Parents, discover everything you need to know about keto for kids. Learn how many carbs kids need and whether eating keto or low carb is healthy or not for your little ones.
PLUS 15 EASY keto recipes for low-carb kids and keto kids.
There are lots of benefits for adults on the ketogenic diet - but what about kids? If you are a parent, is it ok to feed your kids the same keto recipes? In this guide, I'll tell you everything you need to know about kids and the keto diet.
- What is the keto diet?
- Why do kids go on a keto diet?
- What do keto kids eat?
- Is the keto diet safe for kids?
- How many carbs does a kid need per day?
- What are the side effects of keto?
- How to start keto kids?
- Easy keto recipes for kids (breakfast, lunch, snacks, desserts)
- Keto kids FAQ
- Final thoughts
- Keto kids resources
Medical Disclaimer -Before embarking on any change in diet, lifestyle or activity, you may need to be under the supervision and care of your primary healthcare provider. This article should not be construed as medical advice, nor should it be substituted for medical advice from your healthcare provider. By continuing to read this article, you assume all responsibilities and risks for instituting lifestyle management.
What is the keto diet?
The keto diet restricts carbohydrates and bases meals on quality proteins, healthy fats, nuts, seeds, non-starchy vegetables, and low-sugar berries.
By restricting carbohydrates the body swaps its fuel source to burn fat, not sugar. When you burn fat, ketones are produced and this is called nutritional ketosis.
There are many types of keto diets and the ratios of fat, protein, carbs will determine whether it is used for weight loss (higher protein), blood sugar control (stricter lower carbs), or seizure management (higher fat).
Why do kids go on a keto diet?
Traditionally, the keto diet for kids can be used in various ways:
- as a healthy and nutritious weight-loss option
- to prevent and control seizures and/or reduce frequency and severity of seizures
- to achieve normal and stable blood sugars in children with type two and type one diabetes
- to aid and support behavioral issues such as ADHD
- may be used in conjunction with chemotherapy for certain types of brain cancers
- and to support numeorus other health conditions
But these days, many adults are seeing the benefits of following a keto diet based on natural whole foods rich in quality protein, healthy fats, lower processed carbs with zero junk food, so it is becoming more common that parents are opting to include their kids in this lifestyle of eating as well.
Note: Please, before you start to treat any health issues at home, talk to your child's health care provider. Only a doctor can tell you whether the ketogenic diet will be effective for your child's seizure control, health condition, or weight loss.
What do keto kids eat?
Once you cut back on refined carbohydrates, it leaves more space for nutritious foods such as vegetables, quality protein, and healthy fats.
- Sugary drinks, sports drinks, fruit juice, smoothies
- Refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice
- Sugary breakfast cereals
- Most processed snack foods
- Whole nutritious foods that are as close to nature, as nature made them
- Quality protein such as beef, chicken, fish, seafood, and pork
- Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and full fat dairy (cream, milk, yoghurt, cheese)
- Low-carb snacks such as pork rinds, salty nuts, pepperoni, eggs, cheese, non-starchy vegetables with cheese, cream cheese or avocado dips, low-suagr fruits such as berries and whipped cream
Is the keto diet safe for kids?
Most keto foods are completely safe for kids as long as you base your meals on whole food and nutrient-rich real food (not keto products).
Ironically, more nutrition deficiencies occur when following a vegetarian diet, vegan diet, or the standard American food pyramid where meals are based on processed grains, rice, and pasta.
No matter which way of eating you choose to follow, it can be well formulated or poorly formulated. A well-formulated keto diet will outperform a poorly formulated vegan diet, and the converse is also true.
For example, an intake of calcium-rich foods like full-fat dairy is important, or their bone health might suffer. Ensure your child eats enough quality protein to obtain all the essential amino acids which are the building block of muscles, bones, and hormones, along with vitamins B12, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Studies have shown that a low-carb lifestyle has been proven to be perfectly safe for children. My three kids eat this way and have done it for almost 10 years. They are growing like weeds and all achieving great academic success!
Note: It's true that ketogenic diets are typically thought of as best for adults. But, it's always best to ask questions about your child's specific health to a registered dietitian or your child's doctor if you have concerns.
How many carbs does a kid need per day?
It depends on the reason your child started the low-carb or keto diet. Weight loss? Type 1 diabetes? Epilepsy? ADHD?
There are essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, but there are no essential carbohydrates. Some children in different cultures exist happily and healthily on zero carbohydrates.
But in our modern culture, we have a food pyramid that was invented for the general population to follow.
It is suggested that active children within the normal weight range (and without any health conditions) may require more carbs than adults because their body is growing at a fast rate.
