It’s no secret that kids make shopping for anything more challenging and more expensive. Grocery shopping is no exception, so how can you avoid going broke (and crazy) when you have to take the kids grocery shopping? The biggest key is to have firm, non-negotiable limits on what they can choose. I have always allowed the kids to choose one snack each at the grocery store. They can change their mind and switch it as we go through, and they can hold onto two while they mull their decision, but they only get to put one onto that conveyor belt to purchase it. (They do sometimes get a second one if they use their own money to pay for it.)
Set Hard Limits
BUT if you set a limit, you have to stick to it on every regular grocery trip. Our kids are also crystal clear when we buy additional items for school snack. They don’t get to eat those at home because if they do, then they won’t have a snack at school, which is a natural consequence. The same idea holds for treats for an upcoming party, to bring on a road trip, etc. This brings up another tactic: delayed gratification. If they are allowed to chose some snacks for later, they will start to learn about delayed gratification. When they receive that item weeks later, it may well be a happy surprise for them. (Very few items from the average American grocery store go bad quickly.)
If the kids aren’t used to it, there will probably be a lot of fussing at first and you may have to do it gradually, but that’s OK. Also, even if you have limits on what they chose, that doesn’t have to mean they don’t get more treats, just that those are your choice, not theirs. As parents, we tend to focus on items that are on sale and we try to be a least a bit healthier than the kids would be. Plus, if we choose the item, then there are fewer sharing issues.
Not to be Captain Obvious, but this means there are limits on how much junk food you get, too. Setting a good example is both important and good for your general health. (My doctor assures me, every year, of this last point.)
Choosing Healthy Food
First of all, I suck at this, and not just when the kids come along. I am not now, and have never been, a big fan of fruits and veggies, so this is very much a work in progress in our house.
Some things have been helpful for us, especially trying new cuisines. While I rarely put a tomato on anything on purpose (including burgers), I am more than happy to dump salsa on anything Mexican and I’ll eat tomato sauce on Italian food. There is no way on this or any other planet that my kids would eat cabbage on purpose, but they love the Gyoza I buy at the Asian market and it’s chock-full of cabbage. We’ve even started making our own at home!
Our family has also been making homemade pizzas, although we admittedly do start with store bought crusts. This has enabled us to make homemade pizza sauce and to experiment with (healthier) toppings the kids might not otherwise eat. Our youngest developed a fondness for goat cheese this way. The Aidell’s sausage from Costco (or the grocery store) and goat cheese are actually both a family favorite and far healthier than delivery pizza.
Using the Salad Bar and Deli Creatively
You can also use the grocery store salad bar or deli to create dinners that go beyond a salad or pre-made meal. If you start with tortillas, you can add cheese, greens (lettuce, spinach), cut up veggies (tomatoes, peppers), and either salad bar or deli meet to make a tasty soft taco.
Delis often have chicken that is grilled, fried, or made into chicken strips. That can be added to all kinds of things to make a complete dinner. My favorite is to cut the chicken into strips, then make it into a quesadilla. (Use a tortilla, some shredded cheese, and possibly some Mexican sauce, like Taco Bell packets.) You can also add it to a simple pasta side to make a more complete meal. It’s already cooked so very little additional cooking time is needed.
Apps and Electronic Info
Most larger grocery stores seem to have an app now. They will usually help you find things in the store. It’s been several years since I tried to keep track of all (any) of my rewards cards. Now, I just give them my phone number, unless I’m visiting my parents in another state. Then, I give them my parent’s phone so they get the rewards points. It’s sooo much easier! If you aren’t comfortable with that, Key Ring App has really good reviews and can keep track of all your rewards cards so you don’t have to carry them anymore.
Grocery iQ is an app for your grocery list. The biggest reason this is brilliant is that everyone in the family can add items to it. If you have already left for the grocery store or your spouse is at work and they think of an item, they can add it and it will be there when you get to the store and start shopping. Ditto if your teenage son and his friends come home from school and are still hungry after they eat everything in the fridge. Other reasons this is brilliant are that it can remember your favorites, it can organize your list by aisle, and it can even keep track of coupons.
Next time you have to take the kids along grocery shopping, use the Grocery iQ app to create a list and plot a path through the aisles, then stick to it. Give them limits on what they can choose. Stop at the deli/salad bar to short-cut making dinner (or lunch), then get out of there as fast as you can. And good luck when you go past the candy/chip/cookie aisle(s).