In this installment in the “Art of Fathering” series, Otter Pass co-founder Jonathan Goudeau shares his secrets for a successful grocery shopping experience with multiple kids—just in time for shopping next week for Thanksgiving.
I like grocery shopping and my wife Jessica doesn’t, so I’ve done it ever we were married. When we had our first baby, she came with me, and it's been a tradition ever since. In eleven years of shopping with kids, I’ve developed some tricks that can minimize short tempers even if you have a long list. The girls and I go to the grocery store every other Saturday morning and do the bulk of our shopping; we might go back for a quick run in the middle of that time for things like milk, eggs, and bread, but for the most part, we can make it two weeks at a time.
Here are ten things that work for me:
- Prepare your list in advance. Years ago, we found a spreadsheet on the internet and modified it with what our family actually uses on a regular basis. We're sharing it with you here.* I organized each of the sections based on the grocery store aisles (produce in one section, dairy in another, for example) so that I can work through my list easily when I’m there. Jessica does the meal planning, so she writes down what we need for two weeks of meals and I incorporate her list into my spreadsheet. I also go through the house and check staples like toilet paper, paper towels, light bulbs, olive oil, honey, etc. before we go. In addition to our list, I also grab our reusable grocery bags and plenty of snacks and activities for the girls before we leave the house. The key to a good grocery run is preparation.
- There is no shame in using electronics. Once we’re in the store, I’m happy to give my girls some electronics time. Our goal is just for them to want to be there, so if having a little extra iPad or Kindle time helps, then let them enjoy with no shame.
- Take sweatshirts or hoodies. Even in the summer, the produce and dairy sections are cold. Bring everyone something to keep them warm and they’re less likely to fuss.
- Snacks are key. You’re surrounded by food and little ones will be dying to eat it. Make sure you pack good snacks from home in advance so they don’t start begging for everything they see. And if their blood sugar doesn’t get too low, they’re more likely to have good attitudes. We usually have trail mix with nuts or granola bars with some protein to help them have the stamina they need for a long grocery run.
- Pace yourselves. Don’t give them everything at once. We start with electronics because those last the longest. About a quarter of the way through the store, I pull out snacks. We find markers and the girls know them, so when we get to the cereal aisle, they know it’s time for the first snack. After another quarter of the store, I pull out another activity, especially if they’re getting tired of their electronics. One of the reasons I designed the Bag Insert for dads was for grocery trips like this when space is at a premium; I fill mine with coloring books, stickers, notebooks, and colored pencils and the girls get to color halfway through the store. At the three-quarter mark, they get their last snack, and if everything goes well, they get to pick out a treat that they can enjoy at home. We usually get a donut or two to share. As with electronics, there’s no shame in a little extra sugar on grocery days—in fact, it’s that feel that they’re getting away with something that makes it extra fun.
- Bring big carabiner clips. I love these clips for sticking things on the outside of the grocery cart. I use them for our renewable bags but also the bag with the kids’ activities. That saves room in the cart for groceries and children with tired feet.
- “Walk with Purpose.” This is a saying at our girls’ elementary school and we’ve started using it around the house. A big grocery run is not the time to meander; samples are great for motivating kids and maybe trying something out occasionally, but you’re not going to get far if you’re running all over the store, giving in to every whiny request, and trying to figure out on the fly what kind of dressing you want. If you go through with a plan and stick to it, you’ll have a more successful trip.
- Avoid backtracking. This will take some effort, but if you can go from one side of the store to the other, it makes the process much more efficient for everyone. If you do forget something, write it down and go back one time and in order so that you’re not running all over the store repeatedly.
- Keep trying—a good grocery routine takes time for you and the kids. Successful grocery shopping is not something that will happen overnight for many kids. It takes time to develop your process and help them know what to expect. If you have small kids and you know they can’t handle more than an hour out, go within that time frame—maybe you’re going every five days for a while, or just taking one kid at a time. Get to know your local store well so that you can organize your list easily. Know that there will be meltdowns and that’s OK—big feelings are not always easy to control. If you keep your cool, your kids will learn that even things that take some effort, like grocery shopping, can be fun.
- Use the grocery store as an opportunity to connect with your kids. I had an epiphany a few years ago in line for a ride at Disney World that has also changed the way I view things like grocery shopping or sitting in a waiting room for the doctor. If you use that forced time doing something that doesn’t seem as fun as a chance to connect, it can change your attitude as well as your kids’. For me, that means asking the girls to pause in their electronics time to choose cereal, for example, or to help me unload the cart into the car. It also means just taking one kid at a time sometimes and spending time talking while we walk. I’ve found my kids really love the sense that they’re helping out our family and that they enjoy every chance we get in our sometimes-hectic lives to pause, hang out, and be together. Giving kids a chance to connect means that even the grocery store can be fun and meaningful.
* To use the Otter Pass grocery list, open the file with Adobe Acrobat Reader. Simply click the empty box and it should allow you to enter text. When you're done, hit print, head to the store and parent on.