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Grocery Shopping With Kids

Written by Megan of Stetted.

For families with kids, doing the weekly shopping is something that often strikes dread into the heart of every parent. From crying and begging to full-on, lay-on-the-ground-and-kick tantrums that seem to occur at a pin drop, shopping can be exhausting. But taking the opportunity to teach your kids about what they eat and where it comes from can transform the experience from terror to – dare I say it? – fun.

Here’s how you do it.

Before You Go

Have a list

However you plan for the week ahead, having a list of items to buy is essential when the kids are along for the ride. Temptations abound, even in the healthiest of markets and stores, and having a list is one way to tamp down clamors for treats. Ask the kids for their input as you make the list. If they know you’ll be buying apples, they are less likely to call out for candy bars once at the store.

Eat something

Going shopping while hungry results in overpurchasing, and hungry, cranky kids can easily cloud your food judgment. Try to shop right after a meal instead of after school or naptime, when the little ones will surely be hungry.

While You Shop

Talk about it

Talk to your kids about what you’re buying. It may seem silly to tell a baby about zucchini and what you plan to make with it, but consider it practice for explaining the building blocks of healthful eating as your children get older. Kids are curious and want to know everything about everything, and with its wide variety, the grocery store or local market is a good location for education.


Quiz them

My son can name an impressive number of fruits and vegetables, and I know at least some of that comes from his many trips with me to the farmers’ market and grocery store. Kids love to show off what they know. Spending a few extra minutes in the produce section asking your child about the latest featured item will not only build their knowledge, but also help them know their presence is valued.

Put them in charge

Grocery shopping is a great way for kids to practice their reading skills. Remember that list we made before leaving the house? Let your early reader take charge of all or a portion of the list. If they’re learning mathematics, discuss counting, sale prices, and weights.

Let them choose

I let my son pick out at least one item every time we go shopping. No, this does not mean candies or other items that are restricted in our home! Choose from a specific section of the store, whether it be the fruit, the bakery, or the dried grains. My son loves visiting the fish counter to select a filet and choosing pumpkins at the fall fair. This helps connect him to the food we’ll be preparing for dinner later and makes him much more likely to eat it.

While you’re likely to experience a transition period, and not every shopping trip will be a dream, sparking your child’s curiosity in food can help lead to a lifelong interest in healthful eating, cooking, or even farming. It’s never to early or too late to begin.

Do you take your kids shopping with you? Why or why not?

About Megan

Megan Myers is a copyeditor and spatula-wielding mom seeking out the simpler life in Texas. Her blog, Stetted, focuses on her family’s journey from junk food addiction to a diet of local, organic, and whole foods, while exploring the many options farmers provide.

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  1. Yes I do, and it’s easy, and there’s very little begging (not usually fulfilled – though sometimes) and no tantrums at all. Kids cook with me every day, as well as participate in many of the aspects of growing food (they are frequently around butchering, among other things), so this is no trouble at all. They know exactly where food comes from and where it mustn’t come from. It’s a blast all around. Another thing – I try not to give them a lot of choice, I don’t think a lot of choice is very good for children of this age (5 and 2 in my case).

  2. Yes! I take them with me. We try to go to the farmers’ market each week, and that is where it becomes difficult. I have a general list to go on ie whatever veg looks good and eggs 🙂 But, then there are all the pastries, and fruit abounds, and everything looks so pretty…how can I tell my kids no to organic berries, or a fresh peach that had been picked that morning…doesn’t work out too well 🙂 Maybe I should start shopping alone…

  3. Oh, such good advice – don’t shop hungry – why do we all not follow it?
    Seriously, though. I only take the little guy (7) when necessary. He does ask for something in almost every aisle – usually toy type stuff or weird household gadgets. I do give him a short list of things to get now that he is a good reader. We are in a CSA and grow a small garden on our postage-stamp city lot, so he is in tune with good food and its origins, but he also a 7-year old boy. How much can I ask of him, honestly?

