A strategy for more mindful eating.
As Halloween approaches, so many parents get anxious about candy and sugar - check out more on this in our other posts about handling Halloween candy and stressing less about sugar!
What I (Megan) have seen is that many parents are uncomfortable around sugar and candy because they don’t know how to handle it themselves. Perhaps you find yourself eating an entire bag of Reeses’ Pieces the week leading up to Halloween, or your kids’ candy loot feels like it has some sort of control over you. Sound familiar? You aren’t alone.
What I love about being in the Instagram community is learning from so many other intuitive eating dietitians, and one phrase I’ve seen floating around many of their accounts is that we are simply giving candy and sugar way too much credit. We’re giving it too much power. It’s so true. The more we obsess about it and restrict it, the more we crave it and the less we actually enjoy it while eating it. Do you notice that you eat candy very quickly so you “destroy the evidence”? If you think about it - what’s the point? Why eat it if we don’t actually enjoy it??
I challenge you to give yourself a little more credit and take the power away from that food. One way to do this is by sitting with candy (or any food) and really letting yourself actually enjoy it. Yes, eat it like you’re wine tasting. Really taste it. Give it time and aim for satisfaction from the eating experience.
Here are some tips for doing a simple mindful eating activity:
What you may notice is that a few bites hit the spot, or that you don’t actually like the candy once you’ve let yourself taste it. Maybe you need more than you thought. Perhaps you realize that you’d prefer another type of candy. Whatever you discover is OK.
I challenge you to try this again a few times as Halloween approaches, giving yourself unconditional permission to eat - and enjoy - some candy, however much that may be. You are worthy of eating food that tastes good, and that applies no matter what size you are or what you’ve eaten that day.
Do you need help with this? Please check out the book “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I have said it before and I’ll say it again - it will change your life!
Heavily restricting kids from sugar backfires.
Our job as parents is to do what's best for our children. We research car seats, carefully pick a pediatrician and make decisions about all sorts of tough stuff - discipline, sleep, potty training, daycare, etc. We quickly learn that our decisions may be different than those around us, and sometimes - especially when we share our decisions online - we find that we are dramatically different in how we think than how others think.
Sugar is one of those more controversial issues. Everyone approaches it differently, and it's quite the hot button topic in mom groups and various online forums. Our followers tell us that they are bombarded with messages about sugar being terrible, and they are feel like bad parents if they let their children have any.
Megan here. Judy and I posted a cookie recipe on Instagram that has allergy-friendly modifications, something many of our allergy families were asking us to do. We were bombarded with strongly-worded messages from followers about how irresponsible it was to encourage followers to eat a cookie.
A cookie, people.
I don't think they know us well enough yet...
While talking about sugar brings out some dang strong opinions, instead of shying away from it I decided to hit it head on. These may be my words, but Judy and I collaborated on writing this post.
So here goes.
We want to remind you of one important thing: only you get to decide what works for your family. As a good friend said to me lately, our job as feeding practitioners is to make the suggestion - your job is to make the decision. (Thank you to her Peloton for inspiring this quote!)
Perhaps after reading this you want to change how you approach sugar with your kids or wish you had done things differently. You are a good parent no matter what approach you have been taking, and you are allowed to change your mind and actions when you want to. We support you in doing whatever is best for your family.
Note: if your child has a medical condition that prevents them from eating certain foods, please check out the last portion of this post.
In case you're short on time, here's where we stand on sugar - head below for citations and explanations:
Where does sugar fear come from?
Everywhere you look, adults are trying to limit their intake of sugar. Sugar is the current "demon" that fat used to be. (Remember when we were advised to eat fat-free cookies, which were actually very high in sugar, because fat was "bad"?)
Many parents shun sugar because they fear that their child will become, or already is, overweight. Perhaps they don't want their children to become "addicted to sugar" like they are. Maybe they don't want their kids to experience teasing or bullying for their size like they did. These are all valid fears - we are trying to protect our kids from getting hurt.
Given the current public discussion about sugar, it's not surprising that many parents fear it and its role in their child's diet. These fears may be deeply rooted in their own food, body image and weight struggles.
