Many parents let their kids graze on items, such as crackers or cookies, in the grocery store and pay for them at the check-out stand. After all, it keeps your child happy while you shop – and you are not stealing because you are paying for the item, even if it is partially eaten, right? This mom found out that grocery stores may not see it the same way.

mom grocery shoping with child

I usually bring snacks with me to the grocery store for my 3-year-old to munch on. However, during this grocery shopping trip, he really wanted the goldfish staring at him from the top of the pile of groceries in the cart. I thought there would be no harm in letting him eat some of the crackers while I shopped. After all, I had the container and I would definitely pay for it while ringing up the rest of my groceries.

It wasn't until the checkout guy at my local Safeway made an extremely rude comment to me while ringing up the opened box of crackers that I began to think about this practice.

Much ado about nothing?

While I didn't appreciate the unprofessional way in which this store employee acted (a simple, "Hey, our policy is we don't allow food to be opened until purchased," would have sufficed), I wondered if this was a matter of me breaking grocery store etiquette -- or had I unintentionally broken a law? Or was this employee (who doesn't have kids, by the way) making a big deal out of nothing?

I have seen many parents in grocery stores do the same thing, and I'm sure most of them pay for opened items at the checkout stand. It seems that many grocery stores may frown upon the practice, but I have not heard of them prosecuting unless someone actually eats the products and leaves the store without paying, which (hopefully!) most parents would not do.

Grocery store etiquette

Some parents argue that letting your children eat food before it is paid for teaches them that rules don't apply to them or that they can get what they want simply by whining or crying. This is a point to consider. However, in the heat of the moment when your kid is screaming and people are glaring – it can be tough to enforce.

I can understand that grocery stores may find it hard to draw the line as to what is allowed and what is not allowed. If grocery stores allow this to slide with certain items, such as crackers or cookies, how do they feel about produce, when the items need to be weighed? Letting your child nosh on an apple may sound like a good and healthy choice at the time, but what is the protocol once you hit the check-out stand? You could weigh another apple and use that weight for payment, but is that kosher?

I know my next shopping trip I plan to arm myself with plenty of snacks from home, an emergency stash of suckers and a handheld game device -- and will try to get in the rude employee's checkout line when my son is throwing a fit. Just kidding! (No, I'm not.)

Tell us: Do you let your kids snack on yet-to-be-purchased items at the grocery store while you're shopping?

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Tags: parenting babies

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Comments on "Should you let your kids graze on food at grocery store?"

Janet July 30, 2013 | 12:49 AM

I work in a gift shop in a casino... this happens frequently and exactly what was stated above happens alot... open, eat part in line then credit card declines and they walk out and we have to take the loss. When you address the issue people are so offended ... they aren't stealing they plan to pay... you ate it before you paid... unfortunately that is by law stealing...intent is not justification... I realize with hungry kids its tempting but unfortunately it's still wrong..I don't do it and I have taught my son he has to wait til we pay...just letting him hold the item seems to assure him he is getting the requested treat and he doesn't fuss or try to open it before we check out. I would expect the clerks to explain it in a mannerly way and its a shame the clerk was rude to you, but I can say I have mentioned it politely and people are so shocked that you are addressing the issue it really doesnt matter they are immediately offended. We also have signs requesting that customers pay before opening and eating items and they either don't read them or disregard them.

Megan May 29, 2013 | 11:57 AM

As both a mother of two young children AND someone who runs a grocery store for a living, no, it is not okay. The grocery store has to pay for every cracker, cookie, or apple in the store. I understand that you are planning on buying it; but as others have mentioned...what if you forgot your wallet? What if your card is declined? What if something happens, and you need to leave the store in a hurry? These things all happen way more often than what most people realize; resulting in a loss for the store. Yes, I know it isn't much....but those losses add up. And losses means price increases for customers, or even worse; lay-offs. I know that it is usually harmless. But believe it or not, there are a lot of dishonest people out there. I actually had a customer in my store today, eating a bag of candy. I happened to walk past her, and, despite her deer-in-the-headlights expression, thought nothing of it. She was an older woman (probably in her 50's) who was very clean and well kept. I thought surely, she would pay for her candy; but she walked right out of the store, purchasing nothing. The decision is ultimately yours: you can either take your own snacks, feed your kids before taking them shopping, or continue to graze with suspecting store employees watching you like a hawk.

Tony December 30, 2012 | 10:30 AM

"and you are not stealing because you are paying for the item" Where does this logic come from? "I plan to pay for it, so its not theft." That is just plain false. Not only from a legal perspective, but rather a perspective of reality. That item does not belong to you. You have not yet paid for it, it is not yours. Plain and simple. Eating food that does not belong to you is called theft. Just because people aren't often prosecuted for it does not in any way make it right. Was the person rude? I have no idea, their statement isn't quoted. But you want to know what IS rude? Walking into someone else's establishment and tearing open their products and consuming them without having purchased them. THAT is rude.

Jillian April 21, 2011 | 2:09 PM

I admit i have never let my son eat something before we buy it. If he's really throwing a fit i will take an item to the register and buy it then let him have it and only that one item while i'm shopping for the rest of what i need. I hate it when people i'm shopping with do this though. What happens when you get to the register and you forgot your wallet? Is the store supposed to have a tab only for you? I also hate it when the kids are in the cart and the parent lets them have a messy snack like frosted animal crackers or something because then the whole cart where my kid might sit next time will be all sticky. Usually my son has one or two snacks in his back pack if he forgets it too bad.

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