Okay, guys. By now you've probably decided whether or not you're going to join us in the 2012 Sugar-Free Revolution. I hope you've decided to do so, because it will most certainly change your life. But it's not going to be easy...especially for kids.
Having changed our family members' diets 5 1/2 years ago (when my oldest was 6 months old), I've had a LOT of time to think about how to navigate the obstacles when it comes to food and eating in social settings. I've had ups and downs, and tried many things. Based upon my experiences, I'll share how I manuever sugar-pushing situations that are specific to children.
1). Birthday parties: I am very selective about how many parties I allow my kids to go to. My oldest is in Kindergarten, and gets a lot of invites. Luckily, though, he doesn't know about all of them. Many times the parents will call me directly or send an invite in the mail. The kids he is really good friends with, I'll allow him to go. He probably attends two or three parties each year. As you are aware, almost all parties have cake and pizza. Usually I suggest to have a small piece of cake and maybe take the cheese off the pizza (since my kids have not grown up on dairy, I don't want their tummies to hurt at a party). I also tell him if they have candy or other treats, to maybe not eat a lot of those "yuckies", which is the word we have used since my son was a toddler to describe junk food. I'm not rigid or stern when I make the suggestions about healthy eating at the party. I'm merely planting a suggestive seed of moderation into his little head :) It is ultimately up to the child to decide how much he/she is going to indulge. My son has always done a really good job and I don't worry too much about it.
This year my son has chosen to go sugar-free, but we've decided together to make exceptions for the few parties he goes to. In March he went to a party and ate some cake, but didn't eat the ice-cream and brought home his candy to save for his Halloween buy-back stash at the dentist. I didn't tell him to do any of that -- he did it on his own.
2). Church: Wow. Who would've thought that church would be such a candy-pusher. Even the nursery for kids 18 months to 3 years sometimes serves questionable food. Think marshmallows. But it's not just the unhealthy food that's the problem at church...it's the sibling rivalry that results in: "Why did he get candy in his class and I didn't?" Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa....
Luckily, I nipped this in the bud and we don't have too many problems...now. (I've had my fair share of ups and downs with food at church.)
When the kids are in nursery, I pack a healthy snack every week and give it to the teacher. Many times, my kids will share their snack with the other kids. And even though I know my kids sometimes eat the nursery food in addition to their healthy snack, it sets the precedent in their minds that healthy food is ALWAYS in the picture. Nursery is not an excuse to eat whatever crappy food they want. Their cucumbers are always there, eyeing them down....lol!!
When they are older and in Primary (for kids 3-12), I have done a couple of different things. At first, for my son, I gave a box of special treats that he picked out and were mother-certified to his teacher. If the teacher was planning on bringing treats for the other kids, she would pick something from the box and bring it for him. I loved the time when he got an Easter egg filled with a Cliff Fruit Rope instead of candy :) This worked for a bit, but then the teachers were changed and we never saw what was remaining of the treat box. So I did things differently this year. I got a bunch of boxes of 100% fruit, fruit snacks at the Health Store that were on sale. My kids never get fruit snacks, so it's a really special treat for them. My son puts his fruit snack in his Blazer pocket and pulls it out if the teacher gives out treats. My daughter, who is only 3, gives hers to her teacher every week. If the teacher has treats for the kids, she hands my daughter her fruit snack. If not, she gives the snack back to my daughter at the end of class. It has been working out great. I've been thinking it's working out so well this year because both know they have chosen to go sugar-free, and will be rewarded later on with money from staying away from the sugary treats their teachers are giving out. But I'm not sure. I feel really lucky they are both so responsible for their own bodies and haven't really said anything about treats in church lately. We'll see what happens throughout the year :)
School: Very similar to church, but actually a little easier. I have the kids pick out approved treats/snacks and put them in a box a little bigger than a shoebox. When I meet the teachers at the beginning of the year, I tell her that we are very healthy eaters, and that we don't eat meat, dairy, or refined sugar, and I give her the box to put behind her desk. I tell her not to feel like she has to be the regulator -- that my children will tell her when they need to choose from the box. When I first did this, I was a little hesistant. But I feel it is so much better if you are confident, and NOT APOLOGETIC, when talking to teachers or care-givers, etc. Don't say, "I'm sorry, I know it's a burden....We're wierd...blah, blah, blah." NO!!!!!!!! The thing is, If you're reading this blog, you probably have at least a smidgen of knowledge or intuition that refined-sugar wreaks havoc on your little person's body. And if we, as parents, know there are better things the kids could receive than candy or other sugar-filled desserts, we should act accordingly!! Don't turn a blind eye! In a time when childhood obesity, Type-2 diabetes, and other diseases are at an all-time high, it's not the cool thing to do anymore! The candy-pushing in school is ridiculous, if you ask me. My son doesn't tell me about every time he has to choose out of his box, but every once in a while I ask and he tells me of several instances. I start to feel bad that he's had to go to his box, but he doesn't seem to mind, to be honest. And he'll be healthier and a better person for it :) In a utopic world, schools wouldn't allow food to be given at all. With all of the dietary allergies and preferences these days, it just seems to make sense. And then none of us would have to deal with food issues in school.
--School Holiday Parties: Usually my kids bring their loot home and I tell them they can choose a couple pieces of candy and I take the rest (right to the garbage can). This year, I guess I'll make them some sort of treat at home in exchange for their stash. I like to make them a part of the process, so I'm going to ask them what they want for their candy. Valentine's Day is coming up so I'm already thinking about that. My daughter is giving her Valentine with a glitter tattoo attached. My son is giving his Valentine with a little "sticky hand" or other small trinket from the store. They're both excited.
