Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Creative Ways to Curb Your Kid's Sugar Intake

I think I've made my point about the "sugar battle" lately, with the ultimate message being that it is okay to consume sugar in moderation as part of a healthy diet. However these days, sugar can sneak up on you! It’s hidden in foods where you don’t expect it--or at least don’t expect that much of it. According to a recent report from the CDC, 16% of kids’ daily calories come from added sugar. While sugar-sweetened beverages are often targeted as the culprit, the report shows that 59% of added sugars are found in foods. Some common sources of added sugar include store-bought muffins, spaghetti sauce, cereals, cookies and granola bars.

This is concerning because kids are adding hundreds of extra calories to their diets each day by consuming these foods. Not only does this equal weight gain over the years, but more nutritious items are often displaced from their diets. If your kid grabs a bag of chips, for example, after school, they’re missing out on servings of fruit, vegetables or dairy they could be eating instead.

If your kids are already accustomed to eating sugar-laden treats regularly, you might be wondering how you’re supposed to turn the tables now. The first step is to clean up the obvious sources of excess sugar in your pantry. Most of the candies, cookies, snack cakes, frozen treats, sugary cereals and sugar-sweetened beverages should hit the road. If you decide to keep some in the house, take some advice from Blue Zones author, Dan Buettner: place them behind closed doors either on a high shelf or very low shelf. Out of sight, out of mind. Next, here are some ideas that will satisfy your kids’ sweet tooth…but they’re naturally sweet! No sugar added and packed with nutrition.
  • Trade sugar-sweetened yogurt for plain yogurt mixed with fruit and a touch of honey.
  • Freeze bananas or grapes for snacks.
  • For breakfast: enjoy unsweetened cereal with fruit sliced on top or make a parfait to go.
  • Prepare plain oatmeal and top with ground cinnamon and sliced bananas.
  • Buy a popsicle-making kit and get creative! Blend chopped fruit in a food processor, add some carbonated water and fill your popsicle molds for a delicious summer treat.
  • Find recipes for homemade granola and muffins; you control how much sugar gets added.
  • Trade cookies for graham crackers or animal crackers.
  • Package dried fruit in snack-sized bags for on-the-go snacks.
  • Freeze berries or lemon juice in ice cubes and let the kids add them to their water.
  • Send low-fat pudding topped with sliced strawberries for lunch at school.

Let’s face it--we’re born to enjoy sweet tastes. And it is okay to enjoy sweet treats as part of a healthy diet, just on a more occasional basis. That’s what makes them treats! Teach your kids good nutrition habits while they’re young, including how to enjoy all the foods that are naturally sweet-tasting. And remember, it’s never too late! If you think it’s time to make some serious changes, get a plan of action and talk with your family. If you need help formulating your plan, find an RD near you.

Photo credit: grour razvan ionut