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Slideshow: Tips to Get Your Kid With ADHD to Eat

It's Common: ADHD and the Uneaten Lunch

Don't stress if you open your kid's lunchbox after school to find an untouched lunch. You're not alone. When kids take stimulants for their ADHD, it can make their appetite disappear. It can be tricky to make sure he eats while he's at school. Packing only his favorite foods may help, and you may want to ask his teachers to remind him to eat, too. If he doesn't, that’s OK -- you can focus more on meals at home. He can still get the nutrition he needs.

Have a Big Breakfast

If your kid's a light eater, try to get them to eat high-calorie foods before they take their meds in the morning. She doesn't like bacon and eggs? Offer a leftover burger or pizza and a side of fruit for breakfast. Kids need enough calories and nutrition to fuel their growth and give them energy for the day.

Offer Snacks Often

When his blood sugar drops, it may make it harder for him to concentrate and may make him cranky. Yogurt smoothies are a great snack option. The yogurt will give him protein, which is important for concentration and preventing mood swings. Add in fruit and flaxseeds, which have healthy omega-3s that may improve behavior and concentration. Nuts are another great snack choice or addition to meals for light eaters. They have protein and plenty of calories, too.

Make Food Fun

Kids with ADHD may not eat enough because they get bored with a meal quickly. Give them a plate that grabs their attention. Use cookie cutters to shape sandwiches. Arrange food on the plate to make designs or faces. Offer containers of sauces and dips to make the meal more interesting.

Serve Smaller Portions of High-Calorie Foods

If medications turn your kids off from food, serve fave foods first. That way, they'll be more likely to eat them. Smaller portions may be more appetizing. Start the meal with higher-calorie foods, like meat and grains. When you serve veggies, add cheese or olive oil to raise the calorie count.

Whether your child is a light eater or they tend to overeat out of boredom or for stimulation, a nutritionist or pediatrician can offer healthy food suggestions.

Create Calmer Dinners

If your kid tends to bolt from the table after a few bites, change your dinner habits. Try to calm things down. Have your child sit next to you, rather than next to a sibling. Dim the lights or play soothing music. Seat him facing away from distractions, such as mirrors or windows. Then, engage your child in conversation, asking about specific things that happened during his day.

Be Flexible With Meal Times

Kids with ADHD may not be hungry at regular mealtimes. Work with them. Try moving family dinner later. Or let kids who aren't that hungry have a very light dinner and offer them snacks later in the evening. You can leave out non-perishable food on the counter after the meal, so they can graze as their medication wears off and their hunger returns.

Should You Ban Food Additives?

While there's some evidence that food additives or food coloring could affect ADHD symptoms, we don't know for sure. If you want to avoid those foods, there's no risk. Try it for a few months to see if it helps.

How about other special diets like going gluten-free? Any diet where you restrict a lot of foods can be hard to follow and may cause nutritional problems. Talk with your pediatrician first. 

Orange Juice and ADHD Meds

Be careful with acidic drinks, like orange juice or grapefruit juice. Taking some ADHD medications with a citrus juice may stop the medications from working as well as they should. Instead of OJ, offer other 100% juices or whole fruit instead.

How to Deal With Picky Eaters

Remember that lots of kids are picky eaters, whether they are taking medications that suppress their appetite or not. If you're introducing a new food and your child rejects it, keep trying. On average, you'll have to serve a child a new food 11 times -- and often many more -- before they'll even taste it. Make sure there is at least one food they are comfortable with on their plate.

Above All: Keep Calm, Carry On

Trying to get kids with ADHD to eat can be frustrating at times. Be unflappable and don't get into a struggle. Making demands at dinner  -- like insisting your child finish a meal, or eat when they say they are not hungry -- will backfire. They may just dig in their heels, making mealtime unpleasant.

Instead, go with the flow. Focus on offering nutritious options and making it easier for your child to eat when they're hungry, so everyone can be healthy and happy.

ADHD Child in School

Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on July 19, 2013

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