Healthy Diets for Kids with Special Needs

Karen Frazier
Fruits and veggies

There are many healthy diets for kids with special needs. Recent research suggests many special needs children can benefit from specific diets that minimize certain food additives and remove foods that cause sensitivities. Can diet help your special needs child?

Healthy Diets for Kids with Special Needs

There are a variety of reasons special needs kids might benefit from a special diet. From kids with health disorders like epilepsy to kids who have ADHD or fall on the autism spectrum, there is a growing body of evidence that dietary management may just help in managing childhood disorders.

Gluten-Free/Casein-Free Diet (GFCF Diet)

The gluten-free/casein-free diet is also known as the GFCF diet. Many parents with children on the autism spectrum are turning to the GFCF diet, and it is actually recommended by the Autism Research Institute. Gluten is the sticky grain protein found in wheat, spelt, barley, rye and contaminated oats, as well as in products made from these ingredients. Casein is a milk protein found in milk products, margarine and many other products.

A GFCF diet calls for elimination of all foods and products that contain these two ingredients. You can find more information about products that contain these ingredients and how to eliminate them at the GFCF diet website. Children with celiac disease, as well as with gluten and dairy allergies may also benefit from the GFCF diet.

Ketogenic Diets

Kids with seizure disorders such as epilepsy may benefit from eating a ketogenic diet. Ketogenic diets are high in fat and protein, and low in carbohydrates and sugar. Ketogenic diets should be used only under careful physician supervision; however, when appropriately applied, they may reduce the rate of seizures in children with seizure disorders. Check with your doctor to see if a ketogenic diet may help your child.

Feingold Diet

The Feingold diet was developed in the 1970s by Dr. Benjamin Feingold. Dr. Feingold theorized children with ADD may be reacting to chemicals and additives in foods, as well as to sugars in the diet. The Feingold diet recommends elimination of sugar, starch, dyes, preservatives, artificial flavors and salicylate - which is found in aspirin and aspirin-related products. The program also recommends eliminating products in the child's environment that contain these ingredients, like fragrances and colored toothpaste. Some physicians and parents recommend the Feingold diet for children with ADHD and ADD. Talk with your doctor about the Feingold diet.

Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD)

The SCD was developed based on the philosophy that intestinal microbial imbalances may cause many chronic conditions like ADHD, Crohn's disease, food allergies and autism spectrum disorders. The diet is designed to restore microbe/yeast balance in the intestines. It only allows certain carbohydrates like beans, fruits, vegetables and honey. The remainder of the diet is made up of protein foods like eggs, chicken and other animal proteins. Sugar, starch and other food additives are not allowed on the diet.

Weight Management

Childhood obesity is a growing problem, and more children than ever are being placed on diets for weight management. Childhood obesity can lead to problems such as high-blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Weight management diets for children with weight problems involve increasing intake of healthy, whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbohydrates while decreasing intake of sugar, soft drinks, fast foods and snack foods. Weight management programs for kids usually also involve increased activity in order to support weight loss. If your children are overweight, talk with your doctor about a weight loss diet for kids.

Special Needs Diets in Schools

If your child requires healthy diets for kids with special needs, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 assures that children with special needs have access to school meal programs. In order to gain access, your child will need physician certification that verifies a special diet is needed due to a mental or physical impairment. The certification also must prescribe the type of diet your child requires. If you don't have or are unable to obtain certification from a medical doctor, then you will need to supply your child with lunches that meet their special dietary needs.


There are a variety of diets believed to help kids with special needs. For more information, talk with your child's health care provider.

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Healthy Diets for Kids with Special Needs