Sugar-Free Toddler: So, what does your kid eat?

The number one question I am asked when folks find out I am sugar-free is if my kids are sugar-free too.

To which I reply, mostly.

Sausage eating banana 'ice cream': simply frozen bananas blitzed in the blender until smooth and creamy

Sausage eating banana ‘ice cream’: simply frozen bananas blitzed in the blender until smooth and creamy

Chip is only 9 months old so he is 100% sugar-free.  Sausage is 2 1/4 years old, so she is the ‘mostly’.  My second most-asked question is what on earth I give her to eat if she’s sugar-free, like she must live on gruel or something.

Having a mostly sugar-free toddler isn’t too hard when they are used to eating this way.  I imagine that transitioning a toddler off large amounts of the white stuff wouldn’t be much fun!  I feel exhausted just thinking about it…

Sausage is a pretty good eater (for now).  She’s not too fussy, eats most fruit and vegetables, and generally eats what we eat – although she draws the line at Ryvita (yuck!), vegemite (I DON’T like it!) and lettuce (that’s digusting!).

She does however, have a massive sweet tooth, especially for chocolate.  Her diet isn’t 100% sugar-free, but then it’s not my intention for it to be.  I believe in taking an 80:20% approach to what my kids eat.  I think forbidding my kids to eat any sweets, cake etc only serves to increase its desirability, which can lead to bizarre behaviour and attitudes towards food.  My mother once told me about some children she knew who were never allowed any sweets at all.  They got into serious trouble for shoplifting their ‘forbidden fruit’.  I also have a friend who grew up without being allowed to eat anything ‘bad’ – he was always sent to parties with a box of his permitted food – and he went crazy when he finally left home for university.  He had an enormous stash of chocolate at all times, and slept with several cases of cola under his bed!  His unhealthy relationship with sweet stuff continues to this day.

So Sausage does get some sugary stuff during her week.  It’s a lot less than the average child I think, and I think it’s easiest just to tell you what she might eat in a ‘typical’ day here in Tawhero.

Breakfast: She eats weetbix or cornflakes, sometimes with a bit of fruit on top (like the feijoas we have in abundance right now).  I can’t get her to eat porridge but you can be sure we’re working on this.  Pretty much any other cereal here in NZ is riddled with sugar.  Some cereals can be 30-40% sugar and yet are promoted as being healthy such as Nutrigrain or Sultana Bran.  And most cereals peddled at children, such as ‘Honey Puffs, Cocoa Pops, and Frosties’ are incredibly sugary.

Occasionally I make her scrambled eggs or pancakes for breakfast.  She likes pancakes just with butter.

Just FYI, I don’t limit fruit.  She’s a toddler and has more energy in her little finger than I have in my whole body.

Morning Tea:  Morning teas can be my trickiest meals in terms of curbing her sugar intake.  We attend two play groups that provide morning tea, and they always, always, always include sugary biscuits/cookies.  They are not the worst offenders in the biscuit world (i.e. they tend to be cream wafers or vanilla wine biscuits) but they seem to be a staple at play groups, along with providing fresh fruit.  One group sometimes provides a diluted raro drink (a powdered sugar drink) which I ignore and give her water (Sausage rarely has juice, and when she does it is very diluted.  She’s never had soft drink.  She is fine with drinking water or milk).  I realise of course that I could forbid her to eat the biscuits, but one or two during the day aren’t going to hurt when they are often the only sugary things she eats that day.  I could even bring her own morning tea, but I don’t for the above reasons.  I’ve have spoken to the play group organisers but it falls on deaf ears.

Don’t get me started on what adults are given to eat at play groups.  I have NEVER been offered anything savoury.  It’s always chocolate biscuits (in front of the children too!).  Fortunately I seldom need a snack in the mornings otherwise I’d go home with a grumbly tummy.

If we are at home, or at Playcentre where we bring our own morning tea, she eats things like boiled eggs, crackers, cheese, hummus, carrots, fresh fruit, yoghurt*, sandwiches, cucumber and tomato slices, tuna, chicken or some sugar free baking if I’ve been particularly organised.

