Learning is a process that happens all the time, not just in school. You can enhance your children's learning by incorporating small lessons in everyday activities.

To demonstrate this, I took my daughter to the supermarket and tried to incorporate as much learning as I could in this most ordinary task. Our goal was to buy healthy items, save money and stick to our list to avoid impulse items. We could then estimate the cost of our items. Did you know that children are more likely to eat healthy food if they take part in choosing, purchasing and preparing it? As a bonus, we got some mother-daughter time.

  1. Before leaving the house, we discussed healthy food choices to purchase, starting with snacks. I asked Bethany which healthy snacks she prefers, and she said, "Baby carrots with ranch dressing dip and cherry tomatoes." I asked her which fruits she would like, and she said, "Strawberries, blueberries, bananas and mangos." I also asked her what she would like for dinner-chicken or fish. She said chicken, pasta and salad.

  1. We made a list, and Bethany wrote down the ingredients:

Lettuce, grape tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, bananas, mango, chicken, pancake mix, syrup, cereal and pasta.

We brought the list and clipboard to the store so we could check off the items as we went along.

  1. We went to the store, bringing our re-usable bags.

We saw the strawberries first. We could get a two-pound container for $5.89 or one pound for $2.99. Bethany figured out that the bigger size cost slightly less per pound, but we like our strawberries fresh, so we opted for the smaller size. The blueberries cost $3.99 for a very small size (they are not yet in season), so we opted not to buy them since we could probably eat them all in 10 minutes. The mango was on sale for $1.25, so we bought one, and we grabbed a few bananas, two all yellow and several partly green.

Next we went to the salad section. I grabbed a Nature's Promise package of romaine hearts for $4.99. Bethany pointed out that the Giant-brand package cost $3.99 and also looked fresher, so we switched them.

Then we went to the breakfast section. The pancake mix was on sale. We chose whole wheat because of the extra fiber. There were several brands and sizes of maple syrup. I showed Bethany how to look for the unit price on the top left hand corner. The best deal was the larger Giant brand, at $17.11/unit ($6.79). (The others ranged from $20/unit to $30/unit.) Next we went to the breakfast cereals. I showed Bethany how I always look at the protein, fiber and sugar contents on the nutrition label. It is optimal to get a cereal with relatively low sugar and high protein and fiber. Protein and fiber fill you up better, and of course, too much sugar causes weight gain. We bought my husband's favorite cereal, Quaker Oatmeal Squares, which has 6 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber and 9 grams of sugar. (Giant has a less expensive brand of oat squares, but it has less fiber and protein).

Next we bought pasta. We chose white fiber pasta as a healthy compromise between whole wheat and regular. Finally, we bought chicken, the brand on sale.

  1. As we shopped, we wrote down the actual and rounded cost of each item on our clipboard:

  • Whole wheat pancake mix $2.50 $3.00
  • Maple syrup 6.79 7.00
  • Chicken tenders 4.57 5.00
  • Strawberries 2.99 3.00
  • Mango 1.25 1.00
  • Bananas .70 1.00
  • Grape tomatoes 3.99 4.00
  • Petite carrots 2.99 3.00
  • Romaine hearts 2.99 3.00
  • Quaker Oatmeal Squares cereal 3.79 4.00
  • White fiber pasta 1.59 2.00

  1. We estimated what the total bill would be by adding the estimated prices in our heads and comparing the estimated total with the actual total. We did not try to figure out the tax because I know that at the grocery store, different items are taxed different amounts.

Estimated total - $36; Actual total before tax - $34.15

We enjoyed our dinner of chicken, pasta and salad. The next day, we made waffles with syrup. Since we have four waffle lovers in our family, we doubled the recipe, allowing for another math activity.

During our grocery store event, we learned more about healthy food choices and saving money by choosing less expensive brands, sale brands and larger packages. We also found a good use for rounding numbers. Here are some more supermarket lessons for the future:

  • Comparing the price of precut vegetables to whole ones.

  • Trying to keep the total price under a certain amount.

  • Charting the cost of fruits and vegetables through the seasons.

  • Growing our own vegetables and comparing the cost and taste to store-bought ones.

  • Challenging ourselves to prepare the least expensive and healthiest meals we can for a week.

  • Calculating time saved from using the self-checkout lane.

I'm sure you can find even more learning opportunities at the supermarket and on other errands. Happy shopping!


Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman is the President of Tutoring For Success, a home-based tutoring company that serves the D.C. metropolitan area. Find more educational articles at tutoringforsuccess.com.