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Tips for Meal Planning When You Have ADHD

Do you have ADHD and meal planning sucks the life out of you? Here are some tips for meal planning that work with the ADHD brain!

When you have ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), everything just seems harder.

I was diagnosed in May 2022, and suddenly my whole life started making sense.

The issues with time management, the complete overwhelm at doing simple tasks… these symptoms of ADHD were something I thought were just flaws and I had to just get over it.

Turns out my brain just works differently and I needed to find ways to manage it!

Meal planning was one of those tasks I had to rewire in my brain and figure out how to make it work for me. And while I’m not perfect, this method seems to work most of the time!

A wooden table with meal planning sheets and miscellaneous food ingredients. Text says "How to meal plan with ADHD"

If you also struggle with ADHD and meal planning, keep reading. I’m sharing my tips and tricks for ADHD-friendly meal planning and how it’s helped me.

Why is meal planning so hard when you have ADHD?

There is a LOT that goes into meal planning:

  • Finding recipes
  • Making a grocery list
  • Staying on budget
  • Going shopping
  • Putting everything away
  • Actually using up the food before it goes bad

All of that is part of what’s called “Executive function”, which is something that many of us with ADHD struggle with. Meal planning may seem like just ONE thing. But for us, it’s a collection of MANY steps that easily overwhelm us and seem to take up too much time. And then we just… don’t do it. That’s executive dysfunction in a nutshell.

Meal planning started to get hard for me within the past year or two. But after my ADHD diagnosis, it all made sense. I just have to adapt to how my brain works!

A clipboard with a piece of paper that says "Meal plan". Surrounding the clipboard are tomatoes, red onion, walnuts, and miscellaneous ingredients.

Benefits of meal planning

Saves money

When you actually plan out what you’re eating, you know exactly what to buy. And that helps stay on budget. It also keeps you from eating out, which is MUCH more expensive.

Saves on food waste

I have issues with object permanence. So if something is not right in front of me, it doesn’t exist. That means the bag of spinach I stuffed in the back of the fridge will go bad before I remember to use it.

But if I buy it with a plan and know I need to use it for a meal, I’m actually going to use it up.

Saves time

Meal planning seems like it takes a lot of time. But you’ll honestly save time in the long run because you’ve already done the hard work of thinking about what to eat.

Keeps us healthy

In those moments when we’re too overwhelmed to think, having healthy foods around can keep us from having just chips for lunch.

I’m so thankful for modern-day convenience items like salad kits. I can rely on those for extra nutrients without having to do a lot of work.

A piece of paper with a meal planning template. To the left sits grape tomatoes, bananas, an apple, and a zucchini.

How to get started planning weekly meals

Create a list of base meals & ingredients

You don’t have to make a list of actual recipes. I know that recipes can be hard to follow, especially if they have a lot of ingredients/steps.

Instead, what I did was write down a list of meal themes, along with some simple ingredients and pantry staples that go along with these easy meals.

A piece of paper, at the top the text says "Meal themes". There is a list of meal themes, with ingredients for each underneath.

On the paper above, I made a list of themes we eat pretty often. Mexican, Asian, Pasta, etc. And under each one I wrote what ingredients I can always keep in the house.

For example: Under “Pasta”, I have:

  • Different types of pasta
  • Marinara sauce
  • Alfredo sauce
  • Frozen broccoli
  • Frozen garlic bread

If I always have these ingredients on-hand, I know I have an easy meal available. No new recipes needed.

Most of my meals contain the following:

  • Healthy fats
  • Lean proteins
  • Whole grains
  • Some kind of vegetable

It doesn’t have to be perfect every time, but I do my best when I can.

Take inventory

This step can be hard for a lot of us. Making the list isn’t so bad; it’s updating the list every time you take something or add something that can mess us up.

One thing that helped me is making a list of items I ALWAYS want in my pantry. So if I take one item out, I know to automatically put another on the grocery list to replace it. So this could look like:

  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 jar marinara
  • 1 jar Alfredo
  • 2 cans coconut milk

If I use one can of diced tomatoes this week, then I know I need to buy another one on this week’s grocery trip to replace it. It’s a great way to make sure I always have food available.

