5 Tips for Managing Your Child’s Sugar Intake
Did you know the average American child between the ages of four to eight years old consumes 21 TEASPOONS of sugar per day?! Contrast that to healthy sugar intake – the American Heart Association recommends that kids consume no more than six teaspoons per day.
It’s important to limit your child’s sugar consumption to keep them healthy and happy. Here, I share five tips for reducing sugar from your child’s diet.
Tip #1 Start Where You have the Most Control
Managing sugar intake begins at the grocery store, as this is where we have most control over what we eat on a regular basis. Soft drinks, juice, sugary cereal, etc. aren’t found in my kitchen cupboards. That’s not to say that we never order juice at a restaurant, but by not buying high-sugar foods, my kids and I aren’t tempted to snack on these items as part of our normal routine.
While grocery shopping, I recommend always checking ingredients and nutrition labels, as many food manufacturers add sugar. For example, you’ll commonly find added sugar in unexpected foods like ketchup, peanut butter, breads and bagels, frozen pizza and condiments.
And remember not to grocery shop when you’re hungry or blood sugar is low as we all know what our cart ends up looking like as a result.
Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry! It’s too easy to buy foods you otherwise wouldn’t.
Tip #2 – Plan Ahead
Planning snacks is critical, as convenience foods are often less nutritious, and we tend to make worse decisions in the moment when we (or our kids) are hungry. Buying snacks when you’re out and about can lead to consuming treats that are loaded with sugar. I have noticed that at sporting events, there tend to be sugary sweets available whether at the concession stands or the post-game team treats. Instead of giving these options to my kids, I try to make sure I have healthier snacks in my purse such as fruit, protein bars or beef jerky, that I know we’ll enjoy. Sure, we will go out for ice cream on occasion, but we do our best not to make impulse decisions or get stuck without alternatives by having healthy options available if we need them.
Tip #3 – Teach Your Kids About the Impacts of Sugar
I teach my kids as much as I can about the impact sugar has on our bodies and brains. Kids will understand if you are consistent. I teach them how to read nutrition labels so that they can see how many grams of sugar a serving contains. As a teaching activity, try walking through the grocery store with your kids and see who can find the food item with the highest amount of sugar per serving. (This works great with kids 7 years old and older). By involving your kids in the discussion, you’re building a strong foundation of healthy eating habits.
I also suggest limiting your kid’s exposure to advertisements and commercials on TV, so they’re not exposed to the clever messaging designed to capture their attention and interest in super sugary, unhealthy foods and beverages. I even go so far as to turn the TV off when the kids are around – which has other benefits as well.
Tip #4 – Find Creative Ways to Reduce Sugar Intake
If your kids are like mine, they have certain favorite foods they love which consist of a sweet element. Instead of cutting sugar entirely, get creative about reducing sugar. For example, my kids love homemade waffles for breakfast. As a topping, I allow them to use small amounts of natural sugars like maple syrup or honey, keeping in mind that a little goes a long way. When I give them yogurt, it is always my home-made yogurt, topped with fruit or granola. My yogurt recipe doesn’t have added sugar, like many store-bought yogurts do, but my kids still love it. Don’t have time to make your own yogurt, just be sure to check labels, as some brands, types and flavors are much lower sugar choices than others.
Adding flavor with spices can be a great option, as well. A bit of vanilla extract, cinnamon or ginger boosts flavor without the added sugar.
When cooking or baking, if the recipe calls for sugar, I reduce the amount of sugar by half…usually, you can’t even tell when eating the finished product, and as you start to regulate your body, you may even start to prefer a more subtle sweetness.
And of course, you can always offer healthier alternatives. Kids are drawn to color, so providing a colorful mix of fruits and vegetables can be a great snack. Combining fruit with fiber and protein is a great alternative, as well, as the fiber and protein help your child feel full. A favorite in our house is ants on a log – bright green celery, no sugar added peanut butter and a few raisins for a touch of sweetness.
Tip #5: Everything in Moderation
I don’t deprive my kids of sugar at birthday parties or on holidays. However, I do limit the amount of sugar they’re allowed to consume on these occasions. A holiday does not mean that they can eat whatever they want all day long, because we both know that it’s not all fun and games – our bodies will pay for it. For example, at a birthday party, I let them have cake and ice-cream with the other kids, but it stops at that. If there’s leftover candy from an event, we give it away. I also am not shy about letting other parents (or aunts, uncles and grandparents) know that I prefer them not to give my kids a bunch of sweets.
We live in a society that idolizes sugar in all its forms, so even by taking steps to be more mindful for your family, you are doing noble work. You don’t need to obsess over eliminating sugar entirely. Once you have your day-to-day lifestyle dialed in and your healthy grocery shopping habits in place, the hardest work is done. From there, it’s important to pick your battles. In my previous blog post, I shared three ingredients you should eliminate today, and among them is high-fructose corn syrup. You can read more about why I avoid this like the plague. 🙂
Remember that living a healthy lifestyle is an ongoing journey where good decisions made consistently pay off. If something goes wrong, don’t worry, just get back on track and keep moving forward! If you have tips for how you’ve limited your child’s sugar intake, I’d love to hear! Leave a comment or send me an email, and let’s keep working to reduce the sugar in our kids’ lives.