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How to Start an ADHD Diet for kids

Are you looking for natural ways to help ease the symptoms of ADHD for your child? Do you want to find a great compliment to ADHD Medications?

Learning how to follow an ADHD Diet is a great idea! It is just common sense that what we put into our kids’ bodies affects how they show up in the world. A good diet gives your kids such a stable foundation that helps everything else, like doing homework or getting a good night’s sleep, fall into place with more ease (ie, less nagging from you!)

Disclaimer – I am not a doctor or nutritionist, just an over zealous mom who has done a lot of research and also see the positive effects that following an ADHD Diet has had on my kids. What I am including in the post is informative, only and is meant to get you started on your own research journey.

Every BODY is different and it’s important for you to do your own research, ask your doctor and/or consider hiring a nutritionist to zero in on your specific kids needs.

What is an ADHD Diet? 

While diet is not believed to be a cause of ADHD, research indicates that it can impact a child’s symptoms. If a child has an allergy or intolerance to a food, for instance, eating it can affect their behavior.

One key feature of an ADHD Diet is eliminating certain foods which may exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD. Foods, like gluten and dairy, that are know to be inflammatory, are eliminated as well as food dyes and artificial colorings.   The most common foods to avoid on the ADHD Diet are gluten, dairy, corn soy, as well as artificial flavorings and dyes.

After eliminating foods for a period of time(from a few weeks to 3 months), you can add them back in to see if they have an effect on your kids behavior.  Many of the foods, like artificial dyes and preservatives, should always be eaten very infrequently – they are not good for anyone!

It is also very important to think about the foods that can have an impact, both positive and negative, on the gut microbiome. When our gut is not full of the right bacteria, there can be all sorts of cascading effects, like cronic constipation, which can greatly affect our kids behavior. Most of our feel good chemicals are created in the gut!

Maximizing nutrition through food or supplements is also another key component in any ADHD Diet. Focusing on high protein foods to satiate and feed the brain, as well as making sure your child has the right nutrients, like magnesium, good fats, zinc, and vitamin D.

Food affects everyone differently, so it’s good to take some time and observe how food affects your child.

what the research says about an adhd diet

While there is no clear evidence that diet is the cause of ADHD, mounting research shows that kids who follow an ADHD diet find relief from their symptoms – some kids find their symptoms of ADHD almost going away completely.

What goes on in our gut, it seems, can have a great effect on either relieving or exacerbating symptoms like fidgetiness, emotional disregulation, and impulsivity.By eating food that feeds the good gut bacteria and avoiding foods that feed the bad bacteria, kids can markedly improve their unwanted symptoms.

Removing artificial dyes and preservatives has been shown to be an effective way to decrease ADHD symptoms as well.

A lot of this is really, common sense. A diet full of real food is going to benefit our kids as they grow and develop.

Changing your kiddos diet may also be a really great option if prescription meds don’t work. A healthy diet can also be a great compliment to medicine. Teaching kids about the impacts of a healthy diet is an important life lesson to impart before they fly the coop.

How to Start an aDHD Diet for Kids

It can be hard to know very overwheliming to know how to start and ADHD Diet for kids. Seeking out the help of a nutrionist who is well versed in an ADHD Diet can be very helpful. We love Shawna Hughes’ doable approach – follow her on Instagram for great tips!

But, whether you hire a nutritionist of not, there are lots of things you can do to get started today!

1. Eliminate the easiest things first

At its very basic level, an ADHD diet is an elimination diet – you avoid foods that can be extremely disruptive to your system. Gluten, dairy, corn, soy, food dyes and certain preservatives are all on the list of things to avoid. 

Eliminating all of these things at one time is really difficult and I don’t recommend it.  You want to ease yourself and your family into. Remember, we are thinking long term, here.

The easiest, for us, was to eliminate gluten and corn(and its byproducts, like high fructose corn syrup). There are so many gluten free foods available now and corn can be avoided by reading labels and just staying away from most processed foods. 

