Finding ways to manage ADHD at dinner can sometimes feel like organizing a circus. For the typical household with ADHD children, meal times usually spiral out of control fast. Dinners are anything but regular or normal. Especially with multiple children, keeping everyone in their seats and fed for 20 to 30 minutes can seem like a miracle.
Many parents with ADHD children dread even the thought of dinner meal times. That’s not even mentioning the occasional night out, which haunts parents’ nightmares. Dinner time should be the one time that the whole family can sit down and enjoy time together. Why does it never go that way?
Unfortunately, many dinners end with families hating the time spent together rather than enjoying it. Still, we know from studies that dinner together as a family matters for a child’s development. In fact eating together as a family can make a large positive impact on your child’s wellbeing.
What can you do then? There must be something that parents can do to help manage ADHD at dinner. While there might not exist a perfect one stop solution, we believe that you can try some simple things to help make ADHD at dinner a little more organized. In this article, we break down how to prepare for ADHD at dinner as well as what it could look like done well both in the home and out on the town.
How to Prepare for Managing ADHD at Dinner
Anything done well usually takes preparation. Managing ADHD at dinner is no different. If you want to have some control over how your dinner goes, you must put some effort into the preparation. By preparation here, we don’t just mean the food, either.
As any parent with a child with ADHD knows, your child just doesn’t want to sit still. This presents one of the biggest obstacles to having an orderly dinner. While you can just throw in the towel and not try at all, we have some suggestions on preparing your kids before dinner even begins that we really think might help. Whether eating in or eating out, start managing ADHD at dinner by preparing with these tips before the food even comes out.
Encourage the kids to get energy out before dinner
Dinner time might come at the worst time for parents wanting a calm relaxed meal. Dinner comes just a few hours after kids get home from school and from sitting all day. Many kids then get home to only sit in front of a computer or TV, not burning up any energy at all.
As a result, by the time dinner comes around and you ask them to sit and eat their meal, their minds and bodies want to do anything other than sit still. To help prepare them for another sitting session, really encourage your kids to get active for 30 minutes to an hour before dinner. You can encourage them to play outside with friends, take the dog for a walk, or even just run around the backyard for a little bit.
Physical exercise improves ADHD symptoms and helps kids get energy out before periods of sitting still. To get your kids to a more calm state before dinner, you should make sure they don’t bring all that energy to the table with them.
Plan ahead for distractions
It’s inevitable, kids with ADHD will get distracted. To best manage ADHD at dinner, you should prepare in advance for this distraction. The goal for dinner should surround making sure everyone sits in their seat, eats their food, and possibly some conversation or interaction occurs. Unfortunately, this idea of sitting, eating, and interacting, just might not come so easily to the active mind of a child with ADHD.
If your child simply can’t sit still, make sure you have tools on standby to utilize at a moment’s notice. For instance, dinner could be a good time to let your kids play with small and quiet fidget toys. Alternatively, you can make up or use someone else’s dinner game ideas. While you wait for dinner to come at a restaurant, you could play a game of I Spy or a similar talking or guessing game.
With ADHD, distractions are bound to crop up. How you respond to distractions makes the most difference. Instead of insisting your kids obey and listen, you should try to redirect distractions with a game, activity, or toy. These items can save your dinner from chaos.
ADHD at Dinner at Home
Now that you have a few tools to help prepare to manage ADHD at dinner, let’s now look at the two main dinner environments: eating at home and eating out. We’ll start with dinner at home as this will involve the majority of your dinners together.
For managing ADHD at dinner at home, you should feel free to loosen and change things up from time to time. Some starting ideas might just be to rearrange things at home and let the kids sit on an exercise ball or have a picnic. Try to think of more ways to let them get out of the dinner table chairs.
Try to be creative to keep your kids on their toes and enjoying the time together. Follow the tips below to continue to make the most of family dinners at home.
The first step for managing ADHD at dinner in the home involves giving your kids responsibilities. Effective ADHD management requires structure which is why we always recommend having an ADHD daily routine. Responsibilities can help ADHD children focus their excess energy while also giving them a framework to follow.
To help yourself at dinner, you should try to give responsibilities to your kids for different parts of dinner. For instance, you can have before dinner responsibilities such as setting the table. You could then also have responsibilities for after dinner such as putting the dishes in the dishwasher. You can get creative with your chores with anything from putting out placemats to getting everyone drinks.
The ideas should revolve around getting your kids active and giving them something positive to get involved in. If you have several kids, you can rotate the responsibilities based on the day of the week to help change things up. For some more ideas on dinner time chores check out the suggestions at this link.
