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How To Limit Sugar Intake For Kids In The Festive Season

With festive season around the corner I am sure many of you are worrying about your child’s sugar consumption in the coming months. 

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October to January are difficult months to navigate as parents. Festivals, weddings, and celebrations all around equal sugar is on the table all-the-time.

I found the last festive season very tricky to handle myself. We had Diwali followed by my brother’s wedding and the festivities that followed and then back home Hanukkah celebrations and more weddings!

There were times I could not control any of what my son was eating and other times I felt like I aced it. Well, that’s parenting in a snippet, isn’t it?

But some of what helped me can help you build your own Family Plan Of Action for the coming Holiday Season

Before we look at how one can limit sugar intake for kids this festive season, let us first take a look at what the guidelines for sugar consumption say.

When sugar and problems arising with excessive sugar consumption are spoken about it is important to note that doctors and scientists are talking about “added sugars” and not about sugars that are naturally present in whole fruits and dairy products.

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What is added sugar?

Added sugar is any sugar that is added to foods during preparation, processing or at the table.

It is important to note that even fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup, jaggery the seemingly healthy alternatives to white sugar are also considered as added sugar.

To understand more about the different names of sugars and hidden sugars in everyday foods do read my post on sugar and childhood obesity.

What does The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend

The AAP recommends we aim for less than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for children 2 years of age and older. 

and avoid serving food and drinks with added sugar to children under 2 years of age.” Source 

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If you are wondering what 6 teaspoons/25 grams of sugar a day looks like let’s take an average day with some popular food choices seen in most modern homes today. (Note: These calculations of sugars are estimates I made by looking at some well-known brands available in the market. These can change depending on the choices you make for your family. Use these sugar/day calculations as a tool to get an idea of what an average family consumes without much thought and maybe a starting point to reading labels, switching brands, or making more foods at home from scratch.]

Breakfast : Teaspoon of jaggery/honey to your child’s morning porridge. = 4.9 gm sugar

Morning Snack : Teaspoon of sugar to your child’s milk. = 4 gms

If you add any chocolate-flavored milk powders available in the supermarket, well then, that’s at least 6-8 gms sugar in one serving size. 

Lunch: Let’s say you add a flavored yogurt from the market to your child’s meal on the side. That’s another 8-9 gms of sugar. Or a tablespoon of ketchup as a dip, that’s 3-4 gms of sugar.

Evening Snack: Packaged granola bar. That could again be anywhere for 8-10 gms of added sugar in the form of straight-up sugar, or glucose, honey, palm sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, etc.

Dinner: Pasta made in some store-bought sauce, could be another 4-6 gms of sugar per serving.

These are examples of foods one would eat daily without thinking much. 

Here is a great article listing how much sugar popular milk powder brands contain.

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When young children consistently eat a diet high in sugars they not only risk gaining weight and developing lifestyle disorders earlier in life but also face issues like dental caries, trouble paying attention, suppression of the child’s immune system, change of preference to more highly palatable food over a fresh home-cooked meal.

But, you may ask

Does it matter so much?

We are only letting it slide in the festive season.

For those of us who may think, it’s okay it’s only the festive season, we must consider that the festive season lasts a whole 4 months of the year, and if you live in India, you know that the festive season is all year round. There is always something to celebrate.

If sugar is so easily hidden in everyday food and most of us bust the daily limit without even considering sugar, imagine the kind of impact sugar has on those tiny bodies when they eat mithai, cakes, cookies, chocolates, barfi, ladoos, without much thought?

Instead of leaving the decision up to our children maybe we need to take a few steps together as families to build a healthier relationship with foods. To show our children what healthful eating looks like and no, this does not mean we overtly restrict celebratory foods.

It simply means taking a hard look at what we are exposed to, what comes on our family tables. Focus on love and appreciation for the family over mindless consumption, be it food or other consumeristic celebration trends that are now a thing.

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HOW TO LIMIT SUGAR INTAKE IN KIDS DURING THE FESTIVE SEASON

Make a plan

If you have a young child, remember you are in control. Children ages 0-3 years rarely understand what festivities are taking place and the significance of the food in front of them. An easy way to take control of the situation is to simply carry your child’s food to parties or cook separate meals/no-sugar options for the child if you are hosting. 

I found it very easy to do this when our son was a toddler. When you carry your child’s food people rarely interfere and your child hardly notices anything more than all his favorite foods packed by mommy.

