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How much sugar is too much?

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If you’d asked me 5 years ago I would have told you that children should not have any sugar at all. I had read somewhere that if you kept their diet sugar-free for the first few years of their lives, even if you offered them sweet stuff later they wouldn’t like it anymore. Easier said than done.

My son had no sugary treats until he was two. Then he started child care. It was a centre that was supposed to provide healthy organic food. But kids had birthdays. Lots of them. And that was when we had to make a choice – to let my son have cake and lollies with the rest of the kids or have him excluded from the party… We chose to include him.

Two years wasn’t long enough for his tastebuds to start rejecting sugar (or that theory was completely wrong to begin with), because clearly he had a sweet tooth. There were times when he’d spend the entire two hours of a birthday party at the table, eating junk food and then comment, ‘I had such a good time’. I’d hide the lolly bags we brought home and he’d find them and secretly eat everything in them. These were all signs that we had to rethink our no-sugar policy.

We now have a lolly day once a week – on Sunday (I still don’t buy sweets, but plenty come into the house in the form of lolly bags anyway). The kids seem happy to stick with this rule. The rest of the time we don’t eat sweets at home, but there are still parties, school and playgroup events to go to… with junk food everywhere. At least I can tell them to eat some healthy food before they start on the junk and they’ll listen.

We’ve achieved some balance, but the balancing point is far from where I’d like it to be. I feel that I’ve lost my fight with sugar.

How do you balance between following a healthy diet and your child’s desire to be included, be like everyone else and… well, eat junk food?


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22 Responses to How much sugar is too much?
  1. Carrie
    February 27, 2012 | 12:27 am

    Such a relevant and important question! We, too, try to limit the junk food or sugar, but it does seem to be around every corner.

    My daughter is only 2, and I definitely think it’s harder as they get older or when there are older siblings involved. She goes to daycare, but thankfully they don’t do the sugary treats at birthdays. Maybe your day care would consider changing this tradition? When I think about it, that would be quite a few birthdays/sugary treats! Maybe they can replace bday treats with homemade cards for the birthday child, or a special birthday “wishes” circle or birthday hats and song? I know it’s hard when you’re not in control but those are some of the first thoughts I had about the daycare situation.

    Thanks for sharing – it’s stimulated a lot of thoughts for me!
    Carrie recently posted..I’m a Natural Parent BUT –

    • mum in search
      March 1, 2012 | 12:40 pm

      You have day care that doesn’t do treats on birthdays! Wow, I didn’t know centres like that existed. We’ve changed a few centres and preschools and all of them did birthday cakes. Mind you, I haven’t thought of asking them to change the tradition.

      My son is at school now and my daughter is at home with me, but I’ll definitely look more into the birthday policies next time I have to choose a day care.

  2. Shannon at The Artful Mama
    February 27, 2012 | 1:58 am

    I chose not to fight this battle because I have a terrible sweet tooth myself. But I am often surprised when Little Man makes the choice to grab a carrot instead of another cookie if both are presented to him. It reminds me that the choices I make at home are having an impact on him. I like your idea of sweets on one day of the week. I might have to try that for myself.
    Shannon at The Artful Mama recently posted..I’m Only Half Planning a Natural Birth

    • mum in search
      March 1, 2012 | 12:35 pm

      Good on you and your Little Man! My kids are pretty good with veggies, too, although they won’t necessarily choose them over cookies… Kumato cherry tomatoes stand a chance, but nothing else :)

  3. Dionna @ Code Name: Mama
    February 27, 2012 | 3:19 am

    Isn’t finding a balance with sugar hard?! We didn’t do sugary treats with Kieran for well over a year. Then he discovered frozen custard when he was about 18mo old and oh geez. Then we didn’t do any hard candy until he was about 3.5yrs old, and now that he has tried a lollipop, he begs for them all the time. {sigh}

    • mum in search
      March 1, 2012 | 12:31 pm

      It’s pretty much impossible to last for a few years without the kids discovering all the tempting stuff the world has to offer!