Get creative with your dishes
The ADHD mind longs for creative expression and experiencing something new. One of the big reasons kids become disruptive is that they become bored with what they are experiencing. The dinner table and what your children eat act similarly. If your children eat the same thing night after night, they will lose interest and become bored and disruptive.
To break out of a destructive cycle and help manage ADHD at dinner, try to think outside of the box with your dinner plans. You still want to try to give your kids healthy foods, but healthy doesn’t have to mean boring. Healthy foods come in all different shapes and sizes. You can even try old ideas in new more healthy ways such as making noodles out of squash for your next spaghetti meal.
Some other ideas to stay creative might include trying out some ethnic food options or creating shapes out of food objects. When it comes to food, you can find innumerable ways to break out of the mold just by looking online. With adding in new tastes and options, your kids will look forward to what dinner has to offer and might just be able to sit and enjoy the meal. For some great creative healthy dinner ideas for kids check out the suggestions found here.
Get the kids involved
Family dinner time should be about family and that should start with the meal prep. To help manage ADHD at dinner, you should consider involving your kids in some way in cooking the meal. This doesn’t have to mean that you give the whole meal over to your kids. More than likely that wouldn’t end well.
You can, however, bring them in in small ways. For instance, if you need to peel something, you can assign that task to your kids. Additionally, maybe your child is working on their reading skills. You can have them read the steps of the recipe to you as you cook. Even small things like getting things from the pantry or adding in spices will give your kids ownership in the meal.
When your child participates in the cooking, they feel more of a connection to the whole dinner process. Additionally, you help teach your child to cook by including them in the process and help to encourage creativity to explore new things.
To tackle ADHD at dinner, you need to get back to the basics and learn to have fun again. The first rule of effective ADHD management should always be that you need to have fun with your kids. Your kids feel safe and learn best when they find themselves the most engaged. No matter what you find yourself doing, if you have fun, you will be engaged.
For a great family meal, remember not to let the stress win. No matter what you do, things will never go exactly as you planned or wanted. Learn to live in the moment and go with the flow and have a little fun as you do. When you start to let the little things go and start having fun, your kids will take notice and start to relax as well.
As you prepare for dinner, think of fun ways to get the whole family involved in dinner. This could involve games as we already mentioned or asking silly questions. Think of out of the box ideas to get everyone talking and having fun.
ADHD at Dinner Out
The next place that we want to look at managing ADHD at dinner is when you eat out at a restaurant. Many times, eating out with kids can quickly head towards disruption and chaos. To avoid a fast spiral out of control, use some of the tips below to keep your kids interacting and in their seats on a night eating out.
Keep the kids engaged
When out on the town for dinner, you need to be especially cautious of any downtime or quiet lull. When eating out with kids, many things can potentially cause distractions, which can lead to issues. To help manage ADHD at dinner while eating out, try to keep the kids engaged the whole time. This means paying special attention to when you normally would just wait such as after ordering or at the end of the meal.
If the restaurant provides crayons and coloring sheets for the kids, you should use these as much as you can. Additionally, some restaurants have electronic games available at tables. These items can help keep the kids engaged and keep distraction and hyperactivity from taking over. In the absence of things provided by the restaurant, you can prepare for distractions by bringing your own game ideas such as the ones found at this link.
Watch out for the extra sugar
When managing ADHD at dinner while at a restaurant, you need to pay extra attention to what menu items your child chooses. An important part of staying on top of ADHD management involves keeping your diet in check and avoiding some of the worst foods for ADHD. Typically, meals out at restaurants have both a higher calorie count than meals at home as well as more salt and sugar content.
To help your kids both at dinner and to avoid a crash afterwards, try to stay close to similar foods you would provide at home. Anything fresh such as fresh fruit or vegetables always makes a good bet. Additionally, try to only give your children water at restaurants. You just don’t know how much sugar or additives might be included in the juices the restaurant offers. Water, on the other hand, contains no sugars and will help keep your kids calm.
Eating out at restaurant comes with many dangers towards one diet. As a parent, just be certain to plan ahead to best keep your children on a healthy plan. For more ideas on eating healthy while eating out check out the tips in this article.
Make Family Time More Fun and Less Stressful with Managing ADHD at Dinner Well
Work provides us enough stress as it is, none of us need more stress coming from family dinner time. As a parent, managing ADHD in your child can take a toll. With all the different facets of an effective comprehensive ADHD management plan, you can quickly feel burnt out and exhausted. We get it. Always being on the clock and working on improving ADHD symptoms wears you down.
To find some rest from the work, you should use the tips found here to help manage ADHD at dinner well. Soon enough after putting some of these tips into your regular routine, dinner will run without a hitch. You should enjoy the time you can spend with your family, not dread it. Use the tips and suggestions provided here as well as any others you can find online to help get the most out of your family dinner time.