If you’re looking for natural remedies for ADHD to help curb your child’s hyperactivity and impulsivity while also improving his or her ability to sit still and focus for long periods of time, you’ve probably heard of the ADHD diet.
Also known as the Feingold Diet, the ADHD diet eliminates all artificial food colors, flavors, sweeteners, and preservatives from the diet, which are thought to exasperate the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Research on the effectiveness of natural remedies for ADHD tends to be mixed, and while the ADHD diet is not intended to be a quick fix or to replace other, more conventional treatments for ADHD, the internet is full of all sorts of compelling stories on the gut-brain reaction and why parents across the globe support the importance of diet in treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
And since the ADHD diet supports an overall healthy eating plan which focuses on removing bad-for-you foods like sugar and food additives in favor of consuming a well-balanced diet that is high in protein and complex carbs, many parents see no harm in giving it a try.
What is ADHD?
Also known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD is a medical condition that makes it difficult for kids to sit still, pay attention, and exercise appropriate self-control.
The symptoms of ADHD fall within 3 categories:
- Inattention: Doesn’t appear to be listening, has trouble following directions, is easily distracted, etc.
- Hyperactivity: Always moving, has trouble sitting still and engaging in quiet activities, talks a lot
- Impulsivity: Has problems with self-control
Based on these symptoms, there are 3 types of ADHD, with Combined Type being the most commonly diagnosed:
- Inattentive Type
- Hyperactive/Impulsive Type
- Combined Type
Keep in mind that most children struggle with attention and self-control, but when a child has ADHD, these challenges are more pronounced and interfere with his or her ability to focus in the classroom and complete their schoolwork. The symptoms of ADHD can persist into adulthood, and often result in challenges in school, at home, in relationships, in the workforce, and beyond.
RELATED: ADHD in the classroom
If you suspect your child has ADHD, it’s important to consult with a trained medical practitioner as your child must display a certain number of symptoms for a specified period of time before a diagnosis can be made.
What is the ADHD Diet?
The ADHD diet is designed to remove foods like sugar and food additives that are thought to exasperate the symptoms of ADHD, and replace them with good-for-you foods and supplements designed to boost concentration and improve brain functioning.
While many parents of children with ADHD already try to avoid or remove sugar from their child’s diet, the ADHD diet goes much deeper. Here are the basic principals behind the ADHD diet:
- Avoid artificial food dyes, colors, and flavors
- Avoid artificial sweeteners
- Avoid foods and products that contain salicylates
- Avoid simple carbohydrates and sugars
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol
- Increase consumption of complex carbs
- Eat meals high in lean protein
- Increase foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
Many parents tend to use a more general approach to the ADHD diet. For example, they may avoid artificial additives and sweeteners and focus on creating meals that are high in protein and complex carbs, but may not go as far as eliminating salicylates.
Parents are also encouraged to try an elimination diet, where children are put on a very restrictive diet for a period of time before foods are slowly re-introduced one at a time. As each new food is reintroduced, parents look for reactions that may suggest an intolerance to the item. This can be tedious and time consuming as reactions can sometimes take weeks to occur, but if it helps identify which foods trigger or worsen your child’s ADHD symptoms, it’s time well spent.
Please note that the information above is not an exhaustive list of the Dos and Don’ts of the ADHD diet, and is intended merely as a starting point for those interested in pursuing natural remedies for ADHD. Always consult a licensed physician and/or naturopath before making dietary changes to ensure they are safe and suitable for you and your child, and to discuss important supplements your child should be consuming. Much research suggests that children with ADHD can benefit from supplements such as omega-3, zinc, magnesium, and iron.
60+ Kid-Approved ADHD Diet Recipes
While so many parents swear by the effectiveness of the ADHD diet in managing the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, it can be very overwhelming and difficult to make dietary changes in children, especially when they are head-strong, picky eaters. The good news is that there are HEAPS of kid-friendly ADHD diet recipes out there, and we’ve rounded up over 60 ideas to inspire you! Please note that these recipes follow the general ideas of the ADHD diet, but many of them contain allergens like wheat, dairy, soy, and salicylates. If you find your child reacts negatively to these foods, make sure to avoid them.
