Going to the grocery store completely changes once you have kids. Gone are the days of leisurely browsing for your favorite products. From chasing a giggling toddler down the aisles to checkout line meltdowns, the very thought of grocery shopping is enough to drive many parents straight to the beer and wine section.

So, we talked to several of the big-name grocery stores in Charlotte to find out some life hacks that could make your family’s grocery store experience slightly less painful. Here’s what they had to say:

Make it fun

Most Charlotte-area stores offer extras that will make kids beg to come along for the weekly grocery trip. If your little one is a big helper, he can push his own child-sized cart at Publix, Harris Teeter, Food Lion and others. These stores also usually offer regular-sized carts equipped with steering wheels so kids can feel like they’re controlling the action, but there’s still plenty of room for all the groceries mom and dad need.

Side note: Publix, Food Lion and Harris Teeter all also offer Caroline’s Carts (http://www.carolinescart.com/), a cart for special needs children who have outgrown a traditional shopping cart.

Regular Harris Teeter shoppers know the Harry the Dragon ride-on machine out front is worth its weight in gold — or copper, since it only costs one cent per ride.

At Publix, kids can pick up a coloring sheet at the information kiosk when they first walk in the door, and then grab crayons and stickers at the checkout line to get creative while mom or dad settle up with the cashier.

Offer treats

Whether you’re hoping to banish your child’s grumpy mood or just want to give her something to munch on while you do your shopping, treats are a must for any grocery trip.

Parents can head to the bakery counter at Publix for a free cookie and sign their kids up for the Kids’ Cookie Club where they’ll receive a punch card and be entered into a drawing for a 10-inch decorated cookie after ten punches. (Pssst: Publix spokesperson Kim Reynolds told us the free cookies aren’t just for kids — anyone can have one, and they come in chocolate chip, sugar and sprinkled varieties for when mom or dad is the one feeling cranky.)

Harris Teeter also offers free regular and sugar-free Harry the Dragon cookies near the checkout lines.

If you’re buying deli meat or cheese, many stores including Publix and Harris Teeter will give you a free slice of your chosen cold cut as a sample. That’s a free snack for your little one(s) and a guaranteed five minutes or so of uninterrupted shopping for you.

Save time inside (or avoid it entirely)

We get it, even with these parenting hacks, sometimes you just don’t want to deal with the drama. Fortunately there are many options to cut down on your time inside or avoid the grocery store entirely, while still getting your staples.

Harris Teeter’s Express Lane is a favorite for many parents who love the convenience of placing an order online and picking it up at the store a few hours later, without ever having to leave the car.

If you have the Publix app, you can order your sliced meats and cheeses as well as subs, fruit bowls and bakery items ahead of time. The app will also help you create a shopping list and tell you where your items can be found inside your local store, cutting down on time spent searching for those obscure items in that new recipe you’re trying.

Food Lion spokesperson Matt Harankal also told us the company recently redesigned the checkout sections at its Charlotte-area stores to get families in and out faster.

Rather do all your shopping from home? Charlotte customers can also have groceries delivered directly to their homes through services like Shipt (https://shipt.com), Amazon Pantry and InstaCart (https://www.instacart.com). Most of these tack on a service fee, but it may be worth it to avoid the hassle of traditional shopping.

What are some of your favorite tips for shopping with kids in Charlotte? Let us know in the comments!

Photo: Sarah Pryor

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