Dread going to the grocery store with your kids?
We get it. We've never had a client say they love grocery shopping with kids. Perhaps you even enjoy going to the store by yourself, but the second your little angels come with you it's more stressful. We're here to help with some tips that make it a little bit less painful - and more fun - for everyone involved. (Seriously, it can actually be a little fun!)
Check out our Amazon Store for our favorite grocery shopping gear.
Why take kids to the grocery store?
Some parents decide to get groceries delivered or pre-ordered, or they only grocery shop without kids. Do what works best for you! We LOVE grocery delivery and pickup - it's an AMAZING time and sanity saver.
We do recommend bringing kids to the grocery store every so often - even once every few months - to help familiarize them with the food they will eat. Grocery shopping is an important life skill, and sometimes involving kids in the process makes them more likely to try new foods. Plus, identifying foods at the store helps children learn colors, new words, practice sorting or categorization, and learn about manners and social cues while in public. (Eventually they'll help you with grocery shopping and putting food away - now that's something to look forward to!)
In the end, do you. If you choose to - or have to - bring your kids to the store, check out our suggestions below.
Make a plan.
Go to the store with a list. Have a plan for what you want to buy, whether it's written on a piece of paper or entered into an app or list on your phone. The faster you get in and out of the store, the less stressful it is for everyone. Plus, it will be easier to direct your "helper" toward what you need to buy if you actually know what you need to buy. Need help meal planning? Our Toddler Course is full of over 100 meal and snack ideas, plus a grocery list!
Using WIC or SNAP (food assistance programs)? Talk to your local agency (where you receive benefits) about tips for grocery shopping given your state's rules. Many agencies have printouts and photos that help navigate the grocery store.
Set realistic expectations.
Kids don't do well when they're hungry or tired, so a grocery trip right before nap time or lunch may not go over well. An entire morning of shopping at multiple stores may be rough for a baby in a stroller/carrier or a busy toddler. If possible, take your kids to the store when they're not exhausted or starving, and keep the trip speedy. Try to consolidate your shopping into one store if possible.
Also, remember that small humans struggle to regulate their big, big emotions...it's almost guaranteed that if they have a meltdown that day it will be at the store. Actually, it's scientific fact, friends. If we see you there, we promise to throw you a smile and a word of encouragement! #solidarity
Sometimes you get lucky and they actually pass out at the store...
Keep them safe.
Grocery shopping with babies that can't sit up is rough because it's hard to figure out where to put them while you shop. We don't recommend putting their infant seat in the top of the cart (where kids eventually sit), as it can easily tip out - we've even seen this happen, and it's really scary. Some carts have now been designed with an reclining infant seat, and other parents use shopping hammocks (check out our Amazon Store) to keep younger babies safe. You can also put the entire infant seat in the bottom of the cart, but that leaves less space for groceries.
Baby-wearing may be a great option for your family, as it keeps baby close and safe while allowing you use of your hands. Many carriers often convert from front to back so you can use them as your toddler gets bigger.
When shopping with older kids, ensure they're not hanging off the side of the cart. Even with plenty of groceries in the cart, a toddler or kid can tip the entire thing over - we've seen this too. The last thing you need with a cart full of groceries is a trip to the ER!
Oh, and if the store has small carts for kids to push, a safety warning for you:
Grocery stores make many kids suddenly ravenous. (They may make you hungry, too!) Yes, it's ideal to eat when we all sit down together and while focused, but sometimes we need to make exceptions - especially when the toddler is trying to open every package in your cart.
Try to grab a meal or snack before you go so you're not making choices out of sheer starvation, but bring small snacks for your older baby or toddler in case hunger hits. Breast or bottle feed baby before you head into the store - they're guaranteed to get hungry the second your cart is full. If serving snacks while shopping, make sure your child is sitting upright and not walking around. Babies under 12 months don't technically need snacks, but snacks can be helpful for grocery trips. Freeze dried fruits or veggies, whole grain cereal and small crackers keep kids' hands busy without making a massive mess in the cart. We like the Snap and Shop for grocery snacks - check out our Amazon shop to check it out and look at other snack containers!
Of course, samples at grocery stores can be hugely popular with young eaters! Just watch for hot temperatures and choking hazards.
Here's Megan's daughter Mia using the Snap and Shop with freeze dried strawberries:
Keep their hands busy.
