Shopping at the Co-op with Kids

kids enjoying tastes of kombucha!
Samples time at the Co-op! All photos courtesy of Meghan Breen

If you have kids, perhaps you don’t bring them grocery shopping because you love and crave the alone time to focus on the task at hand. That is totally cool. We all need to build peaceful moments into our day. Perhaps you don’t because the idea of it is overwhelming. Well, that I can help you with!

If you shop at the Co-op, specifically on a Wednesday, you have probably seen my family. A semi-frazzled mom (depending on the day – we all have our better days!) and a gaggle of kids. We are a homeschooling family of five kids, and since the beginning, the kids have come with me to shop for food. We have always tried to get the majority of our food at the Co-op. I have been able to do that by shopping sales, getting a ton of our food in the bulk food section, and by co-leading a group (that my kids also come to) so that I can earn hours to get a discount. Given all of that, it is actually cheaper shopping at the Co-op than conventional supermarkets!

Yes, it is work. Yes, it would be easier to go on my own in the evening or on the weekend. Yet, we still do it. Why? Well because food is central to life. And having our kids experience all aspects of managing daily life around food – from planting and tending it in their own gardens to planning out meals and then finding items on the shelves of the store, from budgeting (look for sale items, kids! And coupons!) to the preparation of the meals – it is important to us that they are involved in the process.

Here are ways to make it a bit easier, and even fun.

Meal Planning

This part happens before we even leave. On Sunday we pore through cookbooks; some we own and some we get out of the library. We pick out a few meals and look through the ingredients. We figure out which one everyone might like the most, which ones we have at least some of the ingredients for, which ones have non-specialty (i.e.: not too expensive and can be used again!) ingredients. We even try to factor in local and seasonal items which means they have to know what grows locally and in which season. Then they will write out the ingredients (spelling and printing skills! Oh wait, this is not a quarterly report to the school district! It’s a nice reminder that learning happens all the time.)

At the Co-op

The kids have been doing this so long that it has become routine. The beauty of that is there is a built-in plan and they are in it for the long haul. They know what to expect. I will share some of our routine, but creating your own would be really important. (Note: as you are budgeting your trip, consider adding expenses for little things for them and maybe taking something out – like a nice but maybe pricey item that you don’t really need – so that you can freely create space for ‘treats’ for the kids and not stress about the budget.)

Create opportunities for independence. If they are under 9 or 10, they stay with you and can make their own ‘list’. Maybe a clipboard they can scribble on, or maybe a real list if they are reading. They walk the aisles with you and get a sense of where everything is and then can find items ‘on their own’ to put in the cart. I let them know up front we have to stick to our list but can get a 1 or 2 ‘off the list’ items as long as it is something that will feed all of them or that they all agree on AND is on sale!

So as they are scouting out ‘on the list’ items, they are working out which ‘off the list’ items they might want and weighing out each option. In the bulk section, when they are old enough, they can help scoop items into each container we bring along. One kid likes to be the ‘yellow sticker getter’ and another likes to write the PLU code on it. We all visit ALL the sample stations in the store per the kids’ request! That helps to calm some antsy energy. I also like to grab a container of berries or a bag of apples (which has a barcode and doesn’t need proper weight when scanned) and that is also a snack for the little ones as we go along.

Generally once the kids are about 9 or 10 and older, and have been going with me since the beginning, then I give them half the list. They get a cart and go shopping. They LOVE the independence and I love the help. They will come back and report which items on the list are not on sale and what the weight per pound is when comparing two different brands. In this way they are gaining valuable shopping skills that will be with them for their lifetime.

At the checkout we often find a familiar cashier who is very friendly and patient with kids (hello Michelle!) and the kids help to unload the cart. We pick out a simple lunch (often just ingredients for PB and J or other sandwich, to save some more money, but we will also sometimes get soup or a pre-made sandwich) and while checking out the older kids head to the café to find us seats and even set the table! After lunch we use our tokens (from bringing our own bags) and the kids all get to choose which agency to donate their token to that day.

Of course there is bickering along the way. My kids are no different than any others. There are meltdowns and tantrums. And sometimes there are not. But they know that each Wednesday this is our routine. And in the end, they make out pretty darn well with a cart (or two!) filled with healthy, yummy food from our local food cooperative that feeds us until the next shopping trip!

Happy shopping (with the kids)!


If you liked this article, don’t even think about reading Summer Learning Loss: Stemming the Tide by Karla Guererri. This is your only warning. 

Meghan Breen is a budding herbalist, training to be a Certified Herbalist with Aviva Romm. She is a former public school teacher and clinical social worker originally from Syracuse, NY. She is currently homeschooling her five kids on a small homestead outside of Albany. She has been a member of HWFC since 2006 and a contributing writer to the Co-op Voice since 2016 and feels very committed to supporting member-owned cooperatives. For this reason, she chooses to do almost all of the shopping for her family of seven at the Co-op, even if she could occasionally save a buck elsewhere. Meg is so very grateful for HWFC and its continual and evolving work to give every member a voice!