Kids eat right.

Children Need Carbohydrates

Reviewed by Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, LDN
Children Need Carbohydrates

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In recent years, several diet fads have recommended the reduction, or even elimination, of carbohydrates from our every day diets. But are such "low carb" diets good for a child? While a reduction of certain types of carbohydrates , such as added sugars, may be beneficial for our children’s growing bodies, removing all carbohydrates are not. 

The preferred fuel for active brains and growing muscles, carbohydrates are a diverse nutrient group, which includes cereals and milk, rice and beans, potatoes, peas, corn, fruits and fruit juice, pasta, applesauce, sweets and soft drinks. 

Best Carbohydrate Choices

All carbohydrates provide calories; however, the best carbohydrate choices also provide vitamins, minerals and fiber. Examples of these nutrient-rich carbohydrates include whole grain bread, pasta and cereal, brown rice, potatoes, fruit, peas and beans. 

Baked goods, sugary beverages, and other sources of added sugars are better reserved for an occasional treat, since they don’t offer nutrition beyond a quick energy source. These "occasional treats" include sodas and other sweet drinks, candy, cakes and cookies. Be mindful of hidden sources of added sugars including fruit-flavored yogurts, sports drinks and energy bars — the grams of sugar can quickly add up. 

Low-fat and fat-free milk contains a naturally occurring form of carbohydrate called lactose. Chocolate and strawberry milk are a tasty treat, but contain added sugars. So, white milk and unsweetened fortified plant-based alternatives are the best choice most days. 

Check the Nutrition Facts label for the amount of added sugars per serving. 

Gluten Intolerance

Gluten-free eating is not the goal for everyone, but for kids with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, all sources of gluten must be avoided. Gluten is the protein found in certain grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, as well as oats that are not processed in a gluten-free facility. Gluten-free products are becoming common in grocery stores and restaurants, making it easier to navigate these restrictions for individuals who must comply with gluten-free eating. Remember, cookies and cakes — even gluten-free ones — are treats; they’re not healthy choices simply because they are gluten-free.

Reaching Daily Fiber Needs

White bread, pasta and white rice are another group of foods that are sources of carbohydrates. However, they are refined and low in fiber and other essential nutrients. Making half of your grains whole grains is a healthier lifestyle choice for you and your family. There are many delicious whole-grain options including crackers, bread, pasta, rice, cereals and tortillas.

Focusing on whole grains over refined, white grains, as well as whole fruits instead of juice, plus vegetables, makes children’s daily fiber goal an easy target.

  • Children 1 to 3 years: 19 grams fiber per day
  • Children 4 to 8 years: 24 grams fiber per day
  • Females 9 to 18 years: 26 grams fiber per day
  • Males 9 to 13 years: 31 grams fiber per day
  • Males 14 to 18 years: 38 grams fiber per day

Check the Nutrition Facts label for the amount of fiber per serving. A good source of fiber is at least 3 grams of fiber per serving; an excellent source of fiber is at least 5 grams per serving.