SFI Health
Mindful Nutrition for a Fussy Eater

Mindful Nutrition for a Fussy Eater

As a parent, it’s normal to worry about whether your child is getting enough of the right kinds of foods. Children may be distracted at meals or resistant to trying new things. We are here to be your partner to help you achieve a balanced life for you and your child.

Lifestyle insight
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Diet, Nutrition & Children with ADHD

Why children won’t eat & lose appetite

What is sensory eating, and how is it different from picky eating?

How to tell if your child is a sensory eater?

What to do if your child is a picky or sensory eater

Additional tips & tricks to help picky eaters

What is food chaining?

What is mindful eating?

Tips for mindful eating with children

Promoting positive eating for children with ADHD

Mindful eating checklist

Additional healthy eating tips for fussy eaters

Adapting a child’s diet

What ingredients to avoid


Diet, Nutrition & Children with ADHD

As a parent, it’s normal to worry about whether your child is getting enough of the right kinds of foods. Children may be distracted at meals or resistant to trying new things. Why does everything taste icky?

Mealtimes can be a daily struggle and change takes time while you explore tactics to optimise nutrition for your child’s neurodevelopment. Foods fuel our bodies and feed our souls. We are here to be your partner to help you achieve a balanced life for you and your child.

Children with ADHD and neurodiverse conditions especially often have unique challenges when it comes to health and nutrition:

  • Medications can take away their appetite.
  • They may experience the taste and texture of foods
  • differently than their parents/caregivers or siblings.
  • Often, they have food sensitivities making
  • their range of food choices very limited.
  • They may reject food solely based on how it looks.
  • Sometimes, genetic differences make it hard to
  • absorb and utilise certain nutrients from their diet.

Children with neurodiverse conditions are more prone to developing emotional and health issues related to foods as they get older.

But there is good news for parents. By guiding your child to learn mindful eating practices, they can be more present and calmer at mealtimes. They can become more open to trying new foods and learn to make intentional and healthier food choices.1-3

It’s not always easy to prepare healthy meals for your family consistently. We recognise that you have many demands and many commitments, and you probably feel that you are “on the run” most of the time. You may look at this as yet another item on your “to-do” list. We invite you to simply look at it as an overall “checklist” and gradually make changes until you feel you have a successful routine.

Children with low food intake can develop nutritional deficiencies impacting learning, behaviour, and overall growth and development.4

Additionally, decades of research show a strong correlation between ADHD, unhealthy eating, and obesity. The connection is so strong, in fact, that someone with ADHD is four times more likely to become obese than someone without ADHD.5-7


"There is no one-size-fits-all solution for neurodiverse children regarding health and nutrition. These resources offer a variety of options to help parents/caregivers create personalised solutions for the unique needs of their children.

As a registered dietitian, mum, and neurodiversity advocate, I am honoured to be able to bring this resource to you. A very special thank you to the healthcare professionals that have contributed their valuable time and remarkable content."

Tricia Griffin, RDN, LD


Why children won't eat & lose appetite

Does your young child turn up their nose at just about every meal you offer them?

“Why won’t you eat it?” says Mum. “I don’t like it; I’m not hungry,” says the child, as they toss it in the air. This is a very common situation.

Picky eating is common in younger children, but most outgrow the habit and learn to like a broader range of foods. Research shows that many picky eaters have parents/ caregivers who are picky eaters, suggesting both genetic and environmental contributors. Lack of experience early on with various tastes, textures, and smells can lead to picky eating later in life.12

Losing appetite is especially common with children with neurodiverse conditions — and for good reasons. There are several links between neurodiverse conditions and picky eating: 8-10


ADHD and Dopamine

Studies show many children with attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have low levels of dopamine activity in their brain and they are chemically wired to seek more.11

Dopamine is the brain chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Sugar is one food that delivers a surge of dopamine to the brain. As such, many with ADHD or ADD are likely to crave sugar. A child may push away nutritious foods like vegetables or protein because these do not deliver the sugar and dopamine rush that the ADHD brain craves.


