There have been mixed reviews on NYC’s recent ban on the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 oz. Although, I personally never understood how someone could drink more than that anyway. You probably won’t believe this, but….my 6 ½ year old daughter Journey has never had soda. Not even a sip. She also has never had ice cream, cake and most other sugary snacks that most kids (and adults) eat. How is this possible? Simple. I never gave it to her.
This journey began with a comment from Journey’s pediatrician during her 4-month check up. She mentioned that conventional carrots carry high levels of pesticide residue and suggested that I feed her organic carrots instead. The comment triggered something in me and I started making her baby food. Initially, I would alternate homemade food with jarred organic. Until I did some research and learned that most jarred baby food has a shelf life of 2 years! Realizing that Journey could be eating food that was older than she was grossed me out! And I never gave her food from the jar again. (Although if it were today, I might not feel the need to make all of her food since there are so many more fresh organic options in stores.)
Keeping refined sugar out of Journey’s diet has been a challenge, but not impossible. If you are willing to commit, follow the 5 tips below and you can eliminate (or at least lower) sugar from your child’s diet in no time.
1. Don’t feel the need to introduce sugary snacks
Contrary to what most Americans think, sugar (refined sugar, that is) is not a dietary requirement! You would be surprised how many people kept asking me when I was going to give her sugar, like they were annoyed by my effort. As if eating cake and candy is a rite of passage. There are plenty of great snacks that don’t contain refined sugar. To jump-start your effort, I have posted a few tips, snack ideas and easy baby food recipes.
2. Realize it takes a village
One of the biggest reasons this experiment has worked is because our entire family participated. Everyone respected our decision enough not to undermine our effort. Most parents that I talk to about this say they started out trying to do the same thing but a family member—father, grandma, aunt—introduced candy or the like. Explain to your family that you have made a decision about your child’s diet and that they need to honor your choice if they would like to spend unsupervised time with your child. Be specific in what foods you do not want your child to eat. Provide alternative snacks so that there is no stress about what snacks are appropriate for your child.
3. Encourage your child to “lead” not “follow”
As your child gets older, they may wonder why they are not eating the same foods as the other kids. This is a great opportunity to reinforce that being different is what makes you special and that it’s ok not to do what everybody else is doing. Explain that some children eat differently because of food allergies (there is always one), religion, etc. You can also discuss the difference between good (natural) and bad (refined) sugar, and the effect that sugar has on your body (see link to articles below).
4. Be willing to adjust your eating habits
I openly admit that I am addicted toissugar, which is why this whole effort is very important to me. I’m sure Journey will probably eat sugar eventually, but maybe—just maybe she won’t have the sweet tooth that I do. But it’s kind of hard to keep eating as much sugar as I did—okay do—while listening to her tell me how unhealthy it is (thanks to tip #3). There is no greater motivator than guilt! So now, I read more labels (wow, sugar is in everything!), use more natural sweeteners, eat much less processed food, and try very hard to eat less sugar.
5. Don’t make a big deal about it
At just about every turn, your child will be offered sugary snacks. Initially, it’s not a problem when they are younger and if you follow the advice above. However, there will come a point when your child will have to make their own decision about whether or not to accept. They should never feel like they are being “denied” anything. That can open up a whole other can of worms by creating an unhealthy relationship with food.
When Journey is offered candy or sweets, she asks, “Does that have sugar in it?” If the answer is yes—which it usually is—she replies, “No thank you.” Halloween, parties, it doesn’t matter, she always declines (again, thanks to tip #3). Although this summer, temptation got the best of her. I pulled up to car pool after camp and there she was with a lollipop in her hand. She gets in the car and says, “Mommy, I tried the lollipop!” “Did you like it,” I asked as if it were no big deal. “I loved it!”, she exclaimed. “You can have it,” she said and gave it to me. I breathed a sigh of relief. Even though she claimed she loved it, she had no real desire to eat it. I guess she just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. She hasn’t mentioned candy or asked for it since. Although, Halloween’s just around the corner so I guess we’ll have to wait and see…
More info about the effects of sugar:
Kids and Sugar: Is Your Child Addicted to Sugar
Sugar and Children
Health Effects of Sugar on the Body