Low-carb kids – how to raise children on real low-carb food


Childhood obesity is a huge problem today. Lots of parents are wondering – how do you raise kids without feeding them excessive carbs?

This is a guest post from Libby Jenkinson, a registered pharmacist, mother of 3 children, and the founder of ditchthecarbs.com, the leading low carb website in New Zealand and Australia.

Low-carb kids

We cannot overemphasize the importance of whole food nutrition in children’s health. All children will likely benefit from lowering their sugar and carbohydrate intake, especially from processed and junk foods.

We emphasize feeding Low Carb Kids tasty nutrient dense meals rather than relying on sugars, grains and high carb snacks. Low carb is all about going back to basics – meat, vegetables, low sugar fruit, seeds, nuts and healthy fats. Real food is simple food.

Many critics confuse low carb with no carb. We do not advocate a complete absence of carbs. Instead, we emphasize better carb choices rich with vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants such as vegetables, nuts, dairy, and berries.

Children need to receive all the nutrients required for their growing bodies but can easily do without the sugars and carbs of the modern diet. By removing processed junk food from their diet, children become low carb almost by default.

High carb (left) vs. low carb (right)


Reducing processed and high carb foods from children’s meals can potentially reduce their risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, tooth decay and other diseases of metabolic dysfunction. It will likely improve their overall nutrition, and possibly even their concentration, mood, and energy. Perhaps most important for their future, it may also develop their appreciation for real food over processed foods.

We should teach children the joy of cooking low carb food for exceptional nutrition and health. The food we feed our children impacts their growing bodies as well as their future health. Chronic diseases don’t happen overnight. They happen over years and decades, possibly spurred on by exposure to high sugars, high carbs, and highly processed foods.

Why lower the carbs? When children eat low carb nutritious meals they avoid the high/low blood sugar roller coaster, they avoid energy slumps and more importantly, they avoid most of the inflammatory elements of our modern diet. Many parents are unaware of how much sugar is hidden in everyday foods. 77% of processed food has added sugar. Take a look at the 2 lunchboxes and compare their carb values.

The rapidly absorbed carbs, which spike blood glucose, also crowd out nutrition. For example, the nutritious element in a chicken salad sandwich is the filling, the bread is just a bulking agent that adds very little nutrition to the meal. The hope is that by removing bread/pasta/rice from a meal, your children will fill up on fresh vegetables, good quality protein and healthy fats instead.

What about fat? – Nutritional fats are essential for hormone production, healthy brain function, tissue development, appetite control and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). Children especially need omega-3 fatty acids for healthy eye and brain development. We recommend avoiding many low fat products as they generally have added sugar to improve the flavor and texture. Instead, we suggest consuming natural fats such as olive oil, butter, coconut oil, oily fish, nuts, seeds, eggs and meat.

Fruit and vegetables? These should be the biggest source of carbs for children. They are also a valuable source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. However, fruit and vegetables should not be seen as equal. Fruit is higher in sugar, much of which is fructose. Therefore we recommend low sugar fruits such as berries and even then limit them to once or twice a day. Cut back on the higher sugar tropical fruit such as melons and pineapple and avoid dried fruit completely. And what about the “natural” fruit juices? They can contain as much sugar as some sodas. A glass of juice is equivalent to the sugar in 6 oranges. Would you ever sit down and eat 6 oranges at a time? It’s unlikely. Eating whole fruit is self-limiting due to the fibre, drinking juice is not. Many “fruit juices” are actually sugared water with fruit flavours.

Why grain free? The modern day message of healthy whole grains is more complicated than it appears. If someone chooses to eat grains, then whole grains are a much better choice than refined grains. There is little debate there. However, could eating little to no grains also be a healthy approach? There aren’t any studies we are aware of addressing this question. However, we do know that humans can easily achieve adequate nutrition with an omnivorous grain-free diet. Plus, if calories are coming from grains, what are they not coming from? Frequently it comes at the expense of vegetable or necessary fats and proteins.

And don’t worry about fiber. If your kids are eating a wide array of vegetables, they are getting al the fiber they need.

Instead, let’s crowd out the junk. Encourage your children to eat more vegetables, meat, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. Encourage and teach your children to cook. Encourage them to choose new things from the vegetable aisle. Praise them each time they try something new. Help them develop a taste for real food and enjoyment of cooking. Cook and prepare food together. Have fun.

With encouragement and guidance you too can help your children eat real food.

