Want to improve your family’s diet? Consider providing naturally-sweetened and unsweetened treats to help your family eat less sugar.
One of the things that the FishKids love about a visit to Trader Joe’s is the chance to hunt for the stuffed animal and earn a treat. In case you didn’t know, each location has its own little mascot with a special name — as well as a basket of lollipops at the front to reward children with keen eyes.
We’ve met Cliff, Wally, Joey, and Stevie so far. Ask at your Trader Joe’s next time you’re there. It’s a pretty fun little tradition.
One weekend when we were in Santa Barbara, the checker listened to the kids report where they had found Wally and then turned to me and asked if they could have a lollipop or stickers. My mouth dropped open as I contemplated that dilemma: we were doing a sugar fast that month. Before I solved that problem in my head, the eldest FishChick said, “We’ll take stickers.”
To say that this was a proud mom moment is an understatement. They were so excited to find Wally, and yet they grumbled not one bit when we veered from the norm and got stickers instead of lollipops.
Needless to say, our sugar fast was a wild idea. We’d talked about it for months and then decided to go for it. It was challenging, for sure, but it was good. In fact, the kids found out that they feel better when they eat less sugar!
One of the biggest take-aways for my kids was HOW MUCH ADDED SUGAR IS HIDDEN IN REGULAR FOOD.
If you don’t regularly read ingredients labels, you might not know that there is sugar in many processed foods. In fact, now I’m more surprised when I don’t find sugar on an ingredients list. It is in everything: bacon, olives, yogurt, kefir, most baked goods, tortillas, sausage, lunch meat, you name it. (It’s often on the list as dextrose or sucrose.)
A little sugar isn’t “bad” per se. But when you have a little in practically everything you eat, I’d say that’s not too good! I want us to learn as a family which foods are better for us, and for the kids to learn first hand to make wise food choices.
Benefits to helping your family eat less sugar
Here are some of the things we experienced during our sugar fast a few years ago:
1. An awareness of what’s in the food we eat. On the aforementioned shopping trip, the kids each had a small budget to spend on sugar-free snacks to eat at the grandparents’. Since most of them could read at the time, it was an eye-opening experience for them as they checked out the ingredients in the foods they chose and were surprised that “this has sugar in it!”
2. An exploration of other great foods. Since we didn’t eat any sweets besides fruit, maple syrup, or honey, we got a chance to explore other tastes and be creative in our treats. Since our fast we’ve also tempered our consumption of dried and fresh fruit. Sugar is sugar, even if it’s natural.
3. A reset for our tastebuds. I know after doing the Whole 30, that foods I consumed got more of their flavor back, at least from my tastebuds’ perspective, since they weren’t dulled by the flavor of added sugar. My kids gained a reset for their tastebuds and actually started noticing small nuances of flavor.
4. A healthier diet. I know this part is debatable, but I believe a more whole-foods, unprocessed diet is better for all of us. I want my kids to enter adolescence and adulthood with healthier habits than I had.
How to eat less sugar:
So that all sounds great, doesn’t it? But, what about when push comes to shove and you have to walk this out? How do you avoid an ingredient that is in everything from bacon to ice cream, bread to yogurt?
Here’s how we’ve tackled the challenge to eat less sugar:
Eating at home/Packing food
During our Sugar Fast Road Trip, FishPapa asked where we could stop to get a snack. The answer was “pretty much nowhere”. Most of the fast food restaurants that we are used to use added sugar somewhere. Chipotle was the only place I could think of that didn’t. For our fast purposes, I packed a ton of snacks to eat along the way.
Eating at home or packing food for the road is not only cheaper, but also a guaranteed way to control the ingredients your family eats.
Fruit and Nut Energy Bites
Cooking and baking from scratch
Whether you have a food allergy, a goal to lose weight, or a desire to avoid a certain ingredient, cooking food yourself is a sure-fire way to success. You can make better quality items at home that meet your exact dietary goals.
For instance, our family loves Not Too Sweet Granola, substituting agave for the sugar and water in the recipe. We use agave nowadays instead of sugar in many of our recipes since it’s lower on the glycemic level and we can use less of it and get the same sweetness.
Over all, eating at home more often allows us to eat better and sae money at the same time.
There are some commercial products that I know are “sugar-free” according to our definition. Our regular shops include plain Greek yogurt, Akmak crackers, hummus, string cheese, and lots of fresh veggies for crudites.
You know that I’m a big fan of freezer cooking. Making our own means avoiding all kinds of processed ingredients. Some favorite recipes include: frozen burritos, Lawnmower Taco, hamburger patties, meatballs, Red Sauce, and baking mixes.
