11 Tips for Grocery Shopping with a Toddler

When you need to go grocery shopping with a toddler, it can be challenging. Especially if they are prone to tantrums, or want to grab everything in the store.

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A few weeks ago, I thought I’d successfully made it to my car with our groceries, only to discover my 3-year-old holding an opened candy bar that I did NOT buy… (And back in the store we went to pay for it.)

So the struggle is real. But the good news is, even now with 2 toddlers, I’ve found there are things that make going to the store a LOT easier.

So here are 11 helpful tips for grocery shopping with a toddler.

1.) Go Grocery Shopping at a Time When the Store is Less Busy

Granted, less busy times may vary depending on where you live as well as the hours of the stores in your area.

As a general rule, though, I’ve found that early in the morning, such as when a store first opens- around 6:00- 9:30am, and later in the day, after dinnertime- around 6:45-9:00pm are a lot less busy than mid-morning and afternoon, including the time of afternoon when people are getting off of work. Those times are generally busier.

But does the time of day really make that much of a difference on your time?

YES. On average, I make it through the store twice as fast, just going at a less busy time.

Even when I’m getting 1 or 2 weeks of groceries. I can spend 30 minutes or less in Aldi instead of 1 hr plus. And this applies to other stores I go to as well.

While it may not be the most ideal time of day to go shopping early or late, it will usually save you time. But again, the less busy times may vary in your area.

Of course, you’ll also want to be safe if you go at a time when it’s dark out- you don’t want to go at a time that may be dangerous in certain areas. In the city where I live, I only go to certain stores in specific locations when it’s dark out. So be safe, especially with your toddler!

2.) Write Out Lists by Store & By Where Items are in the Store

If you’re going to more than one store, write out a list for each store.

And whether your list is physical or electronic, try to write out the items by where they are in the store. I always make out my list in the order of how I naturally go through the store.

When you write your list in order, you are less likely to forget something as you’re going through the store and avoid backtracking. Even if it takes a little longer to make your list this way, I promise it makes it so much easier once you’re in the store and will save you time overall.

If you make a habit of going to the same stores when you go shopping, you’ll start to remember which stores sell which items and where things can be found in the store.

3.) Try to Go at a Time When Your Toddler is Not Overtired

You don’t want to go grocery shopping right around naptime when your toddler is going to be tired and more likely to act up.

Bonus points if you can plan to go at a time when they’re in a good mood AND when the store isn’t busy.

4.) Make Sure Your Toddler (and You) Use the Bathroom & Eat Before Leaving

If your toddler is hungry and sees a whole bunch of snacks in the store, they are likely to be more cranky, and ask for more things.

And it will also take more time if you need to stop for unnecessary bathroom breaks or changes. So whenever possible, make sure you both eat and use the bathroom before leaving.

5.) Set Limits & Expectations in Advance

If you let your child pick out things in the store, let them know in advance, (as in before you even go in the store,) how many things they can get.

I think letting them pick out one or 2 inexpensive things, (for us it’s usually in the dollar-range,) is a good balance between letting them pick something out and setting limits, if you can fit that in your budget.

I will usually let my older toddler pick out a snack and let her know we can’t eat it until we pay for it. And depending on what it is, she can either have some in the car or when we get home.

Because I’ve been consistent with this rule, she understands that she won’t get it ‘now’ when we’re in the store, but she will get it ‘later.’ It took a few trips before she would stop wining for things in the store, but now she understands she’ll get something later if she waits. This also teaches her patience.

I also will say no to extra things that she asks for, and because she’s used to me saying, “No, we already got you something else, so you aren’t getting that,” she doesn’t have a tantrum when I say no.

Even though it’s challenging, don’t give in to tantrums, because it will cause problems long-term. My daughter realized tantrums at the store were ineffective and my rules don’t change, so tantrums at grocery stores are not an issue for us right now, thankfully.

6.) Bring a Toy and/or Snack to Occupy Them in the Store

I’ve had success just bringing a small ziplock bag of pretzels for my toddlers or some other snack that’s not messy. Sometimes my daughter will bring her baby doll in the store so she has something to play with.

Of course, a small distraction only works for so long, which is why this is just one of the tips. But when I go shopping with a specific list at a time when the store isn’t busy, and I have pretzels, I can usually make it in and out without an issue.

7.) Use a ‘Fun’ Cart if There’s One at the Store You Shop At

Some stores have fun carts for kids that they can sit in.

For example, the Wegmans near us has a ‘car’ cart with steering wheels, and it can fit 2 kids, so I can put both of my toddlers in there. The cart itself keeps them occupied for a while.

8.) Park Next to the Cart Corral

This is something my mom always did, and while it doesn’t help you inside of the store, it definitely makes it easier when it comes to loading groceries in the car afterwards with kids.

Because once you’ve put your groceries in your vehicle, you don’t have to walk far away from your car to return the cart.

This is especially helpful if you prefer to get your kids in the car first, so you don’t have to leave their sight when returning the cart, and it saves time when you’re trying to leave. You definitely want to keep your toddler safe in the car.

9.) Take Another Adult with You

When possible, taking another adult with you- such as a spouse or friend, can help distract your toddler and help make your shopping trip easier.

Depending on your situation, you could also combine shopping trips with another mom or parent and their kid(s). But this could also make it more hectic depending on how your kids act together, so it may or may not be a solution for you.

10.) Have Your Toddler ‘Help’ You Find Things and Push the Cart

Sometimes I’ll direct my daughter’s attention to finding things we need in the store, almost like a game. ‘Can you find this?’

I also have my daughter ‘help’ push the cart with me. Even though she can’t reach the part you’re supposed to hold onto, she can hold onto a lower part of the cart and I walk behind her pushing the cart.

Having her help push the cart also helps when I have my 1 year old with me too, so she walks with me while he sits in the cart.

11.) Consider Ordering Groceries Online for Pickup or Delivery

If after trying just about everything, you still struggle with grocery shopping with your toddler, consider ordering groceries online and picking them up or having them delivered.

I’ve saved time by using Instacart (you can get $10 off through your first order here through my referral link.) You can look into the different grocery stores in your region to see if there are grocery pickup or delivery options near you.

So those are 11 tips for grocery shopping with a toddler. Granted, there will be challenges, but there are also things you can do to make it easier and less stressful.

If you want to make the most of your shopping trips: Download our FREE Printable Flavorful Meal Plan Guide here.

To motivate your toddler to listen better: Grab our FREE printable toddler sticker reward chart here.

And if you found this post helpful, please don’t forget to pin and share. 🙂

a toddler girl sits in the cart at the grocery store

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