Let’s face it: It really stinks that something that tastes so good is so bad for us! Almost every day, new evidence warns us about the dangers of sugar and how we can benefit by eliminating it from our diets.
But that’s easier said than done. Why? First, sugar is hidden in so many foods. Even foods that are labeled “healthy” and “organic” can still contain tons of sugar. Second, sugar one of the most addictive substances on this planet! We feel really good when we eat it…at least initially. And nowadays, who doesn’t enjoy a sweet delight in the midst of all the stresses of daily life? Third, sugar is viciously marketed to our kids in a way that is impossible to combat! How do you get your kids to eat less sugar when everywhere they look they see fun ads linked to sugary products?
Giving up sugar is impossible unless you want to keep your kids in a bubble. So instead of trying to eliminate sugar completely, a more realistic approach is to feed a lot less sugar to our children. We can focus on helping our kids build a HEALTHY relationship with sweets – one that our children can grow up with and take with them throughout their lives.
So here are SIX ways that you can reduce the amount of sugar in your family’s diet. We are confident that they will set your kids up for success!
1. CREATE BOUNDARIES AROUND SUGAR
In our family, we create clear boundaries about what we put in our bodies – including the amount of sugar we eat. Just like other rules in our house (for example: in our family, we don’t hit each other), we set “rules” around eating sugar.
- In our family, we know that too much sugar harms our body.
- In our family, we choose not to eat a lot of sugar.
It is easier when children have the “why” behind rules, so instead of just throwing it out there and expecting our children to commit, it is best to spend some time talking about the reasons and benefits. That way they really understand how these rules help them over just being forced to do something they don’t want to do.
First, it is really important to keep this conversation light and fun. When we put too much pressure on how much sugar and sweets our children eat, we can potentially set our children up for developing unhealthy relationships with food.
Instead of saying that they can’t have any sugar at all, or saying that sugar is soooo bad, a better way to approach it is to talk about the nutritional value of foods. Some foods are SuperHero foods and will make our bodies stronger, faster, smarter, etc., and some foods aren’t SuperHero foods and will make us tired and sluggish. In other words, some foods contain more nutrition for our bodies while others don’t.
Sometimes, I add “desserts” to my kids’ dinner plates. It’s a small portion on their regular dinner plate instead of a reward for finishing their regular meal. We play a fun game where we talk about which foods have the most or least nutritional value.
We make the portions reflect that idea. For example, fish and veggies will be the biggest portion with a smaller portion of rice, and a very small portion of dessert. The order in which they eat the food doesn’t matter! It’s OK if they eat “dessert” first. What really matters is that mealtime is a fun time to laugh and talk and enjoy our food!
This approach allows you to lessen the appeal of sugar by removing its status as a reward. You can also control the quality of the sweets you give your children. Some of my favorite sweets that I put on the dinner plate are: chocolate chips by Enjoy Life and chocolate gems and chocolate covered almonds by Hu.
2. WE READ ALL LABELS TOGETHER!
This works well for older children. Understanding the ingredients we eat is a really important concept to teach them. We read labels as a family, and it becomes a bit of a game to avoid processed sugar and artificial sweeteners. When we don’t understand an ingredient on the label, we look it up. Sometimes we find that it is another code word for sugar!
We avoid all products with high-fructose corn syrup, agave, fruit juice concentrate, fruit sugar or crystalline fructose.
We avoid all artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, and Sweet ‘n Low.
We talk about how the ingredients above don’t work well in our body and can cause us to not feel good.
If your child isn’t old enough to participate, take on this task yourself by not bringing anything into the house that has questionable ingredients. It’s empowering to choose how you fill your pantry and fridge!
Remember, sugar has over 262 names and counting! They are hidden deep in food labels. In general, the more ingredients a product has, the more you should avoid it.
Check out Sugar Proof Kids for resources that show how sugar is hidden in our kids’ foods.
3. THINK FRESH FRUIT FIRST
As you start to limit your sugar intake, you will experience and see fruit in a whole new light. Your taste buds will readjust and fruit will taste very sweet. Fruit is a great dessert. My kids love watermelon, mangoes and other seasonal fruit, and often when this is included on their plate, they won’t ask for other sweet foods.
Most of the time, fruit is sweet enough to satisfy any sweet craving kids may have. And don’t forget about frozen fruit. On a hot day, frozen grapes or blueberries make a really fun and refreshing snack.
We also love dried dates and figs. There are a lot of great health benefits associated with both. Of course, they should be eaten in moderation because they are high in natural sugar. A couple of each on the plate with your kids’ meals can be fun too!
4. SWEETEN THINGS ON YOUR OWN – DON’T TRUST THE FOOD COMPANIES
If you look at most yogurt today, you will find that it is loaded with sugar. Sometimes a small serving of yogurt contains more sugar than a can of pop!
I don’t trust processed and packaged foods.So whenever I can, I sweeten things like yogurt, oatmeal, and coconut steamers, on my own.
For example, I buy full-fat, grass-fed, plain yogurt and drizzle honey on it. I sweeten plain, organic slow-cooked oats with maple syrup.
5. SWAP TABLE SUGAR FOR RAW HONEY AND MAPLE SYRUP
Honey and maple syrup are great substitutes for processed sugar. They both are rich in important antioxidants and aren’t just empty calories, like processed sugar.
When buying honey, make sure it says RAW. This ensures that processing is minimal and delivers the most complete package of nutrients! Raw honey is packed with powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals. Raw honey also has amazing antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. I think a spoonful of honey is better than cough syrup when my kids have a sore throat or cough. When you buy raw honey that is locally made, you get the added benefit of it containing a blend of local pollen, which can potentially strengthen your immune system and reduce pollen allergy symptoms.
When buying maple syrup, make sure that it is 100% pure maple syrup. Keep on walking past the ones that include maple “flavor” or high fructose corn syrup. 100% pure maple syrup is also packed with antioxidants (the darker the better). It also contains key vitamins and minerals like zinc, manganese, riboflavin and potassium.
Wherever you might add sugar: coffee, tea, baking, etc, make a switch to use honey or maple syrup instead. My guess is that you will like it even better!
6. BAKING IS FUN FOR KIDS! BAKE FROM SCRATCH AND USE YOUR OWN INGREDIENTS!
Most kids love to bake. Instead of buying muffin or cookie mix, look up a recipe and make it from scratch. That way, you can see each and every ingredient that you add, and the final product is much fresher than anything packaged you could buy at the store! We like to do this with good old-fashioned Betty Crocker recipes. The banana bread recipe is one of our favorites.
We use almond flour instead of white flour. We use aluminum free baking powder. We use grass fed butter and pasture raised eggs. We use chocolate chips that are free of soy and that are 70% cacao. Instead of table sugar, we use honey, maple syrup or sometimes ripe bananas.
TIP: Take the amount of sugar that the recipe calls for and cut it in half. Use honey or maple syrup instead.
If you need one more little push, remember: What we DON’T put into our bodies is just as important as what we DO. Most health experts agree that sugar is one of the worst things we can consume and some even go as far as calling it a “recreational drug.” There are many natural and delicious alternatives, so I challenge you to incorporate some of these tips into your lives and reduce the amount of sugar that your family eats.
Celebrate the differences that these changes have on your mind and body! With a bit of patience and care, you’ll start to notice the differences.