Once I had my third child, honestly, grocery shopping with the kids became torture – I felt exhausted before we left the house. In the past couple years we’ve faced a nearly empty fridge (hmm is it possible to make dinner with onions, capers and old celery…?) many, many times. Given that we continue to eat (every day!) I’ve had to figure out some ways to make this work.
Sometimes I can manage a quick trip alone, but mostly I have all three kids with me. My lofty goal is to make going to the grocery store a time that we enjoy being together, connect and have fun. My more real goal is to make it home with butter, cat food, sanity and three kids who don’t think I’m the Wicked Witch of the West. These are some ideas and grocery store games that help.
My Road-Tested, Real-Mom Grocery Shopping with Kids Tips
Strategies for Making Grocery Shopping With Kids More Fun
1. Maybe start with lunch in the deli – Yeah, it’s usually not great food and grocery shopping takes MORE time if you’re starting with a pause, but it makes for a simple yet special time with mom or dad and nobody will be shopping hungry. When timing is right, this is a fun one for us.
2. Get yourself organized – I know you’ve heard it before, but having a meal plan and making a list before shopping makes it easier. For a long time it just wasn’t happening for me though. The way I’m finally managing it each week now, is through using emeals Family Meal Planner (my review). This way I just print their list, cross off the meals I won’t be using and add in a any extra groceries we need (lunches, breakfasts) and I’m set. It makes it so I can shop for a week’s worth of food without buying all the wrong stuff and wasting it.
2. Make the kids grocery lists – You can create you own from newspaper clippings or just writing down a list. We’ve got these things called Trip Clips (this is not sponsored by them, I just still use the product a lot – which was sent to me when they were previous sponsors of CWK.) On the Trip Clip site you can print grocery lists that include a picture of the foods to shop for and how many to get. I never regret it when I take the time to print the kids personalized lists. It keeps them on target at the store and gives them reading practice too.
4. Set expectations before walking into the store – Will you be getting a race car buggy? Will you be buying gum? Stopping at the 25 cent machine (curse them!)? A little prep-talk in the car can go a long ways.
Some people are able to clip coupons and go to more than one store, if this works for you maybe the kids can help find coupon items for you at the store. Multiple stores and coupons don’t work for me. I save more money by planning ahead and using emeals (affiliate) than I do by doing a bad job of keeping track of coupons and trudging to multiple stores.
I do keep a separate list for the few items that are significantly cheaper elsewhere and occasionally make a run to those other sores for those items. My feeling is: choose the store you know well and can get through quickly and call it good.
6. Try not using a cart – If we’ve got a smaller shopping trip to do, my kids for some reason do better without the cart to cause fights. If I give them shopping baskets they enjoy being important helpers, so long as I don’t load them down too heavy 😉
7. Keep giving them jobs – carrying something heavy
is a great job. From a sensory perspective, bringing you something heavy like a bag of oranges, gives satisfying sensory input to growing bodies. Besides – any kid feels good when they can help out mom by doing some of the heavy lifting.
More grocery store jobs:
- Crossing off grocery list items
- Reading the next item on the grocery list
- Reading prices (which is cheaper?)
- Pushing the buggy
- Choosing produce
8. Play Grocery Store Games – If you’ve got beginning readers they might enjoy looking for a particular word or letter “Who can find the word SALE?” You can have kids look for a particular color or get into a game related to food and health: “Who can find three healthy things we like to eat at breakfast?” “Who can spot something here that would give you good energy for soccer?”
9. Indulge in Grocery Store Fantasy – Good for when the “I wants” come up. You ask questions like: “OK, if the grocery store only carried three things, what do you wish they were?” “What if we could only eat candy? Wouldn’t that be funny? What would you eat for breakfast?”
You can indulge in imagining these things without saying yes to actually eating marshmallows and chocolate for breakfast, and the conversation may carry you along far enough to get past the initial desire your child has for Sugar Yummy Pops or Plastic Toy of Doom.
10. Have an action plan for tantrums and fights – This will depend on your kids and your needs. I have had to leave the store because there was no coming back from the depth of screaming we were heading into. Usually though, I’ve GOT to get groceries shopped for, so we find a way to continue.
- Sibling Fighting: The most common problem I have at the store is my two boys start fighting, usually over who gets to ride on the end of the cart. If my boys start fighting they lose the privilege of riding on the cart (either for the whole trip or for two aisles or whatever limit seems right at the time.) To keep them separate I have one walk up front and one has to walk by me. If necessary I have them actually hold onto the side of the cart. This is a great time to give jobs of spotting a grocery you need or to start playing Grocery Store I Spy
- Tantrums: Obviously, we try to avoid shopping when someone is sick, tired or hungry, but sometimes one of my kids still gets angry. What usually works is to bring the tantrumming kid up close to me. For the toddler this might mean having her sit on the handle while I hug her and we walk. For the five year old this means I pause (as SOON as the grousing starts to pre-empt a bigger explosion.) I talk quietly and extremely calmly and work on redirecting or using When/Then ( described in the next tip down) “Wow, we’ve got to get our groceries. Hey, I really need your help, do you think you could find a bag of onions for me?” <<giving a job again!
11. Use When/Then – Very calmly state the order of events. No threats, just: “When we get everything on our list then we can go look at the kids section, now, who can go get me the butter?” “When we’ve finished getting veggies, then you can pick out the cereal…”
12. Give yourself time – It’s so much easier to be patient when you’re not having to rush. If you can get into the mental mode of this being a playful adventure, it’s easier to relax.
13. Try to beat the clock – A whole ‘nother tactic is to play Beat The Clock. Some times we play this game and dash through the store – it only works if you can keep the excitement up as you go along.
What are your tricks for making grocery shopping with kids more fun? Scroll down to leave a comment and let us know!
Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.