Top Tips

  1. One meal at a time – if you have a fussy eater, your household will not be a happy one if you go straight in and change everything overnight. Change or remove only one element at a time. Remove (or reduce) the most obvious place sugar lurks such as sweets, cakes and ice cream, then cut back on bread, pasta and other high carb foods. Be proud of any changes you make, and strive for improvement not perfection.
  2. Be organized – plan your meals and have plenty of fresh food at hand. Have some boiled eggs in the fridge, leftovers in the freezer, fresh vegetable pre cut in containers, tins of tuna in the pantry. Prepare extra vegetables each night, ready for the next day’s snacks or lunch box.
  3. Make double dinners – leftovers are king and are such an easy way to prepare for school lunches. Cooked sausages, roast meat, quiche, meatballs or eggs any way are always popular options. Fill your freezer with leftovers. Learn to love your freezer!
  4. Reduce the bread – try bread free lunches once or twice a week, increasing until you are bread free. Try thin wraps or open sandwiches to cut back for really reluctant children.
  5. Involve your children – give them a limited choice of healthy foods to choose from so they feel they have some control.
  6. Choices – allow them to leave one vegetable on their plate. This is the trick that really turned my 8 year old around. He felt he had the final control of his dinner, unbeknownst to him I give him more of everything to begin with.
  7. Plan meals – allow them go through LCHF recipe websites and cookbooks to choose meals and recipes. Let them collate their own special cookbook.
  8. Picky eaters – all children love picking at food and eating small platters. I often put out a selection of vegetables, cold meats and cheeses for their afternoon tea. Buy a lunchbox with small compartments and serve them a buffet.
  9. Healthy fats – at meal times encourage your children to eat their vegetables by putting healthy fats on the dinner table such as butter, grated/shredded cheese, salad dressings and minimally processed oils. Not only will the flavor be enhanced, it helps them absorb the fat-soluble vitamins from their meal. Pack dips, salsa and sauces to dip their vegetables in at school.
  10. Drinks – start serving water only. Stop allowing them to drink juice or soda. These can be the biggest contributor of sugar in their meal.
  11. Beware – read the labels of foods traditionally given to children such as raisins, muesli bars, fruit yoghurt and cereals. These are often the worst culprits. Find or make your own low sugar alternatives. You will know exactly what goes in them.
  12. Feed them a rainbow – a colourful meal is so more attractive packed with a variety of colour and nutrients.
  13. Stop buying kids meals – most kid’s meals are highly processed foods packed with processed seed oils, grains and carbs. Start ordering half an adult meal, or split an adult meal between siblings.
  14. Try and try again – moving children onto real food can really be a challenge. It won’t happen overnight but it will happen. Continue to introduce new foods and remove others.

Don’t be daunted at the start. You can do this. It’s getting back to basics and ditching the processed junk. Have fun preparing meals together and discovering new recipes. So many families have commented that they are cooking for the first time, learning to appreciate real food and excited at the prospect of a healthier lifestyle.

Don’t think you are depriving your child of junk food, you are teaching them how to eat healthy and remain healthy. You are feeding them the healthy fats and good sources of protein their bodies truly need.

Top real food and lunchbox ideas

  • Roll ups – use slices of cold meat, nori sheets or lettuce as a wrap and fill with cheese, salad or dips
  • Vegetables – cut in different shapes with a variety of dips
  • Low carb baking – make your old favorites but using sugar and grain free recipes
  • Nut butters
  • Smoothies – with plenty of healthy fats and flavours, it’s amazing what you can hide in a smoothie
  • Tins of tuna
  • Boiled eggs
  • Mini quiches – add their favourite vegetables and meats
  • A variety of nuts
  • Cheese sticks/cubes/slices
  • Billtong/beef jerky
  • Avocados

We are all busy parents and we do the best we can with what we have. Don’t think this is an impossible task. We are simply feeding our children real nutritious foods. Meals don’t have to be complicated, fussy or difficult, to the contrary, they are generally simple, colourful and fresh.

Action plan

  1. Stop buying sugary sweets, drinks and baked goods
  2. Start buying real unprocessed whole foods. Shop the perimeter of the supermarket for the fresh produce
  3. Avoid all trans fats and try to minimize highly processed oils
  4. Eat nutrient dense foods
  5. Increase your omega 3 from oily fish, avocado, grass fed meat and nuts
  6. Cook at home, eat together

Remember – we are LOW carb, not NO carb. The emphasis is on the real whole food approach, healthy fats, fresh vegetables and good quality proteins.

Part 2

How to help transition your children to low-carb real food

More From Libby

One month of my children’s lunch boxes

The ultimate guide to low-carb lunches

Healthy sugar-free after school snacks

30 healthy school lunch ideas


Libby Jenkinson is a registered pharmacist, mother of 3 children, and the founder of ditchthecarbs.com, the leading low carb website in New Zealand and Australia.

