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How to Grocery Shop with Young Kids

family grocery shopping- tips for parents for shopping with kids
Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Grocery shopping with kids doesn’t have to be a drag. Here are 9 things you can do so that the next time you grocery shop with young kids it will be a success!

[Updated: April 2022] To have a successfully grocery shop with young kids, you will need a few key “ingredients.” Here are some tips.

Pick a good time to grocery shop with kids

Don’t try to squeeze grocery shopping in between elements of jam packed day. As much as possible, schedule your shopping trip when you are relaxed (as relaxed as a parent can be when shopping with kids!).

And don’t go grocery shopping when your children are tired. If it’s after dinner, it’s too late.

Get them involved    

Before your trip, have your children help you make the grocery list. Look at the flyer together, comparison shop, look up recipes, make a menu for the week, and write down the items you need to purchase. Have your children “take inventory” of the most used items in the house (milk, bread, etc.) and have them report to you which items are running low.

Give everyone a job to do in the store

Create a job jar and have each child pick a slip out of the jar before you leave the house. Whatever they pick will be their responsibility during that trip. Some ideas include: carrying the grocery list and pencil to check off items as you go, pushing the grocery cart, ripping off the plastic bags in the produce department, etc.

Create a scavenger hunt list

This can be used as a back up plan to the job assignment. If children start to lose interest in the job they picked, hand them as list of things that they can look for while at the store (like a man in a yellow shirt, a green letter A, etc.). Try this list for younger kids and this one for older kids. Let your children take ownership of this activity, maintaining their own checklist so you can shop.

Go on a full tank and take snacks

Be sure your children have had something to eat before the trip. There is nothing harder than being hungry in a store full of food and being told you cannot touch anything. Pack snacks to keep little ones who are stuck in the cart busy such as a Cheerio necklace, which is fun to wear and can take a while to eat.

Give a pep talk

Before you even get out of the car, put it in park, turn around and tell them that you are excited for a fun shopping trip together. Tell them what “being good” in the grocery store looks like (keeping a hand on the cart, not taking things off the shelf without asking, etc.).

Anticipate what will be challenging for your children and tell them how you expect them to behave under those circumstances such as: “You might see something today that you really, really want to have. When you ask for it, I am going to say ‘no’ because we are only buying things that are on the list.  This may be hard for you to hear but I know you can handle it.”

Give a warning

If you notice one of your children starting to challenge you either in word or behavior, you can say something like: “Uh oh. It seems like you are getting off track. What would you like to do to stay on track? Change jobs? Push the cart?” By stopping and re-assessing, you may be able to avert a scene. And because you scheduled your trip for when you are not rushed, you have time for these side discussions.

When things go wrong

Despite all these preparations, you still may still have a “situation” on your hands. If your child starts to make a scene, you have a choice to make: 1) ignore the stares from the people around and continue on with your trip or 2) leave. If you decide to step out to try to re-group, try asking someone at the service counter to hold your cart. Some grocery stores will roll your full cart into the walk-in fridge area in the dairy department to keep it cool. Leaving or sticking it out are both fine options. But giving in to whatever your child is demanding at the time will only do one thing: ensure that he will do it again the next time.

Note: if your young child is prone to temper tantrums, check out this article which includes tips on how you can avert and manage big emotions.

Thank them     

When you are done, verbally thank your children for making the shopping trip enjoyable. You may choose to give a snack to the kids who did well. Don’t feel that you need to buy something special for each child – just open a box of recently bought Teddy Grahams or Goldfish crackers and pass it around. If you are not comfortable rewarding behavior with food, you can give hugs, stickers or even agree to play a game at home when all the groceries are put away.

Trips to the grocery store need not leave you feeling frazzled and frustrated. The two main ingredients you need are: planning ahead and involving your children. Give it a try – you may just find that these ingredients are all you need for a recipe for success!

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed therapist who offers individual and parent counseling to residents of Connecticut. Cornerstones for Parents is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married with a young adult son and a teenage daughter.

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4 Comments

  • On one trip I wrote down the order of the aisles and make my list by that order. I have an 8 year old, 6 year old, and 3.5 year old. If I have to take them with me, we go early (8:30) and each boy gets one of the smaller shopping carts. (Our Krogers has two sizes of carts). They get to take turns putting stuff in their cart. I’ve told them they have to stay in the same aisle as me and if they get to far away from me then the food goes in my cart. They love unloading the carts when we are ready to check out.

    • What great ideas! The ordered shopping list may take a little extra time up-front, but the pay-off comes during your shopping trip with less backtracking and an overall shorter time in the store. And kids love to help – you are so wise to use that desire to make your trip go smoothly. Thank you for sharing!

      Blessings,
      Laura

  • Thanks for the great tips – I needed some this last trip i had – I was quite frazzled! Keeping the kids involved is great – I need to do it more. Right now I make them the coupon “hunters”.

  • Great tips! You express the voice of experience and success! You have addressed the visual impulsivity of every child. Letting an older writing-savvy child keep his own list for things you know are at his visual level, will engage him/her even further. Often time is of the essence, but how great to give math lessons on unit prices and health lessons on sugar, fats, and salt. tI could be quite an educational experience rather than a dreaded one. I will pass these on to my special someones!