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No Sugar for Lent: a Mary and Martha Moment

Give Up or Do More?

The query, “What are you giving up for Lent?” just doesn’t cut it with me. It falls short of recognizing the three-fold purpose of Lent:  prayer, fasting, AND almsgiving. I always try to say, “What are you DOING for Lent?” and I used to post my third graders’ “Lenten promises” on the bulletin board, rather than “Lenten sacrifices.”  I make it a point to tackle at least one goal from each category each Lent.

Three Ways to Change

I add to or regularize my prayer life. I find ways to fast, either from food or bad habits or both. I choose something to DO for the Lord (as well as giving money as alms to the poor). One year I wrote a “Baby on a Budget” guide for the local Pregnancy Resource Center. I don’t know if they use it at all, but I share it with new mothers all the time. The last two years I’ve focused on my home for the DOing part, choosing to make a conscious effort to give each of my children 10 minutes of “special time” per day. No answering the phone, no dusting, no decluttering while we play, no recommending that we stop playing X and move on to something else. They get focused attention for 10 minutes.

My Food Sacrifice

This year after all my nutrition reading in December and January, I decided to give more natural eating a try and  thought a Lenten sacrifice would be a good way to challenge myself. I already avoid (almost) all trans fats. I don’t think I could totally avoid all white flour, but I decided to “give up” all white sugar and corn sugar. If you’re a label reader, you’ll recognize these words, all derived from corn:  corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, maltodextrin, and of course, high fructose corn syrup.

RELATED: Inflammation from Sugar & Benefits of Intermittent Fasting.

Yes, this is seriously going to change the way I eat. Not only does it exclude the regular candies, cookies and ice cream, but also all packaged cereals, spaghetti sauce, almost all dressings, ketchup (thank goodness I love mustard!!), any packaged dinner or side, and even some soft tortillas. Yikes.

One loophole:  I am allowing myself whatever sugar is in dark chocolate, a few nips a day. I’m a mom, after all, and what’s a mom without her sanity?? I can’t do that to my kids.

What Can I Eat?

My options for breakfast:


  • Packaged cereals
  • Oatmeal with brown sugar
  • Toast with jelly

On the list:

  • Yogurt with fruit and honey
  • Orange juice
  • Homemade pancakes
  • Oatmeal with honey or maple syrup
  • Eggs
  • Toast with butter and/or honey or peanut butter (only natural brands, and not Skippy Natural because there’s added sugar)

Lunch will be easy:  leftovers, leftovers, leftovers. That’s what we always eat around here.

For dinner, I won’t have to make a ton of changes. I just will have to whip up my own spaghetti sauce from canned crushed tomatoes and herbs if I want an Italian meal, and I’ll have to be careful reading labels on things like tortillas. If we have chicken nuggets or something, I’ll only be able to dip in mustard and honey, no BBQ or ketchup.

Salad dressings will be interesting. I’ve been wanting to make my own regularly anyway, so this will be the motivation I need! Luckily I have a ranch recipe that I tried last week and really like, and although my first attempt at Italian wasn’t great, the latest is doable for sure, and my husband and son both like them, too. Click for the better Italian recipe.

How I satiate my sweet tooth:

  • Homemade applesauce with lots of cinnamon
  • My new granola bar recipe
  • Fresh fruit, especially grapefruits in the evening
  • Toast with honey
  • Plain yogurt with raw honey (use the code Katie15 for 15% off at that site!) and frozen raspberries
  • Pumpkin muffins, made with no sugar
  • Oh, yes…dark chocolate (but not even this on Fridays!)

And my yen to snack:

  • Crispy nuts
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Apples and peanut butter
  • Cute individually wrapped prunes that my mom got me for Christmas

And the Challenges

So here I was, thinking I could do this with little MAJOR difficulty…Can you believe my first challenge came the Monday before Ash Wednesday? I was making soup with some broth from a slow cooker venison roast from Saturday. The broth was a little thin, so I thought adding some concentrated beef stock base from Penzey’s Spices would be just right. Thinking of eating leftovers during Lent, I read the label:  sugar AND maltodextrin! Arg! My poor husband says, “I knew this would come back to bite me somehow.”  He also said he’d eat the soup even if it was a little bland. It turned out still delicious and plenty thick without the beef base. I used a can of tomatoes with the juice and thick barley.

