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!