It is almost a guarantee that a trip to the supermarket with kids will end in a screaming, crying, feet stamping tantrum; and the kids tend to behave less than desirable too.
As a mum, I go out of my way to avoid grocery shopping with my kids, but if I do need to make a trip to the shop with my ankle biters in toe, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make the trip a little less stressful:
1. Make a list.
A list helps ensure you get everything you need and only what you need. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t go in the trolley – this applies to impulse items that might catch your eye in a moment of frazzled weakness and sets the ground rules for kids and helps defuse pester power before it attacks.
2. Read product labels at home.
If you are trying to make health conscious purchases (which I hope you are), you will not have time to read all those nutrition labels in store, so read them at home. That is, use a food label scanner like Bupa’s Food Switch (it’s free!) to work your way through the pantry, fridge and freezer to firstly help you find out if the product you have are a good choice, to suggest other products which are healthier, and allow you to compile your shopping list of these healthier options.
3. Plan your route.
Just like your shopping list, planning your route through the shop is a fundamental part of the game plan. Know how to get in and out of the shop as easily as possible. Direct routes to different products are not always the best plan as supermarkets love to lay a minefield of impulse items and junk food in your path. Also get to know which are the 'confectionary free' checkout (or request them) at your local store. Many stores also now have self-serve option which seem to have fewer impulse items and have a bit of a novelty factor for kids. Letting them scan the items at the checkout might just be the incentive they need to behave.
4. Allow enough time.
If shopping with kids isn't stressful enough, being rushed for time is a recipe for disaster. Make sure you have enough time to not only get the things you need, but also for the kids to dawdle and be distracted by several shiny items. Don’t forget to anticipate checkout congestion as the 14 year old check out chick tries to figure out if it’s a cucumber or zucchini.
5. Feed them first.
Shopping on an empty stomach is not a good plan for anyone. It leads to impulse buying and purchasing less healthy items. Research has shown that even adults seem to ditch their rational shopping habits when they are hungry, so avoid trying to deal with an irrational toddler by feeding them before you hit the store.
6. Give them jobs.
Kids love to help and with a little patience they are more than capable. Make sure the job is age appropriate and take the opportunity to engage them with choosing foods (from the list) and making healthy choices. Young children can help by holding bags open while you fill them with fruit and vegetables (ask them to help you count them as you go), by placing items into the trolley for you, and making simple choices like spiral or shell pasta. They can also hold the shopping list and help you navigate your way around the store. Older children can also help with these jobs and it’s a great opportunity to talk to your kids about marketing tactics, ask them “why do you think that breakfast cereal has prizes inside?”
7. Don’t bribe them (unless it’s the reward of placing a few coins in a charity collection tin or scanning the items at the self serve).
Bribing children with food or toys sets you up for tantrums down the track. Promising a treat of whatever kind may work in the short term but they will come to expect it and when you don’t deliver you can expect a tantrum won’t be far behind.
8. Find games to play.
Children get bored easily so try to find ways to keep them busy. I am not a fan of letting children use ipads or phones to relieve boredom (although if it comes to that…), so try games like ‘I spy’ or given them their own list of items to collect or try to find, for example, they might need to find: a fire exit, 5 different green vegetables, 3 things in aisle 8, etc.
9. Pack your patients.
Just because the checkout chick doesn’t know the difference between a cucumber and a zucchini, or that you are in a rush, or that your kids are driving you insane, doesn’t mean she is incompetent. Take a breath, or three, and remember you are remodelling appropriate behaviour to your children so demonstrate a little patience – it really will make things run a whole lot smoother.
10. Accept that being a parent is stressful.
Make no mistake this is not a guide to make shopping with kids enjoyable, just bearable – good luck
If you've managed to survive shopping with kids but still aren't sure what should be going in the trolley or in the kids lunchboxes, get yourself a copy of The Healthy Lunchbox Guide. This 30+ page e-book tells you everything you need to know to navigate the supermarket, read labels, understand health claims and make healthy choices. You will also learn exactly what children should be eating everyday, how to portion a healthy lunchbox and how to pack a lunchbox to ensure food safety.
Nikki is a PhD qualified Nutritionist and an expert in children's eating.