While our weekly trips to the grocery store aren’t always perfect, I enjoy taking my boys with me to shop. After talking with a few of my friends and reading some comments online, I have found this is not always the case. I wanted to share a little bit about what works for us in hopes that the dreaded trip can actually become an enjoyable one, even a place of connection. You may end up looking forward to the trip rather than looking for someone to watch the kids.

A mixture of knowing what works for your kids, a few facts about the store you frequent, preparation and developing a few routines can help change the tempo to your excursion. It all starts before you even leave your house:

1. Before:


What days are your kids the most calm or well behaved?  For us, this is soon after breakfast. My boys have energy, but not too much. They are also fed which makes a big difference for our trip. The timing of your arrival at the store can make a big difference too. Do you know when your store is most crowded? Going on off-peak times always help make our trip less stressful. My oldest has a harder time around big groups of people. When your routine grocery trip time isn’t working anymore, see if you can adjust it to a more workable time. It can make a world of difference.


I highly suggest you have a list ready before you leave. I always offer to my boys the opportunity to add things to the list before we leave. This makes sure they know that they will not be able to add anything once we get there. For example, if they want chips, I will add it at home, but no impulse chips if it’s not on the list once we arrive.

More ways to involve the kiddos in preparation:

Have them help brainstorm a meal plan or things you need (they can also check amounts of things you currently have, like their favorite fruits or baking supplies)

Little ones can make a visual list with pictures of food. You can google fruits or veggies and lots of pictures come up. Print out pictures of whatever goes on their list and let them cut and paste to a sheet of paper. Voila! They now have their own shopping list.

Have them gather up a few toys, paper and pencil to give them something to do while at the store (this works best if they are going to be able to sit in the cart)

Grab a few snacks on your way out the door in case they start getting hungry. The sight of food frequently makes my kids realize they are starving!

One fun idea that works when your kids are in the dress up stage, is let them pick a costume to wear to the store! I have done this with my boys and they love it. Heck, even other people love it, they comment and smile, and talk about how great it is. Meanwhile, it helps teach my boys social skills in a public setting and they can choose to be themselves or their character.

A quick park stop on our way to the grocery store

Last item of preparation would be “the talk” before entering the store. Until my kids knew the basic expectations at the store extremely well, I would have a talk every time. During this conversation and at the store I do my best to use positive language. One example would be instead of saying “Don’t try to pop a wheelie on the cart again, you almost broke your brother when it tipped over!” I would say “I will let you push the cart if you can keep all four wheels on the floor”. This may sound silly to some, but the tone of our trip would be set in that conversation. My boys either felt like they could conquer this outing or like they had failed before they even started.

3. At the Grocery Store


Once we get into the store my boys know the basic outline of our trip and it helps to set the framework for what will happen. Our local store lets every kid have a free fruit and a free cookie. So we go straight to the free fruit when we get there and save the cookie for last. (This encourages good behavior since they know if I have to cut my trip short the cookie doesn’t happen).

I always check out near the video game console so that after they finish helping me load the groceries onto the belt (another routine they are expected to help with) they get to go play the game until I am finished checking out. (Don’t worry it is 3 feet away). My boys are also expected to help carry in grocery bags when we get home. I have a lot less nagging and whining now that we have a routine in place.


I have found a secret to helping kids last a long time at the grocery store (My shopping trips can last 1.5 hours). That is to connect with them. When they feel involved the dynamic shifts from sitting in the cart waiting it out to feeling like they are important and make a difference in the shopping trip.

A few ways to connect:

-Have them grab items from the shelf (3 cans of beans or 4 oranges). If they are younger, talk to them about the colors of fruit or count out items you grab. It takes longer but you are also engaging them in it and they learn at the same time. I can now ask my boys (6 and 4) to get me a bunch of cilantro and they know the difference between that and parsley because I did this when they were young.

-Try having them cross things off the list or tell you the price of an item that you may be a few steps away from.

-Teach your kids what to look for when you inspect fruit. No brown spots or what it should smell like.

-Does your store have samples? The store we frequent often has cheese samples out. We talk about what it tastes like, whether or not it is creamy/spicy/yucky. I don’t eat cheese much, so it adds a fun element if I didn’t taste it. They get to try to describe to me what it was like to them.

-Teach them to push the cart somewhat properly (as in, don’t run into people or things). Soon you won’t have to push the cart until the end when it gets heavy and that can really save some energy for you!

(This is how he helped me when he first showed interest in helping with the cart)

-Incorporate math skills. Teach or identify numbers. Let your child weigh produce, even if they can’t read a scale they can start to understand how things compare to one another. Talk about why some people say something costs 4$ when it says 3.99. If they know math, have them figure out how much two items cost together.

-Have them grab some “heavy” items for you. Like a bag of potatoes or paper towels. They will feel accomplished and like they are making a difference when they do.

A little heavy lifting

-Are you passionate about something grocery related like time-saving foods or organic food or certain brands? Share it with your kids. It is a great time to connect with them and teach them about why you are passionate.

-Give them options when you can. Red apples or green apples, blueberry waffles or cinnamon?

When you take the time to incorporate your child’s opinion and direct their energy to helpful duties, it will really make a difference in your trip. It may take longer for a little while, but it will really pay off in the long run.

4. When All Else Fails:

We all know every kid is different and every family is different. My tips may be unreasonable for some right now so I thought I would give you a few alternative options.

-If possible, make it a date with one child. I remember having special trips with my parents when I was young. I didn’t even care if it was to the parts store with my dad. It was one on one time and it mattered to me.

-Patronize the stores with free child care.

-Order online. Lots of places deliver now and sometimes this really is the best options for families.

As kids grow, what once worked no longer does and new things work that never did. I hope I have given you some tools to help you find a shopping trip enjoyable once again. It really is a big part of our lives and can be the difference in that day.

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