You know those meticulous, perfect, minimalist kitchens you always see in magazines? I do not have a kitchen like that. I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and my kitchen is set up in a way that makes sense for my ADHD brain.
ADHD is an executive function disorder, which makes it hard to plan, prioritize, organize, and complete tasks. Cooking and baking both involve a lot of planning, prioritizing, organizing, and completing tasks, so a kitchen organized for ADHD has to make it as easy as possible to do those things!
Lots of people with ADHD are great cooks and bakers
The other day someone asked on Twitter if anyone with ADHD is actually good at baking, because of the prep work and planning it often requires.
That bummed me out, because there are ways to set up an ADHD friendly kitchen.
I do get why many people with ADHD find casual cooking and baking difficult. But people with ADHD often thrive in creative, high pressure situations, especially when we're working on something that fully engages our brains (hyperfocusing ftw!). The kitchen is a great place to put that skill to use!
Of course, there are lots of different types of ADHD. What makes sense in my ADHD kitchen may not make sense in yours. But, there are a few tools and organizational strategies that have worked really well for me. I hope they work for you, too!
These tips may also help even if you don't have ADHD.
(BTW, I'm including real photos of these things in my real kitchen for you. I've tried to include links to the exact things I have with each item or items. In some cases the thing I have no longer exists or a better version exists in which case I've linked other options for you too!)
1. Multiples of most frequently used kitchen tools — spatulas, whisks, measuring spoons, etc.
This way I don't have to worry about the one tool I need being at the bottom or the sink or in the dishwasher when I'm ready to start cooking or baking.
Or, just in case I accidentally bring one outside with me and put it down while I water the pepper plants. And then forget about it for a week or so.
(You know, hypothetically speaking.)
2. A baker's rack to keep stuff visible, organized, and within reach
Once something goes into a cupboard or a drawer I have a tendency to forget it exists. And sometimes even the simple act of having to open a cupboard and move things around to get a thing out (like a Dutch oven or a blender or whatever) can be enough of an obstacle to actually starting the cooking or baking process.
These little roadblocks can feel monumental to the ADHD brain. So much of my ADHD organizational strategy in the kitchen (and in life) is about finding ways to keep the things I use often visible and reachable but not messy, either. It's not about perfection, it's about function.
A baker's rack is the PERFECT open-storage ADHD kitchen organization solution.
With two shelves, a back with hooks, and a top shelf with more hooks, there is plenty of room to store your most commonly used spices, tools, and cooking equipment.
A baker's rack is great for storing things you use frequently but not frequently enough to keep on the counter or kitchen island. Or things you need to grab quickly without digging through drawers.
My pastry brush, wire mesh strainers, deli containers, Vitamix, Dutch oven, and Challenger bread pan all live on the bottom shelves of the baker's rack. I can even hang one of my rolling pins from two of the hooks along the backboard. The counter-height shelf is great for liquor, fancy balsamics, my Joseph Joseph file folder cutting board set, and toaster.
I can't find my specific baker's rack model anywhere but here are three similar ones with some different shelving configurations:
3. Masking tape and pens hung on the fridge for labeling and dating food
This is a habit I picked up in pastry school, and I'll admit I'm not always the best at remembering to do it. But it's a huge help when I do!
Whenever you put leftovers in the fridge, label them. Date them, too, if you can. That way you don't have to play the "how long has this been in here again?" game every time you open the fridge.
This doesn't have to mean your fridge is obsessively or meticulously organized. Here's what my ADHD fridge organization genuinely looks like on most days:
To really take organizing your ADHD kitchen to the next level, try to put new stuff away behind stuff you already have. That way the food that will go bad first is right in the front when you open the fridge instead of getting pushed to the back where you'll forget about it. (In professional kitchens this is known as FIFO — first in, first out.)
If the masking tape and pens aren't within reach as I'm putting stuff into the fridge, I know I'd never remember to label things. My whole ADHD fridge organization system would collapse. I'd end up going to look for the masking tape and end up reorganizing a sock drawer or something, or end up putting leftovers away without labels only to find them 3 months later in the back of the fridge growing mold. So I keep the markers and tape right on the fridge where I can't miss them.
