There’s nothing like a visit to a soft play on a Sunday afternoon with sweets at every corner, or the thoughts of a half-term on the horizon to spark a post about our children’s diets and how to keep sane trying to strike the right balance of sweetness for them.
Sugar has been making the headlines a lot of late with national diet survey data showing that we’re eating too much of it, and not enough fibre. I have found many of the headlines to be more scaremongering than helpful though, so I wanted to share my thoughts here and advocate that we all get some perspective.
We’ve been advised to reduce our intake of ‘free sugars’ which are those added by a food manufacturer or by us, in the home. Free sugars are sugar in its very simplest form, carrying no other nutrients with it which could benefit health. There have been some very fancy names for sugar used recently but please remember that no matter it’s origin or claim it is ‘natural’, denies the fact it is sugar. Sugar is processed by the body in exactly the same way whether it’s granulated sugar, honey, agave syrup etc…
Here are some pointers to keep you in check:
Understanding the cereal aisle
Breakfast cereals can be a source of fibre and have been shown to be a main source of iron for children. Breakfast cereals also correlate with lower average body mass index’s in children and are also a carrier for other important nutrients found in milk or fortified plant-based alternatives.
It’s important to keep this in mind before ruling out the whole of the cereal aisle. I choose fibre- based cereals with a sprinkling of higher sugar ones to keep everyone happy, and the nutrients and fibre flowing!
Remember natural sweetness often has added benefits.
Fruit juice brings with it vitamin C and portions of 150 mls are counted as a portion of fruit. Although the sugar in fruit juice is counted as ‘free’ because it is no longer tied up with the fibre within fruit cell walls, it is the quantity of fruit juice consumption which is key. The same goes for smoothies, although with some whole fruit used to make them, their fibre contents will be a bit higher which is good.
Dried fruit snacks not made from concentrates will tend to have higher fibre contents than those that have been made using concentrates or extruded during processing so its worth a quick label check in this aisle.
It’s always best to choose reduced sugar varieties of common store cupboard items such as baked beans and tomato ketchup but keep a reality check, that it is often more obvious culprits that are responsible for our increased sugar intake. Diet survey data shows the real issue is the rising consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, particularly in children. In liquid form, sugar is taken into the body without influencing the appetite centre of the brain leading us to consume far more than we realise.
Remove them now.
Big up the veg
I prefer to shift the focus though on what we should be boosting in our children’s diets-veggies.
Set the example.
Eat them yourself and rave about them all the time. Make them visible in your home too.
It occurred to me that my children’s fruit intake is better, and more spontaneous than veg, largely because it’s visible and easily obtained in the fruit bowl.
I now try to put a few more veg in their too – remember how influenced we are by our environments and how incidental so much of our eating is. If they see it, they’re more likely to eat it rather than it being tucked away in the veg drawer all of the time. Tomatoes and carrots work well and sometimes I litter a few sugar snap peas accidentally on purpose, too.
Encourage your kids to look at their own hands
This is the most portable portion-ready-reckoner they have. Often, I have to justify portions served and I’m told it’s not fair, ‘Why does Daddy get THAT much and we have THIS much’ shock horror, forlorn face. Rather than spouting the, ‘life’s not fair mantra’, I do try to make the point that actually portion should be relative to body size.
Plus, bonus: the treats can get proportionally bigger as they get older so they may be able to get one up on their younger sibling. How does the treat look in comparison to their hand though – it’s not an exact science but it gets you thinking.
Make snacks more savoury (and I don’t mean a bag of crisps!)
Trial mixes with some savoury popcorn, small cubes of cheese, a few pretzels, wheatbran breadsticks and nuts and seeds if they’re over 5 and can eat them, are ideal. Snacks and ‘treats’ don’t always have to be sweet.
Talk to Grandma…. and what about school?
Bit of a controversial one to finish – no food is forbidden but we’ve got to strike a balance! I don’t care if they have rice krispy cake Grandma, and yes, jelly shaped like a rabbit, wonderful. Oooh lemon drizzle cake, lovely and dolly mixtures stuffed in your bag because they’ve been ‘so good today’. It’s all fine, but please not all of the time all in one 24-hour visit!
School is another tricky one –and I promise I’m not a cake scrooge but cupcakes or sweets given out every time someone has a birthday as well as the cake sales every other week, and the sugar frenzy that is the Christmas and Summer Fairs seems to tip the balance slightly in the wrong direction. Some schools have other suggestions of how to mark a birthday such as giving a book for the whole class or sing along assemblies to enjoy which I think is the better option.