By Cindy Silver, Registered Dietitian
Do your kids love sugary foods and snacks? Do they go nuts for drinks that pack in the sugar? Do they expect a sweet cookie, cupcake or ice cream for dessert day-after-day? I will guess the answer for 80% of you is a loud, yes! For the 20% whose kids don’t flip over sugar, consider yourselves lucky. Sugar isn’t what kids’ bodies need nor is it great for your dental bill.
As a registered dietitian, I help caring parents steer their kids and themselves toward healthier choices of foods and beverages. This includes a focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lower fat dairy foods and lean proteins. It also includes keeping a careful watch on how much sugar kids eat. I recommend that every parent become a ‘Sugar Buster’ as well as a role model for limiting the sugar in kids’ food, snack and beverage choices. I really think that if the entire family pulls together, sweets can take on a whole new excitement even when they are hugely more nutritious.
To get you started, here are some kid-friendly favorites that can be made lower in sugar or can be substituted with another fun food that kids will love.
1. Popsicles. The healthiest popsicle I know is a ripe banana that you peel, cut in half, wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper, then throw in the freezer for 6 hours or longer. A close second is a homemade smoothie of frozen/thawed mango chunks, orange juice and plain yogurt poured into reusable popsicle molds. Or, substitute any frozen/thawed fruit that your kids like.
2. Toaster Pastry. For something different, toast a graham cracker, let it cool slightly and then spread it with sunflower butter and a light drizzle of honey. Or, try the same with almond butter if your kids aren’t allergic.
3. Sweet Breakfast Cereal. The most nutrient-rich topper for plain, unsugared cereal is fruit like berries, peaches, diced apples or dried raisins. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice also add that sweet flavor kids adore in the morning, but without all the extra sugar and calories.
4. Nut Butter Sandwich. The classic PB and J sandwich can become something healthier. Instead of sugary jelly or jam, unsweetened applesauce works well. Or grate naturally sweet carrots and mix them into the nut butter and then fill the inside with sliced apples or dried apples. If your kids are allergic to peanut butter, no worries. Try soy nut butter or sunflower butter.
5. Cookie. In place of a cookie, I’ve had great luck with a whole wheat cracker topped with a slice of cheese and half a strawberry or grape. Mix light or fat free cream cheese together with thawed frozen strawberries or raspberries as another yummy cracker spread. If need be, fill up a powdered sugar shaker and let the kids shake a little on top.
A Healthier Blueberry Crisp Recipe
It’s summer fruit season and the nutritional value of fresh blueberries is just about as fantastic as their sweet flavor. My challenge for you is to practice being a model ‘sugar buster’ by cutting in half the white sugar ingredient in my recipe below to just 2 tablespoons. I bet you and your kids won’t notice any difference in the taste from the original recipe. For the max in kitchen fun, be sure to get your kids involved in prepping their healthier blueberry dessert.
Summer Blueberry Crisp
A dessert rich with healthy fruit and not too much added sugar!
Kids can help by washing the fruit, measuring the ingredients and crumbling the topping, with supervision.
Makes 6 servings
4 cups Blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 Tablespoon Lemon or lime juice, the amount of juice in ½ lemon or lime
1/4 cup White sugar
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Butter, unsalted, or buttery spread with 0 trans fat
¼ cup Whole wheat flour
¼ cup Oatmeal, old fashioned or quick (not instant)
¼ cup Brown sugar, packed
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a 9 x 9 inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray.
2. Place fruit into the pan.
3. Squeeze lemon or lime juice evenly over fruit.
4. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon evenly over the top of fruit.
5. Mix topping ingredients with a fork, pastry blender or very clean hands until crumbly. Sprinkle topping evenly over fruit.
6. Bake 25-30 minutes until the fruit is tender. Do not overcook or the fruit will become mushy.
Nutrition per serving: 190 calories; 4.5 gm fat; 2.5 gm saturated fat; 0 trans fat; 10 mg cholesterol; 0 sodium; 37 gm carbohydrates; 4 gm fiber; 3 gm protein; 4% DV vitamin A; 20% DV vitamin C; 2% DV calcium; 6% DV iron
Cooking Tip: For a change, make Apple Crisp using peeled and sliced fresh apples instead of blueberries.
Cooking Tip: When making Apple Crisp, use 2 or 3 different varieties of apples for a richer flavor.