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Going to the grocery store with kids under 5, whether they’re infants, toddlers, or preschoolers, is an adventure. Although many moms have some funny, disastrous stories to share, most trips are pretty uneventful—especially if you plan ahead.
In this guide, you’ll find tips for what to do before you go, while you’re at the store, and once you come home to make your grocery shopping trip successful.
BEFORE YOU GO TO THE GROCERY STORE
Meal Prep Kits: We live in a wonderful time with lots of options for getting your family fed. In addition to the standard carry-out options, there are meal delivery services and food prep kits. Yes, these are expensive, but they can fill a need during a limited time.
Curbside Grocery Pickup: Also remember that there are several services that can help you get groceries. Many of our local stores do curbside pickup. You submit your grocery list on the grocery stores’s app, someone shops for you, you pull into a special parking space at an appointed time, and someone loads the groceries in the car for you. I loved this service when my kids were young.
Grocery Delivery: A third option is grocery delivery. Many stores have their own interface for this. What if you have lots of stores to visit, though? You might enjoy Instacart, which can send a shopper to several stores for you (including Costco—whether you have a membership or not!) for a yearly membership fee. Again, this service is expensive ($149 for the membership, + small markup on items, + a tip for your delivery person), but it just might save your sanity during those first few years of motherhood. You can click this link to try it free for 14 days!!
Choose Your Grocery Store wisely
Consider the size of the grocery store: You might choose a smaller, more easy-to-navigate store when you’re shopping with kids. My local Aldi is a favorite for this reason. The store is about half the size of the grocery superstore I visit at other times, and I love that we can get in and out quickly with milk, eggs, bread, and veggies.
Look at perks of the grocery store Stores have really upped their game to make moms comfortable, and many have all sorts of perks for people with kids. Many stores have special carts that kids can push or ride in, free cookies at the bakery, free fruit in the produce department, even free babysitting while you shop, among other perks you and your kids might enjoy.
Time Your visit to the Grocery Store Wisely
Avoid the crowds: You’ll want to avoid going to the store when it’s most crowded. Stay away at midday on the weekends and between 4 and 6 p.m. on a weekday. First thing in the morning is a great time if it works for your family.
Make sure everyone is comfortable: You’ve probably already heard that you (and your kids) shouldn’t go to the store hungry. You’ll also want to avoid going if naps have been a problem or if your child is sick. You’ll be almost certain to have a tantrum or a meltdown.
Talk About Expectations
Children don’t know how to behave unless we tell them. On the way to the store, explain that you’ll only be purchasing the things on your store list, that you’ll need them to sit in or hold onto the cart, or that they aren’t permitted to run in the aisles. You can also give them an idea of what you’ll be doing: “we need to walk down every aisle in the store and fill our cart for the week,” or “I need to pick up three things, and you can help me find them”. When children know what to expect, their behavior tends to be better.
Check a map: You won’t want to waste any time in the store, so, if possible, familiarize yourself with the store before you go, if you’ve never been there before. Many chains, such as Wegmans have maps available online so you can get an idea of the store layout.
Make an organized list: I like to make my list in the order that I’ll walk through the store, since it’s miserable turning the giant ‘race car’ cart back around because I forgot to pick up the peanut butter. If nothing else, be sure your list is organized into categories. I also like to write any coupons or deals I’m taking advantage of on my list, so I’m sure to pick up the correct number of items and package size.
Make a kid list: Consider making a little shopping list for any kiddos over 3 or so. You can make this with pictures for pre-readers. If you don’t want to take the time to find the pictures yourself, this site can help you. It’s easier to keep kids invested in the trip a little longer if they are helping.
AT THE GROCERY STORE
Park next to the grocery store’s cart return
Rather than choosing the spot closest to the door, you’ll want the one closest to the cart return. This way, you won’t have to run back through the parking lot with kids in tow, leave your kids alone in the car while you return the cart, or be that jerk who leaves an unattended cart where cars are trying to drive.
How to manage a baby in the grocery store
You basically have three options for carrying an infant in the grocery store:
- Wear your baby in a wrap
- Put the car seat inside the basket of a cart. Yes, this leaves very little room in your cart for groceries. DO NOT balance the car seat on top of the cart, as this could cause everything to tip, causing serious injury to your child.
- Push stroller and put purchases in basket underneath or hang them in a reusable shopping bag off of the Mommy Hook.
Obviously, if you’re planning to pick up more than one or two things, you’ll want to wear your baby.
Choose the right cart
Your store probably has some ‘fun’ cart options for kids. Our store has carts with giant race cars at the front for the kids to sit in. They’re no fun to push, but the kids love them. For slightly bigger kids, they also have preschooler-sized carts. My kids loved pushing these and collecting the products on their lists.
Keep your toddlers (and bigger kids) entertained
There are tons of things your kids can do while in the store that will make grocery shopping fun (and might even help you!)o
- Play I Spy
- Have a Scavenger Hunt
- Pick up the things on their pre-printed shopping list. If you have children that can read, they can also hold and cross off items on your list
- Have them carry something heavy like a bag of potatoes and put it in the bottom of your cart
- Have them pick a good piece of fruit, or a specific variety of cereal
- Older children can compare prices or read nutrition labels to see which item is a better
- If all else fails, you might have fun making a game of seeing how quickly you can go through the store
Take advantage of free stuff
Many grocery stores have free food for kids such as pieces of fruit or cookies from the bakery. Most deli counters let little ones try a piece of lunch meat or cheese when they’re processing your order. Taking advantage of these little freebies will give your kids a boost, even if you didn’t remember to throw some snacks in your diaper bag.
Get your groceries bagged properly
Ask the people at the checkout to please bag cold things together so you know which bags have to go into the house right away. (You can make this easier for them by grouping your items on the conveyor belt so that like things are together.) This way, if you have a diaper blow out, a screaming tantrum, or desperate calls for a snack when you get home, you can quickly get the groceries that will spoil into the fridge or freezer and save the rest for later.
WHEN YOU GET HOME
Anyone over the age of three can help carry small bags inside. They can also help put things away. In our house, we try to keep healthy snacks and foods my kids eat often on shelves they can reach. I love that they can pour themselves a bowl of cereal in the morning, grab a mandarin orange for a snack, or make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch without needing to ask for my help. Putting the groceries away together ensures that your kids know where these things are and that the items are accessible.
Review the trip
Take a second to note any changes you’d make for next time. Do you need to reorganize your shopping list, try to shop at a different time, or include something else in your diaper bag?
I also think it’s really important to compliment good behavior or quickly discuss what could be improved on with your kids. A quick “thank you for sticking close to me in the store today” or an “I appreciated your help choosing bananas, but I got worried when you ran down the aisle without me” shows the kids what they did well and reinforces behaviors for next time.
As you can see, with a little advanced planning, a trip to the grocery store with kids under 5 is not such a big deal. And, if after reading this, the thought of schlepping your kids through the store fills you with dread, remember, there’s always Instacart.
Did I miss any essential tips?
Tell me about them in the comments!
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