Families need food. Fact. Yet can families buy food? No. Not without public censure, anyway. If the tuts, hisses and glares of supermarket shopping with kids is getting to you, take a look at my handy guide.
Over half term, we ran low on milk. This is an emergency in our 20-pint a week plus household. My husband wasn’t going to be back till after bedtime – not that there would be a bedtime without milk. My near neighbours are older couples – unlikely to be housing spare dairy goodness. There was nothing for it – I had to go to the shops with the children.
I started off with great optimism. ‘Why ever did I say I’d never go to a supermarket with them again?’ I thought. Then my toddler hit a pensioner with the QuickScan zapper.
Aha, you may be thinking, she went to Waitrose – no wonder. But I have found the name above the door is irrelevant: from Aldi to M&S Food, my family foraging has ended in public shaming. Even independent convenience stores have seen me heckled for blocking the aisle with my buggy.
Perhaps I have savages for children? But they’re really not that bad – honest. I am around other people’s children all the time and mine really aren’t more than average-ly wild. There’s just something about food shops that ignites their fire.
As if I would choose to go to a supermarket as a leisure activity with my boys! It was an essential visit. I was there for milk. It’s not like we’d run out of artichoke hearts and simply couldn’t last another day.
I can’t relive the horrors of that trip again, but suffice to say that when we got home, the older boys were sent to their rooms and the toddler was put down for an unceremonious nap.
As I sat jibbering on the sofa, I compiled this guide for future reference.
Supermarket Weep To Supermarket Win
Follow the 3-item rule
You may buy ONLY the one thing you went in for, plus one other urgent item that you remember as you go round, plus the obligatory snack bribe for the children. Then get out while you still can. Do not go in for loo roll and come out with half the shop, plus some random bud vases.
Do a pep talk
I’ve found this effective in many situations of late. By outlining what is going to happen in the next half an hour, what is expected of them – and WHY – what will happen after if it all goes OK, you are managing expectation and hopefully planting a seed of restraint.
Go to the snack aisle first
Delayed gratification does not work for children. Offering them a reward for being good in the supermarket may work for an older child, but for a toddler? Certainly not. And it’s just easier to get the snack over with first. Whatever’s their poison – Pom Bears, raisins, Haribo, Baby Bels – eating it as they walk round keeps them occupied. Just remember you’re in a race against the blood sugar rush. You need to be out of there before they hit manic.
This is a hard one to get right. If you look a bit frazzled – no make-up, slightly Weetabix-stained jeans, parka, (i.e. normal, for me), you’d think you might garner some sympathy from the general public. “Oh, how tired, she looks, poor dear. Maybe we should help her re-stack the Easter egg shelf her toddler just trashed?” However, it seems to work the other way round. Instead of a helping hand, I get scorn: “No wonder her kids behave like that, she’s obviously a slovenly parent as well as dresser.” Whereas if I look well-turned out, I feel like people are thinking, “She had time to blow-dry her hair, but not to teach her son some manners.”
Choose your checkout carefully
Self-scan is the quickest, you could say. Depends how much your children argue about whose turn it is to zap the barcode, which inevitably ends up with me fumbling it out of their hands and doing it myself while the toddler climbs in the precarious basket pile. I advise going for the youngest checkout assistant there is. They may be stroppy, but it’s better than the raised eyebrows when a more senior one puts through yet another packet of stuff you’ve already opened to assuage the children. If any assistant shows a spark of friendliness, adopt him or her and never go to anyone else again.
Leave your mummy paranoia at the door
‘Spotlight theory’ (roughly, the idea that everyone is looking at you) is rarely more applicable than in a public place with children. Don’t we all feel that everyone within a 5-mile radius can hear when it’s our toddler kicking off in the toy aisle (which should be BANNED)? Yes, that man whose ankles just got nicked by a flailing basket is probably glaring at you and your preschooler, but the majority of people in there are just getting on with their shopping. (Right?)
I follow my children round the supermarket with a face like thunder, pained looks flashing across my face with each new calamity: the oldest has jostled his brother into someone’s trolley, the toddler has taken a bite out of a potato, the middle boy has managed to cut his hand on a price ticket. But rage breeds rage. If you look angry with your children, other people seem to think it’s OK for them to give you and them mean looks too. So now I make a concerted effort to smile. ‘Look at my dear, high-spirited little angels,’ my fixed grin says. “Laugh with me at the cute way they touch all the bread rolls.” I might look slightly odd, but it gets me round the supermarket without going round the bend.