Here's what I recommend:
- Magnetic pen cup - so you don't have to go hunting for a working pen every time you have leftovers
- 1" standard masking tape - write on the roll before tearing the tape off so you know you have enough room before you tear the tape
- A set of 5 permanent markers - because you're gonna lose some of them
- A magnetic hook - to keep the masking tape within reach/so it doesn't get lost or roll away from you
4. Meal planning pads to avoid decision paralysis and make grocery shopping easier
Stop me if this sounds familiar. It's dinner time and you have no idea what you're going to make. You're thinking and thinking and you have so many ideas but they all seem like so much work and it's getting later and later and you're getting hungrier and hungrier.
Finally, you start cooking. Then you realize you don't actually have everything you need. Or, you realize it's too late to start cooking and order delivery instead.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with ordering delivery for dinner. But if you're trying to cut back on delivery, or don't have the budget for it, or you just keep forgetting to eat, it can be frustrating to have procrastinated or decision paralysis-ed your way into ordering takeout again.
This doesn't mean you're stupid or bad or incompetent or any of the things your ADHD brain might tell you in that moment.
It just means you need a plan.
These meal planning pads are one of my favorite ADHD kitchen organization tools. The grocery list tears off and comes to the store with you so you actually get everything you need. The meal plan stays on the fridge so you don't forget it once you get home.
On Saturday or Sunday mornings, my husband and I sit down and write down what we want to cook that week. We always include nights for eating leftovers and nights for takeout, so we can impulsively move things around if needed. The plan is loose. The plan is flexible.
And!! The best part? A new, blank grocery list is right there on the next page waiting for you. So if you think of any necessities throughout the week that you need to pick up (toilet paper, paper towels, kitchen staples like flour or oil or whatever) you can add them to next week's shopping list.
5. A voice controlled Amazon Echo Show with a screen for setting timers, reminders, and getting answers to questions without having to stop what you're doing
The number of times I've ended up picking egg shells out of my ceiling because I forgot I was hard boiling eggs and all the water evaporated and the eggs went kablooey is three. THREE TIMES. That is too many times. "But Rebecca, why didn't you set a timer?" I did. I set the timer on my microwave that went "beep beep" and I didn't hear it and then the eggs went kablooey.
ADHD brains are also really good at following multiple leaps and trains of thought at once, which can make it hard to focus on one thing at a time. A voice controlled smart assistant like Alexa is a great way to manage those thoughts without missing a beat in the kitchen.
You can be elbows deep in a bucket of pizza dough when you remember that you forgot to check mail and, instead of hoping you'll remember to do that when you're done, shout, "Alexa, in 15 minutes remind me to check mail!" Alexa will have your back and your brain can therefore refocus on the bucket of dough.
Not only can you set timers using voice commands, but Alexa's timers are LOUD and KEEP GOING and you can't miss them. You can also name the timers so that if you have multiple timers set, you know which one is going off.
Because I have trouble with taking in auditory information, I prefer the Echo Show with a screen as opposed to an audio-only Alexa (or Siri or Google) device because it displays the results on screen. Because I'm getting the information visually, too, I actually remember what she says!
And if I do forget, at least she won't get annoyed when I ask her the same question 5 times in a row.
Some Amazon Alexa commands to try in the kitchen:
- "Alexa, how many grams are in 1 cup of water?"
- "Alexa what's 856 divided by 8?"
- "Alexa remind me tomorrow at 2 pm to defrost the chicken."
- "Alexa set timer for 35 minutes."
- "Alexa, at what temperature is chicken cooked through?"
- "Alexa, give me a recipe for pesto."
- "Alexa what time will it be in 18 hours?" (great for when you're trying to plan ahead for a no-knead bread with a long rise time)
- "Alexa, announce that dinner is ready."
- "Alexa, play my cooking playlist."
- "Alexa, add lemon juice to my grocery list." (this only works if you use a digital grocery list!)
6. Storage containers with interchangeable lids so you always have a lid that fits
You know what's really annoying? When you've put your leftovers into a container and cannot find the one specific lid that fits that container amongst a sea of other food storage container lids in varying sizes.
When you have ADHD, you know that what happens next is not that you reorganize your food storage containers to find the right one.
