Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links with which I may earn a small commission but at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help bloggers like me to provide you with free content. All opinions expressed here are genuine.
Medical Disclaimer: The information in this article is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be personalized medical or nutrition advice. For a plan tailored to your needs, please consult with a Registered Dietitian or qualified healthcare professional.
Beginner’s Guide to ADHD Meal Planning was written by Ayah Al-Anani and reviewed/edited by Jackie Silver MHSc, RD
Intro to ADHD Meal Planning for Adults
After a long stressful day, trying to figure out what to eat is the last thing anyone would be in the mood for. The many choices can be overwhelming, frustrating and exhausting, and the executive function skills required for meal-planning can be challenging for folks with ADHD. But not to worry, because this is where our ADHD-friendly meal planning tips save the day!
Meal planning / meal prep is basically planning and preparing your meals for a given set of days or a week in advance. Our take on meal planning takes away some of that stress of deciding what to eat and gives you options to personalize a plan that works best for YOU!
Benefits of ADHD Meal Planning:
- Help achieve your health goals and make mindful choices
- Reduces overwhelm and decision paralysis
- A practical tool to cope with executive dysfunction
- Creates structure and routine
- Saves time
- Saves money
- Reduces food waste
- Reduces stress
Keep reading for our top 6 ADHD meal planning tips for adults. Let’s get started on this beginner friendly guide to ADHD meal planning!
ADHD Meal Planning Tip #1- Follow the Balanced Meal Formula
This may sound intimidating but don’t worry, it is super simple. The idea behind this tip is that constructing a healthy nutritious meal is as easy as 1,2,3!
To make a satiating, balanced meal, pick a high fiber carbohydrate source (whole wheat bread, rice, pasta, etc.), protein source (chicken, beef, fish, eggs, cheese, etc.) and a vegetable source. For example, you can have an avocado toast with a fried egg or a grilled salmon fillet with rice and your favorite veggie! There you go, that is one meal planned and done!
You can also apply this to snacks where you basically choose 2-3 of each of the following:
- High fiber carbs
- Healthy fats
So for example, yogurt with granola and berries or a smoothie packed with all these food groups! Using this formula helps keep you on track and prevents you from getting overwhelmed with choices, will keep you full and satiated between meals and snacks to help keep you focused and energized throughout the day.
ADHD Meal Planning Tip #2- Grocery Shopping Hacks
You hear it all the time: less is more, consistency is key, etc. Well in this case, these tips are super helpful when going grocery shopping. Curious as to what I mean by this? Next time you go grocery shopping, try buying a smaller variety of food items and focus on buying things that allow you to make a wider range of recipes with what you have.
This can help eliminate throwing out unused ingredients and prevent food waste. It also prevents decision paralysis: the fewer items you have to choose from, the easier it is to make a decision, which is key in ADHD meal planning for adults.
You can also choose frozen over fresh produce as they contain the same nutritional benefits but last longer.
Another great tip for grocery shopping is buying nutrient-dense packaged foods for quick and easy snacks and meals that don’t require much thought.
Here are some ideas:
- Yogurt cups
- Granola bars
- Prepackaged frozen meals
- Rotisserie chicken
- Protein bars
- Sliced whole grain bread
- Pita or tortillas
- Whole wheat crackers
- Pre-portioned hummus packs or regular-sized hummus
- Single serve guacamole
- Roasted bean snacks
- Frozen fruit and veggies
- Cherry tomatoes, celery, mini cucumbers, baby carrots, shredded lettuce, slaw mixes for quick and easy salads
- Lentil chips
- Cottage cheese
- Cheese slices or sticks
- Deli slices
- Pre-boiled eggs
- Frozen stuffed pasta shells
- Microwaveable rice
- Instant oatmeal packs or cups
- Nuts and seeds
- Trail mix
- Canned beans and legumes
- Canned tuna, salmon, or sardines
- Individual / single-serve milk or nondairy milk cartons
- Apples and any nut/seed butter (peanut, almonds, sunbutter, etc.)
To make more nutrient-dense choices when grocery shopping, try to aim for products that are higher in fiber or protein to help keep you satiated, improve digestive health and effortlessly meet your nutrient needs throughout your busy week.
Here are some easy ideas:
- Higher protein yogurt (such as Greek or Skyr)
- High fiber/omega/ protein granola
- High fiber / protein breakfast cereals (such as All Bran Buds, Shredded wheat, Weetabix, Three Wishes or no name brand equivalents (not sponsored)
- High fiber/omega/ protein/fortified breads
- Whole grain pasta or lentil pasta
- Calcium fortified orange juice or nondairy milk
ADHD Meal Planning Tip #3- Quick & Easy Meal Prep Hacks
We have tried it all, and here are some tricks we’ve found about ADHD meal planning and meal prep.
- Bulk prep 2-3 protein sources at the start of the week like chicken, salmon, boiled eggs, or minced beef. If plant based, you can purchase canned legumes or bulk prep tofu. These rules also apply to other ingredients like quinoa, rice, pasta, roasted vegetables, chopped raw veggies, and chopped fruit.
Having these on hand will help you make simple meals and snacks in a pinch.
