Practical tips for any age so you don’t lose your cool
When you’re a Solo Mom, the kids must tag along, regardless of the errand—whether it’s going to the bank, the pharmacy, or even the vet. But of all the places you take your children, the grocery store is often the worst. It’s the site of meltdowns, their endless begging—and, sometimes, your yelling.
It doesn’t have to be that way. This dreaded chore is manageable and can even be a bit fun. As you go through the store, take advantage of the opportunities to engage your children (at every age), educating them on everything from food and health to responsibility and money.
You can revamp your grocery-store experience with these helpful tips. No more waiting until you are almost out of food—put the kids in the car, grab your reusable bags and jackets (it’s cold in grocery stores!), and discuss your new plan as you head to the store. It won’t be so bad. I promise.
Make a grocery list. I mean it—make a list. Going into a grocery store without a list is a recipe for disaster, regardless of your children’s ages. Thinking and planning on the spot will make your trip take longer, allowing more time for your children to beg and making you more likely to lose your temper. Whether it’s jotting down a few things on paper before you walk out the door or planning your meals and purchases for the week, entering the store with a list is the fastest, easiest, and least stressful way to get through the aisles.
Older babies and toddlers
BYOF (bring your own food), ladies. At this age, it’s easiest to keep your children occupied and seated in the cart if they have food of their own.
For babies who have begun teething, these fresh food feeders work wonders. Purchase a few, and fill them with your baby’s favorite frozen fruit. Once your child is secure in the cart, he can begin to suck on the bag. The cold will feel good on his gums, and the sweetness of the fruit will keep him content and occupied.
If you have a toddler, see if your grocery store has a basket of free snacks for children. If not, bring your own. Before you leave for the store, show your child a selection of “special treats,” and let her select a few. Depending on your child’s personality, you can either regularly hand her small pieces of treats as a reward for good behavior or simply give her enough food to keep her occupied.
As your children are eating, talk to them. Use this time together to both teach and engage in conversation. For babies who are not yet able to speak, show and name the different foods as you are placing them in the cart. You can talk about the food’s color, how it’s grown, or even what you plan to make. As children begin to talk, continue to educate them on each food’s name and health benefits, how it’s used, and more. This is also a great time to discuss general nutrition. While you are teaching, ask them questions: Can they name the food? Do they know what animal makes milk? Are strawberries considered a fruit or a vegetable? These conversations will help them practice their communication skills.
It’s time to help mom! By this age, your kids are either walking through the store or riding on the cart, so why not have them help? Depending on your children’s personalities and behavior, you can engage them in numerous ways during shopping. If they behave, reward them with something they enjoy, such as extra time at the playground or playing a game and/or reading a book with you at home.
Find and seek. As you walk into each aisle, ask your children to help you find items on your list. Give them one or two items and a hint as to the location. Once they’ve located and selected the food, they must bring it back to your cart. While they are hunting for their item, you can do the rest of your shopping for that aisle.
Test their memory. If you have a small list, ask them to help you memorize all or a portion of it. Recite the items during the car ride, and hide the actual list in your bag. Once in the store, see if you can remember every item on your list, then check your cart against your actual list before you check out.
Put them in charge. Once they become confident readers, ask them to read the list to you, checking off items as they are put in the cart or circling anything you cannot find. Make sure they understand that being in charge comes with responsibilities—they aren’t allowed to sneak items onto the list!
Plan a meal, then shop. Plan in advance by asking them to choose a meal for one night of the week, then ask them to help you make a separate list of the ingredients. This will become their list, and you can add their favorite snacks or drinks as well. As you walk through the store together, they will be responsible for making sure everything on their list is placed in the cart.
Preteens and teens
Let them shop on their own. They are begging for more responsibility at home, so let them earn your trust at the grocery store by having them shop on their own. Hand them half of your list and their own cart, and ask them to meet you in specific places at certain times. As they prove themselves, they can shop for longer on their own.
Have them help you with meal planning and the grocery list. For added responsibility, they can select at least one meal for the week, write down the ingredients, check the pantry and fridge for what you may already have, and then make their own shopping list. Once they get to the store, they are responsible for finding all the ingredients for that meal. With their list and their cart, they will do their own shopping and meet you near the cash registers. Be clear about what you expect. Should everything be organic? Can they pick a treat for themselves? Is there a certain brand you prefer?
Let them purchase the food. If you trust them with money or would like to teach them about money, they can also purchase the food in their cart. Provide them with a budget, a certain amount of cash, and a calculator. Task them with the responsibility to determine tax and confirm they can afford everything in their cart. Wait for them at checkout, and if they have more in their cart than they can afford, either provide extra cash or help them determine which items must be placed back on the store shelves.
Once your children are teenagers, they either can be left home alone or sent to the store by themselves. If you’ve prepared them as they’ve grown, they will be excellent food shoppers.
Teaching your children about food, providing them with increased responsibilities, and helping them learn how to stick to a budget will benefit you in the short term and your kids in the long term.
Do you have any more strategies to share?
ESME’s Gia Miller is a Solo Mom to a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. She writes about health and wellness, parenting, divorce, food, and general lifestyle. Her work has been featured in online publications including the Washington Post, Healthline, Paste, Headspace, and more.
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