Teach a Child to Grocery Shop…

My husband has a very physical job, and our daughters, M and J, are incredibly active kids. It takes a little more effort on my part to fit exercise into my day, since I have a desk job, but I do my best. I will admit that I haven’t been good about working out since we moved to El Paso, so I’m thankful for Goddess in Progress‘s weight loss contest giving me the push I need to get back in shape. I like aerobics and Pilates, with the guidance of exercise videos in the privacy of my home. The twins and our cat join in with differing levels of effort.

Alongside intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, social responsibility, and self esteem, my husband and I believe that it is our responsibility to teach our children about physical well-being.

Unfortunately, our daughters’ school isn’t helping. Although they have daily physical education, they’re teaching the kids all about junk food. Cookies and slushies are available to purchase at lunch time. No carrots. No sliced apples or bananas. After school, there are cupcakes and cookies on sale, tempting the kids right before they exit the school and are handed over to their parents. On Halloween, each child was asked to bring a bag of candy for the school trick-or-treat event. Every classmate’s birthday heralds cupcakes with neon icing.

The other day, J volunteered to accompany me to the grocery store while M stayed home with Daddy. As I reached for the box of Cheerios M had requested, J asked whether she could choose her own cereal.

“Sure,” I told her, “But you have to choose one that has 6 grams or fewer of sugar per serving. Any more than that makes it a treat cereal instead of a breakfast cereal.”

I showed J the nutrition facts on the side of cereal box I was holding, pointing out where the sugar grams were. She picked one brightly coloured sugary cereal after another, rejecting each one for having too much sugar. I suggested that she’d have better luck if she looked at some granola boxes. She finally settled on Kashi Honey Sunshine.

ServeImage“Mommy,” J asked me, “can I teach M how to look at sugar next time when she comes shopping with us?”

She had her chance tonight at dinner, when M asked for a third serving of Welch’s sparkling grape juice. My husband told her that he thought she’d had enough sugar for the day, and offered her water instead. J showed M how to read the label and exclaimed, “38 sugars! That’s a whole bunch.”

“That’s true,” I told her. “This juice is a treat. We drink it for the flavour, not because it’s feeding our bodies. It’s fine to have a treat every so often, but it’s very important to make sure that we get all the different things our bodies need. We need protein to be strong, and fiber not to have hurty poops. Our body needs some fat to stay healthy, but not too much.”

For the rest of meal, the girls pored over the nutrition label on the juice bottle, asking about the different nutrients. My favourite was J’s reading of calcium as “Colosseum.” There was something quite lovely about the image of ancient architecture bolstering our bones.

I taught myself about healthy eating in my early 20s. Both my parents developed high blood pressure in their 30s, and I didn’t want to go down that path. Rich, fatty Bengali curries with massive quantities of rice must have contributed to their cardiovascular issues and my father’s subsequent Type II diabetes.

It certainly helps that both my husband and I love to cook. It’s hard to put too much junk in our bodies when we’re aware of every ingredient we eat. We don’t tend to count calories, and we’re not averse to eating out, but we try to be responsible, while allowing ourselves our treats. I’m fond of chocolate, and my husband of red wine.

I hadn’t planned to teach our girls to read nutrition labels at 5. I imagined that the model we set at home would show them how to make good food decisions. Peer pressure, though, is a strong force, and M told us today that she had bought 6 cookies at lunch to share with her friends. We don’t want the girls to feel like they need to diet or deny themselves the occasional sweet treat. However, we do want them to understand that while eating is a social and pleasurable activity, nutrition is the primary role of food. Food for taste alone is an extra, and to be taken in moderation.

Are you surprised to hear that junk food is being sold in elementary schools? What would you do if you discovered this in the school your children were to attend?

8 thoughts on “Teach a Child to Grocery Shop…

  1. Since our girls were 2 1/2 or so, we’ve been talking about things that are good for our bodies…getting enough sleep, eating well, and playing well (I don’t call it exercise just yet).

    Our girls play grocery store all the time with their play food, and they can easily divide things into food groups. It’s not uncommon for them to ask over a meal what group a certain food belongs in.

    I also talk about color and variety…I make comments, “What a beautiful plate!”

    At this age, it’s easy for me to guide the girls to make good food choices, but I know it will be so much harder when they start to school.

    Great job teaching your girls some of the science behind different foods.

  2. My kids are still at home and I am in control of what they eat (expect on the days when I work and they have pizza parties with my husband). I would be pretty upset if the school they’re going to had junk food so readily available. That is so irresponsible and sets them up for so many possible illnesses (that are most completely preventable) later in life.
    We talk about proteins and fat and sugar and vitamins with the kids. well, I do anyway. And the kids know that we’re going to buy foods with ‘good energy’ in them. Yesterday at a store Beth asked for cookies and was perfectly fine not getting them when Nathan informed her that ‘they don’t have good energy in them’. I think that’s a great idea to have the kids look for the nutritional labels .. I’ll definitely keep that in mind next trip to the store. … now let me add that we eat desert most every nigh. Either ice cream or something home baked. I love it when my kids tell me that 1) they’re too full to have any or 2) they only eat little of it and say that’s all they want. When I was growing up we didn’t get much sweets and I have since struggled with control of how much I eat (sweets). I don’t want my kids to have to go through that.

  3. Hi Sadia,

    I’ve been catching up with three months of your posts – such a nice thing to do.

    Over here, it’s not as bad as you describe, but there’s certainly more junk food available and not-discouraged in school than I like to see. Birthdays in school, or any kind of occasion, are just and excuse to dole out quantities of candy! Even some teachers hand out candy on their own birthdays – as if the birthdays of 35 kids per class is not enough.

    Shudder.

    All we can do is to limit it to a tolerable quantity at home, and talk to them about the harm it does. But I do wish schools were more sensible about it.

  4. I would be upset if junk food were offered and so readily available at my son’s school. He is in the public school in Fairfax County VA and I am actually very pleased with their focus on healthy eating in the school cafeteria. He is learning healthy eating by the choices at lunch time there. He buys lunch every day and I feel confident about the healthy choices and lack of junk food. I take it for granted… but would speak up and advocate for change if it was otherwise. Healthy eating initiatives are more and more common in the public schools, and I applaud that!

  5. Have you considered becoming an advocate for healthy eating at your kids school? If you form a team of parents and get very vocal about it with the principal, you might enact some positive change. Maybe worth considering…

  6. Thanks for the comments.

    Diane, I have, in fact, considered being more vocal about food offerings at the school. Just this weekend, my husband and I agreed to talk to the principal about our concerns at the beginning of next school year.

    Part of the delay is that I want to have some time to gather my facts and ideas. I can work with my mother-in-law, who is the manager for elementary school menus in a school distict in the Seattle area, over the summer. Another reason I’m delaying speaking out is that the school has bent a lot of rules to accomodate our children, and I’m not unappreciative of their efforts. It seems a little ungrateful to turn around immediately and start complaining about the next issue once our first is resolved.

    Another concern I have is that I really don’t understand the culture here. The last thing I want to do is be unwittingly condemning of the the relationship between El Paso culture and food, so I’m hoping to be able to use the next few months to learn more about what food gifts/sweets mean here on the border. I hope I’ll be able to make suggestions for improvement that will be palatable to the other parents.

    In the meantime, when M tells me wants to buy cookies to share with her friends, I am instead placing a sliced apple or baggie of baby carrots in her bag!

  7. Sadia, why wait until the beginning of the next school year? At that point everything will be set for the year. If you want changes for next school year the time to talk about them is now. Good luck!

  8. Pingback: From the Archives: Back to School | How Do You Do It?

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