  4. Kymberlee
    February 27, 2012 | 8:42 am

    Once upon a time, I gave my child a choice of fruit or a cookie and my child choose the fruit and I thought “Ahh, I’m such a good mother!!” Yeah…that hasn’t happened since and my child begs for cookies and gum and fruit snacks….

    We just try to limit it to one treat a day, or one every few days. There are lots of battles to fight as parents, it’s just a matter of picking and choosing. Plus, I have a huge sweet tooth so it’s really hard to try to limit myself, and my son! :D

    • mum in search
      March 1, 2012 | 12:21 pm

      I know the “Ahh, I’m such a good mother!” feeling. On his first birthday my son tried a bit of birthday cake and he spat it out. And I thought, ‘Yes!’… his aversion to sweets didn’t last long.

  5. Jessica Pace
    February 27, 2012 | 2:46 pm

    This is a hard one for us too! It is a constant struggle for my son who is almost 4. I hear ya on this one!!!
    Jessica Pace recently posted..Chicken No-nos

  6. Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling
    February 27, 2012 | 2:52 pm

    Yes, it does seem to be a constant challenge to limit sweets– not so much, as you say, limiting them in the home but limiting them at the birthday parties and the grandparents’ house and all over. I struggle with making sure we are limiting sugar and processed foods while also making sure that I am not causing my kids to have an unhealthy, obsessive attitude toward food in general. As someone who struggled with an eating disorder in college, I never want my kids to consider foods completely “off-limits” and the implications of that. It’s definitely a balance…

    -Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling
    Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling recently posted..I’m a natural parent, but…it took me awhile

    • mum in search
      March 1, 2012 | 12:29 pm

      I remember when I left home and I got to choose my own food, and I was 18 at the time… I didn’t end up with eating disorders or weight problems, but I did get fillings in almost all my teeth by the end of that year!

  7. Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet
    February 27, 2012 | 4:03 pm

    I agree – balance is key. (And I must say that I love how your use of the word “lolly” – you don’t hear that very often here. Too great!)

    I remember being a kid and having the couple of “weird” kids in my class. You know the ones: they couldn’t eat any of the treats, their moms packed tofu in their lunches, and they couldn’t really partake in anything the other kids were doing. That subtle difference in their parent’s lifestyle choice made those poor kids really alienated – not just in terms of food, but other things as well, because food is so social. I always felt sad for those kids, and vowed that no matter my personal preferences, they would never take precedence over my kids overall well-being (including having friends). I figure, my son is eating really well nearly 100% of the time he is at home (which is almost always), so if he has treats with others, or a friend offers him something, well, that’s okay. I would rather be gracious and thankful and teach him to appreciate the generosity of others than merely teach him a one dimensional lesson about health. That’s my philosophy, anyways: have a healthy home, but when in Rome (as they say). Sounds like that is what you’re doing. I’m sure he will thank you later!

    My aunt has a PhD in child nutrition and writes a great blog about the issue of HOW we feed our children (not necessarily WHAT we feed them). She is a child nutritionist (by occupation) and a lot of what she talks about is the idea of balance, like you touched on. Her blog is: http://itsnotaboutnutrition.squarespace.com/ if you want to check it out.

    Great post!
    Rachel @ Lautaret Bohemiet recently posted..Switching to (gasp!) disposable diapers (I’m a natural parent, but…)

    • mum in search
      March 1, 2012 | 12:18 pm

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’ve had some doubts if we’ve made the right choice (although what’s the point in doubts when we already made our choice ages ago?), but your story about the weird kids definitely makes me feel a lot better. Don’t want my children to be the weird kids. Thanks the link, too, I’ll check out your aunt’s blog!