Note: the discussion of obesity in children is beyond the scope of this article, but we hope you will learn here that restriction in kids - especially with the intent to make them lose weight - can backfire. Children are meant to come in all shapes and sizes, and they deserve love, acceptance and tasty, nourishing foods, no matter how big or small they are.
As health practitioners, we absolutely understand that lots of sugar long-term may have detrimental health effects, including an increased risk of heart disease, fatty liver disease, inflammation and diabetes. Diets like Whole30 and the ketogenic diet have further exacerbated the public focus on sugar.
Don't get us wrong - we understand that eating a diet low in sugar can help us feel great, at least physically. Some of my clients have had dramatic health improvements by eliminating sugar when managing specific conditions. I have done therapeutic low-sugar diets for my own health issues. I totally understand how reducing how much sugar we eat can change how we feel, from both a professional and a personal level.
However, recommendations from major medical bodies talk about reducing - but not eliminating - sugar. It is generally recognized that sugar can have a place in our diet. Interestingly, some data suggests that both a very high intake and a very low intake of sugar are associated with poor health outcomes.
Recent recommendations from the American Heart Association state that children under the age of 2 should consume no added sugar. We will talk a lot more about this below.
There's more to eating than nutrition.
Imagine a life where you could never eat your favorite ice cream or pie again. How does that feeling sit with you? Do you feel deprived? A little sad? Perhaps you're not a "sweets" person yourself but can relate on another favorite food of yours. (I would be downright bummed if someone told me I couldn't have chocolate or sushi again.)
Most people want to enjoy their favorite foods - including those that contain sugar - every so often. There's nothing shameful or bad about this. We deserve to eat food that tastes good.
I work with a lot of chronic dieters and people recovering from disordered or restrictive eating, and we work on finding the "satisfaction factor" as described in Intuitive Eating. Sometimes people rely so heavily on external rules surrounding food (what to eat, when to eat, don't eat this, don't eat after that time) that they miss their own innate signals of hunger, fullness and satisfaction. When they're not satisfied by their meals they tend to seek out other foods, even if they're physically full. Perhaps you relate - you eat a dinner that's not tasty or filling to you, and thirty minutes later you're raiding the cupboard for something else. You end up eating more in the long run - and food your body may not need - because you didn't find that satisfaction factor.
Many of my clients have a piece of good-quality chocolate or some sweeter food every night as a way to connect with their taste buds, feel satisfied after dinner and cap off a day of eating. They are listening to not only their body but also their mind and their cravings. When they feel satisfied with food, they don't think about it or worry about the next meal. They are satisfied and move along until the next eating time without obsessing over the next meal or what they did or didn't eat. Some sugar keeps them feeling sane, calm and content.
Remember, food is so much more than just the sum of its nutrients. We eat for many reasons besides just nutrition. Food represents culture, connecting with others, feeling cared for and safe. Food brings us back to specific memories or times in our lives. We are gifted with a sense of taste that helps us have enjoyable experiences when we eat. It is OK to love food and enjoy the eating process. Despite what our fitness-obsessed society suggests, there's nothing wrong with liking to eat - we are literally hard-wired to do it. (It tastes good and makes us feel good for a reason, friend!)
What about our kids? Can't we just not introduce them to sugar so they don't know what they're missing?
Here's the tricky part: in order to prevent a complicated relationship with sugar or raise a "sugar fiend," many parents heavily restrict their kids from sugar. Unfortunately, research suggests that this strategy actually backfires in the long-run. Kids are drawn to what they can't have, and when they are heavily restricted from "forbidden" foods, they consume those foods in greater quantity as they get older.
As another study states, "Restricting access focuses children's attention on restricted foods, while increasing their desire to obtain and consume those foods. Restricting children's access to palatable foods is not an effective means of promoting moderate intake of palatable foods and may encourage the intake of foods that should be limited in the diet."
Thus, in our efforts to restrict sugar, we drive our kids to eat more sugar.
It makes sense, right? We as adults are wired the same way. When we're craving a cookie and keep telling ourself that we can't have the cookie, we eat everything else...and then five cookies. Then we feel uncomfortable (physically) and defeated (mentally). Perhaps we would have been better off just having the dang cookie - and really enjoying it - in the first place.
