Grocery store survival tips: Toddler edition

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Sometime last fall I realized I was absolutely dreading doing any grocery shopping. While some women may loathe that particular errand, it has always been a favorite of mine.

Then Little Pea came along.

While the Peanut was more than happy to get out of the house and be my shopping buddy, Little Pea is a handful at the store.

“No cart! Go home!” followed by a constant stream of whining that escalates into full out screaming in order to get me to hustle just a bit faster. I can’t even tell you how many unfinished lists I suffered through.

Both girls loved their Melissa & Doug shopping cart and play food and we’ve played dozens of games of shopping at home but when it came to the real deal I just couldn’t bear going anywhere near the grocery aisles with Little Pea.

Thank goodness for good friends with older kids who have blazed those parenting trails. After another dinner of macaroni & cheese because I didn’t have what I needed on hand,  I vented my frustrations with my friend Zina from Let’s Lasso the Moon. She gave me the most brilliant and easy solution:

Give Little Pea her own shopping list!

So I dug up every single stitch of playfood we have in the house and set up a pretend grocery store on her little kitchen table. I put all the fresh ingredients in one bin and all the pantry/fridge items in a second one. I wrote out a shopping list using the same paper I’ve been using for household to-do’s and told Little Pea:

“This is YOUR shopping list. It is VERY important. Will you please help me to find these things?”

Obviously at 2.5 years old, reading the list wasn’t something she’s able to do on her own so I prompted her for each item.

“Can you find the milk?”:

“Check your list, did we miss anything?”:

“Which veggies should we grab for dinner tonight?”:

She was absolutely 100% enamored with this game. We went through the list several times and she still continued to play after I was done and had to get some other things going instead.

But the best news? It has completely changed our shopping trips. Now that I give her a list of her own to carry through the store she has some responsibility over things we need to find. It was exactly the control she seems to have needed. She also feels so important with her very own list and the butchers and deli helpers have all commented on it which only makes her feel even more special.

We love our play food and kitchen but I had no idea it could be used to fix such a stressful situation. I love shopping with my little helper now. (But I still keep that emergency bag of goldfish in my purse just in case. Luck favors the prepared.)

Our play food is going on 3-4 years old now and has taken such a beating. I highly recommend:

Fridge food: That juice bottle has been beloved by both girls.
Dry goods:  The box of crackers has been a favorite.
Farm fresh vegetables:  The carrot has been used for everything from a stirring stick to a snowman’s nose! ha.
Play time produce fruit:  This is my favorite of the group, I love how colorful the fruit in this set is. Just the right amount of shine to it too.
– A grocery cart to put it all in: This was a Santa gift when the Peanut was 3. It was ALL she wanted for Christmas that year along with the dolly to put in it. Both girls have loved it to pieces.

Do you have any solid tricks for surviving the grocery store with your little one? Or is your peanut an angel like my Peanut was? I never understood the complaints till Little Pea tested me out. So thankful to have found a solution that worked!


This post was sponsored by Melissa & Doug toys. I was compensated for this review but we believe in the toys enough that I was happy to help spread the word. All toys mentioned were bought by me at the request of my young girls and they have truly been favorites in our home.

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  1. says

    This is such a great idea! My four year old is usually pretty good at the store, but lately he has been more of a handful. I will have to try this trick with him and see how it goes.

  2. Terese says

    Your little girl is just precious! I have 7 children and my oldest granddaughter is 5 now. The kitchen and shopping have always been good for hours of fun at this age!

  3. Kristen says

    I typically do grocery shopping without my girls (3 1/2 years and 18 months), but when I do take them, I’m always looking for ways to occupy them long enough!! This is a great way to get them involved. I may consider printing out a list with pictures of the items for which they are shopping. That way they don’t have to be able to read the list.

  4. says

    These are great tips!! I usually use the cart that has the car on the front. That way she’s worried about driving the cart instead of getting out or asking for specific things. :)

  5. Nancy says

    I found this through Pinterest and love your ideas! I have a 5 yo and 2 yo, and I pretty much avoid shopping with them because it is way too stressful! But – at the same time I think shopping presents good learning opportunities… So thank you for new ideas that might make it more successful. I read another article recently that suggested using a grocery store for sensory experiences – like having your child smell the fruits, feel the textures of the vegetables, or even just shake the boxes of cereals or pasta to hear the different sounds. I think I will be giving that a try too! :-)

  6. says

    Cute! My mom just bought a grocery cart like that for my daughter. It’s so fun to play with. I’m definitely going to try this idea of making her a list and letting her help me. Kids love to be involved!

  7. says

    You are an inspiration. We have these toys at home as well, but I never thought to relate it to our actual shopping trips (which are usually horrendous…so I have been avoiding them lately…till hubby gets home.) I am going to try this right away… thank you forthe idea! (I am having a serious duh moment!) lol!

  8. Elizabeth says

    I actually let my 4 yr old bring her shopping cart to the store with us and give her things that she can pick and put in her own cart. She loves it and we have lots of fun when we go shopping!

  9. Amanda says

    Another alternative to the list is a scavenger hunt. You can use pictures (from your actual store or clip art) for non readers/pictures and words to encourage word recognition/ or just words and give them a dotter to “cross off” items that they find. You can use stickers or any other writing utensil to mark the items off. A small prize if they find all of the items is good incentive. I try to give things on my list as hunt items to help me with my list. Happy Hunting!

  10. Katelyn says

    I have a just turned 2.5 year old and he’s always been fine with trips to the grocery store. When he was younger, I made sure to have a snack and his water cup. I also make sure we go right when they open (or at another less busy time.) This means I can drive down the middle of the aisles, if needed, to avoid grasping hands close to the shelves. It helps that our store is close and we can be there, bought, and back in 1 hour tops. He also likes to hold items in the front seat with him and transfer them to the back on his own (I do the breakables.) I also remind him of things we need to pick up (eggs, milk and cheese being his favorites.) He also loves holding open the doors to the cold/freezer section while I get the milk, eggs, frozen veggies, ect. This takes a bit of maneuvering with his still in the cart, but when it’s not busy it works. He helps put produce in the bags and gets to smell whatever we’re buying. I purposefully do produce last so it has less 2.5 year old handling time and to keep it from getting smooshed by other things in the cart.


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