8 Strategies to Survive Grocery-Shopping with Kids
Managing one or multiple kids in the grocery store can be nothing short of a nightmare—I know, I’ve lived it! I had to learn my lessons the hard way, juggling twin toddlers and a preschooler, completely unprepared for the traumas that unfolded under those bright fluorescent grocery store lights. So to avoid suffering the public humiliation and mommy OR kid meltdowns that I experienced, here are eight strategies I’ve learned over the years to survive these dreaded excursions:
Just like any criminal mastermind planning a heist, you’ll need to memorize the layout of your local grocery store before going in there with kids. There is no lollygagging or browsing anymore; those days were over in your twenties! Commit the store to memory and then organize your shopping list according to the store’s layout—this will save you from having to zigzag all over the store when your kids’ meltdown clocks are ticking.
Timing is, as they say, everything. This is no less true than in your standard grocery shopping operation. Make sure you’re not going to the store at a high-traffic time of day, when just getting to the store and back will add an hour onto your trip and put an instant dent into your patience. You also don’t want long lines at the store, so make sure to get there well before the after-work evening rush, and try to avoid going on a Saturday or Sunday. Timing can also depend on the mood of your kids; you don’t want to go when they’re tired, cranky, or hungry (see No. 3)
The grocery store can be a pitfall even for hungry adults, so bringing hungry kids along is almost asking for trouble! Make sure your kids have had a good meal just before you go, and on top of that, pack snacks—the good ones—to combat the inevitable “gimmes” that await you at the store. Every time you hear a “gimme,” pass that child a snack; this is no time to be a snack stickler! Even though the graham cracker bunnies you packed won’t quite measure up to the chocolate chip cookies your kid is begging for, it’s hard to argue with a mouth full.
When my kids were at least five years old, I would make sure to talk to them on the way to the store about behavior expectations. Some examples include: not running away from me, staying right near the cart, not touching things unless they ask first and not whining or begging for things. I would then promise that we could visit the lobsters and seafood counter halfway through the trip if they’re following all the rules. (If your store doesn’t have live lobsters, they’re still going to have some interesting fish, shrimp, etc. ) I also tell my kids if they behave all the way through the shopping trip, I’ll let them have something from the 25-cent tchotchke machines that are strategically planted near the exit. It’s a small price to pay for sanity!
This technique works best on babies, toddlers and preschoolers who are sitting in the cart, but it does work! I would keep a stash of toys in a secret hiding place in my house and pack them to take with me on long car trips or other stressful endeavors (like grocery shopping), then bring them out when things started going south. So when you hear the rumblings of a Category 5 tantrum, bring out that talking Elmo phone your little guy hasn’t seen in months—it’s guaranteed to get you to checkout before the storm hits! (Extra tip: Bring antibacterial wipes to wipe down the toy when it inevitably falls to the floor 20 times).
When your kids are old enough to navigate a list but not old enough to read, try printing out a pictogram list like this one offered by The Activity Mom. The kids can help you get simple things like bunches of bananas or quarts of strawberries and it will make them feel important. Though your shopping trip may take a little more time than usual with this method, at least none of you are crying!
If your older kids are pushing and shoving each other, or knocking down display cases, or playing sword fight with the beef jerky sticks (yes all of these things really have happened in my family), it’s time to bring out the big guns with a game of “I Spy.” All three of my boys are competitive, so this can get a little sticky, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Choosing to spy something fairly difficult buys me enough time, while they’re guessing, to go down each aisle and grab what I need.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the checkout lane in one piece! This is your last hurtle, because the checkout has candy, chips and those darned beef jerky sticks that make excellent swords. If you put the kids to work lifting groceries out of the cart and onto the conveyor belt, they won’t even notice all the tantalizing food and weaponry all around, plus you get the added benefit of HELP. When all the groceries are on the belt, and you’re all staring at the cashier, things could get a little hairy again. Send the kids over to those 25-cent tchotchke machines to scope out their prizes, and you’re home-free!
We’ve all endured the trials and tribulations grocery shopping with little ones, and even if we attempt every single one of these tactics, there will be days when nothing works. On those days, take some consolation from the fact that we’re all in this together. Laughing helps too!