Furthermore, when adults eliminate sugar, it's usually usually short-lived. Most adults eventually feel deprived if they can't enjoy at least some of their favorite foods. In many people, restricting turns into binging or extreme or disordered food behaviors. I can't tell you how many clients I've worked with who eat an entire carton of ice cream or sleeve of Oreos after being on a "no sugar diet" for a few days. Dr. Michelle May calls this the "eat, repent, repeat" cycle. We feel like we've eaten too much sugar so we restrict...which in turn causes us to eat too much sugar...and repeat.
The irony is, we really crave these foods because we enjoy the process of eating them. When we restrict and then eventually go overboard on them, we take away the joy and satisfaction from the experience...which is exactly what we were hoping to get from eating that food in the first place. We're missing the entire point of eating it.
If we struggle mentally and emotionally with eliminating sugar, how can we expect it to work for our kids?
The solution? We need to find a balance that works for own families that includes introducing our kids to some sugar at a rate that feels comfortable to us. Keep reading for more on the "why," and head to the last section of this post for the "how."
Your child's food choices will not always be under your control.
Many parents who heavily restrict sugar are able to fully control the foods their children have access to. However, as children get older, they can no longer regulate or monitor each bite. (And if you have taken our Toddler Course you know that stressing about each bite can be unproductive - a more authoritarian or controlling approach to food with kids causes mealtime strain for everyone.)
Eventually, your child will go to friends' houses, sports practices, youth groups, trips with grandparents, to the movies, etc. They will be offered food you may not be comfortable with. They may have free access to foods they normally don't see at home. It's our job to help them learn to listen to their bodies when eating all types of foods - not just health-promoting ones - so that they can handle these scenarios.
Every time we post about sugar, we are bombarded with messages from followers about how they (or their friends) behaved around sweets when they finally had access to them after being heavily restricted at home. They tell us that they would binge on cookies, candy and baked goods when they went to friends house because they finally had access to these foods. A few followers told us that after being sugar-restricted during childhood, they went to college and "went crazy" on sugar for years to follow.
What concerns Judy and myself even more about heavily restricting sugar or any food is that authoritarian or controlling parenting styles around food are correlated with disordered eating behaviors. The more we carefully control what our kids eat, the more likely they are to develop what can be very dangerous eating patterns. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Ever since Feeding Littles started, our goal has been to help you learn practical strategies that can help you potentially prevent disordered eating, and managing sugar and sweets is a key part of these strategies.
In other words, by allowing your child to have some sugar now, we hope that you're setting them up for a positive relationship with food for life. Taking the "special-ness" away from sugar allows it to be just another food in your child's life - not something they obsess over. Food is just food.
It's ironic, no? To encourage kids to have a health-promoting intake of sugar over their lifetime, we have to let them have some sugar.
There's more to the story than "no sugar until age 2."
In 2016 the American Heart Association released guidelines on sugar consumption for young children. These recommendations recommend no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day for kids ages 2-18 years of age. This is equivalent to 2 tablespoons, 24 grams or 96 calories from sugar. These recommendations are not surprising and are actually pretty realistic for many families, especially if sweetened beverages are not part of your family's diet.
However, what surprised many of us in the pediatric nutrition world was the recommendation for no added sugar in children under 2. Below are some of our thoughts on why absolutely no added sugar before age 2 is not realistic for many families:
A few fellow dietitians and I have concluded that the "no added sugar until 2" guideline was made as an attempt to set the bar really high. Perhaps the intent is that while most families wouldn't reach it, the guideline would call attention to excessive sugar in young toddlers' diets. Some in our field take it very literally, but our stance is that we need to strike a balance with sugar so we don't make it something "special" or "off-limits" while also supporting parents in feeding their families a balanced meal that everyone can eat.
Check out our specific recommendations for managing sugar below to decide when to first offer it to your child.
It's about balance.
Just like many things in life, balance is important. When we have been working or playing to hard, we need rest. When our preschoolers have watched too much Paw Patrol, we send them outside for some fresh air. Sometimes our kids will eat more sugar; sometimes they won't eat much at all. It's important for us to teach our kids that "healthy" living doesn't exist in extremes - it's all about balancing what your body, your mind and your soul need.
A chocolate bar won't "ruin" your diet, just like a salad won't make you suddenly "healthy." (Thank you to an Instagram follower for this analogy.) There's room for a variety of foods in our diet. Yes, nourishing foods that fuel our bodies are important to help us feel our best - and we want to serve those foods to our kids often - but we have some wiggle room for "play" foods too.
