Grocery shopping with small children can stress-test a few things: your parenting skills, your child’s self-control, the shatter-resistance of a pickle jar. Still, taking kids to the grocery store is an unfortunate necessity in a world where one must eat and/or feed a family. No matter how hard you try to plan your shopping around daycare, babysitting, etc. inevitably you’ll end up pushing around a child who can’t sit still, won’t stop talking, and refuses to not grab five boxes of spaghetti off the shelf.
One way to make grocery runs significantly less torturous, however, is to play games as you walk the aisles. Food games, word games, math games, doesn’t much matter, as long as they keep the child engaged while you tick items off your grocery list. Stores are packed with signs, stimuli, and other colorful distractions that, with a little creativity, can easily be turned into games to occupy a child’s attention. Here are five of our favorites for getting parents in ⏤ and out ⏤ of the grocery store before anyone (kid or adult) melts down.
For older kids who can both write and identify every box of popular sugar cereal, ‘Food Bingo’ is a fun way to let them entertain themselves. Before you go to the store, draw a grid on a piece of paper. In each square, write down a product you plan to buy or know that they’ll see. (Although, obviously, don’t include any foods you know they’ll want but don’t intend to buy.) Give them a marker to cross items off their Bingo card as you cruise through the store, and wait for them to do their best retirement-home victory cry.
Real-World Richard Scarry
There isn’t a better series of vocabulary books for kids in the world than Richard Scarry’s collection of anthropomorphic animals. As any parent who’s ever spent hours reading them knows, however, they get old fast. Which is why playing “Real-World Richard Scarry” is so much more fun. As you drive your cart through the bakery, the fruit and veggie section, and the butcher shop, have your kid pretend they’re reading the books and try to identify every single item they recognize. Who knows, it may actually remind you to pick up more bananas.
Guess the Price
As you take each item off the shelf and place it in the cart, have your kids guess the price. (Block their view of the shelf if necessary). Use the back of your shopping list as a scorecard and award a point to the player who guessed closest. To make it harder, you can also play ‘Price is Right’ rules, where everybody guesses as close to the price without going over. The final round happens in the checkout line where everybody guesses what they think the total bill will be. The closest guess here receives five points. After you get home, add up the scores and declare a winner.
Beat the Clock
Kids love the rush of going fast. When you only have a couple of items to pick up, set a timer on your phone or watch and tell them to hang on ⏤ or help out, depending on their age ⏤ as you work together to gather everything on your list and escape the store before time runs out.
Roaming Cash Register
A game for practicing math skills, ‘Roaming Cash Register’ puts the kid in charge of keeping a running tab on the final bill ⏤ in their head! As each item is placed in the cart, round the price up or down and ask the child to ring it up on a make-believe register. They’re then responsible for adding the number to the collective total and announcing the amount you’re currently spending. As you pull up to the register, ask the child for a final tally and see how closely it matches the real bill. The added bonus of this game: you may actually stay on budget.
This can be a literal egg hunt around Easter, or tailored to more specific holidays, events, or times of year. Christmas? Find the reindeers or holiday decorations around the store. Thanksgiving? There will no doubt be cornucopias (bonus points if they can spell it), turkeys, and pilgrims placed throughout the aisles. Even the Super Bowl lends itself to a slew of team-related posters. Whatever the event, have kids spend the trip on a mission to find as many decorative props as possible. First person to see one gets a point, and the child with the most points wins.