As a self-proclaimed trend-hater, I’ve had my suspicions about “meal prepping.” One look on Pinterest, and you see an influx of manicured mommy bloggers assembling organic heirloom vegetables in their super-organized kitchens. Without knowing more, I thought “meal prepping” was inherently time-consuming and expensive, something only for fancy people who buy everything at Whole Foods and don’t have day jobs. Spoiler alert: I was wrong!
At the behest of my favorite aunt, who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, I’m in the early process of being evaluated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Turns out my inability to feed myself and keep my house clean may be more than be being “artsy.” In my research (read: late-night Googling), I’m learning that adult ADHD diagnoses are common for women and people assigned female at birth, who, per the CDC, are less likely to get properly diagnosed. Further, while ADHD is often stereotyped and written off (children are often called “rowdy” or “antsy”), research published in the Journal of Attention Disorders notes that ADHD can present in adults via things like struggling to keep a house clean, feeling overwhelmed by the grocery store and not using food before it goes bad.
To my surprise, my research on ADHD in adults and ADHD “life hacks” led me to meal prepping. Turns out, getting a jump on your weekly subsistence can help you stay cool, calm and actually nourished during the week. It also doesn’t have to be an all-day, costly affair for the domestically gifted.
How to start meal prepping
Beth Moncel, a budget meal prep blogger and author of “Budget Bytes: Over 100 Easy, Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half,” told me that preparing some food for the week doesn’t have to be intimating or fancy. You don’t have to create entirely new dishes for each meal, you can simply cook in bulk.
“Meal prepping is literally just eating your leftovers!” Moncel said. “You portion the leftovers out into single servings before refrigerating to make them really easy to just grab-and-go later.”
Though you may see wellness influencers preparing every single plant-based meal for an entire week, Moncel explains that meal prepping is supposed to make your life easier, not make you feel bad about yourself. Start off by prepping one or two little things, at a speed and quantity that works for you.
“Meal prep is not all or nothing,” Moncel said. “You don’t have to prep three meals per day for seven days. Just prepping a few lunches for the week can go a long way towards reducing your food bill.”
Moncel suggests starting slow and building into a more robust routine. Try making extra chicken breasts or a large curry that can be eaten throughout the week. Once you get comfy with that, Moncel suggests trying to prep an easy breakfast, like overnight oats.
How to meal prep on a budget
If “meal prep” conjures images of fancy, fresh produce and expensive glass containers from trendy “zero waste” stores, I feel you. Though I was skeptical myself, Taylor Stinson, author of the meal prep blog The Girl on Bloor, explained that finding a meal prep routine that works for you can actually help you save money on food and groceries.
“When you open your fridge to ready-made meals, or ingredients that can be cooked within 15-20 minutes, it eliminates your need to grab takeout or pick up extra groceries because nothing looks appealing,” Stinson said.
Meal prep helps you make the most of your groceries. When you get super clear on what you’re making and how much of it you need, you can be more efficient at the grocery store.
Liz Lewis, an ADHD coach, founder of Healthy ADHD and author of an ADHD meal planning ebook, also pointed out that easy-to-cook, versatile foods that last a while (like frozen veggies and microwavable rice in bulk) can help you save money. She suggests making large amounts of proteins, like chicken, in a slow cooker, and then shredding or chopping it and keeping it in the fridge. “That way everybody in the house can use it any way they like,” Lewis says.
Lastly, Moncel, Stinson and Lewis agree that you don’t need to shell out for specialized food storage containers, but more on that later.
“Really simple containers are best because they are the most versatile,” Moncel says. “I have purchased some more ‘fancy’ containers in the past, but they are less versatile, are harder to wash, and have more moving parts that can break.”
Meal prepping for adults with ADHD
According to Jacqueline Sinfield, an ADHD coach and author of “Untapped Brilliance: How to Reach Your Full Potential as an Adult with Attention Deficit Disorder,” meal prepping can help make cooking a lower-stakes activity done on your own time. Rather than waiting until you’re hangry and then scrambling to make something, “You are doing it at a time that is convenient for you, and there isn’t that pressure to get it done as quickly,” Sinfield said.
According to Sinfield, people with ADHD can easily get super absorbed in a given activity or task and struggle to transition out of it. For example, when you’re in the thick of work emails or running around doing errands, it can be stressful to stop what you’re doing, pick something to eat, get all the ingredients out, prep them and then cook. It can also lead to negative self-talk or feelings of shame and overwhelm for waiting until the last minute.
However, if you find a day or night of the week that you have some spare time, you can put on music or a show you like and give all your attention to prepping your food. Without the pressure of being hangry or in the middle of a bunch of other half-done tasks, meal prepping can be a slower-paced activity.
“It becomes doing one task with a five-meal benefit, versus five tasks for five meals,” Sinfield said.
Of course, Sinfield said that knowing meal prepping can help you through the week is different than feeling personally motivated to go do it.
“A lot of people think, ‘It’s something I should do,’ but that’s not a very compelling reason!” Sinfield said. “When you’ve got ADHD, motivation is key. Identify exactly why you want to do it. Then it will be easier to take the necessary action steps.”
If you’re looking to get into meal prepping to save money and/or to make feeding yourself easier during the week, the experts shared their favorite food storage containers for meal prep newbies.
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