From stabilizing mood to improving concentration and sleep, your child’s behavior can be greatly affected by the food they eat.

Can a good diet help your child’s mood, learning ability, and behavior? Most nutritionists say yes. Some studies have shown that children with hyperactivity, ADHD, and ADD, and other behavioral problems are able to turn around some of their issues with changes in diet. Do you think your child’s diet is affecting their behavior?

According to the CDC, a healthy diet should emphasize a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, a variety of lean protein foods, and low-fat and fat-free dairy options.

Obesity now affects 1 in 6 children and adolescents in the United States. It is possible to use food to help your child overcome behavioral problems, but it won’t be easy, and it will require work with a healthcare professional.

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Every parent should be aware of what’s going into their child’s body. Keeping a food journal can help parents pinpoint problem areas in their child’s diet. But each individual is different. Whether your child is dealing with a diagnosed illness or not, there’s a good chance some of the food they’re eating is negatively affecting their behavior. Before making any radical changes to their diet, you should consult a doctor or healthcare professional.

Adding or removing certain types of food can have different effects on different people, especially when they’re taking medication. There are a few steps you can take as a parent to try to give your kid the best shot at dealing with symptoms of ADHD, for example. If you feel like your child might be suffering from symptoms of ADHD or ADD, it’s important to first speak with their doctor and not attempt to self-diagnose.

A study from 2011 compared groups of children with moderate to severe ADHD who were put on a strict diet consisting of water and hypoallergenic foods to a group on an unrestricted diet whose parents were coached on healthy eating. The study’s lead author, Dr. Lidy Pelsser of the ADHD Research Centre in the Netherlands, found that 64 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD experience some type of a hypersensitivity to food. The children that adhered to a strict diet showed a “significant change in both ADHD-symptoms and ODD-symptoms.” They speculate that an introduction to an elimination diet in young ADHD children can reduce the risk for long-term maladjustment.

However, even if the food you feed your child adheres to the most healthy, organic, plant-based diet, it is important they be able to tolerate all of the food they are consuming. Different individuals have different reactions to food. What could set off one person might not do the same for another.

What kinds of food should my child eat?

Finding healthy food isn’t all that difficult, but finding healthy food that your kid actually wants to eat is challenging. According to parents.com, parents should find a balanced diet that includes nutrients like protein, good carbohydrates (fiber and starch), calcium, fats, calcium, iron, folate, fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

Healthy food that is easy to introduce to your child:

  • Sweet Potato
  • Yogurt
  • Hummus
  • Salmon
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Cauliflower

What kind of food should my child avoid?

Food and ingredients have been known to negatively alter behavior among children:

  • Dairy (cheese)
  • Gluten (pasta)
  • Food Dye
  • Broccoli
  • Fish that isn’t fresh
  • Soy Sauce
  • Preserved bread
  • Ketchup
  • Instant or preserved noodles
  • Fruit juice

Using a food diary to track meals

Parents can track what their kids are eating with pen and paper or with an app on their smartphone. Using a pen and paper might actually be the easiest route if you’re just trying to get a feel for what you’ve been consuming. Food and nutrition-based applications can help log food intake and also provide a breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and more. Great food tracking apps include Lifesum, MyFitnessPal, and Yazio Calorie Counter.

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Before you actually start to record food and drink your child consumes, it would be good to know the number of calories they should be eating depending on their age. Verywell fit put together a handy calorie counter for kids.

Overweight U.S. children

The over-consumption of fast food and junk food is not overblown. According to the CDC in 2011-2012, 34 percent of all children and adolescents aged 2-19 consumed fast food meals on a daily basis! Though McDonald’s is less popular than it was a decade ago, fast food preference has shifted to premium chains like Five Guys, Chick Fil A, Chipotle, or Blaze Pizza, especially among older adolescents.

Researchers in the UK have found that children who eat chips, pizza, and other junk food before age three are more likely to have lower IQs, noting good nutrition was essential for brain growth. If parents aren’t properly equipped to feed their children, they could be at a disadvantage later in life because of it.

In an effort to try and reduce calories, McDonald’s recently announced it has chosen to remove the cheeseburger by 2022 from their famous Happy Meals. But will the Happy Meal turn into a healthy meal? The new Happy Meals will include hamburgers and four-and six-piece Chicken McNuggets, along with smaller-sized French fries including other new items. Parents will still be able to add a cheeseburger to the meal if they choose. Bottled water will also be added later in 2018 to replace chocolate milk to help reduce sugar.

How can I encourage my kid to eat better?

Changing your diet along with your child’s is a no-brainer. If you’re still drinking cans of soda or eating sweet treats in front of your children, you’re sending the wrong message. Cutting sugar and processed food is good for adults too! Nutritionist Dr. Pauline Emmett says her studies “have found that if parents are eating fresh fruit and vegetables, the children are far more likely to as well.” She also notes that introducing new things to eat are essential for development – it’s up to parents to expand their children’s tastes.

Psychologies, from the UK, provides some excellent ideas to help your kids add healthy foods to their diet.

  • Have healthy snacks on hand when kids get hungry.
  • Roast vegetables to bring out sweet flavors contain in them.
  • Let kids choose their healthy food at the grocery store and invite them to help the cooking process.
  • Use positive language when talking about food.
  • Discuss the food you eat with your kids!

Information provided by Rawhide Inc. should not be treated as medical advice. Please seek the advice of a healthcare professional.