Can a child be a low carb vegetarian or vegan?

Can I be a low carb vegan?  Short answer:  No.

How about a low carb lacto-ovo vegetarian?  Possibly, but really difficult.

Most of the low carb eating plans I’ve seen suggest that you can be a vegetarian or even a vegan.  I frankly don’t think this is really realistic even for an adult.  But for a child, a low carb vegetarian eating plan may be setting them up for failure.

There is a dizzying array of high carb food available–most of the food in the supermarket is high carb.  The cereal aisle.  The pasta and rice aisle.  The baking aisle.  The chips and crackers aisle.  The cookie aisle.  The bakery department.  The juice and soda aisle.  When you switch to low carb, your universe of acceptable food shrinks.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that many of the choices are foods you might have wanted to eat but usually didn’t:  pork bacon, steak, cheeseburgers.  At first, the new eating plan is great.  Bacon, again?  Why Not?  After a while, though, you have to get creative with your meal planning.  No one wants to eat cheeseburgers three meals a day.

Now imagine the only protein and fat sources available to you are eggs, cheese and cream, and some tree nuts.   (In my opinion, substituting highly processed soy products, like tofu and tempeh, for animal-based protein is not a good idea).  Try to come up with 3 meals a day where most of your calories come from those fat and protein sources.  You can eat nut butter, but remember you can’t spread it on bread.  Yes, there are a lot of ways to prepare eggs, but probably not enough to keep your child on the eating plan.

My coach at my gym put it well while giving a nutrition talk.  She said she likes animals, and she doesn’t really want to eat animals, but she needs protein and fat, so she does.

Eating Out

How do you eat low carb while you are traveling or eating out? A lot more easily than you eat low calorie.

It’s an ordeal to order a low-calorie meal from a commercial kitchen. I spent years trying to order plain, steamed broccoli (which was never on the menu) for my kids in restaurants so they could fill up on something besides chicken fingers. Until I learned to emphasize “plain, no butter, no oil” it would come to the table coated in fat. The only place I can think of that is familiar with providing low fat, low calorie meals is at a residential weight loss clinic. Any other commercial kitchen and you are fighting against the tide.

On a low carb plan, on the other hand, eating out is pretty easy. Order a protein (meat, fish or eggs), veggies if they have them (sure, the butter or oil is fine!), or a salad with full fat (no sugar, hopefully) dressing if you like that, or else plain. Skip the low calorie dressings that are high carb. No vegetables or salad? No problem. Try again at your next meal. Meanwhile you’ll be full and satisfied from your hunk of protein, which will naturally also contain a good amount of fat, not hungry two hours later from the potatoes you ate.

If your children are older and able to travel independently, the low carb eating plan is easier for them to manage than a low fat, high carb plan. Juliana took a ski trip with her school while on the standard American “healthy” diet followed by the Packard program and had no choice but to eat a lot of “red” foods. Then she took a teen service trip to Costa Rica on the low carb plan. It took some planning and reminding–I wrote her eating plan on her medical form and had to nudge her to talk to the trip leader when I discovered she had eaten low carb bars she brought along for snacks as meals when there wasn’t something else she could eat. Then she found a kosher counselor who also had to eat different food sometimes–neither of them could eat the meat/cheese lasagne they had for dinner one night–and from there on out it went smoothly.

Low carb is easy to explain: green vegetables, salad, meat, chicken, eggs. Butter and oil ok. The eating plan includes ingredients that any commercial kitchen will have on hand, and their usual methods of preparation are fine. They don’t have to try to cook without oil, for instance. They just have to serve the carbs separately from the rest of the food so your child can avoid them.

Cooking is easy

Cooking low carb food is beyond easy.  Take it from me–a 20 year vegetarian.  All that chopping–fuhgeddaboudit.  Most meals consist of a protein and a vegetable.

For example, an egg quiche made of sausage, eggs, and broccoli.  Active preparation time:  7 minutes.

Skirt steak on the grill with roasted cauliflower.  Active preparation time:  4 minutes.

Pork chops on the grill with mashed cauliflower.  Active preparation time:  10 minutes.

Meatloaf with salad.  Active preparation time:  14 minutes.  Less, if you use a bottled salad dressing (but check for carb content).

Bacon and herbed eggs.  Active preparation time:  8 minutes.

You get the idea.  Food preparation is so simple, that Juliana, at age 13.5, can handle most of it herself.  Even my 10 year old can scramble eggs and fry sausage.  (We have an electric stove, so I don’t have to worry about them starting a fire with a gas stove).