American kids are gaining too much weight, becoming obese and are at high risk for diseases related to excess weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smart moms balance the types of nutrients kids eat throughout the day for good nutrition and weight control. Breakfast and lunch tend to favor healthy carbs, so start dinner with a "carb-free" appetizer that's satisfying and delivers the other important macronutrients, like fats and proteins, to your family.
What Does Carb-Free Mean?
Carb-free is a misleading term. According to the American Diabetes Association, most foods contain some carbohydrates. To reduce carbs in your diet select very low-carbohydrate foods like oils, butter, fish, meat and eggs. The Mayo Clinic points out that the extreme low-carb phase of The South Beach Diet also includes low-fat dairy, high-fiber vegetables, avocados, nuts and cheese.
Great Low-Carb Ingredients
Egg whites and dairy products are staples on the low-carb menu. Cheddar and cream cheese, milk and buttermilk, yogurt and goat milk all make the cut. The American Dietetic Association recommends choosing the low-fat dairy for nutrients without extra calories. Meats of all kinds are low in carbohydrates but avoid breading and rich sauces to cook meat lean. Asparagus, bamboo shoots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green beans and snap beans, cabbage, cauliflower and some leafy greens are very low-carb vegetables. Avocados, raspberries, strawberries, macadamia nuts and pecans join shrimp, crab, fish and lobster on low-carb, carb-free lists.
Be creative when choosing minimal carbohydrate ingredients for appealing appetizers. Very young children will enjoy cheese sticks or cheese cubes. Pair cheese chunks with cooked edamame beans on a toothpick or skewer for a fancy, high-protein treat. Celery "boats" spread with cream cheese -- mix in some dry salad dressing mix for a treat -- or peanut butter are tasty and crunchy, and chunks of cauliflower and spears of fresh sweet peppers are fun to dunk in light creamy salad dressing. Make tiny turkey rolls with lean sliced turkey, a slice of cheese and ranch dressing rolled up like a wrap in romaine or red leaf lettuce. A ribbon of nova lox wrapped around a cherry tomato is bright and savory. Cold boiled shrimp with a squeeze of lime will disappear fast. Cucumber and squash medallions with low-fat yogurt dip or light creamy salad dressing are a healthy start to a meal.
Carbs Count for Nutrition
Don't obsess over every last carb that sneaks into the diet because your kids need carbohydrates for slow-release energy and balanced blood sugar. The University of Colorado says complex carbohydrates are a healthy choice for vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and they take longer to digest, leaving you feeling full for a longer time. Be wary of carb-free food product labels because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't strictly regulate the way carbohydrates are described on labels. Use the same tactics for snacks and desserts that you used for the appetizers. A cup of sugar-free fruit-flavored gelatin cubes or a handful of almonds or pecans can replace high-calorie, high-carb cookies and cupcakes.
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- University of Colorado: Nutrition Breakdown
- American Diabetes Association; "Diabetes Forecast Magazine"; So, What Can I Eat?; Tracy Neithercott; April 2009
- Low-Carb: Low-Carb Recipes: Free and Easy: Low-Carb Foods List
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Tips for Parents: Ideas to Help Children Maintain a Healthy Weight
- MayoClinic.com: South Beach Diet: Phases of the South Beach Diet: Phase 1
- The American Dietetic Association; The Advantages of Healthy Snacks; October 8, 2007
- D. Anschutz/Digital Vision/Getty Images