What is it about sugar that’s so appealing – especially to kids? Researchers point out that kids’ tastes are different than those of adults. Something that may seem overly sweet for a grown-up – like a big piece of thickly-frosted birthday cake – would taste just fine for a child. And sugar can actually make kids feel good, say researchers, who point out that for children, the sweet stuff has been shown to be a natural pain reliever.
Yet too much sugar is harmful for kids – and it’s not just that the added calories lead to larger waistlines. Sugar is an “empty” calorie. When kids opt for sugary foods, they’re not eating more nutritious ones that help give their bodies the nutrients they need to have energy and stay healthy.
So how do you help your kids tame that sweet tooth? Swap sugary foods for healthier choices. Even better, your kids can tap into their creative side by whipping up these replacement snacks and drinks all on their own.
Swap chocolate chip cookies for whole-wheat toast with peanut butter
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The name says it all – whole-grain foods include more of the whole-grain seed. That grain seed is packed with fiber, which makes you feel fuller longer because it takes time to digest. The refined flour and sugar in the chocolate chip cookie will have your child reaching for another – and another – to feel full. Plus, peanuts and whole grains both contain vitamins and nutrients that will keep your child at her best.
Swap ice cream for Greek yogurt
When your child wants a smooth, sweet treat after a meal, encourage him to reach for plain, Greek yogurt instead of ice cream. Make sure the yogurt is plain, since pre-blended varieties often contain as much – if not more – sugar than ice cream. Next, your child can stir in fresh-cut fruit like banana or strawberry slices or a little honey to add sweetness.
What’s different about Greek yogurt vs. other kinds is that it contains more protein. Needed to keep your muscles, bones and organs going strong, protein takes time for your body to break down – meaning your child won’t be asking for more snacks, since he’ll feel full.
Swap candy for fruit (fresh or dried)
Ever looked at the nutritional information on the back of a bag of candies? It’s not pretty. The colorful treats include several hard-to-pronounce ingredients and a noticeable lack of nutrients.
Encourage your kids to reach for a piece of fruit when they want something sweet. The natural sugars in fruit are different than those in candy. And fruits contain other nutrients and vitamins. Whenever possible, have your child eat the whole fruit – like apples with the skin still on and sections of oranges. The fruit’s skin packs an extra boost of nutrients and fiber to feel full.
Swap pop for seltzer or diluted fruit juice
Pop is like liquid candy. Seeping with sweetness, an 8-ounce soda holds 7 teaspoons of sugar. No wonder teens get 13 percent of their calories from carbonated/noncarbonated soft drinks.
Staying hydrated is key, yet your child doesn’t need the added sugar. If she likes the bubbles, try seltzer or club soda. The taste can get some getting used. One idea: Mix half seltzer with half 100-percent fruit juice. While fruit juice does contain vitamins and nutrients, it tends to be high in sugar, too, so you don’t want your child drinking too much. Then again, you might try to have your child drink more water. Squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice into her glass for a hint of flavor.
This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated for 2017.