Grocery Shopping with Young Children & Staying Sane, Part Two

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– A post from LifeasMOM contributor, Lauren

If you missed yesterday’s post, go check out part one of Grocery Shopping with Young Children & Staying Sane.

Grocery shopping is a necessity for any family. That means it is also a necessity for mothers to figure out how to successfully shop with children in tow.

While I firmly believe that preparation is the key to a manageable shopping trip with children, there is the pesky little matter of the actual shopping. Trying to figure out the logistics of shopping with little people can be tough. Here are some ideas that definitely work for me:

I wear the baby in my Ergo.

Even if the baby were my only child, I would still wear her in the Ergo and not have her ride in her car seat. Those car seats are just big and bulky and take up a lot of room. Not to mention that some carts are made very narrowly at the front and the car seat doesn’t sit firmly in it. I have found that the baby is just much more content and will be content for a longer period of time if she rides in the carrier with me.

I let the toddler have snacks while riding in the cart.

I have a slight phobia about germs when it comes to grocery stores and the like. So I have to work hard to get over the toddler touching all over the cart and then putting goldfish in her mouth. I do love Wet Ones in the travel pack for this very reason! The whole shopping experience is much easier if she is occupied with her snack cup and not with trying to open every package that I place in the cart.

I have my bigger kids put the items in the cart.

My bigger kids (almost 6 and almost 4) love the job of retrieving the correct groceries and putting them in cart. We make it a game: I say which product and the amount we need and they each take turns ‘helping’ me. It keeps them engaged in what we are doing (prevents them from wandering away), encourages my 3 year old to hone her counting skills and provides them an opportunity to help me. It’s win-win for all of us!

When in the parking lot, my big kids are required to hold on to the cart.

Since the baby is in the carrier and the toddler is riding in the cart, I don’t have two hands free to hold onto my other children. My two older children are required to either 1) hold on to the cart or 2) hold on to my pocket when we are in the parking lot. No exceptions. They know that I will not tolerate anything but this scenario in the parking lot and that punishment will be swift if they choose to do something different. I don’t mess around with safety. This is a perfect example of making sure your children know exactly what to expect before you ever get out of the car.

I’m willing to abandon the whole trip and go home.

We all have bad days, including our children. If we get to the store and everyone is in breakdown mode, I just call it quits and go home. I don’t see the point in making a crying, fussy toddler suffer through a long store trip. It makes us both miserable! There are times when you must have items like diapers or bread and leaving the store is not an option. But if the trip is optional at all and you have a fussy crowd, just call it a day and go home.

I am honestly in a season of life where I dread the grocery store. The logistics of getting us all there, shopping for a large cart of groceries and then putting them away makes me weary. But these ideas make our store trips so much easier.

What do YOU do to stay sane?

Do you have great ideas about how to easily manage your grocery trips with children? Share your wisdom in the comments!

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.

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  1. Honestly I plan my shopping trips around when I can be alone or use our local store’s “child care” option. I find that I concentrate better and stay on task better when I am by myself.
    If I am forced to take the kids… least one of them (my oldest is 13 and can stay home alone most of the time) I do as you suggest and engage my daughter in what’s going on around us (she’s nearly 6).
    I like you don’t enjoy shopping yet it’s a necessary evil of life. LOL!

  2. Thanks so much for your tips! I have a germ issue with carts too – a friend of mine’s children actually got that hand-foot-mouth disease or whatever it is and they deteremined it was the shopping carts. Anyway, for those that do not like the germs, they have shopping cart covers now. Mine is a Floppy Seat and I love it because it folds up into a bag when we are done and can just be tossed into the laundry.

  3. I found that making a shopping list for my 2yr old means that she spends all her time looking for the items on her list. As she can’t read, I simply printed images, cut them out and blu tack them to a piece of card. We have a selection of items in a file and she has 5-8 things to look for (more than that and she gets fed up). My 5yr old gets a written list and has to do the same. They both love grocery shopping now – although I get most of mine delivered (something the UK is very good at).

    1. @Lisa, what a clever idea! And so great that you have your wits about you to save the cards! I would lose them for sure.

      1. @Jessica Fisher,
        I follow the idea of having a home folder with different pockets, and each girl has her own, so Naomi’s shopping list with all the little cards simply lives in there; before I had the folder I lost them every week …

    2. @Lisa, LOL I read the word blu tack and thought she must be from England! 😀 I am from England, but moved to the US 9 years ago. I miss Blu Tack! 😀

  4. When my children were small, I did everything you mention. I always had a zipper bag of wipes (one in my purse, one in the diaper bag, one in each car, etc.)

    One addition: I ALWAYS did the shopping in the morning, NEVER immediately before or after lunch (naptime!) when toddlers were either hungry and cranky or tired and cranky. And like you, I always brought snacks!

    Our grocery also offered free cookies to children (which we couldn’t take after going gluten-free 🙁 ) and free slices of salami or cheese at the deli counter.

    If the baby needed to nurse, we found a place to sit down and nurse. Once I sat on an overturned milk crate, but our market has a little cafe corner, so usually we would sit there.

    We also sang a lot of songs while waiting in the checkout line, especially if the baby in the sling decided that it was time to nurse. Several times, others in the line would sing with us!

  5. I have 3 little ones – ages 2, 3, & 5. My two yr old sits in the cart. My older two have a type of scavenger hunt list – words for my 5yr old, pictures for the 3yr old. I not only put specific items, but also things like finding something that starts with B, something green, three other children, something alive, etc. It works most of the time!

    1. @Regina, love the scavenger hunt idea. We do that on car trips, but it obviously works in stores, too.

