Today is World Diabetes Day and I’m sure we’ve been hearing and seeing a lot about diabetes and diabetes prevention but today I would like to focus on how to translate this information for our kids and their little bodies. In a previous post, I spoke about creating choices for our kids and providing alternatives but now I want to chat about how their little bodies and brains are affected by the sugar. Children are more ‘sugar sensitive’ than adults because their bodies are growing and adapting.
We already know that complex carbohydrates found in vegetables, grains and fruits are all part of a healthy diet. However, simple sugars we find in sodas, candy and many packaged snacks can harm little bodies that are still growing.
How sugar harms
An excess of sugar can depress the immune system especially in growing children. Two 12 oz. cans of soda can cause a 50% drop in the ability of white blood cells to fight bacteria. For tiny bodies that are constantly being exposed to germs and bacteria, this is very dangerous. If their bodies can’t fight the bacteria efficiently they are more likely to fall ill all the time.
Sugar affects behaviour, attention and learning in young children. Studies have shown that their behaviour and their learning deteriorates in proportion to the amount of junk sugar they consume.
Here is an example of a six year old child’s handwriting before and after a change in diet high in junk food and sugars.
Sugar craves sugar. A meal high in sugar triggers the production of excess insulin which lingers in the system and causes a craving for more sugar. So the more sugar you eat the more you want.
For a long time we have focussed on fat as a key cause of obesity but sugar promotes obesity. Many foods low in fat have high amounts of sugar to compensate for the taste. Sugary foods trigger the production of LPL, the enzyme that encourages the body to store food in fat cells. So the more sugar the more LPL in our system and the higher the chance of it being stored as fat.
As caregivers, we can shape young taste buds. We have a tendency to choose sweet over savoury or sour but we need find a way to show our kids that whole foods can be very satisfying and leave the sweet treats for special occasions. Help them to gain a healthy appreciation of the food they eat and how it can affect them.
Instead of offering a pre-packed or sugar-loaded snack try some of these alternative:
- Fresh cut fruit and dip/ nut butter/ seed butter
- Frozen grapes
- Plain yogourt with fresh fruit and granola
- Dried fruit, nuts and seeds
- Crackers and all fruit jams
Most importantly, let your kids see you enjoying whole foods.
We make pizza all the time at my house so it’s nice to change up the presentation every now and again. I love this recipe because it’s super simple and really quick, especially if you use store bought dough. I prefer homemade dough and I like to use this recipe because it’s quick and easy and the dough is super soft!
These stuffed pizza rolls are great for lunches and road trips. They’re easy for kids to handle and they don’t make the mess of traditional pizza slices. It’s also a great recipe to make with the kids because they can do almost all the parts themselves. Hint: Letting them make their food is a great way to get them to eat it but shhh… don’t tell them that!
These rolls are a great way to get in the protein and fat and veggies that growing kids need, not to mention they’re delicious! I guarantee they will eat more than one!
Simply roll out your dough and cut into circles.
Place in a greased muffin tin and fill with all your ingredients.
Close them up tightly or you will have some leaks (as you can see in my photo).
Bake until golden brown and enjoy!
- 1 portion pizza dough (homemade or store bought)
- 1 cup pizza/ pasta sauce
- 1/2 cup chopped toppings (mushrooms, pineapples, olives, sweet peppers)
- 1/2 cup shredded cheese
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- Oil of greasing tin and brushing dough
- Preheat oven to 350F
- Grease muffin tin
- Roll out pizza dough and cut into circles using cookie cutter or rim of glass. Make sure the circles are large enough to fit in the muffin tin and close up tightly.
- Places circles in muffin tin
- Add 1 tablespoon of sauce to each circle.
- Add cheese, toppings and seasoning. Don’t overfill or they won’t seal properly your toppings will ooze out during baking.
- Pinch dough together and seal tightly
- Brush dough with oil
- Bake for 15 -20 minutes until tops are golden brown.
- Enjoy but be careful, the insides are hot!
Dates! They are my favourite go-to natural sweetener. I use this date caramel every single day to make hot cereal for my kiddies. I usually make a batch on Sunday so it can last the whole week. I used to use honey and maple syrup but I still felt that there was no real nutrition. They were simply another sweetener and I don’t think breakfast needs sugar so I started experimenting with the dates and I found a recipe that works for me and guess what?! My kids never noticed the difference! They just kept on eating.
So why dates? Well, dates are just a nutritional powerhouse! They contain an impressive list of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, all of which are crucial for growth, development and well-being.
It is also rich in dietary fibre, which prevents LDL (bad) cholesterol absorption in the gut.
Dates are excellent source of iron making it an especially good snack for pregnant women and young children who need greater quantities of iron.