Sensory Defensiveness

Children with neurodiverse conditions may also exhibit sensory defensiveness, which is more than “picky eating.”

A particular taste, smell, texture, temperature, or food colour can make these children feel like the sensory experience is “hurting” them. The experience can be so overwhelming that they are repulsed, panicked, or sickened by exposure to it.13

When your child says that something doesn’t taste “right” or “good,” he may be telling the truth. We are all wired differently in what appeals to our senses and palate. It may be that picky eaters represent a population of children who are hypersensitive to certain aspects of eating.


What is sensory eating, and how is it different from picky eating?

Picky eaters dislike a variety of foods, much like the sensory eater. However, when picky eaters try new foods, it doesn’t cause a sensory overload.

Sensory overload can come in a few different forms for children with ADHD. There is a sensitivity to textures, where children can only handle one texture, such as smooth, pureed foods. In this case, they might be able to eat yogurt. However, hand them a bag of chips or a slice of turkey, and they immediately begin to gag. This is one of the most common sensory eating issues.

There are also sensitivities to favour and smell. If a child has a sensitivity, they can experience a meltdown and break out into a cold sweat because a piece of candy was “too sugary”, or a cracker was “too spicy.”

A child might choose not to eat at all to avoid physical or mental pain associated with the food.14

Feeding guidance may need to be different for picky eaters versus sensory eaters.

For example:

“They get what the family is getting. Eventually, they will be hungry enough to eat.” This feeding strategy may not be effective for sensory eaters. If they see food as causing pain, it doesn’t matter how hungry they are. They’ll refuse the food to avoid the pain.

Unfortunately, as time goes on, more negative behaviours may develop. Your child might begin to fear more foods or mealtimes in general, even if you serve foods that might not “hurt” them. As they begin to associate eating a wider range of foods with a negative experience, they might often refuse to eat.12


How to tell if your child is a sensory eater?

Their list of acceptable food is decreasing in size

All children experience eating jags, where they ask for one food all the time and then they don’t want it. Picky eaters will return to that food again after a while, so their food repertoire expands over time. Some sensory eaters may never eat the food again, so they slowly whittle away at acceptable foods until the list includes less than 10 or 20 foods.


They avoid seeing others eating the food they don’t like

Picky eaters don’t mind if they don’t have to eat that food. Sensory eaters will gag or even vomit just watching others eat food they don’t like. Sometimes this behaviour comes from forcing a child to eat food they don’t want.


They refuse to allow new food on their plate

A picky eater can tolerate new foods on a plate—even if reluctantly. A sensory eater “falls apart” when presented with new foods and refuses to eat.



What to do if your child is a picky or sensory eater

Laura Russin, a speech pathologist, and mother of two, offers her expert suggestions for dealing with sensory sensitivities and picky eaters and shares tips on introducing new foods to your child with sensory sensitivities in a supportive way:14

  1. Most importantly, do not pressure your child! There is already enough fear associated with eating and you don’t want to increase those fears. As scary as it is hearing a diagnosis of “failure to thrive,” placing added pressure on them to eat will not help.
  2. Address their fears, discuss them openly, and validate them! Let them know you understand how hard it is for them to eat certain things, and that’s OK.
  3. As your child gets older, their sensory system naturally matures. When you feel they are ready, introduce new foods in small amounts. However, the fear and behaviours they developed over the years might remain. To combat these fears, you must go slowly!

    A chart system can help warm your child up to trying new foods
    • Monday: Smell the food
    • Tuesday: Kiss the food (or touch to lips)
    • Wednesday: Lick the food
    • Thursday: Hold a bite of food in their mouth
    • Friday: Chew a bite and swallow
    • Saturday: Reward, reward, reward! For my son, it’s an ice cream sandwich with lunch.

