A Trip to the Supermarket Can Be So Much More Than a Trip to the Supermarket!

A year ago, trips to the supermarket with my son, Barclay, were not pleasant. Barclay has a speech disorder, ADHD, and ASD. It was sensory overload for both of us!  He’d try to wriggle out of the cart, throw items from the cart, and grab things as we walked by aisles.  But part of the problem was also me.  I’d go to the supermarket when I needed to go rather than when it would be a good time for him. I’d go with a list a mile long and be distracted hunting for things while expecting him to be patient.  It didn’t work.


Children with developmental delays and disabilities need their parents to be engaged and dialed in.  Over the last couple of years, I have definitely learned that! I also realized this; I want to be engaged and dialed in!  That is when my son learns! A trip to the supermarket is such a great opportunity to teach so many skills.  From communication to social interaction, it is a developmental skills playground. But you need to plan and go with some specific and simple goals in mind.  Here is an example of our most recent supermarket visit.  Hopefully, it will give you some ideas on making supermarket trips with your child-pleasant and productive!

The Steps I Took to Prepare for Our Supermarket Visit

First, I made sure I had a list and that it was short.  Next, to be sure Barclay was rested, we left after his nap.  I also skipped his afternoon snack.  Our local supermarket offers a cookie to the kids, so I wanted him to be hungry for it.  I got him SUPER excited about this cookie. We talked about it a lot.  Buy-in for kids is SO important.  Barclay willingly got into the car seat, knowing a cookie was the reward.

Our Supermarket Goals

GOAL 1: Remaining in the cart. We successfully accomplished this by FIRST going straight to get that cookie!  A child busy eating is too busy to try to climb out of the cart. I also brought his juice and some backup snacks, just in case!


GOAL 2:  Reviewing foods he knows and interacting with some new ones. While in the produce section, I asked Barclay to point to fruits and vegetables he was familiar with, like apple and lemon.  I let him hold them and smell them. Then I showed him some he didn’t know, like kiwi and peach. He LOVED it and was so engaged!

GOAL 3:  Identifying a “straw.” During an evaluation earlier in the day, Barclay had to name some everyday objects. His therapist said he couldn’t identify a “straw.”  So that became one of our supermarket goals. We found straws!  We found them hanging in an aisle by the Deli, attached to some juice boxes.  He had so much fun during our straw scavenger hunt. I am pretty confident he’ll be able to identify one during his next evaluation!

GOAL 4:  Interacting with people. I’d prompt Barclay to wave and say “hi” to every child and friendly adult we would see.  Social skills are essential to target for kids on the spectrum.  Just getting them to notice other people in the community is a great way to hit that goal.

GOAL 5: Staying engaged with me. How could a child NOT stay engaged when all of the above was happening!  Even at the very end, we reviewed each item as he helped me unload our groceries onto the conveyor.  It was such a great success!

I hope this was helpful!  Your goals for your child will more than likely look completely different.  Our goals for our next supermarket trip will, too.  The points to remember are planning ahead and making meaningful goals to get the most out of your trip to the supermarket with your child.

Do you have any suggestions or comments about things you do with your child to make shopping a learning, engaging, and positive experience?

Tell me, and I forget.  Teach me, and I remember.  Involve me, and I learn. – Benjamin Franklin

Published by

Amy Nielsen

Amy Nielsen is a former children's librarian of nearly twenty years. She now spends most of her time obsessively pounding on a keyboard. She is the author of It Takes a Village: How to Build a Support System for Your Exceptional Needs Family, Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder. Her upcoming YA Worth it debuts in May of 2024. She is also a freelance writer for The Autism Helper. When she's not writing, she and her family are most likely crusing the waters of Tampa Bay.