Surviving The Grocery Store With Kids in Tow

November 20, 2008 at 7:30 am (Published)

Published in Garden and Hearth Magazine, July, 2003.


Inevitably, the big picnic or summer barbecue comes around, and forces an additional trip to a place you hate…(theme from “Psycho” is indicated)…the grocery store.  The grocery store is never a fun place when you have your kids with you.  OK, let me re-phrase that.  The grocery store is never a fun place when you have your kids with you, unless you make it fun.


The first thing you need to make sure of is that nobody goes to the grocery store hungry.  Otherwise, you will be tempted by random things you see, and an extra $80 later, you’ll be wondering what compelled you to buy beef jerky and a big box of cheese blintzes…So, tip number one is to combine your trip to the grocery store with an inexpensive restaurant dinner (or, if during the day, lunch at a fast food restaurant).  While it may cost you an extra $15 at the outset, you’ll save much more than that in groceries, and in aggravation, because going to a restaurant is always a treat to a kid.


For midweek grocery trips that need to occur after work, we go straight to the restaurant before going home.  It is generally expected that by the time we eat, go to the grocery store, come home and put everything away, it will be bedtime.  The kids don’t like the idea that their usual playtime is being taken up by the grocery store.  So, get around that by making the grocery store enough like playtime they forget they’re not in the yard, torturing insects.  Promising your kids some sort of healthy snack before bed, even before you’ve gone to the store helps, also, because once you’re home, they don’t feel like they’re being sent straight to bed and they know what to expect.


At the trip’s outset, there is always the obligatory argument about who rides in the cart and who pushes the cart.  Our son (the younger) always rides in the cart, even when he doesn’t want to, because (we argue) he’s the captain of the cart and in charge of all the groceries.  He likes that idea.  His other job is to hold the bread and make sure nobody walks past and squishes it, and it’s very funny to see him suspiciously eyeing passersby while clutching the bread to his tummy.  His sister (the elder), on the other hand, has a sadistic streak; we are therefore never sure whether she wants to push the cart to help out, or to send her brother careening into a large pile of pineapples.  We judge that one according to how crowded the store is.  If the store isn’t crowded, I let her push the cart.  If she “crashes,” or teases her brother, she loses her chance to push the cart for the rest of the trip.


Kids always seem to know what the latest disgusting kid-product is, whether it’s new Purple Yerple Yogurt in a tube, a bright blue Jell-o product, or some cereal shaped like a squid.  They will beg you relentlessly for said products, and whine when you refuse.  It’s entirely possible to compromise without losing any ground, and your kids will be happier.  Purple Yerple Yogurt in a tube might look really gross, but it’s still yogurt, a basically healthy dairy product with calcium and other good stuff in it.  It just happens to be purple, striped with electric orange.  Check the label just to make sure it isn’t really made out of marshmallow fluff if it makes you feel better, but chances are it’s ordinary yogurt.  (Just be prepared to calm your freaked-out progeny a few days later when they don’t understand why their toilet paper is turning scary colors.)


Most of what your kids will ask for is going to include high doses of sugar…which is your excuse for not buying them.  If they are dejected, remind them of a few key facts: You bought them the yogurt, which is basically healthy, and all the other kids will see it in their lunches, so they’ll be cool; the squid-shaped cereal is made of sugar, and nobody will know different that you ate uncool oatmeal for breakfast (unless your son’s Kindergarten teacher takes a closer look at his shirt…).  If you compromise on just one slightly healthy product and tell them, this is the one thing you get to pick out this trip, they’ll feel like they’ve gotten a treat.  For the rest of your time at the store, any cries of “Mommy, can we get…” can be answered with a gentle reminder that they got to pick their one thing earlier.


The grocery store is a wonderful place to demonstrate how old and decrepit you are.  For example, if you pull the cart up close enough to the shelves, use a whiny voice and say, “Awwwwwwwhhhh! My back hurts.  I’m not strong enough to lift that can of Spaghettios,” you may have a giggling child come to your rescue.  (But remember…nothing goes into the cart without the approval of the Cart Captain.  He’s in charge.  His permission must be granted.)  If you’re not up for silliness and melodrama, asking works, too.  You can even turn it into a lesson in logic for the child who’s reading and doing math in school: “Find me something that’s over the kidney beans, to the right of the salsa, and to the left of the green chiles.  And the number of boxes I need is four, minus two.”  Or have the older child keep your grocery list for you and decide what product we search for next, and cross out each product found.


Another word about the Cart Captain.  It is more fun for him if you find something silly you obviously don’t want or need, or something he hates, and give him the opportunity to refuse it into the cart.  He’ll be so proud of himself.  “Captain, requesting permission to admit pickled pigs’ feet, a pound of liver and some diapers into the cart?”  He’ll laugh, and probably say no, and refusing will give him a sense of importance.  If he says yes, question his decision and tickle him for being silly. 


By now, you will have had at least one senior citizen pause to observe you with your children, and give you an admiring smile.  They may even compliment you.


See, so far, you’re really having fun.  But kids can overdo things, and they may get TOO silly.  So what happens next requires some research into the voluminous episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”  Make a prim and proper face, and begin talking in a shrill British accent (and, you Moms who wear glasses must slide them down your nose).  “Serious.  We must be serious.  No laughter, do you hear me?  No laughter whatsoever. Withdraw that smile from your face immediately, please.”  They will, of course, be completely unable to comply…but the act of at least pretending to be serious will take up enough of their attention that they’re no longer being rowdy, and they’re listening to you.


Checkout time, depending on what kind of store you frequent, can be the best part of any grocery run.  Our grocery store recently introduced self-scanning checkout lanes.  This is great for kids, because once you teach them what a UPC code looks like, they’ll do all the work for you.  It fascinates them.  It’s also entertaining because the machine will say things like “Move your…bananas” and it’s fun to take turns mimicking the machine.  You might also try scanning a child, or your purse, and wondering why it doesn’t work.  Kids will also like helping you bag the groceries, but you need to exercise oversight so the bread your son spent the whole grocery trip protecting is not utterly crushed by two boxes of Purple Yerple yogurt.  The best news about automatic checkout is the kids are so busy being fascinated by the technology they completely forget to beg you for bubble gum and peanut butter cups lining the checkout aisles.


In the event that your checkout lanes are still operated by people, explain to the cashier matter-of-factly that your son is the Cart Captain, and nothing can pass in or out of the cart without his permission.  Usually even the surliest of cashiers will think this is funny, and will play along.  (In cases where the cashier won’t, ask permission yourself.)  There’s still that moment at the end of the ride where they beg for candy and other inexplicable items placed inside the aisles for exactly that reason.  Be unbudge-able in your refusal, but grant them the ability to have a Purple Yerple Yogurt when you get home. 


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