The following is an updated post from when I guest posted at A Day in Motherhood last year. I hope these tips help make your trip to the grocery store with your little ones go a little more easily.
Going to the grocery store is the one errand I almost always did when I had my children with me. Even when they were in preschool, I’d save this errand to do with them. I know a lot of people were just the opposite but it’s one that we actually enjoyed doing together—for the most part at least! I know lots of people like to coordinate child care with a spouse or friend so they can shop child-free, but grocery shopping is actually the one errand that we continued to run together up until the day my youngest went to kindergarten. I promise it doesn’t have to be such a dreaded outing if you keep these tips in mind!
Set ground rules. Remind your children that you are there to buy groceries for your family and that you have a budget. Even the littlest ones can begin to understand what a budget means when you put it in relatable terms, like if we buy too many cookies, we won’t be able to buy any bananas (or whatever growing food your child likes). If you want, tell them they can choose one thing that is not on the list. For some, it may be an incentive to behave well in the store.
Make a list and stick to it; then make up a shopping game. A couple of ideas: Tell them you need to get three vegetables—two green and one orange—and see if they can help you figure it out. Or tell them what you’re buying ingredients for, say tacos, and ask them what they think you need to buy. This will keep their minds busy so that they are hopefully less distracted by other things.
Practice math (but you don’t have to let them know it!). When my children were learning to count, we would count out together as we placed the apples in the bag. Then I went one step further: if we were going to get five apples and had only put three in the bag, I would ask how many more we needed. Finally, older children can help figure out how to work within your budget by paying attention to prices and comparing different sizes or brands or just learning what you can or cannot purchase that day.
Involve your kids in the shopping. Younger children sitting in a cart can help you spot the next item on the list when you tell them what to look for. Need some peanut butter? Ask your child to look for it! Or send older children down the aisle you’re on to grab the next thing on the list. If you’re trying to teach your children to eat more healthfully, you can even talk about why you may the food choices you do. Like why you prefer to buy the whole wheat pasta instead of just the regular pasta. Use child-friendly shopping carts. When my children were younger, I used to use the car carts that are popular at many stores. Yes they were big and yes, they were unwieldy (and many times they drove me crazy!). But my kids loved those carts and it helped them be a little more patient when we’re going down all the aisles. Believe me, they will outgrow them and that time will pass all too quickly. Or just downsize your cart. Our new grocery store has miniature sized grocery carts—they look just like the big ones but are the perfect size for young children to push alongside you. Just remind them to watch out for other people!
Let the kids touch the food—even the produce. When I choose produce I tell the kids what we are looking for and let them help put it in the bag. When they were littler, I helped guide them into placing each item gently in the bag. Now they know just what to do! Same goes for other foods. You may want to start off handing foods that don’t need as much gentle handling, like cereal boxes so they can get used to putting items in the cart properly. Watch out for heavier items like canned foods. And save the bread and eggs for mom to pick up.
Involve your kids in the menu planning and preparation. When your kids are involved in meal planning, they are generally more excited about going to the store because they know they’ll be getting foods that THEY helped choose and may even get to help prepare. It’s no secret that getting kids involved at these stages sets them up for success later in life and for many helps them discover new foods they didn’t know they liked!
If your store has a self-scanning check-out use it. My kids and I have a system: one pulls the groceries out of the basket. My oldest is the scanner and, since I’m picky about the way my things get bagged, I’m the sacker. Of course this works best if you don’t have a ton of groceries!
Time it right and shop when your store will have samples. I’ll admit that we do sometimes make grocery store or wholesale club runs when I know there will be samples. This might drive some people crazy to have to stop at all the sample stations, but I know I will often take advantage of the samples and think of them as appetizers of sorts. Plus, my kids are more likely to try new foods when there is a sample! Just remember the Set Ground Rules guideline and let your kids know just because you sample doesn’t mean you have to buy everything!
Check your moods—and shop accordingly. If possible, try to plan your shopping trip on a day and at a time when everyone is in a good mood. Shopping when someone (including mom!) is hungry or tired is just a recipe for disaster.
With a little forethought, going to the grocery store with your kids doesn’t have to be a headache. It can be a terrific learning experience and a lot of fun too!