Grocery Shopping with Young Children & Staying Sane, Part One

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– A post from LifeasMOM contributor, Lauren

Once you become a mother, there are a few things that become more of a challenge. I firmly believe that grocery shopping is at the top of that list!

Shopping with little people is not for the faint of heart. It takes a strategy and then it takes the energy to implement that strategy!

I have four little people: almost 6 years old, almost 4 years old, 22 months and 11 weeks. I didn’t even realize until Baby #3 that if I developed a shopping routine that we used every time we were out, shopping would become far more manageable.

While it is much easier to go shopping alone, that is usually not an option for me. In my opinion, the trick to a manageable shopping trip is all in the prep work.

Here are some things that you can do to make shopping with children run a little smoother.

Make sure your children know what type of behavior you expect.

This is by far the most important ‘rule’ in grocery shopping with little ones. If your children don’t know what kind of behavior you expect, your trip will be chaotic.

While this varies from mom to mom, this is what I expect from my crowd: first time obedience – no exceptions, stay near me and the cart always, no asking for items off the shelves, no horsing around or running in the store.

Since these are the expectations I have every time we set foot in a store, I am slowly not having to repeat them as often. My children have proven to me that the more consistent I am with expectations, the better their behavior.

Pack snacks and drinks – lots of them.

For my bigger kids, I make sure they have a filling snack while in the car riding to the store. When my children are younger and still ride in the cart, I let them eat their snacks while at the store. I just force myself to get over the germ-factor and allow them to eat while they ride.

When my children are hungry they are whiny and cranky – just like me! It is vital that we are all well-fed prior to our trip.

Plan your trip around nap time.

I still have several nappers, so I always schedule my store trips around naptime. It is a disaster waiting to happen if I try to grocery shop with over-tired children.

If you are going to multiple stores, map your route.

If I have to go several places, I map my route ahead of time, planning the most important stops first. In the event that I have to abandon our whole plan, I want the essential errands to be completed.

So assume I need to go the grocery store, drop books off at the library and get gas in the car. I make a mental plan to get gas first and then go to the store. In the event that my children are grumpy and need to go home, I can just drop the books off another day.

Make your grocery list as detailed as possible.

The more detailed your grocery list, the less you have to think about it. While grocery shopping with coupons is not rocket science by any means, it does take some concentration. When making my list, I always mark a “C” beside an item so I can remember to pull out my coupon when I put it in my cart.

If you know your grocery store very well, you could arrange your list by aisle. Arranging your list by section is also an option: canned goods, produce, meat, etc. Having an organized, detailed list makes shopping go faster and prevents distractions.

I am a firm believer in having my plan in place before we ever get in the car to go grocery shopping. I am not a fan of shopping in the first place, so I want it to be as painless as possible. By putting some thought into my list and into the process itself, shopping trips with my children can be successful and even enjoyable!

How do you make shopping with your children easier?

How do you prepare yourself and your children for a manageable shopping trip?

Lauren Hill is the ‘Mama’ behind Mama’s Laundry Talk and loves all things laundry. However, she does not love the grocery store (with or without her children) and wants to make it as painless as possible.

Come back tomorrow for Part Two of Grocery Shopping with Young Children!

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  1. Ugh…shopping with children sometimes is a four letter word! 🙂 One thing I do is to bring along entertainment for those that need hand holding and pop them into the seat to stay. Books, activity, songs either I sing or a player, etc.

    Once they’re older I envolve them. Not only do I not have to chase everyone down I can stay in the middle of the aisle. They learn about reading labels, cost per oz, etc. This worked GREAT when we had my neice and nephew as it became a competition that was fun. With only 2 who could read it wasn’t successful as someone can read better…but! lesson learned…multiple readers to a team helps wonderfully. Now, that the neice and nephews have been reunited with their momma we use my droid for books on “tape” or educational games for my 3 year old. The kids run and grab what I need as they know what size and brands. We still check ppo when there’s a sale going on.

    There are also blogs and I think a gal named Martianne has one where she created a print sheet so your little ones have their own dry erase version to help shop. There are pictures of fruit/veggies. We also did this when they were really little and would let me know I needed bananas, pickles, etc.


  2. I loved these ideas! I use the carts that have a bench and a seat for a little one with my 4, 2 1/2, and 1 year old. I only shop once every two weeks at the ‘regular’ grocery store, and I usually buy the kids some trail mix from the bulk section to snack on during the trip. Scheduling around naptime is tricky sometimes, because the baby takes two naps, so if I leave after her nap, then it’s lunch time. I like the idea of the baby in the backpack.

  3. I don’t have to shop with my two very often (ages 7 and 4.5) since they are both in school all day, but when I do it’s a really stressful event! Lauren, thanks so much for these tips!
    I’m even looking forward to part two – and I’ll be reminiscing about the times I had to push one cart (with the kids) and pull another (with the groceries)!

  4. i don’t have kids yet but i love your tip about putting a “C” next to your coupon items. that’s such a simple yet great idea- otherwise i spend 10 minutes flipping through my coupons right before check out!