Make your plan for the week

I prefer planning for one week at a time; that way I only need to go to the store once. You may need to adjust that for your needs.

Making a plan involves coming up with the following:

  • Breakfast: 1 or 2 ideas
  • Lunch: 1 idea, and/or plan for dinner leftovers
  • Dinner: 4-5 meal ideas, planning on leftover nights
  • Snacks: 1-2

Look at your calendar for the week to see if you’re going out to dinner one night. Or maybe you know you’re coming home late another night so you want a slow cooker dinner waiting for you. Looking ahead is key!

Also, use tools that make cooking even easier. Sheet pan meals, slow cooker meals, those are all amazing tools that make dinner time go more smoothly.

Create the grocery list

Look at all the meals you wrote down. One-by-one, add the ingredients for each to the list.

Try not to skip ahead or skim too quickly. I do this quite often and will forget to add key ingredients, which comes back to bite me later.

Organize the ingredients into different sections:

  • Frozen
  • Produce
  • Meat
  • Pantry
  • Bread

Grouping them together keeps you from walking back and forth in the store because you forgot something!

Grocery shop

If you can, limit yourself to one or two stores to save time and energy. Pick a time of day when you have high energy levels to go grocery shopping. If you’re like me, you might use up a lot of energy and will be totally spent by the time you get home.

Another option is to place an online pickup order! I’ve been using Wal Mart’s grocery pickup and it has been a lifesaver. There are times when I like walking through a grocery store. But when it comes to the weekly essentials, I’ve found that I save a LOT of energy by just driving to Wal Mart to pick up my groceries.

A piece of paper that says "Weekly meal plan". Next to it is a meal prep container filled with chicken and vegetables.

Find a way to stay consistent

The one thing I struggle with is creating habits and sticking to them. Meal planning is a big one. But if you don’t do it every week, it gets harder to get back in it again.

Some people thrive with a calendar or planner. If you have a recurring appointment that sends you a reminder every week, you may be more likely to actually do it.

Set up a time every Thursday or Friday (Or whatever day works best), and either write it down in your calendar or on your phone. The good news is, if you consistently meal plan on the same day, eventually your brain will automatically shift into meal planning mode on those days.

Nowadays, I do my meal planning every single Thursday. It’s been ingrained in my brain so long that I no longer need to put it on my calendar.

Plan to use fresh food first

This is a handy tip even if you don’t have ADHD. And if you shop only once a week, you know what I’m talking about.

I’ll buy fresh veggies and things for salads, like leafy greens. And I’ll plan to use them toward the end of the week. But by the time I want to use them, they’ve wilted and gone bad.

So now, I plan to use all of that fresh food within the first few days of the week. The rest of the week, I’ll either use frozen/canned vegetables or the veggies that tend to last longer, like carrots. This has helped me save so much on food waste!

A closeup of an open notebook. Inside it says "Meal plan".

Is there a specific diet for ADHD?

I will say that every person is different. We all have different nutritional needs, some have food allergies, and some of us do better without certain foods in our diet.

Some people follow what they call an “ADHD diet”, eating specific foods that are supposed to lessen their ADHD symptoms. Whether it’s through an elimination diet, getting rid of food colorings or artificial colors, etc.

I don’t follow a specific diet plan. I have a relatively healthy diet, with a lot of whole foods and also a lot of convenience foods on low-energy days. I also take medication to help with my symptoms.

My advice is to do your own research. Find what works for you.

Final Thoughts

So, I’m definitely not perfect when it comes to meal planning! But I’ve found a few systems that work well for me, and hopefully you can find a couple nuggets of information in here that you can take with you.

ADHD Meal Planning Guide

Do you need a specific how-to on meal planning for your ADHD brain? Learn more about my ADHD Meal Planning Guide, created especially for you!

What other tips do you have for meal planning with ADHD? Leave a comment and give us more ideas!

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