Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Let them loose in the supermarket: The shopping list challenge

by Adam Lisagor/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
A tedious, repetitive part of a parent's life is dragging bored kids round the supermarket because you 'need a few bits' or 'have nothing for dinner'. Here's an idea that could be used every now and then to make those trips a little less painful for everyone.

It came about when I was looking after four children recently (my daughter + 3) and realized I didn’t have enough food to cobble together lunch for them all – especially as one of them was dairy and gluten intolerant. They were playing so intently though, it felt mean to interrupt their fun to take them to the shop. Then it occurred to me that this could actually be part of the fun.

I told the girls I was setting them a challenge:

I was going to release them into the supermarket with my shopping list and a shopping basket. Could they find all the correct items? Without any help from me. Whatsoever.

They took the bait. Loom bands, felt-tips, tights on heads (?!) were tossed aside and we were out the door.

To make it more challenging, I decided we'd have something for lunch with slightly more interesting ingredients than a cheese sandwich. We’d have what I call “DIY spring rolls”, a sort of made-up thing, but basically a Chinesey filling rolled up inside rice papers (which I did have in the cupboard already). I also threw in an element of free choice and a price restriction. This was the shopping list:
I had absolutely no idea how easy or hard it was going to be for them. I guessed kids pick up quite a lot by osmosis from regular trips to the supermarket with their mum or dad, but just how much detail had they absorbed? Could they identify a piece of ginger, for example? Would they be able to locate the Chinese Five Spice, hiding here?
I selected a smaller rather than a larger supermarket to keep the task – and them! – a bit more contained.

When we got there, I put them into pairs (for tighter teamwork), with an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old in each (for evenness), and gave each pair a copy of the same shopping list. But I made it clear that this wasn’t a competition against each other or a race against time. So they should do it calmly and slowly. I didn’t think four unsupervised kids screeching and squealing their way round the supermarket would go down that well.

Then I set them free.

I wandered round, peeping down aisles, watching from a distance. They looked very engaged, very earnest, very interactive, swapping food knowledge and supermarket geography with each other. Just little pint-sized shoppers going about their business. I caught one pair asking a member of staff very politely where a particular item was, and the others checking ingredient labels to see if the pudding they wanted was gluten and dairy-free. I was impressed.

After 20 minutes or so, they presented me with their baskets. Time to see how well they'd done. We crouched down by the cat litter and I checked each item against the list – with a pretend tone of formality, like a theatre nurse doing an inventory of medical equipment.
The results: Both teams had got 8 out of the 9 ingredients correctly. 
The errors: One pair had got an iceberg lettuce instead of a white cabbage, and the other pair had only been able to find dried ginger. 
The selected puddings: Jelly for one pair, meringues for the other. 

They all looked pretty pleased with themselves. One pair had also chanced their arm and slipped The Lego Movie DVD in their basket!

We put the duplicate ingredients from one basket back on the shelves and paid for the other. As we headed home, I overheard them discussing the pros and cons of shopping at Co-op versus Sainsburys as if they'd jumped forward 60 or 70 years.
by Paul Downey/CC BY 2.0

There's another supermarket challenge in my book Keeping the Little Blighters Busy. This one has the feel of a TV game show and really puts their resourcefulness to the test!


  1. Great idea! Often send my pre teens to asda with a list!

  2. Let's enjoy it while it lasts, Annie - can't seem to get it to work with my teenager!

  3. This is great! I will have to try this when my kids get older.

  4. I'd say you can do it from around age 7.

  5. I love this - much better than dragging them around the supermarket. I've done something a bit similar with a 2 and 3 year old. I gave them a a list of pictures with boxes to tick when they'd found the different things. It works especially well with fruit and vegetables, which are more recognisable. I also like to give them a free choice. I ask them to pick one fruit or vegetable each and then I have to figure out what we're going to cook with it!

    1. That sounds great - love your thinking! We've also done a Ready Steady Cook activity with a random bag of ingredients!

  6. Fab idea! It can be very interesting seeing what the children actually pick up from previous shopping trips, how much they take on board.
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsBeKids

    1. Little sponges, aren't they? Even when you think they're not watching/listening!

  7. SO nice isnt it! My son is like this too bored when we are out shopping by when I started to make him a part of the process he started helping! I would ask him to check the cupboards and fridge and then tell me what needs replenishing and then we would go together with out list and buy groceries! We get to finish fast as my 5 year old knows the supermarket now =) #LetKidsBeKids