The Opportunity of the Grocery Store:
How to go grocery shopping with kids and WHY
By Angela Allen Paulsen
I want to share why I feel grocery shopping with kids is still relevant and important, even in a
day of click-list and pick-up.
If that statement caused a reaction in you, you’re not alone. Grocery shopping can be a
charged, wearisome, ptsd-inducing, or boring and tedious kind of topic. So an
acknowledgement: if your energy is going towards a different battle right now, and grocery
shopping isn’t it, read on. We all have to pick our teaching moments and our battles, so my
hope is that this article will give ideas for ways to use grocery shopping as a parenting tool.
I want to emphasize that I have come to appreciate and feel positively towards grocery
shopping with kids, but haven’t always. Do you remember the stress of the very first time you grocery
shopped with your first child, as a newborn? I do. Or after having your second baby? Or third,
fourth or fifth? I do. And maybe we’re similar because we’ve both cried in a grocery store? Or in
the car afterwards? Comment below with your best grocery store horror stories! I do love
So a quick story from my parenting fail repertoire: I went shopping at our little Aldi in
Bloomington, Indiana with a four, two and 11 month old. The baby threw a glass jar of crushed
garlic and it shattered and smelled, the toddler tripped and got a serious bloody nose, and then
at check-out I realized I had a very full cart of groceries rung up and back in my cart but… I had
left my wallet at home. I just left, fighting back tears. Then sobbed. A sweet young mom ran
after me and gave me a hug. Then we drove home. I didn’t go inside that store for two months!
But I got back on my horse and I’m so glad I did. Because five years later I love shopping at
Aldi, and in 24 minutes in-and-out I can shop with my two youngest for my family of seven.
I’m sure I have much to learn but so far in my first ten years of parenting and probably 1000
grocery runs, these are my three takeaways from Grocery Shopping with Kids:
Grocery Shopping with Kids Takeaway #1: See the Opportunity
This is an opportunity to…
Buy food. Don’t belittle this incredibly important task. You are choosing and bringing home food
for your family! To buy food is a blessed opportunity. It’s vital and sustaining. If nothing else
good happens from this errand, you bought food.
Now beyond that it can also be an opportunity to:
● Get out of the house
● Teach your children about
○ Food choices
○ Being Bored!
○ How to pay for things
○ Accepting “No” for an answer
○ Being obedient
○ And being kind!
● An opportunity to SEE others. Do you know that for many elderly folks, the grocery store
may be their only human interaction that day? What a chance we have to make eye
contact, say hi, let them ahead of us in line, let them make weird and awkward
comments about our kids, etc
● What else?
And finally, grocery shopping with kids in new places is an opportunity for adventure, especially
if in a foreign country. It’s awkward and full of fun foods like canned hotdogs or pig ears. I have
a rule to always shop in a grocery store when travelling.
Grocery Shopping with Kids Takeaway #2: Prepare Yourself and the Kids
Most will start with this good preparation advice: When at home, if you can, make your meal
plan and shopping list. Then remember to take it. Nine times out of ten I forget that darn list. But
I’ll keep trying. Next, know your general budget. If you grab those extra almonds or that
on-clearance item, where is the money coming from? Your Christmas budget? Your money for
Jonny’s soccer fee?
But I think it’s more important to prepare yourself and the kids. Here is what I learned the hard
way–by not doing these things– and doing them has made all the difference in our time
● Pray in the car before going in. With everyone still buckled, pray and ask God for
patience and charity. Or have one of the kids say the prayer.
● Role play with kids either at home or just before going in. Make the role-play silly.
● Outline clear expectations
● Take snacks, wipes, and WALLET
● Don’t take your phone; if it’s in the car none of you can use it!
● What else might help?
Grocery Shopping Takeaway #3: Positive Reinforcement for You and the Kids
If you want a positive behavior to continue, positively reinforce it, right? Grocery shopping is a
life-long task and skill. We will all have to do it many many many times. So might as well get
better at it. So…
● Compliment the kids on tiny positive behaviors. “Oh thanks for walking right in that door
and moving forward!” “Hey you didn’t grab that chip bag, way to go! now we can use our
money to buy those grapes, can you go get a bag?”
● Play games like I-spy or Guess What I’m thinking Of, quietly sing silly songs
● Give them a bag of fruit snacks before going in
● Let them each pick one snack to buy that is under x amount of $ and will help our bodies
● Tell yourself how awesome you are as a parent for getting the job done! Somebody’s got
to do it! Get ‘er done!
● Plan meals you are excited to buy the food for: crunchy thai salad for me? Oh yes, let’s
buy all that produce. Dark chocolate? Yep! Pasta that I know my toddler will eat? Yes
● Celebrate with them when putting your food on the black conveyer belt and say quietly to
them, “Look at all the beautiful food we get to buy! We’re buying a rainbow! How many
colors can you see?”
● Help the kids realize they are doing their part to work for your family.
And then repeat. Grocery shopping with kids is a great learning tool, because we have to try again and
again and again. Learn from every miserable trip and celebrate the good ones. After a
traumatizing trip, cry it out, eat some ice cream and get back up again. Modify and adapt. Take
just one child. Only shop with kids once a month. And you can still teach kids about food,
money, and gratitude if you let them help you order online. You can still teach them to see and
help others when you pick-up on the orange side of Walmart. Jump out of that car, look the
person serving you in the eyes and tell them “Thank you.” Then, when old enough, make your
kids do the same! In store or out, we can do this! See the opportunity, prepare, and make it positive. To the brave parent who is about to go get food for their family, like a hunting warrior, I say: YOU CAN DO THIS!