Maybe not that many times, but it sure feels like it.
So if you're at home pulling your hair out because there's no food in the house and you just don't know if you can handle taking your toddler to the store one more time... well, I'm doing that, too.
Here are the things I've learned about how — or maybe how NOT to — have a successful grocery shopping trip with toddlers.
Q: When is the best time to take a toddler grocery shopping?
A: If you're talking about the time of day, it's when your toddler is fed and well-rested — but everyone knows that toddlers are always hungry and any time you leave the house it's going to run up against naptime, so that advice does you no good. Sorry.
If you're talking about the age of the child, it's always exciting to shop during that window where he's old enough to pitch a fit if you don't let him get out and walk, but young enough to wander off without any concept of what it means to "stay by the cart." At that point he'll also just be tall enough to drop bottles of mouthwash into strangers' carts when you're not looking.
Q: What should I bring with me to keep my toddler entertained?
A: The great thing about taking toddlers on errands is, it really doesn't matter what you have in your purse. You could have a live clown in there to make balloon animals and play peek-a-boo with your child and he wouldn't even look at it. As a toddler, his one and only goal is to Get. Out. Of. The. Cart.
(Snacks might be helpful, but I caution against giving him your phone and putting on Team Umizoomi because he'll throw it on the floor faster than you can say "Everybody crazy shake!" He's no dummy. He wants out.)
A: No. Or yes. You know what? It doesn't matter. If you get the car cart you might enjoy an extra 20 minutes of peaceful staying-in-the-cart time.
But now you've set the bar pretty high. Your toddler knows that such a thing as a car cart exists, so you'd better be prepared to move heaven and earth to get one every single time. Your day is pretty much ruined if the only one left is the one with the broken steering wheel, and if there are no car carts at all you should just go home and do your best to survive on ketchup and the crumbs from the bottom of your toaster.
Q: How should I handle temper tantrums in the middle of the trip?
A: You'll get plenty of unsolicited advice if your child has a tantrum in public, so I don't know if I really need to cover this one.
If your toddler is particularly vocal about his dislike of grocery shopping, you'll be told twice that he's too hot, once that he's too cold, and three times that this goes by so fast and you should enjoy every single moment. Every person you meet will inform you that he's pulling his socks off.
A nice lady in the ethnic foods aisle will see how frazzled you are and ask with a smile, "How old is he?" which means, "Why did you put your pet Tasmanian devil in a diaper?" to which you'll smile back and say, "18 months" which means "HELP ME!!!!" Then she'll push her cart away saying, "Aww, he's cute" which is code for "I really hope we don't keep running into each other in all the other aisles."
As for how you should respond to your toddler's tantrum? I don't know. All I can tell you is, handing him to the guy behind the deli counter and running away is frowned upon.
Q: What are your best tips to keep toddlers happy at the checkout?
A: This is where you really need to step up your game, because you'll be busy. First, you need to coerce your toddler to be still while the cashier weighs him so you know how much you owe for all the grapes he's been eating out of the back of the cart. Then you need to count and pay for the handfuls of York Peppermint Patties that he smashed in his fists while you were unloading the rest of your groceries.
At this point there's not a whole lot you can do, because your toddler has HAD IT with shopping. The best you can hope for is that the bagboy will lean in close and say something menacing like, "Hey, little buddy!" With any luck, he'll remain frozen with fear until he regains his senses in the parking lot and has a tantrum when you try to buckle him into his car seat.