Back To School: Best Foods For Calming Your Anxious Child


I’m not sure what your household is like this time of year, but mine invariably has been filled with one or both of my sons feeling anxious, worried, or at least a bit apprehensive about the upcoming school year, regardless of whether they were entering kindergarten or their second year of college (and anything in between).  With all the extra chaos of “at home” versus “in person” schooling of the past year and half, it’s even more likely our kids may struggle with some anxiety THIS year.

How do you nourish your anxious child to help head off the worst of those start-of-the-school-year nerves?  Here are a few foods that are proven helpful for anxiety, nervousness, and even attention challenges.

  • Foods rich in Omega 3’s – lots of seafood choices are rich in this nutrient including wild caught salmon, sardines, trout, halibut, mackerel, and herring.  Grass fed beef also contains decent levels of Omega 3s.  For vegetarian options, include items like walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, organic soy beans.
  • Quality animal protein – in additional to the options mentioned above, other good options for an anxious child include most quality protein choices.  What do I mean by “quality”?  Wild-caught fish; red meat from grass-fed beef, bison, lamb; pastured chicken, turkey, eggs.  Avoid meat from factory farms.
  • High-fiber and/or non-starchy vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, asparagus, avocados, peppers, celery, green beans, lettuce and other leafy greens, mushrooms, onions, squash.  There are many great options in this category, so I tried to list some of the most common.
  • Fresh fruits, especially high-fiber fruits – bananas, pears, apples, berries, figs, plums, mangoes, melons
  • Fermented foods – kefir, water kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt (plain), kombucha, kimchi, miso, apple cider vinegar

Another category I want to address is supplementation.  While getting nutrients from whole foods is ideal, every BODY is different and sometimes we are deficient in certain necessary vitamins and/or minerals.  Please check with your child’s doctor or nutritionist to see if your kiddo might benefit from supplementing any of the following nutrients:

  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium

And finally, you can use calming herbs and essential oils as well as some mindfulness methods to help set the mood for your youngster.

  • Diffuse some lavender in their bedroom at night
  • A cup of chamomile tea may be helpful
  • Deep breathing exercises can really be beneficial for anyone experiencing anxiety.  Try using this video with the hoberman sphere to teach your child how to breathe in and out slowly.

Worst Food for Calming Your Anxious Child

This article would not be complete if I didn’t mention what NOT to feed your anxious child.  Here are several “food” categories that should be avoided:

  • Caffeine – coffee, tea, colas, energy drinks
  • Sugar, sugary treats, simple carbs – sugar-filled breakfast cereal and bars, cookies/cakes/etc. (even homemade), honey, syrup
  • Highly processed and high carbs foods (a.k.a Junk Foods) – chips, cheese crackers, boxed mac and cheese, breakfast bars, etc.  Processed foods contain many questionable ingredients including MSG, preservatives, artificial food dyes and flavorings.  Even “healthy” options like energy bars might seem like an okay item, but may contain multiple triggers for some.
  • Gluten and grains – wheat, barley and rye all contain gluten, which can be a problem for many, but even other grains can sometimes cause anxiety problems for certain kids.
  • Dairy (for some) – Is a common food sensitivity challenge for many.  If your kiddo is extra anxious, try removing dairy for a few weeks and see if your child responds positively.

In addition to eating more from the “Best Foods” list, limiting your child’s intake of these “Worst Food” items will get your school year started off on the right foot.

If you find your child is overly anxious and you’d like a personal assessment for specific ideas for your family, please reach out and contact me at

Here’s to your health!

Jill May, CIHC

Integrative Nutrition Health Coach

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