You don’t have to sacrifice your favorite dessert to cut down on sugar intake. Try these seven easy-to-swallow ideas for reducing sugar in your family’s diet without throwing out the ice cream.
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Let me start by saying two things:
- I’m not one to jump on every healthy eating bandwagon that rolls into town. I am not a dietitian, doctor, or other health professional. I’m just a mom trying to feed her family good food.
- Our family will
probablycertainly never be a sugar-free one. My husband has a strong love of ice cream, and I enjoy a good dessert as much as the next person.
However, I also recognize that eating large quantities of sugar really isn’t good for my family.
The problem with sugar:
Sugar itself isn’t bad for you, but–like most things in life–moderation is important.
I love this article from Web MD which talks about the effects sugar can have on our bodies in a research-based, non-inflammatory manner. It explains that eating too much sugar can lead to two main problems:
“It either adds calories to your diet or it displaces other nutritious foods. Most Americans could benefit from reducing the amount of added sugars in their diet.”
Ultimately, the research cited suggests that our focus needn’t be on cutting sugar out completely, but rather on making sure that the majority of our calories each day come from nutrient-rich foods, and that we don’t get too many calories. Usually foods high in sugar don’t exactly qualify as being nutrient-dense, but they are often calorie dense (Have you ever looked at how many calories are in a single Oreo?…No wonder they taste so good).
The good news:
“By itself, sugar is not a risky food,” says Rae-Ellen W. Kavey, MD, MPH, a pediatrics professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “The focus should be on a healthful approach,” she says, “not people rushing to one side or the other.”
The American Heart Association recommends that women limit themselves to about 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day (this doesn’t include sugar that naturally occurs in fruit, milk, etc), and men should aim for less than 9 teaspoons a day. (source)
Hooray! I don’t have to throw out my hidden chocolate stash or start making wheat germ birthday cakes. Instead, I’ve made it my goal to simply eliminate excess sugar in really non-painful ways.
There really are a lot of small, simple changes your family can make that will significantly lower your sugar consumption without making you feel deprived of the goodness of chocolate.
Here are 7 simple ways to cut down on sugar in your family’s diet:
1. Drink water
Not juice…not soda. Just get in the habit of drinking water. When I was in high school, I used to take a soda to school every day in my lunch…until I went to the dentist one day and discovered I had 15 cavities! Yep, fifteen…at once! Now, I have genetically terrible teeth, but needless to say, my mom was determined to find some way of halting the rapid destruction of my mouth. First thing on the chopping block? Those lunch time sodas. Lest you think my mother was harsh, let me assure you I was totally on board with the idea. I knew that drinking that much soda wasn’t good for me, and I didn’t want to lose all my teeth by the age of 25. And, do you know what? I have learned to LOVE water. I still drink soda occasionally when I go to a restaurant (I love root beer with pizza), but most of the time I just order water. It’s honestly what I prefer now.
Every time I choose a glass of water instead of a can of soda I cut out about 40 grams of sugar. That’s 10 teaspoons in every can of soda!
For little kids, juice seems to be more of a problem. My kids love juice, but I hardly ever serve it to them. They each have their own water bottle that we keep filled, and that’s what we drink (This is our favorite). If they’re sick and I want to make sure they stay hydrated, I’ll sometimes give them a mixture of half juice and half water, but that’s about it. If your kids are super addicted to juice, try weaning them off it slowly by diluting like I do, and consider buying a cool “water only” bottle to make drinking water more fun. It’s all in the packaging, right?
2. Check your cereal.
Holy cow! Do you know how much sugar is in your average cereal? I’m not just talking about Trix or Fruity Pebbles either. Even many of the seemingly healthy cereals have loads of sugar:
Remember, every 4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of sugar. Most of the cereals I looked at had between 10-15 grams of sugar. That’s already half or more of the recommended sugar intake for the whole day. Bummer…and I haven’t even been awake for an hour.
The problem, though, is that plain Cheerios are just kind of…well…boring.
I’ve done two things to cut down on cereal sugar. First, I try to choose lower sugar options. My kids LOVE Kix (p.s – WHY don’t they ever go on sale?), so I try to keep it in the house. Second, I’ll mix cereals together. Not weird combinations, but I’ll mix Honey Nut Cheerios with regular Cheerios to cut the sugar content significantly. I do the same thing with Chex. It’s a little thing, but it’s a super easy way to cut out at least 4 grams of sugar per day, which adds up to 7 teaspoons every week.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of breakfast, consider making your own oatmeal rather than buying those little packets that are practically half oatmeal and half sugar. 12 grams in each little envelope, and when you look at the ingredient list, sugar is the second thing listed (Side note: Did you know the order of ingredients corresponds with the quantity of that ingredient in the food?).
3. Look for “no added sugar” whenever possible
Have you even been shocked when you looked at the label of a food that you thought was relatively healthy? That’s what happened to me with applesauce. Sheesh! I was at the store one day when I noticed that there was a “no sugar added” option for applesauce. Curious, I checked to see what the difference was between the two.
