Time: 45 minutes


How much sugar should we be consuming? What one generation deems appropriate may not be the same as other generations. Even our food guides have changed over the years in regard to sugar recommendations. Currently, our government is very concerned with the amount of sugars that we are consuming. As a result, in the latest Food Guidance System called MyPlate, it is recommended that we limit foods with added sugars. Foods with added sugar include: sweetened beverages, desserts, candy, sweetened cereals, and many processed foods. Most of us should get no more than 100-300 calories per day from these added sugars. Many of us are getting much more than that and some of us are getting over 1,000 calories a day from foods that contain sugars

For example, a very small bag (2 ounces) of Oreo cookies is 6 cookies and contains 270 calories. Those 270 calories may be all that we should eat of a sugary food. If we were also to drink soda or sweetened iced tea, or eat a breakfast cereal that contains sugar, we would be eating too much sugar.

In this activity, family members will discover how much sugar is in their food and beverages and how they can work together as a family to reduce the sugars in their diets.

The visual aspect of this activity will allow for all participants to be able to understand the reality of how much sugar they consume. Sugar can come in the form of regular granulated sugar or high fructose corn syrup (as found in soda). Much of the sugar Americans consume is "hidden" in foods, such as sugar found in spaghetti sauce, fruited yogurt, or other processed foods.


Individuals will learn what sugar is in its different forms and how each form can be healthy such as in apples or other fruits or unhealthy as in a can of pop/soda. Using the basic measurement of sugar according to the nutritional value on a bag of sugar (4g of sugar = 1 teaspoon) participants will compare common foods that list "sugars" as a part of the nutritional label.


General Objectives

  • Participants will identify how many grams of sugar are in various food and beverage items.
  • Participants will discuss the relationship between too much sugar as added calories and weight gain.
  • Participants will develop a family plan to reduce intake of sugar by all members of the family.

Specific Objective

  • Using a food composition table or food labels, participant will be able to determine how many teaspoons of sugars are in 2-5 food products.


  • Measuring teaspoons
  • 1 or 2 5-lb bags of sugar (depending on the number of participants allow for 1/2 lb. of sugar per family)
  • bowls or zip-lock baggies
  • Food labels for each food to be discussed (optional)
  • Fast food and regular food composition tables
  • Calculators -- one per group (optional)
  • Copies of the Handout: "How Much Sugar is in the Foods We Eat?" (one copy per family).


Part I: Preconceptions and predictions

  1. Place families into separate groups (one family per group).
  2. Have each person in the family guess and write down on a piece of paper how many teaspoons of sugars they individually eat in an average day (remind them that this includes white sugar, corn syrup and other sugars found in beverages and foods).
  3. Have adults look at what the youths have estimated as their daily sugar intake. Do they agree?
  4. Have the youths look at what the adults have estimated as their daily sugar intake. Do they agree?
  5. Have each person in the family modify their prediction, if necessary, after discussing it with other family members.

Part II: Reality check

  1. Introduction: Many of the foods we eat include sugars and therefore extra calories. It is very effective to have families measure the sugar content of one serving of a food, such as candy, and put that in a baggie. Then have them measure the sugar content for the entire container (e.g, 16 oz. bag of Skittles) and put that in a baggie (they'll need 2 sizes of baggies--the snack size and the quart size!). Most individuals do not eat one serving of a food, thus the measurement of one serving is not beneficial in regards to impact. Calculating the sugar content of the entire 16-oz. bag of Skittles is an eye opener--it has 88 teaspoons of sugar! Some individuals actually eat the entire bag of Skittles or at least half a bag at one time. Make sure the bags/containers of foods that you use for this activity are realistic sizes, not just the small sizes.
  2. Provide a variety of actual food labels, (or copies of labels), or charts with nutrition information regarding calories and sugar to each family group. The labels should include a variety of foods and beverages: cookies (e.g., chocolate chip), soda, sports drink, sweetened cereals, toaster pastry, unsweetened cereal (e.g., Cheerios), iced teas, etc.
  3. Each person in a group can have a separate task. One person can use the calculator to determine how many teaspoons of sugar are in the products. Another can measure the sugar using the measuring spoons, and another person can double check to make sure the person measuring the sugar does it accurately.
  4. Explain how to locate the grams of sugar per serving on the label and how to convert grams of sugars to teaspoons of sugar (4 grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar). Thus, participants can divide the grams of sugars by 4 to determine the number of teaspoons of sugar. Then explain how to calculate the total number of grams of sugars in the entire package and convert that to total number of teaspoons of sugar. [Locate on the label the number of servings in the bag. Then, take that number times the grams of sugars. For example, if the number of servings in the bag of cookies is 6 and the grams of sugars in one serving is 12, then 6 x 12 = 72 grams. This is converted to 18 teaspoons of sugar in the bag (72 divided by 4 = 18). Then measure the amount of total sugar in the entire product and put it in the quart-size baggie.]
  5. To keep this activity fairly simple, do not include foods with naturally occurring sugars (such as 100% fruit juice). The facilitator can make a comment about these, but it will make the activity more complex and there is already a lot being discussed.
  6. The facilitator should now talk a little bit more about the MyPlate key concepts regarding sugars and sweets. Our objective is to have family members choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars. Families can do this by: choosing water, fat-free milk, or unsweetened tea; limiting sweet snacks and desserts; selecting unsweetened cereals or mixing unsweetened cereal with just a bit of sweetened cereal; and choosing canned fruits in 100% fruit juice or water rather than syrup." The reason it is important to reduce sugar content is because sugars have calories but are low in nutritional value. And, it is important to maintain caloric balance to avoid unwanted weight gain." [Another benefit of reducing sugar: It may help reduce cavities.]
  7. Given this information, have adults ask the children what they could do to reduce their sugars and sweets, and vice versa. Encourage families to come to realistic, measurable behaviors about sugar intake. Have each family create a list of strategies they will use to reduce their sugar intake. For example:
    • Child could limit sweetened cereal (eg. Over 12 g sugar/serving) to 4 times a week. Or they could mix it with unsweetened, higher fiber cereal.
    • Adult could decrease soda pop consumption to 1 can per week, or change to diet.
  8. Bring groups back together to share what agreements they have made among the generations and how they will support each other and their healthy eating goals with good communication techniques.

Handout 2-3: How Much Sugar is in the Foods We Eat?


Be sure to clarify what added sugars are. According to Choosemyplate.gov, "added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods when they are processed or prepared. It does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits."

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging

Contact Us

Matthew Kaplan, Ph.D.
  • Professor, Intergenerational Programs and Aging