Commissary shopping doesn’t have to be a solo mission for mom or dad. Children can make shopping a learning experience.

A lesson in identifying primary colors is as easy as collecting some red apples, yellow bananas, green grapes and blue (purple) plums. “Can you choose four baking potatoes for me, please? Make them all about the same size, and by the way, what color are they?” See how easy this is? You’ve covered counting, sizes and shapes, and even added another color to identify.

Older children can put newly acquired math skills to work by figuring out how many 4-ounce servings you can get from a 1-pound package of ground beef, or how many pounds of broccoli you can buy for $2, when broccoli is selling for 49 cents a pound. Broccoli may not be near the top of your child’s favorite foods list, but it does bring me to my second point.

Instead of leaving the children at home, do you insist they be present for commissary shopping, because they are the ones in charge of menu-planning and food-buying decisions, and all you do is hand over the cash at the checkout? That’s worse than too bad – it’s downright terrible.

Growing bodies need all the nutrients they can get, packaged in the right amount of calories tailored to the child’s age, gender and activity level. That translates to fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains and lean sources of protein – the same food groups recommended for adults, but in smaller amounts.

Little room is left over for empty calorie drinks, sweet or salty snacks, or high-fat entrée options most children in charge of menu planning would go for.

If you need a crash course in nutrition to reclaim your role model status when it comes to eating right, help is as close as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans at

Most schools, including Department of Defense dependent schools and DoD education activity schools are teaching this same information to children from kindergarten through high school, so compare notes on what you’ve each learned, then head to the commissary for some practical application.

Use the “It’s Your Choice, Make it Healthy” shelf-talkers for quick reminders of facts from the dietary guidelines.

Compare the Nutrition Facts labels of your favorite frozen pizzas or microwave entrées to see how they stack up when it comes to fats and sodium.

Consumption of sodium should be no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, and fats no more than 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories. Make the numbers more meaningful by paying attention to the “% daily value” column. Five percent or less of a particular nutrient is “low,” while 20 percent or more is “high.”

Do the same comparisons on your favorite breakfast cereal. Is it whole grain? What is the fiber content? You need 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed, you know. And, how is the sugar content? One teaspoon is equal to 4 grams.

Make these excursions often, and you’ll be surprised at how your new knowledge will change your menu planning and commissary shopping habits. Finally, bring that commissary classroom home to your very own kitchen.