Health, Food & Nutrition

Pizza, Soda, and Other Rotten Foods for Teens with ADHD

Fajitas…for breakfast? This plan finds creative ways to introduce nutrition — and bend the rules to fit in healthy food choices around medication side effects.

Pancakes with blueberries make a good breakfast for teens with ADHD
Pancakes with blueberries on gingham tablecloth with fork and knife make for a good breakfast for teens with ADHD

When teens with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are left to eat on their own terms, they often don’t figure out what makes food choices healthy. They may spend lunch period talking with friends or forget to come home at dinnertime. And when they do sit down at the table, they don’t stay there for long. What’s more, stimulant medications used to treat ADHD can cause appetite loss, and without internal cues to eat, she will forget to do so — not a good thing, considering the fact that individuals with ADHD tend to burn more calories than their non-hyperactive counterparts.

So what are some tips for healthy eating for teens with ADHD? Here are some ideas that may help you:

Bend the Traditional “Healthy Eating” Rules

Fajitas for breakfast? Cereal for dinner? Why not? Teens with ADHD need to eat food that’s interesting to them at the moment. If your teen takes medication, he will want an after-school snack and a before-bed snack. Forget the bromide about “spoiling their supper.” Get food into them when the opportunity arises.

The Perfect Timing for Meals

Pay attention to your teen’s medication schedule, particularly because ADHD medication can suppress appetite. Make sure snacks and meals are available during those hunger dips. You might consider changing the timing of meals to coincide with appetite spurts. Load up on calories at breakfast, before the medication kicks in.

Powerful Nutrients for ADHD

Teens with ADHD have special nutritional needs. Studies show that protein can increase focus and sustain concentration. Adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids can also improve the functioning of the ADHD brain. Try adding protein, along with fruits and vegetables, to their favorite flavored smoothie or soup. Liquid meals can be consumed quickly, which suits the tempo of hyperactive teens.

[Free Guide: Managing Symptoms with Food]

Appeal to Visual Learners

Set out “grazing food” around the house, wherever he spends the most time — near the TV, in the basement, where he might take his private phone calls. Energy bars or packets of nuts or trail mix are good choices. Keep a supply of grab-and-go foods in the fridge: wraps with his favorite fillings, string cheese, and celery sticks with peanut butter.

Give Personalized Snacks

Buy packages or boxes of snacks and put his name on them. Pack “his” foods in your teen’s knapsack and car cup-holder. Give her her own jar of peanut butter to keep in her room. As midnight snacks go, it’s a good one — high in protein and good fats. Below are some other ADHD-friendly snacks:

Energy bars: Clif Kid Organic Zbars (; LaraBar (

Pretzels and crackers: Mary’s Gone Crackers (; Doctor Kracker (; Newman’s Own Organics pretzels (

Smoothies: Odwalla Soy Smart (; Naked Juice Superfood (

Keep ADHD Meals Small

Sometimes the thought of sitting down for a meal seems too much for teens with ADHD. They have things to do, and eating isn’t necessarily one of them. I have found that teens like single-serving packages of crackers and nuts, and homemade snack foods I put in plastic baggies. Also, try serving meals on small plates. Dinner won’t seem so overwhelming, and they may eat something when they’re not feeling hungry.

Healthy Fast Food

People with ADHD jump from one thought to the next, and when faced with a lot of options, a teen may decide to decide later — or not at all. Ask him to list his favorite foods, and slot them onto a weekly calendar that you keep on the fridge: oatmeal or scrambled eggs for breakfast, turkey wrap or vegetable soup for lunch, cheeseburger or strawberry smoothie for dinner. He can change it weekly, or until he gets tired of eating the same thing.

[9 Breakfast Recipes You Can’t Afford to Skip]