6 Tips to Reduce Sugar in Your Kids' Meals




image_blog

This article was inspired from this Good Morning America interview.

Providing your kids with nourishing meals and a balanced diet can feel impossible, especially in today’s world where convenience foods are the norm for everyone, including kids. Unfortunately, children are even more susceptible to the dangers of too much sugar and that means we, as parents, need to step in and do the hard work of saying no to the excess. 

This is not a new issue but it’s something we’re more aware of than ever. For example, a study published this month in JAMA, found that two-thirds of U.S. children’s calorie intake comes from ultra-processed foods, defined as ready-to-eat foods that contain "little to no whole foods," like frozen pizza, chips and cookies. Another study found that after one year of the pandemic, one in three pediatric patients was above their expected weight, a 41% increase from before the pandemic. Because most processed foods, including kids’ items, are higher in sugar than whole foods, this uptrend in consumption is putting our kids at risk for lifelong health complications, including obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Before we go further, let me just say I know that making meals at home can be time consuming and, frankly, is not always feasible. There will be times when all you have access to are convenience, packaged items. Just like with everything else related to health, this isn’t about creating the perfect diet or making perfect meals for your kids. Instead, I want to arm you with the information you need to make conscious choices and a framework to help you create balanced meals when you’re able to.

With the health of our children and the increase in their access to processed foods in mind, I was recently interviewed by Good Morning America alongside Maya Feller, a New York-based registered dietitian and nutritionist, to discuss the issue and what we can do about it. What we know and agree on is that more than likely, these added sugars aren’t going to show up in your home cooked meals, they’re going to be in all the processed and packaged foods so finding ways to limit them is a great place to start. 

From my work as a celebrity nutritionist, I know firsthand that added sugars and even too much natural sugar in something like orange juice can wreak havoc on us internally. It impacts everything from mood to metabolic goals - and in kids, their ability to learn - so when I became a mom, it was mind-blowing to see that even popular things like pouches available to children are all sugar. In these formative years for children, it’s our responsibility as parents to ensure our kids have the best chance to thrive and part of that includes providing them with healthy meals.

This is a huge reason why I launched my new course, Fab 4 Under 4, as a guide for parents that adapts my Fab 4 principles, originally designed with my adult clients in mind, to support blood sugar balance in kids. Everyone, whether child or adult, benefits from and thrives with the blood sugar balance that comes from eating satisfying meals built around whole foods. It doesn’t have to be complicated, all it takes is a commitment to providing meals with nourishing and balancing ingredients, like those outlined in the Fab 4. 

Fab 4 Under 4 is full of recommendations on how to support your child’s health and development with balanced meals and the Fab 4. To get you started, here are five tips curated by myself and Maya Feller to reduce the amount of sugar in your children's diets. Click here to continue learning more about the Fab 4 Under 4.

1. Balance sugar with protein, fat or fiber.

The Fab 4 gives you an outline for what most meals should look like in order to support blood sugar balance and provide your kids with the nutrients they need to grow. Balancing sugar, even natural sugar in the form of fruit, with other macronutrients helps reduce the blood sugar response and the amount of sugar kids consume because those other nutrients, especially fat and protein, are typically very satisfying. 

Here’s an example: A breakfast of pancakes and strawberries would lead to a pretty significant spike in blood sugar. But serving pancakes with a protein source like peanut butter or turkey sausage can help counter the blood sugar spike brought on by the pancakes, keeping your child from a dramatic drop in blood sugar and allowing them to feel more stable.

2. Know what sugar your child is consuming at home.

It’s inevitable that children will consume sugar at celebrations like birthday parties or at friends' houses. That's okay. You can’t control everything and it can actually be an opportunity to talk to your kids about different kinds of food and how you can enjoy it on different occasions. We don’t want our children to be afraid of food, just understand that different types do different things for us - some foods do a lot for us (like build muscle, contribute vitamins and minerals, or give us extra fluid) and some don’t do as much (like they taste good but only provide some energy that we use quickly). 

What you can do as a parent, however, is take control of what your kids have access to and eat at home - make it a priority that the foods your kids eat daily or most often are low in sugar.

With every food in your house, you have the opportunity to know where the sugar is and keep it to a minimum. For example, in our house, we’re going to pull it out of the everyday things like condiments and sauces and be very strategic with where and when they do get it. 

3. Read food labels.

There are more than 70 ways that sugar can be listed on a food label, so know what to look for and read those labels carefully. 

Look out for words that end in "ose" (like glucose, dextrose, sucrose), as well as words like juice concentrate, syrup, honey, maple, coconut sugar and agave. Sugar is sugar. It doesn’t matter what type it is or whether it's natural, organic, vegan, paleo, keto. It can show up in a lot of places so diligence is key. 

