6 tips to managing kids & sweets & raising healthy eaters
It seems like kids have sweets thrown at them from everywhere these days. Get a haircut? Have a lollypop! Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, a birthday at school….come home with a loot bag full of candy!
So how do you manage treats and desserts for your kids at home? There seem to be two options without something in between:
- Free-for-all. Your child will likely fill up on cookies and candy all day and have no room for the healthy dinner you slaved over! They’ll likely be missing out on important nutrients. Plus, have a mouthful of cavities!
- Total sweet restriction. Attempt to have a “sugar-free” child, and it’s very possible that they will be the school-aged kid who eats 5 slices of birthday cake. And may horde chocolate bars under their bed. It’s similar to putting yourself on a diet. Total restriction = cravings = binges.
But I’m not advocating for the free-for-all approach either. There must be a balance between total free access and 100% restriction. But where do you find that balance? It’s tricky and also depends on your child’s personality and family dynamics.
First of all, let’s cover some basics about kids and sugar:
EFFECTS OF SUGAR ON CHILDREN’S BEHAVIOUR
Foods high in sugar can fill your child up, don’t provide any vitamins or minerals they need to be healthy and taste delicious! Sure, there may be other health risks to a diet high in sugar (like cavities), but I won’t go into them. I don’t want you to be anxious. Because the more anxious you are, the more likely you’ll restrict your child’s intake tightly.
And the problem with having a “sugar-free” child is that the more you restrict something, the more they want it. Having tight boundaries around candy intake doesn’t allow them to learn to self-regulate it and can lead to cravings.
But DOES SUGAR CAUSE HYPERACTIVITY?
It’s well documented in research that sugar does not cause kids to be hyper. Then why does your child go crazy at parties with lots of sugar?
Their wild behaviour has more to do with the environment than food. They’re surrounded by lots of other kids, having a blast! It also has to do with parents’ expectations. If parents think sugar causes their children to be hyper, they rate their children as more hyper. Even after having a placebo drink which did not contain any sugar!
Ok, but isn’t sugar addictive?
IS SUGAR ACTUALLY ADDICTIVE?
Are you afraid your child has an obsession with candy? Will they become a sugar addict if you let them eat lots of sweets?
This review study on sugar addiction states: We find little evidence to support sugar addiction in humans, and findings from the animal literature suggest that addiction-like behaviours, such as bingeing, occur only in the context of intermittent access to sugar. These behaviours likely arise from intermittent access to sweet-tasting or highly palatable foods, not the neurochemical effects of sugar.
So binging on food or sugar happens not because your child has unlimited access and is addicted. It happens because your child has limited access. Perhaps the exact opposite of what you thought.
TIPS TO MANAGE SWEETS AND DESSERTS IN YOUR HOUSE:
Hopefully, you feel better knowing that sugar isn’t necessarily the toxic devil it’s usually made out to be! And here are a few practical tips that should help you decide on your family’s rules for sweet management:
1. Regularly include dessert or sweet foods. It doesn’t have to be daily, but it’s ok to have sweets a few times per week. This way, they don’t become the highly coveted “forbidden food.”
2. Does your child still get dessert if they don’t eat dinner? Yes! If you serve dessert after a meal, it should never be a bribe. If your child has to finish their veggies to get dessert for example, this is just telling them the veggies are gross. And puts the dessert up on a pedestal. Likely creating a sweet tooth, possibly for life!
3. When you offer dessert, serve it with the meal! Your child can choose to eat the dessert when they like, along with their dinner. For a while, your child will likely eat all of the dessert first. But when this becomes normal, they will go back and forth between the sweet and savory foods. Dessert is no big deal to them anymore, now that it’s no longer the bribe at the end of the meal! Caveat: Unlike the rest of the foods at the meal (the child chooses how much to eat and can have more if they want), dessert is limited to one portion per person.
4. Offer cookies (or other baking) and milk for snack. And let your child choose how many to eat! Sometimes it’s ok to learn lessons the hard way. Like the sick feeling after eating too much. But once this becomes normal and the child doesn’t feel restricted, they will naturally choose to eat less.
5. Desserts and sweets can have nutritional value! Such as fruit, yogurt, ice cream, or this Chocolate Peanut butter & Banana Frozen Yogurt Bark from the Alberta Milk website.
You can’t control your child forever, but it is good to have some boundaries in place. The goal of managing sweets and treats is to set your child up to have a healthy relationship with food. So they can forever enjoy a reasonable amount of sweets, without feeling guilty.
Want to know more about how to disempower dessert? Check out my Global interview here.
And if you want to know more about dealing with your picky eater, grab my free training “How to teach kids to try new foods without struggles at dinnertime.”
Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian, author & mom of 3. From Baby-led weaning to picky eating and meal planning, she helps you to make feeding your family easier