If you've been following my low-carb kids series, you'll already have learned how to plan, pack, and track low-carb lunches for kids. Now it's time to compare high carb versus low-carb lunches.
Is keto safe for children?
There is much debate over what is healthy for children to eat and what makes for a healthy children's diet. Is keto safe for children?
Many critics think we advocate no-carb, but we are low carb. This is just one of the Top 10 myths about low-carb kids.
The biggest sources of carbs for children and adults should be vegetables, nuts, dairy, and berries. These are foods that are rich in 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.
Nutrition in children (do you need carbs?)
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.
If you're new here, take advantage of how to start low-carb resources. Snag our low-carb starting cookbooks to get you pointed in the right direction.
More articles in my series: low-carb lunches
- Low-Carb Kids Page
- Low-Carb Kids 1 – tips and tricks
- Low-Carb Kids 2 – a printable guide to get your kids involved. How to plan your lunchbox each day.
- Low-Carb Kids 3 – 2 weeks of school low-carb lunches and how to plan them.
- Low-Carb Kids 4 – how to make low-carb lunches, and more low-carb lunchbox ideas
- Low-Carb Kids 5 – healthy sugar-free snacks for after school
- FREE printable PDF healthy sugar-free after-school snacks
- Low-Carb Kids 6 – an entire MONTH of low-carb lunch boxes
- Low-Carb Kids 8 - how to help your child eat real food - with an action plan
- Top 10 Myths Of Low-Carb Kids
High-Carb vs Low-Carb Lunch Box
I designed these graphics as a simple visual teaching aid.
Many are surprised to see just how much sugar and carbs are packed into a regular school lunch box.
What is a healthy halo?
noun - the perception that a particular food is good for you even when there is little or no evidence to confirm this is true. (1)
Many of these items will be labelled with 5-star ratings, wholegrain, low-fat and organic, so to give a false impression that these items are 'healthy' and are good to eat.
So, unfortunately, well-meaning parents who want to make healthy lunches, are actually inadvertently setting their children up for a sugar and carb roller coaster, with the inevitable crash that follows.
Neither of these lunch boxes is an extreme example.
I'm not suggesting the high-carb lunchbox is something you might serve to your child all at once (yet this is a standard lunch box). Many lunch boxes often contain chocolate, cake, fruit squeeze tubes, Nutella, and peanut butter/jam sandwiches.
Often in addition to the lunch box, there are birthday cakes and chocolate/candy bars brought in by a classmate's birthday to share.
The low-carb lunch box example below could have been made even lower if a child needed to have their carbs restricted further for various health concerns.
You will notice the majority of the carb in the low-carb lunch box come from dairy, berries, and vegetables.
This reaffirms low-carb kids are not no-carb, but their carbs are coming from nutrient-dense sources.
Easy healthy lunchboxes
The low-carb lunchbox is an example of what can be made quite simply for a nutritious low-carb lunch box. It doesn't have to be complicated, in fact, it's quite easy.
In the original, standard lunch box, you can see where the biggest source of carbs and sugar was coming from - the juice and the processed food.
Simply being aware of these and reading labels will set you on a path to a more nutritious lunch box, and help your child stop the sugar roller coaster.
Use slices of cold meat or lettuce instead of wraps and fill with cheese, salad, and dips. Cut vegetables into different shapes and sizes, serve with a variety of dips, have some low-carb baking at hand, fill your freezer, leftovers are KING!
What healthy lunches do I pack?
I pack super easy low-carb lunches, predominantly from leftovers.
I always think of the quality protein component first, then the vegetables, fruit, and snacks will follow.
I also like to do some low-carb baking when time permits, and have some stored in the freezer.
If I were to offer one suggestion, it would be to make chaffles.
They are an absolute lifesaver and sanity-saver in the morning rush. You can make sweet ones and savoury ones. In fact, I have a FREE cookbook with 23 different flavours.
Low-carb lunchbox (easy recipes)
Here are a few great low-carb real food lunch box fillers. It's worth saying again: leftovers are KING!
Try to make double or triple dinners and you'll be prepared for the next few days. Load up your freezer.
Cook once, serve twice (or even three times).
- Grain-free and sugar-free granola bars (can be made nut-free)
- Chaffles - 4 ways - these are an absolute lifesaver in the morning rush PLUS there is a free cookbook for you
- Pizza Waffles
- Lemon Cupcakes
- Keto Waffles
- Salmon Quiche
- Bunless Burgers
- Cream Cheese Stuffed Meatballs
- Ham & Egg Cups
- Cracker Crackling
- Lamb Kebabs
More Low-Carb Kids Recipes & Ideas ...
