Thanksgiving with and ADHD diet

Surviving Thanksgiving on An ADHD Diet: A guide For You, Your Kids, And Anyone You’ll Be Feasting With

Let’s face it. If you’re on a diet of any kind, eating with others can often be hard. Throw grandparents into the mix who want to to “treat” the grandkids and you’ve got an even harder challenge. How do you make clear that added sugars, dyes, and preservatives are a no go? (Yes grandma, that boxed cake mix you used in the pie has additives!)

But, if you have an ADHD kid and you’ve tried an elimination diet, you also know what a challenge it can be if you aren’t mindful of their nutrition, and happen to veer too far off their diet. So, surviving a Thanksgiving gathering on an ADHD diet?

Here are my best tips to ease the rocky path ahead.

Tips for Surviving A Thanksgiving Gathering on an ADHD diet


This goes for your kids (as much as possible) and YOU. The more refreshed everyone’s brains are going into the event, the better chance you’ll have of letting things slide and navigating any challenges with ease. If you’re travelling a fair distance and staying with family, do yourself a favor and try to stick to your normal sleep schedule as much as possible rather than letting the kids go completely off schedule and become overly tired. Sticking to your sleep routine not only helps with energy, it also helps kids feel grounded to something familiar amidst the chaos.

Keep them APPROpriately occupied

One way to prepare your ADHD kids for the big event is by talking to them about the “crowd” or increased social setting. ADHD kids can become easily overwhelmed in groups and go from calm to out of control in a short period of time, especially when they don’t understand their role in the social dynamics. Suggest they bring some activities with them (or identify some go to activities in their room, if you are hosting at your house). Come up with a few back up activities for them as well and find ways to designate an adult to check in with the child and take “time outs” from the group when needed. If appropriate, and depending on their energy, you might be able to engage your child in festivity pep, given then a sense of agency.

Prepare your kids For Dietary Differences

Chances are, your kids are already familiar with a modified (healthier) diet. If not and you have kids who LIVE for sweets, processed foods or starches and simple carbs, you’ll need to do a little more prepping going into the big day. Let them know that there may be some foods they are not allowed to eat or that they will need to eat in modification.

If you child is mature enough, you can talk to them about what foods are good for their brains. Figure out and explain your rule on sweets (pies, cakes etc.), and help them understand how to prepare a brain rich plate. If not they are not ready, you can simply let them know that you will be preparing their plate for them. Be sure to explain why you are doing this so they can start to understand the importance of good food selection.

Plan the plate Ahead of Time

If you’re already on an ADHD diet then you know how you’ll want to prepare your child’s plate. Have you discovered specific foods which might trigger their ADHD symptoms? If so, avoid these foods as much as possible.

If you haven’t started a formal ADHD diet then here is my suggestion for this holiday to help minimize the chaos in your child’s brain: Focus on the protein (usually the turkey), followed by “good carbs” and minimize the sugars. Be extra mindful of anything that might have added dyes or preservatives. Double check labels on cans, and ask people the ingredients in their dishes. You may be surprised what’s really in stuff!)

Prepare your family or other “cooks”

For me, this part of the equation is often easier said than done because 1. I don’t want to seem like I’m making a big fuss about things and 2. I don’t always feel heard or validated in my request.

Some families will get your dietary needs more than others. For those with challenging family members who aren’t willing (or simply can’t understand how) to adjust their recipes, take a deep breath and do what you can. Preparing your own food might be necessary, letting them know that they don’t need to accommodate your family.

Just like with your kids, talk to the other Thanksgiving goers about WHY the diet is important to your family. If there are things you feel would be too hard for your kids to avoid (ie, having TONS of sweets and processed foods around), talk to the other guests and see if their is a way to compromise on what out during the event.

If possible, see if others would be willing to modify the dessert to a less sugary, healthier option (fruit salad or frozen fruit might be a fun). If that’s not an option with your particular crowd, consider bringing an alternative, similar to what others will be having.

TreAT your kids – slightly

This big eating holiday only comes around once a year and it’s a tough one for kids who (most likely) feel overwhelmed by the crowds and don’t care much about the food other than the sugary desserts. When you deprive your kids, they may feel more resentful or inclined to overindulge later. Avoid that potential disaster by allowing them a little happiness now. A small amount of pie break them, and it may bring them a small amount of needed joy. If you do go this route, remember to avoid dyes and preservatives, if possible.

Avoid Eating out of obligation

Don’t feel the need to serve your children something that goes against their diet and might trigger their ADHD symptoms in an effort to avoid hurt feelings or awkward interactions. Remember, you are the one living with your child. Your in-laws, most likely, won’t be dealing with the fall out of the diet deviation. Rather than thinking of this as depriving your children, think of it as standing up for them and their family so you can have the best success possible over then following few days.

Get Moving

Exercise is so important for ADHD kids, especially after a potentially overwhelming social situation and big meal. Get the kids out in fresh air to not only get their wiggles out but to also give them space from the hustle, and to personally reconnect and let them know you are still their for them.

Be prepared for a few setbacks

Understand going into this event that their very well may be set backs in your child’s mood or behavior. There also may not be but, at least if you are prepared, you’ll be more available to navigate the following days with compassion.

What are your go-to tips for navigating the holidays with family?

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