We all want our children to be healthy and happy. But what do we do when we have to choose between the two? I'm referring to the practice of rewarding good behavior, soothing a sick or injured child, or celebrating a milestone using large amounts of sugar. Sugary cereals in the morning, cookies or candy in their school lunch boxes, a sweet treat when they come home, and dessert after dinner — these all add up and are creating an epidemic of diabetes, obesity, and illness in this country that should concern any parent.
But how do we win this battle? Do we really want to have your kid be the only one in the school eating an apple at the ice cream social? My answer: yes!
When my oldest was very little, we were a typical American family. A jar full of lollipops on the counter for booboos… Several boxes of cookies in the pantry… A shopping cart full of ice cream… But I was noticing something troubling. My daughter was borderline ADHD and seemed to be almost unable to obey the simplest of requests. Meltdowns, a lack of attention span, and manic highs and lows sent me to the Internet to search for answers that did not involve medication. The answer I found was eliminating sugar.
We went cold turkey at that point. Was there resistance? Ooooooohhhhh let me tell you, it was like watching a drug addict go through detox. Those were the roughest months of my life! But the rewards are plentiful and well worth the tantrums. My oldest now prepares her own salads for lunch and eats grapefruit for breakfast. My middle child's favorite food is carrots. My youngest, who did not grow up on sugar, gets giddy with joy when she sees green and red peppers.
When we tell our kids what their taste buds should prefer simply by offering them those foods in excess, we take away their ability to choose for themselves. I believe sugar is addictive and creates a cycle where we will have to continually give them sugar or else have to deal with their sugar lows which can mimic behavioral disorders. My kids are now incredulous when they see other kids fully hyped up on sugar. They enjoy special times so much more because they're able to pay attention and not get scolded or hurt as a result of crazy behavior.
We do eat sugar now but in extreme moderation. I bake all my own cookies and cakes, so I can control the sugar levels, and I commonly use agave nectar, stevia or applesauce as a replacement. We buy fruit-sweetened candies around the holidays – the kind without the chemical colors or flavors. And, there were times when my kids were in school that I would have to send in fruit while the other kids were eating the birthday cupcakes. My kids still got to participate in all the food-related crafts (making the days of creation out of candy, building gingerbread houses, decorating their own Christmas cookie, etc.), but they just didn't eat the finished product. And then a curious thing happened – other parents started asking me how I do it, and I have been able to share with them how do-able it really is.
It IS doable. It IS hard, though, but we all want our kids to be healthy… AND happy. I’m here to tell you, you can have both.