      After your child has successfully chewed and swallowed that initial bite, you might suggest they take one bite of the new food every day. Then the next week two bites, and so on until you feel they are eating. Now, this sounds slow and laborious, and it is. But remember, your child might be fearful, and many foods may cause them discomfort. Our goal is to decrease the discomfort and slowly lessen the fear.
  1. The “trying plate” is another variation of this method. This plate is separate from their breakfast/lunch/dinner plate. Place new foods on the “trying plate” and allow them to take bites when they are ready. These methods could be used at one meal per day unless you feel your child is prepared to try it for two or even three meals per day.
  2. Make food fun. Presentation often impacts their decision to eat food. Cut food into funny shapes using cookie cutters or take a few seconds to make a fruit happy face on top of their pancakes. Serve veggies with an assortment of tasty dips, so your child can choose and feel in control of the meal. Also, try giving the food a fun name to stimulate interest in “boring” (but healthy) foods. A few examples are “superpower spinach,” “x-ray vision carrots,” or “tasty taters.”

I cannot stress these key points enough — no pressure and go slowly! Remember, our children are not just picky eaters.


Additional tips & tricks to help picky eaters

  1. Involve your child in food preparation. Bring your child along with you to the grocery store or farmers’ market. Have them pick out whatever fruits and vegetables they want, but don’t buy anything you do not want them to eat. Then, work together to develop a recipe and cook a meal for the family. They may make a bit of a mess, but they’ll be excited to serve and eat the meal they helped create. Children are more interested in food when they can participate in it because they have ownership and pride in the meal.

    Caitlin Bus, RDN CDE, has found success in involving her son in food preparation. “The more I pressured my son to take one more bite, the more resistant he became. I had to get creative and get him involved. I found it really helps to bring him into the kitchen and have him stir or just observe as I cook and talk about the food and each step I am taking.
  2. Keep food in the house you want your child to eat and ensure enough variety, colour, texture, and flavour. Likewise, limit unhealthy foods or beverages (like soda or candy) or foods you don’t want them to eat. Serve water as the only beverage at the table. Picky eaters tend to fill up on non-nutritious high-sugar fruit juices, chocolate milk, or soda.
  3. Aim to eat according to a schedule and remove distractions. This way, the child can predict the routine and feel more comfortable. Make it a household rule to turn off the TV and electronic devices while the family eats. This stops your child from being overstimulated and lets them focus more on the meal. Also, as much as possible, try to eat together as a family and engage in good conversation at the dinner table.

    Although a meal schedule is helpful, respect your child’s appetite. Have healthy, filling food available when they want it—even if it doesn’t ft into your family’s schedule. If they aren't hungry at dinnertime but is ravenous at 8:00 p.m., try to be flexible.
  4. Pick your battles. Don’t force your child to eat. This can lead to power struggles over food, setting the stage for an eating disorder. Likewise, don’t bribe or reward your child with food, especially dessert. This turns dessert into “good” food that can be enjoyed after eating the “yucky” food first.
  5. Praise your child if they bite, lick, smell, or taste a new food. Let them know if they are willing to put tiny bites in their mouth, they may also take them out again and place them in a napkin.


  1. Don’t be concerned with convention. It’s OK to have chicken for breakfast and eggs and bacon for dinner. In fact, for many children, mixed-up meals are a special treat.
  2. If they say, “I don’t like it,” you can respond with “It takes time to like new foods,” “You are still learning to like this,” or “It looks like you are still getting used to that food.”

    Remember that, on average, a child needs to be offered a new food about 15 times before they may accept it. So, keep offering them healthy alternatives and encourage them to take at least one bite each time. If they hate it, don’t force them to eat anymore — but serve it again a few weeks or months later. You may find that the third time’s a charm — or the fourth, or the ninth.
  3. Promote positive thoughts and energy. Engage in deep breathing at mealtimes and periodically during the day. Have the child visualize a positive image associated with eating the feared foods.
  4. Assertiveness training can also be helpful. Children may be compensating for being shy at school and use food pickiness as an outlet to demonstrate assertiveness. Parents can support their children through this by eating a variety of foods. Children often mimic their parents/caregivers — especially when it comes to eating habits. Lead by example and eat the way you’d like your child to eat.


