Gone are the days of snuggling my baby in the sling as I perused the aisles of my local grocer.  No longer will he sit idly in the “bucket” (infant carrier) while I push the cart and make googly eyes at him from time to time.  Nope, that is all gone.  Say hello to Toddlerhood and a host of New Rules, especially when it comes to navigating the grocery store.

My first suggestion would be to forego the grocery store altogether with young children.  Eliminate the distraction from the get-go.  However, in many families (as in mine), this isn’t feasible.  After all, it isn’t recommended to lock your kids in the car while you shop, and if there’s no one else around to watch the kids, you’re looking at a few pairs of extra “helping hands” on the trip.  So, arm yourself with a few tips to make those aisles of temptation easier with your toddler.

First of all, plan your trip.  Go into the store with a list, no matter how long or short.  Write down exactly what you need, and if you are familiar with the layout of the store, order your items according to aisle.  If you are shopping with coupons (yes, it CAN be done), make sure they are in order as well to eliminate any “down time” while shopping.  As long as the cart is in motion, your trip will run smoother.

Keep those tiny hands busy and happy.  Pack a healthy snack – a baggie of Cheerios and a sippy of juice or a half of a bagel.  The distraction will keep your child from feeling the need to eat everything in sight and occupy those little hands as well.  Simple toys are another easy distraction.  Using links or a velcro ribbon to keep items from falling to the floor is a good idea.  Keep these special toys in a bag specifically for the store.  Bringing out a “new” (or new today) toy is a great way to keep a child occupied in the cart. 

Timing is everything.  Avoid stores around naptimes and mealtimes.  The only thing you will be walking away with will be a cranky toddler and a few “oh I know how you feel” looks from those of us who have been there.  And try not to hit the store during peak hours – lunch and after work.  Crowds are bad enough; crowds with a toddler are almost painful for you and the child. 

Establish some ground rules early on for your toddler.  Realize that, if you give in one time at the checkout to that bag of chips or that package of M&Ms, you will be doing it each time you return.  Teach your child from the beginning that the goal of the trip is to purchase groceries for the house, not to stock up on snacks while Mommy or Daddy pays.  Whip out that trusty bag of crackers or cereal when the munchies hit.

Take this moment to teach some healthy habits.  My boys both went through the “taste-test” period where they were interested in discovering the metal content of the carts with their tongues.  Both boys learned right away that this wasn’t necessary nor acceptable.  Enter the distractions – the snacks, the toys and the juice.  Crackers in the mouth?  Perfectly okay.  Shopping cart handle in the mouth?  Not so much. 

Streamlining your trip and keeping the experience simple will ensure an enjoyable grocery experience for all (or tolerable at least!).