Home & Food

Kids, supermarkets and sticking to the budget

Supermarket shopping with kids

Kids, groceries and a budget – believe it or not, this isn’t one of those meme diagrams where you can only pick two. I’m going to be bold and suggest you can have all three! But it will take some planning, a robust shopping list and a generous amount of kind, firm, calm.

With the cost of living creeping uncomfortably upwards, family budgets are getting stretched in all directions. Many suggest the most cost effective and budget-sticky way to do the supermarket shop is online, but that’s not an option for everyone and lots of parents have to do the grocery shop with kids in tow. However, that’s not necessarily such a bad thing – there is loads of learning to be gained from the humble shopping list, as well as valuable life-skills in every aisle. Yes, a tantrum in each aisle is also a possibility in some cases, but let’s see if there are some things we can do to avoid those too.

Before you even leave home

Any time you can spend nutting out a bit of meal plan for the week is well worth it. A meal plan helps get all the essentials onto the list, making it more obvious what are staples and what are luxuries. Meal plans and lists are also super handy in that they provide some structure and guidelines for kids – kids do well knowing what to expect and what’s ahead.

You can invite your kids into the planning if you like, extending them the privilege of choosing what’s for dinner from time to time. Tweens and teens especially can relish the opportunity to plan part of the week’s menu. Maybe give them a choice of dinner one night, and they can figure out the ingredients they need. You could even give them a budget for the meal and they could look up the cost of ingredients beforehand. All sorts of home-learning there!

When it comes to extending choice, caution is required. Some kids (especially our more ‘particular’ foodies) need the reassurance that it’s ultimately the job of the adults to decide what food the family eats. Too much choice can really derail some kids.

Some kids (especially our more ‘particular’ foodies) need the reassurance that it’s ultimately the job of the adults to decide what food the family eats.

Next you need a thorough shopping list. I know, this is a bit dull. Sometimes I write half a list, lose motivation and head to the supermarket with a plan to just wing the rest of the shop. That generally doesn’t go too well in terms of sticking to my budget, nor actually bringing home the food we need for the week ahead.

If you’re involving your kids in the planning and list writing, be honest about the budget but take care to use age-appropriate messages about money. Kids don’t see the whole picture when we start talking about our finances, and can take on a hefty weight of unnecessary worry if they don’t quite perceive things correctly.

That said, learning about budgeting and meal planning, the difference between needs and wants – all that exciting stuff – these are actually really valuable life lessons. A lot of adults are still figuring out the basics of money management, and we do our kids a huge favour if we help them put some foundational ideas around money in place early on.

Trolley time

Pro tip – feed your kids and give them a drink BEFORE you get to the supermarket. We all know what happens when we grown-ups grocery shop while we’re hungry. Multiply that by 100 for kiddos.

Next, give your kids a job. Maybe they can hold the shopping list and a pen, and tick items off as they go in the trolley. Maybe they can help you look for things on the shelves. When they’re old enough, you can send them off to find a certain item – with some clear instructions (of the particular grocery item you want, and where to find you once they’ve got it!).

While you’re shopping, you can invite your young assistants to do some of the choosing. It can be hard for kids to balance the temptations of a supermarket full of yummy things with the disappointment of a limited shopping list. Extending some power of choice can help ease the big feelings, but the best type of choices for kids to make are the ones with clear parameters.

  • "Shall we get shell pasta or macaroni today?"
  • "Would you like apples or pears?"
  • "You can choose the flavour of yoghurt today."

Add KFC to the list

It helps to gently coach our kids towards the understanding that some shopping trips will involve treats, some won’t. This is where the kind, firm, calm approach works a treat. So tuck some KFC in your pocket for supermarket shopping survival – kind, firm and calm phrases like:

  • “That does look yummy, we’ll get that next week for your lunchbox.”
  • “That’s not on our list today, but we can think about it for next time.”
  • “You can choose one treat for the family to share after dinner tonight.”
  • “We’re going to spend our grocery money stocking up on the essentials this week, so there won’t be any room in the trolley for things we don’t need.”
  • “Once we have everything on the list, we’re heading for the checkout.”
  • “You’ve been so patient and helpful in the supermarket today, would you like to go to the playground on the way home?”

And if there is a bit of meltdown at any point? Firstly, no judgement here! We’ve all been there (and if we haven’t, we’ve held our breath imagining it!) – the howling toddler in the trolley or the wailing preschooler lying on the floor in the biscuit aisle. Secondly, hold on tight to kind, firm, calm. You may have to abandon your trolley and take your child outside for some fresh air before finishing the shop. That’s a fine strategy.

We’ve all been there (and if we haven’t, we’ve held our breath imagining it!) – the howling toddler in the trolley or the wailing preschooler lying on the floor in the biscuit aisle.

It’s understandable for kids to feel some big feelings in these moments, and for parents to feel frustrated! But better than giving in and loading the trolley with Bluey-themed chocolate biscuits and Peppa Pig jigsaw puzzles (honestly, have those random toy sections at the supermarket ever actually helped anyone!?) is a kind, calm firmness that helps our kids understand the boundary. This helps everyone in the long run.

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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