Plus, isn't part of childhood enjoying some ice cream on a hot summer day, enjoying a churro at a Disney park or eating donuts for breakfast on Saturday morning? I bet you have a lot of great memories surrounding sugary foods from your own childhood.
The more we strike a balance and see food as neutral and not "good or bad," the more we can eat by how we feel and what our bodies actually need. Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, co-authors of Intuitive Eating, describe it as making peace with food and allowing yourself unconditional permission to eat. This sounds scary for people who have been on the diet rollercoaster their whole lives, but when done consistently, Intuitive Eating can provide people with a sense of peace about food. They're not "in control," they're "in charge."
How can you best manage sugar in your family? (Plus neutral language for talking about sugar.)
Remember, you will have to find the balance and structure that works best in your family. We're making the suggestions - you need to make the decisions.
My kid is already "addicted to sugar." What should I do?
First off, rest easy that while your child may be preoccupied with sugar, we have little evidence to prove that sugar is actually addictive. If you feel like your child is preoccupied with sugar, consider these strategies:
I have an issue with sugar as an adult. What should I do?
Many of us are freaked out about sugar with our kids because we have a complicated relationship with it ourselves. We may project our fears and diet mentality on our children. Given the messages we receive about food, diets and body size, it's not surprising that we feel this way. You can still be a capable, impactful, positive parent about food if your own feelings about food are difficult or painful. Many, many adults feel this way thanks to diet culture.
If you struggle with insatiable sugar cravings or if you feel out of control around sugar, please consider reading Intuitive Eating and checking out their Workbook. It can be life changing, especially if you're ready to be done with restrictive eating and dieting! Sometimes talk therapy is indicated for those who feel like their eating world is out of control.
Keep in mind that you may crave sugar if you're dehydrated or are not eating enough protein/fat in your diet. Try to increase your water intake and include more balanced foods in your diet. Protein and fat are macronutrients that can help stabilize your blood sugar and prevent those low blood sugar dips that lead to stronger cravings.
Note: I have noticed that many breastfeeding mamas have very strong sugar cravings that may be tied to dehydration. Make sure you're drinking enough water!
What if my child has a medical need that limits the type of food they can eat?
Sometimes kids can't have sugar foods (or other ingredients in the sweet food offered). Parents of kids with type 1 diabetes, allergies or other medical needs that require a special diet can find it hard to maneuver off-limit foods.
Try your best at keeping language positive around food and emphasizing that while some people's bodies do OK with cake, their body is allergic to one of the ingredients so they will feel really yucky if they eat it. (Most kids with special diets figure out pretty quickly that they don't do well when they eat offending foods.) Emphasize that you will always have safe and yummy alternatives available for your child and that they will always get enough to eat.
If possible, try to bring a safe alternative that your child can enjoy. Check out these cookies that we modified for common allergies, or head to Pinterest for some fun, tasty alternatives - search "allergen-friendly desserts." If your child has diabetes or needs a very low carbohydrate diet, work with a pediatric dietitian on finding sweet-tasting alternatives that can help your child feel included in the experience of enjoying desserts but also fit their dietary needs.
You made it to the end! Thank you for sticking with us. We wish you joyous eating experiences with all foods - including sugary ones - and hope that this article has helped you find some peace in how you feed your kids.
If you have signed up for our online toddler course course (specifically the step on Sugar, Candy and Desserts), you know that our approach to Halloween candy may be a bit different than you would expect for people who talk about nutrition for a living. Sure, candy is not a "health food"...but we eat for many reasons. Health isn't always one of them. And collecting, sorting and enjoying Halloween candy is one of the joys of childhood for many kids.
As with most things parenting-related, it's all about balance and seeing the big picture. Candy will likely be part of your child's normal food landscape. We can help them learn to manage it and get their fill so they don't feel compared to sneak or binge on it. Furthermore, we won't always have control of how or what our kids eat - it's important for us to continue to let them trust their bodies and hunger/fullness cues so they can rely on them as they gain more independence.
