ADHD Diet For Kids: Foods To Eat & Avoid 2023

Teresa Mboci

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

adhd diet for kids
Best foods for ADHD kids

Many parents today have turned to diet as an extra measure to manage attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, is there any evidence to support a special diet as a remedy for ADHD?

A balanced diet is essential at any age, but it is especially important for children with ADHD. Although diet is not an ADHD treatment, foods associated with specific brain functions may help manage ADHD symptoms.

Proteins, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, fats, sugars, and dairy foods must all be included in a balanced ADHD diet for kids. Children may also need to supplement with vitamins and minerals and stay hydrated.

Diet can be an effective way to manage ADHD symptoms in the following ways.

Best Foods For ADHD

A balanced ADHD diet for kids should include the following:

  • Proteins.
  • Carbohydrates.
  • Vegetables and fruits.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Minerals and vitamins.
  • Milk and dairy products.
  • Healthy snacks.
  • Lots of fluids.

The Link Between Diet And ADHD

ADHD is a childhood neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 7% of children and adolescents[1] worldwide. Attention deficits and hyperactivity are the most prevalent ADHD symptoms. They can last into adulthood and impact the victim’s academic performance, self-esteem, and social life. 

Many parents and caregivers actively seek professional advice on the connections between ADHD and food to reduce the reliance on costly treatments.

While diet does not cause or cure ADHD, it can influence your child’s behavior.[2] Feeding kids with ADHD a nutritious diet promotes proper development and behavior.

A healthy diet for ADHD kids should include proteins, fruits, vegetables, grains, and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil and zinc supplements are also highly recommended.

When designing a diet for kids with ADHD, avoid sugar, additives, and ultra-processed foods.[3]

The Nutritious Diet For ADHD Kids 

Good nutrition, proper hydration, and regular exercise can help mitigate ADHD symptoms in kids. An ADHD diet with nutritious vegetables, fruits, fish, dairy, lean meat, nuts, or seeds benefits both adults and children.

Here’s how to balance your child’s diet with some of the best foods for ADHD:


adhd diet for kids
Protein-rich foods for ADHD kids

Protein is required for active growth and can be obtained from natural foods such as fish, meat, eggs, and beans. Children aged 4 to 13 years and 14 to 18 years require 0.95 grams and 0.85 grams[4] per kilogram of body weight per day, respectively.


adhd diet for kids
Good carbohydrates for ADHD kids

Carbohydrates should account for one-third of each meal your child consumes. Avoid simple carbohydrates in favor of complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates include unpeeled potatoes, whole-grain bread, whole-grain rice, and whole-grain pasta, whereas simple carbohydrates include sweets, biscuits, and fizzy drinks.

Children quickly digest simple carbohydrates, resulting in energy spikes and crashes. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are digested gradually, resulting in sustained energy levels for both the body and the brain.

Choosing complex carbs over simple carbs helps your child’s memory, attention span, and behavior.

Whole grains are preferred over refined grains. Whole grains contain more fiber, promote bowel regularity, and promote alertness while suppressing hyperactivity.[5]

Fruit And Vegetables

adhd diet for kids
Best fruit and vegetables for ADHD kids

According to research, eating more fruits and vegetables[6] can help with attention deficit problems.

Fruits and vegetables are excellent replacements for processed snacks and taste delicious, especially when they are in season.

They are also high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in fat.

According to one study, eating fruits like berries regularly was associated with improved attention span and academic achievement.[7] 

Regarding vegetables, eating more of them resulted in improved academic performance in teenage girls ages 15-17.

Feed your child at least three servings of various fruit per day[8] or 1.5 cups to help with overall body and brain development.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

adhd diet for kids
Omega-3 fatty acids for ADHD kids

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve heart health, brain function, and behavioral issues.

Omega-3 fatty acids are abundant in oily fish such as kippers, trout, salmon, herring, unprocessed fresh tuna, rainbow trout, and sardines.

Although their ability to treat ADHD has not been established, omega-3 fatty acids[9] may help with impulsivity, hyperactivity, and concentration.

