What are carbohydrates for kids?

Carbohydrates are a crucial part of kids’ and teens’ daily eating.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. They’re easily digested and used. They’re also the brain’s only source of energy. Without enough carbohydrates, the brain doesn’t function properly as it isn’t receiving nourishment.

Carbohydrates also have various vitamins & minerals that are essential to the body’s functioning.

How many grams of carbs should kids and teens have a day?

model of 123 grams carbs

The brain alone needs 130 grams to function properly. Because adolescent and teens’ brains are developing and working extra hard, meeting this carb level is super important. Plus, once you start doing anything you need more carbohydrates to fuel that. And by anything, I mean even standing up!

For visual sake, the picture above- including a source of carbs at each meal- has 123 grams of carbohydrates. This would not be enough to fuel an adolescent or teen, who would require either larger servings or more variety at meals and snacks.

A healthy diet for adolescents and teens generally requires carbs to make up 45-65% of their total caloric daily intake.

For example, an adolescent eating 2000 calories in a day would need 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates per day. This would be 7 cups pasta or 20 Oreos, or 5 cups of rice (or some combination of these!).

For an adolescent eating 4000 calories per day, they would require 450 to 650 grams of carbohydrates over the course of a day.

Food that has carbs

Although carbohydrates are found in dairy, fruits, vegetables, and beans, the main source of carbs should be grain-based foods. These are the foods with the most accessible nutrients and are filling and satisfying. These are the foods that should be making up most of kids’ and teens’ diets.

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Best bread for kids

White breads are often easier for kids to eat and enjoy. And that’s okay! They’re a great source of carbohydrates. They provide energy and are fortified with the vitamins and minerals that are removed in processing. Plus, this is often the format that allows kids & teens to eat protein (for example, as a sandwich filling) that they wouldn’t eat if provided in a different type of bread.

Whole grain vs multi grain– whole grain means that all parts of the grain are used, including the fibrous outer shell and inner part rich in vitamins and fat. Multi grain, though sounding similar, is a combination of many grains and may or not be “whole”. Many breads depend on seeds or fruit to add more beyond the various grains.

Sourdough– As a fermented food, sourdough bread may be easier to digest and breaks down slower than non-fermented bread, so slowing digestion and the resulting release of sugar into the bloodstream. Sourdough has a distinctive taste and texture that adolescents may or may not enjoy.

Choosing a bread with slightly more health benefits that won’t be eaten has no benefit! So provide a bread that your adolescent eats and enjoys, and work on their exposure to other breads over time.

Breads come in so many shapes. Changing up the appearance, such as having bagels, pitas, or wraps, instead of bread, can be a way to introduce variety to your adolescent in a very approachable manner.

Fun animal shaped bread

Sweet milk Turtle Bread from Belinda Lo / The Moonblush Baker / themoonblushbaker.com / Via this post ofcute animal shaped breads 

Grains

There are so many ways to incorporate grains into your adolescent’s eating. As a dinner side dish, added into soup or stew, made into a porridge, or baked into breads, cakes, muffins, and more. Whole grains provide extra fibre than their non-whole counterparts. But that doesn’t mean you have to eat only whole grains. Carbs should be tasty, satisfying, and enjoyable to eat. Serve the food you and your family enjoy. A positive experience with eating has a huge impact on health!

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Rice– white rice is a grain! It’s tasty, provides energy, and for many people connects them to their culture. If you enjoy white rice, please serve, and eat it free of guilt or shame.

Oats– there are many styles of oats, including quick cooking, steel cut, and instant. These differ in their cooking times with small affects on their nutritional benefits. However, they all are a source of soluble fibre which helps with satiety and provides health benefits of lowering cholesterol and helping with regularity. Choose the option you like best! Instant oatmeal has the benefit of being quick to prepare with minimal mess, and when combined with protein or fat – containing foods like peanut butter, milk, or yogurt, is a satisfying and satiating carb-rich meal or snack.

Processed foods & convenience items

These are important foods to have on hand for feeding adolescents with a good relationship with all food. Firstly, because they’ll help foster independence for food preparation. Secondly, we want to avoid limiting access to desired foods, as that creates a feeling of restriction, with often ensuing problematic behaviours. Read this post on how to prevent problematic behaviours around food.

Cereal– this is a super convenient meal or snack that provides carbs and protein when eaten with milk. Sweet cereal (like my faves Reese’s Puffs, Chocolate Toast Crunch, and new discovery of Birthday Cake Pebbles), is also an effective way of eating carbs, and can definitely be a part of your adolescent’s eating plan.

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Waffles– so easy to prepare and eat, and a tasty source of carbs. Plus, because they’re stored in the freezer, you don’t have to worry about them going bad for a long time, so they can be stocked up on for continued easy access.  

Pizza– this is tasty, easy to prepare, provides carbs, protein and fat for a filling and nourishing meal or snack. And while many kids and teens prefer their pizza plain, it is a vehicle for (eventually, slowly) introducing vegetables to them. (In case you’re wondering about my toppings of choice, they’re mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and green olives!). If you’re working on increasing vegetable intake, read this post with seven ways to help your adolescent eat more vegetables. 

Cookies, candy, and sweet foods

Foods that provide minimal nutrition, like cookies, candy, ice cream etc. are an important carb category to keep stocked.

This post about creating a nourishing and satisfying snack explains why. And if you’re worried about your child or teen eating too much sugar, you should definitely read Your adolescent is not addicted to sugar: 3 steps to normalizing sweets.