Ten Tips for All Day Shopping with a Toddler

Preface: This was to be only a list of grocery shopping tips, but we spend one day a week doing most of our shopping in a neighboring city a half hour away. Due to gas prices ($3.49 today) and a lack of retail options in our rural region, we pack what we need for 23-month-old Little Miss for an average 5 hour shopping trip (including time for lunch).

1) Travel in the morning. Toddlers get grumpier as the day wears on. Pediatric dentists schedule morning appointments for the same reason.

2) Poop and go. A toddler’s bowels are predictable. I count on replacing a poopy diaper by 9 a.m., which gives us a huge time window for shopping before the next messy diaper. We change a pee diaper in the car’s backseat with Little Miss standing up.

3) Stick an ice chest in the car trunk. We can head to the grocery store first or last or spend an hour playing at the park and not worry about frozen food melting. A toddler slows down everything, and an ice chest lets us not worry about rushing.

For less water mess, take reusable plastic ice packs instead of homemade bags of ice. We sometimes also bring a collapsible cooler if we expect the ice chest to overflow.

4) Divert. Deflect. Redirect. Last week, Little Miss was having a meltdown in a shopping cart. Instead of our focussing on the crying and trying to calm her, Mom told Miss what we were shopping for and asked her to help us find it. Pure magic.

5) Let the kid run. Be mindful that traveling in a car or stroller or shopping cart constitutes a lot of sitting. Miss will cry, resist, squirm and fight her imprisonment after a while. We plan walking breaks into our destinations. The wide aisles in Costco or the main thoroughfare in a mall are great for walking her around by hand. We don’t stop at a park unless we can spend at least half an hour playing, otherwise Miss would go crazy being ripped away so soon.

6) Cover that cart. Bring an elastic shopping cart cover which quickly slides on top of the entire region where your toddler sits. I use a Bilby cart cover. The Bilby slides on and off in seconds, without straps or snaps. Unlike other covers, it doesn’t have a seat belt, though it has holes to insert the cart’s built-in belt. The Bilby also serves as a cover for a restaurant highchair.

My philosophy is that if Little Miss needs a belt, I’m doing something wrong (not carefully watching her, not giving her enough attention, or she’s been sitting too long and is tired). Although, I admit, she hates using a cart belt. If I’d used a belt from Day One, she probably wouldn’t think twice.

7) Bring finger foods. Once you are free of baby jars, bring food a toddler can hold and eat without a mess. We use toddler granola bars, mixed nuts, raisins, etc. (Be mindful of choking hazards, take a child CPR workshop and never give food to a running toddler.) Her teeth are promptly brushed when we get home. Sticky food like dried fruits are bad for teeth.

Little Miss refuses to let us spoon feed her, except when she is strapped into her car seat—then we can give her a cup of apple sauce. In our ice chest we have toddler bowls (with lids) filled with raspberries, blueberries, banana slices and such.

8) Bring pocket wipes. Carry individually packaged antibacterial wipes in your pocket. I clean Little Miss’ hands before she eats, and when we return to the car.

9) Toys and books never leave the car. A child’s brain is like a steel trap. If Little Miss learned she could bring toys into a store, she would remember it forever and push her limits wanting to bring everything. Without toys or books, she interacts with us, watches other people and "helps" us shop.

10) Share the load. When shopping at a corner market for a handful of items, I grab a hand basket and Little Miss walks next to me. At first, she will carry one grocery item for me. Invariably, she decides the item is too heavy and gives it back… only to insist on carrying something else two seconds later. So I let her help carry the basket. We each hold one of the metal handles. My handle bears all of the weight and the basket tilts at a 20 degree angle, but she feels proud and everyone in the store smiles.

What tips do you have? How does your experience differ from ours?


2 Responses to “Ten Tips for All Day Shopping with a Toddler”

  1. thordora says:

    We trade off time in buggy/walking, and it’s based on behaviour. If she’s good for awhile, she gets to come out when she gets the fidgets. If not, too bad. It’s made VERY clear at the outset that she is going in the buggy. The people at the mall here are, well, jerks.

    We make sure she’s had her nap. Nothing worse than miss cranky pants. I find travel in the afternoon easier with her, but that’s just us. She’s odd that way.

    We get suckered into a toy or book almost anytime…sad really…

    May 20th, 2006 at 6:19 am

  2. Matt says:

    This would be such a perfect post for Minti and hopefully get you some well deserved traffic from the parents visiting our site – please consider putting it up with us too – I love the tips :)

    May 23rd, 2006 at 6:49 pm

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