Grocery Shopping With Multiple Children: A How-To Guide

God, grant me the patience to endure my blessings. This sums up every single experience I’ve had as a mother at the grocery store.

I know people with multiple children who have never, ever brought them to the grocery store. Maybe their partner is home on the weekend, or in the evenings, providing ample opportunity for them to shop alone, or maybe they have a regular nanny, babysitter, grandparent, or fairy godmother who swoops in once or twice a week to shoo them off to run errands in peace. I’m not sure how they do it, because I’ve been hauling kids to the store with me for a full decade.


My mother tried to warn me against it when my firstborn was small: “Most mothers don’t drag their kids all over town, Harmony,” she said.

“Then when do they get anything done?”

“When their spouses are home!”

WELL, THERE YOU GO. My husband worked crazy hours back then and he works crazy hours now, and if I waited around for him to be home it would be 9 p.m. before I left the house. Hard pass on that, because mama needs bread and a very particular brand of whitening toothpaste, and by the time he gets home from work, I’m already in my sweatpants and house slippers.

So, if you’re like me and have to run errands with your brood, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to feel like a soul-sucking journey to hell. These are a few tips and tricks that make getting groceries with three kids in tow tolerable:

Set expectations.

It’s best to be realistic with yourself. Can you seriously handle doing this today? Are you hormonal? Are you hungry? Are they hungry? Can it wait until tomorrow, or even next week? Are you in the right head space to load up your clan, or would it be better to wait until tomorrow when your 5-year-old is in a better mood? Get honest and make sure you are mentally and emotionally strong enough to tackle this particular outing, and if you are, then by all means, give it 110%, lean into the crazy, and GO FOR IT.

Enter with a plan.

Listen carefully: the stupidest thing we can do is walk into a grocery store without a game plan. I gear up for the experience of shopping with my children by blasting gutter rap on our way to the store, which makes me feel young and pumps me up to the point of feeling invincible. We walk in armed with a list and a clear idea of what items are vital to our survival (coffee, bread, milk, diapers) and what items we can live without for a few more days (toaster pastries, fresh basil), and we always get the most important items first. Sorry, kids, but Mommy’s coffee is way more important to your health and happiness than boxes of cereal.

Be willing to leave the cart.

Over the span of my parenting career, there have been a handful of situations where I’ve had to act crazier than my kids in order for them to realize who is actually in charge. This means, in a public setting, I’m willing to go to any lengths to drive home the point that running away from me, hiding, or screaming at/hitting each other will result in leaving the building immediately. IDGAF how full our cart is, or what is in it, or what I promised I would let them eat once we reached the checkout line — if one or all of them can’t handle acting right in the store, we’re going to exit.

You’ll only have to abandon the cart once. The shock and awe of it will stay with them forever.

The dangling carrot.

One of the perks of grocery shopping is immediate gratification. I use this to my benefit. Oh, you want cookies? Great! Put them in the cart! You can have one when we get to the car. The promise of a treat is usually enough to get everyone all the way through the frozen foods section without any major mishaps. Usually.


Set them early. For us, it’s the following criteria: children sit in the front part of the basket until he/she is too big to fit (usually around age 3). That’s when the true test begins — allowing them to walk in the store. Our rule is that children under 5 or those who refuse to stay with me in the store have to keep one hand on the cart at all times. Children 5 and up are expected to help me shop, which brings me to my next point:

Let them help.

Allow extra time, because you’re going to need it, but give each child a task like picking out bananas or paper towels. Let them help put the groceries on the conveyor belt, load the bags into the shopping cart, or count out money. Ask them to help you decide between cereal options. Believe me, it makes the whole experience more enjoyable for all involved.

Get a treat for yourself.

DO NOT SHARE IT. You’ve earned this shit.

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