• Back in the day, it used to be that sugar was given to kids on special occasions and by relatives. Why does it seem that sugar is at the center of every activity for kids these days? Why can’t we just save the sugary snacks and candy for holidays, Halloween and birthday parties? Why is it found everywhere and available every day? Look, I don’t think it is a terrible thing and yes, sugar can teach the concept of moderation and appreciation. Yet, sometimes I feel like I spend the entire day fending off the sugar. Which makes parenting difficult when one is saying ‘no’ about ten times a day to a child wanting to eat something being offered, basically, EVERYWHERE.

    We recently went to a 4th of July parade and the kids loved watching the creativity, costumes and fanfare involved in the floats… until, some of the parade participants started throwing candy to the children.  Now completely ignoring the parade, they started scrambling to collect the candies and were searching to see who was throwing them out. The candies became the focus. It wasn’t just my kids, it was ALL of them.

    Nowadays, sugar is so pervasive that a typical day is spent trying to keep it from infiltrating every activity and errand. Running errands now involves candy apparently. Let’s say you want to go to the grocery store and the bank. Well, a trip to Trader Joe’s, a local grocery store is finalized with the store giving lollipops to kids who find a hidden stuffed animal. Whole Foods, a mega-chain that markets itself as a health food store, has a kids club that is comprised of packaged sugary snacks given to kids so that their parents can shop without distraction. I don’t care if the sugar is organic (yes, I prefer it for reasons to do with genetically modified beet sugar), but why give it to them at all? Why not provide them with a piece of fruit instead and encourage healthy eating habits – especially when they market themselves as a health food store? At the local bank, there is a bowl of lollipops for the kids. Then on to a playgroup where several of the mothers have brought baked goods on a Monday afternoon. Why? When the kids can eat cheese, cucumber and other natural foods? These 3-5 year old kids are happy to just play.

    I couldn’t handle feeling like a sugar police all the time, so I found a different playgroup where the motto is no processed foods and no refined sugars. The moms bring cheese, vegetables, hummus, dates, fruit or, for those with time and the know-how, fresh baked bread and butter. The kids are just as content as the kids in the former playgroup and they seem happy because they get to play. That is the point of childhood: to play and be imaginative. Not to exhaust the pancreas with sugar all day long and ride the waves of a sugar high. I can tell you I see less melt-downs with these children at the end of this new playgroup as I did at the other one.

    The point of a snack or a meal is to nourish — not entertain our children. Let’s talk about taste buds. My kids eat mostly anything. And I receive comments about it all the time. How do you get your kids to eat quinoa, smoked salmon, red peppers, broccoli? They don’t know otherwise. I didn’t introduce ketchup until they learned about it from friends. Their palates are our responsibility until they are exposed otherwise.

    Don’t worry — my kids aren’t deprived. They get ice cream, brownies, sandwiches and normal “kid food” just like the rest of them. Just not at every meal or every day. Can we return to a way of eating where kids eat for nourishment? Where candy and cookies are for special occasions, holidays and birthdays? No, because our community, our peers and our society won’t allow it. So I give in and just try to keep our household meals and pantry as wholesome as possible. And even that makes a difference. I have a whipped-cream maker that I use often, adding fruit for sweetness without sugar. They love it. Again, they don’t know the difference. My daughter doesn’t eat the frosting off of the store-bought cakes at birthdays because they are too ‘funny tasting’ (sweet and artificial). She’s become a six-year-old foodie, and I couldn’t be happier. Once at the above-mentioned health food store, they gave her a strawberry organic milk box. She took one drink, made a face, and handed it back to me because, again, it tasted funny. I explained that was because it was artificial. We went home and made our own strawberry milk, with real strawberries and milk in the blender. She loved it!

    Here are some tips on changing your child’s palate — but remember to go slowly at first; it will take several weeks to re-acclimate their taste buds to eating foods that aren’t doused with sugar and salt:

    1. Stop buying sugary or salty snacks and meals (read labels and be prepared to be shocked) at the grocery store. If it isn’t in the house, it won’t be an issue. Shop the periphery of the grocery store — fresh fruits, veggies, dairy, meats, eggs, etc. Nothing, or very little, from a box. It might seem really hard at first, but you will acclimate too, I promise.
    2. Make the healthy foods tasty. Olive oil/butter/cheese and some salt on steamed or roasted vegetables makes them taste good — they don’t have to be bland just because they’re healthy.
    3. Employ the switch witch* and not just at Halloween. Anytime you end up with too much candy at your house, (ex. grandparents bring over bags of lollipops? The switch witch can visit when they leave.) *The switch witch is a fairy that comes and takes the children’s candy they have left out (they do get to keep some), and switches it with a nice reward (provide a big-ticket item to make it worthwhile.)
    4. Have healthier alternatives. Dates are nature’s candy. Have fresh fruit cut up and easy to access in the refrigerator. Freeze smoothie popsicles made with yogurt and fresh fruit. Homemade hot chocolate with a fraction of the sugar is an all-time favorite in the winter. There are so many recipes online that don’t require tons of sugar — find a handful to add to your repertoire. When you do bake, halve the sugar in the recipe. No one will notice the difference with a little bit of time.
    5. Bring healthy snacks to playdates. Most parents will appreciate that you brought the veggies and hummus dip, or the sliced apples and cheese. Or bring nothing. Kids can wait until dinner to eat too!
    6. Too many snacks leads to too few meals. Let them experience waiting a bit for dinnertime. Hunger is the best chef, after all.
    7. Teach your children to be food detectives — to discover why they are requesting a specific packaged food. Often, my kids will say, I like the koala bear on the front of the cereal box. (For younger children, I recommend the book The Berenstein Bears – The Trouble with Commercials which talks about advertising).
    8. Let them eat cake. Birthday parties and holidays are a free-for-all. Let them enjoy it. They will soon learn moderation from the experience of having eaten too many sweets in one sitting. Experience is the best teacher. And experience doesn’t nag the way parents can!