Pumpkins, Pomegranates and Parsnips…Oh my!

I have the unique pleasure of leading field trips for elementary students at my local supermarket. Encouraging kids to be silly, loud and have fun at the grocery store creates an environment for learning that is unmatched by what can happen simply in the classroom.

We always start the store tour in the produce section (where the most Guiding Stars are of course!). Using the backdrop of the rainbow, I help children understand how each color that our produce offers is not only pleasing to our eye but offers a unique way of keeping us healthy. They seem to really like the idea that foods are naturally made to benefit us. We decide that we can refer to our produce as every day food.

Each season offers a different teachable moment about color and fall produce doesn’t disappoint.  Pumpkins, pomegranates and parsnips are just some of the more interesting fruits and vegetables I point out. The kids light up when they learn that pumpkins aren’t just for carving but that they are actually loaded with beta carotene to maintain their eye health. When they learn that the crunchy seeds of the pomegranate are actually for eating they are excited to try them. When their parents learn about how potassium and fiber rich they both are, they are excited to buy them! After discussing the importance of getting a variety of deep, rich colorful fruits and vegetables, they are surprised when I point out the lonely autumn parsnip. However, the teachable moment here is that when it comes to our produce, white is not off limits, but rather represents yet another source of vitamins. Like the beautiful pomegranate, the parsnip is potassium and fiber rich and very versatile.

After we leave the produce section, we go directly to the bake shop, which leads to a different conversation about brownies, cakes and cookies. After being in the Guiding Star dense produce section, the absence of Guiding Stars is very apparent, though it is interesting to point out the dark brown, whole-grain breads do earn stars.  In the very appealing bake shop I huddle the kids in close and explain that while I completely agree that our baked goods taste delicious, they just don’t benefit us in the same way that our fruits and vegetables do. We therefore decide that these foods are our sometimes foods. We aren’t bad for eating them and they aren’t bad foods, they just don’t give us the energy and powerful nutrients we need to enjoy a high-energy day. What child isn’t going to go for that? Incidentally, the parents love it too.

The message here is that if we get kids excited, they respond. In fact, they do so with enthusiasm. I know that you would probably rather go to the grocery store alone, at a quiet time, with a cup of coffee and make it take longer than it needs to (or is that just me?). However, when you do have your children with you, there is an opportunity to introduce them to the power of produce and the benefit of following the rainbow to a healthful diet. Then as you make your way around to the artificial “fruit” snacks, you can have another conversation about what really counts as a “fruit.” Or maybe another one about sometimes foods.