By Patrick Engel
[Ed note: Check back each week as Chef Patrick shares delicious recipes, his thoughts on cooking, cooking with kids, food shopping and more!]
My career often has me working odd hours, and can shortchange me of quality time with my kids, which is why I like to take them to the grocery store. Seriously.
I use grocery shopping as a time to chat with the kids about life in general, but also as an opportunity to introduce them to new foods, and to facilitate discussions about what is healthy, what is real, what is not and why. The grocery store truly is a great venue in which to educate your kids about food.
Now I know the mere suggestion of food shopping with multiple young children is enough for some parents to question both my intelligence and my sanity, but it's fun. Trust me. Here's what I recommend.1. No timelines.
If you're in a hurry, don't take the kids. If you need to be somewhere after, don't take the kids. Thinking you can get in, get what you need, and get out quickly with the kids in tow is a recipe for disaster.
2. Make a list.
Even if your list is incomplete, have one. You can stray from it, but if things start to fall apart during the trip, you can refer back to your list almost as a distraction. For instance, when the kids stumble down the candy aisle, pull out the list and cry, "Lemons! We forgot lemons! Oh, the humanity. Quickly, everybody, to the produce section!" Crisis averted.3. Ask and ye shan't receive.
My rule is simple: If the kids ask for something more than twice, they're not
getting it. Asking once is a way to communicate you'd like something. Asking three times is officially pestering, which goes unrewarded. 4. Everyone gets one treat.
You may want to reserve veto power here, but I always offer the boys one treat per trip. The no-pestering rule is still in effect, but the boys know to be on the lookout for that one thing they can have. It keeps them interested, exploring, and it usually keeps them asking questions. I use my otherwise dust-collecting psychology degree here, as you can gently and subtly push your kids into a wise treat choice. If psychology fails you, invoke your right to veto! (I often give myself one treat, too. Fair is fair, right?)
5. The wild card.
Buy one unknown food each trip. A great way to expand the repertoire of a picky child is to find an interesting and curious-looking food to buy, take home and experiment with. (That's what I do when I find myself in an ethnic grocery store; I buy one product in a non-transparent package with no English. It has led to some hits; it has led to some misses.)6. Have an end game.
Add purpose to the trip by going through the store for specific ingredients for one meal that you plan to make later at home, preferably as a family.
This week, I practiced what I'm preaching. The family headed to the grocery store, and it was a great time. We had a rapid-fire quiz in the produce department - "What's this? How do you eat this? Where is this from?" We got food for school lunches. I felt like the parent of the year when our kids' "treat" choices were a giant juicy apple and some frozen juice pops (no sugar added!).
We had a lot of fun. We didn't rush it.
And then we picked up a pizza on the way home ... You win some, you lose some.
||Patrick Engel has been cooking professionally for 15 years. After graduating from George Brown College in Toronto, and training in the kitchens of Rodney's Oyster House and Bymark Restaurant, Patrick relocated to Niagara's wine region, working at Inn on the Twenty, followed by six years as resident chef instructor at The Good Earth Cooking School. Patrick is currently the chef at Hospice Niagara's Stabler Centre and associate chef at The Garrison House in Niagara-on-the Lake. Patrick lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with his wife, Marnie, and their two boys, Charlie (7) and Johnny (5).
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