sandwich with bite taken
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It's Common: ADHD and the Uneaten Lunch

Don’t stress if you open your kid's lunchbox after school to find the food untouched. You’re not alone. Sometimes kids who take stimulants for ADHD don’t get hungry. It’s not easy to make sure they eat while they’re at school. Pack only their favorite foods, and ask teachers to remind them to eat. If they don’t, that’s OK -- you can focus more on meals at home. They’ll get the nutrition they need.

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girl eating breakfast
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Have a Big Breakfast

Is your kid a light eater? Give them high-calorie foods before they take their meds in the morning. They don't like bacon and eggs? Offer a leftover burger or slice of pizza and a side of fruit for breakfast. Kids need calories and nutrition to fuel their growth and give them energy for the day.

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nuts, berries and flax
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Offer Snacks Often

When their blood sugar drops, they might get cranky and lose focus. A yogurt smoothie makes a great snack. The protein will keep them on track and may prevent mood swings. Add fruit and flaxseeds, which have healthy omega-3s, for an extra boost. Nuts -- also packed with protein and calories-- are good for snacks or to round out meals for light eaters. Or you can offer greek yogurt instead of a yogurt smoothie.

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heart shaped egg and toast
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Make Food Fun

Some kids with ADHD don’t eat enough because they get bored with meals 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 sauces and dips to make the meal more interesting. It can help too if you let your child take part in grocery shopping and making their own fun lunches. Doing so will help them take more interest in eating their own food.

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boy eating meatball
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Serve Smaller Portions of High-Calorie Foods

If medications turn your kid off from food, serve their fave foods first -- they’ll be more likely to eat. Start with high-calorie foods, like meat and grains. Small portions may have more appeal. When you serve veggies, add cheese or olive oil to boost the calorie count.

Whether they're a light eater or overeats out of boredom, a nutritionist or pediatrician can help you both make healthy choices.


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boy smiling at dinner
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Create Calmer Dinners

Does your kid bolt from the table after a few bites? Change your dinner habits. Try to calm things down. Have them sit next to you, instead of a sibling. Dim the lights or play soothing music. Have their face away from mirrors or windows that might draw their mind away from the meal. Ask them questions about things that happened during the day.

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heating food in microwave
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Be Flexible With Meal Times

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

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cheese puffs
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Should You Ban Food Additives?

We don't know for sure if food additives or coloring affect ADHD symptoms. If you want to avoid those foods, there's no risk in doing so. Try it for a few months to see if it helps.

How about 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. 

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boy drinking
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Orange Juice and ADHD Meds

Be careful with acidic drinks, like orange juice or grapefruit juice. Some citrus juices can interfere with the way ADHD medications work. Instead of OJ in the morning, offer milk or other non-citrus drinks when it’s time for them to take their medicine.

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boy with spaghetti moustache
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How to Deal With Picky Eaters

Lots of kids are picky eaters, whether they take medications that suppress their appetite or not. If your child rejects a new food, don’t give up. It may take 10 or more times before they'll even taste it. Put at least one food they like on the plate.

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girl and dad eating pasta
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Above All: Keep Calm, Carry On

It isn’t always easy to get kids with ADHD to eat. But you can make it go more smoothly. Don't get into a struggle or make demands at dinner. If you insist your child finish a meal, or eat when they say they're not hungry, it will backfire. They may just dig in their heels, making mealtime unpleasant.

Go with the flow. Offer nutritious options. Make it easier for your child to eat when they are hungry, so everyone can be healthy and happy.


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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 09/10/2020 Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 10, 2020


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Cleveland Clinic: "The Best Treatment Options for ADD or ADHD."
Compart, P., Laake, D., Pangborn, J., MacDonald Baker, D. The Kid-Friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook, Fair Winds Press, 2012. "Does my child need a gluten free diet?"
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Harvard Medical School: "Jury still out on foods, additives, and ADHD, reports the Harvard Mental Health Letter." "Your Child's Diet: A Cause and Cure of ADHD?"
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Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies (ICRHPS) at Tufts Medical Center, Help 4 Kids with ADHD: "Information for Clinicians."
Monastra, V. Parenting Children with ADHD: 10 Lessons That Medicine Cannot Teach (APA Lifetools.) American Psychological Association, 2005.
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Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 10, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.