Have you ever worried your baby will grow up to be sugar obsessed if you serve fruit over a vegetable for their first foods? If so, I encourage you to take a sip of breastmilk or formula and you’ll see they’ve been THRIVING on a sweet superfood for the past 6 months.
The fear of sugar with our kids has been ingrained in most of us and we don’t even realize it! I have to check myself on this ALL THE DAMN TIME. So you’re not alone!
Let’s start with the basics
Here’s the obvious: a large quantity of sugar is bad for our kid’s health. We know that.
In a world with no sugar, it would be easy. But in this world full of colorful sprinkles, they will, for a fact, consume sugar.
Your sweet babies and toddlers will grow up and go to birthday parties.
And become adults with their own grocery budget (side note: typing that out was hard and I want to hug my babies now).
But also… sweets are such a fun part of life! Especially with kids. From our babies’ first smash cake to a summertime ice cream cone; these are some of life’s sweetest (so hard not to use lame puns) moments and memories.
My toddler absolutely loves the whole birthday cake experience. He is SO proud when he sings “happy birthday to you”, eyes light up at the candles, claps loudly, and thoroughly enjoys his cake! As he should! Heck, we’re celebrating half birthdays these days purely because it’s so much fun!
So as our girl Elsa would say, “let it go!” and let’s let the fear go that our kids will be sugar monsters and never eat a vegetable, okay?
Why restricting your kids with sweets backfires
Do you remember (or maybe you were) the kid growing up who was rarely allowed to have sweets? When that kid would go to a friend’s house with the “good snacks,” or a birthday party…they would go HARD on all the sugar they could get their hands on!
When we restrict kids from sweets; it tends to backfire. They catch on to our adult sneaky ways and only want it more. It also can cause binging on these sweets, because they haven’t learned any self-control with these “forbidden” treats!
Hi, that kid was me.
I wanted to eat all my Easter candy because I didn’t know when I would have it again. Did I really trust my mom with my Halloween candy?
I was obsessed with sweets, but even more so, FULLY aware they were restricted at our house.
The snacks at our house were things like “100-calorie pack cookies” and “Healthy Choice” ice cream which were far from satisfying. Unless it was a special occasion and it was always a big deal to have a “treat.” And I saw that.
Now that I’m technically an adult, I can have sweets whenever I want! But for the most part, I’d rather have salt-n-vinegar chips…
Did my tastebuds change as I got older?
Well, maybe a little. But I genuinely believe I was more “obsessed” with wanting the forbidden treats than having an uncontrollable sweet tooth.
This started a cycle of binging on sweets when I could get it as a kid. And as I got older, I was terrified of keeping sweets in the house, because I didn’t trust myself.
Finally, I started to identify this weird obsession and realized I wasn’t even really enjoying these cookies. Why did I eat 3? These days I’ll end up tossing half a carton of ice cream because of frostbite. Or finding expired candy that I forgot about. But it took a lot of years and learning this type of self-awareness to release the power of the dang sugar. So let’s not give sugar the power with our children!
A quick moment for the non-blame game. All loving, non-abusive parents are absolutely trying their best with the information they have at the time to help their kids thrive. We’re not dwelling on anything we wish our parents- or even their parents did differently. Nobody has time for that! But, it is okay to identify generational patterns you’d like to break with your own kids; which is why I’m sharing. My rockstar mama struggled with an eating disorder growing up; so in her heart, limiting us except special occasions and these diet type of sweets seemed like such a great solution! And that’s my little PSA
So, how do we equip our children to have a healthy relationship with sweets?
Cupcakes for every meal! Just kidding. Firstly, please know it’s not solely on you as the parent. Read that again. You see it all the time. Three kids with the same parents, but are completely different with all their habits, likes, dislikes, etc.
But these are 10 strategies that you might consider with your family!
Decide When You Serve Sweets
As parents, we get to decide when our kids will have sweets; just like when they’re having chicken for dinner. Before you worry that sounds like restricting…it’s the same strategy as what your family is having for dinner. (Check out Combatting Picky Eating for more on this). So talk to your partner and make a plan for what this looks like for your family!
Serve at Regular-ish Intervals
This does not have to be something like every Monday, Wednesday, Friday. That is not very realistic in our household. But the idea is you want the child to feel secure in the fact that they will see sweets again soon, so it’s not as big of a deal.
Our current situation looks something like this… We currently put a small sweet in my toddler’s lunchbox for the majority of the 3 days a week he goes to preschool. This is really fun for me (I was always jealous of thE kids with treats in their lunches)!
And then we shoot for sweets 3-4 times a week with a meal or snack. This is just an example so please do not feel like you have to do this. It’s whatever works best for your family!
