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Meal Planning when Mom Has ADHD (Part 1)

Posted on January 15, 2013

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There was a time in my life, back when my kids were young, way before I had been diagnosed with ADHD or even knew what that acronym meant, that I gave up trying to cook for my two finicky (one with ADHD + special needs) children.

I’m not one that can cry easily (though certain commercials and kiddy movies have had me grab the Kleenex- ADHD note to self: why are so many children’s movies about loss?), but there came a time in parenting that I decided that the kids had won and I had lost.

There was exactly one item the two of them would agree to accept on the dinner table and even then, the sauces had to be different: spaghetti. Yep. Noodles. But one had to have meat sauce and the other- only butter was allowed to touch the slippery strands of Mother’s Little Helper. I loved spaghetti night because I could manage boiling a pot of water and tossing a dab of butter on one plate and heating up a bottle of readymade sauce for the other. My husband, however, wouldn’t touch the stuff (how can anyone not love spaghetti? Oh right- my husband!). So on those nights, he was on his own.

It got to the point where every non-pasta night, one of my kids would be whining, complaining and accomplishing the perfect “how to make mom feel totally inadequate.”

Now, most mothers wouldn’t have thought twice about this scenario because:

  1. Without ADD, women’s self-esteem in the kitchen is usually fairly intact.
  2. Picky eaters in a non-ADD home are entirely different than an ADD home. You can reason with them more easily. I think.
  3. Non-ADD moms don’t get as easily frazzled and find work-arounds much easier.

In my case, I thought the definition of a good mother was having quiet, happy children gulping down nutritious meals. I knew many kids were picky, but this went beyond picky; it became a daily stressor that truly nearly did me in. Though I never catered to them by cooking two separate meals (or three, if my husband went on a dinner strike), I did finally give up. I mean, who had children that wouldn’t eat a sandwich? Or meatloaf? Or cheeseburgers? Fish?? You’ve got to be joking. Tacos? Yes for one, no for the other. Chicken? Only if off the bone for one, no for the other.

I am not exaggerating.

As I was on my way to a nervous breakdown over all this, my husband began to feel sorry for me and actually started picking up dinners on the way home from work. In a normal family, that would have meant a big carton of fried chicken. But of course not- one kid wouldn’t touch that. So, his good heart led him sometimes to three, yes, three different restaurants just to give me a break. I should add here that when raising a child with special needs (ADD was just the icing on the cake), moms, especially moms with ADD, have zero energy left by 6pm to pull together a dinner. You can get by with cereal and milk for just so long before social services becomes a possibility.

So, in honor and in sympathy for all of you moms out there in a similar situation, here are some tips for surviving dinnertime in an ADD household.

Meal-Planning Wheel

One of the biggest problems for moms is deciding what to make. The kids are biting your ankles because you refuse to order pizza again (in our house: one half had to be plain; one half, pepperoni, hold the green pepper).

So, I invented the Meal-Planning Wheel. We brainstormed and wrote down 7 main dinner choices on a paper plate. On a second plate, we wrote down veggies and other side dishes. So…the top plate looked like this:

  • Roast chicken
  • Turkey burgers
  • Meatloaf
  • …etc.

The second plate looked something like this:

  • Broccoli
  • Salad
  • Peas
  • …etc.

I took the two plates and joined them in the middle by punching a hole and connecting them with a metal clasp so that they could spin freely. The top plate had squares cut out to reveal the bottom food options. Each day, my kids took turns spinning the menu meal. The main meal choice would line up with a side dish and voila- that was the dinner choice for that night.

It worked like a charm and managed to solve a number of problems: one- getting the kids to eat something they enjoyed and two- taking me out of the equation so that I didn’t have to make decisions every night, nor have to go head to head with one child or both on a daily basis. And since they took turns, each child knew they’d get something they liked every other day. They could double-spin on their day if they landed on a sister’s favorite.

It’s not easy having an ADHD household, but with some creative thinking and inspiration, you, too can get through meal planning and kitchen clean up without too much stress.

In my next post, I’ll have more tips for keeping the peace in the kitchen. Stay tuned!


15 responses to “Meal Planning when Mom Has ADHD (Part 1)

  1. Ronelle Grier

    Terry, I can so relate! I also have kids who won’t touch kid-friendly staples like chicken nuggets or hamburgers. And if one likes something, it’s a safe bet that the other two won’t. The meal wheel sounds like a good plan. My only fear is that we won’t be able to come up with a week’s worth of “acceptable” entrees! But it’s worth a try. Your post brought a smile to my face; it’s good to know I’m not the only one who faces these challenges. And that’s worth more than a plate of spaghetti, with or without the sauce! Thanks!

  2. Amy Blacker

    I have one VERY picky eater, and one who can be picky at times and pretty good most of the time. I like the concept of the Meal Wheel, but is there any way you could post a picture of one? I can somewhat visualize it but a picture would be a great help, if possible.

    Thank you.

  3. Jacqui Gonzales

    My ADHD makes it a chore due to personal indecision on my part! I am really lucky that I have one daughter who eats everything. The other refuses to eat (almost) everything I make. Her exceptions are pb&j and chicken nuggets as long as they are premade so all I do is heat them up.

    I like the meal wheel, it may help my own meal paralysis.

