Do you panic when you see sweets around the kids? The best thing that you can do for yourself is to simply let go.
Do your kids seem to go crazy when it comes to desserts? Is your child captivated with sweets and obsessed about the next time they get some kind of treat?
The answer might be because they are not frequently allowed desserts or that sweets are considered a restricted food.
Let’s face it – no matter how much you might control it at home, kids are constantly exposed to those delectable delights – candy, ice cream, cookies, cupcakes, – you name it, it’s everywhere. Holidays, special occasions, birthday parties, school celebrations, grandparents’ houses, and more. So what’s the most realistic approach to take that doesn’t involve banning sweets from your house forever?
1. Let go of control.
Many parents may attempt to limit, control, or prevent their child from having sweets and treats, but these behaviors, though well-intended, can definitely backfire. Why? Because food that is “off-limits” or forbidden will almost always become more desirable, no matter what it is. This is normal human behavior. We are always drawn toward the things we are told we cannot have. It becomes all-consuming – not necessarily because that it is special in and of itself, but because it is restricted.
The more you tell your child they can’t have a treat or aren’t allowed to have desserts or sweets, the more they will be drawn to these foods and desire them more. Combine this with negative language about these foods, such as stating, “Too much sugar is bad for you”, or “That is unhealthy for you”, and desserts can be made into something that is chaotic and unmanageable for a child. Children are more likely to binge and overeat on foods they have restricted access to rather than learning how to eat them according to what their body is wanting and needing.
2. Allow them to self-regulate.
Children naturally tend to gravitate toward sweeter foods, so how can you help them get over the dessert craze and eat these foods moderately? The good news is that helping your child regulate their intake is not as complex as it may seem, though it may involve some strategies that feel counter-intuitive.
Children have an innate capability to regulate their intake and when given the opportunity, eat what their bodies are needing. Certain parental feeding practices, like restricting or limited foods, can actually interfere with a child’s natural ability to self-regulate what they eat. The best thing you can do is trust your child when they are eating sweets – allow them to eat as much as they want or need without interfering, shaming them, making them feel bad or questioning how or what they are eating.
3. Have a designated ‘dessert time’ in place.
While letting go of control will be helpful, this doesn’t mean that your kids should have unlimited access to sweets and desserts, whenever they want. The flip side of the coin is that kids do need structure when it comes to eating, but offering sweets, treats, and desserts within that structure can give them opportunities to balance their intake and have access to a variety of foods. Keep this mantra in mind:
“You provide, your child decides.”
Meaning, you are the one that decides when to offer a dessert or treat with a meal or snack, and let them decide how much to eat – independent of what they ate for a meal. Desserts should not be used as a bribe or reward for finishing vegetables or taking “one bite” of anything – this only reinforces the idea that there is something “special” about sweets, elevating them above all other foods.
When you treat sweets casually and make them part of everyday meals, the less your child will focus on it and better regulate how much they need when eating. Serve dessert alongside meals and don’t make it a big deal. They’re likely going to eat it anyway, so why not let them choose when. Kids who are forced to wait to eat dessert until they have finished their dinner or even as a bribe to eat vegetables are subject to negative reinforcement around food. Kids also do better with predictability and structure, so offering regular meals and snacks that incorporate a variety of foods, including sweets and desserts, will help them regulate their intake and appetite and trust that they have access to all foods.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do to help your child feel good about eating is to be the model yourself for a healthy relationship with food and body.
If your child can see you enjoying a variety of foods, including sweets and desserts, without feeling guilty, anxious, or worried, they too will learn that they can trust their bodies to enjoy all kinds of food. Remember that food is just food, including sweets and desserts.
They are meant to be enjoyed, not forbidden.
Adapted from the original article.
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Board Certified Lactation Consultant, & mama of 5. With a virtual nutrition practice, Crystal helps overwhelmed mamas nurture a peaceful relationship with food & their bodies, end the battles at the dinner table and transform their kitchens to place of peace & joy.