  8. Wolfmother
    February 27, 2012 | 6:33 pm

    I think that everything in moderation is the key. I found that if you enforce a complete ban on anything, even sugar, obsessions can develop because no sense of intrinsic self-limiting is practiced. In our home we keep away from junk food as much as possible but we don’t sweat it if we have the occasional goodie either. We also try and offer choices in treats like having fruit alongside cake or cookies as well, making the association that fruit make great sweet treats too and so far it has worked. Actually today my son (20 months)chose to eat strawberries and grapes over chocolate cake (OMG I know!)but I’ve never prevented him from having it when he did want it if it was available either. So he never needs to binge eat when he does come across these things in fear of never having it again because he knows the opportunity will come by again so choosing fruit this time is okay.
    Wolfmother recently posted..Crunchy on the Inside

    • mum in search
      March 1, 2012 | 12:26 pm

      I agree, bans don’t work. Now that we have the weekly lolly day, the kids know exactly when they will get their next treat, so they are not so obsessed with them. Before they’d just grab whatever thy could when they could.

  9. Juice
    February 28, 2012 | 8:35 am

    Everything in moderation. If you follow that premise on just about everything, you will be OK.
    Juice recently posted..Sunshine In Your Body: Orange Juice

  10. T Rex Mom
    March 1, 2012 | 9:13 am

    So far this is not a challenge for us – yet. My oldest rarely wants sweets – he is actually repulsed by chocolate. He will eat all natural fruit snacks for treats but even birthday cake and lollypops are unattractive. His sister – she’s the opposite. Raised the same way.

    We allow her a sweet treat but only in tiny portions. She LOVES chocolate. After lunch or dinner she is allowed 2 chocolate covered blueberries or pretzels. She knows it is limited to two and she won’t ask for more than that.

    I’d say, small amounts more frequently works well for us.
    T Rex Mom recently posted..Survival of the Fittest

    • mum in search
      March 1, 2012 | 12:14 pm

      it probably shows that we are genetically pre-disposed one way or another… oh, but how lucky is someone who doesn’t like sweets!

  11. Veronica @ Mixed Gems
    March 3, 2012 | 9:06 am

    Im such a terrible sweet tooth though I occasionally try to change. Makes it hard to totally deny the children but we do limit it. Don’t think we’d survive a one day. Week policy though. We just have to stop buying any lollies at all. I don’t tend to but hubby does. I’m the chocoholic. I like what one of the commenters said though; food is such a social thing. I’d hate for my girls to be excluded. I think teaching them healthy vs unhealthy options and trying to offer moderation is probably the best policy for us right now.
    Veronica @ Mixed Gems recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – February Snapshot

    • mum in search
      March 5, 2012 | 11:16 am

      I feel a lot better about the balance we’ve found after reading everyone’s comments. It seems to be such a struggle for everyone, especially when we, the parents, love our portion of sweets. My thing is the pearl tea. Until I started making my own at home (using honey instead of sugar), I found it incredibly hard to walk past the shop and not buy one… Luckily now I’m off it completely.

  12. Lauren @ Hobo Mama
    March 4, 2012 | 8:39 pm

    Recently Mikko’s been very interested in learning what foods have “nutrients” in them. This has coincided with trying to limit the junk we have at home, so it’s a good fit. (I loooove sugar but am trying to be better.) Our compromise right now is to have occasional treats as a family but also give him an allowance that he can choose to spend on treats or toys, his choice. This means that sometimes he does buy a huge bag of lollipops, and I have to bite my tongue!
    Lauren @ Hobo Mama recently posted..Sunday Surf: Wet towels, cheap clothes, & celebrating a C-section

    • mum in search
      March 5, 2012 | 11:07 am

      My son asked for lollies for his birthday once (I said, yes) and then he took me to the shop and chose the biggest box of lollies I’ve ever seen! Biting my tongue was not easy… We’ve been talking a lot about nutrients, too, lately.

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Hi, I'm Tat. I believe that through motherhood we're given another chance to find ourselves, grow and shine. I have three beautiful children and I learn a lot from them every day. This year I'm searching for ease in everything I do.More about me and my blog »