Use these early years to your advantage and delay introducing addictive foods like juices, cakes, chocolates and cookies etc.

Once the child is older it is important to set the expectations before the holiday season starts. Discuss what season is coming up, what types of foods he may find on such occasions. Then depending on the child’s age, you can be honest and explain the effects of over-consumption of sugar and your motivations as a parent in ensuring that all of you sail through the festive period without a sugar-overload. 

We want our children to participate in these beautiful celebrations and traditions without hurting their long-term health. Decide on what all of you look forward to eating, it could be grandmas’ special ladoos or Christmas cookies. You can definitely skip on adding to the family Christmas menu with your own special cake when there is other yummy preparations made by Grandma. Instead, maybe you can bring some savory food to the family gathering. 

After you had a family discussion on how to navigate the festive season, you may still find that your child overeats some of the sugary treats he doesn’t otherwise get to eat. These are moments you only need to observe as a parent. Let the child eat. I can assure you after overeating on candy/cake the child is himself not going to feel too good. Let him experience this for himself. This moment will help him make better choices as he grows older.

Educating children about health and nutrition must be an all-year practice, focus more on the benefits the child will feel as he eats healthily over shaming the child for his choices.

At other times depending on the situation being honest works.

I remember how our mom used to help us ration candy my brother and I used to receive at parties. She used to scan through our loot once home and let us decide which ones we absolutely wanted for ourselves. The rest she would take away and then she would tell us to eat a few of the candy throughout the week and not binge. Now, this may not work for all kids, but honestly, we never felt deprived and almost always ended up eating a few and then being over it.

Another strategy that could work especially on Halloween is to swap a few of the candy the kids get back with other non-food things they like. This could be stickers, pens, pencils, or new erasers. You can make a new family tradition. Some parents call this the “Switch Witch”. When you come back home from your walk around the neighborhood you swap a few of the candy you don’t particularly like with the “Switch Witch” and get what you like in return.

It’s the festive season, make sure to allow your children some indulgences without making too much of a deal about the food. This will only lead to the child feeling shamed for his choices. 

Celebrate with New Family Traditions

Which brings me to an important point. Shift focus away from foods to family traditions and rituals. Use this time of the year to talk to your children about the importance of the festival, tell them the stories about the festivals.

Create new family traditions that focus on family and celebration. Make Diwali about going out to see the lights in your neighborhood. Or start a new family tradition where you celebrate the festive season in a soup kitchen helping those in need.

Growing up, when we had our extended family visit us on festive occasions all the kids would spend the afternoons practicing a skit that we would perform for our family in the evening. All our attention and focus each year was on what topic we chose for our skit more than food. 

Celebrate with Whole Foods

Whenever possible try and bring whole foods back on the family table at festivals.

Fruits and nuts can be on the family celebration table alongside all the other festive foods. Gift fruits and dry fruits instead of chocolates and cakes. Most children love fruits, try and find out what fruit the host’s children love, and make a beautiful basket of fruits and homemade goodies. Our children are learning about food and food relationships through us. This simple act of removing excess packaged foods from the table shows them that Whole Foods are also celebrated on these occasions.

Replace sugar-loaded desserts with naturally sweetened sweet treats. You can try some of the recipes from my snack book. I have used the chia pudding recipe on Diwali, energy bar recipes as a food gift to hosts, or as a snack in our son’s holiday-themed snack box for school, and the no-bake brownie is one of my Hanukkah party dessert options.

Switching out some of the traditionally sugar heavy foods with such wholesome treats are great for nourishing those little bodies alongside indulging in the festive fun.

When switching recipes is not an option try and reduce the amount of sugar that goes into the family’s favorite recipe or replacing with no added sugar options like sweetening with bananas, or dates for example.

Make healthy choices yourself

You have heard me say this before, we are role models for our children. Instead of lecturing your children on how many cookies they ate, think about how your child sees you consume cookies? Does he also see mom and dad enjoy vegetables and fruits?

We need to check our own consumption patterns before we preach to our children. Focus on making healthier choices together as a family. Ultimately, children follow the same eating habits and patterns as their family.

What are your concerns around sugar intake in kids and the holiday season? Are there any specific situations you dread? Let us discuss in the comments below how we can navigate the holiday season without a sugar over load.

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