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.
The importance of whole food nutrition in children’s health and development cannot be stressed enough. All children will benefit from lowering their sugar and carbohydrate intake, especially from processed and junk foods.
For Low Carb Kids the emphasis should be on feeding them tasty nutrient dense meals. Children shouldn’t be 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 think we advocate no carb, but we are low carb. The biggest sources of carbs should be vegetables, nuts, dairy and berries, rich with vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.
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)
By reducing processed food and high carb foods from children’s meals you reduce their risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, tooth decay and other diseases of metabolic dysfunction. You improve their nutrition, concentration, mood, immunity, energy, and develop their appreciation for real food over processed foods.
One of the most valuable lessons we can teach children is the importance of real food, cooking, nutrition and health. What we feed our children will have an impact on their growing bodies now and will have an impact on their health in the future. Chronic diseases don’t happen overnight, but over a period of time with extended periods of exposure to high sugars, high carbs, unhealthy oils and inflammatory 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 all the inflammatory elements of our modern diet. Children do not need the volume of carbs they consume. 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 almost nothing nutritionally to the meal. In fact any vitamins the packaging may claim have probably added during the manufacturing process. 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? – Healthy 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. Avoid the low fat products as they generally have added sugar to improve the flavour and texture. Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, butter, coconut oil, oily fish, nuts, seeds, eggs and meat. Stop using seed oils which are inflammatory and incredibly processed.
Fruit and vegetables? These should be the biggest source of carbs for children. They are also a valuable source of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Fruit and vegetables should not be seen as equal. Fruit is incredibly high in fructose so choose low sugar fruits such as berries and limit them to once or twice a day. Cut back on tropical fruit such as melons and pineapple and avoid dried fruit completely. Fruit juice can contain as much sugar as some sodas. A glass of juice is not the equivalent of eating 6 oranges, it is equivalent to the sugar in 6 oranges. 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? Don’t be fooled by the healthy wholegrain message. Modern wheat is not the same as what our ancestors ate. Wheat and grains are now found in almost all processed foods and so many people are now consuming grains at every meal and every snack, crowding out nutrition and increasing inflammation with high blood sugars. Grains are used to fatten animals before slaughter and force-fed to geese to produce fatty livers (foie gras). Eating more vegetables by far compensates for any loss of fibre and vitamins from a wholegrain roll. Grains are high carb and rapidly absorbed, leading to sugar and insulin spike.
So 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- Involve your children – give them a limited choice of healthy foods to choose from so they feel they have some control.
- 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.
- Plan meals – allow them go through LCHF recipe websites and cookbooks to choose meals and recipes. Let them collate their own special cookbook.
- 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.
- 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 healthy oils. Not only will the flavour 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.
- Drinks – start serving water only. Stop allowing them to drink juice or soda. These can be the biggest contributor of sugar in their meal.
- 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.
- Feed them a rainbow – a colourful meal is so more attractive packed with a variety of colour and nutrients.
- Stop buying kids meals – most kid’s meals are highly processed junk food packed with inflammatory seed oils, grains and carbs. Pizza, nuggets, pasta, toast and spaghetti with sauce. Start ordering half an adult meal, or split and adult meal between siblings.
- 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. Here is a month of my children’s school lunches for inspiration (insert link). 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
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.
- Stop buying sugary sweets, drinks and baked goods
- Start buying real unprocessed whole foods. Shop the perimeter of the supermarket for the fresh produce
- Avoid all seed oils and trans fats
- Eat nutrient dense foods
- Increase your omega 3 from oily fish, avocado, grass fed meat and nuts
- 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.
More From Libby
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.
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