One of the biggest challenges I face when it comes to raising healthy children is navigating the grocery store for lower in sugar items. We as parents are often reminded that many day-to-day activities, such as sporting events, school lunch, and in my case, playdates with other parents, often present our children with sugary treats. It’s the added sugars found in soda, cookies, cakes, and some fruit drinks that can make anyone reach for seconds or thirds and have a negative impact on the overall nutrition for kids. Hey, they don’t call it a “sweet tooth” for nothing. These same foods also tend to also be high in calories and low in other important nutrients needed for raising healthy children. Note: added sugars are the kinds put in foods during processing and manufacturing, not the natural kind automatically found in fruit and dairy.
To help you navigate the fine line between acceptable sweets and an extreme sweet tooth, I’ve put together a list of ways to reduce sugar in your child’s diet. These are tips and tricks I’ve implemented in my own home to improve nutrition for my children.
1. Stay Away From Sweet Drinks
Try not to even keep them in your home. You can occasionally find juice in our fridge, but it’s a small bottle and the boys don’t even know it’s there . I just know how hard it is for me to control the “just have a glass” of pop or coke of soda and I’m not sure I’ve seen “just a glass” sold in the grocery store.
2. Dessert is for Special Occasions
But be open to exceptions. Lucky for my family’s sweet tooth, I am NOT into baking—and if you are, you can pretty much search for low sugar options for muffins, bars, etc. online. That doesn’t mean if I see freshly baked brownies at the grocery store or a friend brings us chocolate chip cookies I’ll pass them up. I’ll just freeze most and give my boys a serving. We now have fruit with dinner, so I consider this to be our weeknight dessert. My hope is that the once a week BIG time sweet helps to set the example for moderation.
3. Try Half and Half
We go half and half with some of our sugary favorites. I learned this trick from my friend Sally at Real Mom Nutrition, as she calls it going “halfsies.” This could look like using half plain yogurt + half flavored yogurt. Or half unsweetened O’s cereal + half sweetened O’s. We’ve also been doing this with chocolate milk… as our favorite brand is a little thicker than plain cow’s milk so it helps with texture as well.
4. Keep and Abundance of Fruit
Offer a variety of FRUIT--- fresh or frozen, or canned in 100% juice. I’m big into offering many choices these days in an attempt to raise some healthy, happy eaters. So when snack time hunger hits, I’ll offer up an option of X or Y fruit with some type of cereal. I’ve often been known to throw in a vegetable in the mix too.
5. Lead by example
This is a tough one folks, especially when I’m home all day to an open pantry myself! To counteract my own sugar cravings, we have a lot of fresh and canned fruit in the house I’ve been snacking on, and offering to the boys when snack time hits. We also have some lower-in-sugar packaged snacks on hand, like unsalted pretzels, whole grain crackers, un-sweetened O’s cereals, and yes, the occasional box of animal crackers or graham crackers. I’ve also taken to prep lots of fresh cut veggies each week and put them in resealable plastic snack bags. So when the temptation for sugary sweets hits, I have an alternative to reach for!
If you’re interested in seeing what recipes on my blog constitute as lower-in-sugar snacks or desserts and higher in nutrition for kids, be sure to check out my new recipe index! While I can’t guarantee they are sugar-free , they are my take on healthy homemade favorites with LESS sugar than store bought versions.
Curious as to how much sugar is recommended for your little one each day? Here’s the latest recommendation!
2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Sugar Limits for Kids
These sugar limits <10% of daily calories of less> do not apply to foods that naturally contain sugar, like milk or fruit, however they do apply to ADDED sugar, aka sugar that is added to a product during processing such as cookies, candy, soda, flavored yogurt, sweetened cereal.
If you are reading a food label and want to know how much sugar in it, here’s a trick: 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon measurement.
Calories Per Day
Teaspoons Per Day
| 2-4 years
| 4-8 years
| 9-13 years
| 14-18 years