Why we chose to attempt a sugar free/reduced sugar diet for our children

The more you get to know my family and I the more you will see that health, food and diet are a big part of our lives. I love food, trying new restaurants, baking, cooking etc. and have evolved over the past decade to become a person who really cares about healthy eating (largely influenced by my husband who works in the health and fitness industry).

I try to read loads and follow influential people in the healthy-lifestyle realm. We (hubby and I) try to adjust our eating habits according to what will bring the best health to our family, in an attempt to avoid illness and have bodies that function as well as they can, for as long as they can. I don’t diet (I tried that once) but I do try to eat and buy food that I believe will be best for our family’s health. This doesn’t mean that we eat perfectly, it means that we aim for 70-30, as in healthy eating 70% of the time and the other stuff 30% of the time. I’m not trained in these areas and new discoveries are made all the time so what I eat today I may stop eating next week etc. I need to also stress that I just provide my point of view and what works for my family. Food is only one aspect of a healthy lifestyle and my opinion is only one point of view.  

A healthy diet has become an even bigger focus for me since becoming a mommy. There is something about looking at your untainted newborn and knowing you want to do what you can to give them the best fuel to grow, stay pure and get the most out of their life. I am a firm believer in no judgement so I don’t judge others and their food choices. However, if asked, I do express the reasons for my decision to give our child the food we give her. After all, this was a mindful decision, not a random passing phase. There are also other huge factors that contribute to healthy living, e.g. good quality sleep, little or no stress, love, physical activity, social living etc. but we are talking about food today.

Some of the main reasons for us choosing healthy food and low or no sugar options (my eldest had a diet free of refined sugar until 4 years old) are the following:

  • Children grow the most rapidly from 0-3yrs –I want their building blocks for life to be from the best food I can give them and not junk.
  • 85% of the human brain grows within the first 3years, good quality food helps this growth in a positive way.
  • I wanted to set her up with a healthy blueprint for her life – i.e. she knows what real food tastes and looks like and she develops a taste (and preference) for real food. 
  • She has sustained energy for all her many activities throughout the day.
  • She has her whole life to eat junk food but (hopefully) her go-to foods will be healthy options.
  • She knows how her body feels when it is fuelled with good food.

Again I’m not perfect and my knowledge is not as extensive as many. I did and do use foods to sweeten baked goods which other people may not agree with – most commonly used being pear or apple puree (homemade), raw honey or pure maple syrup (the stuff from Canada not the maple flavoured syrup we often find in the supermarket).

Being refined-sugar free is not easy in the beginning, as most child friendly restaurants and foods on the supermarket shelf are filled with sugar, processed and often deep-fried. However with time you start to discover where to go and what you can buy, also (especially when your child is very little) don’t feel shy about bringing your own food with you. As with anything, planning and educating yourself are really important.

Here are some tips that helped make it easier for us:

  • Take snacks/food from home if you are going out for the day.
  • Find a few people/blogs etc to follow with ideas you like – these people may also have released apps or recipe books which are often worthwhile buying
  • If people ask just explain why you have made this lifestyle choice for your child (know why you have made this choice) – if no one asks then don’t be one of those people who forces others to listen to you preach about why your way is better (it’s not a great way to make friends J )
  • At restaurants there are usually better options to order for your child on the adult menu. We never really look at the kids menu –even if it was just avocado on rye bread toast it was better than nuggets with chips and tomato sauce.
  • Find a few muffin or cupcake recipes that your child likes – these usually always freeze well so you can always have them on hand.
  • Send frozen muffins to keep in the freezer at your child’s school. That way whenever there is a class birthday ring or other special event your child can have a cupcake/muffin from home and not feel left out.
  • Discover a few treats that you approve of. Only give these to your child at birthday parties. You will find that your child is so excited for the treat from home that they don’t even notice there is party food. Have cupcake/cake/muffin from home to give your child when the cake is cut and give them a plate filled with party food you allow (fruit, cheese etc) and treats you have bought for them. This trick worked almost to 4 years old for our daughter.
  • Be open with your friends, the considerate ones will start to ask you before dishing up party food for your child. Before the cake gets served at parties try have a quiet word with the host/hostess to not give to your child. It is far harder to take away something from your child and try to replace it than it is to just avoid that food altogether.
  • Be honest with your child. We tell our daughter that each family has different rules and that our rule is to give her no sugar or sugar only on special occasions because sugary foods don’t help your body and brain grow in the same way that other foods do.
  • When you host a party or playdate only offer foods that your child is allowed to eat.
  • Make food fun… cut it into shapes or make pictures on the plate.
  • Try not to make it too much of a focus for your child… food that you offer is normal for him/her and the more you try to force her to eat a certain food or stress about something or another the worse you make it.
  • If your child refuses to eat something healthy, relax… no one likes to eat everything. If they don’t like a vegetable then offer another vegetable, if they don’t like a fruit offer another fruit etc.
  • Eat together or let them see you eating the same foods you offer them.
  • Make meal time fun by adding dips and sauces (you would be amazed what you can add to sauces and dips to give your child more nutrients and children love dips and sauces).

Now that our daughter is 4, we do allow her to have sugary foods but these are only treats and she only gets them occasionally. We still don’t really have them at home unless it is a special occasion and we limit them at parties. We are figuring it out as we go along. I foresee a difficulty with daughter 2 growing up and seeing her sister having treats that she is not allowed… so we will see how that goes in time.

There is a mind shift that goes along with choosing to reduce sugar intake for your child. Firstly, healthy food is delicious (truly it is), we are not torturing our children by giving them healthy food. Secondly small children are not rejecting a food because they want a sugary or processed replacement… think about it… if a child has never had chocolate and doesn’t really know it exists then they wouldn’t reject a carrot because they want chocolate -something they don’t know exists, how could they? They are not rejecting chicken breast because they want a Vienna sausage (if they have never had one before). You as the parent control what is bought and what is on offer to your child, they only know what you have exposed them to.  Sometimes they just don’t like the taste of something or the way that thing has been prepared. If they don’t like a certain food the first time, wait a few days and try it again or prepare it differently the next time you offer it. Sometimes they like it the second (or fifth) time you try it or sometimes they may only like it a year later, maybe they will never like it (I only started liking avocado at age 30 but I have never, and still don’t like paw paw).

We as parents also need to recognise that life is challenging. There is a lot to balance and juggle with a child or children in the house. Sometimes you can’t do life and on those days a take-out or convenience food is perfect. Sometimes a few carrots and some cucumber on a plate is dinner, that is ok too. A happy and less stressed out parent will always be more important than almost anything else. Be kind to yourself and pick the top few things that are important to you and your family and do that. We are all doing our best and we all have our different struggles to deal with each day so be kind to each other, yourself and your children.

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