But it depends on several factors and whether your ketogenic diet team has suggested your child follows a low-carb diet, ketogenic diet, modified Atkins diet, high-fat diet, or low glycemic index treatment.
It is difficult to find an official recommended intake of carbohydrates for children, but one source recommends 130g of carbohydrates for children per day. The food pyramid recommends that the way to achieve this is to base children's meals on pasta, rice, bread, and fruit juice.
Is it dangerous to cut carbs for kids?
A real concern many parents face is that a traditional ketogenic diet might not provide enough carbs to help their bodies grow. But is this a myth? Do children really need such a large number of carbs to thrive and grow? Will the keto diet give them nutritional deficiencies?
It's best if children get their carbs from nutrient-dense foods that will support their health. In the case of keto for kids, that's whole foods like nutritious low-sugar fruit, low-starch vegetables, nuts, seeds, and full-fat dairy.
Make smarter choices with the types of carbs they eat so that they will stay full longer and their body will absorb more vitamins and nutrients which is what kids really need to be healthy.
Note: For more information about low-carb kids, check out these 10 myths about low-carb kids. Some of them might surprise you!
What are the side effects of keto?
Some children (and adults too) may experience mild flu-like symptoms when they first stop sugar and processed carbs. They may get transient (temporary) headaches, tiredness, constipation, and smelly breath.
This is called the "keto flu" and can be minimized by increasing fluids and electrolytes when you first begin. Some families like to start slowly and remove sugar and carbs each week rather than immediately swapping to the keto diet.
A child's body is growing so fast that ANY restrictive diet will need to be more closely monitored. While a child's health requirements are indeed different than an adult's, it doesn't necessarily mean they need to eat more carbs. Instead, it's important to monitor for nutritional and electrolyte deficiencies.
How to start keto kids?
Note: Please remember, these tips and instructions cannot replace individual advice and close medical supervision from a doctor. Even though the ketogenic diet has been known to positively affect blood sugar regulation, you should still ask your physician if the keto diet is safe for your child.
Make sure your kids are eating a well-balanced diet that is appropriate for your child's age. Support them so they learn healthy habits, reduce processed foods, and increase whole foods.
Start slowly - Start to cut back the highest areas of sugar and refined processed carbs first. When you remove sugar, junk food, and high-carb snacks, your children will become low-carb almost by default.
Remove and replace - When you remove sugar and junk carbs from your meals, you can replace them with nutritious meals instead. If you are raising kids on a ketogenic diet, the emphasis should be on feeding them tasty nutrient-dense meals packed with quality protein, healthy fats, and cutting back on sugars, grains, and high carb snacks.
Make their favorites, lower carb - There is no deprivation when living on a low-carb diet or keto diet. You can make delicious keto pizza, keto bread, and even keto chocolate cakes. Invest time in making keto versions of the meals they already love. It's quicker and easier than fighting a dinner-time battle every night.
Get your snacks ready - the hardest aspect can be finding healthy snacks that aren't full of sugar and refined carbs. Always have a pantry and fridge full of pork rinds, cheese slices/string/cubes/shredded/circles, berries, cream, yogurt, and make quick and easy 1-minute mug cakes.
Easy keto recipes for kids (breakfast, lunch, snacks, desserts)
All these delicious recipes are perfect for a traditional ketogenic diet, medical ketogenic diet, modified Atkins diet, or a regular low-carbohydrate diet.
Keto breakfast for kids
Want to start building healthy habits in your child? Start with the most important meal of the day...breakfast! Here are numerous options any kid (or grown-ups) will love.
Grain-free granola bars are a delicious high-fiber breakfast that kids can eat as they head out the door to school.
Keto peanut butter granola bars are no-bake breakfast treats that older kids can even make themselves. They are dairy-free too, which is fantastic for lactose-intolerant kiddos.
This chocolate peanut butter low-carb smoothie tastes like a milkshake. Even picky eaters will love this for breakfast.
Keto lunch ideas for kids
When it comes to making lunch for kids on the keto diet, the secret is to keep it simple. In fact, it's really easy to make a healthy low-carb lunch for kids in 5 steps. It doesn't have to be time-consuming.
Here are some of my favorite lunch ideas that fit on the ketogenic diet. Swap your whole grains for these new foods.
You don't have to completely give up bread on the keto diet. Make this keto coconut flour bread. It only has 1.7g net carbs in each slice.
Another popular lunch is this low-carb sloppy joes recipe. Most parents like to make it for themselves too, it is so good! If your kids need more protein foods and fat in your kid's diet this is a good choice.
Filled with lots of delicious ingredients, many children love making keto chicken salad. There are three ways to serve it and all of them fit on the keto diet. Plus, it's an excellent source of protein too.
