Ah, the holidays. Time to pig out on each celebration’s artificial color and flavor-pumped snacks. You might have thought junk food was mostly for Halloween, but other holidays are just as competitive for your kiddo.
Most people can handle mainstream sweets every once in a while as they come, but they can be the undoing of an ADHDer due to the nasty brain environment they can create. ADHD neurotransmitter function is abnormal when compared to non-ADHD brains*, with reduced tolerance for an imbalanced environment. Those few seconds of enjoyment while eating typical snack fare just aren’t worth the fallout of living in a haze or getting yelled at by disapproving adults.
So let’s take a look at the heaviest-hitter junk food holidays and explore some ways to avoid or replace their traditional sweets.
But first, this is what you’re trying to avoid:
- Ingredients that attack the nervous system, such as artificial food coloring (ex: Yellow 6, Blue 1, etc.), and certain preservatives according to the Feingold Diet.
- Blood sugar spikes and crashes (eating lots of carbs/sugars without protein and fats to balance them) cause a frantic high and a foggy low. Both are not ideal for the ADHD brain environment. To understand more about proper sugar intake for ADHD, read my sugar post.
- Any ingredient that the ADHDer is sensitive to. Often this includes gluten, casein, soy, egg, corn, and certain nuts. For ADHD brains, food sensitivity is another way of saying “brain inflammation**,” which inhibits cell-to-cell communication. You can find your child’s unique food sensitivities through blood testing.
Second, a method I shall hereto forth refer to as the SWAP OUT:
This method works well in our household and gives my son a sense of participation and control in his diet. If he runs into candies or foods that he can’t eat, he can swap them out for something else. Depending on the situation he might get a little money, a small prize or a different snack that’s on his diet.
It works for a variety of situations. For example, if there is an event at school such as a classmate’s birthday and he receives a treat, he brings it home so I can inspect the ingredients. Usually they’re not OK for him to eat, so he can trade it in for a small prize or money. I keep a small stash of little toy prizes for these very occasions. I’ve let the teachers know of this system so my son can’t sneak a treat without me knowing about it. They give me a heads up via email. So far so good – he’d rather have the prizes or money.
You can also do the swap out while traveling and on the holidays. Just monitor the snacks your child is receiving and let others be aware of your system. Most teachers, friends and relatives will understand and work with this system once it’s explained to them.
Now that I’ve explained the concept of the swap out, it will be easier to understand my holiday candy avoidance ideas…
You’d think this would be the toughest holiday to tackle because it’s all about candy, but it’s not. Here are a couple very simple ideas to keep this holiday fun while avoiding unhealthy treats:
- Go door to door for traditional trick-or-treating, then allow your child to do the swap out at home. Pennies for each candy is an inexpensive way to dodge this bullet. Or there might be a prize or big snack in store once they turn in their loot.
- Try giving out the candy instead of trick-or-treating. It never ceases to amaze me how altruistic kids are. Suggest this as an option and see what your kiddo thinks. They could do it in full costume and decorate the doorway, if that makes it more appealing.
Christmas is probably the toughest. Not only is there candy, but there are a lot of other traditional sweets like cookies and fudge. Plus there is the heightened significance of tradition associated with practically every food. There’s more traveling during this holiday, too, so you may have to work harder at controlling your child’s environment – all without stepping on others’ toes. But if you plan ahead, you can prevent most issues before they occur.
- Find gluten/casein-free versions of traditional cookie (or other snack) recipes to make with your child before the holiday. Create NEW traditions by baking gluten/casein free versions of NEW cookie or snack recipes! Make baking a special occasion with your child and take your creations along you if you travel. Make enough to share so everyone can see how tasty little Johnny’s cookies are.
- Find varieties of candy that will work on your child’s diet. Health food stores carry options without food dye. Allow your child to snack sparingly and consume with proteins/fats.
- If you are traveling, do the swap out for candies that come from stockings or advent calendars.
- Fill your own stockings with small toys instead of candy, and/or only use treats that work on your child’s diet.
- Provide munching alternatives to candy. Setting out veggie and fruit trays for friends and family during visits will help your child feel less left out than if they are surrounded by cookie and candy trays.
- Make friends and relatives aware of the importance of your child’s diet. Do it in a way that is polite and respectful.
- Try not to let yourself or others get too fixated on food traditions if it makes your kiddo feel left out.
- Focus less on food and more on the meaning of Christmas!!
- Do the swap out with treats your child receives from school.
- Show your own love and affection by giving handmade cards and/or creating an ADHD diet friendly treat.
- Fill that basket with books, toys and healthy snacks. Carrots are especially appropriate. There are dye-free snack options available (like jelly beans) at health food stores. Visit my page on healthy Easter baskets for more ideas.
- Once again, focus on the meaning behind this holiday instead of food traditions!
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*Neurotransmitter function – http://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/guide/adhd-causes
**Information on brain inflammation found in “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter, M.D.