Spoiler alert: Kids are actually hard-wired to seek out sweet stuff!
Did you know that kids in the U.S. consume, on average, 53 pounds of added sugar per year? Oof… It’s no wonder that it feels like we’re on a constant loop of “can I have a special treat?” in our households. And on top of the million to-dos on our parent list, one of our main jobs as parents and caregivers is to make sure kids have regular access to fruit, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich options on a daily basis. After all, the habits you establish now are crucial for setting kids up with healthier eating habits for the long haul.
What you might *not* know is that kids are actually born with a natural hankering for sweet flavors! Research has shown that this love of sweetness goes all the way back to day one, making sure that babies accept (and crave) their first food: breastmilk. The sweetness profile of baby formula matches that of breastmilk for the very same reason: they love it!
Now once kids start eating food, they’re ready for savory flavors to go along with a bit of sweetness here and there. Unfortunately, so many of the foods available to parents are packed with added sugar and highly processed ingredients. This can lead kids’ natural attraction towards sweet and salty foods to devolve into a full-blown dependency.
And that’s where bad habits can come in. Consumption of high-sugar foods and beverages has a profound impact on kids. Sugary habits, such as always having a sweet treat for dessert or packing sugary drinks for after sports practice, tend to keep added sugar as a staple in kids’ diets.
Here’s why this is a problem:
- Sugary foods release a feel-good chemical in our brains that keep us coming back for more.
- High intakes of sugar have also been shown to disrupt the body’s natural ability to sense satiation. Kids don’t tend to know when they’re full.
- This can lead to overconsumption and unbalanced diets.
It’s a tough cycle to get out of but, we promise, there’s good news too – and we’re here to help!
Research has also shown that the earlier children are exposed to a range of flavors, the more successful and healthier the outcomes. Over time, kids can learn to like (and dare we say, crave) healthy foods, and their palates will grow to seek out a variety of flavors.
Here are some ideas for digging your way out of the constant sugar loop:
- The more water, the better! Always have a bottle of water at the ready, and feel free drop in sliced fruit to pep it up! (More on how much water kids actually need on a daily basis right here.)
- Never underestimate the power of cut fruit in place of snack packs. Sometimes presentation is half the battle.
- Homemade trail mix can be a great way to mix in sweet flavors (raisins, dried cranberries, dried mango) with savory, protein-rich foods (nuts, crispy dried chickpeas, etc).
- Try to avoid using sugary foods or candy as a reward for eating healthy food – reserve special treats for special moments, impromptu ice cream dates, and holidays.
- If you’re in the habit of always giving your family dessert after dinner, try replacing the usual dessert with something healthier like a smoothie, a frozen yogurt pop, or fruit kebabs with a drizzle of honey. And listen, if you need to toss a few chocolate chips or sprinkles on any of the above, we’re not judging.
And hey-o, that also happens to be where PLEZi comes in. If your kid is all about sugary drinks like sodas or sports drinks, consider replacing those with PLEZi. Our four unique flavors deliver the taste kids love but with no added sugar and 75% less total sugar than average leading 100% fruit juices. Our goal is to lower sugar content and also lower sweetness overall to help adjust kids’ palates gradually to crave less sugar and sweetness, while still being delicious! Win for parents, win for kids.
- CDC – Get the Facts: Added Sugars
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Cravings
- WHO – Consideration Of The Evidence On Childhood Obesity For The Commission On Ending Childhood Obesity
- USDA – The Question of Sugar
- White House – Biden-Harris Administration National Strategy On Hunger, Nutrition, And Health