Sick of water parks with their soggy, screeching , and overtired toddlers? Feeling broke and angry that your kid has learned absolutely nothing this summer – but loathe to pull out flashcards or a workbook?
The best learning is done creatively. Why not stay close to home and plan an educational and fun field trip that will result in a proud and healthy kid? Look at your real life in a creative way. This activity is appropriate for all kids from the time they can count, though it works better as the kids get older up to about age twelve.
I call this:
THE NINE DOLLAR SALAD
Count out nine dollars in singles. Tell the child this is his or her budget.
Divide up the dollars into three equal piles. Explain that one pile will buy the base, the second, the yummy stuff and the third, the garnish (bonus: the kid learns the word garnish and grandma is very impressed next time you visit.)
Now take yourself to the local farmer’s market, Whole Foods, or any supermarket or gourmet grocery with luscious greens and a vast selection of well-sprayed veggies.
Note: and this is VERY important.—you are not shopping for the whole family, nor are you shopping for dinner, or for that stick of butter that you forgot to get the last time you were out. NO. This trip is entirely for the purpose of creating the $9 salad and THAT IS ALL. If you try to make this exercise part of your regular chores or even add it on to your errand list, you and your child will go crazy, guaranteed.
So don’t go to Costco. Go to a lovely farmer’s market if you can.
Your eyes will love you. Walk up and down slowly, talking about the colors of the food and asking your child which veggies look the most fresh. Find something rotten and explain what heat does to food. Smell some herbs. Lift heavy melons. Find the biggest carrot and the smallest eggplant.
Then start to look at prices.
Buy the base first: lettuce, cabbage, kale—or if your kid hates greens, go for apples or some other fruit! – this is an excellent opportunity to teach your kid about pricing and value. Guide your child to maximum deliciousness.
Spend the first three dollars on the base. Move any “extra” money to the next pile. This is how your kid begins to learn how to budget.
Now shop for the secondary items: what does your kid like? Green beans? Carrots? Broccoli rabe? Peppers? Endives? Encourage at least one item that “looks cool” but you don’t know how it tastes – many markets will let you sample, and if not, it’s still awesome to try something totally new. Go for a variety of colors and textures. See how many different things can be bought for four dollars.
You aren’t trying to save money by buying in bulk. You are trying to see how many different things you can buy within a budget. So yes: get a single purple carrot, the cutest cauliflower, one Kirby, and a tiny pear, if that’s what you can afford.
You should have set three dollars aside to spend on the garnish. Some places will have edible flowers. Some will have raisins, nuts, or berries. Let your child have full control over what goes into and onto this salad, especially this last garnish. Make it something really special. The only limit is how much money you have to spend on it. Do NOT add “a few cents” to make it possible for your child to buy the edible orchid if you can only afford yogurt-covered raisins.
Let your child pay with the singles. Explain change. Ignore the annoyed single lady behind you who wants to get out of there so she can have a cigarette. Let your child carry the bag as far as they are able to.
Bring the groceries home, help your child wash, chop and tear your purchases, and add ingredients in the order the purchases were selected. Talk about which ones cost more than others and see if your child can figure out why (I certainly can’t). Toss the salad. You can make your own simple olive oil and lemon-juice dressing, or use some mild brand like Paul Newman’s. Let your kid do the spooning and the tossing.
Name the salad after your kid and post a photo of it on Facebook or on your blog – kids love public recognition. (If they are older and curious, you can have them do internet searches to discover the nutritional and/or caloric content of their salad as well.) Depending on how enthusiastic they are, you can also have them write out the ingredients and post the recipe online with the photo.
Then you can eat it!
Ok, fine, they probably won’t eat it. But so what? You just spent two hours of a sizzling summer day teaching your child math, economics, and health. And it wasn’t even hard. Even if you throw away the entire salad (or if only mom and/or dad eats it) you have only spent $9 – it’s cheaper than a waterpark, and it was blissfully air conditioned!