How to get kids more involved in their food? Try this fun game Grocery Store Game #5: Reach for a Rainbow. Below, you’ll see a video we filmed playing this game at our local grocery store. It’s actually a game we play on most grocery store trips to make shopping go faster and more fun. Plus it’s a great way to have kids practice essential skills needed for lifelong healthy eating.
You’ve probably heard the term “eat a rainbow” when it comes to fruits and vegetables. It means to eat a variety of different colored produce. The color of a fruit or vegetable comes from the phytochemicals that determine its colors. Those phytochemicals are associated with different health benefits, so “eat a rainbow” is the way to maximize your nutrient intake. Add to that research that shows that kids who grow or select produce are more likely to eat it – and voila. If you want your kids to eat a rainbow of produce, then they need to be more engaged in how that produce arrives at their plate.
How to play: When you get to the grocery store, charge your littles with picking at least one piece of produce from anywhere in the store from each color of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple – that they are going to eat this week. Remind them they can go to the produce section, frozen aisles, or anywhere in between. That’s all there is to it.
Children learn through play, including games. Here are five important life skills your kids will learn from playing Rootopia’s Grocery Store Game #5: Reach for a Rainbow.
1. Know when fresh produce is ripe.
How many times have you or have you seen someone peel the top back of corn cob, sniff a cantaloupe or thump a watermelon before putting it in their cart? Each produce item has cues to its ripeness you can touch, see, smell and hear before you taste. These cues are only learned over time and with trial. My kid’s favorite is knowing when a pear is ripe. They love to “check the neck” by gently pushing around the stem. If it is hard, it is not yet ripe. If it is squishy, its too ripe, and if it is soft to the touch it is just right. Over time they have learned to get a variety of pears in different stages of ripeness so they will be perfectly ripe all week long till we go to the store again.
2. Experience seasonality.
While our global food system delivers most foods year round, there is still some seasonal availability differences. For example, there tends to be some things that you are likely to only see in your grocery store when they are in season locally like radishes and asparagus in the spring, summer squash mid-summer, or Brussels sprouts on stalks in the fall. These subtle changes in produce offerings usually go unnoticed by kids. But if they are regularly charged with looking and selecting they will experience seasonality.
3. Recognize all forms of produce count.
Frozen, dried and canned produce is delicious and just as nutritious as fresh. In fact, preserved produce is often more nutritious than fresh that has traveled thousands of miles. Plus kids are more likely to consume more produce in any given day if it comes in a variety of forms. For example, it’s easy for my kids to eat 3-4 cups of produce in a day if it includes a whole apple, frozen banana pop, a carrot stick, a bar made with dried fruit, and a kale smoothie or a strawberry smoothie.
4. Know more about where food comes from.
More than ever stores include “local” signs and stories about the farmers in your area who grew the food. This type of story telling adds another layer of engagement with food, and is worthwhile paying attention to. If your kids are too young to read the signs themselves, make the time to read it to them. If there are no signs indicating food origins, you can always read the package and ask the grocer for more information.
5. Be able to navigate a grocery store.
Remember when you first started learning how to drive a car? Even though you have been on the roads around your home for years, it was all new territory when you were in the driver seat. This disorientation is not unlike what happens when kids grow into adults who have to navigate a grocery store and a kitchen in order to feed themselves. The sooner kids know their way around a grocery store and how to find their way through the myriad of food choices on the shelves the better. Not only does it build skills and confidence, it ultimately prepares kids for being self-sufficient adults.
When playing Grocery Game #5, you may need to include family rules like, no shoving your brother to the ground to get to the frozen corn first. Or is that just my boys? But seriously, the fewer instructions the better – just enough to help your kids function in public. Fewer directives switches kid’s brains into “need to know” mode and motivates them to seek out answers to questions they pose themselves to get the task done. You’ll quickly see how much of the mechanics of food selection we adults take for granted.
For example, I’ve seen my own son go for a big red tomato, only to try to take one from the bottom of the pile. Oops. Lesson learned. Toppling tomatoes tower navigated, and tomato in hand, he needed to know what to do with it. Just put it in the cart or put it in a baggie, then in the cart. Yes, the latter. But where are the baggies? He had to hunt for them, or realize we brought our own. Success! Tomato in bag, in cart. But he put it at bottom of cart and filled everything on top of it. Oops. Lesson learned. Soft and squishy things need to go on top of everything else, or placed in the separate compartment where little brothers usually sit. My son learned a few things about navigating the grocery store on that trip! The lessons are endless, and truly meaningful because the challenge is a real one. We all have to eat. We all have to acquire food somehow – and in America, that usually involves the grocery store.
How do you make grocery store shopping with your kids more fun and time well spent?
Special thanks to the crew at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University for fact checking the verbal contents of the video in this post.