Oftentimes parents assume that when they completely restrict sugar or candy, their kids simply won't want it or won't gravitate toward it. Research suggests otherwise. More restrictive habits around food actually lead to children eating beyond their hunger cues. This makes sense - we tend to want what we perceive we cannot have. Read more about this in our blog post all about sugar.
Also remember, it's OK to eat something simply because you love it. Not everything has to be eaten for our physical health. When we are satisfied by the foods we eat, we are more likely to eat an amount that's appropriate from our body and move along with our day. Food has less emotional power over us when it's neutral, not "good" vs. "bad."
So, how do we handle this with Halloween or other holiday candy? The main premise is to let them have their fill when you decide to serve the candy and to not make a big deal out of it. Don't use it as a bribery tool or as a reward - you'll automatically elevate the candy and make it seem "special." Remember, we want what we perceive is "off-limits."
Here's how we recommend handling it:
1. Offer a filling dinner and plenty of water before trick-or-treating. If your kid is hangry during trick-or-treating they may want to eat on the run, which can be a safety hazard. They also might want to fill up on candy because they're so hungry. Before you head out, offer a whole grain pasta dish with diced turkey and veggies, Pumpkin Chili (vegetarian if desired), or pizza.
2. Decide if your kiddo is old enough for candy. Most babies aren't ready for many types of candy because it's difficult to chew, plus babies don't quite understand what they're missing. One- and two-year-olds may be very aware that they're receiving candy and may want to try it, especially if they have older siblings or friends. As the parent, it's your choice whether or not to start exploring candy with your young toddler. (In our home we allow our kids to try Halloween candy once they're one year of age, but this is a decision you'll have to make.) If your child is going Trick-or-Treating, it may be difficult for them to understand why they can't eat the candy.
3. Once you get back home, sort it! Remove any choking hazards or candies that may be difficult to chew like taffy, gum, or hard candy for kids under 4. (Use this opportunity to put together a Parent Stash of your favorites! You know, for safety and all...)
4. Allow your child to sort, explore and eat as much candy as they wants when you get home. Try not to comment on how much they are eating or pressure them to stop. Also, avoid overexcitement about candy - remember, we want our kids to see all food as food, not "something special." Let them feel their own fullness and decide when to stop. If you haven't been doing this with your kiddos, they may test you and overeat - which may lead to a stomachache. Try not to take the "see, I told you so" route with them; rather, gently discuss what happened and explain that sometimes if we eat more than our belly is hungry for, it hurts. If you start this approach young, you will likely be very surprised by how little your little actually eats! You might also notice that they're more interested in collecting and sorting the candy than actually eating it.
5. You provide, child decides. Decide how often you want to serve Halloween candy again for the next few weeks. Maybe you have some with each dinner or put some in their school or daycare lunch for a few days.
When you do serve it, let your child decide how much to eat and avoid tying it to behaviors ("You must finish your vegetables to get candy" or "No candy if you don't clean up your toys"). Rather, serve it with or after meals without making a fuss about it. You can do it once, five times, with every meal, or never again - this is up to you. If you remain neutral about it, oftentimes children lose interest.
Important caveat: we still recommend that you as the parent decide when it's served. If your child has constant access to candy, they might not have an appetite for other foods. Remember, you provide food of your choice at regular meals - they decide how much to eat.
6. Keep it out of sight until you decide to serve it again. A child who sees the candy in plain view will ask for it often. Put it out of sight, and if your child asks to have some when you weren't planning to serve it, explain that "We aren't having candy right now - let's have some with dinner. Would you like applesauce or crackers with your cheese for snack?"
7. Decide if you want to phase it out. In our family, after a week or two my kids forget about the candy altogether and I donate it. Interestingly, they don't notice it and don't discuss it. Some families keep it longer or put it in the freezer. We don't recommend having kids use it as payment (like the "switch witch") because that makes the candy seem special. Rather, phase it out how it seems appropriate for your family or continue to enjoy it until it's gone.
Need more help with mealtime? Check out our video-based online course, which has helped thousands of parents raise happy, confident eaters!
One of the most common questions in our Feeding Littles Clients Only Group on Facebook has to do with a baby's first birthday cake:
"What kind of healthy smash cake should I make for my baby? Do I need to make a low-sugar cake?"
