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Kids in the Aisles


August is Kids Eat Right Month and the core principles are a tailor-made call-to-action for retail dietitians: Shop Smart, Cook Healthy, Eat Right. This initiative from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation's Kids Eat Right program focuses on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for children and families. It features expert advice from registered dietitian nutritionists to help families achieve the Kids Eat Right core principles.

As dietitians, we often advise parents to involve kids in grocery shopping to promote healthful eating habits. We also know it’s not easy.

Kids influence up to 80 percent of family food spending, according to the Kids Eat Right website. When it comes to the grocery aisles, parents often give in to items like sweets and chips to avoid a power struggle, found a recent study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The study, part of a project designed to encourage healthy food purchasing in a low-income neighborhood in Baltimore, found that many caregivers, when pressed by their children, ended up buying food that they didn’t intend to buy. To counter this problem, caregivers suggested putting nutritious options at kids’ eye level and moving less nutritious ones out of the way, allowing children to sample healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables at the store and offering cooking classes to older children.

The study participants described often caving in to their children’s requests—but not without a fight. They used a variety of strategies to counter their children’s clamoring for unplanned, unhealthy food choices, including flat-out refusals, redirecting to alternate (and healthier) foods and setting aside the coveted item on the sly.

“Our study suggests that grocery shopping with children often can have negative consequences on the healthfulness of grocery purchases, but has the potential to have a positive influence instead,” says Pamela J. Surkan, assistant professor in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School.

Retail dietitians are pros at implementing creative in-store nutrition education programs to put a positive spin on family food shopping. These tips for parents from the Kids Eat Right initiative can help, too:

  • Create the shopping list together.
  • Stock food group snacks kids like, perhaps fruit, crunchy veggies, pretzels, milk in kid-friendly containers, string cheese, or single-serve fruit, yogurt drinks or pudding snacks.
  • Shop supermarket aisles together and encourage children to pick fruits and vegetables they'd enjoy. Talk about foods' colors, shapes and textures as you do.
  • Read food labels together. This helps kids understand nutrition concepts—and practice reading skills, too.

Source: Wingert K, et al. Child as change agent. The potential of children to increase healthy food purchasing. Appetite. 2014;81:330–336.

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