Eating well


Keep those good carbs coming for kids :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Bev Bennett

It's hard to escape the low-carbohydrate diet hype. Conversations start with a list of foods you're no longer eating, restaurant menus promise carb-free dining and your favorite foods are being reformulated.

If you're avoiding carbohydrates in an attempt to lose weight, you're not alone. Close to 20 percent of U.S. households include someone on a low-carbohydrate diet, according to recent figures from ACNielsen.

But children should not be among those statistics, even if they need to lose weight, say health experts. When you reduce the amount of carbohydrate-rich foods you serve, you're depriving your child of wholesome foods and essential nutrients.

Children need carbohydrates and carbohydrate-rich foods to thrive, says Katherine Chauncey, associate professor in the department of Family and Community Medicine at the Texas Tech School of Medicine in Lubbock.

Children need a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates a day to supply glucose to support growth and body functioning. Some popular low-carbohydrate diets advocate eating only a third that amount.

"A rule with children who are still growing and developing their organs is to never make a diet so restrictive that you limit the nutrients children need for proper growth," says Chauncey, author of Low-Carb Dieting for Dummies, a book that advocates eating healthy and unprocessed food.

According to Chauncey many of the foods vital for a child's development are high in carbohydrates.

For example, a cup of low-fat milk, an excellent source of calcium, has almost 12 grams of carbohydrates. Or carrots. This sweet and delicious vegetable is probably one you can get your child to eat willingly. It's also a great source of vitamin A. But it's banished from some low-carbohydrate regimens because of those natural sugars.

Breads and grain products are enriched with folate, a vitamin that promotes your child's heart health. Without breads and grains children may have a harder time getting folate.

Although you shouldn't subject children to low-carbohydrate diets, you should watch the source of those carbohydrates, say Chauncey and other health experts.

"There are a lot of carbohydrates we don't need in our diets and could stand to get rid of," says Cathy Fitzgerald, a registered dietitian with the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

"Eliminate carbohydrates that are high in sugar, such as carbonated beverages. Soda is empty calories kids don't need. Likewise, snack foods such as chips, cookies and cakes are fine in little bits, but not as the mainstay of snack time," says Fitzgerald.

Instead she suggests choosing fiber-rich carbohydrate foods such as whole-grain bread or beans. The high fiber makes children feel full so they're less likely to crave sugary snacks.

Fitzgerald suggests using whole-grain bread for sandwiches, whole-grain cereal (look for the words wheat flakes or oat flakes high in the ingredient list) and whole-grain toast. Plus, make sure to have more fruit on hand for snacking.

Her idea of a healthy carbohydrate school lunch includes whole-grain bread or a wrap with a peanut butter and jelly filling; baby carrots with low-fat ranch dip; a box of raisins and fat-free milk. After school, put out whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese for a snack.

And if you want your child to make healthier, low-calorie food choices, set an example.

"You can't say one thing to a child and do something else. It's too easy to succumb to soda, chips and candy. [As a parent] You need to take control of your life and teach your children to do the same so they can be healthy throughout their lifetimes," says Fitzgerald.

Here is a recipe from Chauncey's book. The dish is great as a quick lunch or snack for older children. Tasty Chicken Roll-ups 1/4 cup light cream cheese, softened 3 tablespoons canned chopped green chiles 2 teaspoons tomato sauce 1/2 teaspoon chili powder 5 (7-inch) flour tortillas (see note) 2 ( 2 1/2-ounce) packages very thinly sliced chicken deli meat 2 tablespoons chopped ripe olives Beat cream cheese in a bowl at medium speed of electric mixer until smooth. Add chiles, tomato sauce and chili powder. Stir well. Spread over tortillas. Top with chicken and olives. Roll up tortillas jellyroll fashion. Cover with plastic wrap. Chill 2 hours. Slice into 1-inch thick slices. Makes 35 roll-ups; 5 servings. Note: If you substitute whole-wheat for regular tortillas your child gets the added benefits of dietary fiber and satiety.



Bev Bennett is the mother of two and the author of 30 Minute Meals for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2003)


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