Have you ever walked into your kitchen for some cereal only to realize you’d left your stove on all night? Have you avoided your kitchen because you were overwhelmed by the mess? Or have you ever had to throw away dinner because you forgot it was in the oven?
If you answered yes to these questions, you may be cooking with ADHD.
I’ve recently learned that I Iove to cook. It’s fun to transform ingredients into something new, and working through a recipe relaxes my tics. But as much as I enjoy my time in the kitchen, I’ve had to accept that cooking, for me, is a dangerous hobby and can even lead to more stress than it relieves.
Folks with ADHD are twice as likely to die prematurely as the general population. It’s not natural causes killing us, though; it’s accidents. While burnt dinner may be harmless in the long run, I’m lucky that I haven’t started a (significant) fire or caused myself (serious) injury.
Fortunately, I don’t have to choose between my immersion blender and my safety. With these simple strategies, I’ve been able to minimize risk and stress in the kitchen.
Read Your Recipes
Some folks with ADHD have difficulty planning and problem-solving, so it’s great that recipes do most of the planning for us. Reading the recipe before starting to cook helps me avoid disorganization and unexpected hiccups.
I always start with the ingredients. Do I actually have everything on the list? As an impulsive person, it can be tempting to jump right to the cooking. By checking for my ingredients first, I won’t discover halfway through a recipe that I need four eggs when I only have three in the refrigerator.
I also check that I have all the necessary cookware. Unlike ingredients, supplies aren’t usually listed separately in a recipe, so you’ll have to read all the way through. More than once, this little precaution has saved me from the unpleasant realization that I need a springform pan. Knowing beforehand, I can either buy the materials I need or improvise without compromising my dish.
Knowing your timing can also prevent kitchen mishaps, especially when making multiple recipes. Managing time can be challenging for ADHDers, but timing is crucial in cooking. If both dishes require the oven at different temperatures, for example, you’ll need to have a plan. It may even be helpful to write out a combined version of the recipes that lists all of the steps in chronological order.
Keep Your Kitchen Organized
Now that you have a plan and all of your supplies, it’s time to get started. It’s often recommended that you have all your ingredients on the counter before you cook. I don’t advise this for ADHDers. We’re prone to disorganization and are also more likely to experience sensory overload, so I prefer to keep my countertops as clutter-free as possible. Instead, make sure you know where all your ingredients and supplies are located and that they are easily accessible.
Keeping your counters clear will make it easier to clean as you go. Pull out an ingredient or tool while you are using it. When you’ve reached the last part of the recipe that uses that item, put it away immediately. Have a trash can nearby as well to quickly discard food scraps and packaging. It may seem like overkill, but by cleaning while I work, I save myself immeasurable stress by avoiding a massive cleanup job just as I’m ready to eat. More importantly, cleaning this way makes you more aware of where items are in the kitchen and keeps things from getting pushed around. Before instituting this rule, I had (on more than one occasion) pushed rags and packaging into active burners, only realizing my mistake when the burning smell hit me.
Awareness can also be improved by designating spaces in the kitchen for certain tasks. For example, I do all of my prep work to the right of my sink, all my stirring and pouring over the sink (for easier cleanup), and my cooling items are kept to the left of the sink. Not only does this ensure I have a cleared space for each task but it also helps me focus on each step individually.
Practice Kitchen Safety
All of these tips help me to be a safer cook by keeping me calm and mindful in the kitchen, but there are also more direct strategies to preventing fires and kitchen injuries.
It’s safest not to take shortcuts in the kitchen. While I’m working to incorporate this tip into my cooking more myself, I’m also a great PSA for what can go wrong.
That’s my forearm in that picture. That brown line is a burn from about three months ago. At this point, I expect it will leave a permanent scar. How’d I get it? I have a nasty habit of skipping oven mitts and using the nearest dishrag instead. Combined with the fact that I don’t pull out the oven racks before reaching for my pan, that habit means I end up with a lot of burns. This tip also applies to using the right kind of knife to avoid cuts and allowing dishes the proper amount of time to cool.
Oven mitts will save you from burns, but they can also prevent fires. I’ve dropped dishrags into the oven and watched them burst into flames on the hot element. If you’re prone to knife mishaps, you may want to consider purchasing a cut glove, which can protect your fingers from the blade.
My biggest kitchen errors, however, occur after I’ve finished cooking. I don’t turn off the oven or stove; I leave milk out to spoil; I forget to wipe up a spill and attract bugs. To combat these mistakes, I was inspired to create a kitchen closing checklist. It’s a list of everything I need to do before leaving the kitchen for the night. While some of the tasks on the list may seem obvious, it’s easy to be distracted when we’re busy. Even surgeons benefit from using checklists in the operating room.
Not only does this list prevent possible fires and keep me from dealing with a huge mess in the morning but it also helps with my obsessive-compulsive anxiety, which prompts me to get up in the middle of the night to check for safety hazards. If I’ve used my checklist, I can be confident that the kitchen is in order and go back to sleep.
I don’t let ADHD stop me from doing the things that I love, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take precautions to reduce risks. While I may not use all of these strategies as often as I should, I know I’m a safer, more effective cook when I do.
Do you find your ADHD makes cooking more challenging? What tools and tips do you use to minimize stress and accidents in the kitchen? Share in the comments!