We all know too much sugar is bad for children. We all know that sugar can cause diabetes and is bad for their teeth. But sugar can have all sorts of other negative effects on our children that we may not even be aware of. Studies are now linking sugar consumption to things like behavioral problems and even asthma. Now I’m no doctor, but it didn’t take rocket science for me to figure out that my daughter was having negative reactions to sugar. I started noticing it at a very young age. After days that she would consume higher amounts of sugar I started to notice that for a day or two afterward she would be cranky, irritable, and defiant. I started really paying attention to the amount of sugar she was eating and it was like clockwork. Every single time she consumed more than usual amounts of sugar I would deal with the meltdowns and the tantrums. Because my daughter has been particularly sensitive to sugar we have had to be a lot more careful.
Here are 5 tips that have helped us limit sugar in our home:
1. Get familiar with ingredients. First tip, READ LABELS. Sugar is found in SO many things. Ketchup (a kid's staple), salad dressings, crackers, processed foods, breads, and the list goes on and on. You would be surprised at how many things have added sugar in them. A lot of them aren’t as obvious, so read the labels and become familiar with just how much sugar things have.
2. Find substitutes. After you get familiar with what foods are laden with sugar, you may find that you need to adjust some things for your next grocery trip. Some common culprits are juice, yogurt, fruit snacks (made from real fruit or not), and cereals. You can substitute juice with real fruit. Real fruit contains fiber, which helps blood sugar levels when digesting. Pediatricians no longer recommend giving children juice and instead recommend giving them the actual fruit instead. Be wary of yogurt marketed towards children. Most have tons of added sugars and dyes and don’t contain active cultures. I give my daughter a greek yogurt that has far less sugar and is sweetened with honey instead of refined sugar. I then flavor it by adding fruit. Don’t get overwhelmed. It’s nearly impossible to eliminate all sugar. It’s about becoming educated and then making better decisions for your children. And for you, that may start with switching to a cereal with 6 grams of sugar instead of 10.
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3. If your child does eat sugar, pair it with some protein. If you know your child is going to be eating something sugary, try to have them eat some protein with it. You can try giving them a little something with protein beforehand or soon afterwards. This will keep their blood sugar levels from spiking too high and then falling. Your child will also be less likely to binge on sugar if you are filling their tummies with healthy, substantial foods. For example, make sure they eat a healthy dinner before they eat that piece of cake, or pair their fruit snacks with string cheese.
4. Be prepared. It’s a lot easier to control how much sugar children eat when you are at your own homes. But going out and going to other people’s homes makes it really difficult. We can’t control what other children eat, and most likely if they are eating it, your child will want it too. I like to keep snacks on hand that I KNOW my daughter loves and then distract her by offering those instead. Sometimes this doesn’t work, but a lot of times it does. Just a few nights ago my daughter was playing with friends that were eating treats and I immediately, and excitedly, told my daughter I had some dried strawberries. She totally went for them and then they all ended up eating those instead (helpful hint as well, bring enough to share; it's easier to get all the kids interested than it is just one).
5. Stick to your guns. Let’s face it. No matter how well we do, our children are going to throw tantrums here and there for sugar. Sometimes the tantrums are in front of all your friends, sometimes they are at church, sometimes they are in the grocery store, and it can be very embarrassing. It’s SO much easier to just give in to them (and sometimes we will) BUT it’s so important to stick to our guns. We are the parent. We know what’s best for them and we are responsible for their health. They may not like it at times, but soon the tantrum will pass, and we will feel better knowing we are making the best decisions we can for our children.
Let me just end by saying limiting sugar is HARD. It takes constant work and effort. Some days are not as good as others. Some days I get sick of fighting it and throw in the towel. But it is worth the fight. Our children need us to make these decisions for them. We are responsible for their health. So don’t give up. If you have a bad day, make the next one better. We can do it!!
What are some of YOUR tips for limiting your children's sugar?!?