The “Kids and…” Series: Grocery Stores

A reminder again of the inspiration article:

The one thing I will take T.Z. Granderson to task on regarding his article’s grocery store focus is the fact that he refers to a grocery store in general as an adult-oriented environment. Um, really?! Has Granderson ever noticed that brand and store advertising alike – print, television, direct mail postcards, cart placards, and in-store video at check stands for goodness sakes – mostly targets children so they steer their parents into taking them to the grocery store to get the latest and greatest snack or breakfast food? Additionally, I’m unsure what grocery store Granderson’s shopping in exactly that is adult-oriented, but I can assure you the ones we frequent are most definitely kid-friendly (stickers at checkout; free balloons; letting kids help; and I’ve even seen preschool classes on field trips at my local Trader Joe’s, yay TJs!) and/or kid-targeted (again, advertising).

So having said that, I’ll move on… because it’s time to get some groceries with the kiddos, and I don’t have a lot of time (ha).

Parents, can you remember what it was like being able to go into a grocery store, get all the things you planned to buy in a timely and efficient manner, get out, get home, and never feel afterward as if you’d just gone into battle? Yeah, me neither. However, while shopping with kids in tow isn’t always (ever?) timely or efficient, there are definitely ways to make the experience much more tolerable and perhaps even pleasant, not just for you and your kids but for the strangers around you, too. I’ll share below, in order, the process T and I go through whenever we’ve managed to have a most excellent grocery store outing.

First, there’s the front-loading portion of the program before we even leave to go to the store. That song and dance goes a little like this:

Me: “T, today we have a few things to go get at the grocery store.”

T: “Are we going to the green store (Fresh and Easy) or the red (Trader Joe’s)?”

Me: (here I either tell him which one we absolutely need to go to, or if it doesn’t matter, I allow him to choose; I also tell him when we will be going, before or after our scheduled activity during the morning.)

Before leaving for the store, I tell T what is on our list and ask if there’s anything he’d like to add from a short list of pre-approved choices. For example a selection of: favorite juice boxes; type of cereal if we’re close to empty; a particular fruit or two; and flavors of yogurt. I also ask him to please grab one or two small toys that he can hold in his hands if he winds up riding in the cart to play with during the shop, toys like hot wheels, action figures, or take-along trains (in other words, things I can stash in my bag easily when he decide he no longer wants to hold them). He grabs his toys, we get in the car, and we’re off to the market.

Next, there’s the moment we pull into the parking lot; I’ll call this front-loading, part deux.

Me: “OK, T, I have a short list of things here on my phone that we need to get. Are you going to help me by carrying a basket or riding in the cart?”

T: “Basket.”

While T usually begins by holding a basket during the shop, he gets tired because it gets heavy after one bag of lettuce, and that’s OK. He either hands off the goods to me in the cart and we ditch the basket or – and I just learned this the other day – most hand-baskets fit on the lower shelf underneath the cart. So rather than completely ditch the basket only to have to find another later on mid-shop, we can store it until he wants it back. Hooray for small victories!

Me: “OK, now please remember, we have a list. You have already told me a few things at home that you want to look for, so we’ll try to find those for you today, OK?”

T: “Yes.”

Then we head into the store. Before I set out, I’ve done my best to organize the shopping list around the order of the store we’re shopping at that day. I know, but hey, it’s the one thing I’ve managed to hold onto from the quick, efficient shopping mindset of yesteryear, OK?! And this also makes it easier for me to read off items to T as we complete the shop.

Tick, tick, tick… seriously, we’re chugging along; T is feeling useful, I’m sticking to my list, and we’re actually making the most of the outing together! Go team!

But of course, there will be the snags that always come up…

“Mom, can I get a sample?” So we stop, I look it over, offer it to T, and it then can go one of two ways: He gobbles it up, I purchase said item, we get it home, and he never eats it again; or, he tries it, and I make sure we are very close to a trash can for the spit-out. But, hey, he tries it! We know how awesome it is T will try most any food, and we definitely count that as a win.

“Hey, what are these?!” He runs off and/or goes to grab a glass jar of something at the bottom of some sort of stacked item on a display. Yeah, well, he is just three and there’s that lack of any sort of impulse control that can’t be helped. Just the same, not an excuse and we still always will stop, redirect, and instruct that it’s not OK to run off, grab stuff, etc. – and not just at a store. The reason we usually give T in this sort of situation has more to do with his safety/ it being dangerous versus just a plain-ol’ no. We discovered over time that it’s way more effective to be semi-reasonable with the nay-saying than to just be the parents screaming no, no, no all the way through the grocery store, or anywhere else for that matter.

“Let’s get some more yogurt pops (or whatever it is he totally loves but didn’t add to the list because we have a few hundred of those at home already and I already both showed and told him this)!!!!” My favorite battle-cry, and yours, too, I’m sure. Strangely though, have you noticed this one usually comes up right toward the end of the outing? Yeah, me, too. I now know this means, wrap it up in two and two, Mom. So I do my best to distract and divert to something back to the list, even if it’s halfway around the store and back again. Or honestly, if there’s stuff left on the list I can seriously just forget about and save for next time, we go check out right then and there. T usually is fairly unhappy about not getting that last thing, but we can usually wiggle out of this one since the yogurt pops (and cereals, and juice boxes) are right around the corner from the check-out area, making for an easier getaway.

Finally, we make it to the finish line: check out. T gets some stickers for smiling and saying thank you and/or for handing a couple of items to the checker, and I can rest easy knowing that we all can eat for another few days until we get to do this all over again. Mission accomplished, perhaps not in short order, but accomplished nonetheless for the time being, and we’re usually no worse for the wear – nor are the other shoppers who happened to accompany us on our outing either.

To recap: front-load; front-load; engage and involve; encourage helping, usefulness, and teamwork; redirect and refocus as necessary; hope for bonus praise from outsiders (stickers from checkers or just a kind word from another shopper in the crowd can make the entire experience worth it; I positively acknowledged another parent-and-preschooler team today during my shop as a matter of fact); and breathe a sigh of relief once you get everything and everyone back home and put away. Just don’t put the kids in the fridge and the groceries in the toy box.

Tomorrow, let’s get ready to rumble… er, I mean, travel.