Although my son gave up his candy for Valentines in exchange for a valentines box full of his special treats and dollar store toys, we decided together that he would have a "pass" for large holidays, starting with Easter. I was a little nervous that he and his sister would go crazy and consume too much during Easter, but it surprised me that they didn't eat much candy at all! My son did like the chocolate covered strawberries, though :)
Sports Games: Ohhhhhhhh....the food at sports games. First of all, when my son was in Pre-School, he started soccer. The games were 28 minutes long, and there was a snack at half-time and a snack after the game, which is stupid in-and-of itself, if you ask me :) In the newsletter from the organization, parents were to bring orange slices or something of that nature, but oh no....orange slices weren't good enough! They wanted to bring Oreo Cookies, those stinkin' High-Fructose Corn Syrup-filled Capri Suns (don't people know they sell ones with 100% juice?), Ho-Hos, Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and whatever your mind can imagine. So, the 3 and 4 year olds would exercise their little bodies for 14 minutes, get a sugar-high, exercise for 14 more minutes, and get another sugar-high. AHHH!! Can I even tell you the frustration I felt? Moreso because it made me be "the bad guy" every 14 minutes, telling my child that these things were not good for him and he wouldn't be able to have them. Or because I had to try and distract him from where the treats were being given out. Or because I had to negotiate and let him have some of it.
My mom took my son to a game one time when I was out of town, and tried to offer him red pepper slices when the treats were being handed out. He loved red pepper slices, but in the face of a granola bar, no way!! She told me everybody was laughing at her because everyone knew she was trying to do what I wanted her to do, but it wasn't working. lol! My poor mom. I'm such a stickler :) But I'm not apologizing for it ! It was worth a try :)
The past fall during soccer season, we encountered the same un-inspiring treat situation. My son, for some reason, was really drawn to the Capri Sun that was handed out as part of the treat. If it had been the 100% juice kind, I would have let him have it. But it wasn't. It was the "yucky" kind. On one occasion, I let him have a few sips. But then I got a coupon for Odwalla juices at CostCo, so we bought a couple cases of those and he chose which kind he wanted for his treat after the game. It worked well because it was something yummy, new, and unusual for him (we usually drink water, not fruit juice). It's more work on the parent's part, but who ever said parenting would be easy?
Movie Theaters: We usually only go to the Dollar Theater with our kids, and we pop our own organic popcorn kernels at home in grapeseed or coconut oil in a non-stick pot, and then salt it. Then we put it in a ziplock bag and bring it to the movie theater. You're probably not supposed to bring your own food into the theater, but it's so much healthier AND tastes better, if you ask me. We also bring some Fruit Leathers or other healthy goodies for the kids. They feel like it's a treat and I feel good giving it to them. As a side note: Don't do popcorn from a microwave bag, just pop it yourself. According to Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, the problem is:
Chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in the lining of the bag, are part of a class of compounds that may be linked to infertility in humans, according to a recent study from UCLA. In animal testing, the chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. Studies show that microwaving causes the chemicals to vaporize--and migrate into your popcorn. "They stay in your body for years and accumulate there," says Naidenko, which is why researchers worry that levels in humans could approach the amounts causing cancers in laboratory animals. DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out PFOA by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan, but millions of bags of popcorn will be sold between now and then."
Back to the subject...
It's easy to feel bad for your child when he/she is eating no sugar. You don't want them to feel left out, or feel bad because they can't have what the other kids are having. To a point, I still experience those feelings. However, I've found that it's really helpful to be positive about not eating sugar. This year it's even more easy to be positive because I say, "If there's something you can't have, I'll make you something yummy for when you get home. What would you like?" Then the kids are excited because they're reminded of the money, and they still get to have a dessert when they get home.
Let your kids be successful. Don't hold them back during the Sugar-Free Revolution because you feel like they should at least be allowed to "have a little". Go through your cupboards and throw out the cereals, the snack bars, the salad dressings, and the peanut butter that have sugar, even if it's only a little. Refined sugar is in so many things. Find replacements!! It's worth changing during a year like this, when your kids will be more apt to accept change.
And keep Larabars and a couple other snacks in your purse (or pockets, men) for the unexpected....you can thank me later :)
I want to open this up to you guys. While I've had a lot of experiences with my kids, they are only 5 and 3 (soon to be 6 and 4). I've found the hardest years to be when they were toddlers - around 2 years old. I couldn't reason with them and they didn't seem interested in the educative aspect of nutrition. They just screamed when they wanted something and couldn't have it. But I haven't had to navigate this way of life with older kids, and tactics to eating healthily are always changing with age.
So my question to you is: What works for your family? Any suggestions about how we might handle this year, being totally sugar-free? Neither Annie nor I have ever done this before with our families. If you have any insight, we'd love to hear it!
We decided together that my son would get a $50 pay-out every 4 months. This has given him more motivation to stay on track because he can get a taste of his reward.
My daughter (now 4) is not going totally sugar-free this year. She is too young to fully understand the concept, and in my eyes, right now she's just learning about her body. She doesn't have to be 100% if she doesn't want to. She was really excited about it at first, but a year is a long time for her. But since my son is going sugar-free, she is learning a lot about which foods are healthy. If she is unfamiliar with a food, she asks if it has sugar in it. And she's always telling me, "We don't eat sugar, right? We eat healthy food!". So I know she's thinking about her food, and the foundation for healthy eating is being laid. And although she's not 100%, she eats candy very minimally...maybe once or twice a month.