Learning by shopping

Food shopping with a crying infant, a rambunctious toddler, or an impatient tween? We’ll admit it doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of fun. But these trips can be educational opportunities if you make the most of them.

My husband and I are busy working parents. While we long for a balanced all-natural diet, our schedules can lead to lapses. A prime culprit was the grocery store battles with the kids. Tired and eager to get out of the store intact, we made many compromises that led to foods we didn’t approve of becoming staples in our cupboard.

One day, my husband tried something new. He allowed the boys to purchase an item if they could read all of the ingredients on the package. I was convinced this experiment would backfire. However, they started asking questions. What is acesulfame potassium?  What is soy lecithin and blue #1? At first the boys were disgusted, but then they began asking more questions: Why did they put that in the food? What does it do to me?

Unfortunately, even many readable choices are unhealthy, so the conversation has evolved. How much sugar does that item have? How much sugar should you have?

We are nowhere near the balance my husband and I would like to see.  But  we are convinced education is the best tool we have.

— Maria M.

I’ve always tried to involve my kids in shopping. That started during the in-the-backpack stage, when they could see all the stuff we got. Once they were tall enough to reach the produce bins, I would give them shopping tasks to complete on their own: “Please pick out four apples.”

As the children grew, so did the tasks: “Get six apples, two oranges, and a bunch of bananas. Make sure you check for brown spots — we don’t want bruised bananas!”

When they were old enough, around fifth grade, I began sending them off to find items by themselves: “I think the peanut butter is on aisle 14. Can you find the blue one? It should be on the lowest shelf.”

These days, with our youngest two in high school, I’m still offering opportunities to learn. Recently, I had our two teenagers drop me off at the bank, with instructions to get a loaf of bread to go with the lasagna we planned to eat for dinner.

“What kind?” they asked.

“You all decide,” I told them. “I’ll get our banking done and meet you in front of the store when I’m finished.”

The bread was hard as a rock, but they had negotiated the parking lot, the aisles, choosing the loaf, the checkout line, and the return to the car. I’m not going to worry too much about them when they head to college.

— Catherine D.

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