Teaching Kids to Shop Healthy

A trip to the grocery store can be a lot more than just an errand in your day. It can become a time when you teach your kids about colors, numbers, language, calculations, budgeting and also an area where they first learn to shop for healthy food items and make them a part of their daily life.

The Problem of Teaching Kids About Healthy Eating
We all know the benefits of a balanced diet and how carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and all those other nutrients help us stay fit and healthy. But how do you teach kids about the good and not so good food products? How can they learn to choose the healthy vegetables instead of the chips without our shouting, scolding and punishing them? And most importantly, how do you make sure that, when they grow older, they will make healthy food choices?

There are many different ways to teach children about eating healthy. Talking to them, letting them know about the different food groups as outlined in the Food Pyramid, discussing the content and nutrient value of each edible item and the drastic effects fats and sugar can have on their health are all valid options. But by far, the most effective and interesting way to teach kids about healthy eating is by involving them in the decision-making process right form the start. When you buy groceries, take the kids along to encourage them to shop for healthy things.

Benefits of Grocery Shopping with Kids
There are a number of things kids from preschool to teens can learn while in the store apart from gaining food related knowledge, like money managements, calculations, and value of cents and dollars. But if your main area of concern is to teach healthy food choices and about food in general, there is nothing better than a supermarket or a grocery store. Here, kids can learn about:

  • Names of food, colors, shape and texture
  • How every food item belongs to a food group
  • The concept of frozen or packed food
  • Comparison between two items
  • Reading labels and ingredient list
  • Learning about the calorie content, servings and nutrient value
  • The quantity of items needed by the family
  • Discovering new food items that can be tried out
  • Testing their own knowledge about vitamins and minerals gained in school or through books

Nutrition Guidelines
Before you pack your kid along to the store, it is a good idea to explain the basics about food and nutrients, the food pyramid being a useful tool in this regard.

The food guide pyramid consists of different color vertical stripes with each stripe denoting a food group. These are grain products, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat and proteins, and fats and sugars. The width of these stripes varies according to how much from each food group should be eaten daily. By introducing your child to this pyramid, you can help him learn about all these food groups.

The Interest Building Phase
Depending on the age of your child, you can start with teaching her just colors, shapes and texture. As she grows older, she will learn how a food’s particular color signifies the presence of iron, calcium and other vitamins. For instance, green leafy vitamins often have lots of iron while citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C. Don’t forget to explain just why these nutrients are important to child nutrition and how they help your child grow. Another important lesson for healthy eating habits: that similar products are not necessarily the same when it comes to nutrition (100% fruit juice and fruit drinks being a good example).

The trick here is to make your kids curious about what they are eating and how it is helping them grow healthy and strong. Keep telling them everything you know about the food items. If it’s a hamburger, your scolding will be less effective than your telling your child that burgers, though high in protein, can have a lot of fat in them. Eating too much of this fat can hurt them by making them feel tired and making their heart unhealthy.

Once they start understanding the nature of food items, a grocery store visit becomes more like a scavenger hunt where they look for things they know about. It becomes an interesting place to learn about food and how to spot the healthy ones.

Make Shopping Interesting
When in the store with your kids, you need to be innovative. Simply telling them to look for vegetables, fruits, or cereals will not hold their interest for long and the whole effort of bringing them along to learn about healthy shopping will be futile. Here are some ways to make the trip more exciting for kids.

    Make a shopping list: The usual shopping list you make can be re-written so that each need grocery is listed according to its food group. For instance, under Grains, you may have cereal, bread, and buns while under Fruits and Vegetables, you may have apples, celery and green peppers. Your child then knows exactly what is needed from each group and learns his food groups as well.

    Freedom to choose: Kids love when they are given choices instead of being forced into one particular thing. Ask your child if she would rather make a tuna sandwich or a fruit salad and then look for items for that snack.

    Looking for same letter items: Ask your child to search for healthy items all starting with the same letter, like b for brown bread, beans, and bananas. This can also be extended to look for foods with the same color or same shape.

    Food pictures: Give your kid a picture of an apple and see if he can find where it is kept in the store. This can become a useful tool to help children recognize and hunt for items in the store.

    Clue cards: For older kids, an interesting way to teach about nutrients is to give them cards with clues for a food item, such as an item belonging to the red stripe of the food pyramid that grandma loves to eat and is a rich vitamin C source. The clues help build their knowledge as well as make them sure of what they are picking up from the store.

    Nutrient select: You can also directly give your child a list of nutrients of which the have to find food items to match. For instance: pick one source of iron, one of vitamin A, and two sources of carbohydrates. Since it is up to her as to what she chooses, she is able to feel more responsible and learn more about the food groups.

    Ask your kid to give you clues: You can guess your kid’s favorite food by asking him clues related to nutrient value, color, shape, etc. If he has already visited the store, he may also give you clues as to which area in the store you may find it. This is a good way to test his knowledge about the items and interest in locating that item in the store.

    Favorites: Ask your child to find out the favorite foods of all family members and get something for everyone the next time she goes to the store.

    World shopping: Every supermarket nowadays has specialty food items from all over the world. Even some of the foods you consider a staple, like pasta, has a different country origin. So, during your next visit, pack in a healthy food and geography lesson by making plans to buy something from a different country and help your child learn more about the food they are eating.

    New products: It is always good to add a little variety into the food you eat and kids will love to try out new things if they themselves have bought that stuff. Keep in mind, though, that kids don’t like to try something too "outrageous," so they may stick to small variations of items they are familiar with. Encourage them to look for new yogurt flavors or a different shaped bread.

    Ask them to cook: Once in a while, a child may be encouraged to cook something healthy for the whole family. When in the store, he can then buy the items for his special feast. Make sure you are there to guide him about the quantity and the nutrient value of each item he chooses, though.

Taking kids to the grocery store can become a fun way to teach them about health, increase their interest in healthy eating choices and make them responsible enough to buy nutritional food on their own, so you won’t always have to worry about it.