Second challenge:  Thursday after Ash Wednesday. I had planned tacos, and much to my surprise, taco seasoning has sweetener in it. !! I chose to pull out some cooked ground meat for myself and throw a little cumin and chili powder on it, then use lots of salsa on my taco. (Believe me, I was worried that salsa might have sugar, too!)

Surprise! Sugar.

The biggest surprise so far? Almost all bread has sugar in it. Had I thought about this, I would have realized that yeast needs sugar to grow, so of course bread will have sugar. Bummer for me. I figured maybe my 100% whole wheat organic Aunt Millie’s bread would be sugar-less, but nope:  organic sugar. So I can either buy Ezekiel bread at the health foods store or make my own. I got a breadmaker at a garage sale last year, and I’ve figured out a pretty good recipe. It’s a great challenge and something I can offer up.

The second biggest surprise? I can actually be successful with this Lenten promise. And I’m still enjoying eating. It’s great to have something to remind me to offer up as a prayer all day, throughout the day as my appetite and I converse about what we should eat.

May your Lent be challenging and prayerful, habit-changing and growth-filled!

Want more help and inspiration to reduce sugar? Check these out:

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7 thoughts on “No Sugar for Lent: a Mary and Martha Moment”

  1. It’s mind-boggling when you start to realize how many products they put sugar in these days! My wake up call came when I finally read the label on the whole wheat bread I had been buying and found high fructose corn syrup. I literally felt cheated! I was lucky enough to have a breadmaker given to me and now LOVE making my own bread!
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..Red Lentil Curry =-.

  2. Cascia @ Healthy Moms

    Wow! That sounds like a major challenge! I didn’t realize how much food has sugar in it.
    .-= Cascia @ Healthy Moms´s last blog ..House Rules Completed =-.

  3. I make my own taco seasoning mix too, and my husband tells me it’s the best. There are a ton of recipes for homemade mixes online! Invest in a good, organic herb/spice collection, and you can make just about any mix.

    I also started making my own ketchup a few months ago. It’s awesome! I do add a little organic evaporated cane juice, but it is so much healthier than any store bought brand (at least the sugar is unprocessed)! It’s quick, and the base is organic tomato paste. We LOVE it around here!

  4. Good for you!!

    It is really tough to turn down EVERYTHING with sugar in it–I like that you took a balanced approach and allow yourself dark chocolate. That shows balance and moderation which is sustainable.

    I’m still going without, but I would not necessarily recommend that everyone do it this way. I would recommend the “avoidance” of, but not necessarily cutting it out completely.

    Again, nice going!

    myyearwithout’s last blog post..Nutrients vs. Calories: The Debate Goes On

  5. I just started making my own taco seasoning … won’t ever buy a packet again (I hope!). It’s easy! Also, I have a good oil/vinegar dressing recipe that is all we use around here, if you would like! Thanks for the thought-provoking and challenging posts!!

  6. I’ve been very cognizant lately about staying from corn syrup of any kind, white sugar and MSG (not to mention TVP, hydrolized soy protein, etc.)- and have been amazed at everything I find it in!

    I normally make my own chicken stock, but frequently keep a carton or two of beef stock on hand. I recently have been ingredient reading more and was shocked to find MSG in most of them! Two I’ve found that don’t contain MSG, nor sugar nor corn syrup, are Kitchen Basics and Emeril’s brand of stock . . . just to help out next time you’re at the grocery store! I used to use the Better than Bouillon paste, but am not too impressed with some of their ingredients either so we are switching away from those . . .

    I have several bread recipes on my website that don’t have sugar (though many have honey or maple syrup) if you are still looking!

    Good job with your Lenten promises!


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