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ADHD Nutrition and Weight Loss/Gain

Picky eater and food allergies

My 9 yo is diagnosed with ADHD and has been on Ritalin since age 5. School is great, he excels the problem is around mealtimes. He is not only a picky eater but he has a severe tree nut allergy. We do not allow him to even eat food manufactured or processed in facilities that have tree nuts- had a bad experience with this. Not willing to chance it again. 

He tends to find one food and eat it over and over until he is sick of it and then never eats it again. I honestly offer varied foods, he turns his nose up them more often than not. If I offer him choice of what he wants he is truly, for lack of a better word, paralyzed by choice. He gets frustrated and doesn’t eat. When I inform him of the meal, then he turns up his nose too. I try to involve him in meal selection. When he helps pick on Sunday, then Tuesday comes and he doesn’t want Tuesdays meal… the rest of the family is tiring of eating his limited menu as well. I’m trying not to cater and make separate meals for him daily. That frustrates his father and Sister.

In addition, I am concerned about the long term effects of his “choosing” to skip meals. I worry about his overall relationship with food. He told me he “hates food” I believe it’s that he hates the battles that occur around food…

He eats a larger breakfast (no meds), cliff bar for lunch (on meds), dinner is skipped 2-3 times a week. Skipped for a variety of reasons doesn’t like the food, the look of the food, not hungry, etc. I offer foods he “likes” or at least liked last time and he turns up his nose. It’s very frustrating.

I would love to be able to offer him small portion, high protein, calorically dense foods. He’s allergic to nuts, hates cheese, yogurt, eggs… looking for other food ideas, as well?


Most experts recommend letting kids eat when they want and what they want (within reason) when they have issues with appetite, textures, and other factors outside their control.

It does sound like he’s not really “choosing” to battle about food.

You’re on the right track with wanting to be sure he gets protein and calories, since he eats very little. My first thought is, will he drink a protein shake? You can make them very calorie, nutrient, and protein dense, and without nuts. If he is willing to drink shakes, they can substitute whenever he’s not willing to eat what’s offered.

As for family meals, I would cook for the family, and then be sure to offer at least one food he will eat with it, or offer a shake if he isn’t willing to eat what’s offered.

Remember, too, kids are sponges for our own stress. The more you prod and nag about his eating habits, the more he will stress too, and then you will not make any progress. The best thing you can do is kind of back off of the issue and give some alternatives that provide calories and nutrients, without the battle.

Of course, if he loses weight or has other health consequences, you should talk to his pediatrician.

Here’s more advice on “picky eaters:”

ADDconnect Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

Posted by adhdmomma on Mar 15, 2017 at 8:48pm

Hi.  Sounds like you are doing everything possible and moderator response is wonderful too.  All I can add is real experience with the same kind of child.  My son is allergic to soy and has senstivities to FODMAPS which is a long list of foods.  He is very thin.  We are (were/sort of) a mainly paleo family. My ADHD kids have impacted that plan a

Here’s what hasn’t worked - forcing him to eat, scolding, lecturing.  haha.  But you knew that already.

He KNOWS he needs to eat.  He wants to be bigger because he loves sports.  Two things are going on here, in my opinion - meds/ADHD itself and biology.  He’s not meant to be big. 

He is now 10, an excellent athlete despite his size, well liked by his peers and, in particular, the girls-lol.

Here’s what has helped. 
1.  Changed his and our expectations.  Thin is okay. 
2.  One well balanced, nutritious meal a day is our goal.
3.  Allowed him to do his own cooking.  Amazed at how well this went.  Found he loves to cook and eat fish!!
4.  Allow him to pick out own foods at grocery store as long as they meet “most” of my criteria.  Only did this a few times and I learned alot and he made good choices.  I allowed things like stoffers frozen lasagna.
5.  Allow sugar.  Yup.  I actually said it.  haha.  For some reason, my 2 ADHD kids can have an almost diabetic response at times.  I found I must allow some sugar and/or heavy carbs to get their emotional well being balanced before I can ask them to eat protien and veggies. It works.
6.  Find the “type/category” of food he likes and go with it.  My son doesn’t like most veggies but just loves fruit.  Again, the expectations.  I normally feel veggies at every meal is the right way to eat.  My son gets veggies at dinner and fruit at every meal.
7. Bribes.  For us dinner is his main meal.  I don’t allow him to serve himself at this meal.  I put a complete meal in front of him and he knows, if he eats it all, a large sweet treat awaits.  He loves ice cream and I let him eat a large bowl after each dinner.
8.  Last, we recently added prozac.  It has made a huge difference in his attitude towards foods.  He would get easily repulsed and that does not happen anymore.  He is much more relaxed at meal time.

I hope this helps.  We struggled for years but son really is thriving even though he is much thinner than most kids in his grade.  On the upside, he may be the only 5th grader with a 6-pack!

Best to you!

Posted by lmckids on Mar 23, 2017 at 1:31pm

@Penny and @lmckids thank you! It’s nice to know I’m not alone. They way my husband and I disagree on this issue makes it very challenging and frustrating!

He (my husband) adds to the stress as he insists “when he was a kid, he got no special meals… we ate what was offered. I just want him to try what we are having.”

I’m torn, do I insist on the old “try it bite” when sometimes I think my son is truly repulsed by what is served… more so than a “typically” developing kid might be.
Am I too lenient using his ADHD diagnosis as an excuse to give him, as my husband says, an easy way out and allowing him to avoid foods he historically doesn’t like because I just want him to eat…?

Posted by ADHD&allergies2; on Apr 02, 2017 at 12:16am

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