The regular applesauce I had bought in the past had 22 grams of sugar per serving. The unsweetened applesauce sitting right next to it on the shelf had only 8 grams of sugar. Whoa. I had no idea. The best part? Neither my kids nor I can even taste the difference. We’re talking about apples, people. They’re already sweet. We don’t need to add extra sugar. They cost the same…they taste the same…and it saves 14 grams of sugar. Done.
This strategy applies to more than just applesauce. One of the other big offenders in this category is canned fruit. A lot of canned fruit is packed in “heavy syrup,” and thus packs a lot of added sugar. On the cans I looked at, peaches packed in heavy syrup had 22 grams of sugar per serving, whereas peaches packed in “juice” had only 11 grams. Also, if you want to cut down on sugar even more, simply rinse the extra syrup or juice off your canned fruit before serving. See? Painless changes that really add up over time.
4. Choose your yogurt wisely
Yogurt is good for you, right? It has calcium, protein, and all those good kinds of bacteria that keep your gut healthy. However, most yogurt also has a TON of sugar. We’re talking 27 grams. It would be all well and good to say “Just eat plain yogurt,” but that’s probably not going to happen, at least in my house.
When my kids were too little to notice, I’d just give them plain yogurt, or I’d mix a little flavored yogurt in with mostly plain. But then they got old enough to want to eat it straight out of the container…busted. My mix-it-up plan no longer worked.
One thing I have done successfully though, is to mix regular yogurt with plain yogurt (1:1 ratio) and then make a yummy parfait with fresh berries and some cereal on top. Since I’m taking it out of the container anyway to make the parfait, they don’t complain about not getting the container.
5. Use timing to your benefit
My kids would snack all day if I would let them. But I don’t let them. We have three meals and two snacks a day. Rare are the exceptions to the rule; we just don’t eat outside of these times. In my experience, random snacking (for myself as much as for the kids) is often food that is nutrient poor & calorie rich…the stuff we’re trying to avoid. It’s the convenient (often junk) stuff you grab when you have the munchies but you don’t want to go through the effort of preparing something.
However, if I know my kids are REALLY hungry and it’s still an hour until dinner, I’ll sometimes offer an olive branch. More accurately, I’ll offer a bowl of carrot sticks or some other veggie that they don’t always readily gobble down if there are other options. A friend of mine says that when she’s making dinner, she often puts a veggie plate on the table for the kids to snack on so they don’t whine and complain about how long dinner is taking. Brilliant! What’s the worst that can happen? They fill up on veggies and don’t eat a big dinner? I can think of worse things.
Finding ways to make healthy food readily available to your family, especially at times when they are really hungry, can help kick the habit of reaching for granola bars & fruit snacks. Want 100 ideas of healthy foods that make great snacks, especially when you’re on the go? Try these.
6. Make your own popsicles for dessert
One of my favorite healthy eating moments with my kids was when I had the brilliant idea of taking some leftovers from our favorite berry smoothies and poured them into popsicle molds. My kids LOVE popsicles in the summer time, and they’re kind of a staple of childhood, right? Still, most popsicles pack a lot of sugar. Smoothie pops, on the other hand, have very little added sugar, plus you can easily throw in extra good-for-you ingredients like spinach and chia seeds. THESE are the popsicle molds we have. They’re cheap, durable, and the popsicles slide out pretty easily.
The first time we made smoothie pops, Little Man was SOOO excited to try them later that day. He thought I was the coolest mom ever because I let him have a popsicle for his afternoon snack, and I stood in the kitchen smiling to myself at my sneakiness.
Love this idea? Here are some more healthy hidden veggie popsicles you can make at home from Super Healthy Kids.
7. Experiment with your recipes
Did you know the sugar content in your favorite recipes is negotiable? Most of the time, you can cut back the sugar in cookies, brownies, cakes, etc. by 1/3 to 1/2 without significantly altering the taste. Try it out. When I first found the recipe for my favorite granola bites, the recipe called for a full cup of mini chocolate chips. That seemed like a lot of added sugar for a snack that was supposed to be on the healthier side of things. So, I experimented with cutting down the amount of chocolate, and I settled on 1/2 cup for a huge batch instead. My boys still love them, so it’s a win-win.
I’ve done the same thing with pancakes, my grandmother’s homemade granola recipe, and various other breads and rolls. Nobody even notices the lower sugar. Now, fair warning, this may not work for every recipe, so I don’t recommend experimenting when you have company coming over that you want to impress (although I have a bad habit of doing just that).
The whole goal here is moderation. Please don’t feel like a bad mom if you ever give your child an Otter Pop. I have a whole box of them in my pantry. Please don’t feel like you have to make every meal from now until eternity from scratch or you are setting up your child for a life of misery and health problems. I hate stupid scare tactics like that, and I see them all too often in the health industry.
The whole point is to make small, simple changes that can impact our families for the better over time. Be realistic with yourself and your family, and choose ONE new idea for reducing sugar to try today. Just one. Soon enough you can try another, and another. Feel good about the little changes you make, and enjoy your family and your food!
Need more ideas for dealing with picky eaters? Find solutions with
6 sneaky ways to get kids to eat healthy food.
Do you have any great ways of reducing your family’s sugar consumption?