Scale down your family's sugar load

Feeding your family less sugar can be a challenge, as it’s hiding in everything! Tiffany Brown shares some ways to decrease your sweet intake.

Unfortunately, helping your child rein in their sweet tooth isn’t as easy as simply switching to a “sugar free” version of their favourite treats. Many products promising low or zero sugar have merely replaced the sugar with artificial sweeteners, which themselves are not always nutritious. It also becomes challenging to help your child appreciate alternative flavours if they continue to predominantly eat foods with a sweet taste.

Here are some ideas to cut back on processed sugar by replacing sweeter foods with savoury alternatives, switching to naturally sweet foods with a more nutrient-dense profile, and raising your awareness about food labels.

Swap out sugary drinks

Processed soft drinks are a quick and easy way to add lots of empty, non-nutritive, and non-filling calories to a child’s diet. Yikes! Juices are not the answer, either, as they can contain similar amounts of sugar to canned soft drinks.

What can you do?

It may be easier said than done to give kids water when they’re thirsty, but don’t lose heart. Try some of these ideas to elevate boring old water to something much more interesting, and you’ll cultivate an important lifetime habit for your child.

  • Add ice cubes or freeze water into fun shapes.
  • Add lemon or cucumber slices, mint leaves, or berries.
  • Look for fun cups, glasses, or straws.
  • Let children pour their own water from a jug or bottle.
  • Drink straight from a water bubbler or fountain when you’re out and about.
  • For stubborn water drinkers, make a game of reaching a certain level in a cup, or try offering a small reward as an incentive for a certain number of units of water consumed, perhaps tracking this on a sticker chart.

Non-caffeinated herbal teas and fruit tisanes can also be pleasant for kids’ palates – just watch for those added sweeteners.

Growing herbs at home and infusing them is a rewarding activity resulting in healthy beverage options. Try pineapple sage, lemon balm, chocolate mint, or peppermint.

There are some lovely recipes available for nutritious and low-cost homemade drinks, too. Kombucha, kefir, or ginger bug sodas are simple (and fun!) to make at home and these provide good bacteria for a healthy gut and better digestion.

Ditch super-sweet desserts

Think twice before reaching for the ice-cream container or biscuit tin after dinner. In-season fruit, either fresh, poached, or roasted, can be prepared ahead and paired with yoghurt and cinnamon for a tasty low-sugar treat. Small amounts of dates and other dried fruits also make a lovely pudding with a dollop of cream, nuts, or cheese. Be sure to check dried fruit labels as some have unnecessary added sugar.

If you’re serious about training your kids’ palates out of the super-sweet zone, start introducing darker varieties of chocolate as treats. Jumping straight from super-sweet milk chocolate confectionery to cacao-rich dark chocolate can be a big ask for anyone’s taste buds, but taking small steps in that direction can ease the transition. The darker the chocolate, the more health bene ts it has, and the less sugar it contains.

You don’t have to quit baking altogether! In most recipes you can halve the sugar content without changing the final result too much, or try using fruits and vegetables as sweetening ingredients to cut down on refined sugar. Apples, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, kumara, and courgettes can all be used to make yummy baked treats with less processed sugar and more vitamins and minerals.

Breakfast of champions

They’re quick and easy when you’re in a rush, but processed breakfast cereals often contain high amounts of sugar. Try these breakfast ideas instead:

• Replace cereal with porridge made from rolled oats.

• Soak the oats overnight to make bircher-style muesli, or for even quicker and more nutritious porridge the next morning.

• You can also make nutritious breakfasts by soaking chia seeds or using alternative grains like quinoa to make your morning porridge.

• Use yoghurt, fresh fruit, frozen berries, or cinnamon to sweeten.

• If time allows, eggs make a healthy breakfast. Serve with tomatoes, pesto, or cheese to enhance the savoury flavours.

Pay attention to food labels

Beware of products labelled low-fat, as they often contain much more sugar than their full-fat counterparts (to make up for the lack of fat).

Read nutrition labels carefully. Food that lists sugar as 15 grams or more per 100 grams is considered high in sugar. Anything five grams or under is considered low.

Tinned food can also contain high amounts of added sugar. When buying canned fruit or vegetables, look for the variety that comes in its own juice rather than in a syrup.

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