Be a mean mummy – the best advice my mother gave me

Last night we watched a documentary by Nigel Latta about the perils of sugar. It’s called, ‘Is Sugar the new fat?’ You can watch it here if you like.

But the gist of it is this: sugar is bad for you and it is in everything. One of the most hard-hitting case studies in this doco was a two year old child whose front teeth had completely dissolved due to being fed Coca Cola in a bottle. Another child had several teeth extracted due to sugar rotting several of her baby teeth.

Before you get all hot headed and think, “how could a mother do such a thing?!” we need to take a quick look at the price of formula vs the price of Cola. One is exorbitant and the other is cheaper than water. Cheaper than water.

Good food is expensive. Foods that are affordable for a large part of New Zealand are very high in sugar. Soft drink, purely on a calories for cash basis, is great bang for your buck and will fill a hungry tummy.

But the coke thing is horrific and it made me want to brush my kids’ teeth (again) and it made me feel bad for sneaking some peanut M&Ms in as a mummy treat once they had gone to bed… but it also made me want to thank my Mum.

It’s her fault in a good way.

When I was growing up, my Mum was ‘mean’. We weren’t allowed treats from the cupboards without asking. (Mum I know you are not mean – it is just what kids think when they don’t get what they want). She was mean because she wouldn’t let us have sugar ‘just because’.

If we came to her with a whining tone of, “I’m huuungry” we would be told, “It is only X long before dinner. If you are hungry, you can have some fruit.”

And so, miserably, we would eat fruit.

Here are a couple of case studies of non-mean-mummies.

Case Study One: A friend from primary school had a ‘cool’ Mum. She was allowed to eat whatever she wanted whenever she wanted and her Mum even sweetened the veges with sugar to make them taste nice.

I loved sleep overs at her house and I ate a lot more peas than I ever would have at home… but she was learning that in order for things to be good, they needed to be sweet. As an adult now, sugar is her crutch and ‘obese’ is an ugly descriptor she has to live with.

Case Study Two: As a secondary school teacher I also watched a mother love her child with baking. In year 7 (11 years old) her child thrived on tasty treats in her lunch box and seemed to have a high metabolism. By year 13 (18 years old), this same child was obese and too big to comfortably play many of the sports they used to play.

Case Study Three: Similarly in my role as a teacher, I have watched teenage boys unpack their school lunch with a 2 Litre bottle of Coke in their bag. They also have a family sized pack of chips/crisps and they buy hot chips and a pie at lunch to round their meal out. They are hungry growing boys after all but come period five, these boys were lethargic and grumpy and difficult to teach. Some even had a second bottle of coke to help them to concentrate for the last hour of the school day.

These case studies were not like me. They didn’t have mean mummies.

I understand that sugar is entrenched in our lives and consequently in our diets. I also get that it is in everything and that it is cheap; but I also think that we all have to try to be a bit meaner about how we dish it out.

Many years later and I am actually thankful for all of the sugar restrictions my ‘mean mummy’ made. I can monitor my own sweet treats, I can think of sweet things as treats, I have a voice in the back of my head that says, ‘It is nearly dinner time’, I have a conscience that asks, ‘Do you really need it?’ and I have even taught my kids that fruit is a yummy treat because sugar (unless it’s in home baking) is rarely on offer.

When I was thirteen I started drinking coffee. (Is that young?) When I went to put a heaped teaspoon of sugar in my coffee, my mother played mean mum again. She said, “If you want to drink coffee that’s OK but you can only have it if you have it without sugar.”

I argued with her as I was wont to do at that age. She reasoned, ‘You don’t need it and if you start now it will become a habit you can’t break later.”

She was right.

If I think of all the coffee I have consumed in the last 20 ish years (coffee is my crutch) and all of the teaspoons of sugar I have avoided; once again I am thankful.

My Mum also never allowed us to mix up drink concentrate the way it said on the packet. We always had to add half water.

Now I am thankful for this because I never crave sweet drinks and I even like watery juice.

But now it’s my turn to continue the tradition. I will be a mean mummy because, like my mummy, I want my kids to live long lives and to prosper and to be fit and healthy. I want my daughter (who was born with two teeth!) to still have those two teeth until they are ready to fall out in their own time.

I want nature to be the provider of treats.

I want my kids to not need fillings. (I am 34 and I still don’t have any!)

Am I deluded?

I hope that my children will avoid obesity and diabetes and I hope that they will be mean mummies and daddies for their children too.

I am a mean mummy because my son wasn’t allowed sugar until his first birthday and then we treated him with his first cake. (Thanks Jorgia! One of my ex-students made us a fantastic puppy cake!)

Beau's First Birthday 009

We call grapes, ‘nature’s lollies’ and he thinks of them as sweets.

My son will bizarrely choose fruit over chocolate. He has even refused ice cream when we thought we were giving him a reward.

We have not (yet) had too many meltdowns over him wanting treats in the supermarket because he likes things like rice crackers and raisins.

And that’s why my Mum gave me the best advice – to be a mean mummy, because being a mean mummy and restricting your child’s sugar intake is actually really sweet.


Top tips for reducing sugar consumption:

  • Reduce sugar in baking by ¼
  • Replace sugar in baking with pureed dates or mashed banana
  • Use honey instead (if your child is over one)
  • Put sweet treats in a hard to reach place so that you think twice before getting them out
  • Bake your own treats so that you can see what goes in them
  • Read the labels on consumer goods
  • Eat fruit instead for natural sugars
  • Water down juice
  • Take water with you in the car so that you don’t need to buy cheap sugary drinks when out
  • Teach your children that sweet treats are for special occasions

What do you think? Could you be mean mummy/daddy too?


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Outie Adventure Bag

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