Olympia moms, are your children addicted to sugar?
They might be even if you aren’t aware of it. Sugar is everywhere in our society these days. Hidden in our foods and given to our children at school, sports events, playdates and even on ordinary trips to the bank. It is sad, and at the same time good news, that the increasing epidemic of childhood obesity is largely preventable.
March is National Nutrition Month and a great time to evaluate what your children (and you yourself) are eating. Take your children’s health into your own hands this month by making a committed effort to decrease their daily sugar intake.
Try these ten simple tips to make a HUGE difference in your child’s attention span, moods and overall health and happiness.
1. Be a label detective: Besides the obvious places, sugar is hidden everywhere. Read the labels of the foods you are putting into your grocery cart. Look up the nutrition facts for your favorite restaurants online. Yes there is some difference between natural sugar and added sugar (but that is more than we can get into in this one article). Look on the labels to determine what type of sugar is in the particular product. When looking for added sugar check for ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, honey, fructose, sugar, molasses, maple syrup, etc. All of these ingredients mean additional sugar has been added into the product.
2. Calculate sugar content: You can calculate sugar content by taking the total number of sugar grams listed on the nutrition label and dividing it by four. This will give you the teaspoons of sugar in any particular product.
For example, Honey Teddy Grahams have eight grams of sugar per serving, which equates to two teaspoons of sugar per serving. Remember though, this gives you the amount of sugar in one serving. If you eat three servings worth, then you have to multiply the amount of grams by three. For example, one serving of Fig Newtons (two cookies) has 12 grams of sugar which equates to three teaspoons of sugar. So if your child has four cookies (two servings), it is the same as having six teaspoons of sugar.
3. Evaluate your peanut butter: Get out your peanut butter, and check the label. Many typical brands (Skippy, Jiffy, etc.) are full of sugar. More sugar than you would imagine. Most people don’t even know peanut butter contains sugar, and the truth is, it certainly doesn’t need to. Opt for a peanut butter without sugar (and salt for that matter). My guess is, after a few days, your family won’t even notice the difference.
4. Eliminate jelly: Jelly is another sugar laden food of which children are all too fond. If your children are resistant to the idea of eliminating jelly, do it slowly. Try slowly decreasing the amount of jelly used in sandwiches, on waffles, etc. Over time, you can completely remove it from your children’s diets, or simply use it occasionally.
You can also check labels for a brand with less sugar to use during the transition period. Another option, is to use cut-up fruit in place of jelly. My children’s favorites are peanut or almond butter sandwiches with sliced bananas, strawberries or apples in the middle. They think they are getting a fun treat, and I am happy they are eating healthy, whole foods. It’s a win-win!
5. Cut back on sauces: Sauces such as ketchup, barbeque sauce and tomato-based spaghetti sauces are really high in sugar. Try reducing the amount of sauce your family uses or purchasing brands with less sugar. You can also try substituting alternate, low-sugar sauces. For example, try using mustard instead of ketchup. Another great option is to try your hand at making your own sauces so you can control the amount of sugar added.
6. Replace juice: A single serving-sized juice box (6.75 FL OZ) of Mott’s 100% Apple White Grape Juice contains a whopping 25 grams of sugar. This equates to over 6 teaspoons of sugar! Yes, this sugar could be considered “natural” sugar but during the process of making juice the fiber is removed, which causes it to affect your blood sugar differently than whole fruit does. (Watch for a blog on this coming soon).
Switch to drinking water, and reserve juice for special occasions only. If your children are resistant to water, find new and exciting ways to drink it. Purchase fun cups or silly straws. Try adding chunks of fruit or sprigs of mint to the water to create fun flavors. Freeze blueberries or raspberries in ice cubes to make floating treats.
7. Limit dried fruit: Dried fruit (raisins, apricots, cranberries, etc) are very high in sugar. It is okay to let your children have these, but just limit the amount. Make them a treat not a daily staple.
8. Make snack time healthier: “Mommy, I’m hungry!” “Mommy, I want a snack!” Kids are notorious for snacking. Snacks are okay (as long as they aren’t interfering with your children eating their regular meals), but try to switch to healthier options. Whole foods are best. Fruits, veggies, nuts, homemade trail mixes, etc. Try to stay away from processed foods (crackers, cookies, cereals, candy, granola bars) as they are often high in sugar.
If you have to grab an on-the-go snack, make sure to read the labels and opt for a lower sugar option. Try to have healthy snacks prepared in your fridge and cupboards at all times. Keep fresh fruit and cut up veggies on low shelves, providing easy access for little hands. Make homemade trail mixes using whole grain cereals, nuts and a small amount of dried fruit. Prepackage them in ziplock baggies or reusable bags.
9. Make it fun: Healthy, whole foods can be fun. Get your children involved with food preparation and make it enjoyable. Let them make funny faces out of their fruits and veggies. Turn stuffed bell peppers into stuffed pirate ships. Whip up yummy fruit and veggie smoothies. Have an oatmeal bar, and let your children choose toppings to personalize their morning meal. The possibilities are endless.
10. Take it slowly: Don’t expect the tastes of your kids, your spouse, or you for that matter to change overnight. Take it slow, but don’t give up! Small substitutions can add up to big changes over time!
If your child is hooked on Froot Loops, don’t just take it away and expect him to accept a bowl of shredded wheat with a smile. Try mixing the sugary cereal in with a healthier whole grain variety. Over time, reduce the amount of the sugar cereal until they are happy with the healthier choice. If your child loves Quaker’s Instant Maple Brown Sugar Oatmeal, try switching to homemade oatmeal. Start by adding honey or brown sugar and other toppings (fruit, nuts, cinnamon, etc), but slowly decrease the amount of honey/sugar over time.
These ten tips can help you get started on the path to a healthier future for you, your children and your family in general. As parents, it is up to us to protect our kids and to teach them the value of healthy eating. By starting now, we can set them up for healthier and happier lives.