What is food chaining?

Feeding therapists often use food chaining to expose children to new foods and increase variety. Simply put, food chaining builds bridges to foods you really want your child to eat by linking new foods to foods they’re already eating.16


With food chaining, you:

  • Identify foods your child is comfortable eating.
  • Brainstorm and list foods with similar characteristics (colour, shape, texture, etc.).
  • Start serving one new but similar food regularly at meals or snacks until your child is comfortable eating it.
  • Continue with another new food until you reach your goal.


Here’s an example of how you might transition from eating only chicken nuggets to baked fish filet to increase protein variety:

Or from potato chips to trying frozen bananas:


When exposing a child to new foods, ask them about foods they would feel least anxious eating and create a hierarchy with their input. Don’t be afraid to mask flavours with dips and sauces, slowly reducing those as acceptability increases.

Another strategy is to add foods they avoid to the foods they will eat to make gradual colour, texture, or flavour changes. For example, add bell peppers or broccoli to tomato sauce. If your child loves fruit, whip up a healthy smoothie with berries and plain yogurt—and throw a few spinach leaves into the blender.


Keep an eye out for food cues

Every child is different, and what has worked for you, or your other children may not work for every child.

Lisa Kandell Kotler, MS RDN CSP, Certified Specialist in Paediatric Nutrition shares, “One of the biggest challenges I see is parents/caregivers projecting their image onto their child. It is natural to use your own experiences and preferences and project it to them, but this may not be what your child wants, needs, or can even handle.”

She recommends being present, observing, and listening to your children. That is easiest to do when you’re present at mealtimes.

  • Pay attention to your children’s reactions and cues and learn to adjust for their very unique needs.
  • Learn how to react calmly. A positive facial expression can work wonders. It is essential to stay calm, keep emotions in check, and engage with your child.
  • Work on not being too restrictive or forcing foods on children. Children with ADHD and neurodiverse conditions can have strong preferences and aversions to many food characteristics.


What is mindful eating?

Eating mindfully helps children develop a deeper connection with food to create lifelong, healthy habits. It encourages children to focus on the present — noticing thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations associated with foods and eating.

This helps children to:

  • Recognize feelings of hunger and fullness
  • Slow down when eating
  • Digest foods better
  • Fully enjoy snacks or meals

Being mindful means taking time and getting in touch with the taste, texture, and flavours of food. It also involves savouring the eating experience, rather than doing it automatically. And while this practice may seem unnecessary, it has plenty of benefits for children.

These include:

  • Promoting a more satisfying eating experience
  • Allowing them the ability to feel satisfied with smaller amounts of food
  • Supporting healthy weight management

It can also help kids incorporate healthier foods into their diet, providing nutrients needed for growth and development.



Mindful eating is just one form of mindfulness. It can be applied to different situations throughout the day and encourages children to reflect and be more aware. Mindfulness supports the development of critical skills such as focus, concentration, and self-regulation. Giving children an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of a given moment helps build resiliency and puts them in tune with their own emotions.


Tips for mindful eating with children

Practice the S-S-S Model for mindful eating

Encourage them to Sit down while they eat. Limit distractions by putting away or turning off cell phones, computers, and television.

Slow down.

Savour their food.


Explain mindfulness and how they can use their senses when eating

Lay the groundwork and help your child understand what it means to practice mindfulness. Explain why developing a deeper appreciation for food is essential, while also branching out and trying something new.

Encourage children to use all their senses and practice small mindful bites using all their senses. Once they have a general understanding of practicing mindfulness, encourage them to experience their food in a new way.


