Spring is here and little ones around South Africa are getting ready for outdoor activities, summer parties, and a festive season resembling a sugar-filled snack gauntlet.
Add to this the balancing act of school runs, sports days, parties, and the need for daily lunches and it’s tough to keep them happy and fed without defaulting to sugar and preservative-filled products (and the inevitable highs and lows that come with them).
“The reality is that sugar is everywhere, and refined sugars are hidden in so many of the products available from sauces, and smoothies to juices and cereals. It’s near impossible to keep them all out of reach of our kids,” says CEO of PURA Beverages, which makes PURA Kids drinks, Greig Jansen.
“If you have a kid in the house, you no doubt know the moment of fear when they go from miracle child to mischief-maker in what feels like 0 – 5 seconds thanks to a burst of sugar or one too many treats,” he continues.
Jansen offers up three trusty tips to keep kids happy and not hyped:
- Hack your snack cupboard
The easiest – and often cheapest – snack options are most likely going to be packed with unnecessary hidden sugars and preservatives, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great alternatives for every snack occasion.
Keep an eye out for natural products (including natural sugars and less refined and processed products) which are easy to source, and easy to serve as part of a quick fix morning snack or afternoon treat.
All-day cupboard must-haves: Vegetable crisps, crackers, air-popped popcorn, boiled eggs, cheese, nut butters, unsweetened yoghurts, fresh fruit like apples cut up with peanut butter, nuts, and dried fruit are all excellent go-to alternatives to keep on hand and don’t come laden with sugar and preservatives.
- Level up the lunch box
Forget the days of concentrated cordial, chocolate milk, sarmies covered in any kind of sugary jam or spread. A little lunchbox prep goes a long way to manage sugar intake and energy levels throughout the day and doesn’t have to break the bank.
Quick fix lunchbox options: Wholegrain breads, cold meats, carrot sticks, cheeses, nut butters, fruits, and nuts are great nutritional lunch options and can be paired together for a balanced meal without the added rush and crash.
But let’s not forget about juice alternatives.
One of the biggest culprits of hidden sugars is juice, with most on the market filled with additives, artificial sweeteners, and many ingredients tough to pronounce.
When selecting a juice box for your little legend, always aim for something low in sugar, naturally flavourful, not filled with additives and colourants, and preservative-free.
- When in doubt, swap it out
Most kids start their days with unnecessary sugar bursts, from the cereals they eat to their morning cup of tea or juice. Many products are formulated to look, smell, and taste appealing, promising to be ‘good’ for them and part of balanced meal planning. But how much do we really understand about what’s on the label?
Instead of counting calories and deciphering label ingredients, take a step back to the good old rule of a mixed portion of proteins, carbs, and fruits for good natural sugars.
Easy meal go-tos: Brown rice, a mix of grains, a range of colours of vegetables are all must-haves to include in your meal planning. Hearty meals like spaghetti bolognaise, roast chicken and vegetables, whole grain bread sandwiches, and wholewheat protein wraps are great options for every occasion that offer a balance of nutritious ingredients and can be paired with fruits, berries, nuts, yoghurts, milk, and natural sugar juice alternatives.
“Sugar is everywhere, making it tougher and tougher to find “healthier” options that are actually healthy,” says Jansen.
“Kids’ sugar intake should be less than 10% of their daily energy intake (±25mg a day) and yet it seems South African children are taking in double that (between 40 and 60gm) with most hidden in refined sugar products. These small shifts in what kids eat and drink will yield big rewards and – hopefully – cut down those sugar highs and lows along the way”.