Want to improve your family’s diet? Consider providing naturally-sweetened and unsweetened treats instead of those that are laden with sugar and corn syrup and other junk.
One of the things that the FishKids love about a visit to Trader Joe’s is the chance to hunt for the stuffed animal and earn a treat. In case you didn’t know, each location has its own little mascot with a special name as well as a basket of lollipops at the front to reward children with keen eyes. We’ve met Cliff, Wally, Joey, and Stevie so far. Ask at your Trader Joe’s next time you’re there. It’s a pretty fun little tradition.
This past weekend when we were in Santa Barbara, the checker listened to the kids report where they had found Wally and then turned to me and asked if they could have a lollipop or stickers. My mouth dropped open as I contemplated that dilemma: we’re going sugar-free this month. Before I solved that problem in my head, FishChick7 said, “We’ll take stickers.”
To say that this was a proud mom moment is an understatement. They were so excited to find Wally, and yet they grumbled not one bit when we veered from the norm and got stickers instead of lollipops.
Needless to say, my kids and I are embarking on a wild idea. We’ve talked about it since Christmas, and decided to just go for it. It’s been challenging, for sure, but it’s been good. I’m not sure exactly how this whole thing will shake down, but I’m pretty happy that they want to take the ride.
Wondering why I’m entertaining such a crazy project?
If you don’t regularly read ingredients labels, you might not know that there is sugar in many processed foods. In fact, now I’m more surprised when I DON’T find sugar on the list. It is in everything: bacon, olives, yogurt, kefir, most baked goods, tortillas, sausage, lunch meat, you name it. (It’s often on the list as dextrose or sucrose.)
A little sugar isn’t “bad” per se. But when you have a little in practically everything you eat, I’d say that’s not too good! I want us to learn as a family which foods are better for us, and for the kids to learn first hand to make wise food choices.
Benefits to avoiding processed sugars:
1. An awareness of what’s in the food we eat. On the aforementioned shopping trip, the kids each had a small budget to spend on sugar-free snacks to eat at the grandparents. Since most of them can read, it was an eye-opening experience as they checked out the ingredients in the food they chose and were surprised that “this has sugar in it!”
2. An exploration of other great foods. Since we’re not eating sweets besides fruit, maple syrup, or honey, we’re getting a chance to explore other tastes and be creative in our treats. Now that we’re home, we’re also tempering our consumption of dried and fresh fruit.
3. A reset for our tastebuds. I know after doing the Whole 30 last year, that foods I consumed got more of their flavor back, at least from my tastebuds’ perspective, since they weren’t dulled by the flavor of added sugar. I’m secretly hopeful that they won’t want the sugary treats as much once we’re done.
4. A healthier diet. I know this part is debatable, but I’m hoping that a more whole-foods, unprocessed diet will be good and better for all of us. I’m also holding out hope that I might lose a few pounds.
How to avoid processed sugars:
So that all sounds great, doesn’t it? But, what about when push comes to shove and you have to walk this out? How do you avoid an ingredient that is in everything from bacon to ice cream, bread to yogurt?
Here’s how we’re tackling it.
Eating at home/Packing food
On our road trip last weekend, FishPapa asked where we could stop to get a snack. The answer was “pretty much nowhere”. Most of the fast food restaurants that we are used to use added sugar somewhere. Chipotle was the only place I could think of that didn’t. Instead I packed a ton of snacks to eat along the way.
Eating at home or packing food for the road is not only cheaper, but also a guaranteed way to control the ingredients your family eats.
(Full disclosure: We did break the “NO added sugar” rule on the way back, stopping at a favorite grill that doesn’t have locations close to home. We go here only a few times a year, so I let it slide.)
Clearly, eating at home is our best bet for the next month.
Cooking and baking from scratch
Whether you have a food allergy, a goal to lose weight, or a desire to avoid a certain ingredient, cooking food yourself is a sure-fire way to success. You can make better quality items at home that meet your exact dietary goals.
