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Why I recommend shopping at Aldi to my neurodivergent clients

I have been shopping at Aldi for almost a decade and have helped convert so many friends and clients to do the same. I have no affiliation with Aldi, I just think it's an affordable, executive function-friendly option!

Grocery shopping is one of the more demanding instrumental activities of daily living tasks (i.e. adulting tasks) that we complete regularly. Because your grocery shopping habits directly impact your diet, budget, and energy reserves it's important to find a system that works for your neurodivergent brain. Before we explore why Aldi can be a part of an effective executive function-friendly system for grocery shopping, let's explore why grocery shopping is such a draining task, to begin with.

Why Grocery Shopping is Draining:

  • Decision making

    • Most grocery stores have options galore when it comes to individual products, which means not only do you have to decide what foods you want to buy but also which variety and how much. You may also choose to consider the price, allergens, and nutritional labels. Consider all these decisions together and you could spend 10 minutes in the bread aisle alone.

  • Managing impulsivity

    • Have you ever stopped to think about why checkout aisles are filled with sodas, fried snacks, and candy? Grocery stores are capitalizing on impulsive, last-minute decisions to make more money. Grocery stores are filled with temptations, especially when you're hungry!

  • Multitasking

    • Checking off items on your list while keeping track of your budget.

  • Organization

    • Grouping items together on a shopping list and creating a shopping route to minimize forgotten items and inefficient backtracking.

  • Planning

    • Even if you don't make a meal plan and grocery list before heading to the store (planning to the max!), you at least have to plan your meals while in the store to make sure you have the necessary ingredients. If you're on a budget, you have to have a fluid plan that you modify as you shop to avoid overspending.

  • Problem-solving

    • The item you were looking for is out of stock and need to select an alternative. You spent more than your budget and need to put something back.

  • Sensory input

    • Grocery stores inundate our nervous systems with stimulation. They're busy, loud, crowded, visually complicated, and have different smells and temperatures depending on the department.

  • Socialization

    • Even when you elect to use the self-checkout, various other situations necessitate social interaction such as navigating busy aisles, waiting in lines, troubleshooting self-checkout issues, and getting your ID checked.

I'm certain the quick task analysis above is underestimating the executive functioning required but you get the idea. Now that we have an appreciation for why grocery shopping is so draining, let's see why Aldi can be a kind option for neurodivergent brain.

Why Aldi:

For those of you unfamiliar with Aldi, here's a quick overview. Aldi is an international grocery store chain that's currently available in 39/50 states and in most neighborhoods. It's different than a traditional grocery store in a few key ways: 1. They are physically small 2. They only offer generic brands and minimal options for each product 3. They have simplified aisles and product displays 4. The aisles are wide and accessible 5. They (typically) don't play music. 6. The prices are as cheap as it gets 7. They have the most efficient checkout system. You can probably see for yourself why these qualities would lend to executive function-friendly shopping but let me also lay it out for you.

  1. Small store = In and out in less time

  2. Fewer options = less decision making

  3. Simplified, intuitive layout that is consistent across storefronts = efficiency in searching for and locating items

  4. Wide aisles = less navigating around fellow shoppers

  5. No music = less sensory stimulation

  6. Cheaper options = easier to stay within budget & occasional impulsive buys don't break the bank

  7. Fewer snack options by checkout and super speedy checkout = Less opportunity for last-minute impulse buys

  8. BONUS: They now offer online shopping, delivery, and curbside pickup!

I don't think I will ever enjoy grocery shopping, but Aldi makes it tolerable and for me, that's a win. I would love to hear some of your strategies for surviving grocery shopping in the comments below!

Wanna learn more about Aldi? PS, if you decide to be a first-time shopper, heads up that you will need a quarter to use a cart! This video shows you how that works:

Wishing You Happier Shopping :)

-Rachel Robertson, MOT, OTR/L

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Jan 16, 2023

No wonder it’s so difficult for me!

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