Sugar is tricky: On one hand, natural, unprocessed sugar has an important place in our diet. On the other, things get dicey real fast given how ubiquitous added sugar is in so many of our supermarket foods — it’s in everything from sandwich bread to baby food. Avoiding sugar isn’t as simple as avoiding “sugary” snack foods.
Just what we need, right? More tricky parenting waters to navigate.
At the end of the day, we’re big believers in moderation, and when it comes to sugar, that means doing what you can to manage sugar at home most days. But not all of them, because let’s be honest, some days just require Nutella (or my new obsession, these Mint Oreo Shakes). Here are my five favorite real-life tips for managing sugar at home without causing a riot or totally depriving yourself.
And let us know: what are you favorite tips too?
1. Switch to plain yogurt.
If you haven’t already taken a look at the sugar content in your family’s favorite yogurt, do so now. And especially if it’s flavored, be prepared for a big surprise. Again, everything in moderation — if there aren’t any healthy problems that require you to dramatically reduce your sugar, keep your favorite as a sometimes treat, but switch to plain for everyday eating.
The kids will moan and groan, but it’s pretty easy to dress up the plain stuff. Add fresh fruit, honey, and vanilla, or if your family prefers fruit-on-the-bottom consistency, mix in defrosted frozen fruit which is softer and juicer than fresh. In a pinch, you can even combine your kid’s favorite sugary yogurt with some plain to reduce the overall sugar.
If you have a little one who really needs a wacky package to feel satisfied, give her one! Have her decorate a plain bowl or mug with stickers of her favorite things or characters and, voila, her new yogurt cup.
2. Skip the juice.
Strawberry, Lime, Cucumber and Mint Water | Back to Her Roots
At this point, even the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 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! — 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. The same goes for juices with added vegetables. Also, kids tend to drink juice in quantities far greater than the recommended portion size. That has led the AAP to compare juice to soda in some cases. Yikes, right?
Go for water, or if you have older kids, naturally flavored sparkling waters like La Croix, which my boys love. Infused waters like the Strawberry, Lime, Cucumber and Mint Water that we found at Back to Her Roots, which we recommended as one of our tips for helping keep kids hydrated, are also delicious too.
3. Pack healthy snacks from home when on the go.
Don’t rely on friends or concession stands to have healthy snack options when you are on the go: pack your own. Even though my kids are already 7 and 10 years old, I always bring an easy to tote fruit like banana, Asian pear, apple, or an easy-to-peel clementine, or vegetable, like baby carrots or snap peas, when we’re going to be out for a while.
Start with one (or two) of these healthy options, and once their tummy is full with good stuff, hand over the granola bar, or whatever other more sugar-packed, carb-loaded snack they need to feel satisfied. It takes a wee bit of planning, but pays off big time.
4. Make homemade snacks.
I know. Making homemade snacks is a total pain in the butt if you’re not into cooking or barely have time, which I know 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 their snacks from scratch.
Many homemade snacks, including these healthy make-ahead snack recipes, homemade granola bars, Hummingbird Muffins (a favorite in my house), and low-sugar cookies can be stored in the refrigerator and/or in an airtight container for up to a week.
Then, of course, there are quick homemade snacks that you can make on the fly, like smoothies whizzed up using one of our five tricks for making a sweet smoothie without heaps of added sugar and a few finds in this round up of kid-friendly snacks made without added sugar, like those Coconut Butter Stuffed Dates (yum!) and apple chips.
See, making homemade snacks doesn’t have to be hard or time intensive.
That said, no judgements here if you just can’t, won’t, or don’t want to spend your time making snacks from scratch. Smart store-bought snacks work, too, and you can even give them an easy, healthy upgrade. One of our favorite snack hacks: Mix peanut butter with honey and sandwich the spread between all-natural crackers or rice cakes. Or throw together a make-your-own trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dehydrated fruit (which is way less sugary than dried fruit). You can even throw in a handful of mini-chocolate chips, which will make the kids happy while still keeping their sugar intake lower than what it would be if they snacked on the store-bought kind.
5. Talk about food!
I know that his may seem hokey, but seriously: Talk to your kids about food. Tell them what’s healthy, what’s best enjoyed in moderation, and why. Connect healthy eating with growing big, feeing strong, being in good shape for sports, or whatever it is that matters to them. Keep it age appropriate, but bring them into the conversation and give them choices. Kids want to be and feel healthy, too, and if you empower them make smart choices, they will.
Well, you know, eventually.