At the start of this endeavor I made two large batches of Not Too Sweet Granola, substituting honey and maple syrup for the sugar and water in the recipe. Additionally, FishChick7 has been learning to use the bread machine, keeping us supplied in honey-sweetened bread.
Over all, we’re eating at home more often, eating better and saving money at the same time.
There are some commercial products that I know are “sugar-free” according to our definition. We’ve stocked up on Trader Joe’s Shredded Wheat, TJ’s Harvest Whole Wheat Bread, plain yogurt, rice cakes, Larabars, and other convenient items.
I did a big Costco run before we started, loading up on fresh, frozen, and dried fruit as well as healthier, savory snacks.
You know that I’m a big fan of freezer cooking. This weekend is the start of hockey season, when our schedule really gets tight. I’ve got a big cooking session planned so that I can load the freezer with easy dinners for busy nights. My plan includes: frozen burritos, Lawnmower Taco, hamburger patties, meatballs, Red Sauce, and baking mixes.
If we have a stash of ready-to-eat meals in the freezer, we’ll be less likely to eat out and encounter unwanted sweeteners.
A week or two before we began this endeavor, FishBoy9 asked, “What about hockey snacks?” Ugh. Hockey snacks just may be the bane of my existence. Half the time conscientious parents offer water bottles and fruit, the rest of the time, there’s no end to the junk food. I made a deal with my boy that I would bring him a special snack instead. That same day, I found small bottles of 100% juice on sale at the store. I’m set for the season as long as I grab a few bags of Pirate’s Booty. (Fingers crossed that this doesn’t ruffle any feathers.)
Likewise, when I see a naturally-sweetened treat on sale, I’m stocking up. I’m now well versed in the price of fruit-only jam, and have found it on sale at several stores. I bought several jars that will hopefully see us through the duration. And I’ve got plans to use honey instead of sugar for this summer’s canning.
We’ve been using maple syrup and honey to adapt our favorite recipes as well as leaning on fresh fruit for our little sweet treats. To follow along on this eating adventure, you can read about our family’s sugar fast.
Here are other recipes that I’ve developed over the last year or so that are sweetened naturally.
Naturally Sweet Treats and Smoothies
Curb your sugar cravings with sweet treats and smoothies that are sweetened naturally with fruit and honey rather than processed sugars.
- Cocoa Apricot Cashew Bites
- Fruit and Nut Energy Bites
- Honey Lemon Cheesecake Bars — The graham cracker crumbs will have some sugar in them, but the filling has only natural sweeteners. You could use a nut crust instead of graham crackers and eliminate the added sugar altogether.
- Homemade Plum Ice Pops
- Blueberry-Pineapple Smoothie
- Coconut Mango Banana Smoothie
- Red Banana Smoothie
- Strawberry Mango Smoothie with Banana
- Homemade Cranberry Soda
- Honey Syrup for sweetening cold drinks
- Lemon Lime Sports Ade
- Grape-Pear-Carrot-Kale Juice
- Carrot Apple Juice with Ginger
Best 100 Juices for Kids
I’m also relying on the recipes in my new book: Best 100 Juices for Kids: Totally Yummy, Awesomely Healthy, and Naturally Sweetened Homemade Alternatives to Soda Pop, Sports Drinks, and Expensive Bottled Juices.
This book was really a joint effort with my kids. They were the driving force behind recipe development, offering feedback on every juice. It didn’t make the cut unless it was FishMama-tested, FishKid-approved.
We left out the one that “tasted like wood”.
They’ve been really jazzed about juicing since Christmas. It’s been so fun to hear them ask for juice or to comment positively when they see I’m making some. It’s been a great way to introduce them to new flavors and vegetables.
The book is full of fresh, unsweetened juice recipes as well as recipes for smoothies, slushies, sparklies, sports drinks, and ice pops. There are also bonus naturally-sweetened, baking recipes to help you use up the fruit and vegetable pulp from your juicer.
You can preorder the book on Amazon or wait for it to hit your local store on April 15th.
So far, so good. As long as we aren’t at Gramma’s where mini cinnamon rolls are expected, the kids are pretty cool about our little experiment.