I am Erin: an eater, a cook and a mother of two. I also blog over at , which I started shortly after my mother was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I started looking for sugar-free recipes for her to enjoy… and found Keys2words.
Fast forward three years and my entire family is thriving without sugar. We all feel and look healthier. My mother has more energy, and dare I say, zest for life. My husband has lost nearly 26kg (57lbs). And my six-year-old has fewer mood swings and is more willing to try new foods and eat his vegetables. How did I do it? Read on…
Why do people feel uncomfortable with the idea of kids consuming less sugar?
In my experience, people had stronger reactions to my decision to reduce my children’s sugar intake, than they did about my own diet.
It seemed to be associated with the following four concerns.
1. I am depriving my children of treats (and therefore, a happy childhood).
I always found this accusation amusing! My boys’ understanding of treats doesn’t exclude healthy food, as they also regard frozen yoghurt, fruit and smoothies as treats. They still get Easter eggs, and go crazy at birthday parties!
2. The most important thing is that children eat, SOMETHING, ANYTHING.
I completely understand this concern, because I know how frustrating it can be to have a child who doesn’t want to eat (but who will miraculously find an appetite at McDonalds or for ice-cream!).
Funny thing is, I have found that this problem went away (mostly) since moving to a real food lifestyle. The kids’ tastes have changed from preferring processed food couched in added sugar and salt, they have developed a greater appreciation for natural flavours.
3. Children might develop food body image issues.
I understand that for many people, food and body image is intrinsically linked. Healthy eating has had a bad rap recently, as some associate it with rigidity and strict rules, and even orthorexia. I never talk about sugar or food in relation to body image. I tell the boys how healthy food helps them to be ‘fast and strong’.
Personally, I found that eating real food gave me ‘food freedom’, and allowed me to let go of negative feelings associated with food, including guilt and anxiety. If I can prevent my children from developing a negative relationship with food, that’s a good thing.
4. They won’t fit in with their peers.
Truthfully, this is a tricky one for me! When I take my sons to the play-centre, and all their friends are eating rainbow ice-creams, of course I will buy them a rainbow ice-cream too, if they ask for one. They go nuts on junk food at birthday parties, and I’m okay with this because I know these occasions are contextualised within a broader, nourishing diet.
It will be up to them, as they get older, to learn which foods make them feel good – “fast and strong’”– and which ones affect them negatively, and to negotiate how this works in social situations.
Strategies for parents who want to reduce their children’s sugar intake.
- Incremental change is key! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the possible changes to be made. Small changes, a little at a time, can help this process to feel more achievable, sustainable and rewarding.
- Don’t make a big deal out of it. I quietly replaced particularly sugary items (cartoon-emblazoned yoghurts, for example) for items with sugar-free variations, or made my own versions, and didn’t make a fuss.
- Simple swaps. Changing just a few items can help. Rather than buy potato chips, I keep a bag of popcorn kernels in the pantry. I sprinkle with cinnamon, or a little butter. Yum!
- Turn snacks into mini meals. I learnt this from my experience on the Keys2words.info. If I give the kids a highly processed snack, they will be back 20 minutes later, still hungry. I try to include a source of protein or fat with all my mini meals.
- Get the kids involved. This is not a new idea, but that’s because it works! My five-year-old is far more willing to try something that he has helped to cook, even if it’s just stirring the bowl (and licking the spoon!).
- Be consistent and don’t give up! It’s challenging. There are hits and misses. But it does get easier, and it’s rewarding! Just when it feels like I’m banging my head on a brick wall, my son will announce my pumpkin soup is ‘DE-LICious’, or explain to me that his vegetables help to make him fast and strong like Lightning McQueen. Although the progress can seem slow, it does happen.
We originally published this article in February 2016. We updated it in May 2017.