I am a Registered Dietitian and mother of three. For both reasons I have a profound passion for child nutrition.
In my household, we moderate how often our children receive treats. I use the concept “Go, Slow, Whoa” with my kids and in my teaching with families I work with.
Treats are “Whoa.” They are enjoyed moderately and reserved for a Friday night movie, birthday party or other special event.
Recently, following one of my children’s inaugural sporting games, each team member was given a treat. I had concerns already about “treats” being handed out at sporting events, but when I saw what this one contained I was shocked: 561 calories and 23 teaspoons of sugar.
I can hear the defenders now: “It’s just one treat; it isn’t going to kill them.”
No, one treat is not going to kill them, but the societal norm of easy junk food being the default will.
The World Health Organization recently recommended that “free sugars” (aka the sweet stuff like white sugar) be limited to 5% of daily caloric intake, with a maximum of 10%. For a young child that’s six to eight teaspoons. That amount is contained in a day’s worth of generally healthy food, such as breakfast cereals and yogurt and the occasional treat.
So the “treat” my child received, with 23 teaspoons, contained three to four days worth of added sugar.
Consider the message that sends: Go and play and move your body for physical and emotional health – then we’ll reward you with sugar. Seems counter intuitive does it not?
And that was one sports event. Children also attend community barbeques, birthday parties, etc., where they receive additional whopping doses of sugar.
Readily available junk food is hard for concerned parents. I try to moderate my children’s intake, and they are fairly receptive. But they’re kids, of course, so they give some pushback. It just doesn’t seem right I’m the one forced into a corner.
Some might argue, well, children can be told to return the junk and say, ‘thanks but no thanks.’ So ostracize my child? Make them feel centered out. Not an option.
I find it interesting that the parent who cares about their child’s intake is the sourpuss or the weirdo. If you are as concerned as I am about children being constantly bombarded with junk food, talk to your team’s coach, other parents and the organization’s president.
And coaches – children look up to you as a role model, so help them see the value in healthy choices. Offer orange slices and water during or after the game, and think of the parents trying to protect their children.
Healthy eating should be the automatic default. Let’s leave junk food off the playing field. Shifting societal norms in this way can have a tremendous impact on our children’s health.
Nadine Devin (Daye) is a resident of Bright’s Grove, Registered Dietitian and mother of three