Meals designed for hyperactive children can help keep them focused, packing in the calories and nutrients your child needs to moderate the peaks and valleys of emotions and impulses. Use high quality, fresh ingredients in meals to maximize their nutritional value, minimize additives and make dishes taste better for potentially fickle appetites.
Fresh Is Best
When you are on the run or attempting to get food in front of your hyperactive child quickly when hunger strikes, reach for fresh foods. Victoria Jarzabkowski does nutritional education and assessments for children at Almouie Pediatrics. She says, "The best meals for hyperactive children are low in sugar and high in organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains and high quality protein for sustained energy."
Snack foods, convenience foods and processed foods save time, but they might contain problematic ingredients, according to Jarzabkowski, who explains that snacks and meals are best when they are "free of artificial colors, sweeteners and preservatives like BHT or sodium benzoate." These ingredients, as well as sugar and caffeine, affect blood glucose levels, decrease attention span and can cause energy spikes and crashes.
"Hyperactive children often have difficulty sitting down for meals, or will rush through their plate and run up for seconds," says Jarzabkowski. She recommends parents provide meals rich in protein to sustain children's energy and fill them longer. Make meals less starchy and sugary by reducing portions of carbohydrates and increasing portions of lean, healthy proteins.
Dr. Sandy Newmark, the author of ADHD Without Drugs, echoes this advice. She suggests designing meals combining proteins and complex carbohydrates. Start the day with unsweetened oatmeal and a glass of milk. For lunch, offer unsweetened nut spread on whole grain bread or crackers. For dinner, serve brown rice with grilled fish or poultry and a side of fresh fruit salad or vegetable soup. Other protein-rich meals include pork, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, soy and low-fat dairy foods.
Medication or a lack of sustained attention can wreak havoc on children's appetites. Jarzabkowski suggests packing in the calories by serving meals dense in nutrients and calories. Make a meal from an avocado mashed on a whole grain English muffin or bagel. Spread natural peanut butter on fruit slices. Serve vegetables with a dip made of cottage cheese whipped with a dash of garlic in the blender. Supplement milk with protein powder or use a nutritional supplement beverage such as Pediasure. If your child does not sit long enough to finish a meal, Jarzabkowski says that "small frequent meals also seem to be the best solution for getting more nutrition in the child when they may not have an appetite."
Quick Meals for Hyperactive Children
When you have less time and need to whip up a meal that works for your hyperactive child, Newmark lists some fun and simple additions to basic foods. Add a quick and easy homemade cheese sauce to any food to supplement protein, calories, calcium and vitamins A and D. Slowly melt one or two servings of a favorite cheese into 1/2 cup milk. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to smooth the texture. Let the sauce cool and thicken and serve it over whole grain pasta, quinoa, vegetables or whole grain chips for a healthy version of nachos.
Make a peanut butter dip by combining equal parts peanut butter and boiling water. Stir until the consistency is smooth. Add a dash of lemon juice and soy sauce and up to 2 teaspoons of sugar. Pour it over lean grilled poultry or use it as a dip for steamed vegetables.
Buzz together a protein-rich smoothie in the blender using yogurt and milk or an unsweetened milk substitute such as soy milk, rice milk or nut milk. Fortify with a bit of dry milk powder and add chunks of frozen banana or fruit.
Meals High in Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Jarzabkowski emphasizes the importance of omega-3 fatty acids in meals. "Research shows that many ADHD children may benefit from supplementation," she says. "The omega-3 fatty acid DHA has been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD and improve focus. DHA, which is found naturally in breast milk, fish and nuts, is linked to brain growth and development. Finally, many ADHD children have been found to be deficient in omega-3 fats for still unknown reasons, so a daily supplement can ensure kids are getting enough."
Salmon is one fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. For kids who can't or won't eat fish, walnuts also contain high levels of these fatty acids.