Cooking with ADHD

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I attended middle school in the 1960‘s. That’s when the girls in my class took Home Economics and learned to cook simple meals while the boys took something called “Shop” which taught them how to hammer a nail and build something simple like a bird house.

Our Home Economics class had six full sized, fully equipped kitchens and we worked in groups of five. We were given recipes and taught when to do what and how to get an entire meal on the table in forty-five minutes including clean up. At the end of each class our group sat down together and ate whatever we prepared. Since we had to eat it we were motivated to make it come out good.

Sadly, Home Economics has disappeared from school curriculums and you might wonder, “Who needs to learn how to cook when there’s so much fast food to choose from?”

There are many benefits from learning how to cook. When you prepare your own food you know exactly what’s in it. You control the fat, the salt and sugar and of course you don’t add any chemicals or preservatives. You save money, eat better and have the opportunity to share your home cooked meals with people you love.

The extra added bonus in cooking is that it involves many aspects of executive functioning and when you cook you’re exercising your executive functioning muscles and it helps you to manage your ADHD.

Here are a few examples:

  • Planning: Deciding what you want to cook, finding a recipe, figuring out what you need to buy, and when you want to eat.
  • List Making: Writing out the menu, and creating a shopping list on a piece of paper is crucial. Thinking that you’ll remember what to buy doesn’t always work out when your working memory doesn’t work so well.
  • Prioritizing: Figuring out what you need to do first. You can’t mash potatoes until you have boiled them.
  • Time Management: Cooking requires figuring out long things take and keeping an eye on time. Trust me, you can’t put a 20 pound Thanksgiving turkey in the oven at 1pm and hope to eat at 3pm. You have to work backwards to know when to start. Using kitchen timers gets you in the habit of using timers for everything.
  • Persistence to Goal: You couldn’t stop halfway through the meal preparation. You had to follow the steps until you were done.
  •  Staying focused: If you lose focus when you’re cooking the results are immediate. You might overcook your food, undercook something, leave out a crucial ingredient or burn the house down.

There’s something wonderful about creating a home cooked meal and improving your executive functioning along the way without even trying.

Kathy Sussell is an ADHD coach in Brooklyn, NY. She helps teens, college students and adults with ADHD with time management, planning and prioritizing, getting started with and finishing tasks, organizing paper and objects and improving social skills. She is the organizer of the ADHD Women’s Meetup Group that meets every month in downtown Brooklyn. For more information visit her website: www.bravolifecoaching.com or email Kathy at kathy@bravolifecoaching.com

3 thoughts on “Cooking with ADHD

  1. As usual, an easy to follow, clear picture of the task at hand, with the added bonus of humor! Thank you, Kathy!!

  2. How is this at all helpful? Thanks for telling us that cooking exercises executive functions, that’s why we don’t do it, its too hard! This article only reiterates what makes it so painful and makes me want to further avoid it.

    • Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for your comment. I think cooking is hard for people with ADHD and that’s why I wrote about it. In today’s world you can easily avoid cooking by ordering in, eating fast food, getting take-out, microwaving frozen food or going on a raw foods diet. Still there is something special in sitting down to home cooked meal because you know exactly what you are eating.
      You might avoid doing things that you are not good at but I think avoidance sucks as a strategy for managing executive functioning deficits.
      Nothing changes if nothing changes. Take a chance on doing things that are hard for you. Go for progress not perfection. Go for good enough.
      Be bold. When you fail forgive yourself and try again.

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