ADHD Cooking: A Lesson in Humility

Kitty Stryker
6 min readFeb 26, 2023
A stainless steel pan with some brown burnt stuff at the bottom and a wooden spatula scraping it up.

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So, when I started #KittyLearnsToCook, I was pretty anxious in the kitchen. I was undermedicated for ADHD, I had partners who preferred microwave dinners or delivery to cooking at home, and I had some of the worst pots and pans ever invented. Any time I had nice kitchen equipment, it would be destroyed, so I just stopped bothering. Sometimes I’d push myself, like for the holidays or another special occasion, but for the most part I just ate sandwiches and frozen pizzas.

But then, I started the #KittyLearnsToCook project documenting my “journey from delivery addict to home-cooking queen”. And I had patrons who were eagerly waiting for me to try kitchen tools, techniques, and recipes, and then report back. Suddenly there was an external pressure to actually invest time and energy into my dishes — boxed mac and cheese wasn’t going to cut it. It was a scary challenge, but I really wanted to eat better and save money, so I grimly set forth.

Imagine my surprise when it turned out that I liked to cook, actually! I was pretty shocked when I suddenly looked at my hashtag on Instagram and discovered *1,868 posts*. That’s absolutely wild. I feel like I should do something special when I get to 2000, maybe a little cookbook zine or something, I don’t know. But I went from someone who would drag their feet when it came time to make dinner to actually looking for opportunities to cook. I cook my own breakfast almost every morning — no more bowls of cereal or bagels as the default, but a hearty, nutrient rich breakfast with lots of protein and veggies. If I can’t find something at the store, or we’ve run out of something, no problem, I’ll just make some sauerkraut or hot fudge. I’ve even gotten comfy enough that I often riff off of recipes, especially ones I’ve made before. I cook as a hobby, now, and as stress relief. It’s such a big shift!

One thing that has helped me A LOT is coming to terms with my ADHD and how it impacts my cooking. That pan up there? Yeah, that was me forgetting to turn the stove off low when I went to a Zoom meeting. Thankfully it had a lid on it, so wasn’t likely to catch on fire, but I haven’t had a slip-up like that in a while. It reminded me how important the adaptations I’ve put into place for myself are to ensure I don’t leave the stove on or go to bed without putting food away.

First, I have a pattern of turning on the kitchen lights when I start a recipe, and when I finish it and walk out of the kitchen to eat, I turn all the lights off. It’s such a seemingly obvious thing, right, but it’s also really helpful in visually recognizing if I’m in the middle of something actively or not. It also means that most of the time, I have muscle memory for shutting off the stove, making sure the oven is off, and then shut the lights off. It’s not perfect, clearly, but the fact it happens so rarely really goes to show how useful a routine can be.

Secondly, reading the whole recipe a couple of times is a big help. This means I can split up food prep, cut up veggies, and thaw things, making sure I have all the ingredients easily accessible. I don’t have to do that all at once while I’m cooking — if I know I’ll need onions later, I’ll cut up some extra when I make my breakfast omelet. This also helps me avoid realizing I need chicken but haven’t thawed any, or that I need cilantro but we’re all out while I’m halfway through making a meal.

Related to that — if I need to do certain things at certain times, like check on the rise of a loaf or start the sous vide, I’ll set myself alarms on my phone, labeled, so I know what needs to happen when. I especially do this when it’s a holiday meal with a lot of moving parts, going so far as to chart out the temperatures, what equipment or heat source it needs, and when to start it so I can put together a full battle plan. Doing that in advance means less anxiety if something goes wrong because I can plan ahead and leave myself time to adjust.

Also, some recipes are better at telling you what things you can do at the same time than others. You may need to do some trial and error to find recipes written in a style that works best for you — as a multitasker, I like to be doing several things at once, which means the meal takes me less time to make but does run the risk of something overcooking if I’m not careful! Now I find that a fun challenge, but it took me years of meticulously doing one task at a time. Either is ok!

Many guides will suggest you turn off any external stimuli when cooking, but for me I found the opposite to be true. Listening to a podcast or some pleasant background music helps my brain feel entertained, which makes it easier for me to focus. This is generally true for me — I prefer to listen to music while I write, for example, or do my makeup, while I don’t really care for it when I’m in the shower and want my brain to just shut off for a bit.

I do think it’s helpful to have some stuff on hand for when you have fewer spell slots available for extra tasks. Instant rice is a godsend. Having some pasta sauce and different types of noodles? Great in a pinch. I have a bunch of frozen shrimp because they’re quick to thaw as I need them and add a good protein boost to whatever I make. Cheese platters are also a great option when you just need to eat something and can’t be bothered chopping or cooking. This leaves more spell slots available for when you want to cook for fun, and are more willing to draw out the pleasure of it.

Also? Get to know kitchen tech! The instant pot, slow cooker, air fryer, and sous vide are godsends for me. They expand the things I can make, are easy to pull out, use, and put away again, and don’t require me to be standing over them watching them. They also usually have a little more wiggle room before the food cooked in them is inedible, which can be helpful if you’re cooking while also doing something else.

The last main tip I’ll give this time around is to try to get into the habit of cleaning while you cook, and do the rest of the cleanup when you finish your meal. I try to be in the habit of going to bed with no dishes in the sink as often as possible (sometimes a mug, or an ice cream bowl, but usually I’ll clear it before bed). I often get overwhelmed when I want to cook and the counter is dirty, the sink is piled high, and the stove is a mess. When the kitchen is in decent order, it makes cooking more welcoming. I’ll try to write up a whole piece just on cleaning while you cook, as I think it can be difficult to do at first but now, it’s like second nature.

Do you have any special tips for cooking with ADHD? What’s worked for you? What doesn’t? Any crowning achievements or horror stories? Let me know in the comments!

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Kitty Stryker

Professional Bleeding Heart. Sick & Tired. Patronize me: http://t.co/RSd5cSVGE5 Image by @mayakern