If we have a stash of ready-to-eat meals in the freezer, we’re less likely to eat out and encounter unwanted sweeteners.
Nowadays I keep my eyes open for products that I know have less added sugar. When I see a naturally-sweetened treat on sale, I stock up.
I’m now well versed in the price of fruit-only jam and have found it on sale at several stores. I buy several jars at a time, and over all make sure that we are limited our sugar, focusing on foods that are naturally low carb and free of added sugar.
Naturally Sweet Treats and Smoothies
Curb your sugar cravings with sweet treats and smoothies that are sweetened naturally with fruit and honey rather than processed sugars. Here are some recipes that I’ve developed over the years that are sweetened naturally:
- Cocoa Apricot Cashew Bites and Fruit and Nut Energy Bites – enjoy sparingly since the dried fruit is still really high in natural sugar
- Honey Lemon Cheesecake Bars — The graham cracker crumbs will have some sugar in them, but the filling has only natural sweeteners. You could use a nut crust instead of graham crackers and eliminate the added sugar altogether.
- Homemade Plum Ice Pops
- Blueberry-Pineapple Smoothie
- Coconut Mango Banana Smoothie
- Red Banana Smoothie
- Strawberry Mango Smoothie with Banana
- Homemade Cranberry Soda
- Honey Syrup for sweetening cold drinks
- Lemon Lime Sports Ade
- Grape-Pear-Carrot-Kale Juice
- Carrot Apple Juice with Ginger
Best 100 Juices for Kids
I also rely on the recipes in my book, Best 100 Juices for Kids: Totally Yummy, Awesomely Healthy, and Naturally Sweetened Homemade Alternatives to Soda Pop, Sports Drinks, and Expensive Bottled Juices.
This book was a joint effort with my kids. They were the driving force behind recipe development, offering feedback on every juice. It didn’t make the cut unless it was FishMama-tested, FishKid-approved.
We left out the one that “tasted like wood”.
We really enjoyed our juice recipe development season. It was so fun to hear them ask for juice or to comment positively when they see I’m making some. It’s been a great way to introduce them to new flavors and vegetables.
The book is full of fresh, unsweetened juice recipes as well as recipes for naturally-sweetened smoothies, slushies, sparklies, sports drinks, and ice pops. There are also bonus naturally-sweetened, baking recipes to help you use up the fruit and vegetable pulp from your juicer.
How do you help your family eat less sugar?
This post is part of a larger series on how to improve your family’s diet.
Next up: make healthy meals happy ones.
Originally published March 12, 2014. Updated September 10, 2016.
Ooh, can you recommend any good brands of fruit-only jam? At our old house we had apple trees and a rhubarb plant, so I would make almost all our jam. I would love to find some that are better for us now that I have to do store bought jam for our PB&J.
We really like the Crofter’s brand.
This is such a great post and a topic really close to my heart. I try and reduce white sugar as much as possible in our everyday food. I never added sugar in my daughter’s food till she was a toddler and I can see how she doesn’t mind mildly sweet food or no sugar at all in most food. I add fruits wherever I can. We also prefer honey and an unprocessed jaggery sugar that is commonly available in India.
It’s a great strategy not to let your littles have sugar until later. Their taste buds do better without it. Good job, mama.
So I’m clearly under educated about the whole issue, but I’m working on it. I do have one question- why is honey a better alternative to plain white sugar? For some reason I seem to think (and I could be and probably am wrong) that is was a naturally occurring substance which seems to be my general food rule. If I can’t pronounce it then we try not to eat it. Thanks!
I’m not an expert, either. But, white sugar is not really natural. It’s been heavily processed to make it white. Unfortunately, brown sugar is also processed. It’s usually white sugar coated in molasses. The most unprocessed cane sugar product is demerara sugar. It is a dark grain that doesn’t really cling like “brown sugar”. Anyway, in all that processing, the cane sugar is broken down; any “good” minerals and such are often lost.
Honey, on the other hand, is much closer to nature — provided the honey manufacturer hasn’t added corn syrup or filtered out the pollen. I don’t have a great link to share on that. I’m looking to confirm that; consider it a rumor at the moment. Honey is more expensive than sugar, but it does have some healing and nutrition properties that sugar does not have: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_effects_of_honey#Properties
So, while more expensive and still a sweetener, honey has a little positive stuff to bring to the table.
Love these great ideas! I started using melted honey butter on our popcorn for a sweet treat. Add a little pink salt…tastes very close to kettle corn. 🙂 a little sticky but we deal with it. 😉
Interesting! I’ll have to keep that in mind. I wonder if you can use maple and bake it and have it coat the corn…..