  4. Ah, it all sounds good in theory! I have three boys (5, 4 and 2). Even with jobs, getting to pick out special items and being there for less than 1/2 an hour, we rarely escape with running in circles, hitting one another, throwing something or a “why can’t I get that too???!!!” So, I usually go shopping without them, or with only one of them. It’s my time away or it’s a special time with just one of my boys. There’s more time for us to connect, talk about food, choices and health. If I take my older son, we can really practice other skills without interruption (i.e. screaming children throwing food out of carts or ripping into a package before we even leave the aisle). 🙂

  5. Love this post! Such great points. I do take my little one to the store often, but we live in NYC, so we tend to do more frequent, smaller grocery store trips, rather than that one big weekly shop (no car!). But I do try to talk with her about what we’re buying, and she loves to point things out to me. She also loves to “get the vegetables,” which is 2-year-old speak for picking up our CSA share 🙂

  6. My guy went through a begging phase around 6 or 7, but got through it quickly as we followed clear rules. When he was little, we loved to go to the farmer’s market. We’d buy some things for the week, but also spread a blanket on the ground and chatted with other families, ate a picnic and played on the playground (it was at a park) Happy memories.

    Your hints are great! My only addition isn’t educational, but fun (well, for the kid, if not for the store). We picked up balloons on the flower dept on the way into the grocery store, kept it on our cart the whole way through, then returned it before we left.

  7. Our boys (now 12, 10, 7) have always shopped with me. We never shopped without a list, while hungry, or before/during naptime. Any of those would be begging for trouble. I also taught them early on that “no” meant “no”. If they asked for a treat and I said “no”, I would not change my mind, NO matter what. No whining, no crying, no tantrums. If they threw a fit, we left the store immediately and an appropriate punishment was given.

  8. Yes, I most always took my children with me. Depending on their age and ability, I have spoken to them about the health benefits of each choice and/or origin. I remember getting looks of horror from other shoppers as my 3 year old son wandered down the meat aisle asking what kind of meat it was and my telling him which animal it came from (here in the UK. I don’t remember it being a problem when I did the same with his sisters when we lived in the US). They were aghast that I was telling him pork came from a pig, beef came from a cow/cattle. They are probably the same people that tell their kids milk comes from a store…

    Nowadays, my son is now 12. He’s an enthusiastic shopper, offering up suggestions of dishes or meals while we go through the fresh food aisles. We very rarely eat prepared foods in our home, most of our meals cooked from fresh ingredients. My son has always eaten his veg, to the complete confusion or disgust of his friends. He’s quite happy ‘grazing’ from our freshly grown fruits, herbs and vegetables in our garden. If you bring children up on ‘real’ food, they eat real food.

  9. I do take my son (almost 4) grocery shopping with me. Honestly I used to hate it, the extra time it took to shop with him etc. But I have been involving him a lot and really it’s great. We walk 5 blocks to the store (or catch the train depending on where we’re going) and talk about what we’re going to buy & make. He helps me by identifying the things we talked about, counting how many we need and identifying different letters on packaging or signage. It takes twice as long but if I don’t rush then we usually have, dare I say it, a good time.

  10. I don’t have kids yet, but we did go with my mom when we were children. I remember getting asked if x fruit or x vegetable sounded good (because they were really fresh and not on the list), and getting to say yes or no (it was almost always a yes). We also got to pick out our favorite cold cereal (already knowing the rules that the cookie/chocolate/etc. varieties were off limits).

  11. My daughter is 2 1/2, and I have been taking her shopping with me since she was a baby. We talk about what we are buying, on a 2-year old level. 🙂 Something I remember reading a long time before I had my daughter was someone who said she bought bagels for her kids at the start of the shopping trip. Often (not always) our first stop is the bakery and I get a bagel for my daughter to munch on throughout our shopping trip. It keeps her occupied and happy. It’s cheap entertainment. 🙂

  12. Bookmarking this for when I have some! 😉 Great advice!

  13. Great tips! I plan on trying them today! I find that shopping with my preschooler is not too bad. However, when I have all three kids along, it can quickly go downhill.

    Still, my favorite time to shop is at night when my kids are in bed! I plan to do that even more frequently once our fourth child arrives.

  14. I’m with Julia. My weekly shopping trip occurs Sunday nights after the kids are in bed. It’s a nice, peaceful time at the store and gives me a chance to read labels and make better choices.

    That being said, my kids do join me to pick up our CSA and to visit the Farmers’ Market nearly every week. And, they love going to Costco – two seats in the cart, lots of samples to keep them occupied, big items to hunt for.

