As a mother of three, one of my happiest errands is a leisurely solo trip to the market to carefully select the most perfect fruit, ponder which fresh vegetables will grace our dinner plate, chat with a friend behind the seafood counter about the latest catch from the boat, and educate myself on a new heirloom bean variety I want to try out. Unfortunately, this blissful scene rarely happens. My children love a trip to Whole Foods Market as much as I do, and I often find myself saddled with a +3 on my shopping expeditions. During summer vacation this becomes the norm, as the cool store air, vibrant seasonal fruits and vegetables, and tasty samples are a veritable oasis from the heavy heat outside. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that help keep my kids entertained
while I load up the cart and still have a chance to find the perfect peach.
Making a List
Before you leave the house (or car), make a list of what you need, and get your kids’ input. This helps keep everyone on track, plus it helps keep impulse and “Oh, Mommy, please!” purchases to a minimum. My children’s suggestions of what to buy are often very helpful, reminding me of family favorites that I’ve forgotten and preemptively answering the dreaded “what’s for dinner” question. Plus, this is a great exercise for young writers, and even pre-writers can make or draw or maybe just chew on their own list.
Time Your Trips Wisely
While, admittedly, this is not always an option, I try to save my big shops for mornings after breakfast or even for the evenings after dinner. These are usually not very busy times in the store, which makes locomotion easier. Pre-feeding you brood is key. Hungry kids make for cranky shoppers and before you know it, your kids have cajoled you into a box of cookies for dinner and they’re still fussy. If you do find yourself at the store with some ravenous beasties, head to the prepared foods section and grab an easy to eat bite before commencing.
Do the Math
Just because school’s out doesn’t mean learning’s over, and grocery shopping is one of the best places for practical application of real-life lessons. Math is everywhere in the store and can easily occupy kids of all ages. Young ones can learn to count. “How many apples do we need? One, two, three.” As they grow so do the lessons: addition, subtraction, greater than, less than, division, weights, measures, price per ounce. I even use shopping to teach my older children about budgeting and value. One of their favorite and most consistently requested gifts is a gift card. With it, they can buy un-mom approved items in the store. (Fortunately because of Whole Foods Market’s quality standards, things are still pretty mom-approved.) It’s great to watch them carefully deciding how to maximize their treat dollars and learn to be savvy shoppers.
Reading is all around us, and the grocery store is a particularly great place to engage even early readers. “Is it Organic? Can you find an O?” Label reading is a great task for more seasoned readers and also brings math into play. (There it is again!) For the bookworm in your family, encourage them to learn from the storytelling of our food. In every section of the market there is information ranging from sustainable seafood (ecology), meat cuts (anatomy), local food producers (social studies and local geography), artisanal crafted foods (history), micro-loan around the world (economy, geography & world cultures!), cooking tips (culinary arts) and even to nutrient density (nutritional science). “Mom! What’s a vitamin?” Don’t forget botany and biology! What foods are roots? Which ones are shoots? What seeds do we eat? (More that you might think, we adults have a lot to learn too!) There’s a lot to know about our food, what it is,where it comes from and how to use it, all of which can be very interesting to a hungry young mind.
If your kids are old enough to be out of the cart they can also practice some hands-on skills: bagging groceries (spatial orientation), pushing the cart (navigation and pre-driving traffic skills), and an abundance of motor skills needed in the bulk and cooking departments: tools usage (tongs and scoops), number writing, timing, geometry and volume estimating (Aah! Stop pouring!).
Let’s be friends! Encourage your children to talk to the people working in the store, to ask questions, to be engaged. We at Whole Foods Market are a pretty friendly bunch, and this is a great place to help your kids practice their conversational skills while also developing their voice as a shopper. “Do you have any more blueberries?” “Where are your sesame seeds?” “What does buffalo eat?” “Where did this fish come from and how can I tell if it’s fresh?”
Bringing your children with you when you shop, while crashing the loner’s day dreaming shop, is a great way to empower them to be curious and confident with their surroundings, while developing a passion and appreciation for all the good food around us. What keeps your kids busy when you do a family shop?