Health, Food & Nutrition

25 Smart Snacks for Growing ADHD Brains

ADHD medications sometimes curb kids’ appetites so they don’t eat all day, then arrive home from school starving. To fuel homework and afterschool activities, try these snacks with all the right amounts of protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates.

Bread, cheese, carrots, pickles arranged to look like a bird with an apple next to it makes for a healthy snack for kids with ADHD
Bread, cheese, carrots, pickles arranged to look like a bird with an apple next to it makes for a healthy snack for kids with ADHD

All moms and dads have their work cut out for them in getting their children to eat something more than Fruit Loops, sugary soda or iced tea, burgers, and their chips of choice. Moms of children with ADHD have a bigger problem: getting their child to eat.

ADHD medication can blunt a child’s appetite, and his fickle taste buds can cause him to turn up his nose at last week’s lunchbox favorite. The result? School lunches go uneaten.

As if that weren’t enough to send moms and dads to mealtime rehab, there are things some kids with attention deficit disorder should lighten up on or eliminate — sugar, food dyes, and preservatives — and others they should load up on: protein (to sustain alertness), omega-3 fatty acids (to increase brain function and memory), complex carbohydrates (to avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes), and certain vitamins and minerals (zinc, iron, and magnesium, to improve focus).

Finding ADHD snacks rich in protein, the right fats, and complex carbohydrates — tasty enough to appeal to picky eaters — would have been a daunting task a few years ago. Today, there are energy bars, snacks, and beverages you can pop into your child’s backpack that will wind up in his tummy, not in the cafeteria wastebasket.

[Free Download: What to Eat — And Avoid — to Improve ADHD Symptoms]

Fruit and Energy Bars

Some bar-makers whose products pass the taste test are LaraBar, Think Products, and Raw Indulgence. Each makes organic raw-food bars that combine protein and flavor. None uses hydrogenated oils, food coloring, or artificial preservatives. All are free of gluten, as well as wheat, corn, and soy — foods that, studies suggest, can cause some children with ADHD to lose focus and become more hyperactive.

For those looking for a flavorful high-protein bar — many of them taste like sawdust covered in chocolate — Think Products’ thinkThin contains 20 grams of protein, and comes in chocolate mudslide, chunky peanut butter, and brownie crunch flavors. Raw Indulgence’s Raw Revolution bars contain five grams of protein and three grams of fiber, as does the full line of LaraBars.

Clif Kid Organic Zbars are free of preservatives, artificial flavors, and dyes. The company uses fig paste and brown rice and tapioca syrups as sweeteners. Each bar contains three grams of fiber and protein.

Crackers and Pretzels

For snacks that — sort of — have the taste appeal of potato chips, Mary’s Gone Crackers offers crunchy, flavorful possibilities. The organic baked crackers, with the company’s name, and its Sticks & Twigs are gluten-free. They are made from brown rice, quinoa, flax, and sesame seeds, not rice or corn. And, you won’t suspect that they are actually omega 3 foods: Several Sticks & Twigs products contain more than 550 mg. of omega-3s per serving.

[Recipes for Better Focus and Self-Control]

Kracker Enterprises makes its savory, and slightly sweet, flatbreads and crackers from organic whole grains, such as wheat and spelt, and seeds. They are good sources of fiber, protein, omega 3s, vitamins, and iron. Flavors include Pumpkin Cheddar and Sunflower Cheddar. If your child finds the cracker too plain, spread peanut butter or hummus on it.

Newman’s Own Organic makes a line of pretzels for kids with special dietary needs. Newman’s high-protein pretzel has five grams of protein per serving.

Fruit Smoothies

Fruit-based smoothies are winners for nutrition and taste. Odwalla and Naked Juice make organic, nondairy smoothies that are as rich as milkshakes and come in kid-friendly flavors.

Odwalla’s Soy Smart line combines six grams of soy protein and 32 mg. of omega-3s with vanilla and chocolate flavors. Naked Juice’s Superfood smoothies are high in vitamins (especially B vitamins, which may increase the brain’s levels of dopamine) and antioxidants.

A recent study found that children with ADHD have high levels of nitric oxide, a cell-damaging free radical, and low levels of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme that protects against free radicals. While more research is needed, this study suggests that those with ADHD may be more sensitive than those without the condition to damage caused by free radicals.

For children who prefer to sip their protein rather than chew it, Soy Blendz offers tasty smoothies — Mixed Berry Medley, Orange Citrus Splash, Strawberry/Banana Blast, and Mango/Orange Dream. Soy Blendz uses whole soybeans (not soy isolate) in its vitamin- and calcium-enhanced products. Each bottled smoothie contains eight grams of protein.

[Balanced Meals, Better Behavior]

Remember that all foods won’t appeal to all children. Some, like your once-famous peanut and banana sandwich, will never make it out of the lunchbox. Experiment until you find the bar or beverage that clicks with your child.

Snack Suggestions from ADDitude Readers

“Soft pretzels and lemonade, and all types of melons and berries.”
-Marie Brady, Portsmouth, Rhode Island

“I make healthy pizza: Boboli pizza crust (thin), Hunts Garlic, Oregano, and Basil sauce soy or cow’s-milk mozzarella. Assemble and bake at 350 degrees for eight minutes.”
-Jean Mattock, Allen, Texas

“Trail mix, with fruits and nuts, but no chocolate bits. The dried fruits give it a sweet taste.”
-Erin Schinzel, Greeley, Colorado

“Spread peanut butter on half of a slice of turkey bologna. Fold the slice in half. My daughter calls it a ‘bologna taco’!”
-Lisa Thompson, Robbinsdale, Minnesota

“We have great luck with PowerBars. They are high in protein and taste good.”
-Karyn Schaffner, Macomb, Michigan

“Cut out a sandwich with a cookie cutter. Large hearts are great for girls, animal and truck shapes for boys.”
-Neva Vogt, Shawano, Wisconsin

Yoplait Original Yogurt — strawberry and French vanilla don’t have artificial colors.”
-Nancy Richwine, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania

“Yogurt in a tube and string cheese, while expensive, can be eaten out of the package without utensils.”
-Lori Fuller, British Columbia, Canada

ZonePerfect Bars — they’re high in protein and can be eaten on the run.”
-Susan Brown, Centerbrook, Connecticut

“My boys with ADHD are sensitive to the taste of older bread. Fresh bread makes sandwiches more appealing — and they’ll usually eat them.”
-Helen Goble, Carmichael, California

“My 11-year-old son loves crunchy dill pickles wrapped in a slice of turkey or ham.”
-Elizabeth Conti, Ontario, Canada

“Fluffernutters — they don’t make my son hyperactive and they fatten him up a little.”
-Rebecca, Fredericksburg, Virginia<