Grocery Shopping With Young Kids

Tips for taking tots and preschoolers grocery shopping.

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 04, 2010

Does grocery shopping with young kids test the limits of your patience and sanity? Do rambunctious little ones and temper tantrums make shopping more drama than it's worth?

Fear not. Given the right conditions, taking toddlers and preschoolers to the supermarket can be productive, educational, and dare we say it -- fun.

"You may not realize it, but you're serving as a role model when you grocery shop with kids, especially when you stop to chat with them about healthy foods," says Jennifer Shu, MD, author of Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup.

And getting young ones started on the road to healthy eating is just one of several benefits. Take your children grocery shopping and you:

  • Teach them what you expect from them in public.
  • Get little ones moving, boosting their motor skills. Tots can help push the cart, select non-breakable items, and unload groceries in the checkout line.
  • Set a good example for them to emulate.

OK, you're sold on the idea of grocery shopping with your young children. Here are 10 tips to make it easier.

  • Consider Timing. There may be no perfect time to shop with a rambunctious 3-year-old or a toddler who is teething, but some times are better than others. When possible, go grocery shopping with a well-rested child.
  • Allow Plenty of Time. Grocery shopping with small children is typically not a quick affair. Give yourself plenty of leeway to get the job done.
  • Focus on the Familiar. Grocery stores are noisy, bustling places that may overwhelm a young child. Bring along a favorite toy, blanket, or book from home to make them feel more secure.
  • Have Realistic Expectations. Small children tire easily. An hour-long foray into the grocery store may be enough. Don't push it by trying to do all of your errands at once.
  • Set Limits. Begging for treats at the store can really get on your nerves. Make it clear when grocery shopping with your kids what will happen once you're in the store. Perhaps allow them to choose a small item to try at home, no questions asked. No matter what, stick to your guns to minimize whining next time.
  • Involve Your Kids. Kids love to feel a part of whatever is happening. The more you give kids to do and think about, the easier and more fun grocery shopping is for everyone. Try these:
  1. Request your child be your special helper in the store. Point out pictures of produce or other items you need in the store flyer and help kinds hunt for the items.
  2. Ask your child to choose four apples, or four green apples, or four round fruit.
  3. Play "I spy something blue (or round, or square)," and see if they can figure out what you're looking at.
  • Try Not to Think Too Much. Figure out what you need to purchase at home, then make a list. Your powers of concentration may be limited by your child's needs once you're grocery shopping.
  • Reward Good Behavior. You expect your toddler or preschooler to behave in public, but doing so in a grocery store may prove particularly taxing because it's such a stimulating environment. Let kids know how good they were in the store by taking them to the park later, or reading them a story when you get home. Avoid using food as a reward for good behavior, however.
  • Be Prepared to Leave. Young children are fickle. You may be gung-ho to get two weeks worth of grocery shopping done, but 10 minutes into the trip, it's clear your little one wants out.
  • Stay Safe. An American Academy of Pediatrics study revealed that more than 20,000 children under the age of 5 were treated in emergency rooms in 2005 for injuries related to shopping carts. Falls from carts topped the list of trauma. Cart tip-overs, becoming trapped by a cart, and being run over by a cart were injurious to young kids, too. Never let kids stand up in the cart and don't let them ride on the front, back, or side. Children should not push carts by themselves. When seated, use a seat strap to keep kids secure. Little ones who are on foot should hang on gently to the cart while you slowly push it. The first time or two you go grocery shopping with your kids you may leave frazzled, with fewer groceries than you went in for. Yet remember, this is a skill you're both developing. Like teaching your tot to get back on his or her bike, don't be afraid to try, try again!

Show Sources


Jennifer Shu, MD, pediatrician; author, Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup.

Elisa Zied, MS, RD, nutrition consultant; spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; author, Feed Your Family Right!

American Academy of Pediatrics, Pediatrics, August 2006: vol 118: pp 825-827.

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