As parents, one of our most important jobs it to raise healthy kids. In this modern world it has become harder than ever. We and our children are busy with more and more activities. We have the world at our fingertips with technology. And often when “free” time is around, we only have the energy to zone out in front of the television. This probably sounds a lot like your family. It certainly describes mine.
Although we are busy and often tired, it doesn’t mean that we cannot provide good, healthy meals. One of the easiest ways to do that is simply to plan. Every Monday, I share my meal plan for the week and join two link parties with others who do the same. I’ll admit that we don’t always stick to the plan and in the beginning, it was pretty hard. But like so many other things, planning and executing a healthy menu gets easier over time. Very rarely do I get to 5 p.m. and resign myself to ordering pizza.
As a general rule, we eat semi-homemade foods, meaning that often I cook from scratch, but some foods are just easier when part of the prep is done by someone else. I avoid too many artificial things, but prepackaged foods aren’t all bad. I thought I was doing pretty well, too, until we had an interesting conversation right before Halloween.
The kids were getting twitchy, just thinking about all the sugar they would soon be gathering. I told them that although Halloween is a special occasion, normally eating too much sugar is very bad. We have had this conversation fairly often over the past near-decade. I told them the daily limit of sugar for kids was something like 20 grams. (I was wrong) We decided it would be fun to count how much sugar the kids were eating each day for a week, then try to cut back the next.
How much sugar do healthy kids need?
First, I looked up how much sugar is recommended in a healthy kid’s diet. It is 12 grams (That’s 3 teaspoons) of added sugar, according to the American Heart Association. Fruits, vegetables and dairy products have naturally-occurring sugar, which doesn’t count in the 12 and can be up to half a child’s calories each day.
How much sugar are you eating?
Without changing our meal plan for the week, I kept track of how much sugar each child consumed. The results were not what I expected. Each child — Sniffles(9) and Lil’ Wheezy(6) — averaged 60 grams per day over the week. I was shocked to see how unhealthy my healthy meal planning was.
So where did I go wrong? It turned out to be a simple math problem.
Take a bowl of multi-grain ring-shaped cereal. (You know which one.) The whole grains are pretty appealing, right? And there is no corn syrup. It has a little logo on the front boasting that is is certified by the American Heart Association. One serving has six grams of sugar. Unfortunately, math is the problem here. A serving of that particular cereal is three-quarters of a cup. I measured the cereal as I poured and discovered that one bowl, the size each child eat from, holds two servings. That means each bowl has 12 grams of sugar, or a whole day’s worth. To make it worse, often Sniffles has two bowls of cereal for breakfast.
Suddenly I found added sugar hiding everywhere, including in natural and organic foods we eat regularly: red pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and even crackers. I won’t point fingers at brands, but… Our favorite whole grain wheat sandwich bread (no HFCS) has 4 grams of sugar per slice. Our favorite all-natural grape jelly for sandwiches (also no HFCS) has 10 grams of sugar per teaspoon. That means a classic kid food, PBJ, has 18 grams of sugar, assuming you spread the jelly sparingly.
How to cut your sugar consumption
On week two, I tried to keep the kids at or under 12 grams per day. It was much easier than I expected, but it did require some planning. If you’d like to count and reduce your family’s sugar intake, here is what I recommend.
- Cook from scratch more often. In a perfect world, we all have endless time and patience in the kitchen. Packaged foods aren’t all bad, but when you make something from scratch, you know exactly what goes into it. Try making just a few of the easier things, like salad dressing, yourself.
- Read all the labels. There are plenty of tasty packaged foods that don’t have that much sugar in them.
- Measure things. A serving size on a food label is rarely a serving size at my dining table.
- Set a good example. I am not the best at this. Note that for women the recommended daily allwance is 24 grams and for men it’s 36 grams.
It has also helped me to read as much as I can on the topic. I really appreciate the cookbooks and recipes that include prepared nutritional info. Right now I am reading the short ebook Healthy Pantry Makeover, by Tracee Yablon-Brenner. She runs Real Food Moms, a site that shares recipes, practical tips and nutritional info.
I’d love for other families to join me in counting sugar as part of a plan for healthy kids foods. If you decide to do so, please share your experience by leaving a comment or sending me an email. I’ll be tackling other healthy pantry issues in upcoming posts.
Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary copy of Healthy Pantry Makeover to facilitate a review. It was just an odd chance that the offer came just after I discovered our sugar problem and all opinions expressed are my own.