The search for healthy food for kids (and the whole family) that isn’t laden with added sugar like much of the processed and packaged stuff out there needn’t take as long (or as much brain power) as you’d think – at least not once you get into the swing of things!
It is recommended that we only get 10% of our daily energy from added sugars; even less at 5% for health benefits. Remember, this does not include sugars naturally occurring in whole foods such as veg, fruit or dairy.1
For an average adult, 5% of kilojoules translates to about 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams, of added sugar per day.
For kids, it is recommended that children over 2 years limit intake to 6 teaspoons per day. And those under 2, they shouldn’t really have any added sugar at all.
It is important our kids aren’t overloaded with the sweet stuff, nor the processed packaged food that it often comes in. Too much, and they risk nutritional insufficiencies, tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, obesity (and its related health conditions), and heart disease.1
Here are some foods often high in added sugar you might want to limit in your kids every day, with alternatives you can offer for kids meals. Encouraging healthy eating for kids is important. Healthy meals for kids help nourish their brain and body in this time of critical development.
Sugar-laden and comprised of heavily refined, high GI carbohydrates, these do not set up your kids for success (despite what the advertisements tell you).
Swap with: whole oats, berries, chopped banana or other seasonal/favourite fruits, and a dollop of plain, unsweetened full-fat yoghurt for a healthy breakfast for kids. Or go savoury with an egg slice or frittata that includes some spinach, peas and tomato, or some egg, bacon and greens muffins. The fibre, fat, protein and nutrients served up will keep them powering on!
Breakfast biscuits, bars, liquids and shakes are sugar hits in seemingly healthy foods. Not the best way to start the day, as a quick surge and crash in energy from foods like this make it far more difficult to concentrate and learn at school and maintain a happy and stable mood.
Swap with: homemade smoothie is an easy meal for kids, and packs in a lot of nutrition if including for example, unsweetened milk (dairy, nut, oat or otherwise), banana, berries, a dollop of full-fat unsweetened yoghurt, some baby spinach, and if your child can tolerate, a few almonds, cashews or oats.
Sticky and tacky, fruit snacks often have sugars or concentrates added, and when that stuff gets stuck to the teeth too often, we are set for a trip to the dentist. Not a good snack idea for kids.
Swap with: Real fruit. Paired with plain yoghurt, nuts, seeds or 100% nut spread, and you have tasty, sustaining, healthy snacks for kids. Keep dried fruit to a minimum, ensure it is unsweetened, and pair with some nuts and seeds.
Quick delivery of free sugars will send your kids energy sky-rocketing, only to plummet a short time later. Long-term, there is a concern for dental caries, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, fatty liver and other issues.
Swap with: water, water infused with whole pieces of fruit and herbs like berries, lemon, apple and mint, plain milk, and if having fruit juice, choose 100% and water it down.
Refined, white flours
Pasta, bread, cakes, muffins and pastries – there are better and worse options for these foods. And it is the refined white stuff that is not ideal.
Commonly the foundation for many meals in the Western diet, the heavily refined flour used in foods like white bread and pasta is comprised of simple, not complex, carbohydrate, quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and lacking the goodness of its whole grain counterparts.
Active kids can burn through carbohydrates that eventually get broken down into simple sugars – but whole grains should be the source of this energy over the processed white stuff. Whole foods come packaged with fibre and other beneficial nutrients to lessen the impact on the body, slowing the absorption of naturally occurring sugars, and as a result, supply a longer lasting source of fuel.
Swap with: whole grains, vegetables, fruit. For example, a banana is super satisfying and a source of nutrient-dense energy when wanting something sweet and filling. After healthy lunch ideas for kids to replace that sugary slice or cake? Try an egg muffin, an easy-to-pack-into-a-lunchbox delight! Chuck in a heap of veggies, as these along with the protein in the eggs, provide longer lasting energy and help support growth.
Other things to consider:
- Keep sugary drinks and packaged goods either out of the house or to a minimum.
- It is okay for your kids to have an occasional serving of white pasta or flavoured yoghurt/bickie/chocolate. We aren’t saying to abstain altogether; they just don’t need to have these all day every day.
- Keep an eye out for the many names of sugar in the ingredients list, and remember the higher up the ingredients list, the more sugar is in that product. Added sugar comes in many disguises, and it sneakily creeps into our everyday foods, as well as the obviously sweet stuff like a Mars Bar or Fanta.
After more kids meal ideas? We’ve plenty of healthy recipes for the whole family and inspiration for whole food ideas in our books, e-books and recipes on our website. Enjoy getting creative in finding better whole-food alternatives for you and your kids. It may be a little tricky at first, but tackle the changes one food item at a time – it will be worth it!
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- World Health Organisation 2015, WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children, viewed 26 July 2016, <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/>