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4 Ways to Ease Dinnertime Stress When You Have ADHD

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Woman grocery shopping

With ADHD, meal planning can be challenging. It involves organization, budgeting, list-making and staying on task — the very things that people with ADHD struggle with every day. Here, you’ll find four clever ways to ease the stresses involved with getting dinner on the table.

1. A well-stocked pantry means that every meal won’t require a trip to the store.

“People don’t realize it, but most families eat the same meals every week,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Blanca Garcia. Having a list of favorite meals and keeping their ingredients on hand means less time spent shopping and fretting. You’ll always have what you need to whip up a dinner that you know your family will eat. “My family loves bean tacos,” says Garcia. “So I always have tortillas, corn, cheese and beans readily available if I have to scratch my original meal plan for that evening.”

Registered dietitian Johna Burdeos, who’s married to someone with ADHD, agrees with sticking to the tried-and-true. Burdeos recommends stocking up on frozen and canned foods — tuna, salmon, beans, legumes — when they go on sale and looking for recipes that incorporate those foods. “This way,” she says, “you’re not always having to rely on fresh food like produce and meats, and you can shop from your well-stocked pantry.”

Burdeos relies on easy-to-make meals on days she can’t cook. “I like wraps, baked potatoes, or Buddha bowls made with leftover meat or canned beans and round out the meal with some frozen vegetables,” she says.

2. Make a list and shop for groceries in a way that works for you.

Make trips to the grocery store less stressful for yourself — in a way that works with your ADHD brain. Start with a list: You wouldn’t go to the store without your wallet, and you shouldn’t go without a shopping list. No one wants to wander the aisles aimlessly, trying to remember what they came for.

Think about the way you think. Would it help to bring a printout of the recipes you plan to cook? Or does it make more sense to you to have preprinted lists on hand so you can check off what you need before each visit to the store?

If you’re never without your phone or smartwatch, use it to make shopping easier. Type or dictate your list into the notes area or download a grocery shopping app. Apps like AnyList and Our Groceries let you find deals, check nutrition facts and organize your items by dairy, produce and so on. Set it up for the entire household so your family can add to the list at their convenience.

Most grocery stores let you place an order in advance for pick up. You can complete your shopping at home while you’re meal planning. That way there’s no chance you’ll get to the store and forget an all-important ingredient for tonight’s dinner. To simplify things even further, consider a grocery delivery service like Instacart or FreshDirect.

3. Not every home-cooked meal must be made from scratch.

The goal is to cook smarter, not harder. Life coach Kekua Kobashigawa says she’s “practically allergic” to complicated meals. “I find it’s easiest for me when I can use the same base ingredients to make several meals that vary by sauce, seasoning or how they’re served.”

For example, Kobashigawa might buy fresh eggs, chicken and vegetables for the week’s meals. She cooks the chicken all at once with basic garlic and salt, and then portions it for the various meals for that week — adding different spices, seasons, or sides each time. “I can slice the chicken to make fajitas, chunk it up for shredded chicken with roasted veggies, and dice it for chicken chili, spaghetti and omelets — all healthy, nutritious meals that don’t require a lot of thought or effort.”

Burdeos likes doing once-a-week meal prep, also thinking about how she can stretch the ingredients in the recipe throughout the week. “Plan make-ahead meals like overnight oats, casseroles, meatloaf, chili or soups — foods that work as leftovers or can be frozen,” she says. Cook up some plain grain or pasta to keep in the fridge to use for different dishes throughout the week. That might mean buttered spaghetti with roasted veggies on Monday and spaghetti with red sauce on Wednesday.

Consider meal kit services like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. They can be pricey, but the ease and convenience may be worth it when you have ADHD — especially if you tend to become frustrated with grocery shopping and meal planning.

4. Establish weekly routines to take the daily pressure off.

Since our families tend to eat the same meals on a regular basis, it can make sense to establish a weekly or biweekly rotation of meals. This way, you will always know which ingredients you must have on hand and how long meal prep will take.

Create theme nights — Macaroni Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wings on Wednesday — to eliminate the stress of having to keep track of what’s for dinner. And make it a family affair. Get your spouse and kids involved; invite grandparents, cousins or friends for a meal once each week. Many hands make light work, after all.

And give yourself permission to order takeout. The entire family will look forward to that day each week when you pick up a couple of pizzas on the way home from soccer.

Try our tips or use them to come up with your own. Family mealtime should be enjoyable and as stress-free as possible.

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