10 Point action plan
- Stop buying drinks - juice, smoothies, sugary soda, flavoured milk and energy drinks.
- Stop buying sugary sweets and candy. Start to slowly wean them onto fruit instead, then berries when their taste buds have adjusted.
- Stop buying baked goods such as doughnuts, cakes, and cookies. They have a highly addictive combination of high sugar AND high unhealthy fat.
- Stop buying all seed oils and trans fats.
- Start buying real unprocessed whole foods.
- Stop visiting the inner aisle of the grocery store where all the ultra-processed long-life products are.
- Shop the perimeter of the supermarket for fresh produce, fresh meat and fresh dairy.
- Crowd out the junk food with nutrient-dense food.
- Ask your children to help cook the evening meals. Teaching them how to cook is a life skill that will serve them for the rest of their life.
- 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.
Fun lunchbox ideas
Buy your children a brand new exciting and coloured lunch box.
Making healthy lunches fun is half the battle.
Initially, they will be missing the packaging with cartoon characters and highly coloured plastic, so these are some great fun ideas to get them excited.
What do you pack for low-carb lunches?
What was the biggest eye-opener when looking at these photos or reading labels?
How have you managed to help your child eat a more nutritious lunch?
Share your best tip or trick in the comment below to help others who would like to transition their child to a healthier lunch option.
I love this idea & want to implement more low carb lunch options with my 1st grader. However, at 7, she’s not going to eat 1/2 an avocado, meatball & tomato skewer, etc at the lunch table. I’ll read some more of your posts but are there some more realistic options?
Sure thing! Head over to my Low-Carb Lunchbox Hacks group where I post the lunch boxes I pack form y 3 children (and husband) every day. You can see real life examples. My kiddos are 10, 14, 16 but they actually started at 6, 10 and 12 so have been doing this for some time. Make baby changes one at a time.
I am raising a boy for the past two years, he was was being raised by a diabetic grandmother who loved to bake sweets and she died with diabetes, heart issues, and other health problems. His mother and grandfather are also diabetics. He was overweight when he came to me and slowly am helping him change his diet...we watched That Sugar Film a few weeks ago and he got a lot from it. This school year I am making his lunches and sending them with him instead of buying school lunches, which are loaded with carbs and processed foods. He has lost 15 pounds since March on a lower carb diet and learning to like healthier foods. For other parents who want to send lunches there is a new type of lunch bag that has freezable gel built in, you can pop it into the freezer overnight and put the lunch in to keep it cold assuring nothing gets warm. That was one of my concerns before when I was buying his meals at school. I bought the bag at Walmart, not sure if other stores sell them yet.
Patti this is a lovely and moving story. That Sugar Film is superb for getting the message through to children and adults alike. I am so happy he is on board and it is working for him and he is clearly seeing results. He will have a happy healthy future ahead of him. Well done to both of you 🙂 And thanks for the tips on lunch boxes.
Hello. Can you tell me how many carbs a teen should have? I have a 17 and 14 year old. Both athletic and very active but they can not seem to lose weight.
So my daughter (10 years old) is fine with a low carb lunch but my son (9 years old) is struggling with a low carb lunch being un-cool and frequently comes home with lunch completely uneaten. Does anyone have any tips?
Inuits, the people who live in the north, have diets very very low in carbs. They mostly eat fat, blubber, and protein. Carby food just doesn't exist up north naturally. They may eat some grasses and berries in the short summer, but that's it. Their kids grow up just fine. There's no grocery store to go to and buy junk. Humans do not need carbs. Even kids humans.
Indigenous diets are always healthier no matter what culture or climate, Pacific Islanders, for example were much leaner and healthier until processed imported foods became readily available and sold in local stores.
Agree with you, Libby. Giving a kid cheese, fruit, veggies, and a protein gives them all they need. NO one needs processed food which is high in sugar (and therefore carbs) to be healthy and learn. It IS sustainable people!!
BEWARE! Children's brains need carbs. Really. Carbs help brains develop and function properly. Just stick to whole grains and veggies. Keep away from white flour and excess sugar. Not all carbs are bad!
Can you give me th references to peer reviewed research that confirms this view?