* I haven’t been able to convince Sausage that unsweetened yoghurt is delicious, so I sneak it in to her commercially prepared sweetened fruit yoghurt at a 50:50 ratio.  I will be gradually increasing the unsweetened ration, mwahaha!

If we are out and about and are not organised we do give Sausage biscuits (just keeping it real).  Griffin’s do a fruit digestive that is surprisingly low in sugar.  They are the best of the bunch if you are in a pinch.

Lunch: Sausage is addicted to peanut butter sandwiches.  We use Pic’s 100% peanut brand, which is in my opinion, the best ever.  I will eventually have to wean her off onto other spreads as many schools forbid PB due to increasing numbers of kids with deathly peanut allergies in attendance.  Anyway, lunch is often a PB sandwich, with sides of cheese, tomato or whatever else is to hand.

Afternoon tea: Usually similar to morning tea.

Dinner: Sausage eats what we eat, unless it’s a highly spicy curry.

Sausage does get the occasional sugary treat such as ice cream or chocolate from us and her grandparents, and I allow her to eat what she wants at birthday parties – but she isn’t really on the party circuit like older kids can be.  She is always my litmus test for any sugar-free concoction I make, as if it pleases her, it is generally a hit with everyone.

Having a (mostly) sugar-free toddler is possible. 

Do you limit sugar in your house?  How do your kids respond?


Dollar Diet: Week 6

Despite physically running on empty this week, our bank account is getting fuller by the day.  This has been an excellent Dollar Diet week.

I made plum chutney, and holy moly it is the best chutney I have ever tasted!

2 kilos of plums (plus more rhubarb from my Aunt)

2 kilos of plums (plus more rhubarb from my Aunt)

I have no pictures of the finished product because it has all gone – either given away as gifts or gobbled up by D and I (it goes great with vintage cheddar…).  My second batch is ready to be assembled.  This year we have had an absolute bumper harvest of plums due to a scorching summer- the plums are absolutely coming out our ears – and it feels great to be making the most of them, like being a good steward of what we have.  We gave away more bags this week to family and neighbours.

I had a swag of birthdays this week and decided to make the most divinely decadent chocolate truffles known to mankind as gifts.  A dear foodie friend gave me her secret recipe a few years ago and I swore never to reveal it.  I’m not eating sugar, but if I was, these are what I would request on my deathbed.  They are so good I often get asked where I bought them and get shocked looks when I say I made them myself.  Anyway, I made a batch and ended up with several gift bags worth. 2015-02-06 22.33.00

I also made a meal for a friend who is wrangling his three kids while his wife is out of town and popped a bag of truffles in for whenever he managed to sneak in a little ‘me’ time.

We’ve been fastidious about using our leftovers, and using up what we have in the freezer and the cupboards. I made a roast chicken that gave us 3 meals plus stock.  We bought a loaf of bread in an all-fired hurry as D’s Dad called us on Saturday to say he and D’s step-mum were half an hour away.  We’d totally forgotten they were coming but fortunately we had plenty of fixings for lunch – except extra bread.  D sprinted for the dairy (what we call corner stores in NZ) and tried not to wince at the price.  They bought a big bottle of orange juice with them and most of it was left untouched.  D’s birthday is coming up soon so we’re saving the juice to make into a low-sugar punch for his party.

I had a real grumbly-tummy, hungry day today and rather than get some non-sugary snacks from the supermarket, I made some ‘nut balls’ from ingredients I had to hand.  I adapted a recipe from The Clean Living Cookbook, which was given to me by my best mate R.  They were delicious.  Sausage told me quite seriously that they were her ‘favourite’.


