Shopping with Children

From Lisa Barnes

My son enjoys going to the grocery store and always has. In the beginning he travelled up the aisles with me in an infant carrier. Later he moved to the cart. And now he walks and even pushes his own cart at some stores.

My daughter being 15 months old does not enjoy the store. Or maybe she enjoys it too much. If given the opportunity she will race through the store, looking back at me laughing and shaking her head no while I ask her to take my hand. If she’s in the cart it’s a constant opening of new foods as she screams and eats her way through the store. (bananas, mini bagels, cereal, cheese sticks, dried fruit, etc).

I seem to frequent three grocery stores in addition to farmer’s markets. It’s hard to avoid this multiple store dilemma. I hear this from other moms too. There’s Trader Joe’s for good buys on cereals, crackers, organic sunflower butter, nuts, dried fruits, and some Niman Ranch meats. Then there’s Whole Foods for produce, fish, bulk flours and grains, cheeses, whole wheat fig bars (we’re all addicted) and all else we’re in the mood for. Then finally there’s Mollie Stone’s for convenience items and “oops! I forgot to get,” since it’s right down the street. My children like the stores for other various reasons…

Mollie Stone’s has the mini shopping carts. Since my son was 3, he’d enthusiastically ask on the way to the store “can I push the little cart?!” Who could say “no”? He goes in and gets it himself, says hello to the baggers and checkers and joins me in the produce section. It’s cute. Of course I think this because I’m his mom. Sometimes the other shoppers aren’t as amused. At first he was not great about staying on one side of the aisle and letting people pass him (acting like a race car in the final lap). Now he is 4 and is a pretty experienced cart driver.

Whole Foods is all about tasting everything. They usually have a variety of samples which both kids must have. Each portion must be the same size as well. For example if my son thinks the pear slice given to his sister is a millimeter larger than his he says “How come I got the small piece? I’m bigger than she is.” Then there’s the cheese department. One day the “cheese man” (as my son refers to him) asked him what kind of sample he would like “string or fancy pants?” My son replied loudly “fancy pants!” To get my son and daughter to stop eating the lovely aged cheddar samples, I of course bought some and said “look we’ll eat more at home.” This little taste cost about $18.

Trader Joe’s is about the balloons for my daughter. She usually gets one and then somehow unties it before we get to the car, and says “bye bye” as it fades away in the sky. My son likes the proximity of Trader Joe’s to the pet store, which can be visited if we have a good shopping trip.

Finally the easiest and most fun place to shop is the farmer’s market. If only the farmer’s market sold paper towels and wine — maybe I could eliminate one of the grocery stores. It’s so much more pleasant to shop outdoors, smell and taste all the lovely produce and do it at my own pace. Although the rainy season is approaching.

Needless to say it’s sometimes difficult to take children to the store (and keep your sanity). Rarely do I take both kids on a large shopping trip. I salute those moms with one child riding in the seat, one riding in the cart and a third strapped to their person. I don’t know how you do it. Here are a few tips when shopping with children:

  • Be mindful of time. Your child is more likely to melt down if she is tired.
  • Do not shop on an empty stomach. You and your children will want to eat (and buy) everything if you are hungry.
  • Try to enlist their help. Children will be more focused on getting the job done if they’re helping and contributing.
  • Make up games. If your child is restless try to ask him questions about what he sees. Have him count, identify colors, shapes and foods.
  • Bring distractions such as a favorite toy she can play with while riding in the cart.
  • Keep little ones seated. Accidents happen when children are left unattended or allowed to stand in the cart.
  • Make a list. Is is easier for you to remember things if you’re being distracted by your children.
  • Give it time and be patient. Tasks with children always take longer.

See you in the check-out line!

Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook and lives in Sausalito, California.
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