November 8th, 2023
It’s not your imagination! Picky eating is more common among ADHD kids than the general population. Let’s dive into the reasons behind that and what we can do to help them adopt a more balanced diet.
3 Big Reasons For Picky Eating With ADHD & What To Do About Them
1. The Control Factor
Kids with ADHD are far more likely to be corrected, directed, and disciplined than neurotypical kids. This constant barrage of directions leads to a feeling of not having enough control over their lives. All kids need to feel some control over their lives and if they don’t they’ll take it where they can – like with food choices. Try as we might, it’s impossible to literally force someone to eat. Kids know this and will push the limits with picky eating.
How to fix this power struggle is simple: Give kids age-appropriate choices and independence.
Some examples of how to do this:
- Have kids plate their food. Rather than putting a dinner plate of food in front of them and expecting them to eat it, have them plate their own food. This provides a sense of control and independence and often leads to more food intake.
- “This or that”. Give kids choices about their daily food. Ask them to choose from 2-3 fruits to include in their lunch or put them in charge of choosing one dinner each week. One of my favourite tips is to have kids prepare their school lunch from a variety of foods you approve and take out for them. This simple chore gives kids a huge confidence boost and they’ll be more likely to eat what they packed themselves!
- Stop treating them like babies. Unless they are babies of course. ADHD kids get overprotected and given fewer responsibilities because parents underestimate their abilities (Don’t feel bad; I’m guilty of this one too). Start looking at where you’re coddling your child. Are you still making their bed? If they ask to walk home from the bus stop alone, are you refusing? When they ask to help with groceries or dinner are you saying no because “it’s faster and easier if I do it”? These little steps are huge independence builders for kids. And when kids feel more independent and in control, picky eating gets less severe.
2. Stress Is An Appetite Killer
Kids with ADHD have more stress than the average kid and stress kills both appetite and curiosity. Translation: say goodbye to your kid trying new or not-so-favourite foods.
How to lower stress at mealtimes: Your #1 goal at mealtimes needs to be a positive experience for your kids. This means:
-No nagging them to eat their carrots, or giving the third degree about why they suddenly hate chicken.
-No name-calling – this seems obvious but calling them “picky” is technically name-calling. It’s certainly not a compliment and it’s not helping them enjoy mealtimes.
-Focusing on positive conversation topics – for many kids with ADHD this means not talking about upcoming tests or assignments. I always advise keeping a list of “go-to” topics on hand. This could include upcoming holidays and word games such as “Would you rather…?”
3. Highly-Sensitive Kids
ADHD kids are more likely to be highly sensitive.
Meaning they just feel things more.
Mushy things are REALLY mushy.
Sour things are REALLY sour.
Smelly things are REALLY smelly.
How to help highly-sensitive kids eat new foods: The good news is that with slow and steady (and consistent!) exposure, these sensations can become less overwhelming and they’ll be more likely to try it.
IMPORTANT TO KNOW: Exposure = ANY sensory exposure: seeing, touching, smelling, and of course, tasting.
Any sensory exposure to a new food (so long as it’s not overwhelming) increases the chance your kid will start eating it.
So as a first step, choose a food that your kid never eats. Start with something simple like a fruit or veggie (soups, casseroles, and stews can come later).
Keep it around the house where they can see it.
See if they’ll help you chop it, peel it, mix it into something.
Don’t pressure them to taste it.
Just keep exposing them to that food.
And after a while, you’ll likely see them give it a go.
It Takes Time & Patience
I understand that the hardest thing about this is not pressuring them to eat it and wondering when you’ll reach that tipping point when meals are easy and predictable.
Sometimes you need some extra support to (virtually) hold your hand through this process and reassure you that you’re on the right track. And that’s what I’m here for.
If you’re sick of making two dinners, begging your kids to try new foods, and feeling like they are the ones calling the shots in your kitchen, let’s talk.
How would it feel if by next year as the holidays approached, you felt relaxed and confident every time you presented food to your family?
What if you never waste another minute searching for the right book, the right language, or the right approach to picky eating?
Book your free assessment call today by clicking here and discover how a Nutrition coach (that’s me!) can help you get things back on track so you can feel like you’re back in control in the kitchen and your kid is back on track to a healthy, balanced diet.