I want someone to look at me the way my kid looks at an Oreo.
There are no two ways about it—we Americans love our sweets. Whether it is a sugary treat from Starbucks or a late-night ice cream run—I am here for it. When I became a mom, I tried to curtail that behavior. As someone who has struggled with her weight for years, I am hyper-conscious about introducing healthy foods to my toddler. That first year we pushed green beans, blueberries, and avocados hard. As we approach the 2.5-year mark, she still loves those things, but somewhere along the way, she discovered cookies. The kid could eat a cookie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Luckily, she has responsible parents. But it got me thinking—how much sugar is too much for my toddler?!
Before we rage too hard on sugar, let us talk facts. Not all sugar is bad. The sugar found in fruits, veggies, and milk products—those are fine. It is the “added sugar,” aka the sugars that do not naturally occur in the food you need to worry about. Think honey, maple syrup, and high fructose corn syrup that you find in things like granola bars, cookies, fruit snacks, etc.
Researchers have found that today’s American toddler consumes a daily average of more than 7 teaspoons of added sugar. For reference, that exceeds the amount of sugar in a Snickers candy bar! This type of sugar intake can lead to long-term side effects like sleep problems, heart disease, diabetes, and behavioral issues.
I don’t know about you, but those stats really freak me out. Initially, I was going to overhaul her entire diet. No more this, no more that, only plant-based foods, etc. Thankfully, I came to my senses and realized that is not realistic for our lives. Toddlers eat sugar. Adults eat sugar. The best thing I can do is introduce her to healthy foods, swap out sugary foods for healthier options when possible, and not rob her of a sugary treat now and then.
Here’s what we are trying in my household:
- Real fruit like strawberries and blueberries instead of a high-sugar fruit cup
- Whole wheat or organic pancakes instead of white bread
- Yogurt with real fruit instead of ice cream
- Low sugar oatmeal instead of sugary cereal
- Water infused with real fruit instead of a sugary juice box
- Brown rice instead of white rice
- Pure maple syrup instead of pancake syrup
- Natural peanut butter instead of the traditional sugar-sweetened kind
- Popcorn instead of chips
- Chocolate covered peanuts instead of a traditional candy bar
When it comes to making healthy choices for our kiddos, remember it’s all about balance. It’s okay for kids to indulge once in a while. Just make sure it’s the exception and not the norm.