Keto dinners for kids
If your kids love pasta, make 3-ingredient keto pasta. It is egg-free and tastes just like classic wheat pasta, minus that annoying sugar crash!
Your kids won't even be able to tell that this keto pulled pork mac and cheese is low-carb. It has my sweet keto BBQ sauce on it which has a trademark zesty flavor.
Want more dinner ideas the entire family will love? Check out this post filled with the BEST kid-friendly keto family dinners!
Easy keto taco salad is packed with protein. Many families like to eat this together, it is really tasty and made with the right foods for nutrition.
Keto snacks + desserts for kids
Here are some high-fat diet recipes that kids will enjoy as snacks and/or desserts. These are great options to replace processed foods in your home.
Do your kids like cupcakes? This keto vanilla berry mug cake only takes one minute to make and it fits on the keto diet.
For any kiddos that love chocolate, let them eat a dairy-free brownie. It is super-rich and sugar-free!
This keto blueberry cheesecake only takes one minute to make. It tastes like dessert but fits on a ketogenic diet.
Keto kids FAQ
A ketogenic diet for kids is full of foods high in fat, protein, and carbs is restricted to nutrient-dense carbs such as nuts, seeds, full-fat dairy, non-starchy vegetables, and low-sugar fruits.
If you are used to eating ready meals or eating out, then at the beginning you will notice meal prep will take longer. But the longer you live low-carb or keto the easier it becomes.
You will discover what to order when eating out, what fast food is keto-friendly, and what store-bought keto snacks you can but so you don't have to make everything from scratch.
It depends. Some children just say no to certain junk food at parties, and no one notices. Some children don't want to feel different so they take time off the keto diet for a few hours (if health conditions permit this). Whilst other children feel so incredible and finally lose weight (which in itself is isolating for many children) or are seizure-free (which also cuts off many children from participating in parties), they don't want to go back to sugar and junk food.
If your child has been prescribed a keto diet to control their seizures, then yes, they may need to weigh and calculate their food, especially at the beginning.
No, most keto kids and low-carb kids, the parents estimate their carbs, fat, and protein. And some parents (like myself) don't count carbs at all for their children but ensure they don't eat high-carb foods on a regular basis.
There is mixed information out there about artificial sweeteners and kids. I stay away from anything that might have negative side effects and instead choose natural sugar-free sweeteners like erythritol sweetener, monk fruit sweetener, or stevia.
A low glycemic index treatment for kids is not the same as a keto diet or low carb diet. The glycemic index just measures how fast carbohydrates are absorbed and how fast they raise blood suagrs. The glycemic index does not reflect the total carbohydrate load of food. Here's what you need to know about the glycemic index vs low carb.
Yes, you can share keto whole food and keto real food with your children. Lazy keto and dirty keto are not recommended for children and it does not create a healthy diet. The emphasis for keto kids shouldn't be about restricting carbs, it should be about eating the same food as you do - wholesome, nutrient-dense delicious meals.
Studies and anecdotal reports (from my children's lunchbox group) are emerging that show ketogenic diets work on decreasing brain activity and improving ADHD symptoms and excitability.
It depends. Everyone uses different ratios of protein, fat, and carbs to find a ketogenic diet that works for them.
The ketogenic diet has been used for weight loss in overweight children, seizure control, excellent blood sugar control, behavioral support, and in addition with traditional chemotherapy in certain brain cancers.
Beyond epilepsy management, the keto diet is naturally gluten-free and can help prevent a leaky gut. The high protein and high fat keep your kids feeling full longer. It can also help your child consume more nutrient-dense foods that will help them grow strong and healthy.
The ketogenic diet works for so many conditions, just by giving up certain foods such as sugar, bread, pasta, and high-carb junk food.
Note: Before you put your kids on an extremely restrictive ketogenic diet for medical reasons, please speak with a physician or ketogenic diet team to create a plan that will help your children stay healthy and on track for growing! Children with epilepsy need strict medical supervision to ensure seizure frequency reduces and medication is regularly assessed.
Keto kids resources
Low-carb kids - easy delicious keto diet recipes
Low-Carb Practitioners - for medical supervision with a ketogenic diet team, you can search the directory for many doctors who use the ketogenic diet and nutrition for weight loss, seizure control, diabetic blood sugar control, ADHD, and more.
Charlie Foundation - supports families and children with epilepsy.
TypeOneGrit - support for parents and families of those with type one diabetes using low-carb or ketogenic nutrition
Children and Low Carb Diets - Diabetes UK
Low-carb or low-fat diet? - Boston Children's Hospital