A guest post by Claire from raisingsugarfreekids.com
As sugar hits mainstream media as the new “bad guy” in the world of food, many parents are starting to worry about its effects on their children, and the prediction that this generation of children may well be the first to die younger than their parents.
But the truth is, removing or at least reducing the sugar in our diets in today’s high sugar society is not an easy thing to do, and can often feel overwhelming. It is for precisely this reason that I started Raising Sugar Free Kids. To collect and create recipes, tips, tricks, advice, news and information that I have been filtering through for the last two years and continue to do on a weekly basis.
In January 2015, as my daughter started on solid foods, I stumbled across a book called I Quit Sugar, written by Sarah Wilson. Although I scoffed at the title, thinking “well that’s great for her”, it was on offer at the time, and I figured that the tiny amount it would cost me might be worth a quick skim. After reading the whole thing in 2 days, I asked my husband if he would mind us trying out her “8-Week Sugar Detox”, as the information and science she provided was scarily familiar and real, and I couldn’t help but feel it might be worth a go…
And so we set off on an experiment that would eventually become a lifestyle. We felt so amazing after the detox that we just kept the experiment going. And going. And going. I did a lot of research, and we made a commitment to help our daughter (and later our son) avoid sugar as much as we possibly could, and (after even more in-depth research) we tried out some natural sweeteners for when we as adults got a hankering for something sweet to avoid reaching for processed foods.
During this time, I found a ton of information. I sifted through some great and some terrible articles, some useful and some pointless advice. I found it was taking me more time than I felt I had with two children to look after, and although I knew it was for my own and my family’s good, it was starting to really frustrate me how difficult it was to find good advice and genuinely low/no sugar recipes for busy families.
And so Raising Sugar Free Kids was born. A place where parents can come to find all of this mass of information in one place, and can be freed from the stress and time-consuming activity of research in order to figure out how to feed and look after their children – and themselves! – when it came to sugar.
So let’s take a look at some of the top tips I’ve gathered over the last couple of years when it comes to “raising sugar free kids”:
Laying the Foundations: Detoxing and Leading By Example
Sugar is addictive. This means that simply telling yourself you will eat sugar “in moderation”, after a lifetime of eating probably much more than you think, is not really an immediately accessible solution.
Chances are (as you may previously have experienced from attempts to cut refined sugar in diets), you will successfully eat it in moderation for a short while, but find it is a sheer act of willpower where you crave sweets and reluctantly choose not to cave until finally you start to… and find it hard to stop…
The only surefire way to combat this is to break the addiction. And this means a sugar detox. We found I Quit Sugar’s one to be very helpful. It helped us massively reduce our sugar intake, and after doing a second “mini” 4-week one a few months later, I was finally at a point where I actually craved savoury things and found sugary things far less appealing than I previously had.
I now struggle to get through a slice of shop-bought cake and usually give up after a few bites, proclaiming it “too sweet”. There is simply no way that would have happened to me without a detox.
This breaking of the sugar addiction also allows us to lead by example for our children. If our kids are older, they may need to detox, too. But with younger children, they are going to learn from watching you, and that is why it is so so important to quit sugar yourself in order for them to follow.
Get Kids Involved
It’s a cliche for a reason: If you want your children to love healthy food – get them involved. Involved in the shopping, the preparing and cooking, even the growing if you have the time and space!
My son has loved greens since the start (his first food was spinach!), but my daughter (who started with fruits) goes up and down with them, despite being a “better eater” than most toddlers. However, having her help me make green smoothies led to her actually asking for kale, and she has a little rainbow chard plant that she faithfully waters and looks after, to the point where she now asks to pick some and has it with a little oil and vinegar as a snack!
While we are on the topic of food preparation, learn how to shop well in order to make it easier on yourself. This means knowing where the processed food aisles are in order to avoid them (usually center of most shops). It also means reading a lot of labels to find hidden sugars. This is massively time-consuming at first (maybe do the first few trips without the kids to give yourself time for this!), but you will slowly build up a list of foods and brands you know are no or at least low sugar that you can turn to when you need something quick and easy.
And finally, teach your children about nutrition. This education is sorely lacking in schools, so it really is up to us as parents. Teach them the World Health Organisation recommendations of daily sugar intake, what free sugars are (we personally also keep grapes, as well as dried and canned fruit intake low as they have a lot of sugar, too!), teach them age-appropriate information about food and nutrition, and teach older kids to read labels and look out for all the different names for sugar too!
The 80/20 Rule: Keeping Your Sanity as a Busy Parent
Yes, sugar is bad. Yes, we should limit our children’s access to it. Yes, we should try and reduce it as much as possible in our diets, too. But, we are human.
There will be times where you are in a particularly difficult, busy or stressful season of your life, or your kids are going to a party and you don’t want them to feel left out, or it’s the weekend and you are having sugar-eating friends or family round, or your in-laws have offered your children sugary treats and you don’t want to offend them. On top of which, let’s face it, we all know that if we ban sugar outright, our kids are likely to want it more!
The way we solve this is by the so-called 80/20 rule. 80% of the time, we work hard to keep our lives as low sugar as possible and try to be strict. But the other 20% of the time is the time to relax, take shortcuts if need be, and enjoy some sweet treats. Because life’s too short not to enjoy some occasionally, right? 🙂
For us, this largely looks like strict weekdays and slightly more relaxed weekends. But sometimes we will relax the rules a little with trips away, holidays or celebrations. All within reason and balanced out with the majority being low sugar. And if it’s starting to slip into regular 70/30, 60/40, 50/50… then we don’t pile on the guilt. We pick ourselves up, do another detox, and start again.
J.E.R.F.: Just Eat Real Food
Ultimately, raising sugar free kids can be summed up as simply as just teaching kids to love healthy food. Don’t make assumptions and don’t believe kids cannot understand – I’ve been so surprised by what my children will happily eat. And I’ve learned that just because I don’t like a food or don’t think they will like it doesn’t mean they won’t love it! My daughter enjoys Stilton (which I thought she wouldn’t) and mushrooms (which I don’t like).
And finally, J.E.R.F. This is an I Quit Sugar acronym that stands for Just Eat Real Food. Honestly, this is the simplest way to think about a low sugar diet. Get some one-ingredient foods like veggies, meat or fish, whole grains and dairy, and just pair them up as best you can. Easy. Cheap. Yummy.
If you are looking for more inspiration, advice and yummy recipes, hop on over to raisingsugarfreekids.com and sign up to our newsletter (you’ll get a free guide on “5 Ways to Cut Down Sugar This Week”), or simply browse to see what catches your eye.
And if you have any questions, simply shoot me an email at email@example.com.