How to cut down on sugar as a family

Easy ways to deal with your child’s sweet tooth – and your own

It’s no mean feat keeping children’s sugar consumption in check at the best of times, but Halloween with its treats is especially tricky. Then Christmas and Easter, not to mention birthday parties, all pose the same challenge.

While you'll probably have to accept that some days will be healthier than others, simple steps can help you keep a lid on your family’s everyday sugar intake, without anyone feeling like they’re missing out.

Here's what you need to know

There has been guidance that no more than 5 per cent of your daily calories should come from ‘free sugars’. These are the sugars added to food and drinks like sweets, biscuits, and cakes, but also cereals, yoghurts, and sauces. The sugars in unsweetened fruit and vegetable juice and smoothies, plus honey and syrups, are also free sugars, even though they’re naturally occurring.

So, what does 5 per cent of your daily calories look like? For an adult, it’s around 30g or 7 cubes of sugar. For children aged 7-10 years, it’s approximately 24g or 6 cubes. And for 4-6-year-olds, it’s roughly 19g or 5 cubes. It’s recommended that children under 4 avoid food and drinks with added sugar.

With eating too much sugar linked to tooth decay and weight gain (and being at higher risk of type 2 diabetes if you’re overweight), it’s well worth checking in on your own gang’s consumption. You too might be keen to follow a low-sugar diet or find more sugar-free ideas.

Try these easy ways to rein it in if it’s topping out.

Use carrots, not sticks

You’d be right to wonder if putting sugary sweets, biscuits and cakes totally off limits is really the best policy. Research has found that as well as eating more of a restricted food when it becomes available, children also make more requests for it when it’s off the menu. That’s not a recipe for a healthy diet, or harmonious household!

Stock up on healthier alternatives to tempt you all away from sugary favourites. Fill the cupboards with colourful ingredients and interesting textures, such as crunchy vegetable crisps. Having a variety of options that children can choose from lets them feel they have a stake in the decision-making. With some plain yoghurt in the fridge and a range of toppings to hand, you’re always ready to serve up a snack.

Cook from scratch

One of the best ways of keeping tabs on your sugar total is to cook from scratch. That might not always be practical, but you could start with making your own snacks and treats. As half of children’s sugar comes from snacks and drinks, you can make good inroads by cutting down here. Get children involved with easy makes such as rice paper fruit rolls, wholesome flapjacks or our recipes for blueberry fudge or chocolate nutballs.

Downsize portions

Don’t worry about the occasional cookie. It’s when sugary treats become a regular habit that there’s cause for concern. Also, do keep a check on portion sizes. There has been guidance that we should encourage parents to limit children to a maximum of two snacks a day, each no more than 100 calories. As a rule of thumb, a dark-chocolate covered rice cake contains around 55 calories and 2.6g sugar.

Do drinks differently

It’s easy to forget to take the sugar content of your hydrators into account. This is a problem area for teenagers, especially. Their sugary drink intake is almost double that of younger children, and sugary drinks are their main source of sugar (22 per cent).

It’s recommended that we limit unsweetened fruit or veg juice or smoothies to 150ml a day (this can count as one of your five portions of fruit and veg a day) and otherwise stick to water or milk.

For a fizzy fix, try sparkling water with some chopped fresh fruit or herbs, like citrus, berries, cucumber, mint, basil or rosemary. We’ll drink to that!

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.





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