How to Raise Sugar-Free Kids

By Lilian Presti
Lilian Presti
Lilian Presti
July 4, 2014 Updated: January 20, 2020

It is hard to ignore the fact that we now live in a sugar-coated world. Our continent’s addiction to sugar has become epidemic. We can see the evidence in our expanding waistlines and in our health by way of diet-related diseases such as diabetes. Contrary to past thinking, we now know that sugar is not simply a harmless treat to be enjoyed without much cause for concern. Rather, it is an extremely damaging substance that hooks us like a drug and then slowly starts to undermine our health with each sweet mouthful we take in.

Trying to raise a healthy child today necessitates controlling their diet. Left to their own devices, most children will naturally gravitate towards sugar-filled foods as humans are genetically wired to appreciate the sweetness that certain foods impart. This fact coupled with the power of advertising for candy bars, pop, cereals, and other sugar filled products on children has succeeded in producing a generation of eaters that love their sugar. Yet, with current consumption levels where they are (according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data from 1999, sugar consumption is 158 pounds per person per year) it is becoming near impossible to raise a new generation of healthy, happy and balanced children.

In order to protect children from the damaging effects of sugar, parents need to be diligent in implementing healthy habits and anticipating pitfalls. Below are some strategies that have worked for parents with the same goal.

Strategy #1 – Don’t bring sugar filled foods into the house

If sugary foods are in the house, it is much harder to try and keep your child away from them. If cookies or other treats make it into the house, your children will see them and constantly be reminded of them. Not having them in the house means they are out of sight and out of mind.

Strategy #2 – Be an example

It is hard to convince your child not to eat sugary foods if you are regularly eating them yourself. Learn to set a good example, both you and your child will benefit.

Strategy #3 – Buy holiday candy from them

I heard this idea from friends who wanted to keep their daughter away from holiday candy and I thought it was very clever. Instead of depriving your child from festive activities such as trick-or-treating at Halloween or going to birthday parties where the loot bags are large enough to upgrade your dentist’s car, allow your child to attend these events with the agreement that you will buy the candy back from them for $$ or you will exchange it for a trip to the zoo or movies. This way, they can enjoy the social aspects of these holidays without paying the price through their health.

Strategy #4 – Work with other parents

Chances are if you’re concerned about the amount of sugar your child is eating, then other parents are too. Bring up the subject with the parents you socialize with and see if there are ways to minimize the amount of sugar that is served at each other’s house during play-dates or sleepovers. If you sense hesitation, you can always offer to supply snacks that you feel are more appropriate. Most parents are more open to ideas when you make it easy for them.

Strategy #5 – Discuss your food “rules” with your child before going out

Many parents cave into their child’s demands when they are out because they don’t want to make a scene. Children often realize this pattern and use it to their advantage. Rather than wait for a situation to arise in public with your child, lay down the rules and the consequences of their behavior before you head out. If children know the boundaries and the consequences, they are more likely to behave.

Strategy #6 – Be prepared with food

A key strategy to employ with children is to never allow them to get really hungry in places where temptation is abundant. Always make sure that children are well fed before heading to the mall or to a sporting event, and make sure you always carry relatively healthy snacks with you. This will decrease their inclination to want to fill their stomachs with unhealthy items.

Strategy #7 – Be clear and firm with other family members

One of the most difficult situations to navigate is familial sabotage. Many family members will insist on feeding your child sweet treats or buying them unhealthy presents whenever they see them. Their intentions to make your child smile may be sweet but if this turns into a regular practice, you will need to have a conversation with them letting them know your philosophy. The clearer you are with others right from the beginning, the easier things should be. If they sense any waffling or hesitation from you, they may try to push your limits. Keep in mind that you may initially ruffle some feathers when having these discussions with family members. Gain strength by reminding yourself that it is one of your greatest responsibilities as a parent to protect the health of your child.

Trying to raise sugar-free kids does not mean that you can never let them enjoy a piece of birthday cake or savor an ice cream cone on a warm summer day. Instead, it represents the quest to keep our children healthy within an increasingly unhealthy world. By returning to more reasonable eating habits that include saving sugary foods for special occasions, we can endeavor to provide our children with the healthy future that they deserve.

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*Images of “child” and “snack” via Shutterstock

Lilian Presti
Lilian Presti