Libby truly feels she has helped more people regain their health in the last 2 years of ditchthecarbs.com than the last 25 years dispensing medicines. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.


Follow what’s new at DitchtheCarbs and other great low-carb blogs via our Blog news page.

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  1. Elizabeth
    I found these tips to be very useful for myself. I don't have children at home and I live alone now. Thank you for the advice and I will share this on Pinterest.
  2. Andi
    I like to make my kids the "official taste testers" of my low carb dishes. I ask them to eat it and report their findings along with a letter grade. Get's them eating things they my not think they like.
  3. Stipetic
    The lunch on the right looks very like the ones I prepare for my kids. My youngest, who has a sweet tooth, is slowly transitioning to fruits for her fix. What I've found helpful, for the young one, is to not have any candy-type products in the house. If it's there, her internal radar knows it and she'll ask for it. If she knows it's not available, there's no tantrum or hissy-fit--she'll just ask for fruit instead. And it's not a lot of fruit either.

    I've come across most of your top tips via empirical evidence, so I'll support those greatly. Thanks for the post.

  4. Carly
    I love her website, she has come up with some great dishes I plan on conceiving later in the year so these articles around kids being on LCHF are really informative.
  5. KatyBee
    My son was conceived by parents eating LCHF and I was so keen to raise him LCHF too but I have really struggled. It doesn't help that pregnancy & breastfeeding have fully addicted me to carbs & sugar again (the cravings are ridiculous) and another big factor is bevause he is a poor sleeper and so making sure he eats enough during the day became a bit of a sleep deprived obsession. This meant we came to rely on the carbs foods he would devour like pasta & rice, as he is not overly keen on meat, so only picks at it. Also my mum loves sharing her sweets with him. He also developed a real sensitivity to dairy last summer, so I find the 'high fat' element very restricted now. I have found it almost impossible to find low carb, non dairy snacks that he will eat when we are out! He'll have avocado at home, but it it not transport friendly.
    Reply: #7
  6. Jan
    This is such a good article and so lovely to see it on your site too!

    Libby has a great blog - it's a must read one for me!
    (as is Diet Doctor)

    All the best Jan

  7. BobM
    KatyBee, snacks are the hardest. One thing we've been doing is using cheese a lot. They've gotten used to cheese at every opportunity we can give it to them. Also, we've tried to get rid of pasta, and that takes a while. Our kids were used to ordering pasta if we went out to eat. It's been a challenge and has taken time, but we've gotten them to eat other things. We've even gotten our oldest (8 years old) to start ordering off the "adult" menu, as most kids' menus in the US have garbage. For rice, what I do is put a lot of butter on it. In fact, for everything, I try to get more fat into them, such as butter, cheese, mayo, etc. The fat will help slow the absorption of the carbs.

    It's a long process. We're trying to become wheat-free (I am on a low carb, high fat diet, and my wife mainly eats this way too, but the kids were not). It's difficult. The kids will complain that "breakfast is always eggs!" We've taught our daughter to make omelets, and that's helped a bit.

    But it's a long process, especially because every birthday party, every school event, and the like all have pizza, high sugar treats, or other wheat or sugar-filled products.

  8. Stipetic
    I'm in a similar situation to you BobM. My kids always wanted pasta. Pasta this, pasta that. It was driving me crazy. What we've done is the following, and it's been working better than we anticipated. In order to get them to be more consistent in eating well, we've given them a deal. If they eat what we give them during the week (that includes not trading food at school, which they used to do), we'd make Saturday a "treat day"--they get to pick what they want. Breakfast is high carb--crepes or pancakes (we use buckwheat and coconut flour). Of course, lunch is usually pasta, but we get them rice-based pasta, as we're a gluten/wheat-free home, in a mince meat sauce. And surprisingly, more times than not they request the marbled rib eye steak our butcher has, so it's a win-win for us for dinner. And they do request a sweet (a dessert), though this week it was strawberries with whipped cream. Given it's only one day, it's like a carb refill day. There are no rules when we go out though, but I noticed that when they have burgers now, they remove the top bun on their own accord and only eat the bottom bun. So, something is sticking. Both are sick less often than others at school and are perfectly slim, etc. So, it's a work in progress, but we're finding solutions through trial and error. Good luck to you.
  9. chris c
    As far as I know I was weaned onto minced up adult food. We ate a lot of meat and vegetables, often home grown, and fruit, but also bread (often home-made) and cakes and puddings, always home made. But also corn flakes and other breakfast cereal, with milk and sugar. Potato crisps (chips) and chocolate bars only for picnics, few sweets except for Christmas, and fruit juice rather than Cola.