  5. I have always brought my children with me! They know how to behave in the store, and even want to help 🙂 They also know that I don’t usually buy treats at the end. Very, very rarely. I’ve also had to do a timeout in the store – hey, there are corners you can use! I’ve also had my middle child sit by the wall while I packed groceries, because he was horsing around too much. I was near me, yet far enough from bothering others.

    I have three (and one on the way), being 6.5, 4.5 and 2.5 years old respectively. Since I always go the pretty much the same store, I have my list on my iPod Touch’s ShopShop app, all in order based on my walking route. If it’s just me and the youngest, I do bring a snack. If I go with all three, I make sure we snack *before* going to the store – it’s literally a three minute drive, and I drive because I can’t haul a whole weeks worth of groceries back with me … and kids … while walking 😉

    I also make sure it’s sort of fun. They get to help, within limits, and we do colours and counting as we go. I also go in the morning on Mondays when it’s less busy (phew!).

    If I do happen to get a treat for us to share, they know that they have to eat their lunch (what we do when we get home and I’ve unpacked) *before* they get the treat. Usually, but not always. There can always be exceptions!

  6. okay, so my daughter is only 15 months, and currently I live close to my mom, so we frequently go shopping together. it makes it much easier. however, I occasionally am going with just my daughter.

    Out of curiosity, how do you handle the situation when your child doesn’t meet your expectations? I know some people buy the child a piece of candy or a treat of some sort at the end if they’re good, but that seems like it would get expensive, and be a habit that would be hard to break. Others I’ve heard of just leave the store if the child misbehaves and won’t quiet down, but then they’re getting what they want, and you aren’t getting the shopping done, right?

    So far, my daughter is usually good, but I know we’re headed into the age where we’re more likely to have problems, and I really want to know what I can do to avoid issues…

    1. @tuxgirl,

      Despite having 4 children, I don’t give parenting advice usually because I’m still learning myself. But I will tell you what has worked best for my children.

      I expect first-time obedience and they know it. If there is a reason to discipline, I do it quickly and consistently. When the 2 year old is throwing items out of the cart, she’s testing me to see what I’m going to do. So I make sure I do my part in disciplining her. When I start letting things slide, it turns chaotic quickly.

      As far as promising a treat on each trip, I personally haven’t gone that route. It would be too expensive for us, and it would also teach my children to obey only to get a treat and not because it is respectful. But I do give treats on occasion when there has been spectacular behavior, since we all like to be rewarded from time to time. 😉

      Have I left a store before? Oh yes ma’am. That was not a good day.

      Again, this is just what works for me and my children. I always find it helpful to read how other mothers do things. It helps me evaluate our own situation. 🙂


  7. Great Tips! It’s good to remember to set up rules with the kids and what behaviors are appropriate each time. I find though, even as my kids get older – things you thought were ingrained in their brain -suddenly seem to spill out of their head and they are misbehaving! That carry’s through with everything in life though!

    I also have 4, and my oldest is my life saver when I go grocery shopping with all of them. We homeschool too, so she can be with me every time we run a single errand. I refuse to do my big month long grocery shopping with all 4, but have reserved my fate to the fact that I may have to do it on occassion with all of them. As my youngest is now 1, when she was still under 1 and we would go out – just for a few things – I worked up a system that worked well for me.
    First, we grab 2 carts. I push one, oldest (8) pushes the other. I put two kids in her cart (ages in carts: 1, 2.9 & 4). She pushes a combination of either the baby (in basket) and one of the middles, or both of the middles (1 in basket, 1 in cart!) And I push the odd child out (in the top basket!) This works out great for me so that they are all contained, and the oldest feels like she is being helpful (which, she really is – sorta!) plus she can play with the baby (who is entertained by older sister!). My two middles aren’t running up and down aisles driving me crazy, and YES I do bribe with the free cookie at the end. The cookie, we grab right before heading over to purchase, keeps them occupied for a few mintues and out of the toys placed RIGHT BY THE AISLES!!! They threat of losing the cookie and discussing with them whether they are being bad or not keeps them generally well behaved!

  8. Awesome tips! I only have one toddler (19 months) but even then it’s hard. I often use coupons and having them organized according to my list is a huge stress-reliever. I always have snacks on hand and I love your idea about prioritizing and doing the important things first. Can’t wait for part 2 :)!

  9. I shop alone because the 2 year old won’t stay in the cart (maybe if we get the race car one but those stupid things are impossible to manuever!) and the older one AND my husband increase the final bill exponentially. If I HAVE to take the toddler then someone else HAS to go with me to help corral him, otherwise I end up trying to push the cart then unload it while carrying him. By the time I get to the check out I’m so mad and tired that I want to leave everything where it is and just walk out. So I shop alone. It is safer for everyone. 🙂

  10. While I’m past the shopping with toddlers and baby days, these are all great tips.

    I wanted to add something that I found out about on another blog. It’s called, and it’s the coolest thing ever. You can organize your stores by aisles, mark important items, list coupons and notes, use a predone checklist, text it to your phone, etc.

