How to Grocery Shop with a Toddler (or two!)

Do you remember the joy of strolling through the grocery aisles at your leisure, sipping on Starbucks, flipping through your organized coupon book, price comparing peanut butter for a good 10 minutes, and picking out the most expensive, hours-spent-researching bottle of wine? Yup, those were the days. The good ‘ol grocery shopping days that you won’t get back for the next 18 or so years.

Any mom out there knows that you can never simply “go grocery shopping.” The whole process from getting the kids out the door to the store and home again becomes an epic battle, complete with tears from everyone, lots of yelling, and many a forgotten item. This is compounded when you add a toddler or two to the mix. But don’t despair, there is a way to grocery shop with toddlers in tow and come out of the checkout line alive, complete with your bottle of wine (some things never change). Here’s how!

Before we start the step-by-step grocery shopping course of action, we need to give you all a word of advice. Believe it or not, there are ways to buy your food without bringing the kids along. Ways that we highly recommend!

  • Check out your local grocery store and pray that they offer online shopping. Shop from your couch, in half the time, half the money, and half the tears.
  • There are also online grocery shopping services not affiliated with local stores, that will shop and deliver to your door everything you normally shop for. Look into Peapod, Instacart, or We Shop And Deliver.
  • Devote grocery shopping to days when you have a sitter or time when your partner is home to watch the kids.
  • Drop off your kids at a girlfriend’s house for a quick playdate and take that time to get the groceries. Next week, your friend drops off her kids with you and does hers. It’s a free win-win for both of you (and the kids)!

Step 1: Make a list and check it twice.

The first and most crucial thing you must do before grocery shopping with your toddler is make a list. Not a general list, not half a list, but a real, plan down to the number of apples list. This is where meal planning is important so you know exactly what you will need for the week. Those that show up to the grocery store without a proper, thorough list will spend more, forget more, and have to grocery shop more.

Curious as to when the best time to go grocery shopping is? Studies have shown that early Wednesday morning is the best time to shop, saving you more money, giving you fresher and well-stocked food, and helping you avoid the crowds.

Step 2: Pack your bag.

The second most important thing you need to do is pack the bag and round up the “troops.” Your troops can come in any number of different items, such as juice boxes, favorite snacks, or crayons and a small pad of paper. You want anything and everything that travels well and you know will occupy your toddler. Consider even devoting a small backpack just for shopping trips that is stocked with your troops. Keep it in the car and pull it out when it’s time to shop.

Product Recommendation

If you’re looking for some unique items to pack in your bag that travel well and are sure to hold your toddler’s attention while you’re browsing the bakery, then check out Imagination Lane.

If your toddler is a sticker lover, buy the reusable sticker totes. In fun themes that all toddler’s love, such as dinosaurs and mermaids, these compact totes (complete with a handle and all) contain two fun trifold scenes that your toddler can stick the cling-style stickers to. Reuse over and over again for never ending sticker distraction!

A great grocery store alternative to the typical crayons and paper is Imagination Lane’s wipe-clean coloring book. With a set of crayons attached to the book, your toddler can scribble to their heart’s content on these thick non-destructible pages. After you make it home, simply wipe off the pages with water, and you have a brand new coloring book ready for next week’s trip! 

We know that your phone is probably the one thing you turn to for distracting your toddler, especially in the store. There’s no real harm in using that in these situations if you know it works, but of course it’s always a good idea to pull out your phone as a last resort.

Step 3: Park strategically and cart up.

Always, and we mean always, park as close to the cart return as possible. If you’re lucky, there will already be a cart waiting for you, and when you’re all done shopping, you don’t need to risk leaving your toddler in the car while you walk a mile to the nearest cart return or be the rude customer who leaves the cart abandoned in the parking lot.

Pick out your cart wisely. Choose one that seems to move well, that isn’t full of trash, and if you have two toddlers with you, then you must find the largest, clunkiest two seater available. Even though you will knock over a few end caps, it’s well worth the ride in the end.

Also, be sure to utilize the cart wipes that most grocery stores now provide, especially when you have toddler hands and mouths touching all parts of the cart.

If you have a small toddler and a baby in tow, then read How to Survive 2 Under 2 for more grocery shopping tips specific to those ages.

Step 4: Devise the plan.

Alright, it’s finally go-time. Shop quickly and efficiently. The best way to do this is not to take your toddlers to an unfamiliar grocery store. Go to a place where you know the store like the back of your hand.

If you organized your list according to department, kudos to you! If not, no worries, just be sure you don’t miss something in the appropriate aisle or you will be running in circles.

Start with the PRODUCE section, then work your way through the NON-PERISHABLE items, finishing up at the FROZEN department. This is a good way to be sure healthy fruits and veggies end up in your cart first and that your frozen items don’t melt in your cart throughout the store.

Step 5: Let the games begin.

As soon as you start to sense the uneasy feeling that all toddler moms get, pull out one of your troops. Rotate through the toys and snacks, occasionally mixing it up with a fun grocery game.

  • Bravely release your toddler from the confines of the cart and give her an item to find.
  • Have her pick an item based on color to put into the cart.
  • Play I Spy with grocery items she is familiar with.
  • If she finds an item she loves, give it to her to hold for the rest of the trip, then either buy it at checkout or convince her to hand it over.
  • If you’re buying boxed macaroni and cheese, they make perfect shakers for toddlers. This will definitely buy you a few minutes and your toddler will be entertained and happy because you know they know what’s in that box!

Step 6: See the light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s checkout time. You’re almost done, and honestly you made it far enough that any tantrums now shouldn’t faze you too much.

Give your toddler some items to place on the conveyor belt.

Be sure you have your wallet and coupons accessible and in your hand so there’s no time wasted searching through your purse.

Step 7: Say “Yes Please.”

Always accept help out to your car when you have a toddler or two in tow!

Bonus: If you weren’t able to snag a sweet spot by the cart return, the employee will take care of the cart for you. It’s the little victories, mama.

Step 8: Cross the finish line.

Once you’re home, either unload your groceries into the house before getting the kids out of the car or if you have a safe place to keep your kids inside, then unload your groceries after the kids are inside. Make unpacking the food a game, by allowing your toddler to unload the bags and hand you the food to put away.

Praise your kiddos for behaving better than they ever have before in the grocery store, kick your feet up on the couch, and crack open that bottle of wine. Oh wait, it’s Wednesday morning? Well, it is 5:00 somewhere…

For more grocery shopping tips and tricks, check out How To Save Money at the Grocery Store!

Photo Credits: Dani
Sources: Yahoo Finance

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Dani lives in North Carolina with her two preschoolers. She is a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom who loves to clean and organize anything and everything. Her happiness is found in Jesus, days at the spa, and combating dark chocolate peanut butter cups with everyday workouts at the gym. She owns a wedding, lifestyle, and freelance photography business, Dani Nicole Photography.

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