How Many Treats Can I Let My Kids Eat?

Filed under: Dear Karla, Nutrition: Health, Mealtime

Dear Karla, Now that we are in the midst of the holiday season, it seems we are confronted with candy canes, chocolates and baked goods at every house we visit and and every event we attend. My kids love the Christmas season and all the treats that come with it, but I am concerned they are consuming way too much sugar. How much is OK and are there any healthy alternatives to these holiday snacks?

Dear Katherine, I admit to being a chocolate lover myself, but regardless of the age of the sweet tooth, there is a limit to how much sugar is "OK." Unfortunately, the average child is doing far from OK. One report states that kids aged two to three are consuming around 14 teaspoons of added sugar a day, while 4- to 5-year-old kids are clocking in at 17 tsp/day, and older kids at 26 tsp/day. (Yikes!)

This sugar not only comes from the baking and chocolates you mentioned, but the candy we are faced with at the checkout counter of every shop, as well as liquid candy in juice, pops and other beverages. Then there is the scary 'hidden sugar' that's sneaked into things like yogurt, snack bars, and sauces -- even pasta sauce.The World Health Organization recommends no more than 10 percent of our daily calories should come from free sugar (with the exception of raw fruit and vegetables and unflavoured dairy). This often is equivalent to 10-12 tsps a day of sugar. Here is a calculation you should memorize:

How to calculate teaspoons of sugar in items:
Look under carbohydrates on the label, find the grams of sugar, take the grams of sugar and divide by four. This equals number teaspoons.

For example, one chocolate chip cookie has 16 grams sugar, 16 divided by four = four teaspoons of sugar

My advice is to find healthy alternatives to the typical baking and chocolate treats. Here are some ideas on ways to cut back the sugar in these so called 'treats':
  • For a healthy dessert bake apples or pears and sprinkle with nuts, cinnamon and oatmeal or with a little honey or agave nectar
  • When baking, reduce the amount of sugar by 1/3 in recipes as this amount usually does not alter the taste
  • If chocolate is to be offered, accompany it with something that has fibre - a great example is strawberries dipped in chocolate (what kid doesn't love a spontaneous fondue?)
  • Use whole wheat flour instead of white flour in baking and consider substituting in some oat bran or wheat germ for great fibre.
  • If a treat is offered never let it go on an empty stomach. If it's eaten as part of a meal that will slow the absorption of sugar. And chances are if your kids' bellies are full they'll eat less.
  • Offer one small treat a day - around 150 calories in total
Karla Heintz (BSc), is a nutrition educator and author of 'Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition.'


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.