Eating disorders and disordered eating thrive in secrecy, so detecting them in your children and teens can often be difficult. However, there are signs and clues to be on the lookout for as a parent.
Summer gets really busy for many families with lots of activities like day-camps, time at the pool or beach, and road trips. These activities leave kids especially hungry and asking for extra snacks, and it can be hard to keep up with their appetites!
Unfortunately, 80% of kids’ snacks and products have added sugar and many have deceptive claims on the packaging. They may say “whole grain” or “made with fruit” or “rich in calcium,” making parents think they are getting something with added nutritional value, whereas many of these are highly processed and full of hidden sugars or sweeteners and other unwanted ingredients such as refined seed oils or artificial colors. These include many brands of granola bars, crackers, chips, yogurts, and fruit snacks.
The sugar in these products adds up fast and just one or two seemingly healthy products can put kids over their suggested daily limit for added sugar. For example, one granola bar can easily have 12g or 3 teaspoons of added sugar, which is half of the general daily maximum recommended for children ages 2-18. And most kids do not feel as if they have been given dessert if they have a granola bar, but essentially that is what many brands are!
An overly sweet diet can impact children from head to toe and cause risk for many health issues, including those that develop slowly and silently over time such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, systemic inflammation, and eventual cognitive decline. In the short term, kids who have more sugar are more likely to struggle to concentrate and to be moodier and more fatigued. Reducing sugar in daily staples such as drinks and snacks can make a big difference in children’s overall health.
For drinks, we always suggest water instead of juice or sports drinks. Liquid sugar is especially harmful for kids as it delivers a concentrated dose in a short amount of time and is often high in fructose which is hard for the body to handle. Juice can easily cause gastrointestinal issues from fructose malabsorption and it can also cause risk for the silent development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease because fructose is processed in the liver where it is converted to fat. You can make water more accessible by giving kids high-quality refillable water bottles that kids can take with them. Adding ice or fresh or frozen fruit can make water more fun and appealing. Or try chilled herbal tea as another flavored option that doesn’t contain added sugar.
For snacks, whole or cut fruits and cut veggies are always excellent options, so try to include those when you can. Include some dips like hummus or nut/seed butters, because this adds extra nutrients and kids love to dip! One of our favorite easy snacks is cucumber slices where kids get to dip the slices in Japanese Furikake seasoning, which is a mix of seaweed flakes, sesame seeds, and sea salt. Look for a brand that does not have added sugar or MSG in it. Kids love this because it gives the cucumber a great crunch and added flavor. Another very easy idea is to cut a watermelon into rectangular pieces, retaining the rind on to use as a handle, and freezing it on parchment paper into one-ingredient ice pops. These are so refreshing and fun to eat on a hot day. See our Instagram page @sugarproofkids for more details.
In our book Sugarproof, we give lots of other ideas and recipes for simple snacks. As an example, Crispy Chickpea Snacks are so flavorful and you can modify the seasonings based on what your family likes. We especially love the garam masala version, and the Italian version with rosemary and oregano is also amazing. The chickpea snacks are high in fiber so they keep kids satisfied, and are also easy to make and affordable. For something sweet that is also plant-based and high fiber, try our no-bake Chocolate Sesame Squares. They are full of chocolately flavour and in addition to being free from added sugar, they also happen to be gluten-free and dairy-free for anyone with those needs.
We know that making your own snacks isn’t always possible and it’s helpful to know which ready-made products you can rely on that use good ingredients and your kids will like. For non-perishable options, here are some products we like: any type of raw or roasted nuts (ideally without refined oils), mini size Lara bars, Skout Kids bars, crackers that are made without refined flours and do not have seed oils such as Mary’s Gone Crackers, Flackers, Wasa Crisp Breads, or Whisps Parmesan Cheese Crisps. Instead of potato chips or popcorn that contains added sugar and/or refined seed oils, try a popcorn like Lesser Evil Himalayan Gold or Terra Chips made with Plantains and cooked in coconut oil. Protein snacks such as New Primal Meat Sticks or Babybel cheese are also convenient and do not contain added sugars.
With these tips, you can keep up with your children’s summer snack appetites and keep them healthier at the same time.
Dr. Michael Goran, Ph.D. and Dr. Emily Ventura, Ph.D. are co-authors of pioneering new book, SUGARPROOF: The Hidden Dangers of Sugar That Are Putting Your Child’s Health at Risk and What You Can Do (Avery/Penguin Random House).
Dr. Michael Goran, Ph.D. is a professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and Scientific Advisor for popular brand, Yumi Baby Food. Dr. Emily Ventura is an expert in nutrition education and recipe development. Sugarproof busts myths about the various types of sugars and sweeteners, helps families identify sneaky sources of sugar in their diets, and suggests realistic, family-based solutions to reduce sugar consumption and protect kids.
To purchase the book or for more information, visit www.sugarproofkids.com
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