Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is common among children but may continue into adulthood. Features of ADHD typically include low attention span, impulsiveness, and over-activity. Children with ADHD can have behavioral problems, leading to difficulties in school.
More than 60% of children with ADHD are treated with some type of medication. If your child has ADHD, you are likely familiar with some of these medications. Stimulant medications are one of the most common types and include brand names like Ritalin, Adderall, Focalin, Concerta, and Dexedrine, among others. Although these medications help many children reduce their symptoms, they also can cause loss of appetite and weight loss. Low appetite can affect how much energy and nutrients your child consumes. This can ultimately affect your child's growth. In addition, new research studies are showing that low levels of certain nutrients (such as zinc, iron, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids) may also affect the severity of ADHD symptoms.
Lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on your child's low appetite and help increase their food intake:
- Add frequent healthy snacks to your child’s diet or an additional “fourth meal” near bedtime.
- Give your child their medication with food or after meals.
- Talk to your child’s doctor about switching to short-acting medication.
- Consult your child’s doctor about using a “medication vacation” during times of significant growth. A medication vacation is a planned period, from a few days to a few months, that a patient stops taking medication. For children, it can often be planned for days the child does not have school, such as weekends, holidays, or summer break. Recent studies show that certain multinutrient supplements can be potential treatment alternatives for children with ADHD during medication vacation.
Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids
Tasty, healthy snacks provide nutrients for children with low appetites. Snacks that are high in lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins and minerals, are especially beneficial.
Here are a few snack ideas that incorporate nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, proteins, and dairy:
- Fruit smoothies
Smoothies made with fresh or frozen fruits plus milk, or a healthy dairy-substitute are delicious. Smoothies are also a fantastic way to “sneak in” vegetables, such as carrots or spinach, without masking the naturally sweet taste.
- Greek yogurt with fresh fruit
Greek yogurt is an excellent source of protein and calcium, while fresh fruit provides sweetness and additional nutrients.
- Carrots and celery with a nut butter dip
Nut butters, including peanut butter, pack a high amount of protein and healthy fats, and their taste can make eating vegetables easier.
- Trail mix containing mixed nuts and dried fruits
Many nuts are rich in nutrients and healthy fats, especially walnuts, almonds, and cashews. Mixing them with dried fruits and/or chocolate chips can create a sweet and salty taste that encourages kids to snack.
- Slices of deli meat with cheese
Cheese provides calcium, fat, protein, and vitamins, and both the meat and cheese provide protein. Try to avoid highly processed cheese, such as American cheese, "cheese products," or "cheese spreads."
Brown, KA., Samuel, S., and Patel, DR. 2018. “Pharmacologic Management of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents: A Review for Practitioners.” Translational Pediatrics, Volume 7, Issue 1: 36–47.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. “Data and Statistics About ADHD.” Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Last reviewed September 23, 2021. cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html.
Johnstone, JM., Hatsu, I., Tost, G., Srikanth, P., Eiterman, LP., Bruton, AM., Ast, HK., et al. 2021. “Micronutrients for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Youths: A Placebo-Controlled Randomized Clinical Trial.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Volume 61, Issue 5, 647–661.
Vink, M. 2018. “Nutritional Implications for Patients Taking Stimulant Medication: Treating Unintended Weight Loss.” Master of Public Health paper. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina.