Top ten strategies for weaning kids off a high sugar diet

I'm an ambassador for That Sugar Film and when I facilitate screenings or talk to people who have seen the film there is a common theme. Initially, the response is 'I'm alarmed', the next reaction is 'how am I going to reduce sugar in our crazy, busy household?'.

Of course it is important to start good nutritional habits for our children as soon as they start to eat solid foods. Most families do, but as a child grows and adopts amazing ways to pull at our heart strings with a flutter of their eyes, a pout or an insurmountable threat of a seemingly never-ending tantrum a parent is going to relax those solid nutritional foundations. Besides this, we live in a community where treats such as biscuits, cakes and lollies are freely passed around at most social gatherings whether that be a play date or a sporting event.

I want to dismiss the fallacy that because diet and nutrition is my passion, my children must miss out on treats always. To provide a healthy diet to our children does not mean feeding them solely lettuce leaves, kale and quinoa. In fact, my children say 'ooh gross' at the mere mention of these ingredients. Yes even my two year old has mastered the 'ooh gross' saying. I'm not a parenting expert by any means but I thought I would share strategies that have helped my four children accept that a healthy diet is the norm in our household.

1. Be clear on what you want and why you want it (it helps to write it down)

I want my children to eat a healthy, low sugar, low processed food diet. The reason I want this is so that they feel strong and healthy, avoid disease/sickness and live longer with a positive body image.

2. Stay strong in your goals when your children reject the food (because they will)

The first sacrifice a parent needs to make is be willing to see food wasted. There are ways around this if you are a skilled cook or in my case if you're partner has an infinite appetite. To familiarise children with healthy food you need to serve it up and regularly. If I know my children aren't going to eat it I serve them a very small portion and (I'll be honest, usually beg) them to taste 1 tablespoon then I offer a peanut butter sandwich on wholemeal as a last resort. After 3-4 evenings of this, my children usually enjoy (ok "enjoy" is a stretch, lets just say "put up with") my quinoa/kale dish. I'll also mention here that when home cooking is a regular occurrence, smells and experiences will make a peanut butter sandwich seem dull in comparison to a home-cooked meal.

3. Do it gradually but have a plan and stick to it

4. If you fall off the wagon and the kids have had very little healthy meals for a week, get back on it. (It's that simple, don't beat yourself up and become overwhelmed)

5. Tell your children why you're making changes to their diet.

My 6 year old daughter describes my job as helping people live longer. I like to tell her that her food is healthy because I love her so much and want her to live in happiness and with good health as long as possible.

6. Have plenty of fruit within reach that children can get themselves, and eat themselves.

My youngest child is now 2 and I do not peel or chop apples or pears. He still grabs them from the fruit bowl and after a little protestation he will eat them whole.

7. Put individual salad ingredients on a platter with dips or mayonnaise

8. Use diet cordial or diet soft drinks to soften the blow

If your children are seriously addicted to sugary drinks it may seem a habit that is too ingrained to break. Ease them off the sugar by substituting with artificial sweeteners but only for a short amount of time, 5-6 weeks maximum. Remember, juice has a similar amount of sugar to soft drink.

9. Buy raisin toast instead of banana bread

If it's a regular habit to stop at cafes and have a treat while mum or dad grab a coffee, purchase raisin toast instead of cakes, muffins and biscuits.

10. If they are at a social gathering, children can eat whatever they are offered.

In my experience my children are regularly offered sweets and they say yes. I feel perfectly happy for my children to indulge with others, after all social skills are important as is relaxing the rules on occasion.

If you are struggling with getting your family to consume healthy foods contact foodhealth to see how we can support you.

Jody Seaton is the founder of foodhealth. A qualified chef and an experienced high school food technology teacher. Jody is now completing a higher degree by research in nutrition and dietetics. If you enjoyed this article and would like to subscribe to future blogs please click here.

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