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If your kids are anything like mine, they like sweets. I swore I wouldn’t give my first child anything with sugar. Ever. Until I had morning sickness and was eating ginger snaps when he was 14 months old. He asked for one, and in my pregnant haze, I happily gave him one. He enjoyed it immensely!
And that’s okay.
If we are going to get our kids to eat vegetables, we need to learn how to manage sugar and candy.
Managing sugar can be very complicated. People have a lot of opinions about it. Here are some tips I have for helping little ones to grow up without being obsessed with sugar or sugary foods.
1. Use neutral language
“Would you like a cookie?”
Don’t call sugary foods “special” or “poison” or “treats.” Just call them by their names: cookies, candy, cake, ice cream, etc.
You can find some helpful neutral language examples here.
2. Serve it with a meal when possible
“You can have that candy cane with your lunch.”
If kids are snacking on candy, they are going to have lots of sugar crashes. Serve it with food whenever possible.
3. Say “no” sometimes
“That’s not on the menu right now. We will have it with lunch tomorrow.”
It’s okay for you to decide when sugar foods are served in your house.
4. Let them eat until they are full
“Yes, you can have another cookie.”
It’s okay to let kids eat as many cookies as they want sometimes.
5. Don’t use it as a reward
“We are going to have pie after dinner.”
Don’t say “You have to finish your dinner to get pie.” This places sugar on a pedestal.
6. Give less candy as gifts
Small eating utensils, toys, toiletries, art supplies, and basically anything else can be a great substitute for candy.
7.Keep to your eating schedule
“It’s not snack time right now.”
Try as much as you can to keep to your meal and snack schedule. Kids need this routine, even when mealtimes are different.
8. Don’t make a big deal out of it
If they eat a ton of sugar foods one day, no need to draw attention to it or talk about it. No need to say “we have to get back on track” or “we fell off the wagon” or “we need to go on a diet now.” Just resume normal eating.
9. Serve snacks with fat and protein in them
“Here’s your apple and cheese/peanut butter for a snack.”
Keeping kids fueled with fat and protein will help kids be less grumpy if they have had a lot of sweets.
10. Find products with less added sugar
“We have yogurt and honey today.”
Choosing products with less added sugar will help keep total sugar in check. There are amounts that become unhealthy for kids. So get plain yogurt and add a small drizzle of honey.
11. Enjoy sweets with your child
“Chocolate-covered cherries remind me of my grandma.”
Teach your kids how to fully enjoy having a treat. Savor it. Enjoy it. Talk about how delicious it is. This makes it more satisfying.
12. Avoid judgement
“Cookies are cookies.”
It’s a good time to refrain from calling sweets “bad,” “poison,” or “not good for you.” More nuanced information on this topic here.
13. Talk about your body kindly
Avoid discussing diets, losing weight, or how sugar is going to “wreck your diet” or “make you fat.”
14. Set limits with your relatives
“She doesn’t have to eat 5 bites of dinner.”
It’s okay to pull a grandma or relative aside kindly. You can tell them that you will not be using dessert as a bribe for eating dinner.
15. Don’t explain yourself
“It’s not on the menu. Here’s what we are having.”
You don’t need to explain WHY it’s not on the menu. It’s better to just keep to the main message.
16. Serve dessert less often at home during holiday times
Maybe you normally serve dessert a few times a week. Save those times for holiday events and parties that your kids will be going to.
17. Give your kids an option
“Would you like to have your chocolate candy with lunch or dinner?”
Giving kids a say can be helpful.
18. Focus on the experience
“Let’s make cookies together.”
Make cookies about the memories, the family, and the experience of being together.
19. During holiday times, serve all foods in a holiday spirit
“Let’s make banana snowmen!”
All foods can be fun during a holiday time, not just sweets.