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5 Tips from a dietitian on reducing sugar in your child’s diet

The holiday season is a time for relaxation, family and a bit of indulgence that allows rules and routines to fall by the wayside. For children, this interrupted routine often means a spike in sugar intake.

While this is understandable, it’s important to get children back into a healthy routine in preparation for the school year. The long-term effects of high-sugar diets include tooth decay, reduced cognitive function, and even chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes.

“The ease of access to sugary drinks and treats, and the prevalence of sugar in everyday foods, means children are often experiencing a high-sugar diet without parents or caregivers being fully aware of it,” explained specialist dietitian and Laager Rooibos partner, Mbali Mapholi.

“However, with just a few small changes, caregivers can provide children with a more nutritious diet. To kick off the New Year, I’m sharing five tips to help South African children enjoy a healthier 2022.”

Tip 1: Reduce their intake of sugary drinks

“One of the biggest problems at the moment is the number of sugary drinks South African children are consuming on a daily basis,” explained Mapholi. “These can easily be swapped out with alternatives that offer the necessary hydration in our hot climate without any sugary additives.” Mapholi suggested the followed:

• Make homemade iced teas using different Laager Tea4Kidz Rooibos flavours.
• Create fun, nutritious and refreshing smoothies at home.
• Offer children water with fresh fruit or herbs for enhanced flavour.

Tip 2: Create more homemade snacks

“When it comes to snacks between meals, that’s often where children’s sugar intake spikes as sugary snacks are fast and inexpensive,” said Mapholi. She added that there are fortunately many cost-effective, quick and healthy snacks that children actually want to eat, like the following:

• Frozen grapes
• Laager Rooibos Tea4Kidz popcorn*
• Yoghurt
• Trail mix
• Smoothies*
• Laager Tea4Kidz date balls*
• Fruit skewers (different types of fruit cut into cubes and threaded onto skewer stick)

*Note: Recipes available at www.more4momz.com or www.joekels.co.za.

Tip 3: Prepare ahead for special occasions and outings

“Another common problem is when travelling or hosting parties,” continued Mapholi. “It’s easy to put out sugary treats, but it’s important that healthier alternatives are also offered. Planning ahead is key to reducing sugar intake during these times.” Mapholi recommended the following:

• Make your own homemade treats.* These could include muffins, fruit and nut bars or popcorn.
• Offer children treats occasionally in small quantities, not throughout the day or with every meal as they will become accustomed to this.
• Plan ahead for special occasions by ensuring there are healthier, sugar-free options like fruit skewers, savoury muffins, and veggie platters.
• Wherever possible, have meals at home before an outing to avoid fast food which is often accompanied by sugary fizzy drinks.
• Keep children well hydrated in the summer with Laager Tea4Kidz tea, water or milk.

Tip 4: Use non-food related reward systems for kids

“Use non-food related ways to reward children when they have completed their tasks or reached goals,” explained Mapholi. “Using sweets as a reward can add unnecessary sugar to a child’s diet and also create positive associations with sugar.
Rather offer sweet treats alongside savoury food items such as combination plates including crackers, peanuts and raisins, dried fruit, and a sweet treat.”

Tip 5: Reduce takeout or restaurant eating
“A takeout meal or visit to a restaurant is great as a special occasion, but just be careful it’s not a regular occurrence as this often leads to children eating high-sugar foods,” said Mapholi.

“Instead try to:
• Cook more family meals at home and include the children in the meal preparation wherever possible.
• Talk to children about seasonal fresh ingredients and the health benefits of different fresh ingredients.
• If there are certain vegetables that children enjoy, offer these regularly with meals.
• If possible and safe to do so, take the children along when shopping for fresh produce so they can help with the selection”.

Mapholi explained that Rooibos tea, whether as a drink or an ingredient in cooking, baking or smoothies, is a really healthy addition to any diet: “Rather than replacing sources of nutrition, Rooibos provides children with a healthy dietary addition that is caffeine-free and packed with benefits.”

South Africa’s leading kids’ tea brand, Laager Tea4Kidz, was designed specifically for children as a way to introduce the many health benefits of Rooibos into their diet, and comes in a variety of exciting flavours. The More4Momz website – wwmz.comw.more4mo – and Tea4Kidz Facebook page, with Mbali Mapholi’s input, also share great recipes and dietary tips for parents and caregivers to use.