Grocery shopping is such a chore. I really don’t like it but it has to be done – and it has to be done regularly.  So finding a system or tips that help with this necessity obviously makes life easier!


Last week I shared how I write up my shopping list – and that certainly helps, but it also helps to have helpers.  Many hands make light work.


When my kids were little I was in a parenting Q & A and a mum asked how to take her kids to the grocery store.  The answer was – don’t.  The older mum went on to say that in this day and age when grocery stores are open all hours that we don’t have to take our kids to the store – we can do the grocery shopping in the evening when Dad can be home with the kids.  To be honest, this answer annoyed me!  Not only did I live in a remote place in Australia where the grocery store was not open all hours, my husband was also rarely home in the evenings as he worked away from home.  There had to be a better way.


Hearing this, and reacting in the way I did, made me be very intentional about grocery shopping.  Initially it was about necessity – the shopping had to be done, and I had to have my kids with me.  But I quickly saw that this was a great time of training.


Training stages:

1–Baby and Toddler – at this stage the children were learning to sit quietly.  I kept them in the trolley until they were consistent with holding onto the side of the trolley.  By keeping them in the trolley I could talk to them and keep them engaged. Even though grocery shopping isn’t a fun activity, by engaging with my kids it became a family outing.  We had fun doing it – not silly fun of sliding down the isles on the trolley or running up and down the isle with mummy chasing – no, fun because we were together, talking and working.

2–Preschooler – this is the helpful age.  They may be learning to speak with an inside voice, but they have already learnt to stay beside mum and when they can do this they can start being helpful.  This is the stage that adds time to your grocery shopping – but worth it.  The key is engaging your kids in your task.  So when we were grocery shopping they would take things off the shelf and I would put them in the trolley (otherwise the child would throw them into the trolley!)  If at any stage the child became unco-operative, I would put them in the trolley.  I would still engage with them – I would reach for the item, give it to the child and they would place it carefully in the trolley.  By putting them in the trolley I was limiting their movement not shunning them.  The key with training at this stage is talking to your kids – telling them what you are thinking as you make choices – even the automatic choices – you do that for a reason, start telling your kids why.

3–Learning to read – At around 5-6 years old I would start giving a child a isle where they would make all the choices.  They had their own shopping list – and this took time to put together.  But it was generally the same list each week as they became familiar with the isle.  I found the diary/fridge/freezer isle the easiest for them because they were the most familiar with these items.  Their list was made up of images and the number of how many to take.  I would push the trolley and guide them as they matched their list with what was on the shelf.  These days you could take photos with your phone and easily put a list together of images – back when I had kids I used the catalogues.

4–Able to read – once they could read I would give them their list in word form not images.  This was much easier and quicker for me to put together.  Initially they would do the isle with me, and then eventually I would allow them to do the isle with their own shopping trolley by themselves.  I understand that this is dependent on where you live, and how safe you feel with your kids doing things on their own – but at whatever age you let them do this, at some stage they have to be able to be on their own in a grocery store.  For me it was quite a young age.

5–Eventually:  Over the years the kids have become familiar with all of the isles and can therefore complete a whole grocery shop if they need to.


Practical tips

1–Train your children – teaching them to be familiar with the grocery store and the choices you make (see above)

2–Have your children help you unpack the groceries – this is another way for them to be familiar with the brands you use.

3–Have your grocery shopping list written to match the isles in your favourite grocery store – this way it is easy to give an isle or two to a particular child. I write my shopping list on an excel worksheet – and each column is a grocery store isle.  This way I can print off the list, and tear each column into a unique list – which makes it easy to make a child responsible for a particular isle.  My kids have loved the responsibility of having their own trolley.

4–Put in the effort when writing your shopping list to give your kids as much information as you can – if you have a preferred band, size etc then say so.  We review the list orally as we drive to the shop, which gives me an opportunity to ensure they know what they are looking for.  I have found it worthwhile to spend time at home building my shopping list making our time at the store much quicker and more peaceful.

5–Be prepared for them to make choices that you wouldn’t.  I tell them what my choice would have been and why but I rarely make them go back and do it over.  I want to give them the responsibility and that includes them making good and bad choices.  I also want to get out of there quickly so if it was a reasonable choice I let it go for this time, next time I’d remind them of a better choice and see how they go.  I think I may have spent say $20 extra in a year but it has all been worth it in terms of training my children to do the grocery shop.

6–Give them permission to make choices that are not on the list.  Eventually, when my kids were older teens, and had proven that they could shop responsibly, I would allow them to make purchases that were not on the list – they may see a sale item that we use all the time, or they may remember that we were out of a particular item.

7–Shop early so the shop isn’t overcrowded and the children don’t get overwhelmed or lost in a crowd. The kids would find me when they were done, and we would all line up at the same checkout.  Remember – we live in a small town so this was do-able for us – I encourage you to think this through and find a way that will work for you in your location.

8–At some stage you need to help them pay for the grocery shop as well.  I’m not talking about them footing the bill but for you to give them your money (cash or card) and help them learn how to pay for grocery shopping.  The added bonus to this is that they start to see how much money it costs to actually eat and be clean!


My kids can now go into the grocery store and not only buy a few quick items to fill in a gap, but they can do the whole family grocery shop if and when need be.  It is definitely a life skill I am pleased that we persevered with.



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