The high level of potassium found in dates offers protection against stroke and heart disease.
Date fruits are also rich in minerals like calcium, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
So with all this goodness, who wouldn’t love dates!
25 – 30 dates
- Soak dates in boiling water for 10 minutes
- Drain dates and reserve water
- Add dates to food processor and blend
- Add about 3 tablespoons reserved water and process until smooth*. Add more water to reach desired consistency.
- Store in refrigerator and use in hot cereal, oats, smoothies as a natural sweetener.
*If you find that the caramel is not smooth you can also use a hand blender. It works amazingly well.
Recently, there has been a lot of hype about sugar and the high levels of consumption of sugary drinks in schools which has led to the decision to ban all such drinks. While I applaud this move I do think that we need to look deeper and to address this “culture of snacking.”
I do not believe that it is just about the over consumption of sugar (and I spoke about this in a previous post). I strongly believe that it is about the choices we give our kids.
Lecturing our kids on healthy eating and suddenly banning them from sugary or salty snacks will not automatically change their minds about food. We, as adults, as parents, as teachers, need to provide the best options for them and then allow for dialogue. My son will eat all his veggies and fruits but he still loves chocolate and this is where the choices become important. He gets to pick from a selection that is 67% (or higher) dark chocolate and only one to two blocks. The idea is not to deny them but to provide better options.
I am always appalled and, I will admit, a little bit angry every time my 5 year old comes home with a party bag filled with candy and chocolate and cookies because a kid was celebrating his/ her birthday. By all means, celebrate the birthday – a bit of ice cream and an appropriate sized cupcake is enough. There is no need to send home a bag of snacks that have no nutritional value.
Finding the balance
My point is, we need to curb the excesses. If we’re celebrating birthdays and Valentine’s and Easter in school there a many alternatives to candy and chocolate (Here’s an awesome list from Super Healthy Kids). Our schools should and must take a stand and create guidelines for parents about appropriate/ alternative items. I am certain parents would be open and willing.
We have staggering statistics about the number of adults and children living with Type 2 diabetes and we have to do our part to stop its continued rise. Kids need to be shown that candy and cookies are special occasion treats and that default snacks should be whole foods like fruits and veggies, granola, cheese, yogourt (unsweetened), etc.
Like anyone else, I too like the occasional sweet treat but I believe in balance and in moderation. I know it’s easier and quicker to hand our kids a package of chips or cheese sticks but I think we can just as easily give them an apple or some carrots. Pick water or milk over juices and sodas. Most importantly, let your kids see you enjoying whole foods.
Just so there are no doubts… I love farro! And my kids do too! It is very versatile and easy to use. Now you must be asking, what exactly is farro? Well, it’s an ancient wheat grain that was very popular in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Over the years it has been overshadowed by other grains like quinoa and bulgur.
So why do I like farro so much? Well, you can treat it like you would rice or pasta but you have the added benefit of this awesome super grain. To give you an idea of what a punch farro packs, here are some nutrition tidbits. About 1/2 cup serving of uncooked farro provides:
- 34g of carbohydrates
- 7g fibre
- 8g protein
- 4mg niacin (good for metabolic health)
- 60mg magnesium (prevents muscle cramps, helps with sleeping better and digestion)
- 2mg iron (improves energy, prevents anaemia)
- 2mg zinc (crucial for brain function)
- 80mg calcium
Add some veggies to farro and you have a power packed meal. As an added bonus, although farro is a wheat grain, the gluten is considerably lower so it is easier to digest especially for those with gluten sensitivities.
When buying your farro, look for whole grain farro as opposed to pearled or semi-pearled since those have been more processed.
For this recipe, I used mushrooms and carrots but you can use any vegetable you have available.
Just cook the farro according to directions, leaving it slightly undercooked.
In medium pan, sauté onion and garlic over medium heat.
Then add farro with 1 3/4 cups unsalted vegetable stock.
Add grated carrots and chopped mushrooms as well as Italian seasonings. Stir to combine.
Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until all the liquid is absorbed. Add salt to taste and 1/2 tablespoon of butter for creaminess. Mix well.
Serve hot as is or add some pasta sauce for additional flavour.
1 cup farro
1 3/4 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup grated carrots
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tbsp butter
salt to taste
- Cook farro according to package directions, leaving it slightly undercooked.
- Remove from heat and drain excess liquid.
- In medium saucepan over medium heat, add farro and vegetable stock.
- Then add carrots, mushrooms and Italian seasoning.
- Mix well and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer until all liquid is absorbed.
- Add salt to taste and butter for creaminess. Mix well.
- Serve hot as is or add some pasta sauce for additional flavour.