I’m able to be more intentional about the companies I support and the causes they support.

13. My kids eat more fruit!

Because we're spending less money on packaged snacks, we have more money to spend on the fruits my kids enjoy! I felt guilty having to limit the fruits my kids ate because I know many parents struggle to get their kids to eat fruits at all. Now they can have all the fruits they want. Some favorites are apples, bananas, oranges, mandarins, grapes, and pineapples. 

14. Faster, less frequent shopping trips 

My husband took over all the grocery shopping when I conceived our firstborn in November 2015. Last year, with four young boys and a pregnant wife, he spent 3 hours every other week PLUS smaller, supplementary shops on the off weeks that took about 30 minutes each. Now, he spends about 15-20 minutes a week grocery shopping and– when consistent– is able to avoid large grocery shops entirely. (If he skips shopping for a week, then a “larger” grocery shop takes only about 1 hour.)

That’s 8 hours a month shopping down to 1 hour a month!

Not to mention the time saved by not having to put away so many groceries. That means less time my husband has to spend outside the home and away from the family. Instead, those hours are spent by me in the kitchen, explaining to our children that by putting in the work at home, we can have Daddy home more often.

15. More family time

Not only are we spending less time shopping (see 14) and more time together in the kitchen (see 2), but ditching packaged snacks created a bonding opportunity between my husband and my children. We used to have to decide between taking all the children shopping with us so we didn’t lose precious hours with Daddy or me staying home with the kids so he could shop more efficiently. Now that grocery shopping takes less time, I tend to stay home with the kids since we aren’t losing so much time with Daddy. Instead, my husband and I agreed that if we made it through all of January without buying packaged snacks (which we did!) that each time he went shopping, he would take one child with him, and that one child would get to choose one packaged snack to bring home. Our kids love doing ordinary things with us, one-on-one. In a large family, it becomes a special bonding time.

16. Food takes up less space

Food takes up less space both in the store and at home. Where biweekly grocery shops used to overflow a shopping cart (or two), most of our shops fit inside a single market basket. Now we don't have to remember to bring 10 reusable bags inside the grocery store OR buy more when we inevitably do forget them. (Our mudroom still hosts an abundance of large, reusable bags that we failed to reuse.)

At home, all the snacks I make fit in a small area in the pantry instead of two sizeable snack drawers, where we’re now able to store small appliances and storage containers that were beginning to clutter our kitchen.

17. I upgraded my camera gear

$1400 a month adds up FAST! With that extra money, I was able to upgrade all my photography gear, which will allow me to provide better quality photos to my clients and to have back-up gear - perfect for the unpredictable, once-in-a-lifetime nature of birth!

18. I've continued the challenge

If you haven’t guessed by now, we carried on this challenge well beyond January. What was once a challenge is now my new way of life that upholds our values and benefits our family in more ways than we could have imagined. A discipline that I set out to practice for one month may now last for many years, generating for multiple generations of our family less waste and more time together.

Tips for success:

  • Babywearing
  • Kitchen work cut-off time at 10pm
  • Mini salt lamp in the kitchen to work by after dark
  • Double every recipe and freeze what you don’t use.
  • Prep food when you have time (like at night when the kids are in bed) so all you have to do when you’re almost ready to eat is pop it in the oven or heat it up on the stove!
  • Make snacks that double as breakfast, like muffins, pumpkin bread, and banana bread.
  • Just like homeschooling doesn't mean recreating school at home, making all your own snacks doesn't mean recreating all your old grocery shopping staples at home! I started out thinking I had to have a variety of 5-10 types of snacks, but I've found that having 2-3 in rotation is plenty.
  • Other than the snacks I make, my children also eat whole foods like fruits, vegetables, cheese, yogurt, and sometimes nuts.