Keep Calm And Cannon On: Stop kids eating sugar without being a killjoy

Keep Calm And Cannon On: Stop kids eating sugar without being a killjoy

The Jewish News’ resident GP, Dr Ellie Cannon speaks about how you can strike the right balance healthy eating without dampening the mood

Enjoying a sweet treat
Enjoying a sweet treat

I wonder what Jamie Oliver or other proponents of the sugar tax would think if they spent a week or even a year in the life of the Jewish community? I was thinking this after one of my children commented how much Jewish celebrations involve not just food, but actually sugar.

“There are always sweets,” she said. “Sweets are thrown at barmitzvahs; at Purim; lollipops given out at shul. We love sweets don’t we?” She’s not wrong. My treat cupboard recently burst at the seams with overflow from the mishloach manot.

So what if anything should we be doing about it? Parents are now being bombarded with healthy eating messages telling us to avoid sugar; given that 30 per cent of children are overweight, this is no bad thing.

But I think it is hard to strike the right balance – you don’t want to be the parent giving out an apple as a going-home present but, equally, the constant association of fun with sweets and treats can’t be great for our children’s health.


Food culture has changed beyond recognition over the past two generations: while we parents are being hit with messages about healthy eating, our children are constantly being offered sugary treats.

The after-school snack now warrants a whole aisle in the supermarket; a trip to the cinema isn’t complete without a mega bucket of popcorn or pick ‘n’ mix. I recently booked to take my children bowling in the school holidays and the online booking site offered me food and slush drinks to go with our bowling. This was especially bad as the lane was booked for 11am.

It is hard to fight the constant marketing of treats to children and all the societal influence for us to be eating all the time, all day long to suit every occasion.

doctor Ellie Cannon
Doctor Ellie Cannon

Sugar means fun and fun means sugar. And that message is certainly strong in the Jewish community. So how can parents combat it without being killjoys and ruining the fun of chagim or parties? Without taxing our kids’ fun, I think there are a few ways we can help our children survive the sugar onslaught…

Treats are treats. Sweets for special occasions are fine: shabbat treats, at parties, Purim and all the good times are fine. People have celebrated for hundreds of years with sweet treats, and that’s exactly what they should be – a treat. School days by and large should be sweet-free days keeping treats in their rightful place. Desserts during the week should take other forms: yoghurts, fruit or home-made less sugary desserts.

Don’t let your children drink sugar. Doctors and dentists for sure agree that sugary drinks really have no place in a child’s diet.

This is certainly why they have been singled out for a sugar tax. They’re laden with empty sugar-based calories. If you were going to be militant about something in your children’s diet, this should be it. Weaning children on to pure drinking water is easier than people think, and you can lead by example with water drunk by the whole family.CANNON

Involve the children. Rather than simply shouting ‘no, no, no’, involving the children in dietary decisions has been shown to be really positive in helping them grow up to make their own good decisions.

I have a few patients who do this using the sugar-swap apps that are available, such as Change 4 Life: we all know the children love anything to do with a smart phone.

These apps offer healthy alternatives to sweet choices; if children are allowed to choose themselves, they’re more likely to go for it. Likewise, get them cooking: eating treats you’ve made yourself (which can be sweetened with fruit or healthier sweet things) is particularly satisfying for our young ones.

Some sweet treats

Don’t assume they want to eat all the time. What happens if you get in the car for a journey and don’t pack a massive bag of food? I’ll tell you, because I’ve tried it – nothing.

They play games instead or listen to music and don’t miss the snacks because they didn’t need them in the first place. If they don’t see you eating in the car, they won’t expect to do it either. Similarly, I don’t always appear at the school gates with a snack. It isn’t essential.

We have been conditioned by marketeers to assume children need snacks. If you look at your own kids closely, you’ll see they really don’t.

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