Grocery Shopping and the Terrible Two’s

My almost 2-year-old daughter has always been a bit of a challenge in the food department. There are a lot of challenges that I could write about (and that I have written about). But for today, I’ll focus on just one…

Grocery shopping.

Many of you may dislike grocery shopping already. But as any of you with a toddler can attest, grocery shopping with a pip-squeak in the throes of the terrible two’s takes the experience to a whole new level.

My two unhappy shoppers.

My two unhappy shoppers.

Lately, if I even step foot into a grocery store with my gal, she immediately starts screaming at the top of her lungs “CHIPS!!!! COOKIES!!!!! PIZZA!!!!!” Then she violently tries to throw her body out of the stroller or grocery cart until she gets her hands on anything packaged in a box with a cartoon character on it.

When I’m on my A-game, I handle her tantrums like a pro. But I won’t lie. I’m almost never on my A-game. Instead, I usually cave to her demands, just so that I can finish my shopping without forgetting half the things on my list.

But when I cave it eats away at me every time. I seethe. “I’m supposed to be the boss, why is this little, teeny thing controlling me?” And I feel guilty. “I’m supposed to know better. This food is crap and it’s going to ruin her next meal. I’m failure of a mom and a dietitian.”

Since I clearly wasn’t surviving these tantrums very well, I began to plot out ways that didn’t put me in the situation. Yes, I still need to go grocery shopping and keep food in my cupboards, but I could be smarter about it. Short of leaving her at home when there’s another responsible adult around, here are few steps I’ve taken that help keep everyone happy.

  1. Go to the grocery store after she’s eaten. If I go to the grocery store after she’s eaten (and when she’s not tired), she’s much more content. This seems obvious as I write it, but what can I say? Sometimes when you’re in the middle of a rat race kind of day, the obvious is hard to see. And in my defense, sometimes your kid gets hungry and tired when you least expect it. (Like as soon as you step foot in a grocery store.)
  2. Bring a healthy snack. I try to make sure that meals and snacks are eaten at a table. Yet, for those “emergency” situations, I like to keep a healthy snack with me at all times. When I’m uber-prepared, I’ll take a nod from food marketers and put the snack in a fun paper sandwich bag decorated with smiling cartoon characters. It’s enough to distract her from an aisle full of Elmos and Toucans.
  3. Know my back-up options. I live in the city, so I usually walk to the grocery store, often times unplanned because I randomly think of something I need while I’m already out-and-about. If I’m not prepared with one of those emergency snacks – and my daughter starts to scream her wish list of junk food when we enter the store – I make a beeline for one of three places: (1) the produce section where I can find packages of pre-cut fruit, (2) the dairy aisle where I can find string cheese or (3) the organic section where I can find packaged snack food with slightly better nutritionals than conventional snack food.
  4. Distract and engage. You’ve probably heard that engaging your children in shopping for a given food is a proven way to help increase the likelihood that they’ll eat and like that food. I’ve found that it’s best to use this tactic as a way to distract my girl from the “cookies, chips and pizza” BEFORE we even step foot in the store. So, as we near the store, I let her know that I’m going to need her help finding apples (or some other produce). I continue to repeat this request as we enter the store. She’s then so focused on finding apples that she doesn’t even care about the big display of cookies that greets us as we walk through the doors.

Simple stuff, but it helps. I’m sure I’m forgetting some other obvious things that would help even more, so if you have other good strategies, please do share!

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  • Kate G. Byers, MS, RD

    Oh – the grocery store. Such fun. My favorite is when I don’t notice that Hailey dropped something (like the cover to her snack trap or a stuffed animal) and she doesn’t say anything. We’ve doubled back through all the aisles on more than one occasion! To make the experience more enjoyable for her, I try to make the trip like a scavenger hunt or game of “eye spy” asking her to spot things that are certain colors or call out the names of foods she knows.

  • Love this post and the tips! Glad I’m not the only non-perfect RD(N).

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