Another option is to start by cutting out artificial (synthetic) food dyes, artificial (synthetic) flavorings & fragrances, certain preservatives(BHT, TBHQ, and BHA), and artificial sweeteners. This is known as  the Feingold Diet, which in and of itself can have a huge positive effect on your ADHD kids.

While these artificial substances are naturally avoided on a primarily whole foods diet, check the labels of even, so-called, healthy foods.  Even some of the packaged snacks, that are marketed as healthy have some artificial ingredients we are now steering clear of. 

2. Start reading labels for an ADHD Diet

Trips to the grocery store will now involve reading labels(the Feingold Association has a nice downloadable list to purchase if you are cutting out dyes and preservatives, as well as gluten and casein).

If your kids are old enough, have them start reading labels. Finding snacks that meet the tough standards of gluten free, corn free, soy free, dye free and are void of harmful sweeteners is not as hard as you think. These snacks are kid and ADHD Diet approved. 

3. Focus on what you are adding

Now, I never advocate being sneaky, but I have found the less I talk about what we are getting rid of the better.

 Focus on the food you and your kids can eat and make it taste really good.  My kids didn’t really notice I cut way back on dairy because I made sure I have lots of the foods that they love. 

While you are taking out the processed food, start adding in more fresh, whole food.  Have your kids pick out a new vegetable or grain to try.  Make a yummy fruit salad to keep in the fridge when hunger strikes. 

Thinking of this as a new adventure will go a long with you and your family! 

4. Get On Board Yourself

Join your kids on this new eating adventure! Modeling a behavior goes a long way and will make things so much easier in the long run. The less explaining to your kids, the better. Just have fun with trying some new things and watch everyone reap the rewards.

5. Limit or Eliminate processed foods

All sorts of stuff is lurking in processed foods – even the “better” ones. By sticking primarily to a whole foods diet, you’ll automatically be on the right track. 

You can limit packaged foods to lunches or for hikes at the movies, etc.  Otherwise the main stays of your diet can be fruit and vegetables, high-quality meat, lots of beans, rice and gluten free pastas. 

6. Stay informed

Our food journey started about 10 years ago when, very innocently,  I began watching food documentaries.  I was simply curious and wanted to know more about food.

Boy, what I began to learn shocked me!!!  

I had no idea, the food that we were eating on a daily basis, could actually be harming my kids and exacerbating some of their ADHD symptoms.

Being informed is really empowering and it’s shaped much of our current lifestyle. If you’re up for some learning, and have access to Netflix, I highly encourage you to watch one of these documentaries:

7. Get Kids to Help With the Prep

Without the convenience of a drive-thru or a bag to open and microwave, an ADHD Diet may involve more time in the kitchen than you are used to.

With fruit and vegetables to cut up and cook(we love these knives for kids!) rice to soak, baked goods to make, you will have some prep to do.  Start your kids helping no matter what age they are – they can take some of the load off of you and learn some great skills in the meantime.

Here are some of the ways my kids help:

  • Picking out a few meals for the week
  • Planning and packing their lunches.
  • Reading labels at the store
  • Carrying groceries
  • Washing and peeling fruits and vegetables.
  • Stirring a pan of pasta
  • Cooking eggs
  • Making sandwiches.
  • Setting the table.
  • Clearing the table
  • Sweeping the floor
  • Putting away groceries
adhd diet

8. Get a few new meals under your belt. 

Look for meals that fit an ADHD diet and are similar to your kid’s favorites and family standbys.  

Troll Pinterest, check out some new cookbooks from the library, look at our list of favorite, ADHD Diet approved meals  (like the African Stew pictured above) Try a new recipe each week until you get an arsenal of favorites. 

Once you find a few things your kids love, you can serve those several times a week/month and slowly expand from there. We have about 10 meals that we keep on rotation all the time. My kids like them, they’re healthy, so variety is not what I am after. 

Starting an ADHD Diet for Kids does not have to be difficult. Choose a few of these ideas to start and enjoy the adventure!!

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