Sugar used to be such an expensive commodity that only the super wealthy could afford and only then on special occasions. But nowadays sugar is everywhere, especially at Christmas time.

We would be lucky to get through a day without our kids having some form of added sugar.

With the rise in childhood obesity and horror stories about cavities, how can we give our kids something nice without feeling like we are doing them damage?

First off, sugar is addictive - the more we have of it, the more we crave so it's a good idea to limit sweet treats and make them an occasional occurrence.

High sugar intake can also depress the immune system, so at a time of year when all crèche/school going children seem to be constantly sick – reducing their sugar intake will improve their chances of being able to fight off nasty bugs. It’s win- win!

As a general guideline, 4-8-year-olds should limit added sugar to 4 tsp’s per day – when you consider that a Frube or Actimel contain 3 tsp’s each, it doesn’t take much to quickly exceed that recommended limit.

When buying shop bought items, it’s important to read labels and see how much added sugar there is (4g of sugar = 1 tsp). Better still, rustle up your own delights – check out our recipes for inspiration!

Are your kids eating too much sugar?

So what are good options?

* Fruit is naturally sweet and can satisfy that desire for something nice – get the kids involved in making fresh fruit salad skewers or fruit dipped in dark chocolate – the options are endless!

* Homemade smoothies can be a real treat using avocado and nuts for added creaminess – try mango and banana, or adding cacao powder and yoghurt for a chocolatey twist

* No bake bites are a really quick and easy way to whip up something sweet and they freeze really well, so they don’t all have to be eaten at once!

* Try smaller portions of desserts for older children and bulk them up with fruit and crushed nuts.

* Try baking your own sweet treats – at least this way you know exactly what’s going into them. If using a recipe, use less sugar than what's indicated or even leave it out altogether - try substituting other things instead, like stewed apple/sweet potato, mashed banana or a little, dried fruit. Your taste buds will quickly adapt to the taste.

Sugar alternatives

Sugar alternatives

There are so many alternative options that this area has become a real minefield. But at the end of the day, sugar is sugar is sugar and the effect on the body is the same - decreased immunity, blood sugar spikes, mood swings etc.

So if you are adding something while baking, it might as well have some added nutritional benefit.

My go to’s would be a good quality local honey or coconut palm sugar, used sparingly, as they do give us minerals and vitamins.

I would avoid sweeteners like agave and stevia – they are often overly processed and devoid of nutrition.