Meal Planning for People With ADHD

overhead view of people's hands reaching for food at table

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Meal planning can cause anxiety and overwhelm many people living with ADHD. The thought of sitting down and planning three meals a day, for seven days feels like an enormous task. Instead, many people ‘wing it’ and eat whatever is around when they are hungry. While this technique might not be the most healthy or cost-effective way to eat, it does remove the need for meal planning.

However, if you are responsible for other people's nutritional needs besides your own you might feel guilty if you order pizza for the fifth night in a row.

Meal Planning Benefits for People Living With ADHD

There are many benefits to meal planning. The three main ones are:

It Saves Money 

When you meal plan, you have all the items in your kitchen to make a complete meal! This means fewer emergency trips to the grocery store and the inevitable impulse buys. You will also save money on eating out because there is nothing to eat at home.

It Saves Time

Thanks to meal planning, you always have the ingredients to make your meal. No more trying to make a chicken stir-fry and realizing you don’t have the chicken. Even quick trips to the store are time-consuming when you factor in parking and waiting for the checkout line etc.

It's Healthy

Preparing and cooking your own food is much healthier than eating outside your home. To make the food taste so good, restaurants add fat, salt, and sugar. In contrast, when you are cooking at home, you can eliminate or use those ingredients sparingly. You can also plan a varied diet, which is helpful to ensure you are getting all the essential nutrients. Without meal planning, you might find yourself in default and eating the same meals again and again.

How to Create a Menu Rotation for Easy Meal Planning

There is a great way to have the benefits of meal planning without having to repeatedly plan your meals. It’s menu rotation. 

Menu rotation is where you plan your meals for a certain period of time, for example, three weeks, then repeat those three-week menus again and again. Your menu is planned once and then you never have to do it again! It will revolutionize your eating and your health.​

Here's how to set up the system:

  1. In bullet points, write all the evening meals you make regularly now. Your list might look something like this.
  2. Look for additional meals you have made in the past and enjoyed but forgot about them. Ask family members, dig into recipe books, or check out cooking websites. Add these to your list. When you have seven meals, you have your first week of evening meals!
  3. Write out all the ingredients you need for those meals.
  4. Now do the same for lunches. 
  5. Next plan your breakfasts. You don’t need the same variety for breakfast as evening meals. Perhaps you have weekday breakfasts and weekend breakfasts
  6. Over the next few weeks, build on that first week of meal planning. Add new recipes until you have 21 days of meals. When you have 21 days your work is done! You have menus and weekly shopping lists for each week. 
  7. If you like to try new recipes, then allocate one evening a week where you try a new recipe. If it's really tasty it can be part of your rotation. 

By Jacqueline Sinfield
Jacqueline Sinfield is an ADHD coach, and the author of "Untapped Brilliance, How to Reach Your Full Potential As An Adult With ADHD."