Do you feel like you are always saying "no" to your child's request for sweets? Well, you’re not alone. Children are genetically programmed to prefer sweet tastes, so it's normal for them to flock to foods like cake, cookies, ice cream, and candy.
So what's a parent to do? Research shows that being too restrictive or lax with sweets can backfire. Finding that middle ground can make the difference between a child who grows up to be a cookie monster or a master of moderation. Stay consistent with how you manage sweets and you'll find your kids will learn the art of moderation, a skill that will serve them well for years to come.
2 of 6Photo: Oxmoor House
Secret #1: Be the Model for Moderation
The phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” sums it up perfectly. According to research, children restricted from highly palatable foods at home ate more high-calorie foods when given free access. So denying your little ones that cookie can cause one major backlash.
When children ask for sweets, instead of saying "no" let them know they'll have them at a future snack, meal, or birthday party. This signals to kids that they will eventually get to enjoy the sweet foods they love so much. Follow this up by offering sweets a couple times a week.This will get your child used to eating sweets routinely and not excessively.
3 of 6Photo: Oxmoor House
Secret #2: Stick to Healthy, Homemade Sweets
Children who get used to homemade muffins, cakes, and cookies eventually learn to prefer those to processed treats. Take some extra time to bake something where you control the ingredients.That way, you teach them to appreciate quality over quantity. Making sweet foods yourself allows you to add more wholesome ingredients like whole wheat flour, oats, nuts, fruits, and veggies.
4 of 6Photo: Oxmoor House
Secret #3: Keep Sugary Drinks in Check
Sugar intake has increased by 20% in the last few decades, and sugar sweetened beverages, like sodas and juice drinks, are mostly responsible. When children are fed sugary drinks often, they acquire a high taste threshold for sweetness.
Limit your child's source of sugar sweetened beverages to parties and outings and stick with 100% fruit juice or milk with meals and water between meals. Include special beverages that are sweet and nutritious like this yummy smoothie.
5 of 6Photo: Oxmoor House
Secret #4: Don’t Give Sweets Special Attention
Sweets get a lot of attention from parents and kids, both as something positive and negative. Studies show that using sweets as a reward for eating other foods, like vegetables, increases kids preference for the reward food. For example, saying “If you finish your broccoli, you can have cake,” makes cake king in your child’s mind.
Instead, be neutral in how you deal with sweets by treating them like just another food your family eats. Feeding expert Ellyn Satter says to serve dessert right along with dinner, so kids don't hold out. Stay calm when you find out your child ate candy at a friend's house; making sweets taboo may make them more desirable to your child.
6 of 6Photo: Ellen Silverman
Secret #5: Move Sweets Out of Sight
Is there a cookie jar right where kids can see it? Are the sweets in your house easily accessible? The immediate environment your child experiences makes a big difference in their eating patterns.
Move healthy snacks in view, like fruits and vegetables, while keeping sweets tucked away until you serve them. Display fruit and veggie trays between meals with tasty and nutritious dips like this creamy herb dip.