Teaching Kids about Sugar with Games and Sweet Substitutes

By Bethany Johnson in Healthy Feeling

Every parent would love to see their youngsters reach for fresh fruits and vegetables instead of candy and junk food, given the choice. Unfortunately though, that hope is a little unrealistic—unless, of course, you have laid the foundation of good choices through education, experimentation, and a little fun.

Teaching kids about sugar shouldn’t be a drag. Here are a few educational activities for children that illustrate how sugar can take on different forms, as well as some natural sweeteners you can sub in:

What’s in a Name?

Sugar comes in many forms. In fact, “many” is an understatement. As food manufacturers have gotten hip to the demands of healthier consumers, they’re also getting creative in how to label sugar ingredients in products, a tidbit the United States Healthy Food Council points out.

For example, brown rice is a health food, right? Then wouldn’t that make brown rice syrup healthy, too, by default? Actually, that’s not totally correct. A report from the Public Library of Science that links sugar availability to the prevalence of diabetes couldn’t distinguish between the kinds of sugar consumed. In other words, while high fructose corn syrup gets the bad press these days, sugar is sugar—and enjoying it in excess could lead to more cases of diabetes.

The confusion gave me an idea. What if we combined Balderdash, my family’s favorite word game, with the more than 50 names for sugar? The concept is simple: First, every player receives a sticky note. One person chooses a lesser-known sugar name, like “treacle.” This person reads the word aloud, and the other players write it down on a sticky note. Next, each person crafts a fictitious (but believable!) definition and writes it on their sticky note. The person who chooses the word, however, writes down the correct meaning. In this case, “treacle” simply means “molasses.”

All players pass their sticky notes secretly to the person who chose the word. That person shuffles them and reads each definition aloud. Players then vote for which one they believe is the correct definition. There’s no need to keep score, since the real benefit is learning exactly how sugar can be derived from different (and often unexpected) sources.

Surprise Matchup

Since my kids know how to read ingredient labels on food packages, I decided to entertain them one day with a game that had some jarring surprises. On a simple sheet of paper, I pasted the ingredient lists of five family-favorite foods in a row. Below them, I pasted the pictures of the corresponding foods but scrambled them. My kids’ goal was to match the ingredient lists to the right food item. I purposely tossed in a favorite “healthy” cereal and a popular fat-free salad dressing that happened to list “corn syrup” and “sugar” as the second and third ingredients, respectively.

I’m happy to say the kids passed my pop quiz, but it did give them pause. The lesson was that sweet foods are not always the obvious offenders like candy or junk foods. To play this game with your own family, feel free to print this page and see how each family member does.

Teaching kids about sugar can be tough - unless you have a little fun with it!

Don’t Sugarcoat It

Now that your family knows a thing or two (or 50!) about sugar in its many forms, it’s time to learn how to use one of nature’s sweet alternatives. Next time you’re at the store together, look for these smart, sweet options instead of, say, genetically engineered corn derivatives.

And when a recipe calls for the granulated or powdered stuff, try a healthy substitute for sugar from the list below:

After teaching kids about sugar, there’s nothing “sweeter” than seeing them reach for one of nature’s alternatives instead of man-made, pseudo-ingredients. Try one of these substitutes, and your family’s bodies will be glad you did.

How do you swap out “bad” sugars for the good in your household? How did you family react to these games? Let us know by tweeting @TomsofMaine!

Image source: Pixabay | Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

Cutting sugar out of your diet can feel good in more ways than one. Your body benefits, and you know you've done the right thing. Teaching kids about sugar, on the other hand, can be tough. You can reclaim that good feeling by having a little fun with it.