When you consider that the American Heart Association recommends children ages two to 18 years old consume less than six teaspoons of added sugars each day (which equates to 100 calories or 25 grams of sugar), it's easy to see how much of an impact the sweet stuff has on our kids' daily snacks and meals.
In order to find the best ways to kick the sugar habit, we asked a team of experts for their top tips for cutting back on your kid's sugar intake and here's what they had to say.
Tip 1: Read all labels.1 of 8
Pediatric nutrition expert Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, founder of City Kids Nutrition, warns that there's sugar hiding in many popular–and unexpected–places in our kids' diets. Staples such as cereal, instant oatmeal, granola bars, smoothies, bread, condiments and even the gummy vitamins you hand off after dinner can be packed full of added sugar.
You need to become a super sleuth when it comes to decoding labels. Read them, study them and pay attention to the order of the ingredients. Malkoff-Cohen explains that the ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredient used in the greatest amount first, followed in descending order by those in smaller amounts.
She recommends parents find the number of sugar grams on the nutrient label to determine the total amount of sugar per serving, as many products have two to three "sugars" added in the form of varying ingredients.
Tip 2: Try the 50/50 rule.2 of 8
Substituting healthier ingredients for higher-sugar ones is a great way to cut back on sugar. Sheri Kasper, RDN, recommends that, if your kids like sweetened yogurt, mix half a portion of their favorite variety with half a portion of plain. The same trick works for sugar cereal, flavored milk, juices and more.
Tip 3: Make your own treats.3 of 8
When you bake at home, you can control the sugar. Kasper recommends swapping applesauce or mashed banana for half of the sugar in your homemade baked goods. And if your kids like to snack on granola bars, try making your own–we have recipes!
Tip 4: Beware of condiments.4 of 8
Kids love piling on the ketchup, barbecue sauce and salad dressings, and unfortunately, condiments are some of the worst offenders when it comes to hidden sugars in their diets.
Instead of these high-sugar options, serve up salsa, mustard, Greek yogurt or olive oil and lemon. These options might take some getting used to, but your kids will learn to love dressing their burgers, sandwiches and salads in creative--and healthier--ways.
Tip 5: Utilize fruit and vegetable purees.5 of 8
Fruit and veggie purees make great additions to baked goods, smoothies and casseroles. And since they can be easily camouflaged, your kids may not even tell the difference. Jodi Danen, RDN, offers up recipes for Banana Muffins, Zucchini Bread and Homemade Breakfast Cereal as examples. We can also recommend sneaking a few veggies into a yummy smoothie.
Tip 6: Make your own spaghetti sauce.6 of 8
Spaghetti and lasagna are perennial kid-pleasing favorites. Not only are they easy to make, but they taste great and keep in the fridge for leftovers. No parent wants to sacrifice a surefire dinner home run, but the sugar content in many commercial pasta sauces is very high. If you've been using a store-bought pasta sauce, you might want to consider a homemade option.
Our expert Jodi Danen offers a great recipe to get you started. And if you're pressed for time, as most of us are, try Muir Glen Organics Tomato Basil, a favorite of expert Sheri Kasper's.
Tip 7: Seek out healthier swaps.7 of 8
Ultimately, no matter how often we tell our kids that too much sugar is harmful to their health, they're still going to want to eat it. So, instead of always saying "no" to sugary treats, try swapping out some of the higher-sugar items they love with healthier ones that still satisfy their sweet tooth.
Add a handful of dark chocolate chips to popcorn or pretzels on movie night, or pop a few frozen grapes, banana slices or cherries in place of a sugary snack. Use ripe bananas to sweeten oatmeal or in place of jelly in a peanut butter sandwich. And we have plenty more smart swap ideas, too.