It’s the stereotypical problem: moms with little kids in the grocery store. Having had four kids in a row, there were a couple years where I had four children under four years old, then four children under five, then four children under six. I even had three in diapers at some point. And I have to be honest…I usually went grocery shopping by myself! In those years, going to the grocery store was my own “date night,” a date with food. And peace :) I did take all the kids sometimes, but mostly I went out when my husband was home at night. Sometimes I even went to the Walmart for groceries (even though they had terrible produce) because they were open until midnight. It was so fun to walk around and think about nothing except what I wanted to prepare, at 11pm. Also hardly anyone is there at that point so it’s serene, almost spa-like…
Ok, maybe not :)
But I have to be unhypocritical and recommend that if you have a bunch of little babies and potty trainers in your home–or even just two!–consider the lifestyle shift. It is SO worth the sanity. You continue to enjoy meal-planning and you never have embarrassing meltdowns. Instead of trying to lug your babies to the store and get interrupted because they dropped their toy or are crying and need to go to the bathroom while you’re in the checkout, leave them at home and go at night–even if you worked all day and your feet hurt. You will most likely remember everything you need, you can pay more attention to your list, if you have it, and you probably won’t buy wrong or unnecessary items because you were distracted or someone asked for bonus food.
Or go early Saturday morning when only the early bird old ladies are awake. Get up, nurse the baby or whatever, and run out! You can get home by 9am as if nothing ever happened. (One time I did this and left the two year old in Daddy’s room with the baby gate up, while Daddy slept. I would never have been able to sleep, but Daddy could :)
About the time I had two kids who could safely walk outside the cart without me worrying I’d give them a concussion or a heel with no skin if I misjudged for a millisecond, I started taking them a little more often. This was around when my kids were 6, 5, 4, and 2 (three potty trained well). It took me awhile to figure out a regime which ensured grocery success, but here’s some things I came up with…
1. Feed children a snack BEFORE the store.
2. Make sure all kids have gone to the bathroom BEFORE the store. Change the baby’s diaper even if it doesn’t look like it needs it because you’d be surprised how wet they suddenly look when you plump them down in the cart. I never brought a diaper bag to the store–I’d tuck an extra diaper in the infant carseat cushion when they were tiny, and down the back of my pants when they were older.
3. Bring distractions for 1-3 year olds in the cart, especially near the end of the trip when they’re tired. I used an old cell phone that was disconnected from our account but still had battery power. A Transformer toy or something with jiggly parts also works. FYI, something with noise is annoying but always has more attention power.
4. Consider a list. We almost always have a list when we go. This is very helpful because you can assign one child to hold the list, one child to check what is on it as we go along, and another child to cross off things as they are put in the cart. (A pencil is easier to cross off with, than a pen.) This happens to occupy my three boys, who really need something to do other than look for treats along the way. The list also helps make sure you get what you really needed in the first place, and not put in too many things you don’t need. Sometimes I let my older ones read the list in the car so they can start their minds thinking about they’re going to be looking for in the store rather than what they’re not.
1. Before you get out of the car, give The Lecture. I tell my kids that there will be absolutely NO asking Mom for special things in the store. They’re not even allowed to tell me, “Hey Mom, look at this!” (I let them tell each other though :) ) You don’t have to be as strict as me. The point is just to make clear what you expect before you get in there. I also tell my boys that they need to walk on the same side of the aisle I’m on, and not more than two cart lengths away. The littlest one can hang on the front or back of the cart, but not the sides. No running at any time. And no-one is allowed to take stuff and put it in the cart without telling me, even if it something we always buy (just so we don’t end up buying four ketchups). Tell them EVERYTHING you expect and do this EVERY time so they say “Mom, we know, we know!” Then there can’t be any dispute that they didn’t know, if they get in trouble.
2. Offer a reward. If they get through the store without bugging me for stuff, they get a snack when we’re all back in the car on the way home. Otherwise, no snack. One mom I know does this except that she and her kids make a big deal about what snack they’re going to buy in the store very first thing when they go in there. So they all go to the cookie aisle or whatever and pick something out and put it in the cart first. Then they continue the shopping and use it as a bribe until they get all the way through. I tried this a couple times but there was a lot of pressure to pick and better and better reward, which took up more and more time right off the bat. So then I just went back to regular snack things I was going to buy anyway and reminded them that they’d get it early if they were good. Worked for them.
Note: When I had my really young toddlers, like 9-18months, I did put graham crackers in the cart first thing and give them one a couple times throughout the trip. Another mom I know does fruit, but one time I gave my two year old a very small apple to work on as I shopped…and then at some point in the trip, he handed me back the stem and I realized he’d eaten the whole thing, even the core! So don’t do that unless you’re paying attention :)
3. Offer potty trainers a chance to go to the bathroom one last time before you start shopping. Do not give any liquids during the trip.
4. Be prepared to leave the store if real trouble arises. I am not saying you have to leave a store if your two year old pitches a fit and you’re really close to getting out of there. It happens. But with my little crew (who are 9, 8, 7, and 5 now), this is the rule. They actually think getting to shop is a privilege because I’m so strict about it! They know if they argue with me, fight with each other, or otherwise cause a disturbance, we are out of there. We only had to do this one time, and I made them apologize to the customer service person on the way out because we were leaving our cart there, half-full. I wasn’t mad or anything, I just calmly informed them that was enough and led them out. They cried on the way home because they thought they wouldn’t have any milk in their cereal for breakfast the next morning. (They did.) When we went back the next day, they were whispering and reminding each other the whole time to stop arguing :)
At the Store.
