Ah sugar. So sweet and so sneaky at the same time.
As much as we love it, sugar can be addictive and dangerous, particularly for kids. Sugar is added to many processed foods, and children are increasingly becoming addicted to the sweet stuff.
We would all love for our kids to stay away from sugary treats as much as possible and veg out of carrot sticks all day, but that is not reality. It is important for kids to learn how to balance all the available choices, good and bad, so they can make healthy food decisions for themselves in the future.
We’ve put together a few tips to help you navigate through the sweet stuff:
Learn how to spot sneaky sugars
In order to know how much sugar is added into your food, it is crucial that you read food labels! More importantly, you need to know what you are looking for - sneaky sugars. Food labels typically display the total sugar - which includes naturally derived sugars, sweetners and added sugars. There is a huge difference! Naturally derived sweetners from fruits like monk fruit contain zero calories. Naturally derived sugars and added sugars do contain calories. But added sugars are filled with more calories, and are often used to flavor those sugary beverages, snacks, and candies your kid loves to eat.
Added sugar is even in the healthy stuff - yogurts, cereals and granola bars can have up to 20 grams of added sugar.
That’s pretty alarming considering the conversion of sugar from grams to teaspoons - which is basically 4 grams = 1 teaspoon. That’s FIVE teaspoons of sugar!!!
Fortunately, new FDA regulated food label laws are requiring that companies now display the amount of “added sugars” under the “total sugars” by July 2018. This new rule will make it much easier for parents to understand what is in their children’s food and keep the sugars to a minimum.
Keep beverages unsweet and simple
When it comes to what your child drinks, your best bet is to keep it as simple as water or non-dairy milk. This is especially important if they are already eating something sweet. Build a habit of offering non-sweet beverages with your kid’s main meals and save the sweets for snack time.
Now, this is easier said than done. The truth is, if your kid is already used to drinking sweetness, it can be hard to get them to cut back. But don’t let that discourage you! Natural juices, smoothies, and unsweet teas are all less sugary options you can work with.
According to the AAP, 100% natural juices with no added sugar are considered acceptable as part of a healthy diet, as long as they are offered in age-appropriate moderation. You can also mix half juice, half water to bring the sugar content down. Another great alternative is to make infused-water with fruits such as pineapple or strawberry to give it a little flavor.
Don’t reward your kids with sugar
Rewarding your kids’ good behavior - or bribing them - with sugar is a HUGE mistake! Many parents are guilty of this, myself included. Often in our healthy quest to get our kids to eat better, we may coax them to “finish up those peas” with the promise of a cookie after. Or even worse, we might just give our picky eaters the sweet stuff because they have to eat something today, right? Bad idea parents.
And this habit is not just limited to the home. Rewarding kids with sweets happens all the time, whether it is at school, or on the sports field. It’s a common habit that most adults don’t even realize they are doing!
Rewarding kids with treats may work in the short term, but in the long run, you will create a nasty habit of your child expecting a “sweet” reward for a behavior they should be doing anyway. You also help feed their sugar addiction :-(
Don’t feel too bad, we are all guilty of this one. But the best way to turn things around here is to start setting an example. Make sure that you don’t reward yourself with sweets either! Show your child that an occasional sweet treat is ok, but should not be expected. Teach them that dessert is a part of their meal, not a meal itself.
Change the “sugar as a celebration” culture
It can be challenging to curtail our kids' sugar cravings when we celebrate holidays, birthdays, weddings and other special occasions with sweets. However, most kids value other “treats” just as much as they do the sugary ones. If you get a little creative, you can reinvent your super sweet celebrations with new, healthier traditions. Instead of a typical birthday cake, consider something with less sugar such as carrot cake or banana bread. Instead of ice cream, try fresh fruit. Instead of sweet beverages, consider natural juices or infused water.
Hopefully, these tips will help you to make some changes in your family’s diet. By being educated about sugar intake and making the occasional sugary treat a part of your family's culture, you may find that your children crave sugary treats and snacks less, and enjoying them in a more mindful, balanced way for life.
Good luck parents!