Good diet strategies for kids with learning and behavioral issues

Behavioral and learning issues like ADHD, processing disorders, dyslexia and Autism are increasing at epidemic levels with no end in sight.  Here are some basic things that every parent, especially those with children with a learning or behavioral issue should know about their child’s diet. Nutrition for adequate development of the body and brain requires a mix of 45 nutritional elements including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, water, and complex carbohydrates. Studies are coming out almost weekly showing that children with neurological disorders, particularly ADHD and autism, have deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids. Records show that kids eat too many simple carbohydrates in the form of junk and are sorely missing out on complex carbohydrates. Here are ten quick tips to help your child develop a healthy, well balanced brain.

1. Check your child’s sense of smell. It all starts with eating well balanced meals, children are picky eaters in general.  Children with disorders like ADHD and Autism are extremely picky eaters. What most parents don’t realize is that part of the reason for this is that they have a very poor or even completely absent sense of smell. They don’t choose food by smell and taste they judge it by how it looks and feels in their mouth. Test their sense of smell with their eyes closed if it is weak or absent then you can stimulate it through smell activities.

2. Go for the grains. Breads, cereal, rice, and pasta are good grain choices that kids can enjoy.  A child requires more servings of these foods than an adult. Always go for whole grains, not refined grains. Refined, or simple carbohydrates are double trouble in any sensible diet. If your child is has a  sensitivity to gluten, the protein found in wheat barley and rye, or other grains however these foods should be avoided until the root cause of the sensitivity can be identified. Sometimes the root cause of a gluten sensitivity may lie in the genes, the genes HDQ 2 and 8 are the genes most closely related to celiac disease (a severe gluten sensitivity) as well as milder gluten sensitivities. But in my experience most gluten sensitivities are secondary to a developmental imbalance in the brain that results in an imbalance in the digestive and immune systems. In 90% of the kids who go through our centers when they complete our program, they have no more food sensitivities.   

3. Use only good fats. Fat is a requirement for growth. However, the brain only needs small amounts of fat. The brain loves fat, only not the saturated kind that clogs arteries. Opt for healthy monounsaturated fats like olive, avocado, and nut oils. Kids actually enjoy vegetables stir-fried in these fats as they give good flavor.

4. Think of essential fatty acids as the other vitamins. These nutrients are essential to proper brain health, only the body does not manufacture them. They must be obtained through diet. They are particularly important to children with FDS because studies are revealing a link between shortages of essential fatty acids and the rising incidence of neurological childhood disorders. Rich sources include:

  • Soy, walnut and canola oils
  • Flax seeds
  • Beans, especially soy, navy and kidney beans
  • Walnuts
  • Tofu
  • Cold water fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines).

4. Think more vegetables, less meat. Kids love eating on plates that have separate compartments for meat, vegetables and dessert. The way to properly fill a plate is to put the vegetables where the meat is supposed to be.

5. Think outside the meat counter. Protein is important and lean meats should be a part of your child’s overall diet. However, keep in mind that protein comes in other forms as well, such as eggs, beans, and nuts.

6. Be dairy sensible. Kids generally love milk and dairy products but this is an instance in which a child can get too much of a good thing. Dairy foods are filling and when children eat too much dairy, they fill up and don’t get enough of other important nutrients not found in dairy. Limit dairy to 2 or 3 servings a day.  Cassein the protein in dairy is one of the hardest to digest and it can often be associated with food sensitivities that can affect behavior and learning .As with most food sensitivities in children with brain issues the problem is related to and may even start with the imbalance in the brain. Eliminating dairy like gluten or any other food sensitivity, until the brain imbalance is the best approach. In my experience when a child has a brain imbalance and is sensitive to dairy this is very often associated with eczema.

7. Never let your child have artificial sweeteners. Even if your child is overweight never let a child have artificial sweeteners.

8. Check for food sensitivities. Many children with developmental delays also have immune and digestive imbalances that can lead to hidden food sensitivities. Learn how to do an elimination diet and food challenge to see if your child has these types of sensitivities.

9. Limit the amount of sports drinks. Children do not need sports drink’s even when competing in most sports. They only need water.  Studies show that some children get as many as 1000 calories a day from these drinks alone.

In children with ADHD, Dyslexia Autism and other developmental issues and the vitamin, mineral deficiencies, digestive and immune issues are a direct result of a functional neurological imbalance between the hemispheres of the brain. Certain directed mental and physical exercises can improve or eliminate this imbalance and the nutrition and dietary issues that they cause.

Dr Robert Melillo is the author of the new release The Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan, explaining what is actually happening in the brain of children with these issues and how the brain plays a major role in dietary and nutritional deficiencies in these children.  How diet, vitamins and other nutritional interventions can help significantly improve these issues are also explained in the book. Information on providing strategies for picky eaters and with a number of great recipes for families on special elimination diets.  To learn more pick up a copy of Disconnected Kids Nutrition Plan or go to and try for free The Melillo 7 Day Challenge.