There are a few times a year — usually after a holiday — that I start to notice just how much sugar my family consumes. It’s easy to overlook it day-to-day, but once I see it, it freaks me out. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to make a few small tweaks in the family’s habits, and the good news: just a few changes make an immediate difference and can also have a big, long-term impact.
I should also say that when we talk about sugar we’re talking about added or processed sugar (not the naturally-occurring variety, like in fruits). Also, here are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
- 4-6 year-olds should be eating less than 20 grams of added sugar per day, on average.
- 7-10 year-olds should be eating less than 25 grams.
- Serving size should be under 8 grams of sugar.
Here are five ways to reduce the amount of sugar in your kid’s diet (it’s easier than you may think!):
1) Talk to your kids about sugar.
Keep the concepts big-picture and start early because it takes them awhile to gain an understanding. Since my kids were young, we’ve been talking in terms of “healthy foods” and “growing foods” that help make you stronger and smarter in contrast to “unhealthy sugary foods.” We talk about how eating too much sugar can make them not feel good now and can make them sick later in life. And as they get older you can teach them to read nutrition labels themselves.
2) Watch out for hidden culprits.
I’m lookin’ at you, beverages, yogurt and cereal! And just avoid juice altogether, except for special occasions; did you know that on average, juice has 24 grams of sugar in a glass?! That’s as much as a glass of soda! (Hot tip: For smoothies, use unsweetened almond milk as a base instead of juice.) Keep your eye on breakfasts, especially, which can be a sneaky sugar haven, and add to your rotation things like eggs and overnight oats.
3) Schedule dessert.
Try an “every other night” rule or consider alternating Dessert Night with TV Night. Just be sure to let your kids in on the plan so the rules and expectations are clear. Also try lower-sugar dessert options like nice cream and banana boats.
4) Go “halfsies.”
Many parents already water down juice and lemonade. But you can actually use the same principle with foods – like cereal, yogurt, oatmeal and really anything else where there’s an unsweetened variety available to mix in. You’ll be surprised how quickly your kids’ tastebuds adjust.
5) Take a Treat Detox.
About 3-4 times a year, usually after a vacation or holiday, we do a Treat Detox week where the daily goal is under 5 grams of sugar. It’s a great reset, and you can start with 2-3 days if a week seems too long. It’s a limited-time thing, which helps kids get behind it. Give it a fun name and they’re likely to jump right on board.