Shopping for groceries with children in tow can be quite the challenge. Try the following strategies so you can fill your cart with the staples you need, even with your little “helpers” along for the ride.
1. Plan your attack
Preparation can mean the difference between a successfully completed mission and a total meltdown in aisle three. Be sure to:
- Make a list and check it twice to limit the amount of time spent in the store. Group items on the list by department for speedier shopping, or use an app like Grocery Gadget for greater efficiency.
- Let children know ahead of time what kind of behavior you expect in the store. They should fully understand what the consequences will be if they do not comply.
- Avoid shopping during or right before naptime. A tired toddler does not make for a happy grocery-store companion.
- Bring along a snack to prevent hunger-induced tantrums. Many grocery stores also offer a free cookie in the bakery. It may not be the healthiest option, but plenty of parents have been known to use the promise of this sweet treat to inspire better behavior.
2. Keep kids busy
Bad behavior often results from boredom, so it’s best to keep kids entertained during your trip. Send older children to retrieve their favorite breakfast cereal. Ask toddlers to help choose items in the produce department. Let beginning readers take responsibility for crossing items off your list.
Many stores also offer miniature carts that young children can push or full-sized carts that double as cars they can “drive.” These carts provide a welcome distraction for kids that may allow you to finish your shopping in peace.
3. Shop off-peak hours
Busy stores full of frenzied shoppers can be overly stimulating for children — and parents, too. If possible, avoid shopping on weekends or during the pre-dinner rush. Try the less crowded mid-morning or early afternoon hours instead. You will be able to navigate the aisles more easily, and fewer strangers will be around to observe any less-than-perfect behavior your children display.
4. Bring backup
If your children distract you from your shopping, consider bringing along some help. Have your spouse or partner accompany you to the store so one of you can focus on getting groceries while the other takes care of the kids. Bring an older sibling to entertain your infant or toddler, or hire a mother’s helper — a youngster not yet old enough to babysit but able to play responsibly with a young child with a parent nearby.
5. Get your game on
Trips to the supermarket are more enjoyable when you channel your inner Mary Poppins and make an effort to find the fun. A grocery store is the perfect place to play the Alphabet Game, where players take turns naming foods that begin with each successive letter of the alphabet. I Spy is especially fun to play in a supermarket with a child who is learning to identify colors.
6. Teach new skills
It may be easier to leave them at home, but children can learn a lot on a simple trip to the supermarket. When they accompany you, take advantage of the opportunity to teach important skills and expand their culinary horizons.
- Have pre-readers identify letters and numbers on the many signs they see.
- Show kids how to read and under- stand nutrition labels.
- Encourage children to pick out one new food to try.
- Get pre-teens involved in the process of couponing, budgeting and price checking.
Remember that family trips to the grocery store also provide an excellent opportunity for children to practice behaving appropriately in public. You may not be able to stroll leisurely through the aisles or concentrate solely on your shopping when your kids are by your side, but you can teach them many valuable lessons. And if you play your cards right, you can still manage to stock your pantry, too.
Alyssa Chirco is a freelance parenting journalist and mother of two.