Healthy Food Shopping, Bring the Kids!

October 07, 2010

Food is used for a lot more than just nutrition when it comes to raising kids.

Food is used for a lot more than just nutrition when it comes to raising kids.

Unfortunately, it is also used both as a reward and as a way to keep noisy children quiet or busy - both at home and in the supermarket. Most parents transfer their eating habits and their food choices to the next generation, knowingly or not, and without giving much thought to the “knowledge” they are passing on. That’s gotta stop if we care about the health of future generations.

The thought of shopping together as a family may make you cringe but the reality is that the activity itself will do more to help lay a strong and healthful foundation. Don’t ever force a trip to the supermarket when you, or the kids, are hungry, cranky or tired - no one wins in that situation.

The first stop in most supermarkets is the produce department - and it is a virtual playground for kids. They love the colors, aromas ... and the non-linear layouts. Put them in charge of selecting a new fruit or vegetable on each shopping trip. Make it an adventure; but don’t let them run around aimlessly, stay by their side.

It’s their choice - with no boundaries. Let them make their selection for whatever reasons they have. Introduce them to the produce manager and have them teach your kids all about that particular produce item. Let them prepare the food at home, serve it and tell the rest of the family about the history, tastes, and health profile of that product.

With over 400 items in the produce department these days, it’ll be easy to introduce them to a wide variety of healthy offerings and get them started on a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. Position produce as special foods - use them as desserts in lunch boxes and for special occasions and treats.

Kids, like adults, want to be respected. Taking a few minutes and putting them in charge of produce will go a long way in making them feel good and being in a good mood to shop the rest of the store.

Going up and down the aisles can be a frightful nightmare for any parent, especially when it comes to those products that have been advertised to kids. Manufacturers of candies, sugar-laden cereals and non-nutritive beverages are spending billions of dollars to advertise to your kids. Their goal is to get their brand entrenched in your kids’ brains as early as they can. Your goal is to teach them the difference between products.

One of the most effective tools parents have is the nutritional label on every package in the store. There is no doubt that television ads will influence your kids’ choices in the store.

Do not immediately dismiss their selection. Have them take the product off the shelf and compare it - nutritionally speaking - to a more healthful alternative. While they might not understand each nutrient’s value, going down the list side by side will teach them to read and compare.

Compare breakfast cereals first by showing them the differences on the front of the packages. Explain the differences between “no added sugars,” “no preservatives,” “grown without GMOs” and the marketing messages that may appear more prominently.

Next, review the nutritional panels together. Compare calories and fat, but don’t forget the fiber, calcium, vitamins and, most importantly, the sugars. Explain that sometimes more is better (like calcium and fiber) and other times less is better (calories, fat and sugars).

Look at the ingredient statement and show your kids the raw ingredients. Being visual with kids is more important than the words. If they think the food looks good, they’ll eat it; so, it is important to make them part of the process of buying and preparing.

Nutrition is a new science, and right around the corner is a new generation of foods that are healthier, designed to cure disease, easier to prepare and even taste better. Teaching your kids how to select their foods and read labels will give them the tools they need for a healthy future.