Young girl helping with grocery shopping

Two Ways to Get Young Kids Shopping & Cooking

Bring your toddler to the grocery store with you—on purpose? It may sound unenjoyable, I know. Read on for two ways to involve young kids in shopping and cooking.

March is Nutrition Month and this year we’re talking about how healthy eating includes so much more than the food we eat! How we eat is important too. Planning and preparing meals with others helps to nurture healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.

Watch out—grocery cart and toddler coming through!

I have a 2-year old and a 4-year old at home. Life is busy, there’s no question.  And yes, my children participate in activities like gymnastics and swimming lessons. But, I keep those scheduled activities to a minimum because as a registered dietitian and nutrition educator, my priority is ensuring there is time to shop, cook, and eat together in any given week. Why? The research is strong that doing these things leads to healthier eating habits, better school performance, and improved mental well-being. “OK, great,” I hear you say, “but it’s still incredibly tough to do!” Yes, but if you can approach it with a strategy, it gets so much easier over time!

The weekly grocery shop

Ah yes, grocery shopping. I’ve experienced my fair share of tantrums in the grocery store. It is NOT always easy. But these days I can say that it’s typically a fairly pleasant experience.  Sure, there’s a mini-meltdown at checkout because they want a chocolate or some kind of sweet (occasionally the answer is yes but not always). So, how did it get better?

For starters, they help. We talk about what we need to get on the list, how many of each item, and what we’re looking for in the item (ideally, no mold on the fruit please). They are exposed to the ingredients that will go into the week’s planned meals and snacks. At one local grocery store, they have mini shopping carts for kids, so the groceries pretty much all go in their cart. They LOVE to be in charge of the cart or basket.

When they ask if we can get something that wasn’t on the list, I do my best to say yes sometimes. This means we often end up with an item we don’t typically eat. Last week it was an enormous daikon that made its way into our cart. My 2-year old was adamant we should buy it. So be it. We actually made a pretty tasty salad a few days later. It was a nice change to the stir-fried vegetables that were probably otherwise on the menu.

Wondering what do to do when you don’t want to buy what your kids are asking for? Here’s my typical response:

“You seem really excited about those cookies.  We already have enough snack foods at home so we’re not going to buy them now. Thank you for the suggestion. Do you want to put them back on the shelf or do you want me to?”

With this response, I try to be respectful, calm and as neutral as I can be. If I get excited, worked up, or strong-willed about it, they will get even more so! Giving them choice at the end is also paramount. Kids like to feel like they have some control of their world, just like us! Whenever I can empower them with choice, I do.

Kids in the kitchen

In our house, weeknight meal prep is crunch time. What do we do? To be honest, our daughters aren’t super highly involved in the meal prep on any given night. They may use the salad spinner to wash the greens, but their involvement is mostly eating veggie appetizers at the counter to stave off their “h-anger” in the 10 minutes before dinner.

I know the importance of getting them in the kitchen with me so that’s where the weekend comes in. We try to have only one scheduled activity going on each week. Right now, it’s gymnastics for both of them. That means there’s more time to spend at home. What do we do on a typical Saturday afternoon? We make snacks for the week! It’s at this time, after lunch, when tummies are relatively satisfied, that I venture into the kitchen with the intention of completing a recipe together with my kids. Baking is a great place to start because there are lots of tasks that they enjoy doing—pouring the pre-measured ingredients into the bowl, sifting, mixing, cracking eggs [here’s a video of my eldest cracking eggs when she was a toddler], scooping, pouring, greasing the pan. The list goes on! And the end result is a lot of fun too—we can enjoy a snack together.

Claire cracking eggs

Snacks we cook and prep together

  1. Pumpkin Muffin Bars
  2. Hearty Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins
  3. Easy Creamy Hummus 
  4. Sweet and Salty Granola Bars
  5. Chocolate Spread
  6. Easy Gingerbread Muffins
  7. (Smashed) Bean Dip
  8. Chocolate Snack Time Squares

The bottom line

Healthy eating is about more than food—it’s also about family, memories, and emotions! I encourage you to try including your kids in the shopping and cooking process, you will share important food skills and traditions with them. To learn about tips, stories, videos and more about how you can be inspired to cook and eat together with your kids, check out Better Together BC. Happy Nutrition Month everyone!

Written by Nicole Spencer, MEd, RD

Edited by Carmen Gorlick, RD

About BC Dairy

BC Dairy is a not-for-profit organization representing BC’s dairy farmers.