Why ADHDers Waste So Much Food – And What To Do About It

Wasted Food Gets Old

So, if I'm totally honest, there are parts of living with ADHD – and raising a family with it, especially – that make me crazy. Sure, I've learned to manage a LOT, to mitigate, to minimize, to accept, to let go. I've really gotten pretty good at it.

But sometimes, it just gets old.

Like the food in my refrigerator. Talk about old. One of my biggest pet peeves about how ADHD shows up – more than the overall chaos, clutter and disorganization – is the amount of wasted food I end up throwing away on too regular a basis!

Seriously, it makes me crazy. I HATE to waste, in the first place. I definitely inherited my grandmother's Depression-era mentality when it comes to frugality. And I HATE to throw away money, which is what it feels like every time a perfectly good bag of herbs or container of sprouts ends up refreshing the scent in my garbage disposal.

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ADHD & Food Waste

If you are wondering WHY I'm linking food waste with ADHD, then you probably don't have ADHD, yourself. You might even be thinking, “Man, those people will blame ANYTHING on ADHD!” But if you live with someone with ADHD, you might want to think again.

Planning for, acquiring, preparing and eating food is arguably the most complex process we humans execute. If you think about it, it's all we're really wired to do – that, and fight off the wooly mammoths at the mouth of the cave. So even though feeding ourselves is one of the three most basic elements of the human existence –it's still a really complex process!

Here is some clarification about why and how people with ADHD struggle with managing food efficiently:

Executive Function

ADHD People Challenged by


Making Decisions

Estimating Time


Detailing out the shopping list

Execution/Activation Impulse Purchasing

No Time to Get to the Store

No Energy to Make Something (where's the cereal?)

Don't Put Things Away Properly

Organization  Can't Find it, Just Open a New One

Can't Find it, Just Buy a New One

Put it away where no one else sees it

Memory Can't remember if I have it, buy a new one

Don't remember to use it/eat it before it spoils

Oh, I meant to make that, I forgot

Communication Forget to tell someone else where it is, or to use it

Forget to communicate that you will miss meals

And if all of those executive functions aren't hard enough to manage, don't forget the fact that eating can get BORING, can't it? The same food, day after day, morning, noon and night!

We try to spice it up (pun intended) by getting new and different things to try. But then, we forget about them, or we're not in the habit of using them, or we don't really know what to do with them, or we just never get around to using them. There are a host of absolutely legitimate reasons we never get to the new stuff we buy. So then, we go back to the old stuff – tried and true, right? Only then we're … you guessed it … bored again!

How to Reduce Food Waste

So now that I've reminded myself how it happens, perhaps it's time for me to make some changes. I seriously want to try to save a food, reduce the expense of ADHD a bit, maybe let go of some of that guilt about the starving children in some remote corner of the world (or in my own backyard) every time I throw out what 3 days ago was a perfectly good bag of lettuce!

Here's my plan (thanks to the Parenting Action model, once again!):

Step 1

Take Aim: I'm going to take aim on one little step that will make things better (perfect is not my goal, here!). I'll start by focusing on FRESH food (expiration dates in the pantry is another story entirely!). And I'm going to do this without getting mad at myself or anyone else – this is a blame-free exercise.

Step 2

Education: I‘m going to give myself a week or two to identify the food(s) that tends to get thrown out most often, and find out what might be happening (e.g., are they foods no one really likes in the first place?).

Step 3

Planning: This problem calls for Using Systems & Structures. Perhaps it will be about freezing foods if they don't look like they're going to get eaten (thank goodness I'm a smoothie queen!). Or maybe it will be about committing to make myself a salad once a week. I'm not sure yet – I have to collect information first (step 2).

Step 4

Action: I'll give myself 2 weeks to try my system, and get my accountability buddy to ask me how it's going. I'll also put a picture on the refrigerator of the food that gets thrown out most often as a gentle reminder.

Step 5

Wash, Rinse and Repeat: My favorite part – I'll try some things, and make some changes, and see how it goes. Maybe I'll wash and rinse some lettuce in the process. (Can you tell that I'm guessing lettuce is going to be my most common fresh food culprit?)

So, are you ready to enter a blame-free zone to try to reduce food waste in your ADHD home? If you've made it to this point in the article, you know YOU DO!

I hope you'll join me in our own little sustainability project. Who knows, with all the food we ADHDers have a chance to save, we might just find a solution for landfill problems!

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