  4. Kim F

    Thanks Terry!
    This brought back memories. I’m a single mom of 3 kids who went from being a full-time university student to working full-time. I have ADD, my oldest daughter (I was a teen mom when I had her) had undiagnosed ADHD complicated by the fact that my ex was an abusive tyrant. I admit that there have been some nights when someone ended up with a bowl of cereal or a grilled cheese or peanut butter sandwich just because I was too exhausted by that point in the day to mess up my kitchen making a nice dinner that no one would eat.
    Feeling like a terrible mother, I used to console myself that someday this experience would be behind me and I would be able to empathise with other moms in similar situations and reassure them that they were good moms and that there was at least one other person who understood. Thanks for sharing your personal stories, it really helps to know we aren’t alone in this.

  5. Kathryn P

    I also had children who would only eat macaroni & cheese when they were young. I ended up making a rule that they must try a new food when I made it. If they didn’t like it, they didn’t have to eat it. But they HAD to try it. Both my boys are grown now, and they eat everything. They learned to eat and love vegetables. People were amazed that they said “yum!” when I made brochili.

    • Melody

      Yes! I grew up with the ‘at least try it’ rule and I have passed that on. My daughter is not a picky eater but she does tend to eat one thing only for a week, and then decide she “doesn’t like it anymore”. LOL Which is code for ‘I’m sick of this’. So I do tend to get blindsided by her mercurial food moods but I don’t cook her a separate meal, either.

  6. Jen Reilly

    Both my son (16 years) and I have ADHD. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 45. I have been blessed with a kid who likes the vast majority of my cooking! I am certain that making him try whatever I made – EVERY time – made a difference. I also told him that it takes 7 times of tasting something for you to truly decide if you liked it or not. I know that some people have other sensory issues, so I’m not trying to say I did it right, therefore I succeeded.

    What a great idea! I get so tired of trying to figure out what to cook.

  7. Nancy

    I didn’t really have picky eaters, but managing time in the kitchen was awful. I am now almost 60 and can remember meat being burned and potatoes uncooked. Having been diagnosed only eight years ago. Reading your advice, makes me smile, because I can remember and wish I’d had you round when I was a young mom. My son actually asked for MY spaghetti for tomorrow nights’ dinner. So Moms, they dohave dishes that become favorites.

  8. Sapphyre

    I have not been diagnosed with ADHD but it’s a spectrum and I believe I am on there somewhere. My son (13) and hubby (45) have been diagnosed. Thankfully my daughter (almost 9) has just a sprinkling of symptoms and is not as fussy as her Dad and brother.

    But if only they’d be fussy the same way! It’s so frustrating having to tailor meals each night or throw out perfectly good food.

    Thanks for this article.

  9. Jenny B.

    OMG I’m not the only one! My ADD kid also has autism, which brings food avoidance issues into the mess. Unlike you, we HAVE been making separate meals for him for years, because it’s not a choice of “he will eat when he’s hungry enough” – he will simply not eat. For meal after meal. We tried that once. And by the time I drag my tired butt home every night, having to make a decision about a healthy meal that everyone will eat will drive me over the edge.
    LOL I love your idea of the spinning plates – I’ll try it – but there may only be 4 main foods and 3 veggies!
    (And you can feed them cereal. They will be fine)

  10. Michele Renee (motormom)

    Terry, I can so relate to everything you wrote! There was a time when I was able to cook for a family of 6, three different dinner meals every night for the picky eaters (add or adhd or sid or pdd or ocd) Then as my health got worse on top of having adult add with other conditions, cooking became more and more difficult to do without reading the instructions 5 times, trying to time every course, and without the smoke alarms gong off…. We now keep dinners simple that is when we have food to cook, and when we have food to cook it’s got to be quick, easy and hopefully full of nutritiousness. There are textural elements that have to be considered for other members of the household otherwise the food doesn’t get eaten. Doing whatever works best, Add-ish style! ;)

  11. Lisa O

    This is absolutely the hardest part -I like the idea of the wheel. I just have to make sure I have all the ingredients. I buy a lot of prepared foods and takeout -it costs a lot but I usually feel so exhausted and overwhelmed by dinner time. Sometimes my daughter makes us omelettes. I make sure I always have frozen turkey meatballs and spaghetti sauce.

  12. Ann B. Tweedy

    I was interested in Terry’s question about why so many kids’ movies are about loss. The answer is so that children can learn that even in the face of loss, they themselves will be OK, and can learn that, with the help of the adults around them who love them, they can get past the sadness and the fear that something similar might happen to them, and learn to accept the fact that life isn’t always predictable and happy, and doesn’t always go the way we might wish.

  13. Eva

    Still can’t make anything the same way twice. Lol
    Kids although older still want mom to make the food. My 17 yr old says she won’t eat bananas unless I cut it up for her. Hate cooking but I do it well. Why do I hate it so much?

  14. Rachel

    I was that picky eater! My parents used to get me a plain hamburger when they went to eat spaghetti or pizza and we almost never ate at home. I guess that made me more tolerant of my own children’s likes and dislikes. Luckily for them, they are grown. For me, I still freak out about cooking. It just makes more sense to go out and get something big enough to have leftovers. My mother told me breakfast food was always fine for dinner so no guilt there, if I could ever seem to have fresh milk. She also said to find something I could eat when I was at someone else’s house. Tonight, I go to eat with several ladies in their 90′s. One has pre-warned me the menu is liver and onions. This one could be a challenge.

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