Last week, shopping for groceries with the two kids was like wheeling a large octopus up and down the aisles: the kids grabbed at everything within reach.

Then, in the cereal aisle, your son snatched up a box of Monster Sugar Highs and refused to give them up. In the frozen foods section, your daughter grabbed a can of frozen fruit juice and attempted to lick the frost from its metal lid. Shoppers had flocked to see the child being tortured in aisle three. In desperation, you poured your coffee over the can, freeing your child's tongue.

"No wonder the child's screaming," a bystander gasped. "She scalded her daughter with her coffee!"

"Parenting should require an aptitude test," another snorted.

Is it possible to keep the kids happy, and keep yourself out of the parenting hall of shame, while in a grocery store?

Creating an enjoyable, stress-free shopping experience for you and your kids is much easier than you might imagine. Think back to the games you played on long car trips or around the campfire as a child. Many can be just as much fun in a supermarket! To jump-start your imagination, try some of these simple, interactive games with your kids. They may turn your next shopping trip into the highlight of your child’s week!

Games for the cutie in the cart

Best guess – Describe a food item on your shopping list and have your youngster guess what it might be. Then, let them try to find it in the store. A fitting teaser might be, "We need something that looks like long, green fingers" (i.e. beans), or "We need something to eat with crackers" (i.e. cheese).

Mini mime – Have your child mime the preparation of a food item, while you guess what he or she is making. Easy guesses might be peeling a banana or making a sandwich.

No peeking – Blindfold your child by pulling a hat down over their eyes or asking them to squeeze their eyes shut tight. As you select your groceries, pass items to your child, encouraging them to guess the identity of each item.

Games for go-getters

Tall tales – Reign in your footloose child who is straying from your cart with a storytelling game. Start with "Once upon a time . . . ." When your child is ready to add their own ideas to the tale, have them interrupt by saying, "You’d never guess what happened next!" before continuing the story. Another great opening line for shorter stories is, "What to do if you find . . . ." Then let your child provide the solution. You’ll learn amazing things, such as what to do if you find a hippo in your swimming pool!

Quest for the best – Enlist your young reader to help you select the best deals and the freshest products. Have them compare prices against package weights. Which is the best value? What is the best-before date? Is there a package that’s fresher? Which food group does the product belong to? Was it prepared and packed locally? Which food item in your cart travelled farthest?

Sound it out – As you enter each new aisle, share a letter of the alphabet (or a sound for youngsters) and challenge your child to find as many items as possible that begin with that letter or sound.

Token of gratitude – Stressful though it may be, a trip to the supermarket to buy food is a tremendous privilege – a luxury that many families do not enjoy often enough. Teach your child an attitude of thankfulness and compassion by allowing them to select a special item to leave in the food bank bin on the way out.

Games for two children

Handwriting – This is one of many simple games that can help entertain the "captive" child in the cart while keeping the "drifter" close at hand. Have one child "draw" a simple image on the second child’s hand using their index finger. The second child then tries to guess what image is being drawn. Older children may prefer to spell out words, letter by letter.

Silly faces – Take turns making silly faces at each other. First one to smile or laugh loses!

Counting containers – This is a simple adaptation of the popular car game, "counting cows." As you move down an aisle, each child accumulates points by counting each new type of container that has a particular attribute, such as a blue lid for one child and a purple lid for the second child. (A row of identical products would count as one new type of container.) If another shopper passing by has an item in their cart or basket that has a blue lid, the child counting blue lids loses all their points – but only if their opponent notices the item and calls, "Sold out." Much of the fun in this game arises from one child attempting to distract the other from noticing containers that will earn their opponent points, or cause them to lose their own points.

Gadgets and gizmos

Keeping the peace – Your phone can be a great entertainer. If you have a membership in the Adventures in Odyssey Club, you can stream over 800 Adventures in Odyssey episodes, or use the app from the iTunes store.

Budget buddy – Stow a small, solar-powered calculator in your purse. At the store, show your school-age child how to be your "budget buddy" by keeping a running tally of your purchases. Establish an expense limit and engage your young accountant in making the tough "buy" or "pass by" decisions that help you keep within your budget.

Surprise stash – Trapped for ages in the checkout lineup? No problem, if you’ve planned ahead and brought a few activities along. Some simple toys you might stash in your kit are finger puppets, pipe cleaners, magnetic sticker kits, Silly Putty™ and sliding tile puzzles.

Most of all, remember kids will be kids, so your best hope for a stress-free shopping experience every time is probably either school or arranging reciprocal babysitting with another parent. But just think of all the hilarious stories you'd miss sharing with your friends  –  like the time your son "helped" to choose the apples and pulled out the cornerstone of the whole shiny, red pyramid . . . .

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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