1. You have already informed them of the rules, so just remind them as necessary. I always have to remind my boys not to run (because they will, when they see something exciting and then call to each other about it). Just part of being a boy. I also have to remind them to move out of people’s way or stop blocking traffic. This is normal but do TRY to get them to think about it once in a while.
2. Consider cart arrangement. I used to carry the baby in the sling when I shopped, so I could see better and put things in the seat where the infant carseat usually goes. I tried not to have more than two people on/in the cart. We did those kids’ Car Carts for awhile where they “drive” in the front, but that led to a lot of getting out and getting in. My typical thing with the littles was wear one, let one sit in the front seat, one hang on the end, and one walking with me holding on somewhere. Then we graduated to two in the cart (one in seat, one in the cart) and two walking (one on one side of me, one on the other). Now we’re at all four walking with the littlest one allowed to ride in the seat or hang on the end when she’s tired. Do what works!
3. Distraction is your friend. With a whole brood, distraction is really important, especially for ages 5-10. Minding the list is a good start, but find other ways if your kids normally drive you crazy. Teach them about sales and checking prices per unit. Even the littlest ones can be taught to look for the yellow sale tags. Have them check them as you’re picking your items–like “Which is cheaper this week, the Cheerios or generic O’s?” You can even ask them to look at something you’re not going to buy, just to give them something to think about other than why you’re getting chicken when they don’t LIKE chicken. Tell them to compare prices of something they’ve never seen before like turkey gizzards or whatever is nearby. They get to look at something new and think about something productive.
One thing my 9 year old likes to do is add up the saving as we go. Keeps his mind busy. If the cheese we buy is 40cents on sale, he’ll try to remember that. Then if the apple juice is on sale for 30cents cheaper, he’ll add that to the 40. By the end of the trip, he likes to tell us how much we saved as best as he can remember. Sometimes my 8 year old will check the receipt in the car on the way home to see if he’s right.
For younger kids, like 4-6, I like to tell them to look for the items we normally buy. When we get to the peanut butter, for example, I’ll say, “Ok, can you find the peanut butter we usually get?” This takes my 5 and 6 year olds a couple minutes and ensures they are staying in the right spot while I figure out whether I want to try “Lite” strawberry jelly or not. I do the same thing with the bread, pasta, toothpaste, etc. This keeps their eyes looking for what we get instead of what new thing they want to try. And they always feel triumphant after they’ve found something in a really hard spot. After awhile, the kids will learn where everything is and this won’t be fun for them. But my 5 and 6 year old have found it fun for a whole year now. I can tell they are learning the aisles really well because I’ll catch them saying things like, “the next aisle is the peanut butter… I know where it is!” The only thing you have to watch then, is the racing to go get it before you’re that close :)
My older kids like the challenge of something slightly more complicated. I’ll tell them something like: “We’re going to get pretzels this week. Go down this aisle and look at all the pretzels. Find the ones on sale, compare the prices, and pick the ones you want to try from the 2 or 3 best ones. But don’t run.” That keeps them busy! It also keeps me from having to walk past all the cookies (which are at the end of that aisle) and dealing with sadness that we’re not getting any of them. The kids find the pretzels they want, feel triumphant about it, and bring their trophy to where I am at the milk and OJ nearby; I don’t go down that aisle at all.
4. If you get stuck in the lunchmeat line, my kids like the challenge of reorganizing the cart. It can feel like an eternity, so rather than having them pine away for the donuts and pies nearby, I’ll have them shift things around in the cart so light things are on top, or frozen things are near each other. This is also the time my 5 year old gets tired and I let her stuff herself into the shopping cart seat where she can tell her brothers that their configuration isn’t good enough or they missed the butter on her side.
5. Negotiate Extras. While I don’t let my boys point out everything cool they see, sometimes we really do all realize we want something special. There’s kind of an expectation that on any given trip, we will add ONE special thing to the cart. So whatever things the kids have seen along the way, they kind of figure out if anything really is special–or sometimes I decide myself–and we’re all happy to add it near the end.
1. The easiest way to get through the checkout is to have everyone help get the items on board. Seems simple enough, but my four can sure be clumsy and wild during this process. This is where arguing can start because someone really wants to load the Angry Birds gummy snacks, but someone ELSE grabbed it first. I have not exactly figured this out yet, sorry to say.
2. Once all things are on the belt, I have my kids go to the end of the checkout where the person is helping bag. They pull the cart forward towards them and I tell them to each hang on to it. This seems dumb, but it helps for a couple reasons. First, no one gets accidentally sandwiched as the cart squeezes through. Second, no-one gets stuck on the front end with me and either smashed by the next cart coming behind us or separated out into the general store while we’re going through. Third, no-one wanders out the door without us, thinking it’s all over. Fourth, no-one is stuck eyeing the candy bars while I’m trying to pay. We DID have someone steal something one time, and another time my son spilled a bunch of them while he was picking them up and reading the ingredient list. So to prevent all temptations and accidents right at that unfortunate time, they have to go to the end and hold onto the cart until the last bags are loaded. Then we train out of there all together.
Now I realize at this point some of you may think I’m ridiculous for even needing this process, let alone sharing it. But you have to get creative when you have a bunch of little kids. Some days not all props are needed because everyone is mellow and happy. But sometimes on the way home from the YMCA or whatever, we’re not. So having a little routine helps, even if it is a little involved. This is ours.