Summer Shopping Survival! Top Tactics for Getting Your Groceries with Kids in Tow…

We’re five weeks into the 12 week summer break and reality has hit. Avoidance is over. I absolutely have to shop for food and take both kids with me on a pretty regular basis! But it’s ok, I’ve got a plan and if I’m lucky it might even be fun…

When I was living back in he UK internet shopping and click and collect style services were already mainstream. Nearly everyone I knew shopped for groceries online for most of their food needs. All the main supermarket chains had these services, you could still get the in-store deals and delivery was reasonably priced as they competed for customer loyalty. Five years ago the move to the US was bit of shock; no local chain offered internet grocery delivery and any specialty shopping services were very costly. It was back to the old ways for me.

These days there are stores offering collection or delivery and sometimes I do use the former. However, I don’t find that I can get everything we need that way or make use of the best promotions and I’m subject to the excess of plastic packaging most markets still adore. So over the years I’ve developed ways of grocery shopping with (and without when possible) my oldest who generally loathes the experience and with my youngest who’s enthusiasm can cause just as much trouble! Sometimes it just a case of survival but often we can turn it into a fun learning experience. Here’s a few of my best tactics.

Pick Your Poison – Time, Place and Battles

I tend to shop in at least two different stores each week; I find I can’t get everything we want from one place. When I’m taking the boys with me I’ll compromise what we really need with where it will be easiest to deal with them on that day. For a large regular shop I’ll try and go early when it is quiet to Trader Joe’s which I know like the back of my hand, if we don’t need too much food (and if I might need coffee to deal) I’ll head to Target where I don’t mind the children racing around a little. I always try to avoid peak times with kids in tow, it would just be too chaotic for me.

Make a List …or Three!

When organized I try to make a game of the shopping. I write out my own shopping list in rough order of the route we take around the store and then make a list for each child I’m taking with me. Their lists will have five or six items of foods that they know and probably like, in the order we are likely to discover them and differentiated by age. That’s truly not as flash as it sounds!


The three year old gets a list with pictures – rough doodles that tell him what the words mean. This has been fantastic when working on his (delayed) speech and we the use the list at home for pretend play and extended learning and fun.

The eight year old gets a words only list. If we are somewhere small like Trader Joe’s that we know well and where a lot of the staff know us, I’ll let him go around the store on his own checking in with me after each find. He loves the independence. (But you have decided what you feel comfortable with for your children.) It’s been a real shopping game-changer for us. He can also think about what things cost and which items are essential and which are luxuries.

Clever Carts

What America is ace for in the shopping area is carts! The trolley, to us Brits, comes in all shapes and sizes over here. It’s a positive smorgasbord of wheeled, hauling delights. The aforementioned list game is most enjoyed when we use the kid sized carts so they can push their own goods around. Some shops even have pre schooler and big kid sizes. At Whole Foods they love the wheeled baskets with telescopic handles best – although I admit chaos normal reigns by the end of the shop, it’s a short shop only activity for me!

When I’ve not made lists for the kids and just want to get the job over with I head somewhere like Jewel or Mariano’s which have the car and emergency vehicle shaped carts. I can load the littlest up, ply him with a slick supply of snacks and whiz him through the store – probably making blush worthy car noises on the way. These are also great if you have two little kids – as most have two seats and steering wheels.  I believe Jewel even has a cart with a car at the front and a video screen in it!

Incentivize the Trip

I’m totally not beneath bribing my way through a shop on certain days. If we’re at Target a tour of the toy department and dollar section are always last on the agenda. That way I can keep reminding what they’ll miss out on if they can’t help me with what we need to do. Elsewhere I’ll make the frozen foods section last and the treat the chance to choose this week’s ice cream or dessert. This seems to be a real honor and ensures I have something for my sanity afterwards!

Don’t be fooled, we do sometimes go home without the prize. It’s not always roses when shopping with my kids. There’s good reason I try and go without them during the school term!


No doubt these tactics will get old at some point though and I’ll need to come up with something new. Please help! What are your best shopping survival tactics? I’ll try all sorts…

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