Sugar is a touchy subject for many parents. With more emphasis and education on the importance of good nutrition in childhood, parents are becoming aware of the shocking amounts of sugar found in foods marketed to kids. Does it come in a brightly colored box? Is there a cartoon character starring in it’s commercials? If so, you can be fairly certain it comes with a hefty dose of the sweet stuff.
As a dietitian who likes to focus on the big picture of people’s diets, rather than sweating over individual foods or nutrients, I think sugar has been overly demonized. There’s zero harm in eating moderate amounts, and a little bit of sugar helps make nutritious foods more palatable to kids. Think a little maple syrup drizzled over whole grain pancakes or a lightly sweetened dressing for dipping raw veggies.
That said, the amount of sugar the average kid consumes is alarming, more than double the recommended upper limit of six teaspoons added sugar per day. Four grams of added sugar is equal to one teaspoon.
Instead of turning into the sugar police, try planning more savory snacks, or recreate some of their favorite sugary snack foods at home, where you can control the sweetness. Here’s some ideas, along with a recipe for homemade fig newtons. They’re a little more energy bar-like than the original cakey cookies, but your kid will still love them!
Fudgesicles // Freeze creamy coconut milk blended with cocoa powder, and sweetened to taste in popsicles molds for a summery treat. Or, try this recipe for avocado fudgesicles – no one will taste the surprise ingredient!
Flavored Yogurt // Flavored yogurt marketed to kids usually has more sugar than regular flavored yogurt, which already has more than 3 teaspoons in a single serving cup. Look for the lowest sugar yogurt you can find and add fruit, like berries, to sweeten it up. Or, try using an all-fruit jam with no added sugar mixed into plain yogurt. Try this recipe for yogurt parfaits with strawberries and blueberries.
Pudding Snacks // Use creamy avocado to make a no-cook chocolate pudding. It’s also a great vehicle for fresh fruit. Try this recipe for creamy chocolate chia pudding.
Granola Bars // Cut the sugar from granola bars with no-bake energy bites. Kids will love measuring out the ingredients and helping you form balls. Make extra to store in the freezer. Try this recipe for almond butter energy bites.
Homemade Gluten Free Fig Newtons
For the filling:
- 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen figs
- ½ cup dried apricots, chopped
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ cup water
For the dough:
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 ½ cup oats
- ½ cup almond meal
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup coconut oil
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Place figs, apricots, lemon juice, cinnamon and water in a small pot on medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until apricots are soft and tender and mixture is jammy, about 20 minutes. Add more water if it gets too dry while simmering. Mash with a potato masher or puree in a food processor.
- Mix chia seeds and water. Set aside to gel.
- Place oats in a food processor. Pulse until ground into a fine powder, about 1 minute. Add almond meal, sugar, and salt and pulse until combined. Add coconut oil and chia gel and pulse until combined into a dough, scraping down sides as needed.
- Grease a large loaf pan with coconut oil. Take half the dough mixture and press it down into the bottom Scoop about ¾ or all of the fig filling, depending on how thick you like it, onto the crust and spread evenly. Crumble the remaining dough over the top and press down to smooth.
- Bake 25 minutes until slightly golden. Let cool at least 15 minutes, then cut into squares and serve. Keep in an airtight container for up to five days, or refrigerate to keep longer.