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How can I reduce the amount of sugar my children are eating?
Sugar is currently a hot topic in the media and on library shelves, with Sarah Wilson’s “I Quit Sugar” consistently in best seller lists and debate raging amongst experts. The resulting confusion leaves parents wondering “do I remove it completely” or “is it OK in small amounts” or even “another storm in a teacup.” Like most things there is no straight forward answer because it is important to consider all foods we eat rather than focusing on just one. While sugar adds flavour and texture to food, problems like tooth decay and weight gain can occur when we eat or drink too much. It is not necessary to remove all sugar from your diet but a few positive changes we can all make are to;
- minimise added sugar intake in food, this is the sugar added to food products during commercial or home food preparation,
- cut out sugar sweetened drinks,
- dilute fruit juices and keep to no more than one glass / day,
- keep cakes, biscuits and lollies as treat foods.
Why is breakfast important?
A healthy breakfast gives a great start to the day. Studies show children who eat breakfast are more likely to be able to concentrate on tasks and function better in the class room or learning environment. Skipping breakfast may lead to overeating later in the day, often by choosing less nutritious foods.
Get reluctant breakfast eaters involved in making their own breakfast by giving them options; toast and peanut butter or eggs and toast, porridge or cereal. An unsweetened breakfast cereal, such as Weet-Bix or porridge, is a good basis for breakfast and then this can be topped with fruit and milk or yoghurt. Adding to this wholegrain toast with low fat spread and a drink of milk or water makes for a tasty breakfast.
What about takeaways?
Who doesn’t love a takeaway? No cooking and no dishes. But takeaways should be considered a treat, not an everyday food.
They are usually high in energy from fat and sugar and may also be short on vegetables. As an alternative to buying takeaways, try homemade. Perhaps Friday night becomes pizza night – bases can be bought or made at home and children can help make pizzas with their favourite toppings – pineapple, tomato, meats and a little cheese. Other alternatives to bought takeaways are homemade wraps or pita bread – all the fillings can be put on the table for each family member to make their own wrap. Frozen crumbed fish fillets and oven fries with some peas or salad can be a great alternative to fish and chips – ready in just about the same time as a trip to the takeaway.
My child is bringing home his lunch box still with food in it at the end of the day. Can you suggest any new healthy lunch box fillers for me?
We have a long list of some tasty suggestions on our Lunchbox Ideas page. A really good idea is to involve your child in ideas for the lunchbox or get them to help with packing the lunchbox. Variety also helps...seeing the same sandwich each day can become boring quickly...try different bread types and fillings.
How much and what sort of snacks should children have?
Children can burn a lot of energy so to keep up with their needs snacks between meals are important. Try to choose snacks low in sugar, fat and salt. Fruit and vegetables obviously fit the bill - you can cut them up into small pieces to make it easier for children’s small hands. Fresh, frozen or canned (unsweetened or in juice) fruit are all good choices. Mini sandwiches filled with your child’s favourite spread work well, if you can encourage them to choose peanut butter and hummus great but don’t worry if not – just spread thinly. Yoghurt is another great choice for a filling snack. Offer your child a drink with their snack as busy children often forget to drink– water or low fat milk are the best choices.
What about treats?
The key with treats is keeping them as treats and not everyday foods. Remember, snacks are not treats. Many treat foods are high in energy, fat, sugar and/or salt – think of sweets/lollies, fruit leathers and roll-ups, potato chips, chocolates, sweet biscuits, takeaways and soft drinks. If your child is eating a healthy diet then it is OK for them to have treat foods sometimes. Sugar sweetened soft drinks and beverages should be saved for special occasions as they may contain a lot of sugar which has been linked to tooth decay and obesity in children.
Should children be eating in front of TV? If not, why not?
Research has shown what parents have known for generations – sitting down and eating together is important.Turning the TV off is also important. Children who eat meals in front of the television are more likely to overeat as they are less engaged in what and how much they are eating. For children who are fussy eaters, eating with the family offers them time to see other family members leading by example and trying new foods. For older children there is a positive spin off of improved mental health and well-being – probably because the meal time provides an opportunity for families to talk.However the reality is with all that goes on in families it can be difficult to all sit down together. Do the best you can, even if you can only manage it a couple of times a week it is a good thing.
My child plays sport – what special foods or drinks should they be having?
Children playing sport generally do not need special foods but there are some things to be aware of. Fluid is important. Ensure your child has a bottle of water handy to sip on during their sport activity. They don’t need to drink ‘sports drinks’ - water is still the best choice. If they are hungry after sport have some of the snacks talked about above ready for re-fuelling. Remember they’re not the All Blacks. Sport and lots of running around is a perfectly normal part of childhood and does not mean special or extra foods are needed.