A baby or toddler stuck in a cart will get very antsy without something to hold or manipulate in their hands. Bring favorite teething toys or developmental toys (see our Amazon shop for ideas) for your trip - bonus if your child hasn't yet seen it or if it only comes out while grocery shopping!
We recommend avoiding devices while grocery shopping when possible. Your child will get more out of the experience if they're communicating and engaging with you. In the end, this becomes your choice - we just recommend avoiding it if you can! If you don't get in the habit of using an iPad or iPhone it's easier to remain unplugged.
Ask them to help.
As your child gets older they may be interested in helping with grocery shopping. This can be interesting if the store has mini carts - your child will go through a phase of "do it self" where they must push one of those suckers - but it can also help keep them engaged during a grocery trip. "Help" can be difficult and even annoying, but try to remember that your child simply wants to be just like you. They are watching your every move and want to do what you do. Try to adopt a playful attitude and know that things will not - and should not - go perfectly.
Depending on your child's age, you can hand them foods to *gently* drop in the cart or ask them to grab something on a low shelf. Older kids can select and bag produce or help you weigh foods. Offer them choices so they have some autonomy in what's purchased: "Do you want red apples or green apples?" "Which cereal - this one or that one?"
Older kids can also help get groceries out of the cart and onto the checkout belt, and once they're learning about numbers and addition/subtraction you can work on prices, counting money, etc.
Talk through it.
Sometimes kids act out at the grocery store due to boredom or because they're no longer getting their parents' attention. Grocery shopping is a wonderful way to engage and be present with your child, no matter how young or old they are. Talk about names of foods, color options, sizes, how foods or packages feel, which choices you're making ("Let's get the bigger peanut butter because we go through it faster!"), where to put foods in the cart so they don't get squished, etc. A younger toddler learning new words will enjoy the challenge of trying out new sounds, and an older child may start to identify colors, shapes or even how to spell a food word.
We recommend avoiding labeling food as "healthy" versus "unhealthy," as we want kids to see food as neutral. If you want to talk about the properties of food, it's OK to discuss what foods do for us ("oranges help our bodies fight bugs when we're sick"), but just avoid making less "healthy" choices seem bad.
With that being said, get in the habit of saying no early. We can't buy everything we see - that's part of life. Your child will test you and will ask to purchase every. Single. Thing. Use language like, "We aren't getting that right now," "That's not on our list," "We aren't buying that because we already have x at home," etc. The more consistent you are with this, the easier grocery trips get as they get older. Of course, you can always offer them a choice so they get a say in what's purchased: "We aren't getting ice cream today, but do you want to pick out a new snack for after school?"
Make it a game.
Yes - our kids eventually need to learn to self-regulate and entertain themselves when doing menial chores. However, if you notice that your child gets especially rambunctious or challenging at the grocery store, teach them that we can make anything fun or interesting. It's also a great way to connect with your child on a day when you may not have much play time with them (because you're running errands)!
Pretend one of your kiddo's favorite characters is hiding and you have to find them. Megan's daughters love pretending that their beloved villain - Ursula from The Little Mermaid - is going to find them if they don't get everything on the list, scavenger hunt-style. Try to identify one item of every color or shape in each aisle. Look for letters or unusual words - you can even see if they can identify an image or character on boxes as you walk down the aisles. Some Trader Joe's locations hide stuffed animals for kids to find, too.
You don't have to be a Pinterest parent to have fun at the store - just put yourself in your kid's shoes and try to be a little more playful! The result is a more fun, memorable experience for everyone.
Focus on the end goal.
Tell your child what's happening next (kids thrive on understanding the routine), and have something fun for them at the end of the trip. Many stores hand out stickers at the cash register, or perhaps you have a fun little toy in the car for them to explore. After you put away groceries at home, maybe head to the park or read a new book from the library. Some kids do really well with an end-goal in mind - remind them that after we get groceries we're going to do something else.
Note: we recommend avoiding rewarding/bribing with food. Learn more in our Toddler Course.
Save your sanity.
Are you completely over the grocery store experience? Go easy on yourself and have someone else pick up your food, order it online for outside pickup, or have it delivered. Go easy on yourself, especially if you're in a challenging season with your kids. It will get more manageable as they get older, and one day you may even miss them while you shop! (Maybe...!)
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!