  11. Christina— can you try carrying the little one in a hip carrier? Then the toddler can sit in the front of the basket. This is what I did when #2 and #3 came along and it worked great!

  12. I load a movie on my Iphone for my 2 yr old. He also loves to help me place the items on the belt when checking out. Any suggestions about where to put a 7 mo old and a 2 yr old? My toddler ends up in the basket with all the food piled around him… not ideal.

    1. @christina

      I’ve had one in a sling (facing out in a moby wrap or snuggled in a sling, depending on the age), one in the actual kid seat at the front, and one riding on the back with *very* strict rules to hold on not hop off. If that happens, he/she has to walk beside the cart, holding onto it.

      In the parking lot, the one hanging on for the ride has to switch to walking and holding the cart at all times. Out of fear that I’ll carry him/her like a football – and not in the fun way 😉

  13. We try whenever possible to go shopping as a family. I’ve got two kids (2.5 and 5 months) and when I bring my husband along it’s a grand adventure. He can help wrangle the toddler when she gets bored and we get to spend some family time together. It’s not ideal, but we both work so time together as a family is at a premium on the weekends!

  14. These are all good tips. Also, when my kids are big enough to read I have them get the product off the shelf and tell them how many.I have taken 8 kids shopping at one point. I am down to 3 at home. All are old enough now so, I send 2 down an aisle to get items in that aisle and meet them in the next aisle with the 3 or youngest child getting items in that aisle.
    It has been so many years that when I go shopping by myself and have to “touch” each item it seems strange.

  15. I almost always have all three kids (4, 22 months, 4 months) with me when I shop. I definitely agree with setting expectations in advance.

    I’ve also learned (the hard way) that we need to use the restroom when we first get to the store, not wait until my four year old realizes he has to go half way through. It’s much less stressful than running across the store with three (because he always is the furthest from the restrooms when he has to go).

    The true lifesaver at this stage is my baby carriers. I put my 22 month old (25 pound) dd on my back, and my 4 month old on my front. Usually they are both asleep by half way through, and it feels like I only have one child with me. It draws attention (and comments), but it is so much easier than the alternatives.

    1. @Xan,

      Smart mama! It has taken me a long time to not fret about what others are saying to us/about us in the store. You’ve gotta do what works, right?!


  16. This is great, Lauren! We always have a chat in the car right before we go into the store. We go over rules and expectations and consequences to not following them. And literally as we are walking into the store I give them one more reminder.

    I also try and get my 6 year old involved in the shopping. She can help pick fruits and veggies and my 3 year old is allowed to carry one item while shopping.

  17. I agree completely that it is important to set boundaries and to communicate your expectations, especially since you really don’t want them riding in grocery carts. Even with one of those cart covers (a truly useful invention), grocery carts are absolutely filthy. My son, when he was 10 months old (and before the covers were even invented), contracted chicken pox. No one else in our family had it, it had been over a month since he had been to the doctor’s office, and he hadn’t been anywhere else with me (it was a cold January). I remain convinced he got it from a shopping cart.

    My girls like to “help” me find grocery items or to pick out fruit or veggies. I do not reward them with goodies for good behavior, but the promise of a fun movie in the car on the way home goes a long way to encourage good behavior.

    1. @Stacey,
      I don’t typically reward or bribe with goodies for good behavior either. Although there are the rare exceptions. 😉

      It all goes back to them knowing what type of behavior I expect.

      And the carts? Oh yes – gross. Love HandiWipes for that very reason!


  18. I shop with my stroller. My now toddler is comfortable and contained. He sits far far better than he does in a shopping cart. I put a basket on top and heavy things go in the basket.
    We are car less so we walk there and back with the stroller so we get the added bonus of no transitions and car seat straps.

  19. Can’t wait to read part 2! 🙂

    I am expecting baby #3 in just a few weeks, and grocery shopping alone is a rare luxury, since my husband travels for work and we don’t have many babysitters here. So I just grit my teeth and get it done. 😉

    I like shopping at several stores to get the deals or go where I know the lowest price is (Aldi first, then other stores) but this sometimes isn’t possible because it means more stops and more unloading/loading the kids and purchases. So when I have a small baby, I just shop more at Walmart because they have everything in one place, even though I dislike Walmart shopping. But it saves my sanity and the kids are less grumpy, so we all win. 🙂

  20. Lovely post, Lauren.. Thankfully, I just have the one toddler till now(!) and have found taking snacks, drinks and making my trip as planned as possible really helps ease a trip to the supermarket!

  21. Yes! Agree with all of this – great tips. I’ve found that I can happily manage grocery shopping with one child if I’ve done all of the above. It is actually a fun and pleasant experience. Add another child into the mix, and it definitely gets trickier, but doable. The part about setting expectations for behavior becomes much more important then. Thanks for these tips!