Take my son to our local market, and he can show you where anything is — or at least the important things like bacon, chicken, yams, bananas, almond milk and toaster waffles. From the time I could wear him in the Baby Bjorn, my son has come with me on most trips to the market and to Target (every mom’s favorite store).
Around his sixth month, he started sitting up, and I could safely put him in the front of the cart. Whether in the carrier or in the cart, he loved being a part of those trips. Every mom thinks her baby is the best, but seriously, mine was the happiest baby in the grocery store you’d ever seen. (See photo below for evidence.)
Even when he wasn’t talking yet and I wasn’t sure what he could really understand, I narrated every part of the trip. It was a way to engage him in the process (and bonus: It helped me make sure I didn’t forget anything on my list).
Those trips have changed a lot over the last four years. Today, he insists on pushing the cart. (Riding in the cart is a punishment.) He helps pick out food. He carries a bag to the car. He is legitimately helpful. And given the choice to stay home or come with me to the store, he chooses groceries every single time.
At one time, my parents insisted I should go shopping by myself. Leave the baby at home; it will be easier, they said. They were right — it most definitely would have been easier. But I would have missed out on some really great memories, and my son would have missed out on a lot too.
I insist that even though it can be annoying, taking kids with you to the store is smart. Here’s why.
Appreciation for cooking
First of all, it helps them understand what goes into preparing a meal. We often joke in my house that my husband thinks our refrigerator is a miraculous machine that auto-generates food (a la Star Trek). Children should not have this idea. If they want more almond milk or salami for snacks or applesauce for their lunches, then by God, they should get their butts to the store too.
Secondly, there are opportunities to learn. From the time he was 2 years old (maybe even younger), my son wanted to help put things on the belt to check out. As he placed items on the counter, I asked him to name them. For a while, “I don’t know” was the most common answer. Then there was a phase when apples were confused with tomatoes and anything green was lettuce. But now, he has a much greater understanding of different foods.
I have a strong stance on what constitutes junk food. He knows which I will buy and not buy, in large part because he goes shopping with me. He’s starting to learn how to pick out good produce, and eventually he will understand what his mommy believes is the right price for certain foods.
Engagement through responsibility
Giving kids autonomy and responsibility during the shopping trip, in my experience, helps them engage and gives them confidence. Using the scoop for bulk items. Putting food in the basket. Pushing the cart. Deciding which part of the store we go to first. Picking out the flavor of jam or deciding whether our peanut butter shall be crunchy or smooth this month. All of these little choices are ones we make almost instinctively as adults, but they make kids think. They feel they’re contributing, and that’s a wonderful thing for them.
Their gain, your reward
So, will your shopping trip take a little longer? Sure. But the reward is kids who understand what goes into having food in the house, who appreciate it and who recognize this is a family responsibility that they can share in. It’s not a chore to be dreaded. It’s something we do. And when we do it together, it can be enjoyable too!