Partner post by Sunnie: How to Balance Sugar, Sweets & Treats

Sunnie provide the little ones at Big and Tiny with lunch and snacks to keep them energized and nourished throughout the day! We wanted to share the important information provided by their in-house nutritionist, Jill Castle, MS, RDN, on balancing sugar and treats with children.

Kids eat more sugary foods today than at any other time in our history. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), sugar makes up about 17% of what children consume each day. Why are sugary foods gaining a stronghold in kids’ diets? For one, there’s simply more options available. Also, kids are being introduced to them earlier, cementing a preference for them. 

What’s a parent to do? Some parents have unwittingly turned into food cops, policing every morsel of food that enters their child’s mouth. Others feel they’ve been set up to fail. Navigating these foods without controlling them seems super-human.

I get it. As a pediatric dietitian, I’ve seen families struggle with sweets and treats. On the one hand, parents want their kids to enjoy them. On the other hand, they don’t want them to take over the healthy diet they’ve worked hard to establish.

The good news is there’s a way to manage them. A way that will allow your child to enjoy them without ruining his healthy diet or his relationship with you or food.

But first, let’s clarify what constitutes sugar, because many parents are confused.  

 What is added sugar?

The sugar recommendations for kids and the guidelines put out by health organizations, detail the limits on added sugar. Added sugar is the refined sugar, such as white sugar, brown sugar or agave, that’s added to foods during processing. For example, homemade cookies and quick breads have a cup or two of sugar in the recipe, which makes them sweet. Added sugar is found in candy, cookies, and sweetened beverages like soda and lemonade.

Other foods contain added sugar but aren’t so obvious – they’re hidden. They may be found in mayonnaise, bread, baby food, cereal, crackers, tortillas, sausages, salad dressings, packaged oatmeal, yogurt, and spaghetti sauce, for instance.

Recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA) state that children’s added sugar intake should be less than 6 teaspoons per day (or less than 25 grams). This doesn’t mean the number of teaspoons you actually add to your child’s food. This is the daily added sugar allowance from all food sources, including obvious and hidden sources. 

For younger children (under the age of two years), experts from the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) caution against introducing added sugar in the daily diet. If you can hold off on introducing sweets and treats until later, you can get a head start on helping your child develop healthy eating habits.

Reading the ingredient labels on food packages can help you detect added sugar. Words that end with “-ose,” like sucrose or glucose, and ingredients such as honey, molasses, agave, and coconut sugar indicate sources of added sugar.

 What Does Not Constitute Added Sugar?

Sometimes parents get confused about sugar, vilifying fruit or milk as sources of sugar. They see the Nutrition Facts Panel and see the word “Sugars” and automatically think it means added sugar. It doesn’t. There’s actually a separate line for added sugars, which makes interpreting the labels on food packages much easier.

The nuance is this: Yes, fruit and milk contain sugar, specifically fructose and lactose, but these are not added. They occur naturally. Grapes, banana and watermelon are naturally packaged with sweetness. Nature intended milk to have lactose, and fruit to have fructose as part of the package. Because these foods don’t contain a source of added sugar, you won’t find formal limitations for them in the diets of children.

 How to Balance Sweets and Treats

Including sweets and treats in the diets of children is a balancing act. Research informs us that eliminating them altogether or tightly controlling them may drive children to like them more and overindulge when eating them. Alternatively, creating a free-for-all with sweets will likely lead to overeating them. You need to hit the sweet spot – a strategy for including sweets.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Use the 90 – 10 Rule. The 90 – 10 rule is based on the idea that 10% of calories in the daily diet come from sugary and fatty foods, or sweets and treats. Essentially, 90% of what kids eat should be nutritious, wholesome foods, leaving the remaining balance for sweets and treats. For most kids, this ends up being one or two sweets and treats per day, on average, and in a normal serving size.
  1. When do sweets make sense? You can make sweets a part of your everyday life, or not. Some families do well with a petite sweet every day, served alongside a meal or snack. Other families experience more sweets on the weekends due to parties, sports and other family activities, so they pick a day or two during the week for sweets and treats and allow more on the weekends. Figure out the right balance that will work for your family.
  1. Use naturally sweet foods to curb cravings. How about a bowlful of fruit with a dollop of vanilla yogurt? Or a piece of peanut butter toast with a few carob chips perched on top? The treats in our Sunnie® lunch kits are primarily made with dates, which are a source of natural sugar, not added sugar. While you may find some coconut sugar here and there, we add the least amount for the most flavor.
  1. Focus on eating enjoyment. Allow your child to enjoy sweets when he has them. No guilt trip. Period. This may damage his relationship with food, and confuse him. After all, sweets do taste good! 
  1. Don’t blame your child (or yourself) if your child likes sweets. Our little ones are human. And they’re wired for a sweet preference (amniotic fluid and breast milk are sweet!). Our larger food environment puts sweets and treats front and center for kids. If they taste them, see them, and smell them, they’ll probably like and want them.