According to the US Department of Health and human services, the recommended daily servings of omega-3 fatty acids for children[10] aged 1 to 3 years should be 0.7 grams daily. Those aged 4 to 8 should consume 0.9 grams, those aged 9 to 13 should consume 1.2 grams for boys and 1.0 grams for girls, while adolescents from 14-18 years should consume 1.6 grams and 1.1 grams for boys and girls, respectively.

Vitamins And Minerals

adhd diet for kids
Essential vitamins and minerals for ADHD kids

ADHD has been linked to iron, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6 deficiency.[11]

Getting the recommended servings of these minerals has been suggested as a symptom management strategy.

A study discovered that supplementing vitamin D and vitamin D + magnesium[1] can help those with ADHD better manage common symptoms. The study also concluded that low zinc and iron levels might impair attention and promote hyperactivity via its effects on dopamine. 

Dairy Foods

adhd diet for kids
The best dairy foods for ADHD kids

Three servings of dairy foods daily can help your child meet their daily calcium requirements and provide essential amino acids (protein-building blocks), which may improve ADHD symptoms. 

Some studies have found the primary protein casein[12] found in milk may both improve and worsen ADHD symptoms, depending on the individual. Cheese, milk, and yogurt are healthy foods in this category.

You must observe how milk affects your child’s behavior early to detect any negative effects.

Healthy Snacks

adhd diet for kids
Healthy snacks recommended for ADHD kids

Snacks can be included if they are primarily whole, minimally processed foods and do not contain large amounts of artificial sugars. Healthy snack foods for ADHD include cucumber sticks, celery, natural yogurt, fresh fruit, and nut butter.

Lots Of Fluids

adhd diet for kids
Lots of fluids are good for ADHD kids

Proper hydration can help prevent brain capillary dilation. Prolonged dehydration, on the other hand, can cause brain cells to shrink, impairing some core functions.

Avoid fruit juices and other high-sugar drinks in favor of caffeine-free teas such as licorice and chamomile.

Aim for six to eight glasses of water per day. However, because some children may struggle to drink plain water, adding lime, lemon, or berries can give it taste and flavor.

Foods To Avoid With ADHD

There are foods to avoid with ADHD, just as there are foods to consume more.

ADHD foods to avoid include:

Fats And sugar

Sweets, biscuits, cakes, chocolates, and fried foods contain high levels of sugar and fat, which can harm children with ADHD.

Sugar causes dopamine oversecretion, which has similar effects to a stimulant drug in children with ADHD. As a result, it elevates ADHD symptoms. Saturated and trans fat, on the other hand, negatively affects lipoproteins and causes coronary heart problems, diabetes mellitus, and systemic inflammation.


Caffeine is widely used in soft drinks, chocolate, coffee, and tea. It can influence your child’s behavior as a stimulant. 


According to scientists, additives can influence the mesolimbic dopamine system,[13] increasing hyperactivity.


Sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame-k, saccharin, and cyclamate can impact your child’s development[14] by causing erratic changes in their appetite and mood.


E-numbers are synthetic dyes and preservatives that give food a pleasing flavor and appearance. However, they have been connected to children’s increased hyperactivity.

They include E102 Tartrazine (yellow), E110 sunset yellow (orange-yellow), E122 Azorubine Carmoisine (red), E133 Brilliant Blue (blue), and E211 Sodium benzoate (preservatives).

These foods also make a risky ADHD diet for adults.

Other Dietary Tips

Monitoring Sugar

Your child may find it difficult to resist the urge to consume sugary foods. As a result, you must monitor their eating habits to avoid overconsumption of sugary or ultra-processed goods, as well as high-fat and sugar-rich foods.

Make-A-Meal Schedule

Meal schedules must be created to control food and snack intake and eliminate distractions during meal times.

Keeping an ADHD food diary can help you track the behavioral changes that certain foods cause. It can also assist in implementing dietary elimination with the assistance of professionals.

Develop A Healthy Eating Culture

Even small efforts, such as grocery shopping with your child, can go a long way toward fostering a healthy-eating culture. 

Allow your child to participate in cooking and expose them to new foods regularly. 

You can also devise a reward system to encourage your child to consume foods they dislike.

Online Therapy

Behavior therapy can improve self-esteem, self-control, and overall behavior. 