What happens next is that you end up pulling everything out of the cupboard, only to get distracted by how dirty the floors are, so you sweep the dirt into a pile, but before you scoop it, you remember that you meant to vacuum the rugs too, and then two hours later your food is still sitting there. Oh, but you still need to put all the containers away and at this point you just don't care anymore, so you put plastic wrap over the food (ugh, plastic wrap, you know you shouldn't be using it when the lid exists somewhere int the kitchen, great, now you feel guilty too) and shove the containers back in the cupboard.
You're back where you started.
All of this could have been avoided if you'd just had a set of food storage containers with lids that fit every single container in the set, regardless of size. My go-to is a set of round deli containers.
Deli containers stack neatly (you can see them in my fridge above) and come in 8, 16, and 32 oz sizes (1 cup, 2 cup, 3 cup). And because they have interchangeable lids, whenever you need a lid, you don't need to tear your kitchen apart trying to find it. Any lid you grab will fit.
Here's some of my fave containers:
- SafeWare set of 40 Round Deli Containers - (12) 8 oz, (16) 16 oz, and (12) 32 oz
- Chef's Path set of 40 Rectangular Lock-Lid Containers - (6) XL 94 oz, (6) Large 67 oz, (6) Medium 47 oz, (6) Small 27 oz containers
- Cambro containers: 2 quart, 4 quart (the lids that come with these will fit both sizes!)
7. A vacuum sealer to divide up ingredients and leftovers to freeze for quick meals later
Procrastination! Ahh! It gets the best of all of us at one point or another. And it can be one of the most frustrating things about having ADHD. On one hand, we're great under last minute pressure, on the other hand, it'd be great if our brains gave us some say in the matter!
How many times have you bought some sort of fresh produce only to procrastinate on eating it before it goes bad? Instead of beating yourself up for wasting money and food, get yourself a vacuum sealer.
You can also buy a family pack of chicken breasts or pork chops or whatever at the store, and divide them up into individual or pre-sliced portions and vacuum seal them in the freezer for later.
Take it to the next level by seasoning or marinating them before freezing so that they're ready to cook as soon as they defrost (or cook them right in the bag with a sous vide).
This is a great for ADHD fridge organization — you can keep things clearly labeled, and the vacuum sealing can make things much easier to stack!
You can freeze so many fresh fruits and vegetables just before they go bad. As soon as you realize you're not going to get around to eating something, freeze it! Chili peppers, bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, apples, avocado, berries, fresh herbs, broccoli stalks, shredded chicken, leftover pulled pork or carnitas, etc, etc, etc.
Instead of throwing them away, build your own little freezer pantry full of fresh food just ready to be used at a moment's notice.
Sure it takes a little time up front to divide, prep, and seal everything, but you can do those tasks when you have the energy to do it, instead of when you're hangry af and want to eat 5 minutes ago. Think of it as a gift to your future self!
This can also make grocery shopping a little easier and less stressful. When you meal plan, start by looking at what's in your freezer.
Make it a puzzle for your brain: How can you use up what you have before you buy new stuff? You might be surprised at how few new things you need to pick up at the store and how quick your grocery trips become.
8. Quick reference magnets for internal meat temperature doneness and volume measurement conversions
In pastry school I had to memorize these charts, so I know that I know them better off the top of my head than most people do. But I still second guess myself. Because the ADHD brain is tricky like that!
Sure, I could just Google the conversions and temperatures, but I know if take my phone out I know I'm gonna end up spending 5 minutes on Twitter before I remember what I meant to look up in the first place. And once I do look it up, there's a chance I'll forget what it said by the time I get back to the stove.Then I'll have to get out my phone again, and well, it's a cycle!
Meanwhile, my burgers will have overcooked and my chicken will be dry. Thanks, ADHD.
(FWIW, these were a little more useful before I got my Echo Show and could just ask Alexa, but I wanted to include them on this list for anyone who'd rather not go the smart assistant route.)
There are much more extensive kitchen reference magnets out there if you're interested, but these two cover a lot of the basics and blend in nicely on a stainless steel fridge. They're there if you need them, but they're not an eyesore either.
What things in your ADHD kitchen just make sense? Let me know in the comments!