Paige Katzenstein, a registered dietician with Cambridge Health Alliance Katzenstein; Keith Kantor, Ph.D., a leading natural food advocate and author of What Matters (Effective Press, 2012) and Jeffrey Karen, DDS, a pediatric dentist at Dentistry for Children in South Weymouth, offer their advice when it comes to your child’s sugar intake:
1. Always give kids a choice of two healthy foods – For example, Katzenstein says, “You can choose fruit or a granola bar.”
2. Involve the kids – If you bake with your kids, use healthy ingredients (for example, make oatmeal cookies or desserts featuring fruit or nuts).
3. Limit the portion size of sweets – Whatever can fit in the palm of the child’s hand (two cookies, for example) is a good rule of thumb for how much to offer.
4. Stay hydrated – Sometimes people crave a sweet when they really need to drink water. Kantor adds, “The general rule is you should drink one half your bodyweight in ounces per day. So children weighing 60 pounds should drink at least 30 ounces of water per day.”
5. Ditch the candy and cookie jars; keep the fruit bowl handy – If you do have a cookie or a candy jar, fill it only with the quantity you want to be consumed that week. Entice kids with fruit that is within view, washed, perhaps peeled and cut up in bite-sized pieces, and ready to eat.
6. Plan healthy, well-balanced meals – Make sure to encompass several food groups rather than carbs only (like cereal or pasta). Both Katzenstein and Kantor recommend the Plate Method (www.choosemyplate.gov), which primarily features veggies in healthy meal planning. “Try an omelet with veggies and a side of steel-cut oats or a grilled chicken salad with oil and vinegar dressing,” says Kantor. “Full-fat dressing is better than fat-free because fat-free dressings tend to have excessive amounts of preservatives that will make you hungrier in the long run.”
7. Eat regularly – “Being ‘famished’ can cause you to eat anything in sight because you are looking to bring up your blood sugar from going too long without food,” says Kantor. “If you eat regularly and still get sugar cravings, make sure you are getting adequate healthy fats and protein at each meal and snack.”
8. Don’t have regular desserts after meals – “If you let your children eat high-quality foods when they are hungry until they are satisfied, you will see they will eat exactly what their bodies need,” Kantor notes. “Encourage your kids to finish their vegetables and try to break the dessert habit.”
9. Avoid sticky sweets – Gummies, caramels, fruit roll-ups and other candies of similar consistency are more likely to stick to teeth and lead to the formation of cavities.
10. Avoid sugary beverages – “Even fruit juices that claim to be 100-percent natural can lead to the breakdown of enamel and increase the risk for dental decay,” Karen advises. Sodas and sports drinks also damage teeth.
Mary Alice Cookson is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.