- Cook & Freeze large batches of meals, ingredients, or snacks. Make sure to label (with dish name and date made) and store in the freezer for a later date.
Here are some fun ideas:
- Stove top Lasagna (Here’s my favorite recipe for this)
- Soup, such as this butternut squash carrot ginger soup or chickpea vegetable orzo soup
- Pasta dishes
- Energy balls
- Muffins (Here’s a fun recipe to try)
- Banana bread (Try my easy one-bowl recipe)
You can also pre-portion the above dishes and keep them in the fridge for up to 4-5 days (at most) for easy to reach, reheatable meals to enjoy throughout the week. Your microwave will thank you!
Here are some more quick, low effort meal/snack ideas and recipes:
- Lunch / Dinner:
4. Invest in helpful kitchen devices and storage containers that can take some of the stress off of meal prep like the following:
- Instapot→ simplifies cooking and can also just plop everything in prior and let it cook/stay warm until meal time
- Airfryer → can quickly cook meals
- Crockpot → can leave pre-prep meals earlier on and let them cook for 4-8hrs until meal time
- Blender→ can quickly make nutritious delicious smoothies that can be made the night before a busy morning
- Meal prep containers
- Reusable water bottle
- Lunch box
- Reusable silicone bags
On days where you just simply don’t have the time or are not feeling up to it, try online shopping for groceries! Many grocery stores offer grocery delivery services that can help alleviate feeling overwhelmed or stressed, especially with ADHD.
I also want to stress that there is no shame in ordering take-out when you need it. This is a great option for long, exhausting days and helps reduce decision paralysis in adults with ADHD!
ADHD Meal Planning Tip #4- Checklists Made Easy
Checklists seem like such a trivial and easy idea, right? Well, we have figured out a way to make them even easier and more effective for ADHD meal planning. Here’s how! Instead of a boring list, try incorporating a visual representation of the grocery store sections/aisles and grouping your items into these sections (see below for an example).
Another thing you can do is group items into categories on the checklist; for example, produce, staples, toiletries, frozen goods, etc.
You can also download helpful free apps on your smartphone so your list is always on hand, such as: AnyList (places your checklist items into categories, also has meal planning features) and OutofMilk (grocery list app).
Shopping with a list saves money, time, and prevents distraction when you see items that are not on your list! Download this meal prep planner that has a sample grocery list and templates.
ADHD Meal Planning Tip #5- Organize, organize, organize!
One of my best recommendations for ADHD meal planning is to have a plan in place to stay organized, especially for days where you feel extra stressed or overwhelmed.
Here are ideas for staying organized with meal prep:
- Keep a whiteboard or printed list on your fridge with a list of 6-10 easy meals and snacks that you like to have on rotation
- That way, when you feel hungry and don’t know what to eat, you can select something from the list. This takes out the stress of having to make decisions. See below for an example
- The items on your lists don’t need to be full recipes, they can be simple combos, such as hummus with crackers and veg or apple and peanut butter)
- Make sure your list includes fool-proof recipes that you enjoy, and are simple, quick, and easy. The less thinking and planning you have to do, the easier it will be to stick with these habits!
- Use meal prep templates (only if you find it useful) to set up a schedule of the meals and snacks you plan to eat that week. Check out these fillable pdf templates from my online shop.
- Set alarms on your phone or Alexa / Google Home to remind yourself to eat every 3-4 hours! Many of my clients find this tip helpful as they will often forget to eat. This helps them stay focussed and prevent overeating at night.
ADHD Meal Planning Tip #6- It’s Okay to Take a Break
We all have days where we feel like we just need a break, and that is totally okay! Listen to your body and give it the time-off it needs!
Designate nights off from cooking, and order in- there is no shame in this, especially if it reduces stress and makes your life easier!
If you’re not up to ordering in, frozen pizza is another good idea. Frozen meals are always a great option when you’re short on time or don’t know what to eat. Try pairing with a salad or vegetable to make a balanced meal!
It is also a great idea to designate days off cooking to enjoy dinner dates with partners, friends, and family. You can also choose a time in your calendar to meal prep, perhaps twice a week so that you’re not cooking everyday.
We hope you found these ADHD meal planning tips practical!
You don’t need to implement all these suggestions right away. The key is to start slow and small so that you make sustainable changes that are not overwhelming.
Here are some simple ways to get started with ADHD meal planning (start with one and slowly build up):
- Chop up veggies for the week
- Boil a bunch of hard boiled eggs for snacks and lunches
- Make a batch of muffins to store in the freezer
- Make a lasagna to store in the freezer
Do what’s easiest and practical for you and use this guide to help you along the way!
What are your best meal-prep ticks and trips? Which of these ADHD meal-planning tips stood out for you? Comment below and let me know!
Jackie is a Toronto-based Registered Dietitian with a Masters of Health Science (MHSc) in Nutrition Communications. Her mission is to empower and support neurodivergent and physically disabled communities through a weight-inclusive lens to manage their condition, prevent complications, and live active lifestyles through nutrition. Jackie runs a virtual private practice and consulting business and runs her blog which has simple recipes and health information for the disability and autism/ADHD communities.