Ok, so I think we’ve all got the message now. We got the memo, read the raging headlines, watched the troubling TV reports, heard the pontification in Parliament, scrolled through the mutterings on Mumsnet… Refined sugar is not good news for our kids. There is way too much of it in their modern diets, and it is damaging their immunity, their attention levels, their brain development, weight, baby teeth and little hearts…

We know. But the news is particularly hard to, erm, digest when you have two children (one so picky he dissects fish fingers for flecks of “the GREEN”), a strict budget, a job that demands at least double the hours that you actually have available, a messy house, a slightly chaotic nature, too, friends, a husband whom it might be quite nice to spend time with very occasionally…

The writer Hattie Garlick with her kids. Image: Emily Gray Photography

And there sit the baked beans on the shelf. The cheap, quick, ‘non-tantrum-sparking’, easy baked beans. Lovely, lovely beans.

Every family has its own tipping point, their own imaginary line drawn, in this case, into the sugar. For us, the scales turned over Christmas. The kids were ill, we were too. In fact, we had all been snotty, sad and sleepy since we could remember. And a whirlwind of parties meant we’d been surviving on a diet of sugar for almost as long: boozy drinks for us, bumper party bags for them.

So I did what journalists do when they hit a brick wall: dig through the research. I read and read, dug and dug. I read that some studies suggest kids are more sensitive to refined sugar, its effects on their brains more pronounced. I read that the average five-year-old now consumes their own body weight in sugar every year. That’s 5,500 cubes of the stuff, roughly three times their safe allowance. I read that tooth decay is now the most common reason five-to nine- year-olds are admitted to hospital, that one in five under-fives are now overweight or obese.

The average five-year-old now consumes their own body weight in sugar every year. That’s 5,500 cubes, roughly three times their safe allowance

Finally, my mind made up, I bought a pile of sugar-free cookbooks and read the sugar-free blogs. And don’t get me wrong, all the recipes looked gorgeous and alluring. But they also looked like things my kids would rather walk over hot coals than allow within a 50 metre radius of them.

I couldn’t afford to feed them superfoods sourced from the foothills of the Andes, particularly since they’d end up flung at the feet of the nearest of adult. I didn’t want to buy a spiraliser or a yoga mat. I still loved wheat, butter and cream. None of us wanted to swap our comfort foods for kale. I just wanted to deal in facts, not fads. And the fact was simple: my kids needed to eat less refined sugar, and we adults could benefit from the same.

So I went to visit my friend, superwoman and super professional cook, Hattie Rhodes. She quit refined sugar half a decade ago and she knows what’s what. She said I didn’t need to join a lifestyle cult or take out a second mortgage. I could cut out refined sugar and cook great food with down-to-earth ingredients sourced cheaply and easily in the supermarket.

Professional cook and sugar-free (but not fun-free) crusader Hattie Rhodes

Plus, she said it could be about liberation, not deprivation. A celebration of naturally sweet ingredients like coconut, sweet potato, almonds, carrots, a light drizzle of honey… She said it would be fun and easy. That we could expand the kids’ food horizons along the way, eat together as a family more too. So we rolled up our sleeves, and began a year of cooking together.

You can follow our adventure all year, get our recipes and see the honest responses of our families and friends on our Instagram page @thetwohatties

Pistachio Pesto

Nutrient dense and naturally sweet, pistachios take this pesto to another level, making it a proper meal that adults can enjoy as much as the kids. It’s also creamier than a typical pesto, so even more appealing to children. Make a jar-load and stash it in the fridge.

80g pistachios

Leaves of 1 big bunch of basil (that’s around 30g), washed and roughly chopped

1 large clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

30g grated parmesan

Juice of 1 lemon

150ml olive oil

Put the pistachios and ¾ of the olive oil in a blender and whizz till smooth (or use a bowl and a stick blender). Then add all the other ingredients and whizz again till creamy. Season with salt if you fancy. Keep in Tupperware or a sealed jar in the fridge, with a wee drizzle of olive oil over the top.

‘Cookie dough’ energy balls

Great for the school run/the office run/any sort of running really…

3 tbsp nut butter of your choice (we like almond)

3 tbsp coconut flour

3 tbsp ground almonds

3 tbsp unsweetened chocolate chips

1 tbsp honey or xylitol

2 tbsp milk

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Taste. If not quite sweet enough you can add a wee bit more honey. Then form into small balls with your hands.   Allow to firm up in the fridge before eating. Makes 12 balls.

Mango and raspberry lassi

The friendly probiotics in these are great for the immune system and digestion. And they taste lush.

Flesh of 1 mango

1 cup of raspberries

1 cup of yoghurt

a few splashes of milk

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and whizz until thick and smooth. Decorate with small party umbrellas and pretend you’re somewhere hot.

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