Laying off the sweets: How to help kids reduce sugar intake

If you have a child with a sweet tooth, you are not alone. And this time of the year can make it particularly difficult to for anyone to watch how many sugary holiday treats they indulge in.

“It is always more challenging to keep sugar intake under control from Halloween through New Year’s because there will be a heightened exposure to sugary foods,” said Laurie Simon, registered dietician at Midtown Nutrition Care.

But watching sugar intake is important regardless of the time of year, and it’s up to parents to teach kids to make good decisions. To start, try to make it a family affair to eat better by reading labels together.

“You should have under 25 grams of sugar a day, and aim for things that have at least 3 grams or more of dietary fiber,” said Simon.

Offer a variety of foods so that your kids can make good choices when at school or at a party.

“Have his palette exposed to all types of foods so sugar is not the only taste he is after,” said Simon.

Feel free to play around with your recipes. For instance, substituting applesauce or banana for sugar in recipes may go unnoticed.

“Fruit is a natural way to satisfy some of the sugar craving, and you can camouflage them in dishes by pureeing things into smoothies, sauces, baked goods, or casseroles,” said Simon. Remember, when you wear the chef’s hat, you are controlling what is going into your child’s food.

To increase fiber content, and in turn omega-3s, Simon suggests adding, “chia seeds or ground flax seeds to bread crumbs when making chicken cutlets, or put them in breads or muffins.”

And be aware of where sugar may be hiding. Sometimes there are sneaky sources of sugar, such as in yogurts, granola bars, or cereals.

If your child is struggling to maintain a healthy weight, you may want to negotiate how often he will indulge in sweets, and help him incorporate healthy snacks into his regimen.

“Do not have the same snack every day. Try to introduce new foods,” said Simon.

But remember that weight is affected by more than what you eat.

“Getting good sleep, exercise, and hydration are factors that come into play with weight management,” said Simon.

So encourage your kids to get active, get a good night’s sleep, and increase water intake.

The pediatrician should familiarize you with the growth curve, and you’ll want to keep a watchful eye to be sure your child’s weight does not go up greater than his height. You also want to be vigilant of pre-diabetes and signs of insulin resistance.

Keep in mind that you, as the parent, are your child’s biggest role model, and he is always paying attention to your behavior.

“Parents want to be proactive and good role models, so if you are sitting down and eating a brownie when you are telling your child he cannot have the same thing, that is not good nutritional etiquette, in a sense,” said Simon.

Most of all, talk about why monitoring sugar matters. Explain to your child that sugar is part of a balanced diet, but needs to be kept under control. Teach him that everything he eats affects his body in some way, and too much sugar can have negative consequences.

“Sometimes too much sugar makes people fatigued, and without physical activity, you will gain weight,” said Simon.

This should help him understand and get on board.

“It should be educational, where your child learns about how food affects mood and how it is important for your immune system, for growth and development, for bones, for energy, and when you put good quality ingredients in your body, it runs, feels, and develops at its best,” said Simon.

But remember that your child is more likely to have a better relationship with food and sugar if it’s not forbidden altogether.

“It does not mean you cannot indulge in sweets, but rather that they should be enjoyed in moderation,” said Simon.

Jamie Lober, author of “Pink Power” (www.getpinkpower.com), is dedicated to providing information on women’s and pediatric health topics. She can be reached at jamie@getpinkpower.com. © 2018 Jamie Lober