Sugar…An Evil Trick or A Sweet Treat?
Candy Corn, Sour Patch Kids, Kit-Kats, and—my personal favorite—Reese’s are just some of the sugary goods piling the shelves at your local grocery store this time of year and tempting your child at every turn. With Halloween, comes the start of a sugar filled holiday season, in which us parents are left constantly fighting the uphill battle of convincing our children that their bodies are actually craving carrot sticks instead of another pre-wrapped confectionary treat.
To be honest, I usually tell parents to let their children indulge in a bit of a sugar rush on holidays (like Halloween or Valentine’s Day). If a child sees all of their friends partaking in some Smarties, and they are forbidden to touch them, a “scarcity mentality” can form in their brain where they value foods high in sugar over other foods and binge treats whenever possible.
The true task, is helping your child view sugar and dessert as “treats” that they should feel no shame about enjoying, but also should hold no expectation that they receive them as normal snacks—or as a substitution for actual meals.
So, how do you guide your child to have a healthy outlook about sugar? Here’s some tips to help you, help them…
Cultivating a Positive and Healthy Outlook Around Sugar for Your Family
- Moderation is key. Instead of making a big deal over big desserts, offer your child a sweet small treat on a normal basis. This prevents your child from feeling deprived, and also takes away some of the hype around that huge ice cream cone.
- Offer dessert with dinner. It’s common to say “finish your broccoli if you want a cookie” or “eat all of your vegetables before you get dessert”. Instead of treating dessert as the ultimate hidden prize of the meal, put it on the plate right next to the chicken nuggets and the carrot sticks. This keeps kids from elevating one food above the other, and from over-eating. They might eat the cookie first and eat less vegetables at the meal, but it’s worth the trade of allowing them to have peace with sugar.
- Use the sugary treat to make a memory.When eating foods higher in sugar, make it about connecting and creating an experience with your child. Instead of simply handing your child a bowl of ice cream, create a “make your own” ice cream bar with toppings. Instead of just giving them a cookie, have fun decorating the cookies together. Practice sharing dessert with others, by baking pumpkin bread and walking a loaf over to a neighbor. Make food about togetherness, as well as nutrition.
- Be mindful of “added sugars”. There’s no need to worry about naturally occurring sugar, think sugars found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and milk. It’s the added sugars you want to be aware of when making meals for your child. These can be found in flavored yogurt, sweetened beverages, cereals, some peanut butters, granola bars, snack foods, sweet treats and desserts, frozen premade meals, and sauces or condiments.
- If your child prefers a sugary yogurt or cereal, opt for the 50:50 rule. Mix plain yogurt with flavored yogurt or sweetened cereal with plain cereal. This seems so simple, but can make such a difference in your child’s daily sugar intake!
- Instead of overly focusing on what to avoid, put your focus on what to add! Set a goal as a family to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables your are partaking in at every meal. I think you’ll find that this will quickly help in displacing added sugars.
Above all, please make sure when your child eats sugar, they are allowed to enjoy it. Always. No guilt trips or bad-talking sugar. Despite your intentions, this will do more damage than good in the long run.
If you do feel your family is hopping on the sugar train too often, try out some of these simple alterations listed above to help your child—and yourself—get back on the right track. If you still feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out to us and set up an appointment with our Nutrition team. We’d love to help your child gain confidence and perspective around their nutrition choices.
Until next time,