Take ADHD Children Grocery Shopping WITHOUT a Headache – Survival Strategies

In this article you will learn common pitfalls of grocery shopping with ADHD children and how to avoid them. You will also learn strategies to deal with behavior management issues when they arise in the grocery store. These strategies will enable you to teach your child to make healthy food choices for the rest of his life.

Whether you’re a stay at home mom, or not, you’ve had a hard day. . There’s nothing ready for dinner. So, you drag your kid to the grocery store. The store is packed with other working moms and dads trying to get something for dinner. Everyone is hungry and crabby and rushed. The last thing you want is to have to deal with embarrassing, disruptive behaviors from your ADHD child who forgot to take his medicine.

I have been on that grocery store trip many times with my son, who is now on an additive free diet for ADHD. It is very easy to fall into the common pitfall of the Talk-Persuade-Argue-Yell-Hit syndrome, as described in the 1-2-3 MAGIC discipline system by Thomas Phelan, Ph.D. You are flustered and tired and hungry. You’ve been working hard all day and your child just does not quit whining and begging. You find yourself chasing after him up and down the aisles and you just don’t know what to do but give in to his demands or lose your top. The biggest faulty assumption we have is parents is that our children are little adults and that reason will change their behavior. They are going to just pipe up and say, “I never thought about it like that. Thanks for enlightening me.”

Let’s start with a typical scenario.

After picking Johnny up at the bus stop after school, you take him to the grocery store to get food for dinner because Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard is bare. As soon as you walk in the door of the grocery store, Johnny takes the cart and races to the frozen foods aisle, just barely missing a lady with a cane.

Johnny: Mommy, can we get some ice cream?
Mommy: No. We’re just getting food for dinner.
Johnny: Please. We haven’t had ice cream in a long time.
Mommy: We just had ice cream last week.
Johnny takes the cart and races to the cereal aisle, slamming the brakes on just short of knocking over the cereal display on the endcap. He grabs a box of Fruit Loops and tosses it in the cart. He grabs a box of Cocoa Puffs, as well.
By the time Mommy catches up to Johnny he is headed for the snack aisle.
Mommy: Put those back. We’re not buying sugar cereal.
Johnny: Awww. But I like it. I never get anything I like.
Mommy (With a long sigh) You just got a Happy Meal yesterday with a Lego car.
Johnny: Well, I didn’t get the car I wanted. They gave me blue and I wanted green.
Johnny grabs a jumbo size bag of potato chips and shoves it in the cart.
Mommy takes the bag of chips and places it back on the shelf, then grabs the cart and heads back to the cereal aisle to put back the cereal.
Johnny wails so loud that everyone in the store stops to look.
Mommy: That’s it! Mommy works hard all day and this is how you act? You’re not going to the park after dinner because you’re not listening.
Johnny falls on the floor and kicks and screams. My mom hit me! Mommy wishes she could haul off and spank his britches but manages to hold herself together. She feels a thousand eyes glaring at her.
Mommy: Okay. I’m not bringing you to the store again!
Johnny: Okay! I’ll listen! I promise!
The saga continues all the way to the checkout.
Johnny walks out with a sucker in his mouth and mommy paid $30 for frozen pizza, ice cream, hot dogs, donuts and wonder bread hot dog buns. The sucker was free. The old lady with a cane gave it to him.
What’s for dinner tomorrow night?

This experience night after night not only exhausts you, but it teaches the child that he can get whatever he wants by throwing a tantrum. Like throwing pebbles in a pond to make a big splash, children feel powerful, if even for a moment, when they can get a big grown up to become upset.



-Pull out the recipe books with your child and plan the week’s menu together. This gives the child a part in the decision making. This gives him a sense of control and helps him learn to make better choices
-Plan meals that you can afford, and that you have time and energy to prepare with your child.
-Plan meals that include a variety of food groups.
-Everyone (even you) who tries a new food without complaining will earn a sticker on a chart. When everyone has filled their line on the chart, plan an outing for the whole family.
-Eat a hearty meal before shopping. Everything is tempting when you and your child are hungry. Also, reason goes out the window when everyone is hungry.
-Go when the store is not busy. Avoid the hungry, crabby, after work shoppers, and avoid being one. The best time to go is after 7pm on weekdays.
-Estimate the cost of your groceries and bring cash so you avoid getting sucked into all the special offers and impulse buys at the checkout. You can go back another day, without Johnny, to stock up on sales that you think are really worth your money.


-Shop the perimeters. Stay away from the junk food aisles and the frozen dinner aisle. It’s better for everyone’s health and better for your wallet.
-Plan a scavenger hunt. Let Johnny search for something. For example: Find a food that is brown on the outside and yellow on the inside. This will keep his mind off begging for treats.
-Stick to the list. Let Johnny hold the list on a clipboard and check off the list as you find each item.
-Let him choose and weigh the produce. This will teach him how to find the best looking produce and sharpen his math skills as well. This will give him a deeper connection with the food and will entice him to eat it.
-Ask Johnny to help you find the selections with the lowest unit price. Brands at eye level usually cost more. The food giants pay top dollar for those spots.
-If your child is old enough, let him add the cost of the items on a calculator, or estimate the cost by rounding each price to the nearest half dollar.
-If you want to plan a snack purchase as a reward for helping, decide in a advance what the choices will be-i.e. banana, cheese stick or peanuts.

Johnny is used to getting what he wants. You are used to giving in. Expect Johnny to test you, especially when he sees Scooby Doo and Sponge Bob and Spider Man and Lightning McQueen calling his name from the lovely displays on the endcaps.

But, remember, your job is to help him make healthy food choices now so that he can have better behavior and better health. The habit of making healthy choices will stick with him the rest of his life I have learned an effective counting strategy from 1-2-3 Magic to STOP the tantrums and START shopping like reasonable human beings.

Here’s the scenario after Mom gets wise and learns to count.

Johnny: Can we have ice cream?
Mommy: No. We’re only buying food for dinner.
Johnny: But we haven’t had ice cream in a long time.
Mommy: (With no yelling and no emotion, hold up one finger) That’s one.
Johnny: No fair. I never get anything I want.
Mommy: (Still not yelling and with no emotion, holds up two fingers) That’s two.
Johnny: You’re mean! (Johnny rams the cart into his mother’s leg.)
Mommy: That’s three. You will have a time out as soon as we get home and no t.v. privileges tonight.
Johnny: Noooooooo! I promise I’ll be good!
Mom continues to walk out the store without a word. She will have to come back without him. Johnny has no choice but to follow, wailing the whole way.
At home, Mommy calmly follows through on the consequences. When he is calm, Mommy tells Johnny that he must follow directions if he wants to go back the next time.

After a few incidents like this, Johnny will likely stop the whining at 2, or 1 if he wants to keep his privileges.

Lessons for MOMMY
You have learned the counting strategy to stop the whining and to help Johnny cooperate in the shopping experience. Remember to maintain your composure and leave before a scene gets out of control. Don’t take his behavior personally. It is your job to teach him proper behavior just as much as it would be your job to professionally handle irate customers in a 9-5 job.

You have learned how to avoid common pitfalls to grocery shopping with ADHD children. Go after eating. Go when the store is not busy. Go with a list. Go with cash.

Most importantly, you have learned some behavior management strategies to avoid the temper tantrums common at the grocery store. Give Johnny choices in meal planning and jobs at the store. Reward him with a healthy treat for being Mommy’s helper.