I have made more of an effort to shop at the cheapest places for grocery items, rather than getting absolutely everything from the supermarket.  I can be rather lazy about doing this, and I hate having to get Chip in and out of the car multiple times on a single outing.  We have a wonderful market here in Whanganui on Saturdays and I am able to pick up a tray of free range eggs there which sell for several dollars less than our cheapest supermarket.  I picked up a large bag of tomatoes for $3 while I was there.  I’m still waiting on the tomatoes in my garden to ripen but they are on their way, and I will soon be awash with free tomatoes (I got the plants for free).  I also went to a produce store which sells fruit and veg at much lower prices than the supermarket.  Travelling to several different places for groceries can actually negate any savings when you factor in the cost of petrol, but I will try to get into the habit of picking things up when I am going past anyway.

D saved half the cost of his usual bus fare (and about 75% when he takes our car) by catching a ride with a friend to Wellington this week.  D goes into his Wellington-based company to have some face-time with his colleagues once a month, and the cost of his travel isn’t cheap.  D traveled with a friend who also goes to Wellington regularly for work and gave him some money towards petrol, which he practically had to force into our friend’s hand.

I sold a pair of shoes on Trade Me for $35.

I had to go into our local mall in order to get some cash out for the market and was confronted by lots of temptation for the first time in weeks.  There were lots of ‘bargains’ to be had, but as I looked in the shop windows I found myself saying ‘There is nothing I need’.  Remarkable.

D has noticed a change in the way he calculates the cost of things.  We have been more diligent about using cloth nappies on the kids, and D being a math whiz, quickly calculated the expenditure on disposables we might make in a year if we didn’t.  E.g. 4 nappies a day at 30c a nappy, comes out at over $400 spent on disposables a year.  It’s worth doing those yearly calculations to give yourself an incentive to stop doing something or at least cut back.

Phew.  There’s actually more stuff to tell, but this has turned into a novella, so I’ll stop.


How to give up sugar

This post first appeared in my other blog Giving Up Sugar.

I have been trying to live sugar-free for the best part of three years now, and since beginning back in 2012 I’ve noticed the sugar-free movement getting more and more traction.



image credit

While sugar-free living is not a magic path to a super-slim me, I prefer eating this way.  I certainly do lose some weight and have waaaay more control over my appetite when I am sugar-free.  Some people are able to give up and stay off the white stuff for good, but I was derailed from the sugar-free wagon by both my pregnancies.  I’m not sure why.  Both pregnancies played havoc with my thyroid (I have hypothyroidism), and I found it impossible to ignore my chocolate cravings.

BUT, I have leapt back on that wagon with gusto and must report that it’s been pretty easy so far.  Knowing that I have been successful at keeping sugar-free for months and months in the past is a great motivator.

The number one question I get asked about living sugar-free is how I go about quitting.  So here’s my guide giving up the white stuff.


1. How did you do it?  How can I quit sugar too?

You can either quit gently (I’d recommend Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar programme if this sounds like you) or go cold turkey.  I went cold turkey, cause that’s just how I roll.  Either way, here are some tips to make it easier on yourself.

  • Quit when your social calendar isn’t full.  It was the beginning of November when I first discovered Sweet Poison.  As Christmas was coming up, the first time D and I quit (more on that later) we decided to be kind to ourselves and wait until AFTER Christmas/New Year’s.  We waited until we were back at work, so we didn’t have lots of free time to think about food.  Stay in for a couple of weeks instead of going out for dinner at night.  Avoid your favourite cafe.  Have friends over to your house, instead of going to theirs.
  • Get sugar in all its variants out of your house.  Give it away to your neighbours.  Just get rid of it.  You don’t want to be sitting at home on day two with that stash of chocolate you always keep in the top right-hand cupboard calling your name.
  • Generally I think soft drink is the devil, but get some Coke/Sprite Zero, or other zero-sugar drink to get you through the withdrawal period, if you think it might help.  Trust me, after a few weeks you will no longer want the stuff anymore.  I had it for about a week (that’s all I could stand) and it helped me when I got cravings.
  • Expect to have a few days of feeling rubbish.  It passes.  Sooner than you’d think.
  • Really think about if you’re ready to quit.  It’s okay if you’re not.  Just file the idea of quitting sugar away for when you are.  For me, I’d just had enough.  I’d hit bottom.  I was so embarrassed and ashamed of my over-eating that carrying on as I was just wasn’t an option anymore.  Sweet Poison was the first thing that gave me hope in like, forever.  My daughter is my main motivation for staying sugar-free.  I don’t want her to grow up with a weight problem, or have the food issues that I did.

