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Going to the grocery store isn't for the faint of heart
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Have you been to the grocery store lately? If you are toting small children with you, it’s not an expedition for the faint of heart. We’ve all seen it—the harried mom struggling through the aisles with a variety of circumstances; pleading children, wailing children, runaway children, whining, screaming…or a combination of all of the above children. Believe me, I’ve been there. However, it didn’t take long for me to develop some strategies to get my family through the grocery store with a minimum of trauma.

Of course, none of this adventure is helped by the grocery store itself. I truly believe that all grocery store designers are secretly thwarted race car/obstacle course designers. They haven’t been able to live their dream, so they take it out on unsuspecting customers in the store. I know this to be true because of the many obstacles strategically located around the store in the form of cardboard displays, pallets full of bottled water and flimsy tables full of flowers. I also put forth as evidence the race car grocery carts waiting to trap the unsuspecting mother with her demanding children.

These race car carts provide endless opportunities for amusement for store employees. I believe they do play-by-play in the office above stairs. "The race is starting…entry number one is a Mom with two kids in the race car seat and one hanging off the back in car number 53. And she’s off…she’s maneuvering the produce aisle well…oh no…it’s an unscheduled pit stop at the bakery for free cookie samples…Mom number two in cart eight has passed her…no, wait, her toddler has started throwing grapes at the stock boy…it’s a penalty flag…Mom number three in car 19 is off to a roaring start, even though she can barely see over the canopy of her infant car seat…looks like she’s taking a strong lead…but wait…will she be able to make the turn into aisle three? No! She’s taken out a cardboard stand of seasoning salt in the middle of the juice aisle and bottles are everywhere…" Meanwhile, the store employees chortle sadistically up in their office sanctuary.

Due to the many hazards awaiting the consumer, I have a few tips which have made grocery shopping slightly more palatable and less stressful of an activity. Tip #1—leave the children at home if at all possible. Often this is not practical, so we’ll move right on to Tip #2—Always say "NO." I found the best way to get through the grocery store was to say "no" to every request from my child. I made it a rule that if they asked for anything, they absolutely would not receive it. The beauty of this is that once they are trained to never ask for anything, you have the option of rewarding them at random if they are deserving. Noblesse oblige, if you will.

I always bring a list to the grocery store (Tip #3—Never go without a list!). I do not allow myself to deviate from the list, except for a maximum of two items. This removes the impulse buy problem and has no doubt saved me millions of dollars over the years. It also helped my small children to understand why a certain item may not be purchased. "Gummy worms? No, sorry, no gummy worms on the list. No can do." My children have been trained to believe that the grocery store list is as sacred as Holy Writ and may not be tampered with under penalty of eternal damnation.

My "Just Say No" policy, far from making me an unpopular parent, has actually transformed me into the most beneficent mother in the world, as far as my kids are concerned. Every so often, about once a month on a trip to the store, I tell my two little ones, "Today is your lucky day. I will allow you to choose one item to bring home." They are thrilled. They might choose Lucky Charms, or Pop Tarts, or a certain type of cookie, things I rarely buy except for special occasions. I have now made their day. All is right with the world.

My last tip for grocery store trips? Involve your kids. Show them new fruits or veggies. We often cruise the bakery and admire the cake designs. Let them pick out the yogurt they like. My kids’ favorite thing is to help unload. This serves two purposes—they feel useful, and it keeps them busy in the most dangerous part of the store. The checkout aisle, the Aisle of Final Temptation as I like to think of it, full of chocolate and candy and gum, is usually where most parents cave and give in to the demands of their child. It’s also the site of most toddler meltdowns. Keep their hands full while they unload, and they won’t be able to slip a pack of Reeses Pieces into their pockets. Word of caution—toddlers tend to chuck things onto the conveyor belt, so do the bread, tomatoes and ripe peaches yourself.

Grocery store visits are not without their trials. But you can minimize the difficulties with a little forethought, planning and strategy. In other words, Moms, get your NASCAR helmets on—it’s time for a trip to the store.

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