Grocery Shopping with Young Children

A few months ago, we stopped at a grocery store where they offered child-sized carts.  Of course, this was quite an exciting experience for N.  Now, every time we stop at a grocery store, as opposed to market where we do the majority of our weekly shopping, N asks if there are “little shopping carts”.  Unfortunately, the grocery store that we generally use doesn’t offer them and my answer has not been what she hopes to hear.  Until last week.

We made a quick pitstop at the grocery store for a forgotten item and saw a young boy pushing around a red, child-sized cart.  I wasted no time in asking where they were located and then promptly retrieved one to use… even though we were only purchasing one item.  It didn’t matter.  N was absolutely delighted with this new way to participate in the grocery shopping experience.

A few days ago, we returned for some planned items to finish up the grocery shopping for the week.  N carried the list, chose her two snacks from the bulk aisle, and helped check out and bag the items.  She returned to the car with a contented air about her.  As we left the parking lot, she melted my heart, saying “Thanks for going to the grocery store with you, Mommy.”  (Thanking someone for something is the one place she still mixes up her pronouns.)

I love grocery shopping with my child.  Whether it’s at market or at a supermarket, we generally have a wonderful learning experience.  Here are some tips for making grocery shopping with your young child a successful learning experience.


  • Prepare ahead of time.  As often as possible, have a pre-set day and time that you head out to the store.  This helps to develop routine as your children know what to expect.  Choose a time when your child is not hungry nor tired.  Budget enough time that you don’t feel rushed and can allow your child to take in this rich sensory experience.
  • Make a list.  Try to write your list in front of your child.  If you want your child to write, modeling the skill you find important is the best way to get them interested.  (I also try to offer list paper for N to write on from time to time.)  A list will also create a sense of order as you read off what needs to be retrieved next while shopping (and limit impulse buys!).


  • Provide child-sized materials.  There aren’t really many materials you need to go grocery shopping, but, depending on how involved you’d like your child to be, there are a few you could consider.  We offer N a wallet (purchased secondhand) with a member rewards card in it to scan at the checkout counter as well as her own cloth grocery bag to carry a few items in.  Of course, we also have access to child-sized carts now.  If your store doesn’t have them, you could always ask management if that’s something they would consider.  Before, we always just let N help to push the small adult-sized ones.
  • Let them retrieve items.  Retrieving items that they can reach is a fantastic opportunity for children to refine their movements.  It’s generally also a wonderful gross motor exercise.  Yes, they may drop items (N dropped a few potatoes on this outing), but that’s part of the learning experience.  Messes and clean-up happens in grocery stores.  In addition, it instills in children the idea that you trust them with something so vital to your life and that they are a valued, working member of your family.


  • Provide them with choice.  To limit the number of times I am asked to purchase off-list items, I provide N with a choice of two items from the bulk bins when we do our routine shopping.  We’ve discussed ahead of time which items are appropriate choices for her.  If your child is younger, you may wish to show them two, preselected items and let them choose one to eat as a snack in the car or upon arriving back at home.


  • Talk about your experience.  We do a lot of stopping and talking during our grocery shopping.  We talk about what produce we see and what we smell.  We discuss the shapes and letters on signs and labels.  This is a banquet of a language experience.  Take advantage of it!
  • Extend the learning.  Look for books on grocery shopping or visiting market.  This one by Anne Rockwell is a current favorite of one of N’s friends.  While I haven’t played it myself, I’ve heard that many families really enjoy the game, Shopping List. It seems like a fun game to extend the grocery shopping experience.

Those are a few suggestions for making the most of your shopping experience with children.  But don’t let it stop there!  Invite your children to help you put your groceries away.  Invite them to cook, taste and eat what you’ve purchased.  The cycle of purchasing (or producing), preparing, and partaking in the food experience is practical life at it’s finest.



2 thoughts on “Grocery Shopping with Young Children

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Love these ideas! I currently love grocery-shopping with daughter…she rides in the cart and is super great at being content and we chat about what we buy. I’d love to know when you transitioned to your child walking with your cart? My daughter is almost 20 months and it’s hard to imagine her staying by me in the store yet…Thanks!


    • lgrosh says:

      Our daughter didn’t join our family until she was 19 months old, and didn’t start walking until she was 20 months old, so our situation is a bit different than what might be typical for most families. I think she was walking confidently enough at 24 months that that’s about when she started staying out of the cart. Her personality made it such that staying with me has never been a point of concern. That’s probably not very helpful for you since your daughter sounds very confident and ready to explore. (Which is great!) I do think that children are more likely to stay by the cart if they feel they have a task to do, something to make them feel like they are contributing to family life. Give it a try on a day when you feel like you are both in the frame of mind for a new challenge and have extra patience. Happy shopping!


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