From setting reminders to making adaptations that suit you, eating well is often about honouring your needs

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term for a wide range of conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, and others. For some people, there will be more than one ‘label’ present, meaning that someone’s needs may overlap.

I live in two worlds. I’m autistic, but I also function as a journalist. During the first Covid-19 lockdown, I was curious about stories that talked about a rise in eating disorders. But there wasn’t a lot of information about the link between eating disorders and autistic women, like me, who are usually diagnosed later on in life. I spent a long time researching the various lockdowns, and eventually wrote an award-winning book to open up the kitchen to neurodiverse people.

These are the basic ‘hacks’ everyone should be equipped with in order to eat well with neurodiversity.

Set up a ‘hydration station’

Sometimes a neurodivergent person, particularly an autistic individual, may struggle with interoception issues; the key sense allows us to interpret sensations in the body, such as if we are thirsty, hungry, have hurt ourselves, etc. Not knowing if you are hungry or thirsty can have a knock-on impact on your mood, physical health, and mental health over time. Try setting up a ‘hydration station’ to have an easily accessible bottle of water within eyeshot. If you need to commute, stock up on liquid to take with you.


Make time visual

Neurodiversity sometimes can come with executive functioning struggles – this is a set of skills every person has, that enables us to execute a task. If this sense is impaired, it can have a knock-on impact, such as when trying not to burn food when cooking and completing tasks. Think of making a sandwich and all the steps. All of them have to be sequenced to get to the final stage, and it’s a lot!

Making time visual can help, such as when it comes to using timers on your phone, or even specialised apps such as Tiimo to help plan out your tasks. It can keep you on track if you’re prone to stopping tasks part-way through, and can also help you to avoid overcooking.

Think about physical adaptations that can be made

Society has a point of view that we all have to achieve the same expected standard, or we are somehow ‘giving in’ to whatever can cause us to need help. This is an outdated view, and can actually be harmful, because sometimes we all need help to carry out tasks.

Think about physical adaptations that can be made in the kitchen. This could be something such as a jar opener, weighted cutlery, or a plate separator. A jar opener is about £2 online, but it saves the huffing and puffing of unscrewing a lid, and it supports those who may struggle with motor skills. Weighted cutlery may also do the same, and a plate separator is ideal if you have sensory issues, as it separates food into categories. They are cheap adaptations to create a state of equality in the kitchen.

Designate a meal to a shelf in your fridge

Take a shelf in your fridge, and designate it to a meal type: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and (possibly) snacks. Allow yourself to set up for the following week with the designated ingredients per shelf, for all meals. It saves space, can help with feelings of overwhelm, you can ‘grab to go’ if you need to leave suddenly, and this form of meal planning is also a great way to budget.


Set reminders

A smartphone can set daily reminders to act as a ‘prompt’, such as to eat, drink, take medication, etc. Having a designated mealtime will mean there is less of a chance of forgetting to eat, and it can be used to help manage other things, such as if you need to take medications with food.

If you’re a young adult who is living by yourself for the first time, and struggling to maintain a routine, or you have caring responsibilities that take up a lot of time, it’s important to put fuel in the tank regularly to stay on top of things.

Every neurodivergent person is different, with their own needs and accommodations they require. But eating well is something we all deserve, and we can ensure that by making the kitchen a more accessible space.