  15. Great ideas for harnessing what can be a nightmare for many moms. I think setting the expectations of our children early on and including them in the process is so important. And shopping at a farmer’s market is even better as they can really begin to understand where their food comes from.

  16. I’m going to keep these tips in mind the next time I go shopping. I’m worried about when my 1 year old gets older, but I think these tips will help. Thanks!

  17. I just have a 14 month old and she comes along with me each week to the store. My favorite part with her is in the produce aisle where she points to things that look familiar (like tomatoes and bananas and strawberries) and starts saying, “Uh, uh, uh” to let me know she wants some!

  18. You’re right about having the list before you go. The mom needs to not have to be doing any deciding other than what veggies look the best. I have my grocery list pre-printed based on the layout of our store, so that it’s organized from dry goods to produce ending with frozen things and refrigerated (so that we start on one side of the store and make our way to the other side, going in order by our list). Also, when they were toddlers/preschoolers I’d eat before we go and I’d pack them each a sandwich lunch and let the kids ride in that special cart that looks like a firetruck. That way they had something to keep their hands (and mouths) occupied, and I could shop efficiently. I totally agree about being firm about not giving them choices in the store. I sometimes allow my kids one “Ask For” that’s not on our list (a treat but not something TOTALLY junky), but they know that they only get one, and no more asking after we have that one thing. If they ask for something else I say they’ve already had their Ask For. Now that they’re older they can help, and I prevent bickering by dividing my list and sending them after things like a scavenger hunt, with a designated spot to meet up with me and the cart.

  19. I’ve written about why all four of my kids accompany me to the supermarket, the farmers market, to pick apples and berries at the farm and everywhere in between. I feel that it needs to be a priority to teach kids where food comes from and how to feed themselves. Leaving them at home and not getting them involved in the growing, purchasing, picking out and preparing of food doesn’t accomplish this. Plus, the more you involve them, the easier it becomes.

    The tips are fantastic, Megan!

  20. I used to bring one or both children but after my latest fiasco (read: My Grocery Shopping Confessional) I go alone as much as possible. I can get in and out so much quicker, don’t impulse buy or forget things on my list and am generally less stressed out.

  21. Great tips! Love the idea of getting kids involved at an early age!

  22. I enjoyed taking them grocery shopping as it’s a incredible opportunity to teach them about different fruits and vegetables and to be engaged with your children. I stayed away from the cookie aisle!!

  23. I bring my kids shopping always. Basically it’s a chore we need to do for our family and even though it isn’t their favorite (huge understatement, my 4 YO really hates to go) I explain that there are things we need to do to take care of ourselves and our house. I know – not super original. But seriously – Mommy also isn’t keen on grocery shopping, getting the oil changed, etc. But these are things we need to do. At least we can keep each other company while we do them! Yay? 😉

    Then I try to sweeten the deal with a small treat – let them choose something at the store, a quick trip to the park near the store, maybe pick up supplies for a “special” dinner, after we go.

    I haven’t had much luck getting them engaged in the shopping itself (they’re 2 & 4 and frankly could care less) so mostly we bring toys and/or books for them to play with while I push the cart.

  24. Ellen in Conn says

    My chilluns are grown now, but I took them with me when they were small. My rule was that they couldn’t ask for anything, even if just to remind me we were out of cheese. The reward for not asking for ANYthing was one treat. We might share a donut between the three of us, or something chocolate. Apples are everyday food, not a treat, so we had a weekly sugar-treat. This doesn’t suit everyone, of course, but it made our trips much less crazy. My older girl had one screaming fit, and after that it was all pretty peaceful.

  25. I do now. I’ve found a way to make grocery shopping with the kids something we actually look forward to. It’s become one of the most fun games that we play together.

  26. 95% of the time, the kiddos come shopping with me! I have found that better than the grocery store is Costco with kids! Bring on the free samples!
    There are some more tips on how to do Costco with kids here too:

  27. “Spending a few extra minutes in the produce section asking your child about the latest featured item will not only build their knowledge, but also help them know their presence is valued.”

    Making them feel valued. That right there is the perfect reason to bring you kids along, take your time if you can and explain everything you can. They will love you for it. I never shut up as a kid, and I was never shushed. It gave me confidence.

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