Thanks for good suggestions. I originally read your article on DietDoctor.
I've been eating LCHF for over 2 years but my kids are eating only part of what I eat plus starches and sugar. We've been trying to limit the amount of sugar they eat, but it's really hard when you live with grandparents who believe that kids NEED sugar.
Wow, now that must be hard. My mother used to give my children a bag of sweets each when she saw them so I just asked her to cut back by giving a bag to share not each, that seemed to keep everyone happy and not offend her. Many still believe showing love is by giving them a sweet treat when in fact a comic, a little toy or some stickers would last longer and be a better option. You are the parent and others should be able to respect your decision of raising your children as healthy as you can, many will not see it this way and are offended when you say no to their offerings, but things are changing and I truly feel more are questioning feeding children so much sugar. Good luck, maybe you can make them go sugar free too. The sugar free gods will be smiling down on you 😉
Thanks. I asked them to limit sweets to occasionally and I explained that occasionally doesn't mean 1-2 a day but 1-2 a week. I asked them to give kids fruit instead. I think they're slowly understanding that we're serious but there is definitely still room for improvement.
You'll get there. My memory with my grandmother (she lived with us also but in her own area) was her always having a biscuit jar in her sideboard. We would visit and the jar would come out. I think now, how wonderful it would have been if there were a jar of little toys, marbles or stickers as well. How magical that would have been.
Libby, my favorite childhood memories were of spending time and not necessarily what we had to eat...can't forget sitting on a river bank fishing with my grandfather or playing a simple card game with Grandma while she quietly talked and listened to me chatter...spending time and doing things together is one of the finest ways to show love.
The diet is quite frankly ridiculous. Not sure how you're going to force that on any kid. Carbs are not the problem, it's the severe amount of added and unnecessary calories (sugar, and HFCS) in every food you feed your kids. I am not surprised that there's a childhood obesity epidemic in the US, because not a single school will feed kids with this junk in my country. Unless, of course, they want to get a riot started by their parents, you know with torches and forks and stuff.
Neither of these lunch boxes shown are extreme examples nor unusual. Eating real unprocessed food is not a diet and should not be seen as such. Yes sugar and HFCS are completely unnecessary and are affecting our children's health which is why I don't serve them and I don't buy products that contain them.
Thanks for clearing that up. I got really butthurt there, lol, sorry. 🙂
Kids in general are unlikely to do well on low carb plans. They don't produce enough ketones to cover the brain's glucose needs like adults do so the way I see it, the focus should be on removing the processed food rather than ditching the carbs. Potatoes, perhaps rice and other higher carb root vegetables are still nutritious for children.
I keep on emphasising, we are low carb not no carb. I don't discuss the ketogenic diet in any shape of form here. Absolutely children can have higher carbs from nutrient dense carbohydrates (there are better sources of nutritious carbs than potatoes or rice) if they are healthy, fit, active and in the healthy weight range. My emphasis is on eating real food and removing processed food, not a ketogenic diet at all.
Alam, where are you getting this info? That's absolutely false.
Alma is 100% correct. The brain needs glucose which it can get from healthy carbs. Just get rid of the over-processed foods with all that sugar.
Well done Libby
Keep up your excellent work
All the best Jan
My one son cannot eat "low carb"- in a nutshell doesn't metabolise fats well so he ends up actually starving. I feed him a high carb diet but with a focus on gluten free grains and higher carb fruits and veggies, like bananas, grapes, potatoes and dried fruits. So it worth noting that some people metabolically function better high carb than low carb- even though it pains me to admit as I am an avid low carb follower and I have seen how beneficial it has been to my other two children and I.
It is suspected that my son doesn't produce enough fat digesting enzymes. On a high fat low carb diet he lost weight, suffered debilitating migraines complete with vomiting and nosebleeds (daily) and had a reappearance of his night terrors (both night terrors and migraines are often triggeres by hypoglycemia). He lost 10% of his body mass in a month of low carb, even though he was getting the same amount of calories as before (I tracked that very carefully). He is now back on a high carb and high fat diet and thriving 🙂
ps my son is an anomaly, in many other ways too. He has lots of quirks and diagnoses that his therapists wonder about;)
Anon E Mouse
Have you consulted a pediatric gastroenterologist? Your child may need digestive enzymes. Celiac can go undiagnosed if the pt doesn't have "traditional" symptoms — incl. neuropsychiatric (i.e. behavior and cognitive issues).