How to Avoid Kids’ Blood Sugar “Spike and
By Missy Chase Lapine
Author of The Sneaky Chef
Kids love roller coasters. Moms don’t -- well, at least not
the ones that take place inside our homes! I’m talking about the “spike and
crash” syndrome that describes the rapid ups and downs of children’s blood sugar
levels when they eat too much sugar and overly processed carbs, especially on an
Foods that are especially high in sugar -- even natural sugar
and honey -- are known to cause a very quick rise in blood-sugar levels. They
are rated high on the “glycemic index” (GI) -- a measurement of the effect a
food has on one’s blood sugar level. The higher the rating on the index, the
more rapid the increase in blood sugar level. The spike doesn’t last very long
and is followed by a corresponding fast drop in blood-sugar level. (often it
drops even lower than it was before we ate). This is commonly referred to as the
“spike and crash syndrome.”
Children seem especially susceptible to this phenomenon.
After they eat the kid-favorite jelly beans (the ultimate sugar spike),
particularly when it’s on an empty stomach, parents notice them acting as if
they’ve had four cups of coffee. They’re bouncing off the walls and then, in a
predictable amount of time, they crash -- growing sleepy, lethargic, and cranky.
The reason is that refined sugars (or carbs) raise blood-glucose levels too
quickly, causing a surge of insulin, which soon removes even more sugar than
when the person started; the loss of sugar is what makes him feel lethargic. For
people who are particularly sensitive, the crash may be accompanied by
shakiness, irritability, fogginess, and a feeling of intense hunger even though
they just ate an hour ago. Almost all packaged snack foods and cereals that are
marketed to kids today have this effect on them.
Examples of slower-burning carbs (those with a low GI) are
high-fiber foods such as whole grain breads and crackers, vegetables, beans,
legumes, brown rice, oats, and whole grain pasta. These high-fiber foods not
only add nutrients, but they also contribute to the feeling of being full, which
prevents children from overeating. Including low-GI foods in recipes keeps the
blood sugar levels balanced, reduces subsequent cravings for more sugar and the
snacks that contain it, helps manage weight, and has a positive influence on
moods and concentration, among other things.
We need to get kids to eat these low GI, slow-burning foods
more often, and at the right times (along with the high GI snacks, for example).
That’s just what the recipes below do, yet none of these sneaky additions are
obvious. When your kids eat a Sneaky Chef Corn Muffin (below), all they know is
that it’s delicious. They stay satisfied longer than if they’d eaten a donut or
candy bar, have more sustained energy, feel happier overall, and don’t crave as
much junk food. Your little muffins won’t realize that the muffins they ate had
enough fiber from the hidden vegetables, wheat germ and stone ground flour to
stabilize their blood-sugar levels. They have no idea why the Sneaky Chef
Chocolate Chip Cookie was so gratifying to eat. After all, it tasted just like
any other chocolate chip cookie, so they couldn’t possibly guess that it
contained pureed white beans, whole grains, and half the sugar. The only one who
knows these little secrets is you (and their healthier bodies).
As “The Sneaky Chef,” I’m known for coming up with simple
solutions that we can use right now, without radically changing our lives, but
that make families healthier without a struggle. I live in the real world where
kids eat sugar, junk food, and pizza, but I’ve found ways to boost all their
foods with extra nutrition and help offset any ill effects of a less-than-ideal
So here are 7 simple ways to prevent the sugar “spike and
crash” syndrome and give your child lasting energy:
1. Sneak vegetables into high-carb foods -- these low-GI
veggies add not only important nutrients, but lots of fiber that helps slow down
the sugar rush. For example, hide pureed cauliflower and zucchini in corn
muffins (see muffin recipe below).
2. Sneak whole grains into high-carb foods -- the high fiber
grains not only slow the sugar rush, but help make kids feel satisfied so they
won’t be as likely to overeat. For example, mix wheat germ and whole wheat flour
with white flour for homemade baked goods (see cookie recipes below).
3. Sneak beans into high-carb foods -- low GI beans add not
only important nutrients, but lots of fiber that helps slow down the sugar rush.
For example, hide pureed white beans in homemade chocolate chip cookies (see
4. Make snacks into “mini-meals” -- instead of giving kids a
“snack” of high-GI carbs alone (like potato chips, most cereal bars, even most
fruits), make it a “mini-meal” and pair that fast-burning carb with some good
fat and protein like a cheese stick, slice of turkey breast, or a handful of
almonds to help slow the sugar rush.
5. Avoid high sugar foods before going to bed -- this can
cause the child to wake-up already in a sugar low and on the way to a downward
spiral. If you’re going to have the classic bedtime cookies and milk, make it
the Sneaky Chef’s high-fiber, low-sugar cookies below.
6. Start the day with fiber and protein -- this is far more
important than a glass of juice which has too high a sugar count. A whole grain
breakfast of old-fashioned oatmeal with almonds (grind them up to hide them, if
necessary) will hold a kid way longer than orange juice and a bagel. So will a
slice of cheese melted on a whole grain English muffin. For a fast, “grab and
go” breakfast loaded with whole grains and protein, try the recipe for Breakfast
Cookies and Milk below.
7. Sprinkle cinnamon on cereal, desserts, and juice -- One of
the easiest ways to balance your blood sugar for the day is to add a sprinkling
of cinnamon in oatmeal, hot cocoa, chocolate milk, apple juice, or cereal.
