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Those back-to-school ads have already begun, with school looming as close as three weeks from now for many kids, including mine. It’s also the time of year that I get frantic phone calls, like these:

“My son is losing weight each week, is very picky, has Asperger’s syndrome, and the doctor says he’ll need a stomach tube if this doesn’t turn around. We need to do something before school starts!” So, the doctor had no particular plan other than to let this child go completely off the rails, and into the GI surgical suite on the first day of school?

“I need testing, we think my son has food sensitivities. No appointment, just a test. I want to bring the results to his first IEP meeting.” That’s another blog: Why this may not work very well, and what to do instead.

“If we start now, will a special diet mean she doesn’t need an IEP?” Hmmm.

“They said psych meds for school. But we want to try nutrition first. It has to work before school starts.” Another hmmm.

Nutrition is a process, not a pill; it takes weeks or months to repair the nutrition possibilities that land kids in the realm of psychiatric medications, IEPs, or stomach tubes. So the last moments of summer are not the best time to pitch desperate, incomplete, ill-fated measures at a child who faces a big transition just around the corner. But, if you want to try one or two simple measures to settle your student for the changes ahead, these tricks below usually show a benefit within three to four weeks. Don’t expect planets to move: You may see just a glimmer or partial shift in the right direction. But pick one you can consistently stick with from now until the end of summer, and see what happens.

1 – Pump up micronutrients – that is, vitamins and minerals. These have multiple roles in nerve processing and the chemistry of mood, focus, and attention. Most store bought multivitamins for children are just that – vitamins with few minerals, or only some minerals at doses too low to make up for poor eating patterns. If your child is a picky eater who prefers processed snacks and has a limited intake of fruits, vegetables, whole foods, or good proteins like organic eggs, beans, grass-feed meats, or chicken, switch to a high quality, high potency multivitamin and mineral supplement daily. Look for full potency or even higher for all B group vitamins and zinc; 5-10mg iron per dose; and selenium, chromium, molybedenum, iodine and magnesium to at least a third to one half the daily value. Try VitaTab Chewables from Klaire Labs, or Kirkman Labs Chewable Multi-Vitamin-Mineral wafers. Both are available on line. By contrast, Nordic Berries multivitamin is widely available and popular, but has a mineral content that most likely won’t meet the nutrient needs of a long-time picky eater.

2 – Get the right fish oil at the right dose, and use it daily. Many parents try fish oils, but don’t realize that they are using a dose too low to trigger a benefit for dyslexia, attention, focus, or mood. Clinically relevant doses for young children begin at 400 mg daily for DHA, and 800-1000mg daily for EPA. I frequently use more in my practice, preferring a 2 gram (2000 mg) dose daily, with mixed omega 3 fatty acids made up of EPA and DHA. Read the label carefully on your fish oil product to see what you are really giving your child. Does it measure up? Buy a brand screened for mercury and other toxins, and with a potency guarantee, such as Nordic Naturals or Pharmax. Don’t buy large gel caps for children – too hard to swallow, and messy to pierce. Liquid fish oils like Pharmax Finest Pure Fish Oil are easy to give, taste fine if they are refrigerated, and can be taken off the spoon or blended into tart drinks like lemonade or even sorbet-based smoothies with orange juice added. Another option: Gels or pudding-like products like Barlean’s Omega Swirl or Coromega are tasty and easy to use – just get up to the right dose daily. Don’t use cod liver oil at doses over 2 teaspoons, since this can give a child too much vitamin A.

3 – Go for it: No added sugars. Summer may be a hard time to do it, with ice cream, cook-outs, popsicles and more, but if you really want to get serious, you will probably be surprised by what a different child you have on the first day of school, after four weeks of seeing no added sugar. This means not eating foods that have sugar added to them, including soda, fruit juice blends (some are pure juice, many are not), ice cream, frozen treats, baked goods, breakfast cereals, candy, chocolate, granola bars, “energy” bars, muffins, pancakes, waffles, ketchup, chocolate milk, vanilla milk, strawberry milk, purple yogurt – anything that has sugar as an ingredient. And, to make this even harder for you, sugar comes in many forms: corn syrup, maple syrup, maltose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, cane sugar…

Can you do it? At the very least, you will be amazed to see how much refined sugar your child actually eats, once you start looking for it. Most processed foods have added sugars in some form or another, and most kids I meet tote processed snack foods around a lot, for lunches, camps, beach picnics and so on. Replace these with watermelon chunks, blueberries, oranges, clementines, fruit salads with coconut, juices without added sugars, nuts, raisins, or dried pineapple or mango; try avocado chunks with lime or lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic; pita breads with hummus; or naturally sweet drinks like carrot juice or “naked” brand unsweetened smoothies.

Pick one of these to suit your family’s plans for the final weeks of summer, and see what happens by that first day of school. Whatever you pick, commit to it and do it consistently for a solid three weeks, four if you can. Good luck!

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