Are your toddler years going swimmingly, or are you battling the “terrible twos,” “unthinkable threes,” or even “frightful fours?”
So often, up-and-down-all-over-the-place behavior from toddlers can be pinpointed back to a common offender: sugar. We all know that sugar isn’t a healthy food, but most of us aren’t aware of the impact it plays on our bodies…especially little bodies. When sugar hits your toddler’s system, it creates a rush (insulin spike) and then an inevitable crash (body trying to regulate when insulin drops). It is normally during this transition that we see behavior like screaming, yelling, hitting, and just falling apart.
Did you know that sugar has the same initial “happy” impact on the brain that cocaine does? It’s highly addictive and the insulin spike and drop is not only detrimental to your toddler’s health (immune system, growth, etc.), but it makes reasonable behavior nearly impossible. Do you remember the last time you ate too much birthday cake and felt that rush…increased heart rate, sweating, hyper-feeling, etc.? And then when the crash happened, you felt sad, sluggish, and grumpy? As an adult, we can usually process clearly, “Oh man, I ate too much sugar and now I feel awful.” For a child whose language skills and brain are still developing, this just responds in conjunction with what their bodies are feeling, also known as “freaking out.”
Most of the time when I have little patients who are struggling with tantrums and big behaviors, their diets consist mostly of sugar. If you’re a parent to a tantrum-prone toddler, I want to encourage you to take a week to record what they are eating and the grams of sugar in the food and drinks. This will help bring awareness to the actual sugar content they are consuming and give you a better idea of how to support them. The most common sugar-filled offenders in toddler’s diets are yogurt, gummies (yes even gummy vitamins…also the cause of cavities), crackers, cookies, cereal, juice, anything wheat-based, and candy. I often find that toddlers are consuming too much fruit, as well, which yes, is healthy food but the body still processes it as sugar, so we need to keep it in check. Children need to keep the amount of sugar consumed per day under 20 grams.
Below are 6 easy options to incorporate into your toddler’s diet to reduce sugar and pack their growing bodies with more protein and nutrients needed for growth. As a rule of thumb, we want toddler plates to be 90% good fats and protein.
- Simple Mills Crackers – These are delicious, come in a variety of flavors, and are made with almond flour, cassava flour, or seed base. They are nutrient-dense and provide protein with that satisfying salty-crunchy taste and texture.
- From the Ground Up Pretzels – These are cauliflower-based and taste yummy! The ingredients are clean, and they are an excellent alternative to traditional wheat (sugar) based pretzels.
- Applegate Organic Chicken strips– These are pre-cooked and great for on-the-go snacking. Remember we want to fill our toddlers with protein, and this is a great way to do that! We also LOVE Ian’s Organic Gluten-Free Chicken Strips—this is a favorite quick, easy lunch or dinner on the go.
- Candy – Grandparents are the best…and the worst. When it comes to wanting to fill their grand toddlers with sweets and treats, they can be the worst. So how do we entrust our tantrum-prone little tikes into the hands of overly generous sugar-givers? We give them options. I recommend filling a “treat box” for the grandparents and delivering it to them so that they have options to give your child. What candy is acceptable? My two favorite brands are Unreal—an awesome company started by two brothers who were tired of their hippie parents stealing their candy. They have a variety of options that are real chocolate and free from dyes and preservatives that your little ones will love! My other favorite company is Justin’s. They make the best peanut butter cups (and nut butter packets that all of us need in our purses, diaper bags, and cars…awesome protein-on-the-go).
- Soda – If you’ve introduced soda or sugary drinks to your child and are looking for a replacement alternative, I recommend Live Kombucha. They come in soda flavors and are a delicious treat that also treats the body (and gut) well!
- Yogurt – Traditional yogurts are full of sugar, dyes, and dairy…some of the worst offenders when it comes to health and behavior. SoDelicious makes a great coconut-based yogurt and Forager makes a delicious cashew-based yogurt. I recommend getting the plain, unsweetened, and adding a drizzle of local honey and a few berries.
I know it can feel like a daunting task to change the foods you’re offering your toddler. I promise this is an investment in your peace and their health. The less they have to struggle with processing sugar, preservatives, and food dyes, the better they will be able to function. Additionally, it is much easier to create healthy eating habits in young children than when they are older.
Let us know which snacks you try and which ones are your toddler’s favorites!