Taking kids to the grocery store is an act of courage.
What used to be an ordinary errand can turn into a battle now that you’re a parent. Even well-behaved children find it hard to sit still in carts or walk obediently behind you, without whining or begging.
For me, shopping with one baby was tolerable; I just kept him in a sling where he felt warm and safe, then later, sat him in the cart right in front of me.
But then he got bigger. He wanted to go in one of those car carts, where he thinks he’s driving but you’re the one doing all the heavy pushing and awkward turning. Then he decided he wanted to be the one who decided what to buy.
When this wasn’t working, he ordered me into a time-out!
Add two more little boys (twins) and the car cart steering wheel becomes a battleground for control, but there’s no alternative because it’s the only way to keep three kids contained. One kid’s unhappiness seems to be contagious, so a refusal to buy the cereal with a large picture of Buzz Lightyear on it becomes a triple-meltdown.
So, is there a better way? Yes, there is! Here’s a complete guide to taking babies, toddlers, and older kids to the grocery store.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- Best times to go to the grocery store with kids
- How to get older kids involved with the shopping
- What to bring to the grocery store with children
- Keeping babies and toddlers entertained at the grocery store
- And more!
Let’s go shopping!
How Can We Make Shopping with Children Easier?
I needed to reframe my view of shopping with my boys from seeing it as a battle to seeing it as a chance to educate them about food, money, manners, and following instructions.
That changed my attitude.
I slowed down and had more patience. Getting groceries was one goal, but not the only one, so I didn’t resent my kids when they slowed me down.
6 Tips for Grocery Shopping with Your Kids
Here are a few ideas that should make taking your kids to the grocery store at least tolerable, and maybe even fun!
1. Pick Less Busy Times
Set yourself up for success by picking the best time to take kids to the grocery store.
It helps to plan ahead. To start with, think about the times when the store is less crowded.
You’ll have fewer people to steer around, and shorter lines to wait in.
Mornings are better than afternoons, early afternoon is better than late afternoon.
After dinner is another quieter window, but by then you’re usually getting kids ready for bed.
2. Be Organized
Any kid has their breaking point. A lot of children who can behave well and stay quiet for ten minutes are the same ones who will have a screaming fit if you make them stay in a cart for 20 minutes.
So make a list, and arrange the list in the same order as you go through the store. That should reduce how much backtracking you have to do and help you leave as soon as possible.
You may want to involve your kids in making the list; let them pick one item of their choice.
That makes the trip a little more fun and helps them to understand that they’re not going to get anything they want.
If they start asking, you can say, “Sorry, not this week. It’s not on the list.”
3. Give them Hope!
I remember as a little kid being bored to tears in the grocery store. It felt like it would never end.
One thing that can really help is to offer a reward at the end of the time.
Maybe it’s a new book, a couple of cookies on the way home, or a trip to the park after the groceries are put away.
(A lot of grocery stores offer free cookies for kids from the bakery.)
Whatever it is, use it as leverage when they’re giving you trouble! “Stop climbing out of the cart or you won’t get your prize,” has a lot more clout than “Sit down Tyler…”
4. Help them have fun.
Arm yourself wisely – with toys!
When it comes to what to bring to the grocery store with kids — you can pin a few little toys on a baby’s clothing or tie them to the basket where she can reach.
That will buy you more peace since you won’t be picking up and wiping off dropped toys.
When they’re past the dropping phase, give them a few little toys to keep their hands busy; a fidget spinner, a squishy ball, or a yo-yo.
Involve older kids in the shopping process, asking them to help you look for items, and asking their opinions about what size of a certain product to buy. Ask them to find the cheapest out of competing brands.
Giving kids these educational tasks is also a good way to keep them from arguing with each other or goofing off too much.
Often, what children want and need most is attention, so talk with them as you shop.
Tell them whenever you notice them behaving well – that encourages them to keep doing it.
“I’m so proud of you for stopping when I told you to,” “I love how you’re using your quiet voice,” and “I’m so glad you don’t grab stuff anymore like when you were a baby,” will keep a good thing going.
5. Keep them comfortable.
I would always regret it if I didn’t bring a diaper bag into the store – you never know when you’re going to need to change a messy diaper!
Water bottles are another good idea. Have older kids visit the bathroom before you go to minimize the need to go to a grocery store restroom.
If they do need to go again during the shopping trip, it can be tempting to want to make them wait until you’ve checked out, but their comfort is more important than efficiency, and their future behavior in the store will be better if it’s a pleasant experience for them.
6. Keep them safe.
Kids who listen well are easier to keep safe than kids who don’t.
Obviously, kids will make their own choices and you can’t control them, but if you’re consistent about pulling consequences, they will be far more likely to obey.
Warn them before you start shopping that if they’re not good helpers, they could lose their prize.
Tell them what they aren’t allowed to do. (Scream, fight, run away, argue with you, or climb out of a cart are good for starters.)
Also, tell them what the consequence will be. Then if they go ahead and disobey, follow through.
Follow through even if that means putting up with more screaming and crying for the rest of that trip because your next trip will be a lot easier.
(Grocery store tantrums can be legendary, be prepared for them!)
If you can pull the consequence without raising your voice or saying anything unkind, that’s ideal. Insulting a child doesn’t improve their behavior, it only makes them more insecure and unhappy.
We teach our kids emotional control by staying in emotional control of ourselves. (For more on emotional regulation, see this article)
Other safety tips are pretty obvious:
- Don’t let them stand in carts.
- Keep them within your range of sight.
- Tell them to walk behind the cart, not right in front of it where you might bump into them by mistake.
- Walking instead of running is important for keeping other shoppers safe.
If you can see shopping as a way to teach your family to work together, that makes it a lot more interesting than just getting through your list.
Children who are taught about a variety of foods and how they’re used are more likely to be willing to try them.
Children who are talked with and consulted usually behave better than kids who are ignored.
Kids who are rewarded for good behavior won’t need to be punished as often for bad behavior.
Hopefully, your next trip to the grocery store will be less frustrating and more rewarding!
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Hope this helps!