ADHD Diet Breakfast Ideas
One of the best things you can do for your child, regardless of whether he or she has ADHD or another developmental challenge, is to ensure he or she starts the day off with a protein-rich breakfast to fuel the day ahead. This can be difficult for those with food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies, and while many of the ideas below aren’t strictly ADHD diet approved in that they contain wheat, dairy, and salicylates, I still wanted to include them as I know many parents use a more high-level approach to the ADHD diet and need recipe ideas that are high in protein and complex carbs. For those who follow a more strict version of the ADHD diet, I suggest giving smoothies a try, and I’ve included a fabulous smoothie recipe book below to give you some ideas!
You obviously want to steer clear of sugary cereals, and if your child doesn’t tolerate dairy well, you can always use unsweetened almond milk or another nut milk of his or her choice. Multi-Grain Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, and Bran Flakes are all great cereals to consider, but these are certainly less desirable options for kids as they don’t have a ton of flavor to them. Consider adding fruit like bananas and berries to provide a bit more oomph.
Oats are a GREAT way to start the day. They’re nutritious, high in soluble fiber, rich in antioxidants, and help keep blood sugars stable. Again, you want to choose plain oatmeal over flavored, sugary options, and can easily sweeten your child’s oatmeal bowl with a banana, berries, dried fruit, and/or a spoonful of natural peanut butter. Cinnamon is another great natural way to add flavor!
Greek Yogurt Bowls
If your child can tolerate dairy, Greek yogurt is a great way to pack some protein into his or her morning. Add bran flakes, fruit, and natural nut butter, and you’ve got a delicious meal to fuel the day.
Cook up a batch of scrambled eggs with some preservative-free bacon and some of your child’s favorite veggies, and wrap it all up with an organic whole wheat tortilla!
Natural peanut butter on whole wheat toast
Add sliced bananas for added flavor, potassium, and energy!
Kids love smoothies, and moms love that they offer a great way to get their children to eat nutritious superfoods like spinach and kale without them even realizing it. You can create so many different types of smoothies to suit your child’s individual likes and dietary needs, and I love that you can prepare smoothie bags ahead of time to store in your freezer for quick, easy, and nutritious breakfasts on-the-go. If you’re stuck on how to create filling smoothies within your child’s dietary restrictions, check out Julie Morris’s book, Superfood Smoothies: 100 Delicious, Energizing & Nutrient-dense Recipes for inspiration!
A list of ADHD diet breakfast ideas wouldn’t be complete without eggs. Whether your child prefers his or her eggs scrambled, poached, fried, or boiled, they are an excellent source of protein, vitamins D, B2, B6, and B12, iron, and zinc. Of course, eggs are a trigger for ADHD symptoms in some kids, so tread carefully, but if you can incorporate eggs into your child’s diet, this easy breakfast casserole by Low Carb Yum is a great option to consider!
ADHD Diet Lunch Ideas
If your child follows the ADHD diet, it can be very difficult to find school-safe options to pack in his or her lunch. My best advice is to invest in a few bento boxes and some fun eating utensils so you can pack an array of different ideas your little one can snack on while at school. I’m a huge fan of YumBox as they offer many different lunch box sizes with multiple compartments, and they are completely leakproof, allowing you to pack both wet and dry foods in your child’s lunch. I also love this set of Bento Box Lunch Accessories – it has tons of fun cutters and food picks to help you make an otherwise boring lunch fun and exciting for a child who can’t eat all of the same things his or her friends can.
There are heaps of school-safe ADHD diet ideas you can pack inside a bento box. Make sure to include a good balance of protein and complex carbs to ensure your child’s blood sugar remains constant throughout the day so he or she can concentrate. I’ve listed some ideas below, and caution you again that some of these include allergens like wheat, dairy, soy, and salicylates, so you’ll need to pick and choose depending on how strictly you follow the ADHD diet and/or according to your child’s food tolerances.
Hard boiled eggs
Cheese sticks and slices
Greek yogurt (watch the sugar content in flavored yogurt)
Preservative-free deli meat
Whole wheat crackers
You can also fill a thermos with your child’s favorite smoothie or soup (check out this dairy-free creamy chicken soup recipe by How We Flourish), and if your little one tolerates wheat, there are tons of other options you can explore. Whole wheat sandwiches and wraps are an obvious option, and you might consider these 3-ingredient flourless muffins by WINKGO or these 3-ingredient oatmeal cookies I found on Pinterest.
