After school, the race is on! Will you be able to get everything in and get your groceries before bedtime?
When you follow a few pro tips at the commissary, you can build a little bit of learning into your shopping trip. Best of all? You can work on skills for all ages and stages!
How to Make Grocery Shopping at Your Commissary a Fun and Educational Experience for Your Child
When Your Child Is a Toddler
Children at this age are learning so much about their world. Everything is new, fun and exciting.
Color hunt: Challenge your child to find certain colors in each aisle, sort of like I Spy. Say: “I’m looking for something yellow.” Then, work together to find it.
The produce aisle is a great place to play this game. Let your child pick their favorite color, then find fruit and veggies to match. Select a few colors to build a produce rainbow that’s 100% good enough to eat.
Old MacDonald: There are many cartoon characters and pictures all over the grocery store. Work together to build a farm or zoo, full of fun animals. Challenge your child to make the sound of each animal you find.
Fruity shapes: In the produce aisle, use the time to teach your child shapes. Look for circles (oranges, tomatoes, blueberries), triangles (carrots), ovals (lemons, avocados, potatoes), squares (boxes of salad greens) and any other shape you can think of.
When Your Child Is in Preschool
At this age, children are learning numbers, patterns, letters and may even be starting to understand early reading skills.
Commissary navigators: Have your child sing out the aisle number and then tell you what is located there. For example: “Aisle 5 has cereal and breakfast things.” Challenge your child to remember what was in other aisles, the order you went in or which aisle you started in. This helps build number sequencing, memory skills and navigational techniques.
Little chef: Let your child pick a dish to make and help her find a recipe at home. Something simple, like salads, sandwiches or tacos, works well.
Together, make a visual list of the items she needs. Then let your child choose the ingredients at the commissary. As she goes through the store, have her write down which aisle she found each item in.
At home, work together to assemble her dish. This builds healthy eating habits, sequencing skills, memory and early reading abilities.
On the prowl: Play the alphabet game! As you walk through the store, ask your child to find things. For older children, you could ask them to actually get items you need off the shelves. All preschoolers can be on the look out for shapes, colors, letters and numbers.
To up the ante, make an erasable checklist with all the letters of the alphabet, the core (rainbow) colors, basic shapes and number 0-9. As your child finds each thing, he can mark it. If he can find everything, reward him with a healthy treat.
When Your Child Is in the Primary Grades (K-2)
Children in these grades are learning sight words and basic addition and subtraction.
Let’s make 10: Adding to 10 is a core skill in the early grades. This game works well with individual produce, like apples, or anything you buy multiples of, like yogurt.
“Let’s make 10! I put 4 in the cart. How many more do we need to get to 10?”
Then help your child (carefully) add the item to the cart, counting until you reach 10 (or any other target number). This builds numeracy skills and helps to move math out of the classroom.
Word search: Bring your child’s sight word list to the store. Slip it into a protector sheet so that he can mark off words and letters.
As you go through the aisles, have him look for the letters in each word, one word at a time. As he gets better at reading, have him try to find whole words on packaging and signs. This boosts all literacy skills.
Meal prep: Work with your child to plan a whole meal. Something simple, like a picnic lunch or pasta with sauce, would be perfect. Write a list with all the ingredients. Use a quick picture for any new words. Then work together to find all the items. This builds literacy, sequencing and organizational skills.
Which is less: Pick 2 similar items with different prices. A good example would be a box of cereal that costs $2.50 and one that costs $3.50. Point to the dollar amount ($2 and $3). Ask your child: “Which is less?” If she needs help, hold up your fingers or ask her to hold up hers. You could also ask: “Would you rather have 2 cookies or 3 cookies?” This activity boosts number skills, like comparing and sequencing, as well as logical thinking.
When Your Child Is an Upper Elementary (3-6) Student
Students in these grades have mastered essential reading and math skills. They can move on to bigger things!
Pound for pound: In the produce section, have your child use the scale to weigh your produce for the week. After weighing, ask your child to estimate or actually calculate how much each type of produce will cost.
This activity reinforces weights and measures, as well as building addition, estimation and multiplication skills.
How much left: Give your child a lunch or snack “budget.” Tell them that this amount has to see her through the whole week for lunches at school or snacks everywhere.
For the first few weeks, assist them in making smart choices. Show her how to deduct purchased items from her starting budget.
Then, let her fly free! This gives children the opportunity to make smart food choices and feel more in control of their environment. Plus, she is learning good budgeting techniques and how to balance accounts.
If you feel extra generous, let her know that any “extra” can go into a savings account or be used for a special purchase.
Read the store: Hand your child the list. Walking together, he should read the list to you, then locate the item on the shelf and read you the label. For items that are similar, he should read the whole label to check that it’s what you want. Once you have confirmed the selection, it goes into the cart. This builds skills with unfamiliar words, teaches teamwork and boosts organizational skills.
When Your Child Is a Middle and High School Student
These children can read independently and are moving on to harder math concepts. High school students will soon be spreading their wings in the real world! Now is the time to reinforce smart shopping habits and budgeting skills.
Solo act: Give your child a budget and a list that covers several meals throughout the week. You could make her responsible for finding all the ingredients for dinners, for example, and she has to keep costs at or under $45. Then let her go. You continue shopping with your list as usual. Then meet up right before the registers to confirm final purchases. Let your child check out on her own too. This builds independence, problem-solving, math and budgeting skills.
Meal planner: As children get older, they also need to boost their life skills. Cooking is essential to surviving in the real world, and now is a great age to teach it.
Make your child responsible for meal planning. Start with one meal per week and increase the load from there. Give him a budget. Invite him to use coupons, get a shopping club card and use your cookbooks.
Then he needs to shop for the ingredients while staying under budget. Finally, he should cook and serve the meal. Doing this will give him a better understanding of food prices, budgeting, cooking for a crowd and reading recipes.