1. Make your own sweets - This may seem counter-intuitive. If you're trying to get your kids off of sweets why would you bother making them at home. Well, transitioning away from sugar is not an easy process. Your kids will need something to look forward to. When we told our two kids we were going to have to follow a special diet (GAPS diet) for a while they weren't too excited. But my husband got them excited about having a special snack or dessert each day. Our favorite is cookies balls made from just nuts and dried fruit ground together in a food processor. Kids like variety as much as we do so make new treats often and it will be harder for them to miss their old junk food favorites. Some other favorites are banana ice cream (frozen bananas blended into a soft-serve), apple cobbler, and peanut butter balls (both sweetened with a little honey.
2. Pack a lunch or bring a snack - The biggest problem is being out of the house somewhere, getting hungry, and not having any options other than junk food. Plan ahead as much as possible to avoid getting caught with starving children who are likely to throw a tantrum if they can't have something from the snack machine. Along the same lines, make sure the kids are well stocked with healthy treats if they go to school. School is becoming one of the biggest contributors to your child's sugar intake. Just do the best you can here. Until our society makes some drastic changes, this will continue to be an uphill battle.
3. Educate your children - If your child can read, get them to help you read the ingredients on labels. Become familiar with all of the usual terms for sugar and see if they can hunt them down. Then let them help you find another version without the sugar. And make sure you talk to your children about why you are trying to avoid sugar. Even very young children are capable of understanding complex things if you have patience and repeat it often. Kids just want to have fun and in our society sugar=fun. Make a list of other fun things that don't involve sugar and keep that list handy for when you get stuck.
4. Pick 5 things to replace at each shopping trip - Making dietary changes can be overwhelming at first. I suggest just picking five items that you typically purchase at the grocery store and spending the time to find a better brand. If you keep it down to just five things you won't have to spend hours in the grocery store. On your next trip, pick five more things. Eventually you'll get the hang of it and before you know it your whole cupboard is sugar free.
5. Watch out for labels like "sugar-free" - There is not much point in replacing sugar with toxic chemicals like aspartame so never pay attention to what is on the front of the label. Completely ignore the nutrition facts on the back label and read the ingredients instead. If sugar, corn syrup, or something ending in -ose is among the top five ingredients - move on. Look for good sugar alternatives like honey, maple syrup, molasses, dates, stevia, evaporated cane juice, etc. Eventually you may even want to limit these but go easy on yourself at first.
6. Get the appetizer instead of dessert - If you do eat out, spend your money on the savory treats and avoid the dessert menu all together. Or promise the kids you will make them some banana ice cream when you get home. We all end up eating out at some point so just do the best you can and keep most meals at home. Remember, it's what you do the majority of the time that matters.
7. Keep desserts for when they are deserved - My daughter was lamenting one day about how she wished Christmas could be every day. I tried to explain to her that what makes Christmas special is that is only occurs once a year. Sugary treats should be the same way. Save them for birthdays and holidays to make them really special and then don't go overboard. There is no reason to have so much candy lasting a month after Halloween or Easter. It's just not special anymore and will result in tantrums, arguments, and poor nutrition. If you can't find a sugarless alternative to your holiday rituals then let them have their piece of cake and then get rid of the rest. Or better yet, make a smaller cake to begin with so everyone gets a little bit. Then go back to your list of other fun activities to do.
8. Don't make a really big deal out of it - This is one lesson I have learned. If a relative gives your child sugar don't make a big deal out of it in front of your child. Yes, you may have to deal with the rashes, vomiting, bedwetting, tantrums or whatever that will result from your child eating that sugar but you don't want to cause hurt feelings either. Calmly talk to that relative about what happens when your child eats sugar. Make sure your child is well-educated too so that they have the opportunity to refuse the treat. Bring lots of healthy snacks so your child isn't hungry. And again, just do the best you can. Everyone will tell you "It's just one piece." or "You had sugar when you were a kid and it didn't hurt you." Just continue to be patient and calm. Recognize they are offering because sugar=fun in our society. And encourage your relatives to find other fun things to share with your children.
9. Don't eat it yourself - I probably should have put it at the top of this list. It's definitely an important one. You can't expect your children to give up sugar if you are sneaking it constantly. And if your spouse is not on board that can be even harder. Sometimes when a child has a food allergy the doctor will recommend they go for two weeks without that food, then eat lots of the item to see if it is a trigger. This can be a good experiment for an unsympathetic spouse or relative. Especially if you make sure they are the ones who have to watch the kids under the sugar trial period. They won't understand until they have seen it for themselves. Don't keep the sweets in the house. Not even in hiding. Just don't buy them at all. You are the one in charge of the shopping. If you are going to have sugar in the house at all make sure it is in a form that has to be turned into something. Baker's chocolate is not nearly as tempting as chocolate chips or candy bars if you have to mix it with sugar or honey to make it edible!
10. Keep trying - You will have ups and downs. It is the law of the universe that everything will change. You may be doing really good one week and fail miserably the next. Just have patience with yourself, let go of the guilt and move on. Remember that we are fighting an entire social norm here. Avoid those sugar laden grocery store aisles. Keep temptation out of your reach. And just do the best that you can every single day. Good luck.
To Your Health!