Explain the importance of nutrition and eating the right foods

Talk about the mind-body connection. All foods carry essential nutrients that support our growth and keep us healthy and strong. Nutritious food influences how we feel, including our energy levels throughout the day. Invite your child to dive deeper and think about where their food comes from, the nutrients it contains, and what fuels them the most to play and learn. Also, help them recognize when their bellies feel full or when hunger has queued the “low fuel” signal.


Turn Mindful eating into a food adventure

Make mindful eating a food adventure that helps guide your child through their experience. As you are eating ask your child about their experience:

  • See: What do you notice? What colour is it? What shape is it? What stands out?
  • Feel: When you hold it in your hand, what does it feel like? Is it soft or hard? Squishy or rough?
  • Hear: Does it make any sounds? What about if you squeeze it between your fingers? (You can also revisit sound during taste)
  • Smell. How would you describe the smell?
  • Taste: Invite children to close their eyes as they explore taste. Put the food in your mouth. Before you chew, what is the first thing you taste? Is it sweet or salty? Sour or savoury? As you start to chew, chew slowly, and before you swallow, think about the change in flavour, texture, and sounds. Does it change the longer you chew?


Promoting positive eating for children with ADHD

There is a fine line between being too controlling and over-permissive. Parents and caregivers who are too controlling about their children’s food choices tend to have children who do not have healthy eating patterns. On the other hand, parents/caregivers who don’t pay enough attention to their children’s eating patterns also tend to have children who do not make healthy choices.

The goal during childhood is to meet nutrient needs and promote a positive relationship with food and nutrition. That way, as children transition into adolescence and begin to make their own choices, they tend to make wiser decisions.17



Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian, and authority on children’s eating and feeding encourages a division of responsibility among parents/ caregivers and children regarding mealtimes. This helps children develop eating competence and become self-directed with eating.

Parents are responsible for the “what, when, and where”; what food is available, when it is offered, and where it is consumed.

Children are responsible for choosing which food they eat from what is offered, how much is eaten, and whether they eat it or not.

If parents/caregivers use a positive approach and practice mindful feeding, children tend to practice mindful eating.18


Parent’s Responsibility is to:

Child’s Responsibility is to:

Choose and prepare the food

Choose to eat

Provide the opportunity for the child to choose healthful foods at meals and snacks

Choose from what is offered

Provide positive teaching moments related to food and nutrition

Choose how much is eaten

Lead by example Be considerate of the child's inexperience with foods Do not bribe children to eat Trust children to choose the correct amounts of healthful foods when given the opportunity

Come to the table and be positive about the food that is offered, even if they choose not to eat most of the meal. This approach can help foster good eating habits and mealtime behaviour.



Mindful eating checklist

Offer meals and snacks that contain a mixture of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

This combination tends to sustain energy, focus, alertness, and attention.

Protein increases the ability to stay alert and focused by raising dopamine (a feel-good chemical) in the brain.

Whole grains and complex carbs may be “calming” and “soothing” because they help raise serotonin (another feel-good chemical) in the brain.

Healthy fats provide essential fatty acids essential for brain development and function.


Use Food to Help Stabilise Mood

Eating too many sugary foods or refined (white) starches causes a sharp spike followed by a drop in blood sugar. Skipping meals or having a gap of more than four hours between meals or snacks may lead to low blood sugar levels. Both contribute to that “hangry” feeling.

However, eating a mixture of protein, carbs, and fat every three hours or so helps stabilize blood sugar. That reduces hunger, irritability, and potentially undesirable behaviour while improving concentration and focus. Try to plan ahead and send your children to school, activities, or play dates with healthy snacks to bridge the gap between meals.



Use the Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light Food system

Use the Green-Yellow-Red light food system when planning meals and snacks.

Green light foods are the most healthful, nutrient-dense foods. These are delicious, nutrient-packed, whole foods that children are encouraged to eat frequently.

Yellow light foods are less nutritious than green light foods. They might be high in calories and have more sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, or other additives.

Red light foods are “once in a while” foods you want to stop and think twice about before eating. Try to shift more of these to yellow and green light options.

