How to Grocery Shop with Kids & Keep Your Cool

There was a great television ad for soup a while back that I think pretty much every parent could relate to.

The ad showed a mother walking down the aisle of the supermarket, pushing a cart with a toddler, and another little one racing around near the cart. The voice coming over the supermarket loudspeaker warned about an impending storm, with road closings, and school cancellations.

The mom looked relatable: stoic and beleaguered all at once. And then you see the mom reach out a grab a bottle of wine as she sails past the rack and place it in her cart. I think I was not alone in thinking, you get it, girl—you deserve that.

Many of us enjoy the convenience of online food shopping (I surely do), but most of us are still doing the majority of our shopping in person at the supermarket. And if you have kids, particularly little ones, there is a strong likelihood that they will be with you.

Here are nine tips for making it through the market without leaving your marbles—or your children!—behind. What are yours?!

1. Lay down the law

Have a pre-shop chat with your kids and lay down some ground rules. Discuss what you are going to get, how long you think it will take, and what you hope to see from them, behavior-wise.

2. Empower them to make decisions

Find some fun decisions for them to make that are no real skin off your nose.

For instance, let them pick a pasta shape, but you can direct them and say something like, “I need a short, chunky pasta. Will you find the one you think looks the most interesting?”

Mini Sweet Peppers

3. Engage them in all aspects of shopping

What this means is don’t just ask your children what they want in the cookie aisle, ask them to help pick out the firmest peppers, or a squash that looks cool, or help decide between chicken thighs or drumsticks. Or maybe they would want to pick their favorite type of apple.

4. Draw them in at the deli

Have them weigh in on what kind of cheese or cold cuts to get. If you shop with kids you probably know that deli counter employees are almost always delighted to hand over a sample slice. It’s also a great way to get your kids to engage with other grown-ups and try new things.

5. Compromise in the cereal aisle

This area was full of much contention when my kids were little—my kids were understandably drawn to the boxes with the cartoonish characters and words like “sugar puffs.” I was leaning more towards things with words like “bran.”

The solution was to divide up cereal into two categories: Weekday Cereal and Weekend Cereal. The more sugary ones were saved for weekend morning treats (or snacks), and the ones with more fiber and less sugar were designated for the weekdays, when the kids needed to head off to school without a sugar rush and the resulting crash.

how to make popcorn

Perfect Popcorn

6. Compromise on snacks

This will take some label reading, since sugar and fat can hide in snacks that have the appearance of being healthy.

This is also where single-serving packages can be your friend. Yes, they cost a bit more, and yes, there is more packaging, but that may be well worth the trade off for not having to spend your precious time negotiating how many cookies are an acceptable after-school snack.

7. Let them roll

If there are kid-sized carts, grab one and let your toddler roll along ahead of you and put her picks in her cart.

If she is old enough to push the big cart, set round rules for when and how long she can do so—and if there are siblings involved, divide time up and let them know exactly where the switching point in the store will be.

8. Divide and conquer

If your child is old enough, send him off to grab some items. Give him a little basket, a mini shopping list, and set up a plan to meet. Have a conversation with your child about how to politely ask for help in finding something, and how to respectfully navigate around a market.

A bigger kid could shepherd a younger sibling around, or you could have them divide and conquer.

You might mix up the items with some things you really need such as a cucumber or flour, and some items that they get to pick out, such as lunchbox snacks. This could keep them busy for a while.

Fudgy Brownies

Fudgy Chocolate Brownies

9 Embrace the treat

Is it a bribe or positive reinforcement? Let’s make it a rule that people who aren’t parents can’t answer that. Whether it’s a brownie from the bakery section or a pack of sugar-free gum, the promise of a treat at the end of a good behavior shopping expedition is a terrific incentive.

What tips do you have for grocery shopping with kids?!