Kids crave sweet foods, and scientists say it’s an adaptive mechanism that helps them to get the calories they need – but humans adapted to like sweet foods long before the invention of refined sugar. And with sugar lurking in the most surprising foods – you can’t even trust bread to be sugar-free! –it isn’t always easy forbidding your kid from eating the average of 50 pounds of sugar a year that researchers say he consumes.
At the same time, it’s not just a matter of saving money by denying your kid soda pop and candy. Eating healthy food when they’re young will get them into the right eating habits, and may protect them from obesity, diabetes and heart disease later in life. How can you tame your kid’s sweet tooth without him feeling deprived?
1Save sugary treats for special occasions
Birthdays, Christmas and Easter are all times when your child is going to be far from happy if you deprive them of the sweets and candies they see other kids eating. Talk to your kids about the consequences of eating too much sugar: tooth decay and obesity would be the most immediate of these, and agree on the times when eating sweet things will be considered ok.
2Get busy in the kitchen
Processed foods often contain sugar – and a whole bunch of other questionable ingredients. Making your family’s food from scratch using natural ingredients will result in the healthiest meals. Use the opportunity to teach kids about food preparation, and involve both boys and girls in the process. You’ll enjoy the togetherness, and they’ll like ‘helping’ mom, even if it’s just washing fruit and veg or fetching and carrying.
3Try out these sugar-free sweet treats
Where did we get sweet things before sugar came onto the scene? We ate fruit, of course, and on occasion, we had honey!
Try these fun foods that will make your youngsters think that kicking sugary foods is actually rather nice.
- Sweeten cereals with fruit and choose sugar-free cereals. You can allow a little sprinkling of sugar. It will still be less than they were getting with sugary breakfast cereals.
- Make your own muesli and add a lot of dried fruit and nuts.
- Make oats porridge with raisins or bananas or even both.
- Use honey instead of jam. It’s as sweet as you please, but without the refined sugar.
- Serve fruit salad with breakfast for a tasty but healthy start to the day.
- Flavored yogurt contains a lot of sugar, but kids don’t usually like plain yogurt. Try adding fruit pieces or mix flavored yogurt with plain to reduce the sugar kick.
- Eat eggs or lean meats at breakfast for lots of protein.
- For sandwiches, choose honey, peanut butter, or cheese. Cold meat sandwiches also work well. Choose whole grain bread.
- Pack fruity snacks like bananas or oranges.
- Nuts are a great sugar-free energy food snack.
- Make sweet potato chips or pop some corn.
- Make a mix of dried fruit and nuts.
- Pack in some raw carrot sticks and celery sticks. Baby tomatoes are also a lunch favorite.
- Try your hand at baking sugar-free muffins.
- Make a quick, easy pasta at lunch time to keep kids powered up without sugar.
- Serve up cold meat and salad with whole grain bread. Leftover dinner meats can make very economical lunch meats.
- Whip up a macaroni cheese. Ketchup contains sugar, but at least they won’t be eating masses of it.
- Make a mini-pizza.
- Throw together some fritters with pumpkin, potato or even green veg.
- Make a raw food veggie dip by cutting veg into chunks and serving with a hummus dip.
- Serve a healthy fruit smoothie with lunch.
This is probably the one meal that contains very little sugar if any, but desserts can be problematic. Although home-made desserts already contain less sugar than store-bought ones, there are some tasty sugar-free dessert recipes out there. Try these broad guidelines and hints:
- Substitute maple syrup, honey or stevia for sugar in dessert recipes.
- Make fruit juice sorbets and mousses.
- Combine naturally sweet foods like honey, banana, and almond butter.
- Use combos like cream cheese and strawberries in pastry shells.
- Serve fruit combos, roasted apples or bananas with cream.
- Make choc puddings with coconut cream, dates, and cocoa.
- Make ‘ice cream’ by freezing banana chunks, then mixing them up with frozen berries in your food processor.
- Use gelatin and fruit juice to make jellies. Honey sweetening optional.
How to do it all in 30 days
As we’ve seen, it really is possible to have a low-sugar diet that’s still full of sweet treats, but making sweeping changes is difficult, so it’s best to take things one week at a time.
Try phasing things in gently beginning with the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Since you’ll probably be packing in some snacks around that time, make choosing low sugar or sugar-free snack options part of the process.
In the second week, target the next biggest sugar source: desserts. Even if you don’t go sugar-free, making your own desserts will cut down on sugar intake. When you do use sugar, let it be brown sugar.
Lunch and supper are the next two to look at. Because we usually eat savory foods at these times, we may think there’s no sugar to cut out. We could be wrong! Check ingredients of ready-made sauces and processed foods to see where the sugar is creeping in.
Finally, review your progress in the fourth week, and see if there are areas where your child is still getting fed a lot of sugar. A little really won’t hurt, but 50 pounds a year is too much, so breaking the really bad habits like boiled candies, chocolate bars, and sugary sodas is already a huge step forward. Your home made sweet treats will help make it easier for your kids.
Don’t turn it into a battle. Allow the occasional soda pop. Let kids enjoy events like birthday parties where they’ll be stuffed with candy. As long as you make sugary treats the exception rather than the rule, you’ll be doing better than most moms.
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