Carbohydrate Intake for Children

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You know your child needs a healthy balance of foods, but wading through all of the nutrition information can be time-consuming and confusing. Carbohydrates fuel up your child's energy levels to keep her going from school to dance class to home for her chores and homework. Including carbohydrates in your child's diet through snacks and meals keeps her going strong all day.


The two types of carbohydrates are simple and complex. Simple carbs come in the form of sugar, both naturally occurring, such as in fruits and milk, and added sugars, such as in candy and soda. Foods with natural sugars are the healthiest forms of simple carbs. Complex carbohydrates contain starch and come from whole grains and high-starch vegetables.

Recommended Amounts

Low-carb fad diets limit the amount of carbs eaten. This type of diet is not healthy for a child, who needs the energy from carbohydrates. Starting at age 2, the recommended carbohydrate amount ranges from 45 to 65 percent of the total calories for the day, according to the Mayo Clinic. For a 1,200 calorie diet, that translates to about 135 to 195 grams of carbohydrates. Too many carbs means your child may not get enough protein and fat in the diet.

Snack Ideas

A plate of finger foods is an appealing snack option for kids. You should incorporate foods on the plate that include carbohydrates, such as fruit chunks, whole-grain crackers, toast strips and vegetables cut into strips or chunks. Flavor the toast with a seasoning mix, or add a cup of dipping sauce such as hummus, yogurt, nut butter or light salad dressing to encourage your child to eat more. A cup of low-sugar yogurt or a glass of milk adds carbohydrates to the snack. For a healthy yogurt option, start with plain yogurt and add lots of fresh fruit for flavor.

Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast carbohydrates get your child's day started with the energy-providing nutrient. Try oatmeal or grits with your child for complex carbohydrates in the morning. Mix in fresh fruit, nuts, coconut or similar toppings that your child likes. Get him involved by letting him add the toppings himself. Cold cereal made with whole grains is an alternative if your child won't eat hot cereal. Toasted whole-grain bread products also fit in well at breakfast. Options include bagels, English muffins and bread. Keep the toppings healthy with low-sugar jelly or peanut butter. A side of his favorite fruit adds simple carbohydrates to the morning meal.

Lunch and Dinner Ideas

Include whole grains in your child's lunch or dinner to increase his carbohydrate intake for the day. Rice, quinoa, barley or millet are examples of whole grains you can integrate into lunch or dinner. Combine these grains with meat and vegetables to fill out your child's nutritional needs. Add a spark to these dishes by flavoring the meats and vegetables with seasoning mix or creamy dressing. Specific vegetables containing carbohydrates that work well with grains include carrots, corn and potatoes. A side of dairy products, such as yogurt or cheese, and a glass of milk to wash down the meal offers another carbohydrate source.