Emotional outbursts and grumpy children are not my thing. Really, if I could avoid them entirely I would. Through arduous documentation and testing, I have established that sugar highs and their rivalling lows, cause far more of these than I would like. This has caused certain rules to be put in place in our house:
Rule # 1 – No sugary breakfast cereals! There is an exception to this rule however… Sundays. The day the rulebook is tossed out the window and the children can eat what their hearts desire most. Thankfully their hearts generally desire Frosties and not frosted doughnuts, but this morning their hearts desired possibly the worst breakfast I could think of.
This incredibly nutrient deficient substance made an appearance in our house after a carnival-style sand castle competition on our local beach. Under much duress, and the incredible manipulative powers of a 5 and 6 year old, I was convinced to buy the aforementioned pink junk, the remainder of which was thrown into the pantry with the hopes of it being forgotten so I could toss it into the trash. Much to my dismay, the only thing they wanted this particular morning, was the emotional outburst in a bag, disguised cleverly, as strands of spun sugar.
Being the push over that I am, I decided the faster they could eat it and be done with it the better, so we grabbed the pink awesomeness and hit the road. Possibly the only thing worse than eating this stuff at home is going out and doing it in public, but dad needed a sleep in, so they were shopping with me. Oh the joys.
About 20 minutes later, well into their sugar high, when they were sliding under clothing rails and swinging from the hangers, I realised what I must look like to other parents. I’m ‘that’ mom, the one who gives her children whatever they yearn for (like candyfloss for breakfast) and then let them run amok in the shops, all but ruining the calm and serenity of everyone else’s Sunday morning.
Now although this may be true of this particular day, it is not my normal MO. You see, I am a bit of a sugar warrior. After being off-the-hook addicted to sugar for most of my life, I now consider myself in ‘recovery’. This ‘recovery’ process has had rather large repercussions for not only myself, but my family too. For example, hubby’s after dinner chocolate stash has somewhat diminished due to my refusal to ‘feed’ this habit, as has my children’s afternoon treat selection (but clearly not their Sunday morning breakfast binge).
When I went off sugar last year, I was committed, possibly a little over the top. I planned low GI meals, refused to buy any processed carbs and made my kids start eating things like lentils and cauliflower rice. I knew they were looking at me like I was crazy, I knew it because they were also saying it, but I soldiered on. Both of them are dairy and wheat intolerant so meals have always been a little bit different, taking out processed foods took this craziness to the next level. No more refined maize pastas or gluten free muffin mixes. I was full throttle.
I started baking health muffins with almond and coconut flour, taking out all sugar and replacing it in much smaller quantities with honey, maple syrup and xylitol. I kept telling them that banana was a natural sweetener and if we added dates and raisins it meant they didn’t need sugar. They were incredibly good natured about it all. They sampled batters and professed how delicious it all was, they even smiled the first few times they got the muffins in their lunch boxes.
But then reality set in – other children don’t eat like this.
They started bringing their food home from school and saying it wasn’t so nice anymore. They were tired of these ‘other’ muffins, can’t they just have a sandwich? That was when I knew the wheels had fallen off. My kids were asking for a sandwich in their lunch box! They wanted marmite or peanut butter for heaven’s sake. The expensive, life-sustaining, hunger-busting, muffins I spent my Sunday afternoons baking for them were being given the boot. Rule # 2 in our house being: You will finish all the food in your lunch box before I make you another meal, meant that I was in a battle of wills with the kids every afternoon to get them to eat their healthy, low GI, no sugar, almond flour muffins. There was coercing, negotiating, stubbornness, and the occasional story about starving children in Africa who have no food at all (I know I know, I tried not to go there but I was running out of options).
Then on one particularly ‘emotionally grey’ evening in our house, Shaun broke the news to me. I had gone a little too far with our family’s eating plan. We are not banters. We are not ‘no-carb nazis’. We pride ourselves on being exceptionally level-headed people. Yet in my attempt to get us all eating healthily I had gone a little wayward. My best attempts at cleaning out the junk and finding low GI recipes had, without my realising it, set me down a path I had not intended on travelling. Yes the kids need to eat healthy meals and not a diet based around sugar, but they also need balance. They need to be kids.
Many of my favourite childhood memories revolve around treats; the ones I baked, the ones I bought, the ones I was given (and the ones I snuck out of my grannies sweetie tin). I wouldn’t change any of those memories for the world, but I don’t want my kids to be as addicted to sugar as I was. I thought last year when I was getting myself off sugar, that if I got them off it too, they wouldn’t have the same needy relationship with it that I had.
But that’s not how it works.
Our children don’t live in isolation. They go to school, they spend time with other kids, they go to parties. It takes a very special kind of child to go to a party and not be seduced by the brightly coloured sugary bursts-of-awesomeness in every shape and size. I was not that special kind of child. I’m afraid I don’t have those children either. Treat temptation runs heavy in this house. I don’t think it’s a failure to admit that either. I’m trying to be a realistic parent and set realistic habits for my family; sustainable habits that can carry our children healthily into their future.
What I realised through all of this is that removing sugar from their diet and creating this ‘healthy way of eating’, was going to cause more long term damage to their relationship with sugar than just letting them have it (in moderation of course). Making such a big deal about something leaves a lasting impression on children, the last thing I want to create a hype about is sugar!
So if you see me in the shops on a Sunday morning and the children are swinging from the light fittings or leopard crawling under the trolley, please don’t judge me. I promise it’s not everyday they are allowed to behave like this.