Please use this list as a guide to promote more variety in your child’s diet. We encourage you to provide balanced meals that contain a mix of green light carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

This may help balance your child’s blood sugar and provide their brain with the fuel needed to help them stay alert and focused.


Green Light Foods (Eat these often)

Yellow Light Foods (Eat these less often)

Red Light Foods (Save these for occasional treats)


  • Cow, goat, or plant milk (unsweetened)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Kefir (unsweetened)
  • Regular or dairy-free cheese
  • Sweetened Greek yogurt (without artificial colour)

Tip: Make flavoured yogurt by adding mashed fresh or frozen fruit, or cocoa powder and a drizzle of honey to plain Greek yogurt.

  • Sweetened, flavoured milk
  • Ice cream or frozen yogurt
  • Pudding



  • Beef or pork
  • Chicken or turkey
  • Fish or seafood
  • Legumes/dried beans such as kidney, pinto, chickpeas, lentils
  • Eggs
  • Tofu or tempeh (organic), seitan
  • Nut or seed butter such as peanut, almond, cashew, walnut, soy, sunflower, tahini
  • Whey or vegan protein powder (without artificial sweeteners or colours)
  • Burgers
  • Chicken nuggets or strips
  • Fish sticks

Tip: Make healthier burgers at home using lean, grass-fed beef and whole­grain buns. Dip skinless chicken breast or wild fish in seasoned panko and bake or cook in an air fryer.


Processed meats such as:

  • Bacon
  • Hot dogs
  • Sausages
  • Deli meats such as salami, bologna, corned beef
  • Pepperoni



  • Almond oil
  • Avocado oil (and avocado)
  • Coconut oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Olive oil (olives)
  • Sesame oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Wheat germ oil
  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
  • Corn oil
  • Bottled salad dressings
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Butter/ghee
  • Safflower oil
  • Cream cheese
  • Soybean oil
  • Heavy cream
  • Sunflower oil
  • Sour cream
  • Creamy salad dressings
  • Solid shortenings
  • Sweetened whipped cream



  • Any fruits or vegetables
  • Hummus or bean dips
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Trail mix
  • Unsweetened dark chocolate
  • Air or stove-popped popcorn
  • Smoothies made with green light ingredients
  • Unsweetened herbal tea
  • Water and sparkling water without added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
  • Granola or cereal bars
  • Nitrate-free jerky
  • Packaged popcorn or crackers
  • 100% Juice boxes


  • Candy
  • Chips
  • Fruit drinks
  • Soda (regular or sugar-free)
  • Sports drinks



  • Any fresh, frozen, or canned fruit without added sugar.
  • Canned fruit in light syrup
  • Dried fruit with added sugar
  • Fruit pouches
  • 100% fruit juice


  • Canned fruit in heavy syrup
  • Dried fruit with sugar and sulphites
  • Frozen fruit with added sugar
  • Fruit drinks
  • Fruit snacks with corn syrup


  • Any fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables without added salt or sauces.
  • Canned vegetables with salt
  • Frozen vegetables with cream or cheese sauces
  • Veggie chips
  • Deep-fried vegetables like Tempura



Whole grain or whole wheat:

  • Breads, bagels, English muffins,
  • Cereals
  • Pasta
  • Crackers or pretzels

Whole grains such as:

  • Amaranth (GF)
  • Buckwheat (GF)
  • Barley
  • Oats (may be GF)
  • Brown or wild rice
  • Popcorn (GF) (GF)
  • Quinoa (GF)

Potatoes (white or sweet)

Corn on the cob or plain frozen corn

(GF indicates gluten-free options)

  • Crackers or pretzels made with regular white or wheat four
  • Regular bagels, English muffins, pita, or flatbread
  • Pancakes or waffles made with white or wheat four
  • White, bakery, or French bread
  • White pasta or rice

Tip: Make homemade pancakes or waffles with whole-grain four like buckwheat.

