February 27th, 2013
Have you heard? I’ve started working with private clients and am loving it! Speaking with you lovely people about how to fit healthy family eating into your busy lives has been exhilarating. My understanding of what families are struggling with deepens with every conversation, and one of the big challenges is managing sugar at home.
Sugar can be tricky: some think it’s terrible, while others think it’s no big deal (after all, it’s natural!). The truth is somewhere between. On one hand, natural, unprocessed sugar has an important place in our diet. On the other, it’s most definitely terrible that highly processed sugar is so ubiquitous, particularly in packaged kids and baby food.
Sadly, avoiding sugar isn’t as simple as avoiding “sugary” snack foods, it’s about watching nearly everything that your family eats. You can see this for yourself by looking at the shockingly high sugar content of most packaged breads, yogurts and tomato sauces, for example. One 2010 study found that over 50% of packaged baby/toddler foods found in Canadian grocery stores had excessive sugar. In some products sampled, over 20% of the caloric content came from sugar!
So what’s a parent to do?
The truth about sugar is bitter: too much of it is just plain bad for your health, addictive even. Once your family’s sugar intake gets out of control, it can be very difficult to get it back on track, so it’s critical to be the gatekeeper of moderation. Controlling sugar at home, where you’re able to manage what your children eat, is key to letting go control when they aren’t with you (which is key to maintaining your sanity). Here are my 5 favorite, practical tips for managing sugar at home.
Start with plain yogurt.
The sugar in kids’ yogurts is totally out of control. So please, please: buy plain! You can add fresh fruit (with honey and vanilla) or, if your family prefers fruit-on-the-bottom consistency, mix in defrosted frozen fruit which is softer and juicer. In a pinch, you can combine kiddo’s favorite sugary yogurt with plain. If kiddo needs a wacky package to feel satisfied, give them one! Have them decorate a plain bowl or mug with stickers of their favorite things or characters and, voila, their new yogurt cup.
Skip the juice.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out saying that juice is completely unnecessary to any child’s diet and not just babies, but big kids too. The predominant ingredient in juice is water, then carbohydrates including sucrose, fructose and glucose, which are—you guessed it!—forms of sugar. The sugar content in juice is extraordinarily high and it doesn’t offer most of the fiber and healthy minerals that you get from eating whole fruit. That good stuff gets juiced out, so to speak. The same goes for juices with “added vegetables.” Also, kids tend to drink juice in quantities far greater than is age-approrpirate because of the sweet taste. That has led the AAP to compare juice to soda in some cases. Seriously.
Pack healthy snacks from home for when on-the-go.
Don’t rely on friends or concession stands to have healthy options: pack your own. I always bring an easy to tote fruit (e.g., banana, pear, apple, an easy-to-peel clementine) or vegetable (baby carrots, snap peas, cherry tomatoes). Start kiddo off with one of those and, once their tummy is full with good stuff, hand over the granola bar, whether homemade or a brand that you trust. It takes a little planning, it’s true, but pays off big time.
Make homemade snacks.
I know, I know: making homemade snacks is a total pain in the butt if you’re not into cooking or barely have time, which pretty much accounts for 99.9% of you. It doesn’t help that the supermarket is packed full of store-bought options that can save you time. You’ll be amazed, though, at how much sugar you can cut out of your child’s diet without them even noticing by making at least some of kiddo’s snacks from scratch. Homemade snacks like granola bars or peanut butter cracker sandwiches can be stored in an airtight container for at least a week. Dough, like the one for these homemade cheese crackers, can be portioned, frozen and baked on demand. Other treats, like these mini zucchini muffins and sweet potato muffins, can be baked in big batches and frozen.
Really can’t deal with cooking? Combine unsweetened peanut butter with honey and sandwich the filling between all-natural crackers or rice cakes. Or make a trail mix by mixing together walnuts, sunflower seeds, dried fruit (deceptively high in sugar; keep to a minimum) and dehydrated fruit. You can even throw in a handful of mini-chocolate chips which will make kiddo swoon and still keep their sugar intake lower than if chowing on a store bought mix.
Did I mention this Coconut Chia Pudding? We’re obsessed: it’s like tapioca pudding with two shakes of a jar. It doesn’t get easier.
Talk about food!
Educate your kids about food, sugar, what’s good for them, what’s not good for them and why. Fold your kids into the conversation and give them choices. They want to be and feel healthy, too, and if you empower them make smart choices, they will. At least, eventually.
What are your favorite tips for managing sugar at home?