Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Staying Organized and Under Budget: Shopping with Kids

A few weeks ago, I shared how I keep up with my menu plan and shopping list. And last week, I gave a beginner tutorial for clipping coupons. This week, I want to share how that plan keeps me sane at the grocery store... while shopping with kids. Yes, you can grocery shop with your children. I've had many strangers come up to me in the grocery store to tell me that they can't shop with their kids. Most of them have come up to me (conveniently) while one of the boys is throwing something out of the cart or unhappy. If you thought my kids were perfect... OK, I'll stop laughing now.

Why would I be crazy enough to take two boys to the grocery store(s), when I could get it done faster without them and without any fits? In my perspective, that wouldn't do any of us any good. Granted, I do try to sneak in a late-night grocery shopping trip, after hubby and I have put them to bed. That way, I can roam the aisles in a little quiet. However, there are a couple of reasons that I want to take them with me:
  1. I want to go shopping when I need to go shopping, rather than trying to find someone to watch the kids. Hubby often works late or is "on call," so I need to be able to do my grocery shopping around my schedule. 
  2. My kids need to learn how to act in a grocery store. It's not a playground, and they need to let others shop in peace.
  3. It's a wonderful learning opportunity for them... all the colors in the produce department... all the signs with numbers!
I am learning that there are things that I can do to reduce meltdowns and tantrums. Here's what has worked for me.

I do have one caviat. Just so you don't think I'm superwoman, I did not start this until my youngest was down to just a morning and afternoon nap. Things got much easier, when there was only one nap involved; but it's do-able with two naps. When I had a newborn, we did take advantage of Lowes Foods to Go, which is a personal shopping service offered by the grocery store. This kept me sane in those first few weeks.

My Plan

Start small. Start with one or two stores, at first. If you have a shopping plan, you won't spend needless time browsing the aisles. Instead, you'll be able to pick up the few items on your list and check out. As they get the idea and you get more confident, you can add more stores. 

Get them on board. When I do my bi-monthly grocery shopping, I give them a couple-day's notice that we are coming up on our "shopping day." My youngest usually asks (while holding up 5 fingers), "Are we going to a lotta stores?" My response, "Yes, honey; and you are going to do great."

While there may be a slight change in plans, I let them know what order we are going to the stores. This is helping to teach them the concept of "beginning, middle, and end." Plus, I make them my little navigators. Regus #1 is 6 years old and is a precious, big helper. I am in awe of this (more in another post). I check in with him frequently on our car ride to figure out "the plan." He loves this! Sometimes, he tries to implement his own "plan." It's cute. If I'm extra patient that day, I'll theoretically walk him through his plan to see if it will work out for us. I'm not sure if he cares whether not it will work out.

Pack good snacks. In the past, I've tried taking special, sugary snacks. However, this just increases our chances for a meltdown. It dawned on me... what foods make me feel good? Fruits, veggies, and yogurt. Sometimes, I'll pack a grain snack (whole wheat crackers or pretzels), but these can also spike blood-sugar levels. . Space out the snacks throughout the shopping trip. We head out right after breakfast, so I know I have an hour or so before my ravenous boys start getting hungry again.

Our typical snack bag. It's a good idea to pack it the before
and store in the fridge, but I'm not always that organized.

Build in a break or two. When Regus #2 was a toddler, he could not handle being in a carseat or shopping cart for too long before getting restless. To alleviate this, I started planning around nearby parks. Yes, it does mean I need to pack a big cooler for my recent purchases. It has worked wonderfully to give them breaks throughout the shopping day. Normally, we do not go out to eat during the week, so I like to treat them to a lunch on our "shopping day."

Cooler is packed and boys are ready to go!

Give them some responsibility. For schoolage children, you can give them some part of the list or an item to find. As I mentioned earlier, Regus #1 has recently turned 6, and he's getting into my couponing. I usually give him a few of my expired ones that he puts in his pocket, like me. I'll let him "help me" find an item on my list. It keeps him distracted from bothering Regus #2 and makes him feel like a big helper. Other shoppers have giggled, hearing him ask me, "Is this a good price, Mommy?" or "Is this on sale?"

Be flexible. Be willing to shift the plan, if day isn't going as planned. There have been times when one of the boys was not feeling well all of a sudden. We'll just headed home and finish up another day. It's ok... life happens. I'm learning to find a balance between structure (planned day) and flexibility. The kids do thrive in a routine, but they do enjoy it when Mommy mixes things up a bit.

Smile. I figured this one out when I had to take a flight by myself when the boys were 1 and 3. Another blogger (wish I could remember who it was!!) said the best thing to when you have kids is SMILE. It was amazing. I had all sorts for airline personnel and strangers offering their help. Yes, grocery store employees are supposed to treat the customer nicely. Let's make their job easier. The adage really is true, "Treat others the way you want to be treated." By treating others nicely and with patience, it makes their day easier and more apt to help us... especially if we are toting around boys.

Ready to get the "shopping day" started!
(Why do I always tilt my head to the side? Ugh!)

Is it worth the effort?

I've seen the larger families, where the children stay right by their mom or help load things in and out of the cart. Maybe my boys, someday, will stay right beside me the whole day. There is hope, right?

My sanity.  Earlier this month, we completed our "shopping day" before lunch, so it was great to finally have such success. There were NO meltdowns, and I even had some snacks left over! Granted, the following shopping day was not quite as successful. I guess it's true: 2 steps forward, 1 step back.

The budget. When the kids are fed, I don't have to buy quick snacks (empty calories) off the shelf. This helps me stick to my plan and budget! 

The strategy. I do not run all over town for grocery shopping. If I am heading to another part of town, I have to justify it. There has to be 2 or more stores that I can visit to make my gas usage worth while.

Here's the loot. I did stop by the house and unload after the first store,
but this is the rest (Farmers Market, Kroger, Harris Teeter, and BJs).

Do you shop with your kids? What helps you stay focused?


  1. Thanks for stopping by, Julie!! Yes, it's amazing how nice it is to be able to shop ALONE. I have to slow myself down, when I get that chance. Otherwise, I'm back home in 10 minutes... wondering why I had to rush around. Haha! I guess I'm always shopping with kids (in reality or just in my head).

  2. just to clarify - wandering aimlessly ALONE through the store after kids are asleep at home with hubby!

  3. You are braver than I am!  However, if I know my daughter isn't hungry or tired (because if she is it is whine city), and I give my son a task (or my iphone) we can do it.  Since they are a little older now, it has definitely gotten easier.  But honestly, I really enjoy my time wandering aimlessly through Walmart or the grocery store...it helps me decompress!

  4. Wow, my boys are 10 and almost 13 and I still don't like to shop with them.  When I do take them with me, having a specific shopping list is what helps us stay focused!