    Nevertheless my teeth almost emerged with holes already in them, and I varied from skinny to very skinny. All my symptoms which I know now were symptoms of diabetes, and conditions common in diabetics, were blown off as psychiatric or just plain made up.

    The first time I ever gained weight was AFTER meeting a dietician. The first time anyone thought to check my postprandial blood glucose was when I was over 50. That was a revelation, it swung from over 11 to under 4 and the swings correlated closely to many of my symptoms. It also explained my crap lipids and rising blood pressure. The problem turned out to be all those hearthealthywholegrains, not just sugar, and wheat was the biggest culprit.

    I've been much healthier for the last eleven years, but too late to undo much of the damage from alternating high BG and high insulin. My heart bleeds for all those children who are going to go through what I went through and are going to be fat as well, something which was still rare when I was young, and is now commonplace.

  10. Shiro
    As a family we started eating low carb two years ago and we all eat the exact same things, this applies to our five year old son too. His pediatrician's rule involving food includes never coercing him to eat, but also not snacking if he refuses to eat at meal time, which leaves him hungry for the next meal. No child ever died from hunger when healthy food was available.
    My rule: "He must eat one bite. If after the one bite he does not want or like the food, he can be excused from the table but cannot ask for something else....no matter how hungry he is. He can have his usual glass of whole milk." We bring leftovers from dinner for lunch. There are days when he barely touches his lunch but it doesn't bother me since he always has a healthy breakfast and dinner, and he is at a heathy weight. If I notice that he does not like one particular item two to three times I try to make it less often or replace it with another low carb item.

    Teaching him how to pick healthy low carb foods over sugary foods seems to be paying off. Today at his class Easter party he went through the line and picked mostly veggies with dip, salami and cheese. He also picked a mini cupcake and a juice pack for dessert....there was no fruit, which he normally prefers. Once he finished eating he went for seconds which comprised of veggies and dip only and a cup of water. He stated, "I cannot go back to table number two because it has too many sugars!"

    We can do it, one meal at a time.

  11. bill
    Pediatrician's rule seems reasonable.
    I see no reason for your rule.
    In LCHF we eat when we are hungry
    and stop when we are full.
    Only have good food in the home and
    let him eat whenever, whatever.
    Food should not be high anxiety.
  12. Shiro
    Here is a typical dinner time conversation with my 5 year old:
    "Mommy, what's for dinner?"
    "Ribs and broccoli."
    "But I don't like ribs and broccoli."
    "You haven't tried them yet, so you don't know if you like them."
    "I don't want ribs and broccoli. Can I have something else?"
    "No sweetie. You need to have a bite of the ribs and of the broccoli. If you still do not like them you can be excused from the table, but you cannot ask for something else. You can still drink your milk."

    Most often than not he will eat all his dinner because he is not really a picky eater. Why do I insist on one bite? Because we are a multicultural household, which interprets to us fixing foods from all over the world. I have made hundreds and hundreds of different dishes. I want him to grow up with an exposure to all sorts of cuisines and not be a picky eater. Having one bite of food (and he determines how small or big it is), followed by HIM making the choice on whether to continue eating or not sounds very reasonable to me. And as I have already stated he most often discovers that he likes the food and proceeds to eat it all.

    And no, meal time is not a high anxiety time for us. Ever. And he is very much like me, if I don't like it, I will not eat it. I would rather go to bed hungry. Life is too short to be eating things I don't like!

    To each his own.

  13. Annette
    I've started low-carbing myself 9 months ago and I would like to bring up my 16 month-old son on it too, but I find it hard. Mainly because we are inundated with advice on how much they should eat when they eat high carb, but I don't have a clue what amounts (and what) he should eat on low carb.
    At the moment he has yoghurt for breakfast, one slice of bread for lunch, fruit as a snack and then veg+meat or fish for dinner. He is still breast fed at night (I recognise the post about cravings!) and has toddlermilk during the day before he has his naps(2). I want to start replacing bread for something else (except for when he is at the child minder, one step at a time) but I'm not sure what. When I give him veg, usually half of them end up on the floor and I do want him to eat, as I've got the feeling that some tantrums/teary episodes are because he is hungry. I am effectively a single mother as my partner is overseas, so cooking twice a day is not going to work. I myself usually have leftovers from the previous day.
    Any ideas?
  14. Antonio Parleone
    I just discovered this article.. It says that low carb diets feed coronary artery diseases..
    Maybe a huge huge risk factor?! And something to be noted by our dietdoc?
    I couldn't watch the reviews myself but this seems pretty obvious. Can someone add something to this ?


