This week on the Comfort Food Podcast, we’re talking about the unrealistic expectation that you and your kids should stop eating sugar (how? why?!) — and how to approach the sweet stuff with sanity.
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A new study on little kids and sugar consumption has triggered a flurry of handwringing—and mom guilt. But are American toddlers really eating too much added sugar? And is banning sugar from your kids’ diets a good idea (or even possible)? We looked at the data behind the hype in order to bust some common myths about sugar highs and childhood obesity—to get to what we really need to be concerned with when feeding our kids. We also discuss why kids need to eat treats (yes, really!) in order to have a healthy relationship with food… and why this is important for adults too.
And here are some specifics that we mentioned in the episode.
How to Pack Food for Traveling
Toddlers and Sugar
You can read the abstract of the study here on toddlers and sugar from epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’re all concerned about the health of our kids, but it’s so hard to keep added sugars in check when almost nobody has the time or inclination to make everything they eat from scratch. And studies like this tend to get distorted by the media… leaving us with a lot of guilt, but few solutions for how to implement useful changes.
Are Sugar Highs Real?
We know it might be hard to believe, but the science shows that sugar doesn’t get your kids high (or cause monster tantrums when the alleged sugar rush wears off). Here’s a study Virginia mentioned from the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and the New England Journal of Medicine if you want to get into the nitty gritty of the research.
I like to remember that toddlers, especially, have a hard time controlling their emotions in high excitement situations. (After all, even much bigger kids and adults struggle with that!) So the next time you go to a birthday party, and your kiddo isn’t being their typical angelic self, know that he may be acting out because it’s all SO much fun—not because he ate a cupcake. Also consider how much you’re building up treat foods as bad or forbidden: Knowing they’ve pushed a boundary and scored something mom may not like can be enough to trigger intense emotions and their corresponding behaviors.
The Issue With Using Treats as Rewards
We also quote Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, one of our favorite dietitians who writes about feeding families. (Her book Fearless Feeding is great.) Here’s a recent post she wrote about the pitfalls of using food to reward kids: What Rewarding Kids with Foods Looks like 20 Years Later.
Kids and Obesity
As Virginia says in the episode: Demonizing one ingredient hasn’t worked in the past (think about the low-fat craze of the 1980s or the carb phobia of the 1990s and 2000s). So it’s equally unhelpful to blame the obesity epidemic on sugar. We need to take a much broader look at how we’re treating food—and activity levels and happiness—in our kid’s lives.
And part of normal eating is having treat foods around without agita. For us, that usually means serving them alongside the rest of the meal so kids can pick and choose what they want to eat. When we do that, we do limit portions by using the principle of sharing: If there are six cookies on the plate and three people sharing the meal, then everyone can have two. But we also pick times when we let our kids decide how much dessert they want to eat — yes, even if that means they order a sundae the size of their head. Here’s a great explanation on how to treat “forbidden foods” from feeding therapist Ellyn Satter.
Recipes from the Episode
We gave a bunch of other tips for how to deal with sugar without making yourself crazy in the show—so we hope that you’ll listen and chime in with your thoughts. We’d love to hear how you handle sugar at your house! Comment below, rate and review us on iTunes or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question you’d like us to tackle in a future show.