Although maintaining a diet while attending therapy can be difficult, you can choose online therapy and complete treatments at home. Monitoring emerging research on ADHD and eating can also provide crucial information.

The Bottom Line

A balanced diet is always a good place to start when managing physical and mental health issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 

While food does not directly treat ADHD, it can support individual mental functions and promote proper development.

It can also suppress hyperactivity, making the condition easier to manage.

Child’s ADHD symptoms can influence their eating habits by encouraging impulsive behavior during mealtime. Therefore, monitoring the effects in both directions is critical.

+ 14 sources

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  1. Pinto, S., Correia-de-Sá, T., Sampaio-Maia, B., Vasconcelos, C., Moreira, P. and Ferreira-Gomes, J. (2022). Eating Patterns and Dietary Interventions in ADHD: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, [online] 14(20), p.4332. doi:
  2. Woo, H., Kim, D., Hong, Y.-S., Kim, Y.-M., Seo, J.-H., Choe, B., Park, J., Kang, J.-W., Yoo, J.-H., Chueh, H., Lee, J., Kwak, M. and Kim, J. (2014). Dietary Patterns in Children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Nutrients, [online] 6(4), pp.1539–1553. doi:
  3. Chang, K., Gunter, M.J., Rauber, F., Levy, R.B., Huybrechts, I., Kliemann, N., Millett, C. and Vamos, E.P. (2023). Ultra-processed food consumption, cancer risk and cancer mortality: a large-scale prospective analysis within the UK Biobank. eClinicalMedicine, [online] 56, p.101840. doi:
  4. Hudson, J.L., Baum, J.I., Diaz, E.C. and Børsheim, E. (2021). Dietary Protein Requirements in Children: Methods for Consideration. Nutrients, [online] 13(5), p.1554. doi:
  5. Lange, K.W., Nakamura, Y. and Reissmann, A. (2022). Diet and food in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Future Foods, [online] 2(2), pp.112–118. doi:
  6. Nutritional Neuroscience. (2023). Fruit and vegetable intake is inversely associated with severity of inattention in a pediatric population with ADHD symptoms: the MADDY Study. [online] Available at:
  7. Naveed, S., Lakka, T. and Haapala, E.A. (2020). An Overview on the Associations between Health Behaviors and Brain Health in Children and Adolescents with Special Reference to Diet Quality. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, [online] 17(3), p.953. doi:
  8. Anon, (2023). Progress on Children Eating More Fruit, Not Vegetables. [online] Available at:
  9. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. (2016). Critical appraisal of omega-3 fatty acids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder treatment. [online] Available at:
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  11. Skalny, A.V., Mazaletskaya, A.L., Ajsuvakova, O.P., Bjørklund, G., Skalnaya, M.G., Chao, J.C.-J. ., Chernova, L.N., Shakieva, R.A., Kopylov, P.Yu., Skalny, A.A. and Tinkov, A.A. (2020). Serum zinc, copper, zinc-to-copper ratio, and other essential elements and minerals in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, [online] 58, p.126445. doi:
  12. Manivasagam, T., Justin-Thenmozhi, A., Walid Qoronfleh, M. and Prema, A. (2022). The Role of Protein Kinases in the Cause and Progression of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Nutritional Neurosciences, [online] pp.205–220. doi:
  13. Onaolapo, A.Y. and Onaolapo, O.J. (2018). Food additives, food and the concept of ‘food addiction’: Is stimulation of the brain reward circuit by food sufficient to trigger addiction?. Pathophysiology, [online] 25(4), pp.263–276. doi:
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Teresa Mboci

A dedicated pediatric nurse with a passion for nutrition and wellness, Teresa has made it her mission to empower families with the tools and knowledge they need to promote optimal health and well-being in their children. With over 8 years of experience in the healthcare field and a background in nutrition, Teresa brings a unique perspective to the challenges facing families today. In her role as a pediatric nurse, Teresa has seen firsthand the impact that diet and lifestyle can have on a child's health, and in her writing, she shares her expertise and insights with a broader audience. Whether through her books, articles, or speaking engagements, Teresa is committed to helping families navigate the complexities of pediatric health and wellness with confidence and compassion.

Medically reviewed by:

Melissa Mitri

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