Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common childhood disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A few possible characteristics of ADHD children in a school classroom may include being in constant motion by touching or playing with objects and excessive talking and interrupting conversations to state something not currently being discussed(1). It is important to remember that each ADHD diagnosed child is unique and may act in their own way.
For children who are in constant movement with their body and mind, energy is being used up rapidly. Add together a growing child’s calorie needs plus extra calories required for a child with diagnosed ADHD hyperactivity and that equals a high daily calorie intake need!
A child with ADHD, who is in constant motion, may have more lean muscle mass and thus a faster metabolism. Metabolism is the rate at which your body breaks down food to power everything from thinking to blinking. Muscle burns more calories per hour than fat (2). A child who has strengthened muscles from constant exercise will require more calories to perform all of their internal body needs. If a child does not meet their food intake needs, then hunger sets in. A body reacts to hunger by feeling lethargic, irritated or unable to focus.
How can you give a child these required calories that generate energy to last an entire school day? The answer is to provide the child with food containing protein, fat and fiber. These three groups of foods take the longest to break down in a body, which will allow the child to feel full longer. Combine these foods with a serving of carbohydrate and you will have a short term and long term energy sources for a growing child with ADHD to tap into and use throughout the school day. Please note that most foods contain a combination of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and fiber. The trick is to find that balance of how much of a morning snack food to pack so that the child will still be hungry for lunch. This amount of food may change as growth spurts and learning needs change during the school year. Remind the child to eat the protein food first at both snack time and lunch time.
Food suggestions to pack for a snack or school lunch include:
Protein packed foods include: 1-inch cubes of cheese, cheese sticks, shredded cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, greek or whipped or regular yogurt cups or tubes (varieties with no fructose corn syrup or artificial dyes/colors), water packed tuna fish, slices of ham or turkey or Canadian bacon or bacon (ask grocery store butcher which packaged and in store sliced varieties do not contain nitrates, nitrites), nuts, peanut butter, almond butter , (Please make sure your child is allowed to bring nuts to school. Children with severe nut allergies may be exposed to nuts thru cross contamination), golden and brown raisins, cooked and cooled edamame in shell so child can pop out edamame themselves. (Remember not to eat edamame shell), crispy roasted chickpeas, tofu or tempeh, hummus dip, boiled eggs, scrambled eggs to form egg breakfast sandwich, dried sea weed sheets, pumpkin seeds, quinoa pasta and lentils cooked and cooled ( 1 Tb rolled up inside a wrap with their favorite cheese, meat, lettuce, vegetable, ect. Wrap this wrap in foil to stay together.) Last but not least is MILK or soy milk that can purchased right in the school cafeteria!
Please note that dairy and meats will need to be placed in containers that contain ice packs in order to stay cold. There is a new style lunch bag with the ice container sewed inside the bag where you place entire lunch bag in freezer every night. You can also try to freeze yogurt tubes/containers and place them in bags to use as both an icepack and food.
Food for Fun: Add some fun in the food selection process and allow your child to help you at the grocery store pick out 4 types of cheese blocks. At home, gently blind fold your child with a cloth tied around their eyes. Place a sample of the cheeses on a plate. Allow your child to take sip of water in between each sample. Repeat another day with variety of yogurt flavors, nuts or breads.
Growing children need fat to break down fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Choosing low saturated and low trans fat options for snacks and lunch bags will round out their balanced diet. Examples of low saturated and low trans fat foods to include: homemade breads contain little to none trans fat, store bought labeled “100% whole wheat” or the first ingredient listed is WHOLE WHEAT (ingredients on labels are listed in order by weight) bread, cracker, buns, tortilla, English muffin, bagel, rice, pretzels, dry cereal, pasta and low fat cheeses and yogurts.
High fiber foods include: raspberries, fruits WITH SKINS (apples, pears,) bananas, oranges, strawberries, figs, raisins, whole wheat pastas, breads, crackers, black, edamame, kidney beans cooked and cold inside a wrap, air-popped popcorn, almonds, pistachios, pecans, raw carrots, snap peas with the shell eaten whole).
In conclusion, growing elementary aged children need available energy intake evenly spaced throughout the day. Jodie Shield, Masters in Education and Registered Dietitian, suggests an elementary aged child eat every 3 hours (3). Eating breakfast before school, small AM snack in school, lunch in school, snack immediately after school, evening meal before 7PM and possibly small evening snack before bedtime is an example of how to space out an elementary child’s daily caloric intake routine.
Karla Rippchen, RDN, LDN, Masters Business Management, is a dietitian at Portrait Health Centers (www.portraithealthcenters.com) who lives with her family near Chicago, Illinois. Karla loves to travel and has lived in Asia and the west coast, southern and mid west areas of the USA. To schedule an appointment with Karla, call (847) 868-3435.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (2015). Retrieved from www.nimh.nih.gov
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (January 2015). Metabolism Myths and Facts. Retrieved from www.eatright.org
Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens. (Dec 10, 2011), by Jodie Shields, Med, RD and Mary Mullen MS, RD
Portrait Health Centers Specializing in Diagnosing and Treating Depression, Attention Deficit Disorders, Nutritional Needs, and Learning Differences in Children, Adults & Seniors