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Mom controls the sugar and keeps kids happy

About 20 years ago, Robyn Prusky changed her diet. She has worked on eliminating most processed sugar from her family's diet. But she does not believe in denying her children sweets. Instead, she has found ways to make more healthful versions of popular snacks.

Q: Tell me about your approach to feeding your family.

A: It starts from before they are born. I cook for Dagan, making his baby food. I am really anti-refined sugar. We have as little as possible. I have read a lot about sugar. I believe they are eventually going to link sugar to cancer. For children, when they eat too much sugar, it hurts their immune system. I read a book called "Suicide by Sugar," and it really opened my eyes. I think if more moms read this book, you would not see any child drinking soda.

Q: What do you cook for meals?

A: I do a menu on Sundays. I have probably 25 weeks of menus. For one thing, this helps me save money at the store. I will rotate fish, a pasta, a chicken, and a beef dish each day. We eat almost all meals at home. A typical meal might be stuffed chicken with spinach. I try to find ways to make foods so the kids will like it.

Q: What are some ways to get your children to try new and more healthful food?

A: In Japan, they have an art. Each food is separated and presented in a nice way. Children are more likely to try the food that way. I've learned that there is a certain time of day when they come home from school, and they are hungry. I usually let (Mateo) watch TV, and start with a raw vegetable snack. And because I know they've eaten vegetables at that time, at dinner, I'm not so worried about it.

Q: How do you control the sugar consumption?

A: I know how many grams of sugar are in pretty much in everything on the grocery store shelf. I try to never buy a snack that has more than six grams of sugar in a serving. I try to bake everything.

Q: Do you ever worry depriving them of sugar will make them want it more?

A: I never say no to sweets they want. I just make them myself. I make black bean brownies, which have protein and nuts. I also make phenomenal chocolate chip cookies. I use the darkest chocolate, 85 percent, and I put in chickpeas. I use half the amount of sugar of any recipe, and I use a unrefined, unbleached sugar. It's not processed as much. If they ask for chocolate, I give them one square of dark chocolate and let them enjoy it. I have an ice cream maker, so we make ice cream, with yogurt and fresh lemon. I make muffins with butternut squash. I don't have tons of time, so when I bake, I freeze half.

The first time Mateo saw a child eating a popsicle, he asked what it was. I told him that the blue color is a chemical. But then I said, "How about we make popsicles at home tonight?" So we made yogurt and fresh fruit popsicles, using honey to make it sweet. And he loved them.

There's always cookies in my house and black bean brownies. The key to adults eating well and kids eating well is reading the package.

Q: What do you think will happen when he is exposed to more processed foods outside the home?

A: If he chooses to have more sugar when he is out of the house, I'd rather he try it when he is 7 or 8 years old. The difference is that the brain is not developing at the rate it is now.

When you give a child a lot of sugar, they get tired. They can't learn, and they can't focus as well.

Q: Did you grow up eating healthy?

A: I grew up eating mac and cheese, pizza and burgers. I would get sick four or five times a year. Now, my system is much better by changing my diet. Mateo has never had McDonald's. He's been sick once with a cold. He's 4.

I've read about a public school that went sugar-free. The students had fewer illnesses, and test scores went up.

Q: What do you do for special occasions?

A: For Mateo's birthday, I made zucchini carrot cupcakes. The kids loved it. I decorated with dried fruit and a whip cream topping. I bought bug molds from Williams-Sonoma to create fun shapes. They came out gorgeous.

Black Bean Brownies

Yield 16 brownies

3 eggs

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 pinch salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup unbleached/unrefined sugar

4 tablespoons of unbleached flour

1/2 cup pecans or walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8x8 square baking dish.

2. Combine the black beans, eggs, oil, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla extract, sugar and flour in a blender; blend until smooth. Mix in nuts; pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

3. Bake until the top is dry and the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes. These do not come out fluffy. They come out fudgy.

Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield 4 dozen

1 cup raw sugar (unbleached/unrefined)

3/4 cup softened butter

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed and pureed

2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 cups 86 percent chocolate, smashed into chips

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and butter until smooth. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then the chickpeas. Add the flour, oats, baking soda and salt, and mix on low speed until a thick dough forms. Mix in chips and walnuts.

3. Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto the baking sheet, spacing the cookies about 2 inches apart. Press gently with a fork to flatten. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.