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Grocery shopping with kids: How to avoid the unhealthy sell

Marketers have spent a lot of time and money making food appealing to children, and this can make trips to the grocery story a pain. Here are some ways you can avoid the unhealthy, hard sell.

Avoid taking the kids at all

We know not to go shopping when hungry because that growling stomach will lead you to buy more than you need. The same rule applies to shopping with children. Their impulse to buy will be great and they will push you to spend more than you planned. Whatever is within their reach, packaged to grab their eye or comes with a gift or a toy will likely end up in your cart. It’s not always possible, but shop without the kids whenever you can.

Avoid the cereal aisle

In my first blog I wrote about the value of shelf space and that the most coveted shelves are at eye-level of a woman who stands 5-foot-5, as they (statistically) do most of the shopping. But the cereal aisle is a whole other ball game. In these aisles, the most valuable shelf space is nice and low, where little Johnnie can see (and grab) the most sugar- and dye-filled cereals and toss them into the cart. A battle is sure to follow and some parents will just give in rather than have an escalating scene on their hands.

Have daddy take the kids shopping

For some reason, men seem more likely to arrive at the grocery store with a list, which they stick to. So while dad will likely buy the child a treat, he is less likely to go ‘off list’ and let the child make decisions about what groceries to buy. Also, while more men are doing the grocery shopping these days, this is a recent change and the market researchers have not yet figured out how to sell to them as effectively as they sell to women. This makes men somewhat less likely to fall victim to clever marketing.

Beware the checkout area

All candies, chips and snacks are within easy reach of a child at the check-out counter. You have to arrive with a plan if you want to avoid the dreaded cash counter meltdown. With my daughter, my plan was to always fill her up with liquids as we shopped — water, juice or chocolate milk — so that by the time we reached the cash she was feeling rather full and didn’t want any snacks. When she got older I would keep her occupied by having her put things on the conveyor belt for me. I asked her to group all the cold things together and all the dry goods together and send them down the belt and I would go and watch the cashier to make sure all the scanned prices were correct. She took this responsibility very seriously and focused on doing a good job, not on the snacks and candy.

Marketing and advertising are very effective, and when they are aimed at children it means we have people who are barely potty-trained making decisions about what to eat. Nothing good is likely to come of that.

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