5 Tips to Sneak Past the Sneaky Sugar Habits
Feeding your kids healthy meals can be a daunting task.
Food manufacturing companies exist to sell products and make money. You can expect to find close to 50,000 products at the average grocery store, and nearly $50 billion is spent annually on marketing those products to you and your family. Companies use this marketing budget to sneak products past you that are not as healthy as they seem.
Starting back in the 1970s, it became common to add sugar to food to make it taste better. Knowing that health-conscious consumers wouldn’t appreciate the increase in added sugar, food companies started getting sneaky. They use beautiful packaging to highlight other benefits and reference sugar by a different name – there are up to 56 different forms and synonyms for the product. That’s why I refer to it as ‘sneaky sugar’. And ‘sneaky sugar’ has led to the childhood health crisis we are facing today.
Many parents will be surprised to know that kids are consuming an average of 18 teaspoons of added sugar a day; more than 3 times the recommended daily allowance of 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams. Kids have grown so accustomed to the taste of added sugar – dare I say addicted – that a red, ripe strawberry picked off the vine in the middle of July tastes “different” rather than deliciously sweet.
I know that it can seem like an uphill battle with your kids to transition them away from processed food and towards a healthy lifestyle, especially when it comes to sugar. While it is uphill, it is not impossible! Here are my top five tips to sneak past the sneaky sugar habits:
Reading the ingredient label is the single best way to figure out how much sugar is hiding in your food. Ingredient labels are always written in the same format: ordered from most to least. If sugar is listed as the first ingredient, you know what you’re in for. But the name often appears in one or many more of the other 56 different forms (such as brown rice syrup, fructose, and agave), making the total sugar content more than you bargained for.
Question the Marketing
Marketers spend hours finagling what to put on the package label to sell more of it, without crossing any legal boundaries. I should know. I used to do that job. The best way to navigate around sneaky labels is to….read the ingredient statement! And, play devil’s advocate with the product. If the product label is trying so hard to make you purchase, ask yourself, “what’s the catch”?
Balance is key; I’m not out to eliminate sugar from our home. If so, I’d have to give up wine and chocolate, which is not about to happen. And my four kids also indulge in their own sweet treats…maybe even more than what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. I believe that the more you try and take something away, or eliminate it, the more kids are going to find a way to get it, either in front of you or when you’re not around. So I let them have sugar, but balance it with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, plus whole grains.
Start From Scratch
The journalist and food activist Michael Pollan was quoted saying, “You can eat anything you want, as long as you cook it yourself.” I agree, but like to take it one step further and say ‘You can eat anything you want as long as you make it from scratch.’ I believe that kids become more aware of what they’re eating – including sugar – and learn a whole lot about food when they make it from scratch rather than eat it out of a package or make it out of a box.
Making a meal from scratch also develops problem-solving skills, reinforces math, science, and art, and equally importantly, is something kids can do to have fun, gain confidence, and enjoy a sense of community when they share their delicious creation with friends and family.
Finally, give yourself some grace. Billions of dollars are spent selling you ‘sneaky sugar’. You can’t expect to navigate it in a day. Set some boundaries, put on your detective hat, talk openly with your kids in hopes that they might absorb some of it, and give yourself some grace for the rest.
About the Author
Sue teaches food education and hands-on cooking classes to raise happy, healthy, self-reliant, and confident kids! Sue’s passion for real food began in 2004 while working as a Brand Manager for a major processed food company. She began to critically evaluate the ingredients in the food she marketed. She eventually moved on to work within the local foods and sustainable agriculture communities, honing her knowledge of real food from the ground up.
In 2016, as a mom of 4, she founded Real Food 4 Kids, where she teaches hands-on cooking classes and food education classes to kids. She found her passion for teaching others about food, including where food comes from, how it’s produced, and how people can have a role in creating the food they love to eat. Her cooking classes will give your kids the confidence to prepare real food from scratch that they can share with friends and family.
Owner, Real Food 4 Kids