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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Shapiro

Children and Sweets: How to Strike the Right Balance

Many families have expressed frustration to me about the abundance of sweets around, especially in the summer months. How can you get your child to eat balanced meals and snacks when the ice cream truck shows up at the pool right before dinner or when camp hands out fruit snacks and chips every afternoon? Of course, the more we fixate on or restrict our child’s access to sweets, the more they will obsess over them. So how do we find that perfect balance??

I encourage the families I work with to approach all food as neutral. For example, both oatmeal and cookies are grain foods. We know that oatmeal has added benefits from the increased fiber. But ultimately, they both offer energy to fuel our bodies. Rather than focusing on “good” or “bad” grain foods, I prefer to emphasize variety. Sometimes we eat whole grain cereal for breakfast, and other times we eat donuts. Food should be viewed as more than just a way to get important nutrients into our bodies to keep us healthy. We want to teach our children that food should be enjoyed. Therefore, variety in our food choices is key to getting lots of different flavors and nutrients in our diet.

If we can wrap our heads around the idea that sweets can be included as part of our child’s regular diet, we can start to understand how best to incorporate them. As we know, we don’t want to put sweets on a pedestal or treat them as a reward for eating less desirable food. The idea that your child must eat their broccoli to get the ice cream is long outdated and prevents us from neutralizing all foods.

Here are some ways to offer sweets in a more strategic way:

1. Offer 1 portion of dessert alongside the rest of the dinner meal. Even if they go for the scoop of ice cream first, they will likely still have room to enjoy some salmon without holding out or fixating on whether dessert will come after.

2. Serve sweets at snack time together with a protein/fat food. For example, you can serve a cookie along with a handful of nuts to help your child feel more satisfied.

3. