No More “What’s For Dinner?” Stress
Planning dinner can be stressful — especially if ADHD leaves you feeling disorganized and unprepared. Take the guesswork out of meal planning with these tips for creating a menu and staying organized at the grocery store.
Why is meal planning so tough for people with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD)? Consider what’s involved — decision-making, planning, prioritizing, navigating the aisles of a visually overwhelming supermarket — and it begins to make sense.
Meal planning for a family is an inherently ADHD-unfriendly task. By contrast, the creativity needed to pull together a last-minute meal with whatever’s on hand is ADHD-friendly (although meals created on the fly probably won’t cut it in the nutrition department night after night).
If the never-ending need to plan and prepare meals falls on your shoulders, try using this ADHD-friendly system. These easy meal planning will let you sail through the supermarket aisles and put dinner on the table in no time.
The Six-Step Meal System
Hold a family meeting. Dinnertime is the perfect occasion. Ask family members for their favorite dinner menus. Although children’s preferences should be taken into account, think about the nutritional balance of each meal they suggest.
Create a “Top-10” dinner list. You’ll cook these meals over the course of two weeks, leaving two nights per week free from cooking to order in or eat out.
Write your dinner menus on individual index cards, listing all of the components as well as the ingredients for complex dishes.
Sort your meal cards with an eye to work-saving sequences. For example, if you grill chicken breasts on Monday night, make a few extra ones to slice up and toss into your chicken Caesar salad on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Have the index cards with you at all times. Keep them in your purse or wallet, paper-clipped into two groups of five, so you’ll be ready to shop whenever you have the time.
Take out your cards at the grocery store and, voila, you’ve got your meals planned and the bulk of your shopping list already written out.
How to Customize the Meal System for Your Family
The beauty of this system lies in its flexibility. It’s not just an ADHD-friendly meal system — it’s your ADHD-friendly meal system. Here are some easy ways to make it work for you:
- Let “free nights” float. If an emergency comes up, or if you just need a break, take a free night. Then continue with the next card on the following day.
- Update the menu. If your family gets bored with its top-10 dinner menus they originally determined, hold another family meeting to take new meal suggestions.
- Be open to change. If something great is on sale or if you just have an impulse to buy something that isn’t on your meal menu card — go for it! The meal cards aren’t meant to constrain you; they’re there to support you. They’ll be there when you’re ready to resume the system.
4 Ways to Make Meal Preparation Even Easier
As you implement the ADHD-friendly meal system, keep these simple strategies in mind:
- Break up your shopping. A once-a-week shopping trip can be very tiring and may take the better part of a day. Why not plan for two trips to the supermarket each week, using two or three dinner cards per trip?
- Share the responsibility for dinner preparations. Establish an “assigned cook” for each of the five nights of the week. Younger children can be the “cook’s assistants” by setting the table, gathering ingredients, and so on. Kids in middle or high school can learn how to prepare one or two of the top-10 family dinners. In fact, they may enjoy the responsibility of preparing one of their favorite meals for the rest of their family.
- Thaw in advance. Take out the frozen ingredients for tomorrow night’s dinner as you prepare tonight’s meal. Transfer them from the counter to the refrigerator in the morning. (You’ll have a second chance in the morning if you forget to start thawing the night before!)
- Cook double portions and freeze them. Go ahead — you’ll give yourself more free nights this way.
Patricia Quinn, M.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.
Updated on April 16, 2021