Oh! And if your child’s school allows nuts (all of our schools are nut-free here in Toronto), see our ADHD diet snack ideas below for additional ideas to include in your child’s packed lunches.
ADHD Diet Dinner Recipes
While some would argue it’s harder to find packable ADHD diet recipes to put in a child’s lunch, others would say dinnertime is more difficult as it can be quite challenging finding filling family-friendly recipes that are devoid of gluten, soy, dairy, sugar, and food additives. Thankfully, there are heaps of other parents out there who have already done the legwork for you, and I’ve rounded up 24 ideas to inspire you below! Again, these recipes support the overall principals behind the ADHD diet, but you will need to check the individual recipes to ensure they adhere to the degree to which you follow the diet and don’t contain ingredients your child can’t tolerate.
Superfood Meatballs | The Family that Heals Together
Paleo Three Cup Chicken | How We Flourish
Pesto Sausage Cakes | Just Take a Bite
GAPS Salmon Cakes | Taste is Trump
Chicken Breasts with Figs and Squash | Real Healthy Recipes
Roast Pork with Onion Apple Gravy | Phoenix Helix
Lemon Basil Shredded Beef | The Paleo Partridge
Balsamic Braised Beef Shanks | The Primordial Table
Simple Tender Pot Roast with Holy Grail Gravy | Phoenix Helix
GAPS Tuna Salad | How We Flourish
GAPS Meat and “Potatoes” | How We Flourish
Chicken with Plums Carrots and Apples | A Squirrel in the Kitchen
Kalua Pig | Nom Nom Paleo
Hawaiian Pork Roast | Beyond the Bite
Beef Brisket | Elana’s Pantry
Cinnamon Chuck Roast and Onions | Whole Life Eating
Italian Pork Roast | The Clothes Make the Girl
Pulled Pork and Roasted Vegetables | Gutsy By Nature
Honey Garlic Chicken | Sweet Potatoes and Social Change
GAPS Friendly Pizza Crust | The Soft Landing
GAPS Spaghetti and Meatballs | How We Flourish
Cauliflower Fried Rice | How We Flourish
Easy Butternut Squash Soup | Real Food Carolyn
Creamy Chicken Soup | How We Flourish
ADHD Diet Snack and Dessert Ideas
One of the toughest parts of having a child who either can’t tolerate certain foods, or has a full-blown allergy to a particular food group (or 3) is that it limits their ability to enjoy the same sweets and snacks as their peers, which oftentimes leaves them feeling left out. If this sounds like your child, I suggest getting him or her involved in the kitchen to help him or her feel more in control. This can be a great way to spend quality time together, and you may surprise yourselves by creating delicious masterpieces together the whole family will love. Here are some great ADHD diet snacks and dessert ideas to get your started!
Whole wheat crackers with nut butter
Hummus with veggies sticks
Apple or banana with nut butter
Fresh fruit kebabs
While my recommendation is to opt for one-ingredient options wherever possible that don’t include sugar or sugar alternatives, I wanted to include some basic dessert options to consider if you don’t follow a strict ADHD diet and/or make exceptions for special occasions.
3-ingredient flourless cheese breadsticks | Kirbie’s Cravings
2-ingredient banana peanut butter ice cream | Two Peas and Their Pod
3-ingredient date caramel dip | Veganosity
Chocolate peanut butter avocado pudding | Minimalist Baker
3-ingredient sweet potato chocolate brownies | Nest & Glow
3-ingredient flourless muffins | WINKGO
3-ingredient oatmeal cookies | Pinterest
And if baking isn’t your thing, but you still want options to allow your child to indulge in a bit of sweetness without falling too far off track with the ADHD diet, there are a lot of ‘clean’ bars you can buy in most major grocery stores, including Larabars, RXBARS, and Perfect Bars. These all contain nuts, so they aren’t school-safe, but are great options for at home and when you’re on the go.
If you’re looking for natural remedies for ADHD to help curb your child’s hyperactivity and impulsivity while also improving his or her ability to sit still and focus for long periods of time, I hope these ADHD diet tips and recipes inspire you!
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