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ADHD Kitchen: What Makes A Meal “Doable?” (With Recipe Link!)

A while back, I promised I’d write a bit about Cooking with ADHD (which is like Cooking with Gas, only way more dangerous).

Perhaps predictably, thus far I haven’t gotten around to it.

Today, though, I found myself poking around for doable recipes, and I found one that reminded me of one of my primary ADHD-friendly food-prep strategies — and, so, here I — SQUIRREL!


Where were we?

Oh, yes. Cooking with ADHD. Very good. Onward!

So! One of the keys to my increasing success as an ADHD-challenged homemaker has been the discovery that I can dump meat and liquid seasoning into freezer bags, freeze it, and have seasoned meat ready to go whenever I need it (1).

I’ve found a few seasonings that work really well for both Denis’ palette and mine. For beef, we like Allegro’s original and hickory iterations or Moore’s. For chicken, we like both of those, any brand of Greek salad dressing, or a blend of soy sauce with ginger and honey. If I plan to make oven-fried chicken, a simple saltwater brine works, too.

For dinner, all I have to do is thaw and cook a pre-portioned packet of meat, bake a couple of potatoes(2), and throw some spinach and a few croutons in a couple of bowls (yeah, I’m that lazy). If we’re not feeling potatoes, a couple of biscuits-in-a-can or store-bought crusty rolls will serve, or I might whip up a quick batch of corn muffins(3). (I also make awesome home-made bread, but that only tends to happen on days when I don’t have much going on.)

Just seasoning and portioning the meat ahead of time may not sound like that big a deal, but for me it often makes the difference between cooking at home or grabbing takeout. In short, it means I don’t have to think about dinner. Options that both Denis and I will enjoy are already ready to go.

This works for me because the work of portioning and seasoning the meat is done up front, and everything else is pretty simple. The process is reduced to a few steps at a time.

To streamline the prep end of things, I buy cuts of meat that are already effectively portion-controlled, like chicken thighs, or ones that can be easily divided into appropriate portions (I do know how to cook a whole chicken quite well, but that isn’t always the best option for a week-night meal). Both Denis and I like small portions of meat, so many of the cuts of meat at the grocery store or the co-op will make two or three servings (or more!) per steak(4).

Basically, the fewer steps there are between “What’s for dinner?” and “Dinner’s on the table!” the happier and more effective I am. I can enjoy involved recipes, but I have trouble following them. The fewer ingredients a recipe requires, and the fewer steps it takes, the more likely I am to actually use it. If there’s a page-turn or a step that takes an entire paragraph to explain, it’s TL;DR time. I don’t switch tasks as easily as other people, so things like that can make all the difference in the wold.

I’ve been trying to cook down (see what I did there? :D) a list of the elements that make a recipe ADHD-friendly (for me, anyway). Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Doesn’t require much thinking ahead at cook time.
  • Not very many ingredients.
  • Not very many steps.
  • None of the steps are very long.
  • Intuitive process flow (seriously, I made brownies today from a recipe with very counter-intuitive process flow, and I guess we’ll just have to see if they come out all right. Edit: So we’re eating the brownies right now, fresh from the oven, cooled for 10 minutes, with ice cream … they’re fine.)
  • Doesn’t leave a ton of leftovers (Denis and I tend not to be great about finishing off leftovers, though we’re better about some than others).
  • Doesn’t require the entire recipe to be read through first. (Seriously. This can be a real problem; first off, I’ll have forgotten what I read by the time I get halfway though; second, see the bit above about task-switching.)

A fine example of a recipe that fits most of the bill can be found here. The sole exception is the final step, which is presented as a paragraph — but it’s one that can be readily broken down into steps if you copy and paste the recipe into a wod processor.

I love the fact that this recipe combines all the elements of a balanced meal — protein, carbs, and veggies — into one bag that you can toss in your slow-cooker and forget about until dinner time. I can’t wait to try it. It sounds great!


  1. This has been somewhat complicated by the death of our microwave. I now have to think ahead far enough to leave things time to thaw.
  2. Okay, so I really prefer to nuke potatoes, too, but….
  3. I used to do whole-grain ricey things pretty often, but I’ve found that Denis and I have very different tastes, there.
  4. This is also an effective way to stretch the meat budget. It’s totally okay to take something that a store packages as “a steak” and cut it into two or three pieces rather than eating the whole thing as one portion. Likewise, boneless beef spare-ribs can be marinated, grilled, and treated as individual beef portions. Get creative!

It’s Thursday and I Should Be Doing Homework

…But I’ve got enough done to take a break, so instead I’m sticking some thoughts on here.

I just realized that the world needs two categories of “easy” recipes — or, rather, we need two separate categories: easy recipes and ADHD-friendly recipes.

Like most people with ADHD, I am very capable in many areas, and in what we’ll call my “areas of specialization*,” I’m even capable of long bouts of intensely-focused activity.

Cooking, however — although it interests me in a general sort of sense — is not one of my areas of specialization. It’s something I kinda like doing; something I’m happy to do if it’s not too complicated and I don’t have to take too many intermediate steps and I’m not feeling terribly compelled to do something else.

I can even learn complex recipes — if I’m in the right frame of mind and if the directions are designed well**.

On the whole, though, I prefer simple recipes — really simple ones. The fewer ingredients and steps, the better. I can follow really simple recipes even on those days when I’m sleep deprived and all the compensatory skills I’ve learned over the course of a lifetime coping with ADHD just fly right out the window.

As such, I think I’m going to add an ADHD-kitchen category here — one aimed at those of us wrestling (okay, and also sometimes riding) the giant squid that is adult ADHD and trying to do so without eating Hot Pockets for the rest of our natural lives.

It seems like the vast majority of recipe resources related to ADHD are geared towards parents who are trying to implement dietary treatments for their children with ADHD. That’s a fine thing, and I know a couple of people who have benefited from it — but it doesn’t really help those of us living with adult ADHD (and/or bipolar disorder, which can make cooking hard as well). Most of the “ADHD diets” are pretty complex.

I’ll be posting simple recipes and maybe a few pointers that have helped me to eat better and cook more meals at home.

For what it’s worth, the best tool I’ve discovered for living with ADHD is the creation of “paths of least resistance.” For me — because planning is a particular weakness of mine — this process can’t invole a lot of planning. I learn as I go, and I try to remember the things that work for me. If I try to design solutions, I over-complicate things; if I simply stand back (as it were) and observe what works, sometimes I hit on useful tactics that I can replicate.

I plan to write a bit about paths of least resistance as well — in short, how to identify ways to make things easier.

Admittedly, what works for me probably won’t work for every single ADHDer out there — but sharing my strategies helps me remember them, and if it helps anyone else, that’s icing on the cake.

Speaking of which, it’s about lunch time, so I’m going to go take a path of least resistance and throw some tuna salad onto some bread.

*In other words, my obsessions: ballet, bikes, dogs, horses, music, and designing buildings in Sims 2. Sometimes drawing, painting, and writing fall into this category; sometimes they don’t. Reading varies.
**For example: if a “step” in a recipe looks like a paragraph, it’s too long. Switching between tasks is difficult for me, so switching into deep reading-comprehension mode, then back to cooking mode, then back to deep reading-comprehension mode tends not to end well. Likewise, wall-o-text recipes totally send me straight to TL;DRLOLland. I should add the caveat that following written directions is a particular weakness for me; not all ADHDers are as bad as I am at it.

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