Even if you’re an online-only grocery shopper (thanks for introducing us, 2020!), at some point, you’ll probably have to physically go into a store. With your kids in tow. And while we love the life skills that grocery shopping can teach our little ones; it can be overwhelming. We’ll discuss the benefits of grocery shopping with kids, frequently asked questions, and tips for saving your sanity.

Graphic for post - shopping with kids, 10 sanity saving tips! Image is of a mom wearing a baby while grocery shopping.

Medically reviewed and co-written by Lauren Braaten, Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT).

Grocery Shopping with Kids

Why take your kids to the amusement park or the zoo, when you can all have just as much fun going grocery shopping? (Okay, we’re exaggerating.) All kidding aside, trips to the grocery store really can be a fun, interactive learning experience for kids, from infants all the way to teens.

As a parent, you may be thinking, wouldn’t it just be easier and faster to do all the grocery shopping by myself? In theory, yes. But we need to remember that if we don’t provide opportunities to practice a new skill, it’s very hard to master it. And taking your kids grocery shopping offers plenty of opportunities to practice and learn a wide variety of skills.

Reasons We Love Grocery Shopping with Kids

  • Teaches math and budgeting
  • Builds vocabulary and social skills
  • Helps picky eaters become more familiar with new foods
  • Opportunities to practice color, letter and number recognition
  • Promotes executive functioning skills (ie. working memory, emotional regulation, planning, etc)
  • Helps kids learn about nutrition labeling and advertising
  • Provides older kids opportunities to read and write grocery lists
  • Allows kids to participate in a common routine that benefits the whole family

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it typical for my toddler to have meltdowns during grocery shopping?

A toddler’s brain is changing rapidly in so many ways that meltdowns may be frequent no matter the situation, especially if your toddler is tired or hungry. Grocery shopping often involves lots of noise, people, bright lights and enticing items just within reach – a recipe for trouble. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid taking your toddler grocery shopping altogether. Instead, try to manage your expectations, plan ahead, and know your toddler and their triggers before heading into the store.

How do you safely grocery shop with kids?

There are a few tips that can help you safely grocery shop with kids. First, always use buckles for infants and younger children. Never let your little one stand up in the cart or ride on the front, back, or side of the cart (tipping the cart or falling off the sides is just too easy). If a store has them, consider using the carts with plastic mini-cars or trucks attached to the front, which allow children to ride much closer to the ground. Kids should not push carts without being supervised by an adult. Talk with your kids (3+ years) about what they should do if they get separated from you in the store.

How do you grocery shop with multiple kids?

When grocery shopping with multiple kids, planning ahead is important. Try to park as close as you can to the cart corral in the parking lot so that you have less walking back and forth to do after putting groceries in your car. Bring along your infant carrier for baby and have younger kids ride safely in the cart. Encourage older kids to be helpers with keeping track of a list or putting items in the cart.

Should I reward my kid’s good behavior with a toy/treat/prize?

While it can be tempting to provide a reward for good behavior, in the long run it can end up making grocery shopping more challenging. Kids are smart and may start to associate grocery shopping with getting a treat any time you visit the store, even if it’s just for a couple items. Setting limits and expectations early on can help with this. Ultimately, every family (and child) is different, so do some trial and error and find what works best for you.

Tips to Keep Your Sanity When Grocery Shopping with Kids

  1. Choose the time of day wisely. Grocery stores can be busy, bright and loud with lots of people, depending on the time and day. These conditions usually don’t mix with a tired, hungry toddler or baby. Try to plan shopping for quieter times of the day, such as early to mid morning or weekdays.
  2. Make (and organize!) a list. You’ve heard this one a hundred times. But we say it because it’s true. Shopping with kids is not the time to try and gather items from a recipe you randomly see on the back of a box in the store. Plan your list ahead of time, and 100 bonus points if your list is written roughly in the order that you plan to navigate through the store.
  3. Prioritize and shop the perimeter. Get the must-have items on your list first – that way if a big meltdown occurs, you can try and get what you can, and leave the rest of your list until next time. Shopping the perimeter first will help you save the troublesome “middle isles” (where products marketed directly toward kids reside) until the end of your trip.
  4. Set limits and expectations. Kids do best if they know what’s going to happen and what is expected of them. Whatever your expectations are, communicate them clearly to your kids before each trip.
  5. Bring snacks. Be prepared with some snacks that are high in protein and fat, especially if you want to avoid kids asking for sugary treats. Remind them you have a special snack you brought just for the store if they are hungry.
  6. Let kids help. There’s always some task your child can help with, no matter their age. See if your toddler can spot the bananas before you can. Let your preschooler be in charge of putting boxed goods in the cart. Give older kids more responsibility with checking items off a list or keeping a running total of prices while you shop.
  7. Give choices when possible. Kids like to be involved in decisions around grocery shopping. Allow your child to pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try. Or let them choose a meal for the whole family that they get to plan and shop for this week.
  8. Do a test run. This goes for new parents, families growing from toddler + baby, and beyond. There’s no shame in easing into the grocery shopping game with your child or children if you’ve never done this before. With grocery pick-up widely available, you can put most of the items you need on a pick-up order. Then purposefully save a few items to pick up in the store afterwards, to see how manageable a short trip feels with kids.
  9. Praise good behavior. Notice when your child does something helpful or that’s expected. When they locate the fruit you asked them to find, give a pat on the back. Give them a smile and a high-five after they patiently wait their turn in line. Get in the habit of praising your child for the behavior you want to see more of, instead of only responding when your child is misbehaving.
  10. Have a plan for handling meltdowns. Try to stay calm and get down on your child’s level. Sometimes identifying and acknowledging feelings can go a long way in de-escalating a tantrum. Try using “first/then” or “when/then” statements, such as “First we’ll finish shopping, then we’ll go home and play.” Sometimes having to leave the store mid-trip is unavoidable but remember that every parent has been in this situation at one point or another.