So we haven’t got to the birds and the bees questions yet (phew, kids are only just 5 years old), but we have started to have spontaneous conversations about diet, exercise and nutrition. They often come from everyday moments like preparing dinner, walking through a mall or visiting friends. The perfect playground for this was a recent trip to the grocery store with one little miss. We came around the end of an aisle, she was pushing the trolley nicely like a ‘big girl’, then her eyes lit up, her hands let go of the trolley and she b-lined straight for a huge stand of chocolate teddy bear shaped biscuits. “Mummy. Mummy. LOOOOOK!”
–> Enter nutrition conscious mum with a hang up for real food <–
I took a moment to try and explain why we aren’t going to take the chocolate teddy bear biscuits home (rationalise and educate phase!) and while she processed this information, I steered the conversation away from chocolate biscuits and manoeuvred the trolley towards the fish section (distract and disorientate phase!). “Look…” I exclaim – “fish eyes and crab claws”. What small child doesn’t love getting up close with the fish in the grocery store?!? OK, so maybe a few of you are squirming in your seats, but we think it’s fun to visit the fish section!
Retail and consumer goods marketing is built on product placement and satisfying the senses. Those life size teddy bears that adorned the display were (and still are!) irresistible to my 5 year old the same hight. There is a reason we are told to avoid the aisles of the supermarket and only shop around the perimeter of the store where the fresh produce is – fruit & veg, bakery, dairy, butcher, etc. Truth be told, I actually spent about AED250 more than my grocery normal shop that day! However we spent a good portion of that NOT on chocolate biscuits and sweets, but on an amazing array of fresh fruit and vegetables we selected together. Now I appreciate a trip to the grocery store with a small child in tow is most people’s idea of a nightmare, but here are some strategies that have helped us come out the other end unscathed and better educated all round.
- Make a kids shopping list. I can’t take credit for this idea, I saw it online somewhere but can’t find the reference any more. Basically take 4 or 5 things from your list and put them on a separate ‘special’ list that the child must look after. Try and separate the sections these items appear in so you can stretch out their attention span for the whole shopping trip. ie. 1 item it the dairy section, 1 item in the bakery section, 1 item in the fruit and veg section and 1 item in the toiletries or dry good section. Under 4’s may not be able to read yet, so use pictures to create the list. Over 5’s can practice sounding out new words for items they may recognise.
- Counting practice – count the apples into the bag, count how many bananas on the bunch, count the fish in the fish section!
- Practice sounds or phonics – starts with ‘A’, ‘B’ etc. Either identify the items that start with the ‘a’ sound or tell me what sound potato/banana/watermelon etc starts with.
- Name that colour! – Have fun naming what fruits or vegetables that are red/yellow/purple etc.
- Decision making practice – Let your little one pick out something they can take home. Obviously play this game when they are in the fruit and vegetable section! Ownership is a huge part of getting kids to eat something new or try new flavours. If they pick it themselves, or make it themselves, the odds of them eating it are increased. At the age of about 4 years old we started doing a lot more ‘make it yourself’ meals at home, where everything is laid out on the table and everyone gets to choose their own combinations. Choosing colourful and healthy options helps on the nutrition front! Meals that work well are things like tacos, Vietnamese fresh rice paper rolls, Sushi, pancakes with fruit/yoghurt/other toppings, make your own pizza with a selection of toppings, wrap your own fajitas, and more!
- Talk sense – Use your senses and talk about them. Touch it, smell it, hear it, describe it! What does the mango smell like? What does an eggplant feel like? What is a soft vegetable vs a hard vegetable?… We talk a lot about food when we are at home either in the kitchen or at the dinner table. I love asking questions like what does that taste like? Does that taste sweet or salty? Do you know where eggs come from? Do you know what cheese is made out of? What does that melon sound like if you tap the end? What does an avocado’s skin feel like?
- Divide and conquer. Obviously if you don’t have the energy to do the shopping with the kids, then escape when they are being watched by someone else. Sometimes we find the divide and conquer strategy works best(especially with twins)! 2 trolleys – 2 kids – so there is no fighting over the seat closest to mummy or who is going to hold the handle or ride on the front and make it a race. Divide the list up and see who can complete their list first…daddy with princess #1 or mummy with princess #2?!?
- Kids trolleys! With my two little ones, I find if they have their own child sized trolley it makes participating in shopping list ‘games’ much more fun. Not many stores around Dubai have them, but I do know the Organic Food and Cafe have them, as well as Spinneys in Motor City (ask at the cigarette cashier’s desk). You can always bring your own from home!
What is your supermarket tip with kids?