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How Does Food Impact A Child’s Behaviour?

In recent years, researchers have come to understand the link between child behaviour and food. This has been a particular area of interest in understanding the developmental effects on children with or predisposed to conditions like ADHD or autism.   

If you’re a parent, or caregiver, asking yourself if certain foods can affect children’s behaviour, you need to know that the answer may be yes. Studies come to very similar conclusions – that there are correlations between dietary changes to health & behavioural impact in children. Certain foods can act as triggers that can alter or impact children’s health. 

So, what does food and behavior research tell us about an optimum diet for children? Our article considers the different foods to avoid for behavior problems and what to feed children to keep them healthy and functioning at their best. 

Artificial Food Dyes  

There has been a significant study done surrounding dyes that are often found in packaged foods marketed specifically for kids. While these colours may add appeal or entice curiosity, they may also contribute to negative behaviours, such as hyperactivity, according to a  2007 groundbreaking study

Dyes to avoid include:  

  • Blue 1  
  • Red 40  
  • Yellow 5  
  • Yellow 6  

The increasing awareness of the negative and potentially harmful effects of such additives on children’s health and behaviours has led some countries to ban them. In places where they have not been banned, they are often found in products like cereal and juice drinks. 


There is a growing awareness of children worldwide who may be either allergic to cow’s milk or are considered sensitive to it. Even people without a dairy allergy or intolerance can experience negative effects from consuming too much milk and cheese. This includes, but is not limited to, bloating, upset stomach, and diarrhoea, which can all contribute towards irritability. 


When considering the link between children’s diet and behaviour, it’s also important to look at gluten. While gluten-free foods were once seen as a craze or meaningless trend, gluten has now been shown to harm health when consumed in excess. In children who already display hyperactivity or aggression, gluten can trigger or aggravate these behaviours more – particularly in children sensitive to wheat products. 

Junk Food  

The unhealthy snacks kids are drawn to are often loaded with sugar, corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners. These inexpensive but nutrition-lacking foods are also commonly full of fat, sugar or salt.   

While it’s largely been debunked that sugar can cause hyperactivity, research suggests it may add to behavioural changes. The connection between junk food and children’s health — especially long-term physical health — is well established.  


Coffees and teas aren’t the only drinks with caffeine. Soft drinks also contain caffeine, which can disrupt sleep patterns and cause long-term health problems. The Sleep Foundation states that children with poor sleep often experience difficulty in school.  


According to one influential study, certain preservatives, commonly found in processed foods, may cause problematic behaviour such as hyperactivity in children. Among these are:  

  • Nitrites and nitrates  
  • Sodium benzoate  
  • Monosodium glutamate (also used as a flavour enhancer)  

While preservative-free foods may have a shorter shelf life, for some people, it is generally worth the trade-off to avoid these ingredients.  

What To Feed Kids Instead  

To help your child’s brain function at its very best, choose nutritious foods such as fruits and vegetables and lean meats. The Australian Dietary Guidelines also recommend legumes, cereals (whole grain), and fish for their neural development, as well as drinking water as the first alternative to any sugary juice drinks or caffeine-laden soft drinks.  

When buying pre-made foods, check the label to avoid too much fat, sugar, or salt. It’s best to buy whole foods as much as possible. To boost school performance, give your child a healthy breakfast each morning with complex carbohydrates as well as protein.   

Lastly, check with your school or daycare provider about what types of snacks or lunches your child receives during the day.  

Contact Kids Club To Enrol Your Child Today  

Kids Club Early Childhood Learning Centres focus on healthy foods as a way to nurture the whole child and set children up for success.   

If you’re looking for childcare that values children’s nutrition in addition to quality learning and stimulated play, look no further. With locations in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Tasmania there’s sure to be one near you. 


Bateman B, et al. (2004). The effects of a double blind, placebo controlled, artificial food colourings and benzoate preservative challenge on hyperactivity in a general population sample of preschool children. https://adc.bmj.com/content/89/6/506.short 

Del-Ponte B, et al. (2019). Dietary patterns and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A systematic review and meta-analysis. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032718329720 

McCann D, et al. (2007). Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(07)61306-3/fulltext 

Nigg JT, et al. (2012). Meta-analysis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms, restriction diet, and synthetic food color additives. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22176942/ 

Smith LB, et al. (2017). Psychological Manifestations of Celiac Disease Autoimmunity in Young Children. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/139/3/e20162848/53727/Psychological-Manifestations-of-Celiac-Disease 

Stevens LJ, et al. (2013). Mechanisms of behavioral, atopic, and other reactions to artificial food colors in children. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23590704/ 

Suni E. (2021). Improve Your Child’s School Performance With a Good Night’s Sleep. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/children-and-sleep/sleep-and-school-performance 

If you want to learn more, call Kids Club Early Childhood Learning Centres or book a tour now of your closest Kids Club Early Learning Centre, click here to view your closest Centre.

As the leading provider of early childhood care in Australia we always put your child first. We are committed to 7 National Quality Standards. 

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Chef Gina

Chef @ Elizabeth St