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We all want our kids to be healthy. We want them to grow up to make healthy choices and be independent, kind, and loving people. A great way to start them off right is to ensure they're eating healthy food. That means fruit, vegetables, and protein. If you're thinking of cutting sugar with your kids or maybe you've already done it, this post will provide helpful strategies for overcoming common obstacles.
Unfortunately, sugary snacks are marketed to kids all too often. If you don't believe me, take a close look the next time you're at the grocery store. If you see bright colors and cartoon characters on those fruit roll ups, they aren't for you.
I wonder if the people who are in charge of those marketing decisions let their own kids have these snacks. And I wonder how THEY feel about the sugar meltdowns that are so very unpleasant for everyone involved.
The Importance of Healthy Eating
Did you know that 97% of parents in the U.S. think eating habits in childhood have a lifelong impact on the health of their children, but only 17% say their child’s diet is very healthy? That's according to a 2017 national poll by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
It's clear we're aware that our kids should be eating healthy food. But following through with that can be hard. Maybe you feel like you don't have time to prepare healthy food, or your budget is tight enough as it is without adding healthy food specialty items to the cart. Or maybe you're doing everything you can to provide healthy food, but then at school all bets are off and your kid gets candy every day from his friends.
As parents, we've learned that it's essential to be resourceful. That first diaper blow out sets in stone to ALWAYS bring an extra diaper and spare clothes. And when you forget, well that's where you get the chance to be creative. Do you really need your sweater? Or would it be better used as a towel?
But just when we think we've got one thing figured out, we hit an obstacle. A hole in the road, or maybe a big brick wall stops us in our tracks. Something changes in our routine and we're not quite sure how to deal with it. We may not know how to move forward initially, but with a little thought, we can plan how we'll respond when we hit these obstacles again.
Sugar is really harmful to our bodies. For some reason the negative aspects of sugar aren't printed on the box of those fruit snacks though. If you'd like to learn more, here's an article about how sugar affects the body. I recommend reading it and thinking about how much sugar your children are eating...sometimes not even because you've offered it to them.
Obstacles and ideas to overcome them
Just when we think we've figured out how to feed our kids healthy food that they will like, we hit an obstacle. These can come in many forms.
I've compiled a list of common food-related obstacles you'll run into as a health conscious parent. If I missed any, leave a comment below and I'd love to address it.
Seeing Other Kids Eating Candy
"But mom, why do they get to eat that and I don't?"
I think all kids are curious. Most are naturally skeptical though, especially around food. Have you ever tried to get a 4 year old to eat something he'd never seen before? It probably will take some convincing that they might like it. Especially if it's green.
But when that food is covered in chocolate, or coated in a brightly colored sugar, it's not hard to convince them to try it. In fact, they'll often be begging for a bite...or ten.
If your child has friends who eat unlimited junk food, your kids might start wondering why their friends get to eat candy and they don't. Or they might start asking their friends to share...a big obstacle for keeping those sugar meltdowns to a minimum.
Here are a few ideas to overcome this obstacle:
- Teach your kids about what sugar does to their body. Kids are smart, curious, and love learning. If you teach them, you'll not only help your conversations at home, but you'll be equipping them for a healthier life.
- Find a special snack that your kids LOVE, but that is also healthy. Let your kids try fruit leathers. They're made with real fruit, have no added sugar, and nothing artificial. My kids get these as special treats and they think of them like candy. Train your kids to view healthy food like fruit as a treat. Dried fruit is another sweet, but healthy snack that's available year round. Just make sure the ingredients don't have added sugar. Because that's just silly.
- Lay down the law. Find a phrase you can use with your kids. "In our family, we don't eat ____". "Sorry, but you're not going to get food like that from me." And then stick to it. They'll follow your lead. If you don't eat sugar, they'll know you mean it.
Snacks provided at school
It amazes me the things I see in the grocery store that are clearly marketed to kids. Often this food is highly processed and even has some "healthy" claims on the front of the box. Parents, never trust the front of the box. Turn it over to see what's in the ingredient list.
Read this to find some tips on how to read labels.
Unfortunately, schools sometimes think they're feeding the kids healthy snacks, when in reality, that granola bar might be fully loaded with sugar. If you're concerned with the snacks your kids are eating at school, here are some ideas to overcome this obstacle.
- Talk to the school. You'll probably have more luck making some changes in a smaller school. But I promise you're not the only healthy conscious parent out there. Others are waiting for someone else to step up and talk about it.
- Talk to your kids.
- Provide another option. This will require a little more effort - packing a snack for your kid each day.
- Talk to other parents. If the school won't act, gather with like-minded parents and take turns providing a healthy snack for the whole class.
Cookies at church
Some churches we've been to have a big tray of cookies after the service. Our oldest daughter used to say that was her favorite part of the service. I wished there was another option for her to feel like she was still getting a treat (but just a healthier one).
Here are three ideas to overcome this obstacle.
- Bring your own special treat to give them instead. Find something your child likes. For my kids, it's this homemade chocolate pudding. They LOVE it and are so excited. They also love these brownies. Both are nutritious, sweet enough for them, and I feel good about them eating it every once and a while.
- Talk to the church about bringing a different snack. They might offer to get something new, or you can offer to bring an extra plate. If you're following a special diet, you can label them that way. You might find out there's other families who struggle with the same thing.
- Educate your kids about why you don't want them eating the treats. Inform them about what SO much sugar will do to them. Hint: It will make them have a bad mood, be tired, and probably get an early bedtime...which means less playing time for them.
At Play Dates/ Other kids' houses
Your kid's friend (or your friend) kindly welcomes you into their home. The kids are running around, playing. And then the gracious host brings out a sugary muffin or some candy for the kids. All the kids are so excited, and run for the food. But you start to panic. Do you let your kid indulge, and deal with the sugar meltdown later? Or do you say no, and brace yourself for a strong protest?
Here are three ideas for how to overcome this obstacle.
- Tell your friend before you get there about any dietary restrictions. This might open the door to conversations about how you eat and why you've chosen that path. Be kind and non-judgmental if you ever want to come back for another play date. These days there are so many people restricting their diet for health or lifestyle reasons, it shouldn't be any surprise.
- Offer (and insist if needed) to bring a snack for the kids to contribute. Bring something easy that you know your kids like, and hopefully the other kids like too. Truth be told, kids are often skeptical of things they don't know. This can work in your favor, or against. Your kids might not even WANT to try the new snack if it looks different than they're used to. And the other kids might not WANT to try the snack you brought.
- Feed your kids before you go. And let them have the snack provided. That way they'll be pretty full and won't eat the whole plate of muffins, just one.
Sugar meltdowns are NOT fun. Since we started limiting sugar with our kids, I've noticed fewer meltdowns. They've become more even tempered, and really enjoy being together. They aren't always begging for more sugar because they know we don't have any sugary treats and they aren't on the sugar roller coaster.
If you're struggling with sugar meltdowns with your kids, try out some of the ideas above when you hit obstacles. And keep it up. It's worth the effort!