2. Why should I give up sugar?

Oh man, once you’ve been off it you’ll see.  Fructose is killing us.  It’s making us fat, sick, tired, diseased, spotty and addicted.  There is nothing in fructose that your body needs.

Giving up sugar has changed my life.  Here are some benefits I’ve seen:

  • weight loss
  • increased energy
  • increased satiety levels (I only need 3 meals a day)
  • clearer mind
  • fewer mood swings
  • better sleep
  • clearer skin
  • HAVING CONTROL OVER MY APPETITE.  I never could stop a one chocolate.  Now I can look at chocolate and not even want it.  Now I seldom even think about chocolate.  Or other sweet stuff.

3. What’s sugar withdrawal like?

Unfortunately, it’s different for everyone.  David Gillespie reckons men have an easier time of it than women.  I think he’s probably right.  My husband D took a couple of weeks to withdraw, which is pretty typical for men.  I took a couple of months.  Some women take longer.  You may experience the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • irritability (Duh!  Of course you’re going to be irritable)
  • intense hunger (When D and I quit we were both RAVENOUS on the first day.  I would have eaten anything not nailed down).  Have a metric tonne of sugar-free snacks at the ready.
  • tiredness/lethargy
  • trouble sleeping

All these symptoms are normal.  You are detoxing from an incredibly addictive substance.  I felt headachey, hungry and tired for a couple of days, but otherwise I was okay.  I found the worst part of withdrawal was simply saying no to temptation when out and about.

4. How will I know when I have withdrawn properly?

Your appetite will decrease.  You will no longer have thoughts of food taking up valuable space in your mind.  You will no longer be planning your day around trips to get snacks, or panicking about when food might get served at a friend’s dinner party because you’re starving.  You will be able to look at sugary treats and say ‘euck’.

5.  How do you stay sugar-free?

Expect to mess up.  Ok?  Just expect it.  You’re going to be okay.  You’re making a big change.  You’ve been addicted to this stuff for most of your life.

It takes a person an average of SEVEN times to break any sort of addiction, and sugar is no exception.  D and I first quit in January 2012 and did really well until we went to America in September that year.  We came back totally addicted again (hard to avoid it when you are been hosted by people).  As I was pregnant at the time and finding withdrawal incredibly hard, we decided to be kind to ourselves and quit after the baby arrived.

I am not militant about never eating any sugar – but I do have strict, self-imposed rules around when I do have it: super-special occasions like milestone birthdays and weddings only.  This means I hardly ever have it.  I do this because D and I are very social and always have ‘special occasions’ going on.  I do this because I enjoy celebrating with loved ones, and some times are special enough to me to eat a damned piece of wedding cake.  It works for me.  Some people find staying away altogether works best for them.  Figure out what approach works best for you.

After you’ve been sugar-free for a few months it really does get easier and easier.  If you mess up, or deliberately choose to eat some, just gird your loins and start eating sugar-free again at your next meal.  It’s not the end of the world.

6.  How do you get kids to be sugar-free?

Err, good question.  One of my kids is only a baby so he doesn’t know any different.  My older kid is often surrounded by it at play groups and birthday parties.  I try not to be militant about what she eats when we are out as I think that merely serves to increase the desirability of sugary food to children.   Her meals are home are almost always sugar-free which  helps her have a balanced diet.  I try to spread the sugar-free message where ever I can (without being a pain in the butt) – especially at play groups where there are always biscuits etc on offer.

If you’ve got older kids, you might need to take a different tack.  Sugar is in most of the food your kids eat, even if you haven’t meant to sugar them up.  Seriously.  It’s in their cereals, their yogurts, their ‘healthy’ muesli bars.  Depending on your kids’ personalities, you might want to take the softly, softly approach.  Arm yourself with lots of yummy sugar-free recipes.  And once you’ve all withdrawn, you can replace the sugar in their favourite recipes with alternatives. (Occasional treats people, occasional).

