While most of us now know that eating large amounts of refined carbs (white bread and pasta) isn't the healthiest diet in the world, Gwyneth Paltrow – whose new cookery book It's All Good was published last month – has revealed that she avoids feeding her children pasta, bread or rice altogether.
Gwyneth dismisses as "unhealthy" most foods that are considered staple children's meals in most Irish households. Her decision to ditch carbs is related to her husband Chris Martin's gluten intolerance.
She writes: "Sometimes when my family is not eating pasta, bread or processed grains like white rice, we're left with that specific hunger that comes with avoiding carbs."
Known for living on a macrobiotic diet for most of her twenties and exercising for several hours a day, Gwyneth's lean approach to what she puts on her children's plates has been met with scepticism by some experts.
UK nutritionist Yvonne Wake said that not feeding carbohydrates to children was 'foolish' and that the actress could be doing her children harm.
She said: "I think it's not a good idea, especially because her children are thin – I've seen pictures of them. Kids need carbohydrates because they give them glycogen which keeps your brain going."
However, food writer Joanna Blythman praised Gwyneth's approach, writing "Gwyneth has a point: no one, not even a child, actually 'needs' to eat carbs".
Whichever side of the argument is correct, it's evident that many children's meals are far too reliant on refined carbohydrates. As a mother, even if your child picks out lettuce from their egg sandwich, you feel "well, at least they've eaten a sandwich".
We see carbs as reasonably healthy – something that keeps children going and far better than unhealthy stop-gaps such as crisps, chocolate or biscuits. But are we kidding ourselves?
UK paediatric nutritionists Foodtalk say carbs are one of five foods to cut down on in your children's diet:
They point out that a big bowl of pasta with a bit of butter and cheese served to a child is little more than a bowl of fresh air. Pasta is a refined carbohydrate – like its very close neighbour sugar. It's estimated that one slice of white bread has the same effect on your system as downing four small sachets of sugar.
Refined carbs send insulin levels sky-high, only to have them crashing down about an hour later. So, think of the large bowl of pasta as having a related affect to feeding children chocolate. You get the immediate high but an hour later, hey presto! – children are hungry again.
It's easy to forget that the amount of carbs – whether pasta, white rice or bread served in a single meal – should fit inside your hand. If you apply this to children, that's a pretty small amount. The two other elements on their plate need to be vegetable and protein-based: broccoli and tuna, or beans, potato, eggs or chicken.
Reduce portion size or switch to wholewheat pasta or rice. The fibre will reduce the initial "high" and children will feel full for longer.
Check the label of the brown bread you put in your trolley. Some are made with white flour coloured brown with a few seeds thrown on the top. Look for "wholegrain" on the label not just "wholemeal" or "brown" bread.
Watch out for hidden salt in many of your children's favourite sauces and spreads such as ketchup, soy sauce and bolognese. Children between one and three should have no more than 2g of salt a day, four to six-year-olds need only 3g, rising to 5g for seven to 10 year olds and 6g for anyone over 11. Many breakfast cereals also contain salt – some as much as a bag of crisps.
Children love ham, salami, bacon and sausages but recent research says these foods should really be limited. Nitrite – a salt used in rashers – has been linked to bowel cancer, so save the BLTs for occasional treats.
Instead, use tuna, eggs, hummus or chicken. If you must use processed pork, go for ham off the bone (sliced ham with a clear muscle grain) rather then billy roll or watery processed ham.
Many children take in hundreds of "empty calories" in sugary drinks. You may think apple and orange juice are healthy choices, but some contain as much sugar as drinks like Coca Cola, so always dilute with water. It will also save on dentist bills later on.
Avoid cereals marketed at children – Frosties and Coco Pops, contain 34pc sugar – more than a slice of cake. These foods should be on the confectionery aisle. Porridge is a great start to the day or, failing that, Weetabix. Many mueslis have added sugar so check the label.
Fats are necessary in a child's diet; a six-year-old girl needs about 60g a day and a teenage boy up to 100g. But pastries, biscuits, crisps and processed foods contain saturated fat that should be avoided.
Think about feeding more nuts, fruit like avocado and oily fish like tuna and salmon.
The ideal meal . . .
For a five-year-old
Minestrone soup – carrots, celery, tomatoes and stock with pasta shells.
Add meatballs for a more substantial meal the next day.
Crumbled fillet of roast chicken from a whole roasted bird. carrots, red beetroot and potatoes cooked in a roasting tray at the same time. Convenient and nutrient rich for entire family.
For a 15-year-old
Roasted aubergines, courgettes with tinned tomatoes in a ratatouille.
Serve with some smoked mackerel and melted mozzarella on top with cous cous.