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Make Food Shopping a Family Affair

Grocery stores can be crowded, difficult to navigate, and full of eye-catching displays of junk food and toys that make kids of all ages catch a serious case of the gimmes. That doesn't mean you have to leave the kids at home.

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Eating is an experience families like to share, so it only makes sense that food shopping should be a shared experience as well. Watching their parents stock the larder helps give children a sense of security. Seeing parents read food labels, cut coupons, and monitor the budget gives them an idea of the responsibility involved in maintaining the health and finances of a family.

It's not just the kids who can learn from the experience. More men are going grocery shopping these days, but for the most part, guys still feel overwhelmed and out of their element while in the supermarket aisle. Getting your husband involved in the shopping trip might help him get acquainted with the finer points of food shopping, so the next time you need him to pick something up on the way home from work, you'll actually end up with the right item.

From the moment you grab the cart until the time you check out, there are ways to make food shopping better for the whole family.
Before You Go

A successful shopping trip begins before you even leave the house. If you know what you actually need in the store, you can strategize your shopping trip and get it done quickly and efficiently.

Shopping lists rule! You can write your shopping list by hand the old fashioned way, or you can take advantage of the websites or software that allow you to create and print a customized shopping list. Some of these programs let you make your list aisle by aisle, so you don't have to walk around the store all day.

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If you use coupons, make sure they're in order. Check your coupons to ensure that they're all up to date and put them in a coupon case or other container that will keep them from fluttering across the store when you take them out.

You'll want to keep the kids happy during the trip, so bring along some entertainment. That doesn't mean you pack a bag full of toys, as that would be inconvenient when you already have so much to carry. You can bring a favorite toy for younger kids, but snacks work better and last longer to keep them from getting restless. Snacks like mini-crackers, fruit snacks, and other simple treats that will fit in small plastic bags are perfect.
If you have a child small enough to ride in the front of the grocery cart, it's wise to invest in some shopping cart handle covers. The covers help protect your little ones from the germs that live on shopping cart handles.

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Ready, Set, Shop

Once you're at the store, set out to do your shopping in a timely manner. You don't need to rush, but try and avoid wandering around and backtracking. Spending a limited amount of time at the store will reduce the chance that your kids will get bored, cranky and difficult. You can use the aisle-by-aisle method, covering the non-perishables first. The perishable and frozen items should be picked out right before you're ready to check out. Some families like to split off when they get to the store. This can save time if you do it right. Make sure there are two separate lists. For example, dad and the two older kids can get do aisles 1-5 while mom and baby handle aisles 5-10.

If the store offers "fun carts" make use of them. Fun carts are shopping carts with small kiddie cars attached. The kiddie cars usually fit two children at once. This helps you avoid fights if you have two kids around the same age. Another perk of fun carts is that they're low to the ground and partially enclosed, so they help shield little eyes from possible tantrum triggers like sugary cereal and candy.

Make grocery shopping a learning experience. Even pre-school kids can help with lists. Make a colorful list with the names of the items printed next to pictures of the items. You can draw these pictures yourself or cut photos from magazines. Ask your child, "What's next on the list?" and he or she can "read" off the item. This will help keep your child occupied and instill some useful reading skills, too.
Older children can exercise their math skills in the grocery store by playing a grocery estimation game. Before the shopping trip, each person in the family guesses how much a certain item on the list will cost. Once you get to the store, you can see who came closest. There's a printable worksheet available online that makes this game easy and fun.

If you're nutrition minded, let it show. Talk about why you're choosing one product over another, and let children who can read help you find data such as fat content or fiber content on food labels.

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You can also ask your kids random questions about price and value. Have them look at the price of an item and then have them check how many ounces come in the package. Let them compare brands based on these criteria.

If your kids are prone to whining or begging for things they want, give them something to look forward to for good behavior. Let them know they probably won't get (insert item) but if they don't make a scene over it, they can get (insert more acceptable item). If your children get an allowance, they might want to bring some of it with them to the store, so they can pick up a small treat or toy from an aisle or from a vending machine.

Big, weekly grocery shopping trips to the supermarket aren't the only way to shop for food with kids; you can also take jaunts to neighborhood fruit stands, bakeries and farmers' markets. These alternative shopping experiences allow kids a more diverse and less commercialized shopping experience, as well as giving them a better understanding of where food comes from and the work that goes into producing it.