Eating Well


Go ahead, take the kids grocery shopping

By Bev Bennett

Taking your children grocery shopping probably ranks up there with cleaning the oven on your list of desirable experiences. You know the routine-careaning through the aisles, playing “let’s make a deal” in the cookie section, while trying to remember which foods you actually need to buy.

Even though it can be stressful, shopping together is a valuable experience. You can talk to your children about making healthier food choices and show them a world of ingredients that aren’t advertised on Saturday morning cartoon shows. You may even whet your children’s appetites for fruits and vegetables.

“If your children don’t shop and see fresh food, they’ll never eat it,” says Chef Cary Neff, who fears children may grow up thinking potatoes are salted, stick-shaped vegetables.

“Children will grow and develop an interest in food if they see what’s in stores,” says Neff, a former Chicagoan and executive chef of the Miraval Life in Balance Resort and Spa in Tucson, Ariz.

He suggests you encourage your child to be adventurous in the produce section.

“Challenge your child to choose something weird and funny that you’ve never had before, such as kohlrabi. Buy it, then take it home and look through your cookbooks or do a Web search for a recipe,” says Neff, father of two and author of Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, $35)

When Jody Villecco takes school groups through tours of Whole Foods stores, she starts in the produce department.

“One of my favorite things is to get children to look at the natural colors of foods. I talk about how yellow and orange foods are high in beta carotene, and how that benefits the body. Then I have the kids call out foods that are high in beta carotene,” says Villecco, the Denver-based nutrition spokesperson for the company. “I give children a simple, positive message. I tell them the foods will make them smart or better at sports,” Villecco says.

Going through the packaged food isles is another educational opportunity. You can show your child how to read ingredient lists and the Nutrition Facts panels of various foods. When health professionals at the University of Chicago Hospitals work with overweight children at risk for disease, a grocery store expedition with the children and their parents is included.

“We do a tour of the [the Hyde Park Co-op] to become familiar with the nutrition content of various foods,” says Dr. Deborah Burnet, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics at the hospital. “For example, we compare the calories of creamed spinach vs. fresh spinach. Or we compare skim with 2 percent milk. We see all the good stuff is in both [milk products], but skim milk has less fat.”


Here are some tips for making your shopping trip enjoyable:

• Avoid crowds by shopping on a weekday morning.

• Don’t shop when you’re hungry.

• Let your child have a say in what you buy, within reason. For example, let your child pick any fruit or vegetable from the produce section.

• With younger children make a game of buying produce. Ask for a green vegetable, or a red or yellow one. Challenge children who read to select a cereal with at least five grams of dietary fiber.

• Use a list. You’re teaching your child about choices.

• Turn label reading into a game. For example, “Tell your child to find the spaghetti sauce that doesn’t contain sugar,” says Villecco.

• Keep your children busy helping you. That way they’ll be less likely to demand sugary foods.

Sautéed Grape Tomatoes 1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups grape tomatoes

1 scallion, green part only, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar or 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar plus 1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the tomatoes and sauté 2 minutes. Add the scallion and cook another minute or until the tomatoes look slightly pulpy. Remove from heat and place in a bowl. Add vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside 5 minutes for flavors to blend. Serves 4.

Bev Bennett, the mother of two, is a food and nutrition writer living in Evanston. Her latest book is Cooking Out of the Box (Prima Publishing).

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