Unfortunately, sugar now accounts for about 16% of children’s caloric intake. The American Heart Association recommends that children ages 2 to 18 years old eat less than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day.
Yet before they turn 2 years old, many children are eating upwards of 7 teaspoons of sugar per day.
Experts say excess sugar intake is fueling childhood obesity. Cutting back on your child’s sugar intake will reduce the effects of sugar and improve his overall health and well-being.
1. Limit juice
In many ways, fruit juice is a healthier alternative to soda. But be careful: some ‘juice’ marketed to children and families actually contains a lot of added sugar. And it’s usually processed (refined). Refined sugar enters the bloodstream easier than more complex sugars, such as those found in whole grain and beans. If you notice your child is more active or talkative after a cup of juice or eating a sugar-heavy food, it could be a symptom of too much sugar followed by a rapid rise in blood sugar levels.
2. Cut back on sugary cereal
Sugary breakfast cereals have been marketed to children for decades. If your children love these cereals, getting them to go cold-turkey may be a no-go. Instead, cut back. Try mixing their favorite sugary cereal with a low-sugar cereal that’s similar in shape or texture to create a lower-sugar hybrid. Or, serve cereal fewer days per week. Other easy, less-sugary breakfast options include peanut butter on whole wheat toast and yogurt with chopped fruit.
3. Consistently offer fruits and veggies
Children are born with a preference for sweet tastes. That’s why so many babies and toddlers spit out their first spoonfuls of peas or beans. Children—especially preschoolers—are also creatures of habit. Some will latch onto a few favorite foods and refuse to eat anything else for a period of days or weeks. Experts say children may need to be exposed to a new food 10 to 15 times before they’ll eat it. So, frequently offer fruits and vegetables. Experiment with different preparations—oven-roasted vs. raw cauliflower, for instance.
4. Involve your child in meal prep
Take your child to the grocery store with you and show him how to read labels. Even very young children can be taught to look for the word ‘sugar’ on ingredient lists. Together, choose the healthiest alternatives. Cook and bake together whenever possible. Most home-cooked foods have far less sugar than prepared, packaged foods. You can further decrease your family’s sugar intake by cutting back on the amount of sugar you use when you bake. Try using just 2/3 of the amount in the recipe. You probably won’t notice a difference.
5. Don’t use sweets as a reward
Many parents, teachers and grandparents and others use candy, cookies and other sweets as bribes or incentives to encourage children to do tasks. It’s better to use non-food rewards. When your child reaches a goal, praise his success and give him a hug or high-five. Do something together to celebrate. Your child might appreciate a trip to the park or being allowed to pick a movie for family movie night.
6. Rethink snack time
For many of us, snack time and sweets go hand-in-hand. Cookies and milk, after all, are a time-honored after-school snack. You can decrease your child’s daily sugar intake by expanding your definition of ‘snack.’ Think of snack time as a mini-meal and offer your child nutritious foods that will give him the nutrients he needs to grow. Some good options include a peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread and chunks of grapes and cheese.
7. Set an example
If you regularly drink a soda with meals and snack often on cookies and candy, you’re going to have a hard time cutting your child’s sugar intake. Children tend to mimic the habits of those around them, so if you want your child to eat healthier, you’re going to have to eat healthier too. In fact, if you have older kids, you might want to enlist them to help you cut back on sugar before instituting any changes in their diets.