Sugar guilt: When has your toddler had enough?

Alice | Letters to my DaughterBlog, Child Health, Parenting & FamilyLeave a Comment

We went to a 3 year old’s birthday party recently at an ice cream/dessert parlour called Missy Moo’s in Folkestone. It was the first time I’d been and I naively thought they might do a few sandwiches or savoury things as well (D & I hadn’t had lunch yet). But I was confronted with a giant menu of SUGAR!

Don’t get me wrong, it was a mouth-watering menu and I quickly eyed up the banoffee doughnuts with banoffee ice cream, toffee sauce, chopped banana and chocolate shavings, and unashamedly ordered it with (barely) a second thought.

Now, it is a birthday party so it’s a special treat, and only just before we arrived D (2 ½ at the time) had told me with passion that she loves chocolate (other things on her love list are mummy, daddy, Paw Patrol and bedtime, so I don’t think I’m doing too badly there). I was therefore more than happy to order her the under 5’s option of Mickey Mouse waffles with chopped strawberries, marshmallows, chocolate shavings and sprinkles (her eyes lit up as I read out every one of those words). She also had a Ribena to go with it.

Mid-Mickey Massacre

In my other life working for an occupational health company, part of my role is to devise health & wellbeing campaigns for corporate clients. It just so happens that, a couple of weeks before this visit to the ice cream parlour, we delivered a campaign about sugar to a lovely company in Folkestone.

I’m therefore very clued up on all things sugar as I sit there and, as those huge plates of doughnuts and Mickey Mouse waffles were laid in front of us, the mum guilt crept in…

This is way over both our limits for the day, maybe even for the WEEK. I’m going to have to ban yoghurts at home. And we’ll drink only water for the rest of the week…no, achievable goals only please guilt brain… Broccoli! We shall eat a lot of broccoli at dinner time and that will make up for it…ish. Just shut up and enjoy the doughnuts – if you’re going to ruin yourself, at least have fun doing it.

Too much sugar?

I’m acutely aware that Dee probably has too much sugar in her diet. And I’m talking added sugar, or ‘free’ sugar here, not naturally occurring sugars found in most foods and most definitely in fruit.

She doesn’t have lots of sweets, but she’s very partial to a yoghurt, she enjoys sugary breakfast cereals (I try and stick to ‘wheat malties’ as they don’t seem TOO bad (known more commonly as Shreddies, but we don’t buy Nestle because this)), she LOVES juice in all forms – but even fresh fruit juice has high levels of sugar and is supposed to be limited to 150ml a day.

It amazed me when I started researching for the sugar campaign, just how many foods contain added sugar – some of which are marketed as healthy choices, some of which you just wouldn’t expect to find sugar in.

Here’s a list of the biggest surprises for me:

  • Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars Oats & Honey: 1 portion (2 bars) =  11.9g sugar
  • Uncle Ben’s Sweet & Sour Sauce Original 450g: 1 serving (¼ jar) = 14.8g sugar
  • Cheerios: 30g serving with semi-skimmed milk = 12g sugar
  • Mini cheddars: Per 25g pack = 1.3g sugar
  • Heinz Farleys Reduced Sugar Rusks: Per rusk = 3.4g sugar
  • Petits Filous Raspberry & Strawberry Fromage Frais: 1 yoghurt 85g = 8.4g sugar

To put this in context, the NHS says:

“Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (five sugar cubes). There is no guideline limit for children under the age of 4, but it’s recommended they avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it. ”

A pile of sugar on a wooden tabletop with a heart shaped sugar cube perched on top of the mound

Would you like some food with your sugar?

By this reckoning, Dee shouldn’t be eating yoghurts at all, let alone 2-3 a day. Cue parent guilt.

I have friends who cook from scratch every day and are really good at the healthy eating thing with little to no added sugar in their children’s diets except on REALLY special occasions.

At times, I like to think I’m one of those mums too, and go out to buy things like butternut squash and kohlrabi. It’s often short lived however, and the other half of the butternut squash gets thrown away unceremoniously because who can be bothered to peel one of those things anyway?

I suppose what I’m rambling about here is whether my parent guilt is justified when I look at Dee’s sugar intake. It’s certainly not through the roof, but it could definitely be better. There are days when the stars align and I’m super hot on offering extra healthy food and she’s in to veg and water, and there are days when I’m too tired to do anything more than fishfingers, potato smiles and microwaved frozen broccoli, and acquiesce to her pleas for a third yoghurt.

I think being aware of it though is half the battle. As long as I keep that mental tally and am prepared to step it up if things really feel like they’re getting out of hand, then I’m ok with not forsaking sugar completely.

Easy sugar swaps

I’m lazy. It’s hard to admit sometimes, but in reality, I am lazy – especially with food. I eat to survive, and am not a fan of cooking/ prepping food. I’m therefore constantly on the look out for  super easy healthy snacks for D that take minimum effort.

When I’m in the healthy zone, I avoid buying sugary snacks and instead fill the fridge and cupboards with healthier snack foods. Most of the time, D is just as happy with these, especially when there’s nothing else on offer!

Some of my favourite grab-and-go low/no sugar snacks for D are:

  • Raw mangetout/sweet peas
  • Raw green beans
  • Raw baby corn
  • Cucumber sticks
  • Celery
  • Cheese portions (think Baby-bel or Dairylee Triangles)
  • Oat cakes
  • Low salt crackers
  • Seeded crispbreads
  • Pine nuts
  • Cashew nuts (be careful giving whole nuts to your child – it is not generally recommended for children under 5, but I find cashews are a bit softer than e.g. hazelnuts and D eats them under careful supervision. Please use your own discretion with your child!)

All these are so great for just grabbing a handful from the fridge or cupboard and popping them on a plate or in a lunchbox with minimum prep. And I love minimum prep!

The NHS has some great sugar smart resources and ideas for ‘sugar swaps‘.

What are your go-to healthy snacks for your child?

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