The summer season is a time for families to unwind, relax and recharge. For many, it means spending time at the beach or on vacation. It can also mean time for children to eat treats typically loaded with sugar, which can affect their physical and mental health.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends less than 25 grams of sugar per day, which is about six teaspoons,” said Rainie Robinson, a registered dietitian at Children's of Alabama.
Robinson says the summertime is an excellent time to help children establish and create good eating habits. She says those healthy choices can lead to them feeling better physically.
“When our blood sugar goes up super high, like a tidal wave, it eventually crashes, making us hungry,” said Robinson. “So, the more sugar we eat, the more we want to eat. So, we are constantly on this cycle of being extra hungry all the time.”
Foods high in added sugar, such as soda, cookies, candy, cake, frozen desserts and some fruit drinks, also tend to be high in calories and low in nutrition. Sweetened drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the daily diets of U.S. children. Robinson says parents should also look out for added sugar in things like yogurt, packaged oatmeal, cereal and other packaged goods. To see if a food has added sugar, check the ingredient list for sugar, corn syrup, or other sweeteners such as dextrose, fructose, honey or molasses. You should also avoid products that have sugar or other sweeteners high on the ingredients list.
Sugar can affect a child’s body in many ways. Robinson says children may appear to be more agitated, tired or groggy. She thinks they may also have a hard time concentrating and, at times, have mood swings. Sugar can also lead to weight gain as children get older. Drinking one 12-ounce sweetened soft drink daily increases a child’s risk for obesity. So how do you balance a child’s want for a sweet snack while trying to maintain a healthy diet?
“We do try to recommend as all foods can fit within reason, so instead of focusing on what you can avoid, think about how you can structure your meals and snacks,” said Robinson. “Try to include sweet treats with a meal, not necessarily as a snack.”
Robinson advises parents to look for foods that are good in the summer, such as berries, watermelon or fresh fruit. Instead of soda or juice drinks, try water, sparkling water or flavored waters with no sugar to stay hydrated. Robinson says parents can also monitor their children’s sugar intake by including them in the decision-making process.
“I would think about making dessert a fun event for your family,” said Robinson. “If you don’t keep desserts in your home, your family can go out for an ice cream date or outing. This way, your child has a more positive and fun experience.”
Robinson says parents can also think about making the dessert from scratch.
“If you made it from scratch, how often would you eat it? said Robinson. “Making desserts from scratch takes time and commitment. Doing so shows your child that they are not off limits but something to be enjoyed with people.”
Robinson says the most important thing to remember is that parents want to try limiting sugar in their children’s diet because it teaches them boundaries and how to eat responsibly into adulthood. She says if a parent is having trouble balancing a positive experience with the deliciousness of summer, contact your pediatrician.