Involving Kids in Your Grocery Trip

July 17, 2012

Each month in Food, Nutrition & Science, we feature an outstanding supermarket nutritionist. This month's contributor is Jen Haugen, RD, LD, is a supermarket dietitian for Austin Hy-Vee Inc.

This story originally published on Food, Nutrition & Science.

Jen Haugen, RD, LD, Registered Dietitian, Austin Hy-Vee

Have you ever seen a six year-old get excited about the first red tomato ripening on the vine and then use that same tomato in a couscous salad – and here’s the real kicker – then eat it? There are so many opportunities to provide fun and educational experiences with kids at the supermarket level. Young children are naturally curious, eager learners and haven’t yet fully formed lifestyle habits that will last into adulthood. In over 100 cooking classes for kids in the supermarket setting, I have learned that the more fun you make the learning experience, the more excited and willing the kids will be when they are given the option to taste.

As a registered dietitian, I start all kids' cooking classes in the produce aisle. Doing this gives the opportunity to discover the colors, shapes, textures and smells fresh fruits and vegetables have to offer and allows the kids to be explorers of their food using their senses. It is the perfect place in the store to slow down, appreciate and learn about fresh fruits and vegetables for what they are. In fact, recently I was teaching a class called “Savvy Kids in the Supermarket” where we explored the produce aisle looking for kid-friendly produce items. During the excursion into produce, kids were jumping up and down with excitement noting they couldn’t wait to tell their parents about baby bananas, cherry tomatoes, fuzzy kiwis and how to pick a pineapple. In a time where some parents think the only way to get kids excited about a grocery shopping trip is to promise bright and colorful candy, it is amazing to see kids this excited over nature’s candy (fresh fruit and vegetables) and how they want to share that enthusiasm.

Another way to emphasize the fresh food and good health connection is through a garden and cooking program at the supermarket level. In spring 2011, our store launched the first Hy-Vee Sprouts – Get Out and Grow Program for three to nine year-old children to plant the seeds for healthy habits that would last a lifetime. This program was created as my lifelong dream and desire to promote the benefits of gardening with children knowing the impact it made on me as a child. The bounty we saw from this program was phenomenal, including:
    •    Increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables
    •    Increased willingness to try fresh vegetables
    •    Positive perceptions and attitudes of healthy foods
    •    Eagerness to cook with (and taste) what they grew
    •    Inspiration to start home gardens

Kids were literally taught to “get out and grow” in more ways than one. And due to the success of this program, it will now be launched Hy-Vee company-wide in 2012. You can read more about the Hy-Vee Sprouts – Get Out and Grow Program here. And here, on page 28.

I hear from families constantly on how much of a difference they see in their children based on what they learned in the classes we provide. In fact, one parent writes, “Your classes show me that cooking with kids and having them try new foods doesn’t have to be so difficult. It really is amazing that when kids are involved in the process whether it is growing in the garden, touring the grocery store, or cooking, using their senses makes them so much more willing to try new things. And showing them how to use the NuVal nutrition scoring system has made a huge difference in how we shop."

Supermarkets are the perfect places to teach children and families the power of what they put in their cart. Kids – our future grocery shoppers – deserve to be educated and empowered to make the right decisions about health. And families desire healthy children. Registered dietitians in supermarkets can be the perfect resource to provide that empowerment and education. The more tools we give to our children and families while they are young, the more their health will be benefitted in the future.

Jen Haugen, RD, LD, is a supermarket dietitian for Austin Hy-Vee Inc. Jen works at the store level passionately promoting nutrition education in the aisles through media work and cooking classes, especially cooking with kids. In fall of 2010, Jen began developing and creating the first-in-the-nation garden and cooking program for kids at a supermarket, Hy-Vee’s Sprouts – Get Out and Grow Program. Due to the tremendous success of the program, Jen is now training other dietitians across the Hy-Vee company to allow them to implement this program at their stores. Read more from Jen here.

As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact us at


This story originally published on Food, Nutrition & Science.