This lesson helps young people understand the way that grocery stores are designed, how products may be deceptively marketed, and ways to find the most healthful options in grocery store aisles. The youth will compare two similar products and then pick the healthier version. They will make informed choices by looking at the ingredients list.
Before facilitating this lesson, you may want to review the following definitions. These can be shared with young people during your discussions.
Shelf life: This is how long a product can sit on the shelf or counter, or in the refrigerator, before spoiling, rotting or molding.
Processed food: This is food that has been changed from its original form. For example, a potato made into a potato chip. These foods usually have several ingredients. Processed foods have been packaged into a bag, box or other container. They are shipped from a factory and will have a shelf life of weeks or even years.
One-ingredient food: This is a food that has been grown, picked and washed before selling, and usually does not have an expiration date stamped on it. This type of food will not last for more than a few days before spoiling. Fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs and meat are examples of one-ingredient foods. Some one-ingredient foods can be packaged and may have a longer shelf life if stored properly, such as flour.
Perimeter: The edges of the store as you walk around; does not include the center aisles.
Have a picture of a grocery store layout or arrange the products that young people brought from home around a designated area to show food locations. For example, fruit, veggies, meat and dairy around the perimeter and chips, cookies and cereal in the center.
Show the youth the Sample Grocery Store Layout and point out the sections.
Perimeter of the grocery store
Point out that in this grocery store, most of the one-ingredient foods are located around the perimeter of the store. The boxed, bagged and packaged items (processed foods) are located in the center aisles.
While shopping, you will want to get the majority of your food from the perimeter of the store. The foods around the perimeter are better for your body because they have not been changed from their original form.
Caution: Grocery stores are starting to put processed foods around the perimeter, too. Sometimes you may find sugary cereals on the perimeter. You will also find one-ingredient foods boxed in the center aisles, like flours, oatmeal, and frozen fruit and veggies.
The produce section
Talk about the difference between conventionally grown produce and organically grown produce.
The chemicals used to grow conventional fruits and vegetables can’t be washed completely off or peeled away. For example, you peel a banana before eating it but the chemicals are not just on the outside. They can get into the soil used to grow the banana and can be found in the fruit. Peeling your banana will not keep you from eating small amounts of these chemicals.
Note: Always remember to wash your hands and your produce well before eating, even if it is organic.
The center aisles
Explain that although the center aisles are more likely to have processed foods, you can still make healthful choices here. There are several different types of processed foods on the shelves. Just walk into the chip aisle! It is floor-to-ceiling choices! For any of these items, picking the healthiest product will be most beneficial, but how do you know which product to pick?
You can definitely get some important information from both of these locations, but you get more accurate and specific details from the ingredient list.
1. Ask the young people to “go shopping” in your virtual grocery store (see internet option below). Have each young person or group of young people choose at least two items (you may adjust this number based on how many food items are available in your virtual grocery store). As a larger group, have the young people separate the products they “bought” on the floor into two piles using the following criteria:
Pile A (Put the bag of Lay’s® potato chips in this pile.)
Pile B (Put the bag of SunChips® in this pile.)
2. Take a look at the products in your piles. The products in Pile A have the criteria above, let’s see why they may be healthier than the products in Pile B. Talk about why the products in pile B are in this pile.
3. Have the young people pick an ingredient (one they can or can’t pronounce BUT don’t know what the ingredient is) and research the specific ingredient to find out what the ingredient is. An example to look up would be ‘Red 40,’ or any other food coloring.
Internet shopping option: If internet-enabled devices are available to the youth, they can do a digital version of this activity using an online grocery store such as Coborns Delivers or Fresh Direct. Nutrition labels are available for most items in the item detail view. Young people can take a screenshot of the item they’d like to “purchase” and share it with the instructor. The instructor can sort the images of products on the interactive whiteboard or any mobile app that allows you to import and sort images.
4. Here are some questions to answer about the ingredient:
Here are some additional questions to answer about the products.
Question: Is the product advertised on TV? Why do you think this is significant?
Answer: Products that are advertised on TV, radio and Internet are usually produced by big companies who spend a lot of money on marketing and research to get you to buy their products. Think about cereal! While watching cartoons or any other kids show, cereal commercials market to kids. The commercials are very exciting and make you want to buy their products. The commercial almost makes it ‘cool’ to eat the product.
Question: What do you think about the food commercials you see on TV? Which ones are your favorites and why? Do you make your decisions on what to ask your parent to buy at the grocery store by what you hear or see on the commercial? Have the youth give some examples.
Possible answers and discussion topics:
Question: What products are not advertised? Why do you think this is significant?
Answer: One example is apples. They are not advertised on TV, radio or the Internet. Farmers do not have money to make commercials to advertise their products.
Remind young people to think about what they’ve learned the next time they visit a grocery store with their families. Ask them to look for products with the following criteria:
Challenge the youth to find the most healthful options, even in the potato chip aisle! Visit our virtual care package for more virtual health and wellness resources.
Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish, so that families can practice shopping for healthful foods together.