Nutrition Advice for Children with ADHD

By: Carolina Cuevas, Bilingual Outreach Specialist, Penfield Children’s Center

What is ADHD?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ADHD (Attention- Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is a brain disorder which causes hyperactivity, short attention spans, impulsivity, lack of focus and attention among other characteristics.

What should I feed my child with ADHD? 

Deciding what to serve a child with ADHD can be challenging, but this doesn’t have to be such a puzzling task. Paying attention to what your child eats can help with proper cell development and may reduce ADHD symptoms by limiting your child’s consumption of artificial colors and additives.

Here is what parents should focus on feeding children with ADHD:

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The human body produces nonessential fatty acids and essential fatty acids (those must be obtained from food). Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fats that the body cannot produce and must be obtained from one’s diet. Omega 3 fatty acids are crucial for proper cell functioning, cell communication, brain development and function.

Omega 3 fatty acids are key drivers to brain functioning and research has demonstrated that Omega 3 fatty acids help regulate mood and psychological behavior. According Harvard Medical School, individuals with ADHD are highly encouraged to consume adequate amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids, as it can help regulate the symptoms of ADHD, like hyperactivity.

Foods high in Omega 3:

  • Seafood (salmon, oysters, sardines, shrimp, Mackerel, tuna, trout
  • Flaxseeds
  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds

Kid -friendly recipes  

Baked Fish Nuggets


  • Salmon
  • All-purpose flour
  • Bread crumps
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Pepper/salt


  • Slice the salmon into 1? thick pieces by cutting horizontally and vertically every 1/2?.
  • Stir flour, salt and pepper in a bowl.
  • Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl.
  • Mix bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese in a separate bowl.
  • Cover the pieces of salmon with the seasoned flour, dip each piece into the eggs and then into the Parmesan mixture.
  • Drizzle olive oil on the salmon and bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until crispy and brown.

Flaxseed Toddler Muffins


  • Whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 3 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
  • 1 small apple – grated with peel
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter – melted


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, oats and flax seeds. Gently mix in the grated apples.
  • Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Mix in the milk and butter.
  • Pour the egg, milk and butter mixture into the batter and combine.
  • Pour muffin batter in 4 separate bowls and add special mix-ins such as raisons, grated carrots, etc.
  • Scoop out batter into muffin tins.
  • Bake for about 10 minutes, or until a toothpick poked into the muffin’s center comes out clean. Cool before serving to children.


Iodine is a mineral the body requires for brain growth/ development and regulation of thyroid hormones.

Iodine deficiency is linked to reduced motor performance in children.

Foods high in Iodine:

  • Iodized salts
  • Seaweed
  • Salt water fish
  • Seafood

Artificial Colorings and Additives

Products containing artificial food colorings, dyes and additives are commonly found in highly-processed foods such as candy, popsicles, soft drinks, preserved fruits, ice cream and cereals. These additives enhance the product’s appearance/flavor and effortlessly attract children. But beware, as several research studies have demonstrated, artificial flavors and colorings may cause behavior problems in children, such as hyperactivity.

Food coloring dyes and additives include:

  • Red No. 3
  • Red No. 40
  • Yellow No. 6
  • Blue No. 1
  • Blue No. 2

Though the research linking food colorings/additives are still inconclusive, it is best to avoid feeding your child highly-processed foods. Many of these products do not only contain these potentially harmful ingredients, but also contain copious amounts of sugar and salt, which can increase mood instability, especially in children with ADHD.

Instead, opt to provide nourishing meals that will enhance their concentration, improve mental focus and overall provide them with the necessary vitamins and minerals for them to thrive.

Focus on feeding your children good food sources of omega 3 fatty acids such as fish and nuts/seeds, fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.

Cook with your Child 

Involving children with ADHD in the kitchen can be a very fun and positively stimulating experience!

Set up a cooking lesson with a station with kid-friendly utensils, cutting boards, colorful cooking aprons and hats. These items will attract the child and can help increase their attention span.

Aim for a cooking set up where your child is facing you as you demonstrate what you are dicing, adding, cutting, etc. as she/he follows what you are doing in his/her designated station.

Give slow and clear directions as to what you are cooking. Limit the amount of time you talk, as it may bore them. Split the cooking lesson into segments and give a short break, as this will help maintain his/her focus. Do add positive affirmation statements as your child cooks with you.

Get messy and have fun!

What are some of your favorite meals to cook with your child?


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