Our understanding of nutrition is constantly evolving, as the scientific and medical communities advance our knowledge of how the human body works. Our improved understanding of blood sugar, for example, has led to the development of the glycemic index and a move from starches to vegetables as a source of carbohydrates. Planning meals without starch is a new challenge to many mothers responding to rising obesity and diabetes rates among children.
Since the turn of the 21st century, low-carb diets like the Atkins Diet and Protein Power have influenced many waistline-watching Americans to reduce their consumption of starchy foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice. Meantime an increasing body of literature indicates the benefit of carbohydrate restriction for overall health. We've learned that it's perfectly possible to create tasty, balanced family meals that don't conform to the traditional format of meat, starch and two vegetables -- and, in fact, kids generally aren't aware of the format to begin with. Eating meals that derive most of their carbohydrates from fresh vegetables and legumes can have many positive effects. In general, vegetables have more nutrients per serving than grains, and the carbohydrates in most vegetables have a slower, steadier effect on blood sugar levels.
Low-Starch vs. No-Starch
Carbohydrates are one of our body's three main fuels, the others being fats and proteins. Carbohydrates themselves come in two forms, starches and sugars. Plant foods contain both types of carbohydrates, in varying levels, so attempting to eat an entirely starch-free diet is very difficult. For most diners, the simplest and most practical option is not to eliminate starches, but to create meals without a the traditional starchy component, be it rice, potatoes or noodles. Those who are limiting but not eliminating starches can choose healthy options, such as whole grains, to eat selectively as desired.
When adapting to family meals without starches, it's sometimes convenient to find substitutes kids will recognize. Pasta is the easiest of the major starches to simulate from vegetable sources. One obvious example is spaghetti squash, which makes a useful pasta substitute. Another option is using an inexpensive mandolin slicer to make long, noodle-like strips of zucchini, cucumber or other vegetables. Blanched in boiling water and then sauteed briefly, these can be used like pasta in Italian or Asian dishes, or even in soups. Sliced sheet tofu, available in some Asian markets, also makes a good noodle replacement.
One easy way to create starch-free meals, especially during the warm months, is to serve your entree over a salad with creamy dressing. This is a common practice in restaurants is and easily duplicated at home. During the summer, when local vegetables are in season, add more produce to the plate. Serve your steak or chicken on a bed of greens, with a medley of fresh new vegetables as the side dish. Puree fresh new peas or, later in the year, carrots and other root vegetables to take up the "potato spot" on your plates.
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- "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"; Harold S. McGee; 2004
- Medline Plus: Carbohydrates
- Harvard School of Public Health: Good Carbs Guide the Way
- University of Sydney: The Glycemic Index
- Fine Cooking: Spaghetti Squash
- Food and Wine; Zucchini "Noodles"; Eberhard Muller; July 1998
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images