Learn & Grow at the Farmers Market

from cooking to money management, market offer lessons for kids of all ages

Lauren Fisher

Farmers markets all over the Chippewa Valley burst into action in the late spring, and with them come some of the best opportunities for young people to learn new, practical skills that will get them far in life. From nutrition and community to finance, these markets put grown-up decision making and social interaction within reach of even the smallest kids. Here are some ways to make the most of a market trip with your child.

Ages 2-5

The farmer’s market is full of sights, sounds, smells, and textures. Develop awareness of your child’s senses along with language skills by introducing your kid to the products. A strawberry is red, sweet, smelly, and rough to the touch. Eggs are smooth and round. They come in dozens; an opportunity to practice counting. Older toddlers can be instructed to find ingredients for meals. Try something like “I’m looking for a round blue fruit to put in tomorrow’s pancakes.” Or “We’re going to have pork for dinner; what’s a good leafy green food to have as a side?”

Take every opportunity to talk through the decision-making process out loud, and ask questions to engage them in the process. Even nonverbal children and infants will benefit from hearing you talk about your environment.

Ages 6-8

This age group can begin to learn about the nutritional value of different foods. Identify sources of protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins and explain why those nutrients are important to their bodies.

Decide what to have for lunch or dinner that day with your child. Discuss what ingredients you will need in order to make it, and have them write a simple list to take to the market. Have them find those ingredients.

Now is a good time to introduce them to the money exchange process. Identify denominations of currency with them and ask them to figure out how much a purchase will cost. If apples are $2 a pound, and you need three pounds to make a pie, how much will the apples cost? If you pay with a $10 bill, how much change should you get? Count the change with your child. Markets are great places to begin money math, because many of the products that are for sale are priced on the dollar or quarter dollar.

When you get home, involve your child in the food preparation process to strengthen the association between the ingredients and the finished product. It’s a great chance to begin learning basic kitchen skills!

Ages 8-12

Task your child with planning a day’s meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, based on what’s available at the farmer’s market. Give them a budget for the project, and have them make purchases by themselves. If this is easy for your child, spice things up by asking them to make sure all of the food groups are represented in each meal. You can encourage them to use the same ingredient for several meals. (Spinach might go in an omelette, and then become part of a salad with dinner.) Kids can learn a lot about money management (and you can learn a lot about your kids!) if you tell them they can choose if, or how, to spend any leftover money from the budget.

If you’re planning ahead, practice handwriting and organizational skills by encouraging your child to make a list before they hit the stands. If ingredients aren’t available, it’s time to work out those problem-solving skills! Involve your child in the cooking process, or encourage them to prepare a simple meal by themselves.

Ages 12+

Challenge your older child to create a meal plan for the whole week using a budget. Start with only planning suppers, or add in lunch and breakfast, or even snacks, if the initial task is easily accomplished. Once again, consider the reuse of ingredients, but this time, keep leftovers in mind. Tweens can begin to learn more about calories and nutrition by using tracking applications on a phone to plan healthy meals.

Young people can plan ahead by checking on what ingredients you already have, making a schedule, and then making a list based on that information before you go to the market. See if they can estimate how much a shopping trip will cost, and compare that guess with what they spend at the market. How did what they spend differ from what they estimated? Why did it end up that way? Next time, should they adjust their shopping list or their budget to account for this?

These are only a few examples of how a trip to your nearest farmer’s market can be an educational – but still fun! – experience. Keep an open mind to further learning possibilities while you’re out to make the most of the day.

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