How To Survive Bringing Your Kids to The Grocery Store

Mention taking kids to the grocery store and you’ll see every parent’s eye twitch.

We didn’t used to hate grocery shopping.  There was a time when we waddled our little pregnant bellies around the store, fawning over the little jars of baby food and stocking up on diaper supplies.  Once in a while we’d see a toddler having a meltdown in the candy aisle while a parent pretended not to notice, and we whispered to our partners, “Our kids will never act like that.”

And this is where every seasoned parents laughs until she cries.

When it comes to having young kids, the grocery store visit is a ticking time bomb.  It doesn’t matter how well-behaved your children are–there will always be that one day they didn’t take their nap or you got held up at the pediatrician’s office and lunch time is fast approaching but you don’t have any food left in the house.  Life happens!

If you are tired of fighting with your kids at the grocery store and enduring menacing stares from single people or older folks who have been out of the trenches for a while, here are some helpful tips from parents who get it.


Technique #1: Avoid bringing your kids at all costs.

This will feel like a cop-out at first, but trust us veterans–you will NOT get a medal for taking your kids to the store!  If you’ve been struggling with your kids, first ask yourself if it’s worth it to bring them, if it’s doing your family any good.  Here are some alternatives:

  1. Have a family member or sitter watch your kids at home, and enjoy some well-deserved solo time.
  2. Bring only one child.  Being outnumbered is exhausting!  You’ll get precious one-on-one time this way, too.
  3. Order groceries online for pickup or delivery.  A lot of stores offer these services for free or with an affordable fee.  What a time to be alive!
  4. Find a grocery store that offers free onsite childcare (yes, they exist!)



Technique #2: Do everything in your power to set yourselves up for success.

If you cannot avoid bringing your kids with you (I see you, single parents!) don’t despair just yet–there’s actually a lot you can do to make things go smoothly.  Here are the dangers you want to avoid and how to do so:

  1. Hunger and Thirst.  Don’t head out too close to mealtimes (you will NOT hear the end of it!)  Bring snacks and small bottles of water (I’m talking 8 oz bottles–any more than that and you’ll have other problems) or juice to give the kids one less reason to complain.  Bring yourself something as well.  You’ve been on the go all day and probably haven’t eaten much.  I’m right, aren’t I?
  2. Missing nap time.  You don’t want to head out too close to nap or bedtime, either.  Sleepy kids are harder to deal with, especially once they get that second wind.  We call it “dark energy” at our house.
  3. Potty Accidents.  Before you even grab that shopping cart, take the kids to the family restroom (or go before you leave the house if you want to avoid the public restroom scenario altogether).  Otherwise you’re going to hear, “I need to go to the bathroom!” Fifty times.  Or worse, you’ll have to clean up an embarrassed child in the middle of the store (sorry about those diaper blowouts, new moms–not much I can do for you there).  These potty visits are annoying, so just get them out of the way before you have to worry about a store attendant swiping your cart or your frozen items thawing.
  4. Boredom.  This is the biggest reason why kids act out in the store.  They pull things off the shelves, pick fights with their siblings, run away from the cart like you’re just a pawn in this game called LIFE…So try to keep your visit as brief as possible!  Make yourself a shopping list ahead of time–not only will you avoid going over-budget, but you’ll keep the cart rolling.  Once that cart stops, it’s like stepping on a land mine!



Technique #3: Make grocery shopping a game.

If you have a huge grocery list, you’re gonna have to keep your kids distracted.  There’s no way around it.  Parents, I know you’re tired.  I’m tired, too.  I could walk around that whole store and not say a word to anybody.  I would take my time pondering what flavor ice cream to pick out for a late-night Netflix binge as though it were the most important decision I was going to make all week…but the kids aren’t going to let me because shopping is BORING.  They want something to do RIGHT NOW.

Fear not–here is what all the other parents are doing to stop the madness:

  1. Picture Scavenger Hunts.  Kids love to imitate their parents.  Consider bringing a scavenger hunt (with pictures) to keep them busy.  Stick with basic items like bananas and milk if your child is in preschool.  For older children, consider making it a little more challenging.  If they find everything on the list, perhaps let them pick out a treat (you might want to discuss ahead of time what kind of treats they are allowed to choose from).
  2. Make it a learning experience.  There are so many opportunities to educate your kids in the grocery store.  Practice pronouncing words with your toddler.  Help your preschooler identify the difference between healthy food and junk food.  Have your first grader read the shopping list to you.  If your children have their own money, you might consider bringing it along so that they can purchase something for themselves, such as a candy bar or small toy.  In our house, we pay the kids commissions for doing chores.  We put this money in mason jars labeled with their names, and when they’ve collected a decent amount we bring the jars into the store with us.  My oldest kids are 6 and 5, so they still have trouble remembering how much coins are worth, but we still practicing counting their money and they get to ring themselves out at self-checkout.  It’s an empowering exercise that I would encourage other parents to give a try.
  3. Put your kids to work.  Most kids are fascinated by produce scales and will greatly enjoy helping you weigh your vegetables.  Ask kids to grab items off the shelves for you.  Have them load up the belt at the register (but mind the eggs!)  They will enjoy having something to do.  Kids love having the power to make choices as well.  Ask for their advice (and take it!) as you shop: “Do you think we should buy chocolate or vanilla ice cream this week?  Should we get apples or bananas this time?”
  4. Let them have the tablet or Smartphone.  If we’re honest, a little screen time isn’t going to kill them.  If it gets you in and out of the store faster, then it’s worth it.



A Few More Tips to Consider

  1. If you have a toddler, try to avoid registers that have candy within reach (some stores offer snack-free aisles).
  2. Invite a friend along for the ride.  You can divide and conquer your list (and the kids, if they aren’t getting along).  Offer to buy her a coffee as thanks.
  3. Establish rules (ex. stay within arm’s length of the cart) and enforce them. It isn’t fun to discipline kids in public but consistency is imperative!  Otherwise they’ll come to understand that the grocery store is one place where they can take advantage of you.
  4. Treat yo’self!  Parenting is hard work and sometimes we just need a little something to look forward to at the end of the day.  I’m not saying throw out your diet or your budget, but you have my permission (for what it’s worth) to get a little something just for you.

While I can’t guarantee that little Johnny won’t destroy a toilet paper tower when you turn your back, I still believe these tips will nevertheless make grocery adventures much easier for you.  If it happens, I’m not judging your parenting skills.  The bottom line here is that kids will be kids.  Embrace it!  And to the parents of the special needs child, to the parents of the foster kids, to the parents struggling to balance work and home life, to the parents who weren’t parented well and are still trying to figure things out, and to the parents who have bad days like anyone else…

I see you.