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As parents, we try to do fun things like take our families to farmer’s markets and community festivals. However, all too often a harsh reality quickly sets in as our kids immediately sprint towards every funnel cake, cotton candy, and sugar-laced snack food in sight. Let the parenting battles begin!
In a world where we are surrounded by sugary snack foods, how can we help our kids create health-promoting habits and understand how to make smarter choices than we once did? You know, like those epic decisions my husband and I made to live off of boxes of Pop Tarts in college?
Here’s how our family went from meltdown moments to a health-promoting habit that combines best practice nutrient timing, nutrition education, family fun, and yes, SUGAR!
What Do We Know?
Most of us know that processed, high-sugar foods are truly some of the unhealthiest foods we can put into our body. As science continues to evolve, we now understand that a diet high in refined sugar can contribute to health outcomes like diabetes, heart disease, impaired mental health, and terrible chronic diseases we’d never want our loved ones to experience.
What Can We Do About It?
Nutrient timing is often used to maximize athletic performance and body composition. My idea for this everyday application of the science came from one of my dear Pro Strength Coach mentors, a particularly hardcore, spandex-adorning individual. One day he sprints into the field house and loudly announces, “I just came from a morning meeting where they had my favorite fudge covered donuts. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop eating them! Must. Keep. Moving! Gotta put all that sugar to good use or I’ll be sorry! We’re going to have a GREAT workout!” We did all sorts of sprint work together that day as his spandex-covered self bounced off the walls. Any time you have trouble remembering this information, just think of that image!
Nutrient timing is a way we can maximize our body’s ability to use the food we eat to promote good health. If we eat high-sugar foods around the times we are most active, our bodies are more likely to use the sugar as energy, instead of storing it as body fat or messing with hormone and inflammation levels.
Below I’ll share how we can help our kids understand nutrient timing for high-sugar foods and give an example of how our family has successfully incorporated the science into our everyday life.
I challenge you to empower your family with knowledge and work to find ways to apply this science within your life. Together, we can make small changes that create a massive impact on our wellbeing.
TRANSLATING THE SCIENCE FOR KIDS
Certain unhealthy foods, like those high in refined sugar, are “sometimes foods.”
If we make smart choices about “sometimes foods” our bodies will feel good and we can have all sorts of great energy to do the fun things we love, like play with our friends.
A smart choice, when it comes to a high-sugar “sometimes food”, means we consider choosing a healthier option, if available, and we choose a time of day to eat it that gives us good energy to play.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE
Over time, we’ve found creative ways to help our kids put the science into practice. Agreeable, health-conscious kids are not always a guarantee, but as parents we sure can try to do our part to educate and lead by example. I’m happy to report that over time our family has even broken the habit of eating sweet treats as a dessert and instead we now take advantage of situations like the festival/farmer’s market sugar frenzy.
On the way there we give a heads up that our family may pick out a few special treats. We try to emphasize other fun things about the event, such as the opportunity to be active and learn new things, but sometimes our four-year-old is focused on the food. In that case, we talk about how we can make smart choices, such as choosing baked goods from a local baker who uses fresh ingredients that make our bodies feel good, instead of those that are made in a factory or prepackaged. We often use the difference between the ice cream truck and the homemade ice cream from a local farm as another example. By letting our son know what types of foods we will be looking to buy, he tends to be more agreeable and take part in the search for vendors.
Giving a heads up also puts our son on the lookout to see what we will do. Believe it or not, this has sometimes resulted in him choosing a hummus and salad wrap like his father. Sometimes my husband and I plan to choose a less healthy option. In that case, we make sure to mention that sharing is fun so we can try new foods and see what everyone likes the best.
Despite our best efforts to encourage our son to explore what’s available, he usually runs up to the first bakery stand he sees. However, we can usually point out a few foods that help our bodies feel better and give us better energy to play, such as a whole grain-based cookie vs. a sugar cookie, a nut-based cookie vs. a candy option, or peanut butter vs. frosting. He may still choose the cookie the size of his head, but at least we took some time to help him consider a few smarter choices.
Bonus: If at a Farmer’s Market we encourage our children to pick out a new or favorite vegetable. Now that the initial snack attack is over, we help them find healthy foods to try on the spot or take home for dinner. Our kids are much more open to eating healthy foods when they pick them out themselves!
“Did you just share a raisin-sized piece with your sister?! Awesome job, bud!”
Because every smart choice adds up, we try to celebrate anything that may resemble one.
Make the sugar work for you!
Our family builds up excitement to use all that good energy to play! We try to scope out a nearby park to reinforce the idea that high-sugar snacks aren’t so bad if our body uses them for fuel.
Oh, and no park bench butts allowed! As adults, we have limited opportunities to move our bodies in functional movement patterns, so by climbing rope, doing pull-ups on the monkey bars, and playing tag we can help our bodies stay healthy too. If a park is not nearby, we look for opportunities to move at the event or bring a ball to kick around.
If a nap isn’t automatic the moment we are back in the car, we try to take to share what our favorite part of the day was and mention how it’s fun to make healthy choices together.
OUR EXPERIENCE LAST SATURDAY
Our family shared delicious vegan, gluten-free date balls and a GIANT peanut butter brookie from a bakery stand.
Our splurge was guilt-free as we walked around the market and played at the park after!
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