Kids in the kitchen: savvy shopping

Categories: Expert guidance

In her latest series, Borough Market demonstration chef and author of Cool Kids Cook Jenny Chandler shares her tips on getting kids involved in the kitchen: this week, she talks about how to turn a food shop into a fun and educational experience

The very idea of shopping with children usually conjures up visions of toddlers flailing around in the front of supermarket trolleys or bored kids pleading endlessly for dodgy, processed snacks. Sadly, stocking up with essentials such as soap powder, toilet paper, dog food or bin bags will always be a chore—but buying food can be quite a different business.

Children can be surprisingly adventurous when they are excited and engaged with their food. As a toddler, my daughter’s favourite place to shop was the fish counter with its fresh seaside smell, the extraordinary looking crustaceans piled on ice, lustrous fish of every shape and size, and the ruddy-faced fishmonger who knew her by name. We’d take our time choosing while we found out where the fish had come from and how best to cook it. I sometimes arrived with a certain fish in mind, only to be wisely led to another, often more economical, choice.

Imi was fascinated to watch as the fish was gutted and scaled and we’d usually bring home a little something new to taste too; one of the many perks of this kind of shopping is that you can buy just one razor clam or a lone sardine to give it a try. A decade on and I still visit my fishmonger regularly and Imi still adores her fish.

Rewarding and educational
Nowadays parents seem to be constantly seeking ways to entertain their kids at weekends and holidays, often forgetting that visiting a market or good food stall can be just as rewarding and educational as a trip to the museum. As soon as children are old enough to make decisions, it’s key to get them fully involved in the shopping—just try to make it fun.

Younger children could set about choosing ingredients at a particular stall for something as simple as a fruit salad. The beauty is that at a good market or shop, you‘ll find local, reasonably-priced, seasonal fare.

You can pick up individual fruits instead of those pre-packed plastic boxes, which often lead to over-buying and waste, never mind the superfluous packaging. In a world where so much food is thrown away that old adage ‘less is more’ is such an important lesson; a few perfectly-ripe greengages will certainly be devoured, while half of that bargain-basement, family-size punnet of tasteless plums will most likely finish up in the bin.

A simple supper
Market shopping, like any shopping, comes to life when you have some money in your own pocket and most older children will relish the responsibility of tracking down and choosing the ingredients for a simple supper such as toad in the hole, mash and greens.

How do you decide on which sausage with so many to choose from? Which variety of potato will make the perfect mash? How do I cook the seasonal greens? And what are those weird-looking tubers? Traders are fabulously passionate and informative about their wares, so it’s a perfect time to pick up cooking tips and, with an expert’s guidance, to snap up produce at its very best.

Learning to shop well is a life skill, and there’s nowhere better to learn than a great market.

Top tips for savvy shoppers
Look out for local, seasonal food. It tastes fantastic and is often cheaper too

—Learn from the experts; growers and producers can teach you how to spot the freshest, tastiest wares

—Don’t be scared to ask for advice; traders love to share their knowledge and can help out with cooking tips or introducing you to less familiar, often more economical, choices

—Take the opportunity to taste—you may discover a new favourite

—Buy what you will use. Bulk offers are tempting but often end up tasting of little, being more than you can eat and finishing up in the bin

Read Jenny’s child-friendly recipe for spring Market salad