How to Shop for Groceries with Kids in Tow

I NEVER get to go grocery shopping with less than 2 children tagging along.  It’s usually 3 or 4 and the oldest is still 2 years old.

Have you ever been grocery shopping with 4 children under the age of 3?  I know moms that whine about taking a mere two kids to the store.  Are you one of those moms?

If going grocery shopping with 2 kids puts you on edge, IT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.

From the moment I decide I’m going shopping until everyone is seat belted in the van takes me at most 20 minutes.  Generally speaking I’m out the door in about 13 minutes. 

Grocery shopping is always a last minute decision around here.  This means I don’t get the best deals all the time, but I’m much less stressed about it because the children are cooperating.

The key:  Recognize when the *perfect moment* arrives.  For me that time is almost always between 8:30 and 9:15am.  The earlier, the better. 

When that moment arrives I know I have to get out the door FAST.  Today I had 2 toddlers and an infant and we were out the door in 8 minutes flat. *Pat self on shoulder*

Are you thinking, “BUT THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE!!”

Here is how I do it.  If I mess these steps up there will always be a fit at the store.

  • Trips to the bathroom:  Everyone goes, including ME!  This isn’t optional.  Even the 6 month old gets put on the potty before we leave.  This takes up about half of the time it takes to get out the door.
  • Shoes and Snacks.  Once the kids are about 24 months old they can put on their own shoes.  While they work on that I make sure to grab one easy-to-share snack such as cheesy crackers or graham crackers and either a pack of Tic-Tacs to share or a lolly-pop for each toddler.  I know that those are considered sugary snacks but since we only go grocery shopping about once a week I don’t worry about it.  I’ve also cleared these snacks with the parents.  While grabbing the snacks I can make sure the kids are getting the shoes on the right foot.
  • Grab a soda for me!
  • Sweatshirts: These go on quickly and most of the kids can do it on their own.  There’s a simple technique I learned from our childcare provider several years ago.  Even an 18 month old can do it on his own with this easy easy trick.  I’ll have to show you that later though since my demonstrators are all napping right now.

*I do not EVER put a child in a car seat with a coat on, even if it is 15 degrees outside.  Car seat straps cannot be tightened properly if your child has a coat on.  I grab the coats if it’s super cold to put on them when they get out of the van, but generally I just have blankets to tuck around them once they’re strapped in on really cold days.   

  • Car seats: the baby in her infant seat goes first and is usually done before the toddlers are done getting their shoes on.  I load from the rear forward.  My 2 year old can climb into her seat and get the straps around her shoulders by herself.  This leaves me with getting the one or 2 toddlers strapped into the back seat. I find it’s much easier to just climb in and stand in the middle and strap all 3 kids in from one location rather than stretching myself over seats to try and reach.  I’m fairly skinny so this is done quite easily.  The infant goes in last because her infant seat has to be put in manually with the seat belt.  I make sure it’s perfect so this takes about 60 seconds.
  • Buckle myself in and enjoy the ride!


The grocery shopping itself usually goes smoothly.  The Tic-Tacs or lollypops provide some distraction and the crackers can help, too. 

You may notice I mentioned nothing about drinks or a bottle for the children.  I do not bring these.  Grocery shopping doesn’t take more than an hour and no child is going to die of thirst in one hour and the “power struggle” some kids get into about their cups can’t happen if the cup is left at home.  Aaaaaaaannndd they can’t throw it on the floor, have it get all germy, then whine until you want to scream when you don’t give it back because it’s now gross and has to be washed.

And giving a baby a bottle while shopping slows down the whole process so just don’t go if your child is going to need to be fed while you’re gone.

No Drinks.  Trust me. 

If one child is behaving super well I will let him or her walk along with the cart but at the first sign of toddler-driven-need-to-touch-everything they go back in the cart. I give one warning when we’re home but at the store there is no warning.  Consequences are immediate. However, because I am so consistent with them, the children know the boundaries and don’t generally give me any grief about being put back in the cart.

And I ALWAYS go to the store that has double toddler seats—even if it means going out of my way to get there.  It’s worth it.  I don’t like the car carts—they cause more fighting than the regular carts do.

Always engage and interact with the all the kids. 

Me:  “Should we buy 5 bananas or 6?”

Toddler: “I want 3!”

Me: “Alright, 3 bananas for you and 1 for me!” [leaning over infant] “You’d like some bananas too, I’ll bet”.

Toddler: “I want gapes!! “  What toddler actually puts the “r” in grapes??

Me: “The green ones are cheaper so let’s get those this week.”

Down another isle . . .

Me: “Ooooh! Noodles are on sale!  Do you want this box or this one?”

Toddler: “Those ones!” [pointing to an entirely different box]

Me: “Nope, that wasn’t an option, so we’ll get these.” [placing the box in my left hand in the cart]

You get the point.

Checkout quickly but let the kids help unload the cart if they can.  Just make sure they don’t reach for the eggs or milk!!

I put the groceries in the car then put the children in if they are still holding on to their sanity.  If things have deteriorated, then THEY go in the seats first and the food leaves the cart last.

  • On the way home: DRINK MOUNTAIN DEW.  This is my reward to myself and I savor each and every sip. 

I try and talk to the kids on the way home, asking them questions, pointing out things I can see, etc. to keep them alert.  If I didn’t have to resort to the crackers at the store I give them some in the car.  Car seat snoozing really messes up my nap schedule so I do my best to keep the kids awake.

And I’ve been known to throw a cracker or lollypop (unwrapped!) to the backseat when sitting at a red light. 

In fact, I did that this morning. =D

So here is a run-down:

DON’T go if children are due for a nap within 90 minutes.  You’re inviting a tantrum if you do.

DON’T bring drinks

DON’T bring diapers—they just take up space and if your child just went, you should be FINE.

DON’T wear coats

DO bring one or two easy-to-share snacks

DO have everyone go to the bathroom before you walk out the door

DO praise good behavior

DO let children make choices and respect the reasonable ones

DO thank them for their help, no matter how little, when you get home. 


If the trip was a complete and utter disaster, just breathe.  You made it home alive, right?


Or did you leave your wallet on the counter??




One thought on “How to Shop for Groceries with Kids in Tow

  1. Janet Harkness

    Yeah… you so need to write a book one of these days… I’ll pre-order it for all my mommy friends and myself if I ever get to have kids. And if I ever do, know that I’ll be requesting to add you to my speed dial… 🙂 Great post!!


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