This article first appeared on The Kitchn.
Our youngest child grew up at the local farmers market. Our market opened around the time he was born, and we welcomed the opportunity to walk to a local shop and buy food in the parking lot, from local vendors.
The market’s founder even hired our toddler to “help” him, which consisted of playing with said founder’s phone and occasionally giving people change. His help enabled us to take our time at the market, make friends, and carefully consider our purchases.
But that was a luxury, no? Most markets don’t have free nannies. Eventually, we learned to navigate the market without the childcare.
Have a Good Time at the Farmers Market with Kids
It’s possible, I promise. The first thing you need to do is remember that people will like you more if you don’t let your kids mess up their fun. (This is true of every place you take your crew, ever.) I love kids. I have three. But that was my choice, not the guy who’s just at the market to meet his friends for empañadas and a little weekend vegetable shopping.
1. Set up expectations for your kids.
Let your kids know that the market is fun, but you (and other people) are there to shop, and the vendors are there to sell. Talk with your kids ahead of time and let them know what to expect. This can be a great way to shop, supporting local people and even making new friends, but it’s not a playground and people are there to get things done.
2. Know your child’s limits.
A wise woman — my mother, obviously — once said that once you have children, you always have to be willing to leave. Have you ever been at the park with that whiny parent who keeps yelling, “Fauntleroy! Use your words! No hitting! If you do that one more time, Fauntleroy, we will have to leave. I mean it!” But he doesn’t mean it? And he stays on the bench sipping coffee as he says it again and again, each time he watches his kid pummel another innocent toddler. And they never leave? Don’t be that parent.
If your kid is hungry, buy a snack. Tired? See if she’ll sleep in the stroller. Bored? Give him your iPhone. I won’t judge you. But if all else fails and you hit a wall? Leave. Just do it. It’s liberating. Even if you haven’t done all your shopping. You can try again next week.
3. Teach the etiquette of sampling.
The farmers market can seem like one big buffet, even to adults. And a lot of vendors will let you try things even if they don’t have samples sitting out. To a kid? This can seem like a free-for-all. So explain ahead of time that samples are awesome, but there’s only one sample per person. Take it a step further and let them know the vendors take a loss on samples hoping to sell more, and that you shouldn’t take advantage.
4. Let them ask questions, but not too many.
I’ve always believed that the more connected my children felt to the origins of their food, the more likely they were to eat vegetables. The farmers market is a great place for children to learn something new, so as long as they aren’t interrupting or holding up the line, this is the perfect moment for them to find out how many eggs a chicken can lay in a week.
5. Make it special by trying something new.
The farmers market is a treat. Why? Because where else can you find food this fresh? And you never know what you’ll get.
When I was in my 20s, my husband and I were part of a food co-op. For $10 a week we got a bag of fresh, in-season vegetables — no choices, just vegetables. I tried Jerusalem artichokes for the first time because of that co-op. They’re delicious! I also ended up making leek gratin and chard enchiladas, and all kinds of dishes I wouldn’t have made if I didn’t have to use random vegetables every week. The farmers market is an adventure, and it’s a great place to get kids excited about new food.
6. Plan a meal together.
Another way to keep kids occupied at the market is to involve them in meal planning. See if you can make a whole meal using only food you buy that day. Bonus: Do it within a certain budget. That may mean deviating from your original plan. And there you go! Another great teaching moment. Creating a menu based on what’s in season and what you can afford is a skill — one that’s best modeled early.
7. Scope out the snacks.
When you get to the market, look for the treats. Then you have a goal. As soon as you’re finished shopping, everyone gets a … whatever it is everyone wanted. If your children are old enough, and your market is manageable enough, give them some cash and let them go. You may be surprised by what they choose. Fresh fruit is always more enticing with a side of independence.
8. Beware the bulky stroller and the wandering toddler.
Have you seen the sign that some store owners put up? “Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free kitten.” My 10-year-old saw it recently at our favorite farm market. He introduced himself as an unattended child. His ploy did not work. But I digress. Shop owners put those signs up because unattended children are annoying and dangerous. (I don’t believe in sugar-coating, so there it is.)
As for that bulky stroller, it might be a great solution at some markets — a good way to keep track of your child and carry your purchases — but other markets are tight on space and a baby carrier or backpack might work better. Know your market and make sure your children are safe and not underfoot. And for goodness’ sake, do not nip anyone in the ankles with that stroller. That’s flippin’ painful and it should never, ever happen! Ever.