When I was in my 20's, there was a joke in the family that I had a regular stomach and then an extra "dessert" stomach. No matter how much I ate for dinner and how full I felt, I appeared to have this extra pouch that could hold a large amount of dessert -- cookies, cake, brownies, ice cream, you name it. In fact, James likes to tease me about the time I became upset that a waitress cleared my dessert plate before I was done -- I claim that there was a HUGE morsel left to finish (and I was ready to eat it), however James says it was a small crumb, so no wonder the waitress thought I was done. The point is, I love dessert.
When I became a parent, my sugar consumption decreased significantly as I made a conscious effort to not feed my children lots of sugar. It's hard to eat a sugar-bomb of a treat when you're telling your kids not to eat something like that, you know? It's one of those classic "Practice What You Preach" moments. With that being said, I did give my kids juice, usually watered down, maybe 4-6 ounces once or twice a day, and I made sure it was 100% juice, no high fructose corn syrup or any other added sugar. I limited my kids' intake of sugary snacks or desserts to 3-4 times a week. And the kids never drank pop. So I thought I was doing pretty good. But... the kids did eat sugary cereal in the morning, something with 10g of sugar or sometimes more. And sometimes the sugary cereal became a dry afternoon snack, too when I was too tired to think of a healthier alternative. You know how it is when your kid is begging for something, you're looking around for something else, you're tired and a bit impatient, and you just want your kid to sit quietly with their snack and be happy. So you give in, thinking that next time you'll be better about coming up with a healthier option. Then the same thing happens the next day and the next day and the next day. Anyway, that was our life.
Then Adelle was put on a low-sugar diet in an effort to help control the yeast-overgrowth in her digestive tract (yeast feed on sugar, after all). Well, if one child goes on a low-sugar diet, it's a lot easier to put BOTH children on a low-sugar diet. So what did I change? First things first -- no juice. Yeah, no juice at all. My kids begged for it, whined, cried, and complained the first week or two. I tried explaining how juice has a lot of sugar and that's bad for the body. But kids don't really care much about that when they want a sugary drink. I stuck to my guns, though and now, my kids ask for water -- a sure fire victory for any parent. I stopped buying sugary cereals and greatly reduced other sources of natural sugar -- honey and syrup. My kids lived on peanut butter and honey (or jelly) sandwiches, but since we also switched to gluten-free eating at the same time, a sandwich with bread was not really an option (I had yet to come up with a good gluten-free sandwich bread). Any baked goods I made were only lightly sweetened with agave nectar, maybe 1/4 of a cup, and many times they were only sweetened with fruit or ripened bananas. This endeavor was no small undertaking but has been totally worth it.
With the holidays, our kitchen has been producing some gluten-free goodies in the form of cookies, cakes and even chocolate peanut butter cups. While I've been vigilant about the quantity my kids eat, they have definitely increased their sugar load these past couple of weeks. I've been surprised by the outcome: Cora has had a runny/stuffy nose and congestion and Adelle has developed a little sore near the corner of her mouth (not a cold sore) that she keeps picking at with her little finger. Also, both of the girls have suffered from some GI upset, namely loose stools. And this all came about with a very moderate increase in sugar intake.
I think back to how much sugar the whole family used to consume -- and it wasn't even that much compared to the average American diet -- and I wonder what kind of impact that was having on our immune systems. I never thought I'd be someone preaching about sugar consumption -- I used to have a dessert stomach, after all. But I challenge any family out there to reduce their sugar intake and see how your family feels. Just remember to give it 6 weeks or so because your kids will definitely whine for juice the first week or two.
I made this dish a couple of weeks ago, and it was one of the best stir-fries I've eaten (and I used to think good stir-fries could only come out of my favorite Chinese restaurant). This recipe calls for fresh ginger which makes a HUGE difference in flavor. So don't skimp on this part. The easiest thing to do is buy a ginger root at the store, place it in a freezer bag and store in your freezer. When you're ready to use, pull it out, peel a small portion, and grate. Then put the remainder back in the freezer for the next time. And I know I just preached about sugar consumption and now I'm following my post with a recipe containing sugar, but there's only a small amount in the entire recipe spread out over 4-6 servings. So enjoy!
Sweet and Sour Chicken with Carrots and Snap Peas
2 TBSP toasted sesame oil
2 TBSP cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce (be sure to buy gluten-free if following a GF diet)
2 teaspoons dry sherry
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin
Sweet and Sour Sauce:
6 TBSP red wine vinegar
juice from 1 orange (about 1/3rd cup)
4 TBSP sugar
3 TBSP ketchup (organic preferred)
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 TBSP plus 2 tsp canola oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP freshly grated ginger
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
12-16 ounces snap peas, ends trimmed
1/4 cup water
1. Prepare the chicken: in a large bowl, rectangular dish or plastic bag, combine sesame oil, cornstarch, soy sauce, and sherry. Add chicken, stir to coat and let the chicken marinate while preparing remaining ingredients.
2. In a small bowl, combine 2 tsp canola oil, garlic cloves and ginger and set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together ingredients for sauce: red wine vinegar, orange juice, sugar, ketchup, cornstarch and sea salt; set aside.
3. Heat 1 TBSP oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides until cooked through or 165 degrees, about 3 minutes. Be sure not to overcook chicken as it does cook quickly. Transfer chicken to a bowl, cover and set aside.
4. Add carrots and snap peas to the skillet, and saute until carrots are slightly tender and snap peas are beginning to brown. Add water to the skillet, cover and cook an additional 2 minutes until vegetables are crisp-tender. Remove lid and allow water to evaporate.
5. Add the oil/garlic/ginger mixture to the skillet, cook until fragrant and stir into vegetables. Return the chicken to the skillet and add the sweet and sour sauce. Simmer, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Remove skillet from heat and serve.