There’s a new feel-good reality show streaming on Netflix reminding us just how incredible kids can be. On Old Enough!, children in Japan as young as two years old run errands on their own, grabbing their little bags and heading to the grocery store without an adult (other than the camera crew) to help. While there’s been controversy surrounding whether or not these toddlers are, in fact, old enough to do so, it’s a reminder that we can and should be getting children involved in grocery shopping as early as possible.
When I was a kid, going to the grocery store with my dad was a chore—he’d bring me along to help push the cart with the promise of a treat, but would silently mull over the pros and cons of a certain item while I stared at my shoelaces wishing I was anywhere else. Now, however, shopping for my weekly meals is one of my favorite things to do because I finally understand how exciting picking out the perfect components to a dish can be.
Children are more likely to find shopping boring and put it off for as long as possible as an adult when they aren’t part of the process. It’s something several of the MasterChef Junior kids I spoke with last week mentioned: In the MasterChef kitchen, they had access to more ingredients than they typically would in their parents’ kitchen, which gave them inspiration to get creative with their dishes and try new ingredients. If your kid picks up a horned melon at the store because they like the way it looks, don’t tell them to put it back—encourage them to bring it home and help with the process of preparing and serving it. Before you know it, you’ll have your own MasterChef Junior on your hands.
The process can start with the grocery list: making sure there are a few kid-approved items before dragging them to the store is much more likely to make them engaged in the process. And this doesn’t mean your list has to be just candy and other treats, it’s also an opportunity to give them a mini cooking lesson. You love macaroni and cheese? Here’s what ingredients we can use to make it; find them in the maze of the store like a real-world puzzle and be rewarded with a delicious meal.
For fiscally minded parents, grocery shopping can also be turned into a fun budgeting lesson. Set aside a certain dollar amount for your child to spend on whatever they want at the grocery store and soon they’ll figure out not only how to stretch a dollar, but what ingredients and treats are worth it and which ones aren’t. Let your kid scan the groceries at self checkout to see how things add up. It’s a math lesson, and if the numerous grocery register toys on the market are any indication, it’s a tactical action they’ll be delighted to take part in.
Whether or not your child is old enough to make a grocery run on their own is up to you (and it may be worth sending along a camera crew if they are). But they’re never too young to start learning that grocery shopping and working in the kitchen can be a rewarding experience.