I always love reading the wide array of responses and seeing the smash cake photos that are inevitably posted. (True story: photos of babies eating are my favorite thing ever.)
What do Judy and I think about a baby's first smash cake? If you've taken our infant our toddler online feeding courses, you probably assume that we have a flexible approach to this. In honor of my daughter's second birthday this week, I wanted to share our thoughts. In short:
Do whatever causes you the least amount of stress. Seriously.
Not a baker? Buy something, don't make it. Super anxious about added sugar? Don't offer it (but make sure to read our thoughts on it below). Not into the idea of a smash cake in general? Do something different. Or do nothing at all.
Seriously, friend - this is meant to be fun. Don't let it stress you out.
You will have enough on your plate planning your baby's first birthday. Worrying about a smash cake only makes your life harder. Below are a few things to consider.
A little sugar will not hurt your baby or cause them to become a sugar fiend. Your baby already knows what sweetness tastes like and is predisposed to favor sweet flavors. Don't believe me? Taste breast milk or formula. Yup, your baby has been drinking sweet milk for a year now. (Yes, it's perfectly and healthy for her to have milk sugars and fruit sugars, and while they're probably "healthier" than added sugars from sucrose, honey and syrup, they're still technically sugars. Your baby's diet has not been "sugar-free" up until now.)
It's very important for our kiddos to have a normal relationship with food and to know how to manage their food environment. Introducing baby to some added sugar on their first birthday will not ruin their taste for healthy food, I promise. Most babies who go to town on their cakes act no differently afterwards either (according to the thousands of parents we've asked!). You can go back to serving the foods you have always served after the party.
To read more about how to not stress about sugar, head here.
Most "Paleo" or "healthified" cakes still contain added sugars. Yes, maple syrup, agave nectar, and coconut sugar are still sugar. They may be nominally healthier, but the difference is pretty small. These cakes may be great options for kiddos or party-goers with food allergies, and some of them taste pretty darn good. Want to use one for your baby's birthday? Great! Just don't feel pressured to make a maple syrup-based cake if a more "traditional" (or heck, store bought) cake is easier for you.
Oh, and watch out for "sugar-free" cake recipes. If they're sweetened with applesauce or fruit, that's great (and technically they'd be "free from added sugar" since fruit has fructose, or fruit sugar). Truly sugar-free cakes usually contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame, which we don't recommend for kids.
Many babies do not touch their smash cakes anyway. Parents oftentimes go overboard ensuring that their baby's cake is beautiful (or healthy, tasty, themed)...and baby won't even eat it. This happened to my first baby, and it happens all the time with our clients.
See that frosting on her hands and face? Yup, it's because we pressed her hand in the cake and put some on her lips just for the photos. Girlfriend refused to try any at all. I'm glad I got a bundtlet from Nothing Bundt Cake because it was so easy (and it photographed so well)...and when she didn't eat it I wasn't disappointed that I had spent too much time.
This photo from one of our group members cracks me up. Baby wanted nothing to do with her beautiful cake, but mmmmm, that carrot! (Just be careful if it's bitten through since raw carrots are a choking hazard!)
Remember, offering your baby a birthday cake (or something else) is all about the moment, the memory, the tradition. It's a rite of passage for many families. Think less about the "healthfulness" of the food and focus more on the memories you'd like to make. Your baby's first birthday is a celebration of surviving the first year (more for you than for them!), and having birthday cake if you want to is about celebrating. Food has an important part in our culture, and it's OK to eat certain foods as part of a celebration. Think long-term about what you want for this moment.
I think super messy cake smashes are a hilariously appropriate way to usher in toddlerhood and the joyful craziness that it brings.
You don't have to do a smash cake. If you still want to do "smash" food or messy play, get creative! Check out the awesome ideas here and here. The sweet girl in the photo below did a quesadilla/taco smash, which was a perfect option for her family.
What if your baby has allergies? Check out the links below to some allergen-free cake recipes:
Gluten-free allergen-friendly smash cake by the Pretty Bee
Corn and rice-based cake by Huffington Post
Allergen-friendly chocolate cupcakes by Allergy Awesomeness
Healthy first birthday cake by Mamacado
Remember, your baby's first birthday is a momentous occasion for the entire family! Enjoy it, and have some cake if you'd like - or not!