Maya brought up another good point, saying parents should also be wary of food labels that feature healthy buzz words to advertise a product that nonetheless contains sugar. "When a parent goes to a grocery store and they see 100% carrot juice, sure it is a better choice than a sugar-sweetened beverage, but it would also be great to offer your child a carrot."

4. Talk to your child about how foods make them feel.

My kids are still very young and even now I’m beginning to lay the foundation for them to know what the foods they eat do for their bodies. Different foods make us feel different ways and I want them to be able to recognize that for themselves. I want my kids to know how healthy eating makes them feel and know the expectation of their family is that we eat to nourish our bodies. 

Starting the conversation early helps with that. First, it gives them the opportunity and language to say, “I like or don’t like this,” or, “This food makes me feel strong because it helps my muscles grow.” Second, it allows me as a parent to step in when they’re crying and having a meltdown after a sugar crash and say, “I see that you’re upset now and you want more of that muffin. I bet if you had a little bit of protein and a lot of water, you’d feel a lot better. Should we try it and see?"

5. Encourage your child to eat what you eat.

You don't need kid foods. Kids’ versions of things nearly always contain more sugar and it’s mostly marketing telling you to buy the sweetened kids’ yogurt instead of a plain version you’d eat yourself. 

Let them eat what you’re eating. This is important for so many reasons! This is modeling and there are several different benefits to it.

  • You show them what healthy eating looks like

  • They get to see how your family eats (cultural foods and traditions, always including a vegetable, eating around the table together)

  • You also get the chance to model when you don’t like something - because no one likes every food and sometimes our recipes don’t quite work out like we want them to 

  • They can learn different ways to eat things, like a burger wrapped in lettuce or with a bun. 

  • They feel more included in the meal, not separate and needing to eat only certain foods

  • They’re exposed to more textures and flavors than typical kids’ meals provide

This can be done so easily, whether you’re at home or out to eat. At home, simply serve a small amount of what you make for yourself. You can do the same thing out to eat - serve them a portion of your own meal. I've often ordered chicken and a side of veggies or a salad and asked for extra protein so I can put a little chicken on Bash’s plate with some avocado. And when kids get to the age that they need their own meal, order a real meal from the adult menu. They won’t eat it all, but you can take half of it home and you have lunch the next day. Not only did your kid eat healthier, but you have a healthier lunch for the next day ready to go. 

6. Allow your child to cook with you.

You have to get your kids involved. Let them join you in the kitchen and play a part in making the vegetables and the protein and the dip. They don't care what they're making with you. You believe that they're going to be disappointed that they're not making cookies, but they are so excited to make a vinaigrette with you, a kale salad with you, to barbecue with you. Part of it is the bonding experience, but part of it is that they love being able to take ownership of something. You’ll be surprised by how much more interested they are in eating healthy foods when they know they helped make them. 

As Maya said, sometimes it takes more time to prepare food with kids, but we have to change our mindset and be okay with this idea. Again, it gives us the opportunity to show our kids so many things - from how our family values healthy eating and cooking our own meals to how much we enjoy spending time together. 

Like I said, you don’t have to be baking to let your kids help you in the kitchen. That being said, baked goods are notorious for their sugar content so I want you to know that there are easy tricks to keeping it in check, like swapping bananas for sugar in your favorite recipes. Swapping in bananas for even half of the sugar in the recipe helps. Because the sugar in a banana is wrapped up in fiber, there won't be as much of a high blood sugar spike and crash. 


 

Here’s one of our recent favorite recipes for blueberry muffins. Whip up a batch and then slather the muffins with almond butter and ghee for an added dose of healthy fat!

Kelly’s Leveque's blueberry muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup coconut oil

  • 1/3 cup unsweetened vanilla nut milk

  • 2 bananas (smash them in the peel before placing in a bowl so you don’t have to fork them as long)

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 2 cups almond flour

  • 1 scoop Be Well by Kelly vanilla protein powder (or 1/4 cup coconut flour)

  • 2/3 cup tapioca or arrowroot flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries

Directions:

  • Mix wet and dry ingredients, and place in a greased muffin tin (can grease with coconut oil).

  • Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.


Maya also shared a great recipe for a Mint Chocolate Smoothie that the whole family will love!

Maya Feller's mint chocolate chip green smoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain full fat Greek yogurt

  • 1/4 cup baby spinach leaves

  • 1/4 avocado

  • 1 teaspoon ground flax seed

  • 1/2 cup frozen banana

  • 1/2 teaspoon mint extract (alcohol free) or 1 drop BetterStevia® Peppermint Cookie Liquid

  • cacao nibs for garnish

Directions:

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and blend for 90 seconds until smooth.

  • Pour into a glass, garnish with cacao nibs and enjoy.




x