Whether we like it or not, sweets and treats are part of the childhood nutrition experience. We need to help our kids navigate them, and not instill guilt or create unhealthy eating habits.

At Sunnie, we’re committed to creating what we call “next generation” sweets, using low glycemic sweeteners or natural sugars. Yes, we include a sweet treat in every lunch pack. But, our nutritionist uses the 90 – 10 Rule to balance all our lunch kits. We focus on natural sources of sweetness and try hard to eliminate added sugar in our treats. Just look at our nutrition panel. You’ll find low sugars (which mostly come from natural sources) and no added sugar.

We know you want to feel good about what you feed your child. And we believe your child should enjoy eating balanced meals, even with a sweet treat.

Shine on!

Jill Castle, MS, RDN

Big and Tiny Stories- Antonia Malim (Née Plunket)

Antonia Plunkett is a hospitality consultant, from London living in Echo Park, LA with her husband, son Jack and their dog Kodak. She was brought up in France where her love for food and beautiful establishments started. She has worked in the hospitality industry in London, Hong Kong, Italy and LA. She loves meeting new people and helping them realize their dreams. 
 
How are you finding being a new Mum?
I’ve been very lucky to have an easy baby, which enabled me to go back to work very quickly. Perhaps too quickly! I was back after 11 weeks and in the end decided I needed a bit more time to be at my best and as productive as possible. On the whole it has been an incredible journey and it helps I have a really supportive husband. 
 
Did you have a support system after giving birth?
When you’re pregnant there is a support system; and you are treated as this miraculous being. After the child was born, I struggled to find support; especially as I live so far away from my family. I wish there were more conversations about being a new Mom and so we can be more prepared about having this new identity.
 
As an expat and Brit working in the US, do you feel you are missing a support network of your wider family? 
It 100% it takes a village. So I had to find my village elsewhere since I didn’t know many people in LA at first. Finally I found Big and Tiny which is a place I can get my work done, build back my confidence and find a group of like-minded parents. 
 
How are you finding balancing your professional life with your new family? 
Big and Tiny have helped me find a balance that I am really comfortable with. I don’t feel I have had to make sacrifices at all. I know Jack is in good hands and if anything happens I am just next door. We, working Mums, always feel a certain level of guilt either to our bosses or to our child. Places like Big and Tiny are vital to bringing about an end to that guilt.

As a hospitality expert, is your industry a nurturing place for a working Mum. 
Yes and no. Yes because a lot of women work in my industry and therefore there is this general understanding of each other and our needs. 
No, because it is very demanding as it requires late nights and working weekends. So at some point it becomes impossible for a mother to execute some of the roles offered within the hospitality industry. 
Who I work with and my job role has evolved with my own personal situation and lifestyle. I definitely can no longer work for a snazzy nightclub like I did during my wild Hong Kong days!
 
 
Is being a mother really the most rewarding job in the world? 
(Laughs) Yes and no, again. Yes of course. I’m learning everyday about being a mother and learning a lot about myself in the process. But for me getting back to work was really important, personally I enjoy being in a pressured work environment, meeting and connecting with people, and making things happen everyday. 
 
Do you still find any time for you? To pamper? 
Pamper? I wish. But I always make time after Jack has gone to bed to have aperitivo with my husband or to watch a current documentary. I feel a child shouldn’t 100% dictate what a family is doing; we can still go on culturally awakening trips together. Jack just needs to behave! 
Oh and Big and Tiny do offer manicures and facials at work – which is a complete godsend. 
 
Is child care expensive where you live?
Very. I was pretty shocked by the child care prices compared to the UK even. So I limit Jack’s time with a nanny. And I find it more lucrative for him to come with me to Big and Tiny, besides he is a lot more entertained there! 
 
When you first returned back into a work environment did you realize that you had changed?
I was more emotional and burst into tears more (Laughs!.) – mainly due to lack of sleep. Other than that I felt more powerful, confident and grown up. I stood up for myself more, because I realized there are more important things in life. So I got rid of a lot of negative energy and negative people when I returned to work. Something I never had the courage to do before.

Members Clubs and Co-working spaces are your thing. Tell us LA in relation to London and beyond. 
The LA landscape is one behind London when it comes to membership clubs. In fact some great spaces I’ve been to started in London and opened an outpost in LA. Such as Second Home, Soho House and the H Club. 
London just does private member club really well and they’ve been around since the 1600’s – but they were stuffy gentlemen’s clubs then. But LA has integrated the work-life- wellness balance in such a great way, and therefore their co-working spaces are at the top of their game, they offer hotel like amenities and foster collaboration. 
 
Should you ever get a chance for a date night, where would go?
You can’t beat getting a table at the Hollywood Bowl, sharing a bottle of wine and a platter of cheese over live music. One of my favourite restaurants is Cafe Stella in Silverlake. It’s a French Bistro and it reminds me of my time in Paris. Otherwise getting out of town to stay at the gorgeous The Colony in Palm Springs or an airbnb in Big Bear Lake for a date weekend is always on the radar.