The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Back to School Shopping with Kids

Back to School Shopping with Kids

Dietitian Dialogues

August 30, 2009

As kids are dreading the end of summer and back to school, parents are busily shopping the supermarket aisles for lunchbox basics and the newest “cool” yet healthy foods that won’t get traded at the lunch table. For parents with picky eaters, finding foods that their child will eat on the supermarket shelves is a daunting challenge often leading to frustration on the parent’s end and a cafeteria wastebasket full of “healthy” lunches. For Registered Dietitians, however, the supermarket is one of the most exciting places to spend time and explore. So how can we, as health and wellness experts and Registered Dietitians, help parents make grocery shopping, packing lunchboxes and lunchtime more fun for kids, especially picky eaters? Here are some tips for parents:

1. Make supermarket shopping a family fun event. Bring the kids along and give them the ability to choose from a selection of healthy choices for the lunchbox and beyond. When they are involved in the decision making process of what they’re going to have for lunch, they’ll be more likely to eat and enjoy the foods they choose. You can also add a challenge into the shopping trip. Try out these ideas in the following aisles:

•    Produce – Tasting the rainbow. Have the child pick out a fruit AND vegetable in a different color each week and encourage him/her to take at least a few bites of the chosen foods. Children need multiple exposures to a new food before they develop a liking for it, so don’t be discouraged if the child dislikes the food upon first taste. The items could be for any meal or snack (green, red, blue, purple, white). Have the child choose a dip to go with the fruit and/or the veggie (hummus, salsa, light cream cheese, low-fat yogurt, light ranch, etc). Brightly colored produce is packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals and antioxidants. 

•    Cereal aisle – Spot the golden grains. Have the child seek out a cereal that lists a whole grain as the first ingredient. Examples of words to look for on the ingredient list: whole wheat, whole corn, brown rice, oats, oatmeal, wheatberries, cracked wheat, bulgur cracked wheat. The good news: whole grain cereals contain phytochemicals and antioxidants as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber AND whole grain cereals taste great. 

•    Bread aisle – Go for 100%. Have the child seek out bread that includes the words 100% Whole Wheat in the product name. What if he/she will not go anywhere near breads that are brown in color? Look for the Whole Grain white breads that are white in color but are made with whole grains. Whole wheat and whole grain bread contain similar benefits to whole grain cereal. 

•    Dairy case – Choose the moos. Have the child choose between low-fat yogurts (without the candy toppers!), individual containers of low-fat milk and low-fat yogurt smoothies. Low-fat dairy is packed with calcium, Vitamin D and protein. 

•    Beverage aisle – Go with water as a number one choice. Water comes in a variety of fun bottle shapes for kids to choose from. Or go with 100% fruit juice or 100% fruit juice with added sparkling water. Avoid juices that contain added sugars. Thirst is many times confused with hunger, so be sure the child is properly hydrated with plenty of water throughout the day. 

2. Hire sous chefs – the kids! Have the kids help out preparing and packing their lunch as well as other meals. Have them wash veggies and fruit and pack into individual containers or baggies for lunchtime. Create their own trail mix with whole grain cereal, nuts, dried fruit and chocolate chips and portion into baggies for the week days. Add shredded cheese and fresh herbs atop a dinnertime casserole. Or place lettuce and tomato atop the burgers at a barbeque. Getting them involved in the preparation of their food will help create excitement and involvement in the process and make it more likely that the child will eat the foods that are prepared. 

3. Make it fun. Look for portable, fun containers at your local supermarket, which can make lunchtime something to look forward to. Kids love to dip, so either purchase individual low-fat dips, hummus, yogurt or salsa, or buy in the larger containers and have the kids portion the individual serving out. Also, for the younger kids, turn a sandwich into a fun shape by using cookie cutters. Or purchase a pre-made whole wheat pizza crust and have the kids add their favorite toppings – reduced-fat cheddar, turkey pepperoni, a few veggies. Pop in the oven and enjoy that night for dinner. Have the kids pack the extra slices for the next day’s lunch. Eating healthy can be fun, even for picky eaters. 

Jennifer Shea MS, MPH, RD is the Retail East Corporate Dietitian for SUPERVALU®, covering the supermarket chains of SHAW’S and STAR MARKET, FARM FRESH, SHOPPERS and ACME. Shea is an active member of the American Dietetic Association, the Massachusetts Dietetic Association, the Dietitians in Business Communications Practice Group and the Food and Culinary Dietitians Practice Group. In 2009, she was awarded the Women of Influence in the Food Industry Award by the Griffin Report of Food Marketing. 

As a nutritionist working for a supermarket, you have a unique outlook on how retailers are increasing health awareness at the store level and the kind of questions that shoppers ask. Each month, we'll be featuring a guest column, written by a nutritionist, that communicates this point of view on a variety of topics. And we want to hear from you. If you are a supermarket nutritionist interested in sharing your perspective and insights, we would love to help you share your thoughts! Please contact Allison Bloom at