7. I love baking.  What sugar alternatives do you use?

Okay, lots of recipes will claim to be sugar-free but still use honey, agave, or maple syrup.  Those things are all high in fructose and still bad for you.  So you do have to look a bit harder online to find truly sugar-free recipes.

Occasionally I use stevia, erythritol, dextrose and rice malt syrup.  While many people who have researched these alternative sweeteners swear by them, I must say that I think the jury is still out on them for ME, so I don’t have sugar-free treats a lot.  With all due respect to my sugar-free friends out there, some people use sweeteners like it gives them free licence to eat cake.  Like it magically makes things healthier.  It’s still cake.  You can make some amazing sugar-free treats for sure, but use them sparingly.  Dextrose cookies twice a day does not a healthy diet make.


Sugar-free Toddler: Saving teeth

In New Zealand we have a ‘celebrity’ psychologist called Nigel Latta.  He’s predominately worked with troubled children and their families, and is pretty much my parenting guru.  I love his laidback approach to parenting, as he reckons parents today are so bombarded with parenting information that we tend to overthink things.  I’m in Camp Nigel.  I think the parenting industry is big business and mostly only serves to make us anxious that we are screwing up the lives of our dear little ones. 

teethimage credit

Anyhow, Nigel has fronted a range of tv shows on differing subjects (not all parenting related) and his latest one is brilliant.  Not so imaginatively called‘Nigel Latta’, the show is a six part documentary on what he sees as the major issues facing New Zealand at the moment.  It’s been a confronting and depressingly grim show and yet contains enough hope that successful ways to tackle these issues are possible.  He looked at inequality in New Zealand, domestic violence, alcohol, our education system, our prison system, and SUGAR.

The episode was called ‘Is Sugar the New Fat?’  I’ve been on this sugar free journey for a couple of years now and am well aware of the evils of the white stuff, but let me tell you, this show terrified me.  D and I were very disturbed by it and it has certainly strengthened our resolve to be a sugar-free family.  Now for us sugar-freers, there wasn’t a great deal of new information in the show, but the guy knows how to put a show together.  Nigel talked to sugar slaying Dr Robert Lustig who talked about the addictive nature of sugar, and its insidious addition to processed food.  Nigel looked at how much sugar is in staple NZ foods, and talked to the people who put it in there.  He also featured blogger nz sugar free  who went sugar free when his wife was diagnosed as being pre diabetic.  Both husband and wife lost loads of weight and the wife is no longer in any danger of becoming diabetic.  

Nigel even went sugar free himself for the show.  He thought he had a healthy diet (low fat milk, muesli and fruit for breakfast) and exercises regularly, but his bloodwork told a very different story.  After two months of being sugar free (and removing other refined carbohydrates) his bloodwork was well within the normal range and he’d lost some weight.

One of the most disturbing parts of the programme was Nigel talking with dental surgeons who regularly perform teeth extractions on toddlers whose teeth have rotted due to excess sugar consumption.  They even showed some extractions.  It was horrendous.  Two and three year olds needing multiple teeth extracted because their parents thought it was ‘okay to put coke in their bottle’.  The dentists said these surgeries (which cost megabucks) are on the increase.

Toddlers needing teeth extractions is not okay.

Having spoken with friends, I know that most people who watched the show were horrified at how much sugar was contained in their food (Marmite and some canned tuna, for instance).  I hope this dialogue gets some traction as I believe we need to angry at the food industry for what it’s doing to us.  At what it’s doing to our kids.  As Nigel points out in the show, the World Health Organisation recommends that children consume no more than 4 teaspoons of sugar a day.  Most NZ children would probably surpass that by breakfast time, given the sugar-laden cereals that are peddled at children.

The show has prompted me to get tough with my toddler to protect her pearly whites (we’ve been a bit complacent in the wake of Cyclone Baby).  In my next post I’ll tell you what that looks like in practice and pass on my tips for sugar-free toddlerness.


This post first appeared in my other blog Giving Up Sugar