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Life Lessons From The Grocery Store
By Suzanne Ferrara
For most parents, it’s one of the last things you want to do with your kids—take them grocery shopping. However, for one New Iberia mom, taking her kids to the grocery store takes on a whole new meaning.
You see, not only does she take them to the grocery store, but she also hands over the reins.
Angela Trappey Cestia, mother of three and registered dietitian, uses the excursion as a fun-filled life lesson that her children will never forget. “I think letting them have the responsibility of it is fun; it’s their thoughts and ideas being put into practice and you kind of let go of the control of the situation, so it makes it more fun,” she says.
Plus, Cestia makes sure they pay with cash so the kids get a realistic picture of how much groceries cost, and so that they understand what they are getting for their money. Still, when you ask the oldest child, 11-year-old Lauren, about the first time she took on the responsibility at age 10, she’s quick to reply,” I just remember it adding up super fast – things that only cost a dollar or two, cost a lot of money in the end.”
(Tip: Cestia allows her kids to choose a fruit or vegetable they’ve never had before at the grocery store as long as they try it; this exposes them to different healthy foods on their terms.)
All great lessons, right? But learning life skills doesn’t end there. The grocery store project begins at home with the kids – including 8-year-old Meredith – deciding what they want for dinner, essentially a meal they can prepare by themselves or with just a little help. Responsibilities are handed out according to the age of the child and what he/she can safely manage.
“For my 11 year old, we make sure she chooses a meal that is manageable and doable for her because we want her to have a successful meal, like tacos.” It’s at this point that Cestia talks about having a balanced meal and making healthy choices.
“The dietitian part of me comes out when I say, ‘It is important to teach kids that food is not good or bad and that it’s all about moderation and health. Some things are ‘sometimes foods’ and some things are ‘all-the-time foods,’ and I feel if you can work this in at a young age, it’s a good thing.”
(Health Tip: In addition to leaving a bowl of fresh fruit out for her family, Cestia routinely cuts up the produce and puts it out on the table so her kids don’t snack on high sugar items or processed foods she calls “convenience food.”)
Next, they figure out a budget, which opens the kids’ eyes to just how much things cost; but the big win is when they pay the cashier and hand over the larger amount in dollars and cents. “You try to use cash so they can see it and they learn that food is expensive and not to waste it. When it comes to fruits and vegetables they learn it goes bad faster, so they need to eat it right away.”
Once the grocery shopping is done and they have all of the ingredients for their meal of choice, the children roll up their sleeves and get down to business.
While for some having all the kids in the kitchen—at the same time – preparing dinner seems like chaos, that’s not the case for the Cestia family. The goal is to make it a fun family-bonding experience, and mom and dad make sure they’re around…just in case. “It’s challenging for kids to cook, and we want to make sure they don’t burn themselves or the food.” Cestia and or her husband, Burt, are with them at all times, making sure they don’t hurt themselves in the kitchen or take on a task that may be too difficult.
But again, the whole experience is about bonding, and taken that one step further, strengthening the familial bonds. “For example, Sam, who is 4 years old, will just sit in the middle of all of it and dump something into a pot or bowl. He’s just happy being around it all,” laughs Cestia. Fortunately, Lauren and Meredith work as a duo. “Meredith is her sous-chef and they have so much fun! I also love watching them interact and help each other grow as people without even knowing that they are doing that.” She also has the children set the table and clean up after dinner, more responsibilities that are life lessons. “Like us, the more they are exposed to the kitchen, the easier it is for them and they love helping out.”
(Time Tip: Cestia says the best time to do projects like these is on a weekend or in the summer; that’s when you have more time to plan and, subsequently, can make the most of it for both you and your kids.)
So, what do the experts think about these life lessons Cestia is giving her children? Dr. Amy Cavanaugh clinical psychologist says, “It’s important to involve kids in the routine activities of everyday living.” Cavanaugh continues, “They learn life skills that a lot of adolescents and young adults tend to lack these days. Also, budgeting, nutrition and interacting with the public is important.”
Cavanaugh says there are other life skills you can give your children, too. She says things like opening a savings account, letting them help out with the yard or housework are also great ideas. “You can do this starting at an early age, and they love to help and be included and feel like they are contributing to the family.” Don’t forget to teach them to be philanthropic in their community, too, advises Cavanaugh. “Let them either give a monetary donation to their favorite charity or church, or volunteer to help.”
Cestia says the things that she remembers most from growing up in her large family (she is one of 7 children), are those moments they shared together and the traditions she continues to hold close to her heart. “Family has always been an important part of my life.” So, when it comes to duties in the kitchen, and at the grocery store, that naturally equates to precious quality time spent together. Thus, her quest to turn a learning moment into fond memories, and at the same time pass on life skills with great love and care, is boundless. “Children grow up much too quickly, so any time spent with them simply enjoying who they are as people, while helping them grow, are special moments,” explains Cestia.
“I feel like I need to grab these moments while I can because they will be on their own in the blink of an eye. I also hope that, for some of these moments, my kids will look back on them as traditions we did as a family.”