Easter has just passed. Your house is full of chocolate and lollies from the Easter bunny and Easter festivities. So how do you manage sweets in your household? Is it a free-for-all or are the sweets closely policed? What is the best approach anyway? Spoiler alert- it’s somewhere in the middle.
First let’s have a look at the two ends of the spectrum (restricting versus unlimited access) and what could go wrong.
Parents may restrict their child’s intake of sweet foods to improve the quality of their diet. They may also fear their child will not be able to self-regulate and ‘binge’ on sweet foods. Overly restricting sweets however, may in fact have the opposite effect. If a child is not allowed a certain food, this increases their enthusiasm for this food. It has been often observed that when unsupervised, children who have been restricted will overeat when forbidden foods are available.
Giving your child unlimited access to sweets takes away the ‘forbidden fruit’ value of the food. They will become relaxed around all foods and won’t go off the deep end when a sweet buffet presents itself at a party. BUT kids are still kids. Their primary motivator for food choice is taste. They will generally choose the tastiest option on offer.
The happy medium
The ‘sweet’ spot (pun intended) of managing sugar is a happy medium. Give kids enough so lollies and desserts so they don’t hold a special power over them, but not too much that it interferes with foods from the core food groups.
Include low nutrient foods regularly at scheduled meal times
Children can eat sugary foods alongside a higher nutrient food (e.g. milk with biscuits) to counter the sugar crash and give them longer lasting energy.
Don’t restrict this food at this meal/snack or it will keep its ‘forbidden fruit’ status
If you choose to serve dessert, serve one serving per person WITH the meal
Serving the dessert after the meal may lead to appetite dysregulation. Kids may end up eating too much because they were already full but still wanted dessert. They may also end up not eating enough dinner because they are leaving room for dessert or just can’t wait.
Putting dessert after dinner could also increase the desserts desirability because it of it’s restriction to ‘after dinner only’.
Putting this into action in your household
You need to decide what a reasonable approach to managing sweets will be in your household and stick to it. Kids need consistency to know what to expect. When boundaries and rules change from day to day this becomes confusing. Kids naturally push the boundaries to discover where the limits lie. Inconsistent parenting around sweets will lead to more tantrums and nagging for sweets.
When sticking to your limits and saying ‘no’ you can explain why. Kids are naturally black and white thinkers and they may interpret ‘no’ as a ‘no never’. It can also help to let them know when they can expect to have that food next.
“We won’t have dessert today because we had lots of sweets at the party. If you would like, we can have some ice-cream tomorrow with dinner”
“Lunch is in 15 minutes, I don’t want you to spoil your appetite. We will have the brownies we baked with afternoon tea”
Hayley is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian. Her specialty areas are children’s nutrition, disordered eating and medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions. Find out more here.