  6. The other thing we do is go shopping on the weekends as a family. Then, I have another grown up with me to help. He is a good coupon holder/cart pusher too:-)

  7. Thanks for the grocery shopping tips!

    I was wondering about the cost savings of freezer cooking; I read the cost-savings blog but it didn’t talk about the cost of running another freezer. Have you been able to determine how much that costs you? I currently have an old fridge with a freezer on top, I’m sure I could fit a few things in there but to make freezer cooking worth it, I’d want to get a separate freezer (the chest type). Thanks!

    1. I don’t know about that since ours is old. But, the newer ones say on them how much they will cost to run.

    2. @Regina,
      Chest freezers are more economical than on-top of fridge freezers. They should state on the tag at the store (or do research online), and energy star rated are the best of course. We live off-grid and have 2 chest freezers (one is 7cf and one is the biggest you can buy…28cf?). We are very conservative with our energy but these freezers are great and don’t suck the electricity down.

      1. @Amanda,

        Thanks! I didn’t think to look at the freezers themselves! Went to a website and saw that the size we’d probably get (5.1 cu.ft.) would only cost us $35/year! That is calculating our actual energy costs (the site showed $22/yr. but we live in California, sigh.). Hubby is on board, so a chest freezer looks like it will be in our near future!

        1. @Regina,
          You may consider getting a slightly larger one, then you won’t have to shop as much! I stock ours up and we’re good for a long time. And they work better when filled (or at least that’s what I tell myself to justify having a full freezer, lol)

  8. I would also do everything you have mentioned above. These are great tips. I do try to do my groceries at night, after the kids are in bed though. Some weeks it doesn’t work out that way and we do it during the day — and by all onlookers we are considered crazy. If we’re prepared, we’re actually not that crazy and it’s fun! A list is an absolute MUST though!

  9. I’m still trying to figure out how to wear the baby while shopping. I never feel like he’s secure enough for all the bending it takes to get all your groceries. Plus, we hit multiple stores so all the in-and-out of the carseat is a huge hassle, especially when he’s sleeping.

    1. @Kate,

      I can only speak to an Ergo since that is what I’ve used the most. But even when the baby is little, I can bend or squat to look at lower shelves without a problem. And I can even hold the toddler on one hip while the little baby is in the Ergo if I need to – I love that thing!

      Once you figure out how to put it on and adjust it for your body, it literally goes on and the baby goes inside in less than 30 seconds.

      Just a suggestion!


  10. I plan big grocery trips for every other Friday. It is predictable and the kids know to expect it. They will even ask to go to particular stores! They also know that they may get a nice snack or treat in the stores, and we may go out to lunch. We make a “day” of it. We have a big breakfast then head out to the store. They love to be out and “help.” My 20-month-old rides in the cart and my 3-year-old I’m training to hold onto the side (she’s usually pretty good, and always good in a parking lot or when it’s a safety issue). I have my list carefully planned in advance with what I need, how much, how much I want to spend, where I need to buy it, etc. All of this seems to help. So far I like grocery shopping with them! Better with than without. But ask me how I feel in about 8 months when I also have a 3-month-old. 🙂

    1. @Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama, my kids have store preferences, too. I usually take my 6 and 8 year old boys with me while the older kids babysit the girls. My minions love to go to Ralphs where we stalk the clearance shelves, but somehow have a huge aversion to Albertsons. I have no idea why.

  11. It seems illogical, but when my 3 kids were small, I’d intentionally go at lunch time, and bring their lunch. Then, as I shopped, they’d munch their way along. I’d dole the food out slowly, and always look forward to the samples. It usually got us through fairly cheerfully. (And these are not quiet docile children either.) Also, if someone sat in the cart, we’d make a game out of stacking the food around and on top of them.

  12. I must be a failure or something because there’s no way I’d attempt grocery shopping with our three little ones (just turned 5, 3 1/2, just turned 1) without my husband’s helping hands. He only gets Sundays and Tuesdays off, so we try to go on Tuesday mornings. Sometimes we can just tell the kids aren’t going to make it though, so then he’ll stay home with them for naptime and I’ll just go by myself. I tried shopping with all three one time last spring when Emma was just tiny, and I’ve never made that mistake again! I really stand in wonder at mommas who can do it by themselves. Maybe my strength is in recognizing that isn’t a workable scenario in our life right now.

    1. @Danielle B, you might be surprised. I’ve had seasons where there was no way I was taking anyone — and other seasons when I could take all six. Yes, really. Seasons change quickly, so you never know when your kids might be up for the challenge.

      But overall, do what works for you!

  13. For moms that have not shopped with multiple kids before – you can do it, but it takes time to train your children. Keep trying, and you will be amazed at how their behavior improves.

    We don’t do snacks during the shopping trip, but the kids earn a reward for good behavior. Yes, I let them share one of the small candies from the checkout aisle. Others may have different ideas about an appropriate award – but this is what my kids respond well to. They know that if they don’t behave, they won’t get any!

  14. When my oldest where younger (now 18 and 15) … I had a small tape player by fisher price, .. I played old school dance music from the 70’s and 80’s to keep them occupied, singing and groovin’ in the shopping cart… while I quickly went up and down every aisle to grab things according to my Aisle List of foods… usually worked 🙂 … San Francisco is a busy city, so you have to go quickly, as the aisles fill up quickly… with people.

      1. @Jessica Fisher, my husband has 2 sons and we now have our daughter who is 3… I will be 48, and still strive to embarass my ALL my kids… by singing, gettin’ my groovin’ on, and praising God… As Mom, Your job is to Embarass them! Go For It and enjoy the Gift!