The ADHD Tax: How Your ADHD is Ruining Your Food Budget

A refrigerator with food, lit only by the interior light
Photo by Abdullah Ahmad on Unsplash

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was nearly 40. I’ve had a lot of years to let executive dysfunction rule my life, all while thinking I was just a terrible adult.

Let me tell you a secret. Even if you do have ADHD, you are not a terrible adult.

True story. I don’t care what you’ve believed or for how long you’ve believed it. You’re not terrible. Your brain just works differently.

Your neurological wiring is not bad. It is morally neutral. It just is.

I’m here to tell you some sneaky ways your ADHD meat computer may be costing you extra money on your grocery bills, and hopefully provide some advice on how to keep that money in your wallet.

Is your refrigerator running?

Well, you’d better go catch it!

While you’re catching it… Check your organizational system. Are the condiments and whatnot in the door for easy access? Vegetables in the crisper? Leftovers somewhere on the shelves?

Well, of course! That’s how refrigerators are supposed to be set up!

Okay, next question. How often does a bag of spinach go in the crisper, only to emerge a month later as a bag of toxic brown sludge? What is actually inside all of those containers, and how long have they been there?

Yeah.

I don’t want to answer either. I have no desire to think about the money I’ve wasted on groceries that have gone to die in the back of the fridge. I also don’t want to think about how close I’ve probably been to allowing sentient life to evolve in the crisper.

New plan:

Forget about how you’ve always done it. Forget about every refrigerator you’ve seen depicted in the media. We’re turning this shit upside down.

  • Produce and perishables go in the door.

Out of sight, out of mind can be a huge issue in ADHD. If I can’t see it, I am not going to think about it. So get that spinach in the door, and give it a chance to end up in a salad.

There is absolutely no reason you can’t put the condiments and pickles and what-have-you in those drawers. It’s ketchup. You know there’s ketchup in the fridge. You’re not going to forget the ketchup, because it is a universal law that everyone has a bottle in the fridge. Hide the ketchup and make it easier to find the things you’ll inevitably forget about.

While you’re analyzing your fridge, remember the leftovers I asked about? What on earth are those foil-wrapped lumps? Jesus, no, don’t open them!

  • Clear containers are your friend. If you can see it, it’s harder to forget about it.

Ideally, these containers will be labelled with contents and date. In reality, no judgement if you never make it that far. My freezer is neatly labelled, but the fridge has so much turnover that I never quite make it that far.

Glass containers are great because when food inevitably migrates to the back and goes missing for a month, they are easy to sanitize and won’t hold the stink.

On the other hand, cheap clear plastic containers cause far less guilt when motivation is low and they just end up in the trash.

My method of choice is cheap plastic. I want to be the person with the fancy glass containers, but the initial investment is higher and sometimes things just need to get chucked.

  • Set up a leftovers tracking system

On the outside of my fridge is a dry erase weekly calendar. I do not use this for planning (planning? I have ADHD. Who plans?!). Its purpose is to keep track of leftovers.

When you cook and something ends up in the fridge, write it on the board. Since mine is a weekly calendar, when the next week rolls around and something is still on the board, it’s time to throw that out and move on.

You could use a weekly planning tear-off pad in the same way. You can just use a piece of regular paper, as long as you date the items you write down. Heck, just write on the fridge with a dry erase marker.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to work.

  • Consider a meal planning system or subscription

By meal planning system, I don’t mean a fancy decorated board with pockets for the recipes you’re planning on making that week, complete with attached shopping list. If you can make that happen, fantastic.

I, on the other hand, have pinned those things on a Pinterest board with dreams of color-coordinated recipe cards and little envelopes on a calendar and fantasies of finally being organized.

For me, this does not work.

What did work was a subscription to EveryPlate. Before my husband moved in, that’s how I was feeding myself. I got tired of eating shredded cheese and peanut butter directly from the jar and decided I needed real food.

For me, making up a menu is like sandpaper against my soul. I hate it. I don’t want to think about what to make, I just want to make it and then eat it. Cooking subscriptions are fantastic for this.

Another option is a service like EMeals. The menu and shopping lists are done for you (with your input), and most will allow you to import the shopping list to a store for online pickup. The combination of not deciding what to make AND not having to make up a grocery list AND not having to shop for myself just soothes my soul.

  • Pay the ADHD tax up front

I know you have the best intentions while shopping. You want the fresh fruits and veggies. You want to buy a family size pack of chicken and divide it up for the freezer. This time, you are definitely going to do those make-ahead breakfasts to grab in the morning.

But… really, are you though?

Yes, it’s certainly cheaper to do things that way. Prep your own produce for cooking, keep recipe-size bags of chicken in the freezer, cute little mason jars with yogurt parfaits…

Until you’ve bought all the stuff to do the things and they all end up forgotten in the fridge, or the motivation disappears.

It’s okay to buy pre-prepped, pre-packaged, pre-made.

I had a ridiculously hard time with this. In fact, sometimes I still do. I grew up in a family where budget shopping was a huge deal. Other than bagged salad, convenience foods just didn’t happen.

Let it go. Eating what you enjoy and what is good for you is more important than budget shopping, and will end up being more cost effective than if you’re throwing out items that never get used.

The Bottom Line

Let go of perfection. Embrace good enough. Try new things and see what works for you. Love yourself while you’re trying.

Take it slow. Don’t try to implement everything at once. I know the temptation to hyperfocus and FIX ALL THE THINGS RIGHT NOW, but that is the quickest way to burn out and never implement any of them.

Choose something that resonates with you, and that will be easy to get up and running. Get that small victory and raise your motivation to take another step.

And if you check the fridge and there’s anything that seems to be building a civilization from scratch, throw it out and forget it ever existed. It’s someone else’s problem now.

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Brynne Elizabeth

Brynne Elizabeth

Your middle aged, hot mess, neurodivergent BFF. Wife, mom, mental health advocate. I am occasionally witty.