Let Them Eat Cake: Responsible Tips for Dealing With Sweets

Chow on 06.03.11
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Lilia vs.cookie. Truthfully a pregnant mama ate the majority of this treat. Image Credit: Jenni Grover

To be honest, we do not have a lot of sweets in our household. This is probably due to the years of nutrition schooling teaching me to choose veggies and healthy snacks over sugary and sweet treats. This doesn't mean that I don't love ice cream or have the occasional cake binge. I just find that when the temptation is not at my fingertips, it is easier to choose healthy alternatives.

I always figured I would not allow my kids to have sugar cereals and cookies for snacks. They would, I imagined, love carrot sticks and hummus and beg for fruit for dessert. I also figured I would not be using sweets as a ploy to get more veggies in my kids. This viewpoint all changed when my sweet babe Lilia became a toddler who threw mini tantrums when sweets entered the house. How could this happen? She has only had a handful of sweet foods in her life, yet she already knows how to ask for "more cookie"? Help! 

I decided it was time to re-evaluate my views on sweets, do a little research, and make a plan. I did not want to scar her for life by denying her a few sweet treats, but I also did not want to give in to her toddler demands either. 

Tips for Managing Sweets

First thing to remember is that kids have higher calorie needs. These needs allow a little room for the occasional sweet. In fact, their rapid growth explains why kids crave sweets so much. Just be careful not to let your kids fill up on sugar because this may deprive them of other nutrtients they need.

Sweets Are Not a Reward

One of the biggest rules to keep in mind is not to reward kids with sweets. Rewarding with sweets makes these foods seem bigger and better than they really are. They become the unattable foods, the ones you only get to have with good behavior. Reawrding makes sweets more desireable. Instead, reward your kids with non-food items like a trip to the movies, a sleepover, stickers, a new book, or an hour of your undivided attention.

Next, do not restrict how much a child can have. If you offer a cookie for snack and the child asks for another, let her have it. This is hard, I know. But, it is important to send the message that it is ok to eat more if they are hungry. Restricting the number of cookies, at one sitting, will make the cookies seem like a forrbidden food and she may overeat the next time.

Serve Dessert With Dinner

Serve dessert with a meal or snack, not afterwards. (Just no seconds on the dessert) This method will accomplish two things. Paring sugar with fat or protein will prevent the dreaded sugar highs and lows. Also, it teaches your kids that broccoli and rice are just as good as the sweets on their dinner plates.

Another big rule of thumb is to avoid tending to emotional issues with sugary foods.  Creating an association between hardships and unhealthy foods is a lesson worth avoiding. It may cause lasting impressions that your child will carry into adulthood. Again, use other methods of comfort like talking, cuddling, or physical activity.

Try to lessen the excitement of sweets. If you find it neccessary to exclaim, "time for cookies!", make sure you give equal excitment to other nutritious foods. "Yippie, it is time for fruit salad!".

As adults, it is up to us to decide what to bring into the house. If you want sweets for yourself, it may be best to keep those out of sight. Having sweets in the house, but saying no, will send confusing messages to your kids. They may obssess about the sweets and overeat when they are finally allowed the treat. However, allowing your kids unlimited access to sweets will also have repercussions. They may fill up on sweets instead of other nutritious foods, making it difficult to learn moderation.

What I have learned from my practice as a registered dietetian, and now as a mother of a toddler, is to be realistic about sweets. I shouldn't shelter my daughter from ice cream, Halloween candy, and birthday cake anymore than I should stop her watching TV, or ban certain toys. I think it is important to not make a big deal about sweet foods. If she wants to try a doughnut because her Papa is eating one, she can. I make sure to also offer her a nutritious alternative and I know that sometimes she may chose that instead. All I can do is make sure our family eats healthy meals together. I will offer her a wide variety of foods and teach her to enjoy them. I am happy to give her sweets in moderation and make sure she does not feel deprived. It means I get to eat the occasional cookie too.

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