“But I don’t like that!” Is this a common phrase in your house at dinner time? It is almost impossible to get the kids to eat healthy at the best of times, but when you are dealing with the extra challenges of ADHD… you feel like giving up!
The Ultimate Guide
I am often asked how I did it. How the heck did I get my six-year old to swap the contents of his lunchbox for healthy, wholefoods options instead?
The secret is in the conversations you have with your children. You need to let them know that it’s not just about Mum saying “no”. Explain to them that there are certain foods that their bodies need for fuel and other foods that are just for fun.
Distinguishing between healthy foods and treats with this type of dialogue is the basis for my ultimate guide for helping kids make healthy food choices. You can download the free printable and get started now!
Food for Fuel Worksheet
Foods for Fuel are all of the nourishing foods that will promote health. This includes vegetables, fruit, protein, grains, healthy fats and dairy products.
Print the age-appropriate worksheet and sit down with your children to do the activity together. Allow them to choose which foods from the list they already eat. Have them circle, colour, draw or list these foods on the foods for fuel section of the worksheet.
The worksheet will also have you thinking of new foods to try. Time to think outside the box, just like your ADHD kiddo does!
Getting the kids involved is why this approach works so well. When they feel like they have some control in the food choices being made, they are more likely to accept these changes.
Vegetables should make up a large portion of what your child should eat each day. Primary school aged children should be aiming for 5 serves daily (as should their parents!).
Not sure what a ‘serve’ looks like? Take a look here.
The worksheet has space for you to think of some more. Use your imagination or try Google for some more ideas. See how many you can get!
My children will eat Brussel sprouts! How do I do it? I shred it VERY finely (like you would with lettuce or cabbage, but finer) and add to rissoles. Some children love them fried in butter and garlic. Experiment with the way that you prepare and serve vegetables to see what your children like.
Primary school aged children should have 1 ½ to 2 serves of fruit per day. Discover what a ‘serve’ looks like here.
My youngest two are fruitbats! There are very few fruits that they won’t eat.
When you reduce the amount of sugar in your child’s diet (a natural consequence of avoiding processed foods), fruit tastes so sweet and delicious.
Try topping natural, greek yoghurt with fruit or making a smoothie.
Choose lean, unprocessed meats. This list includes vegetarian protein options too for the fussy child who doesn’t like the texture of meat (or for the families that choose not to eat meat products).
Did you know that protein will help to keep the kids feeling fuller for longer?
You can put a stop the constant “I’m hungry” whines by including protein at every main meal and also as snacks too. My children love to snack on nibble mixes of nuts and seeds.
Check out how much protein your child needs here.
An easy lunchbox swap is to use home made shredded chicken or leftover roast meat for lunches, rather than ham or other processed meats.
Fat has been given a bad name in the past but it is actually essential to health. In fact, some vitamins cannot be absorbed or used by the body without fats present in the digestive tract.
Depending on their age, children need between 7-20g of fat daily.
Our family starts the day with eggs for breakfast most mornings and, as I mentioned, we love to snack on nuts and seeds.
Choose mostly wholemeal or wholegrain products for maximum health benefits for your child.
Refined grains (mostly found in processed foods) are stripped of fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Your child should consume between 4-7 serves of grains daily, depending on their age and gender.
Many children with ADHD (and related conditions) often thrive on a gluten free diet. Wheat, barley, rye and oats are the grains that contain gluten.
Dairy products provide your child with calcium and other nutrients. Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend between 1 ½ – 3 ½ serves of dairy per day for children.
Many children with ADHD (and related conditions) often thrive on a dairy free diet. Soy, rice, almond or coconut milk products may be suitable replacements and some are fortified with calcium. Calcium can also be obtained from some non-dairy foods such as tinned salmon, sardines, dried figs, and almonds.
Food for Fun Worksheet
Explain to your child that they will still be allowed to have treats.
Print the Food for Fun worksheet and ask your child what some of their favourite treats are. Get them to draw them or write them down on the worksheet.
Now YOU have some homework to do, Mum! At the bottom of the worksheet, there are some links to websites that will help you to find healthier versions of their favourite foods.
Sneaky brownies are a hit in our house! The kids now know there are vegetables hidden in them but they don’t care, because they taste so darn good!
Now that you know which foods your child will eat, focus on including these foods in the meals and snacks that you prepare for them.
Gradually introduce more foods, one at a time, for more variety (there are a few tips below)
Do your homework! Check out the links provided on the Food for Fun Worksheet for inspiration to create or purchase more suitable alternatives to your child’s favourite foods.
Our ADHD kiddos already feed so different and left out. Finding alternatives to their favourite foods so that they aren’t missing out will make all the difference when transitioning to this new way of eating.
- get the kids involved in food selection, preparation and meal planning. Lachie loves to feel needed and important. He loves to help me out by making scrambled eggs in the mornings and when we have rissoles he always wants to turn them as they cook. And when I tell him how much his efforts have really helped me… well you just see his little head swell with pride!
- eat together as a family, at the dinner table, without devices. This is a tough one and I will be the first to admit that even I need a reminder of this one. But, truly, nothing beats sitting down over dinner and actually enjoying all of the little stories from their day. We have recently made a new habit to go around the table and tell the rest of the family what the favourite part of our day was. My kids love it and if we forget, it’s actually my youngest (at 3 years of age) who pipes up with “What was the best of YOUR day?” How precious!
- lead by example; let them see you eating healthy. If you are going to ask the kids to eat healthy, then you need to too. I often pack my own lunch while making the kids school lunches. Even though 99% of the time I will be at home for lunch, I pop it in the fridge for later and the kids know that eating this way is just the way our family does things. P.S. Make sure you leave the chocolate til they have gone to bed… and ALWAYS hide the wrappers, riiiiight down in the bottom of the bin 😉
- grow and pick your own fruit and vegetables if possible. This is a great way to save money on the grocery bill and to avoid nasty pesticides in our produce. It is also a great way to teach the kids a little responsibility if you include the in the gardening. The best part is the look of excitement on their faces when they see a little pumpkin or melon develop or the green capsicum turn red. They can’t wait to pick and eat their harvest.
- make smoothies with fruits and vegetables (freeze leftovers as iceblocks). This is also a great way to use up what’s left in the crisper, when its not quite so… well… crisp. There are also a lot of smoothie recipes out there that include vegetables like spinach, beetroot or carrot for an extra nutritious boost to their day.
- vary the way you serve vegetables: raw, cooked, grated, sliced, mixed/separate etc to find the way that your kids like them. All three of my kids went through that typical phase, around toddler age, where they wouldn’t eat their veggies. The older two eventually outgrew it and gradually we introduced more and more vegetables to their diet. My youngest however… he just simply refused. That was until I started offering him raw vegetables and salads more often. He actually much prefers his vegetables raw! He will also eat them cooked at dinner time most nights now. Mix it up a bit until you find what works for your child.
- Add grated, diced or pureed vegetables to pasta sauces and meat dishes. For example, try replacing half the quantity of tomato paste/pasta sauce in your spaghetti bolognaise with pureed roasted or steamed vegetables.
- add fruit to plain greek yoghurt to avoid the refined sugar and to get an extra serve of fruit into them.
- sometimes you just have to be tough: don’t keep ‘junk’ in the house!
I can plate up a chicken salad and the kids look at me with their ‘not salad again’ faces. Place the same salad ingredients inside a lettuce leaf… “YAY! Lettuce wraps!”
Download the worksheets now and let me know how you go!