    Replies: #15, #16
  15. Peter Biörck Team Diet Doctor
    Hi Antonio!

    Nutritionfacts is a vegan "propaganda" site, they are rather biased.

  16. C
    Read the literature yourself. Much of it is available for free online. The literature doesn't come down strongly in either side. As another poster said that site is biased for vegan diets. However, this site is biased for low carb diets. The only things the literature universally agrees on is to eat whole food, lots of vegetables, and no trans fats. The rest of it seems to depend on the person.

    Also, you can do both, & be a low carb vegetarian. (vegan is very difficult)

  17. Coremus
    LCHF works well if you're ancestrally from the northern hemisphere but if you are ancestrally from an equatorial climate such as Indonesia then you will be genetically more inclined to eat a higher carb diet (tropical fruits) and lower fat (fish from tropical waters are lower in fat) rather than prescribing to a one size fits all diet.

    Grains are "starvation food" - only to be consumed when you've run out of everything else...

  18. Piri
    While his bereaved family said low-carb diet was not cause of death in some interviews of TV programs or SNS news, many people doubt it and still believe that low-carb diet killed him.
    Soon, a Japanese famous diet doctor/diabetic specialist determinded that he had NOT been keep "Keto" but did "Moderate" or "Liberal" low carb. (FYI: That doctor didn't reccomend "liberal" level, I think)
    The doctor, his team and people who trust and believes that low-carb is the helthy method, often describes about the importance of learn about low-carb, but there are many people who just dream "low-carb is easy and perfect" and started their own low-carb diet without correct method or enough knowledge.
    In the articles and TV programms, the reports said the people got coronary artery diseases were actually did a wrong way, that they thinks "just remove grains (such as rice, pasta and bread) is okay. I can eat anything except carb product", and, for example, a guy had only pork cutlets on his dinner every day and of course he's god sick.
    I believe if I learn from this website and other articles and understand diet, health, nutrition and so on, and know how to proceed low-carb life sucessfully, I wouldn't need to worry about low-carb any more.
  19. 1 comment removed
  20. Emily Aiken
    Regarding Action Plan #5: Are there any Omega-3s in avocados?
  21. Tristen Basinger
    While I do agree with your statement about reducing obesity in children, I think lowing carbs for children should not be the solution. Carbohydrates are a source of fuel for children especially while they are growing. You can feed your children healthy foods while incorporating carbs. By cutting carbs you could possibly be teaching your children to fear foods or associate the foods with “being bad”. Suggesting cutting out breads, pastas, rice, and some fruits is only going to create an unhealthy relationship with these foods. I think the focus should be shifted more to reducing added sugars and focusing on incorporating all foods and allowing food freedom to a certain degree for children. In addition, shopping only the perimeter of the grocery store is not good advice, the isles are filled with MANY nutritious options for children and adults.
    I admire aspects of your advice such as encouraging children to try new foods and teaching your children to cook but, not the elimination of certain food groups.
    Reply: #22
  22. Crystal Pullen Team Diet Doctor

    While I do agree with your statement about reducing obesity in children, I think lowing carbs for children should not be the solution. Carbohydrates are a source of fuel for children especially while they are growing. You can feed your children healthy foods while incorporating carbs. By cutting carbs you could possibly be teaching your children to fear foods or associate the foods with “being bad”. Suggesting cutting out breads, pastas, rice, and some fruits is only going to create an unhealthy relationship with these foods. I think the focus should be shifted more to reducing added sugars and focusing on incorporating all foods and allowing food freedom to a certain degree for children. In addition, shopping only the perimeter of the grocery store is not good advice, the isles are filled with MANY nutritious options for children and adults.
    I admire aspects of your advice such as encouraging children to try new foods and teaching your children to cook but, not the elimination of certain food groups.

    There is no suggestion made to eliminate food groups. The recommendation is to teach children to make healthy food choices which will include reducing added sugar and eating nutrient dense foods including vegetables and low sugar fruits.

  23. 1 comment removed
  24. MommaofTwoNYC
    Thank you for this article and thank you to all of those who wrote feedback on how they go about feeding their children to get away from all the processed stuff in the markets today. I'm here because I've noticed since my children started elementary alot of carbs, high processed foods have crept into our house. My children have even told me some kids bring ice cream sandwiches to lunch everyday! How in the world....
    Again, thank you to the author and to all of you out there who took the time to share.

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