Sweet Success: Being Honest About Sugary Yogurt

My kids love yogurt. They always have.

But I now realize, looking back at the trajectory from their early, plain-yogurt-slurping days to now, when they pilfer my private stash of Greek yogurt in between sucking down squeeze yogurts, that I let too much sugar into the system. And once you go sweet, can you go back? To this?

That’s James, currently addicted to any kind of yogurt that comes in a tube or is perceived to be Mommy’s, when he was just under a year old (dig how he swipes the back of the spoon on the bowl, the way every person who’s ever spoon-fed a baby does — where do we learn that?). I’m not 100% sure what yogurt he was eating, but I do recall I used to buy large-size tubs of Stonyfield Farm plain or vanilla yogurt (or, me being me, the store-brand if it was on sale) and dole it out. I used to laugh at the squeeze-tubes (when I wasn’t shuddering at the varieties that come in colors you’d normally see in neon rubber bracelets).

But then I started sending the kids to school, and I started buying the tubes, and the small-size yogurts, and the smoothies. I avoided the weird colors (no matter how much the kids begged for them), and the kind that come with candy mix-ins, and, eventually, the kind with high fructose corn syrup. And I focused as hard as I could on the calcium and the yogurt cultures and tried not to think too much about the one ingredient you can’t get around.


Whether it’s just “sugar” on the label or “organic milled sugar”, it consistently appears in one of the top spots on ingredient labels. I hate how much sugar is snuck into all kinds of foods (bread! Peanut butter!), but I justify the yogurt in this way (and yes, I’m being honest and calling it a justification, a rationalization. I am not perfect, and I refuse to let the perfect be the enemy of the good-enough): They don’t eat a lot of sugary junk, outside of holidays like Halloween and Easter. I see kids in their classes having Oreos daily with lunch or for snack. My boys’ lunches involve, nearly every day, a sandwich, milk (okay, chocolate milk, a bit more and another justification on that later), fruit, and a yogurt. They come home and have more fruit or some pretzels, or cheese, if they even want a snack (I wait for them to ask). James, Mr. Yogurt in the video above, goes for bowls of baby carrots or cherry tomatoes as his pre-dinner, “I’m starving!” snack. Or they have bananas, or another yogurt.

My point is that I can deal with the sugar in the yogurt, take the bad with the good, if it means they are eating the yogurt, if I balance it against all the crap they’re not eating. And as for the chocolate milk: I put a small swirl of no-high-fructose-corn-syrup chocolate sauce (tip: Nestle makes one without the HFCS; Hershey does not) in milk I decant into reusable cups. Otherwise the milk would come back un-drunk, and I won’t do juice at lunch. In fact — another tick in my “I try my best to keep the sugar tide at bay” column is this: they’re only allowed a cup of juice (100% orange or apple) a day, with dinner. The rest of the time, milk or water.

I also comfort myself in trying to help them understand what’s in what they eat and drink. I tell them flat out no Gatorade, that any dehydrating effects of the physical activity they do can easily be taken care of by our old pal, water. I point out sugar in ingredient labels all. the. time.

I’m not cutting sugar out of their lives, but I’m showing them how sneaky it can be, and hopefully they’re learning.

Simply put: I try my best.

I was kind of surprised, then, in a good (if cautiously optimistic way) when I received a press release from Dannon, about their “Stealth Sugar” program. It’s a weird title for what I think is, on the surface at least, a decent effort to cut back on the sugar in their best-selling kid yogurts, specifically their Danimals Smoothies (which my boys love).

Danimals Logo

According to the release (and full disclosure, I was invited to a lunch at Dannon’s White Plains, New York HQ to hear this all being announced and explained, though I was not able to attend), Dannon’s scientists used “an innovative process … to reduce the sugar content by 25 percent without sacrificing nutrients, taste, texture or convenience.”

My first thought was, what we really should be doing is going back to the plain or mostly-plain yogurts we gave our kids as babies. My second thought was, did they add any other suspect ingredients in order to keep the taste the same, but the sugar content lower? But my third thought was this: For most of us, the door back to the time of virgin tongues and an unsweetened life may well be closed, so maybe we gotta do the best we can with what we’ve got to work with, right? We can’t be perfect, but we can be smarter.

So I have to do this: I have to applaud Dannon for trying, and the other companies (more and more!) who are paying attention to parents who want less sugar, no HFCS, real ingredients, and colors that appear in nature.

Good on ya, Danimals. Now, how about a Greek-style yogurt from you guys? If only to keep my boys out of my grown-up stash.