Why Dietitians Don't Freak Out About the Unicorn Frappuccino (or Churros, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, etc.)
People are FREAKING OUT about the new Unicorn Frappuccino from Starbucks. Only available through April 23rd, it starts off "sweet and fruity transforming to pleasantly sour." You can swirl it "to reveal a color-changing spectacle of purple and pink." People are heading to Starbucks in droves, demanding this pink and blue drink with "magical" sprinkles.
After release of the Unicorn Frapp, an interesting internet backlash ensued. People were quick to criticize Starbucks and the amount of sugar in their limited edition beverage.
This meme is for a Venti sized Unicorn Frappuccino. The Grande (medium) has 59 grams of sugar.
Yes, this is a lot of sugar. Fifty-nine grams is the equivalent of almost 15 teaspoons, or 5 tablespoons of sugar. That's over 1/4 cup of sugar. Yes, it's a lot.
But is anyone surprised?
I am the first to say that the Unicorn Frappuccino and any of the blended beverages at Starbucks are not quite "health-promoting foods." I just think that the internet backlash on the "evil" qualities of this drink are a bit extreme and feed into our "good versus bad" mentality around food. Here's why:
1. Helloooooooo - it's a pink and blue sparkling drink topped with whipped cream and magic fairy dust. Did we expect it to be a low sugar option? Furthermore, is anyone drinking it because they think it's going to be the healthiest part of their day? No. Consumers want to know what the hype is about and are curious about a limited offer product. I'm pretty sure most well-informed adults know that it's not a low-sugar health drink.
2. The Grande Gingerbread Frappuccino has 58 grams of sugar - almost exactly the same as the Unicorn Frapp. It should be no surprise that most Frappuccinos are high in sugar.
3. Technically (and my dietitian friends will appreciate this), not all of the sugar in this beverage is added sugar. (Stay with me for a second.) The second ingredient is milk, which is inherently high in lactose - yup, a sugar. You can't take the lactose (sugar) out of milk. Anything made with milk/yogurt or fruit will contain sugar, even if it's not added sugar. Seeing a sugar content on a label doesn't automatically make a product "unhealthy."
4. Does anyone really drink a Venti...or a Grande for that matter? I've had sips of some seasonal Frapps and they are HUGELY sweet - so much so that I am done after a taste or two. Sometimes enjoying a few bites or drinks of something we really want to try satisfies our cravings and allows us to experience something new without putting us into a sugar coma (or literally causing diabetes, like some of these memes have suggested).
5. The sugar shaming has gotten a little out of hand and is borderline offensive. Every post I see on social media of someone excited about this drink is peppered with comments about how much sugar it contains. Why don't we do that for donuts or ice cream or other sweetened beverages? Friend is in Hawaii enjoying shaved ice? Why aren't we looking up its sugar content? What about this Unicorn Frapp makes it OK for people to point out how "unhealthy" something is? I constantly see foods on social media...but I don't go around commenting about their healthfulness (or lack thereof) or shaming the poster about the amount of sugar in their snack. We eat for reasons other than health, and that's OK.
The more you get to know the Feeding Littles philosophy (perhaps through our online courses), the more you will learn that freaking out about the healthfulness of a food, especially one that's not eaten very often, is counterproductive. Kids pick up on our food neuroses and begin to internalize our good versus bad mentality, which can set some kiddos up for struggles with food down the road. If you don't think obsession with healthy foods is a problem, I urge you to read more about orthorexia, or sit with me every day as I work with clients whose lives revolve around food.
Moral of the story? Serve your family tasty, satisfying foods and leave some wiggle room for "play foods" (a term coined by Elyse Resch, author of Intuitive Eating). When you eat, pay attention to your food and try to savor the flavors. Don't freak out about a cookie or Frappuccino here or there; sit, enjoy the food, and try to take in the flavors and the experience. Perhaps your taste buds love it but your stomach doesn't, so listen to that signal and make a choice about how that food makes you feel physically. Keep your language around food neutral so that your kids don't think that there are "good foods" and "bad foods." Let them have their fill when you serve desserts without commenting on every bite.
As for me, will I try the Unicorn Frapp? Probably not - but that's mainly because I don't like tart flavors. Chocolate Lava Cake Frappuccino? You best believe I'd have some of that!