Stick To Your “Plan”
I use quotations above because there is still room for flexibility! For example, if we are out with friends and their kids are having a cupcake and it’s a “non-sweets” night; we’ll enjoy the cupcake with our friends! Or if we are traveling, we tend to have more sweets.
But the idea is most non-sweets meals, you stick to it!
Example: You had ice cream with dinner on Monday. On Tuesday, they ask for ice cream again and you were not planning on serving ice cream.
“I hear you want ice cream, but tonight we’re having tacos, green beans, and corn! We’ll have ice cream again soon. (try to distract with a choice) do you want yellow cheese or white cheese on your taco?”
Just like if they ask for mac-n-cheese and that’s not what you’re having for dinner. You would not ditch the tacos and go make them mac-n-cheese.
This might be a few meltdowns but they will start to get used to it and it’s not so scary when they trust they’ll get dessert again soon!
Serve Dessert On Non-Special Occasions
So often we get stuck only eating desserts on the weekends only! Or some type of special occasion. This sends a message that dessert is superior to any other food. It’s “special.”
I think it’s the random cupcakes (but not random, because you chose that night) on a Tuesday night that is the most important.
Chicken = Pasta = Cupcakes = Squash = Blueberries = Cookies = Steak
Avoid making a huge fuss over the dessert you served. All food is equal and serves a purpose! Whether its nutrition, convenience, or fun.
Instead of, “Wow! You have ice cream tonight! Isn’t that exciting?”
“Tonight you have chicken, ice cream, broccoli, and a roll for dinner!”
Serve Sweets WITH The Meal
I’ve tried serving sweets both “with” and “after” the meal for a more “traditional dessert.” What I’ve found is that “after” a meal gives power to the dessert. It’s the grand finale and makes it hard to not feel special, right?
Secondly, the reality is we traditionally serve dessert after dinner so that our kids will eat the most “nutritious food” first. Therefore, we are not staying neutral by trying to force our kids to eat their broccoli first. I know what you’re thinking; well, that sounds great and all but then my child will ONLY eat dessert. Look at it this way:
Assuming you’re serving 3 meals a day and 2-3 “mini-meals” or snacks. That means your child has 35-42 opportunities to get in the proper nutrition in a week. Those couple nights of dessert will not derail your child’s health.
So yes, especially if this is new, they’ll probably go straight for that dessert first. But after time, you’ll be shocked when your child takes a bite of a carrot before a cookie. Stick with it! It will happen. It is so much fun to watch!
Lastly but potentially the most important… serving dessert after the meal inhibits kids from learning how to listen to their fullness cues. They’ll eat their full dinner and then you serve dessert. Guess what? They’ll push right through being full for an ice cream sundae.
No Strings Attached
When I serve a portion of food like blueberries, I let them have as many blueberries as they want. It can be a safe food when serving an unfamiliar dinner.
It’s the same with sweets. Limiting sweets when you wouldn’t limit broccoli…isn’t keeping things neutral. Let them know when you serve dessert it’s not limited; dessert is a part of life, not a scarcity! They can have as many servings as they want but start with a small toddler-sized portion.
This will feel uncomfortable at first if this is a new concept. And it might take a little time, but trust your toddler and you’ll be amazed at how they start to learn to self-regulate. And what an awesome skill to have with them throughout life!
Be a Role Model
Your child watches everything you do. One of the best things you can do is enjoy sweets with your child when you want to! Sit down for meals as a family. Enjoy mealtime. Avoid demonizing sugar by saying things like:
“Cupcakes are bad for you!”
“Candy isn’t healthy!”
“Mama can’t eat that cake, she’s on a diet.”
I hate high fructose corn syrup and all the artificial dyes. So much. And I honestly have to check myself all the time that I’m not just serving “healthier desserts.” I try to serve it all…because in the real world, that’s what they will see. We are so lucky to have brands that are using better ingredients without sacrificing taste (like Annie’s, Simple Mills, Alden’s Ice Cream). Supporting our local bakeries is a great way for me to let go of some control on obsessing ingredients!
Avoid The Bribery Trap
A little bit of honesty for you all…I find this the hardest. Anyone else? Bribing with a lollipop is so easy!
But as much as I do not want to admit it. I really don’t. Bribing with sweets; isn’t keeping things neutral. It’s putting desserts and candy on a pedestal.
It also can portray that candy is restrictive which we know only makes them want it more. Bribery tells your kids that you only get this piece of candy if you clean up your toys; so if they don’t, it’s no longer available.
I hope these tips help your family! Also, if this is something you want to learn more about. I highly recommend giving @feedinglittles a follow on Instagram. They are the feedings GOATs and share so much goodness on nutrition and feeding strategies with your babies, toddlers, and kids!