  • Cakes and cookies
  • Donuts, pastries, or bakery muffins
  • French fries or potato chips
  • Sugar-sweetened cereals




Additional healthy eating tips for fussy eaters

Get the right balance in their diet

Choose whole grains instead of refined (white) grains to provide the body and brain with steady energy. Good choices include oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and buckwheat (adjust for gluten-free options).

Offer a “rainbow on the plate.” Vary the fruits and veggies you offer for each meal and snack and aim to eat all the colours (yellow, orange, red, purple, blue, green) each day. Choose fresh or plain frozen fruits and vegetables.



To help build strong bones, children need calcium-rich foods like milk, no added sugar yogurt, cheese, or milk alternatives several times a day. Leafy green vegetables are also a good source of calcium and magnesium.

Go lean with protein. Choose fish or skinless poultry more often over red meats. Change it up with plant-based meals such as beans, lentils, nuts, or nut butters.

Include healthful fats each day: Choose nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and olive oil.

Don’t sugar-coat it: Choose foods and beverages that don’t have artificial sweeteners or sugar as one of the first ingredients. Sugar provides empty calories and is void of any added nutrition.

Make your own desserts by using more green light ingredients and reducing sugar in recipes.


Don’t Skip Breakfast

High-fibre, high-protein breakfasts support healthy brain function and sustain blood sugar levels. If your child doesn’t like to eat breakfast or isn’t hungry first thing in the morning, research shows a nutritious mid-morning snack is still helpful and can improve concentration and focus.19,20

Try breakfasts that combine protein, carbs, and fat, like:

Scrambled egg + whole-grain tortilla with cheese + a piece of fruit

Old fashioned oatmeal + a dab of peanut butter + some berries

Veggie omelette + a bran muffin + a scoop of yogurt + fresh fruit

Whole-grain pancakes or waffles + berries + yogurt or milk/milk alternative

Cheese melted on whole-grain toast + pear slices



Adapting a child’s diet

How to add more protein

Have trouble eating enough protein throughout the day? Start with your child’s favourite carbohydrates, such as waffles, toast, or fruit. Then add in high-protein foods you know your child likes, such as eggs, meat, peanut butter, yogurt, tofu, cheese, or beans.

Combine these foods in creative ways:

  • Top whole-grain waffles with melted cheese or Canadian bacon and cheese instead of syrup or fruit.
  • Spread peanut butter or another nut butter on a whole-grain bagel or toast, apple slices, a halved banana, or celery sticks.
  • Fill a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, black beans, and cheese.
  • Sauté lean breakfast sausage patties with pieces of diced apples.
  • Swirl crushed fruit or all-fruit jam into plain yogurt and top with dry, whole-grain cereal or chopped nuts.
  • Fill an omelette with chopped or sliced fresh fruit or spreadable fruit.
  • Offer eggs and a smoothie for a quick meal. To save time, make hard-boiled or devilled eggs the night before.
  • Offer a grilled-cheese sandwich made with whole-grain bread and sliced tomatoes.
  • Offer mixed nuts, fresh fruit, and a glass of milk or milk alternative— a healthy breakfast for kids that graze.
  • Use bean dips or hummus as a dip for vegetables or crackers.
  • Add chickpea four or almond meal to baked goods.
  • Go meatless once or several times per week. Bean burgers, salads topped with nuts, or a vegetable frittata.


How to add more calories

If your child is underweight and needs extra calories, make sure they come from nutrient-dense foods. If they eat small portions at mealtime, try adding in some of these high-calorie foods as snacks. You can also boost the calories in their meals by adding some healthy fat in the form of olive or avocado oil, nut butter, or avocado to your recipe.21


Try some of these calorie boosting ideas:

  • For snacks, make trail mix with nuts, seeds, unsweetened coconut, and dried fruit.
  • Mix ½ of an avocado, or a generous tablespoon of coconut oil into a smoothie.
  • Top yogurt or fresh fruit with granola.
  • Use guacamole or plain mashed avocado as a sandwich spread.
  • Serve hummus or bean dip with vegetables or whole-grain pita bread for a snack.
  • Top pancakes, waffles, or toast with almond butter.
  • Add olives to pizza or salad. Or just snack on them.
  • Eat fatty fish like salmon or mackerel instead of lean white fish.
  • Add an extra tablespoon of olive oil to their meat, vegetables, or mashed potatoes.
  • Add nuts to your baked goods.


