Friday, January 14, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

The holidays are over and it’s back to regular sleep and eating schedules. We’ll get a break from the continuous cookie-candy-cake-pie cycle that plagued us over the holidays. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been mindful to throw in a vegetable here and there, but overall it’s been Junk Food-palooza.

During the school year I am more conscious of the foods my kids eat. When I was on a first-name basis with my son’s kindergarten teacher because of his inability to sit still and focus, I took a long hard look at what we were feeding him. And it wasn’t pretty. A typical breakfast would consist of chocolate milk and instant oatmeal. Then he’d have a peanut and jelly sandwich, chocolate milk, a snack (fruit snack, granola bar) and a piece of fruit.

So let’s break this down. Your average glass of chocolate milk contains about 18 grams of sugar. I rarely use the suggested amount. I try to use less. But for grins, let’s say 10 grams of sugar. Then there’s instant oatmeal which has about 12 grams of sugar. So right off the bat, the kids are getting 22 grams of sugar before they leave the house. Then at lunch—everything contains some sugar.

But here’s the rub. The American Heart Association recommends that most WOMEN should consume no more than 100 calories, and MEN no more than 150 calories, of added sugar. That’s about 6 to 9 teaspoons, or 25 to 37.5 grams, of sugar a day. In other words, my kids were receiving almost as much of the recommended daily allowance for adults BEFORE they walked out the door. 

But in the world of processed foods, it’s hard to avoid sugar. So my husband and I made a conscious choice to limit our kids’ sugar consumption during the school week and be more lax during the weekends. That means that there are a lot of sugar-free products in our home. And yes, we realize that we are trading sugar for artificial sweeteners.

However, we do other things to balance that out. For example, fruit is readily available at our house. One of my proudest moments was when my four-year-old looked past the chocolate on the table and asked for an orange. We don’t allow the kids to have chocolate milk all the time. Once in a while they have to drink it plain. And we started providing water with lunch.

With these small changes, we did start seeing changes in my son’s behavior. Now we notice when we packed too much sugar in his lunch. His behavior reflects it.

Next time you go shopping, take a hard look at the nutrition labels. The sugar content in our favorite products is ridiculous. But as my son recently told his uncle, “If it tastes really good, it probably isn’t good for you.” He’s too young to have such wisdom.

How do you balance your kid’s sugar intake?

Reace Alvarenga-Smith is a Public Relations Manager for Texas Health Resources, a mother of two, and a reader of nutrition labels.

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