5 Tips for Teaching Kids How to Shop for Groceries

grocery shopping
Go ahead, throw a little fun in your lessons!

By now, you probably know all the ins and outs of the grocery store, so the market holds very few surprises. Consider what it would be like to shop for foodstuffs in another country, though. Imagine how it would feel to shop where all the labels are in a foreign language. You'd have to discover what you wanted by looking at the pictures -- and that doesn't even start to relay how stressful it would feel to keep a running total of how much everything costs -- in a foreign currency.

Now you have some idea of how alarming it can be for a child to shop for groceries. It doesn't have to be that way, though. With some patient coaching, the grocery store can be a fun and educational place for a child to visit. On the next pages, well look at five ways to demystify the market and give your child a basket full of ideas for his first solo grocery run.


5: Planning

You may be able to remember that you need eggs, bath tissue and onions without a grocery list, but getting into the habit of creating a running list is a good idea. It saves wasted effort. It can also become the first step in an ongoing planning strategy your whole family can use to make notations of the things they need. Don't stop with a simple list, either. Teach your child to relate those items to other things. If he wants to buy prepared chocolate chip cookies, does he want some milk to go along with them? If so, how much milk? To discover the answer, he'll have to take an inventory of what's in the fridge before he heads out shopping. Another lesson learned.

If you're both making the cookies instead of buying them, this is a wonderful time to take an analytical look at a few recipes to understand how totaling quantities shows him how much of a particular item, like flour or butter, he may need. If you've ever been up to your elbows in holiday prep only to discover you didn't buy enough cream, a refresher course in aggregating quantities may be overdue for you, too.


4: The Money

paying for groceries
Throw in a lesson on how credit cards work, too.

Teaching money management at the grocery store can be fun and pretty painless, so take your kids along with you on a few store visits. First up are the stickers that show the unit price for grocery items. They're usually on the store shelves next to the overall pricing information. Comparing unit pricing is the best way to illustrate that many products can be evaluated side-by-side to determine the best bargain. Make it a game. The least expensive cookies may not be your child's favorite, but getting him to identify the best cookie bargain using unit pricing is the first step in good money management.

Paying for grocery store goods used to be pretty easy, but these days there's more to checking out at the market than counting pennies (quarters or dollars) on your fingers. With rewards programs, coupons and cash cards, the money part of shopping can get confusing. Letting your child hand the checker your coupons during a few family-focused grocery store excursions, and allowing him to offer up the swipe card, can get him used to the routine before he makes his first unassisted purchase.


Taking the time to point out advertised sales and explain the value of coupons is important, too. To keep things manageable, though, these lessons should probably be part of a multi-step process.

3: The Goods

We've mentioned the importance of unit pricing, but product packaging also contains lots of important information your child should understand when he shops. Being able to locate size or volume details, and developing a basic understanding of nutrition labels will make the task of picking the right pasta or choosing the most nutritious energy bars easier. Take your child on a tour of your cupboards to familiarize him with the location of the label information on the goods you buy most often. That way he can learn the ropes one step at a time with products he knows and understands.

The produce department can also present some challenges. It can be hard for a kid to identify the difference between an orange and a tangerine, or between a white and yellow onion. The nice thing about most major markets is that there's a produce manager on duty who's trained and willing to offer suggestions. Finding a ripe avocado or a waxy potato is hard for many adults, so make sure your kids know there's help available for the asking.


2: The Layout

grocery shopping
She'll be leading you through the store in no time.

Most grocery stores are large and not all that intuitively organized. Placing staple items at the back of the store is more about getting you to make an impulse purchase on your way to the bread aisle than it is about making shopping easier. Within product categories, there is some organization, though. You'll typically find frosting in the baking aisle, and facial tissue will usually be close to the bathroom tissue. Start asking your child to identify the location of different items, and point out any store signs that can help him. Show him the call button for the butcher (if there is one), and alert him to the way like-items are displayed in the deli, the bakery and the refrigerated food cases.

Don't forget to let him in on a few tricks, too. You know that the freshest milk and other dairy items are likely in the back of the case, but he doesn't. Caution him to check that dozen eggs for cracked specimens, too. He's also probably looking for items along the center portions of the shelves at around eye level. Like many adults, he'll be ignoring the tops and bottoms of the shelves where good bargains are hiding. You don't have to explain that retail marketing can be a sneaky business, but do teach your child to be choosy and observant when he shops.


1: The Strategy

Some folks compile their grocery lists by department to save on backtracking once they get to the store. Others buy frozen items last and group frozen foods together at the checkout to keep them cold for the ride home. In a nutshell, they have strategies that work for them. You, too, probably have a strategy or two for smart shopping that you can share with your child.

You may like to visit three grocery stores a week to suss out the best bargains, score the freshest produce or take advantage of marked down deli items. You may even prefer to visit the farmers market for produce and give your meat business to a dedicated butcher shop. The way you shop is actually a function of your style and part of the culture of your family. Passing that along can be pretty satisfying -- as satisfying as teaching your child to fish, or sew or cook. Grocery shopping may not be a laugh-a-minute, but teaching your child to shop can be a fun and memory making proposition. So grab a cart and get started.


Lots More Information

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  • Five J's. "Teaching Children About Grocery Shopping and Sales Fliers." 12/3/08. (11/7/11). http://fivejs.com/like-skills-for-kids-grocery-shopping-and-sales-fliers/
  • Gough, Kristen J. "Teaching Kids How to Buy Stuff." (11/7/11). http://www.metroparent.com/Metro-Parent/April-2011/Teaching-Kids-How-to-Buy-Stuff/
  • Herigstad, Sally. "Teach 'Em Young: Grocery Budgeting for Kids." (11/7/11). http://www.redplum.com/pages/viewarticle.aspx?id=30064771338
  • Klein, Jen. "Teach Grocery Shopping? Really? Yes! She Knows Parenting. 9/7/11. (11/7/11). http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/838409/teaching-kids-about-grocery-shopping
  • Quaker Oats. "Teach Your Kids Healthy Eating Habits." (11/7/11). http://www.quakeroats.com/cooking-and-recipes/content/kids-in-the-kitchen/teach-your-children-healthy-eating-habits.aspx
  • Sparks, Candi. "Teaching Children to Shop." 12/23/10. (11/7/11). http://www.goshoppinginfo.com/step-3-teaching-children-to-shop/
  • Spence, Keri. "Incorporating Learning at the Grocery Store." 7/18/08. (11/7/11). http://www.lovaas.com/blog/archives/19-Incorporating-Learning-at-the-Grocery-Store.html
  • University of Maine Cooperative Extension. "Winning Ways to Grocery Shop With Young Children." (11/7/11). http://www.umext.maine.edu/onlinepubs/PDFpubs/4341.pdf