How to make snacks healthy

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other minimally processed foods are the best choices for snacks. If you purchase packaged products, read the ingredient labels, and select products with little or no added sugar. Whole fruits are preferred over juice, fruit snacks, or dried fruit because they are higher in fibre and lower in sugar per serving.

Powerful Bars Servings: 8 bars


1 cup almonds

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup pitted dates

1 tbsp unsweetened coconut fakes

1/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips



Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pulse a few times to break everything up. Then blend continuously until the ingredients break down and clump together into a ball.

Using a spatula to scrape down the sides, turn the mixture onto a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap. Press into an even square and chill, wrapped, for at least an hour. Cut into the desired size of bars and wrap each bar in plastic wrap to store in the fridge.



What ingredients to avoid

Make sure to check the ingredient list on a package and look for known allergens or sensitivities. Also, use this list to identify “red light” ingredients in packaged foods, so you can avoid those products. There is some evidence that these “red light” ingredients are linked to ADHD-like neurologic-based behavioural problems and other behaviour problems. 22-24 


Ingredient Type

Avoid These

Better options

Food dyes (may be a combination of colours)

FD&C Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Citrus Red, caramel colour

Naturally derived colours such as turmeric, paprika, and beet powder

Artificial sweeteners (often found in products labelled sugar-free or no sugar added)

Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, Neotame, Sucralose, Saccharin

Small amounts of natural coconut sugar, honey or molasses, maple syrup monk fruit, erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, stevia leaf extract

Preservatives (used in deli meats, breads and baked products, snack foods, and most packaged foods)

Nitrates, sulphates, BHA (butylated hydroxy anisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) MSG (monosodium glutamate) DATEM, Sodium Benzoate

Uncured meats, alternative natural preservatives; tocopherols, vitamin E, rosemary, grapefruit seed extract, vitamin C, lemon juice

Anti-caking agents (added to dry foods like shredded cheese or protein powders) and texture enhancers (used in commercial bread baking)

Calcium silicate, DATEM (diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono-and diglycerides)

Calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate.


Some children can also react to other naturally occurring food chemicals including amines, salicylates, and glutamate as well as wheat or dairy foods.25

There are different tests to identify food allergies and intolerances or sensitivities. Often, healthcare professionals do skin (scratch) tests to identify food allergens, such as peanuts and shellfish.

However, Dr. Leah Linder, a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, suggests: “Skin testing generally isn’t the best way to assess for food sensitivities. Many people have delayed immune reactions to food, which are not always caught on allergy skin tests.”

Instead, she recommends blood tests to measure delayed response reactions to foods. These tests measure specific proteins released by the immune system (IgA and IgG immunoglobulins) and can provide information about both short-term responses (24-48 hours with IgA) and longer responses (48-72 hrs with IgG). They’re best measured together because they provide better information about food sensitivities and intolerances (vs. allergies) and give you a clue as to the reason behind the sensitivity.

If you suspect food or ingredient allergies or sensitivities, contact your healthcare professional. They can test for these and help structure an elimination diet. However, eliminating highly processed foods with artificial additives is a great start for any child.21


Asking For support

Don’t hesitate to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional like a registered dietitian, a paediatrician, or a speech pathologist. They’re experts who are familiar with children’s feeding challenges.

A naturopathic or integrative medicine doctor can also help with advanced testing for food sensitivities and gut microbiome challenges. These experts can provide additional tools to make healthy eating easier for your child.


References available upon request

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