One year in early March, my three oldest boys voluntarily decided to do a No Sugar Challenge until Easter. We were shocked. Teachers and coaches kept asking if they were doing it for Lent, and I’m afraid that while we are very much Christian, Lent has never been part of our Easter observance. My kids responded with “What’s that?”
It was amazing to hear them come home daily and tell yet another story about how they passed on cupcakes, candy, and more. We really didn’t expect them all to stick with it, especially the pre-schooler.
Probably my biggest concern was that people were thinking I had coerced them! I have great kids, don’t get me wrong, but they love treats, they fight, they break things. We have plenty of what you’d expect in a house of boys. I found myself hoping they made it clear it was their choice and they were not forced by their mom the health nut.
I enjoy a treat every once in a while, but in a world that sometimes seems to be fueled by sugar (especially for kids) it can feel like it’s taking over. And while we do enjoy a decent amount of sugar, I believe that for our family, it’s important to teach our kids that sugar can take a toll and we should do our best to keep it a treat.
Here are a few things that are helping our family:
Choosing Progress Over Perfection
While it’s easy to become uptight and frustrated about what can feel like excessive sugar consumption, it can be just as easy to throw caution to the wind and let kids have all they want. Even though we’ll all have seasons when we’re just glad to have food in the house at all, we’ll also have times when we can reap the benefits of creating healthier habits.
When we can acknowledge life’s imperfections yet keep striving to do better in spite of them, it opens the door to small improvements. When I stop to look back and appreciate how far we’ve come, I’m amazed at how those small improvements have led to big progress. Finding peace with the right approach for your season of life will trickle into your interactions and go a long way to avoid unnecessary frustration for everyone.
Set the Example
While I’m far from perfect, my kids notice my choices. They notice and frequently comment when I make healthier choices, and I never dreamed the no sugar challenge would have rubbed off on them. Finding any area where we can make incremental improvements can be an opportunity for discussion and growth, especially when focused on caring for the magnificent gift of our bodies.
Society needs us to teach kids that healthy habits are about much more than appearances and numbers on the scale. Our kids need the critical message that healthy habits are about all of the good we can do when we care for our health. So whether it’s a no sugar challenge, some extra veggies, fewer treats, or water over soda, finding a little something we adults can do to improve will grab kids’ interest. When they ask, it’s a great time to talk about the power of healthier habits.
Create Healthier Versions of Favorite Treats
Just because I don’t buy much refined sugar anymore, doesn’t mean we don’t still love treats to celebrate birthdays and holidays. Over time I’ve found recipes we love for simple, healthier versions of ice cream, brownies, cakes, and more. The additional time is minimal and the tradeoff is fantastic. We feel good afterward, and my kids learn that they can celebrate and take care of their bodies at the same time. I love celebrating growing older by investing in our future health.
Every once in a while, when it’s too much work to make a healthy version of a much-loved treat, it does make sense to let someone else do the cooking. Once when my kids really wanted to carry on our cinnamon rolls tradition and I didn’t want to take the time to make it happen, I purchased a few large cinnamon rolls from a local bakery and cut them in half. They still got to enjoy the treat, but I kept the quantity to a minimum. Sometimes just finding ways to have less will make a big difference!
Consider a Bribe
For a child or teen not totally on board with the no sugar challenge, a reward may make it fun and exciting. One of my son’s pre-teen friends has agreed to go without sugar for a year in exchange for $100, except for a few agreed-upon special occasions. He’s pretty excited about the deal and it makes it much easier for him to say no thanks to candy and soda when he’s away from home.
Just Keep Trying
Even when my kids end up eating a lot of sugar, I’m inspired by my brother-in-law, Keith, who as a young child received “Harvest Baskets” filled with healthy goodies instead of traditional candy-filled Easter baskets. Even though outside influences eventually led to this tradition being discontinued, the influence of his mom’s commitment to health carried on. Keith gained an appreciation for healthy eating and assures me that my boys will “feel the difference” when they leave home.
Although sometimes I wish I had a delete key I could use to remove most of the sugary temptations that surround us, the no sugar challenge taught me that I didn’t necessarily want to remove it completely. But as I keep trying to find the best ways to fuel myself and my family, it becomes easier and easier to bypass the short-term indulgences and enjoy the benefits of better habits. Ever so slowly I see my boys gaining an appreciation for their magnificent bodies and gradually making healthier choices. Helping them tune into that internal compass is one of the lasting ways I can have an impact on their health, so I’m going to keep trying no matter what.
QUESTION: Do you think kids eat too much sugar?
CHALLENGE: Find one small way to cut back on the sugar in your home.
Edited by Kimberly A. Price
Image provided by the author.