Cinnamon has been found to be one of the most effective ways to balance blood
sugar levels and prevent the “spike and crash.”
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Sneaky Chef's Breakfast Cookies:
Makes 16 to 18 large cookies
2 cups whole grain cereal flakes (such as Wheaties or Total)
¾ cup Flour Blend (¼ cup white flour, ¼ cup whole wheat flour, and ¼ cup wheat
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup canola oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ cup low-fat ricotta cheese
Cinnamon sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with
parchment paper (or spray with oil).
Using a rolling pin, gently crush the cereal (in a sealed
plastic bag) into coarsely crushed flakes. Alternatively, you can quickly pulse
the cereal in a food processor.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together Flour Blend, crushed
cereal, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together egg,
sugar, oil, vanilla, and ricotta cheese. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and
mix just enough to moisten dry ingredients. Drop single tablespoonfuls onto the
baking sheets, leaving about an inch between cookies. Flatten cookies with the
back of a fork and then sprinkle tops generously with cinnamon sugar (or just
sugar if your kids don’t like the cinnamon flavor). Bake about 18 to 20 minutes,
or until nicely browned and crispy around the edges.
Sneaky Chef's Chocolate Chip Cookies:
Makes about 50 two-bite cookies
1 cup Flour Blend (⅓ cup
white flour, ⅓ cup whole wheat flour, and ⅓
cup wheat germ)
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup rolled oats, finely ground in a food processor
2 tablespoons blanched, slivered almonds, finely ground in a food processor
(omit if allergic)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup White Bean Puree* (see Make-Ahead Recipe below)
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove butter from refrigerator to let soften.
In a large bowl, whisk together Flour Blend, baking soda,
salt, ground oats, and ground almonds (optional). Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars
until creamy. Beat in egg, vanilla, and White Bean Puree. Add dry ingredients
and mix on low speed. Stir in chocolate chips. Make two-bite cookies by dropping
rounded half-teaspoonfuls, spaced 2 inches apart, onto nonstick or
parchment-lined baking sheets.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on
a metal rack.
Store cookies in airtight container at room temperature.
*Sneaky Chef’s Make Ahead Recipe -- White Bean Puree:
1 15-ounce can white beans (great northern, navy, butter or
1 to 2 tablespoons water
Rinse and drain the beans and put in the bowl of your food
processor. Pulsing in on/off turns, puree the drained beans with just 1
tablespoon of water in processor until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape
down sides of bowl. The goal is a smooth, but not wet, puree. (You are aiming
for the consistency of peanut butter.) If necessary, thin with a little more
water by one teaspoonful at a time until there are no flecks of whole beans
Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days, or freeze ¼ cup
portions in sealed plastic bags or small plastic containers. Makes about 1 cup
Double this recipe if you want to store another cup of puree.
Sneaky Chef's Corn Muffins:
Makes 6 large muffins (or 12 mini-muffins)
½ cup Flour Blend (3 tablespoons white flour, 3 tablespoons
whole wheat flour, and 2 tablespoons wheat germ)
½ cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup White Puree* (See Make-Ahead Recipe below)
½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, pureed
Optional toppings: ¼ cup chocolate chips or ¼ cup shredded low-fat cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a muffin tin with paper liners.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the Flour Blend, cornmeal, baking powder,
baking soda, and salt. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar
until well combined, then whisk in the oil, White Puree, and pureed corn. Fold
the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until flour is just moistened (don’t
over-mix or the muffins will be dense).
Scoop the batter into muffin tins, filling just over the top. If you’re using
mini muffin cups, scale back quantities to fit into the smaller sized cups. Top
with a few chocolate chips, or sprinkle with shredded cheese, and bake for 22 to
24 minutes until tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center
comes out clean.
*Sneaky Chef’s Make-Ahead Recipe -- White Puree:
2 cups cauliflower, cut into florets
2 small to medium zucchini, peeled and rough chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons water, if necessary
Steam cauliflower in a vegetable steamer over 2 inches of
water, using a tightly-covered pot, for about 10 to 12 minutes until very
tender. Alternatively, place cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with
water, and microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes until very tender.
While waiting for the cauliflower to finish steaming, start
to pulse the raw peeled zucchini with the lemon juice only (no water at this
point). Drain the cooked cauliflower. Working in batches if necessary, add it to
the pulsed zucchini in the bowl of the food processor with one tablespoon of
water. Puree on high until smooth. Stop occasionally and push contents from the
top to the bottom. If necessary, use the second tablespoon of water to make a
smooth (but not wet) puree.
Makes about 2 cups of puree. Double recipe if you want to store even more,
which can be done in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze ¼ cup portions
in sealed plastic bags or the small plastic containers.
© Missy Chase Lapine, all rights reserved.
Missy Chase Lapine is the author of The Sneaky Chef:
Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals (Running
Press, March 2007). She is the former publisher of Eating Well magazine
and the founder of a natural baby product line Baby Spa®. Missy is currently on
the Culinary Arts faculty of The New School, in New York City, and operates
The Sneaky Chef workshops, which is a program of cooking classes and
demonstrations that teach families how to eat healthier. She is a contributor to
education.com, and available to individuals, groups and businesses for
private cooking instruction, workshops and personal coaching in The Sneaky
Chef methods and recipes. Missy lives with her family in Westchester, New
York. For more information visit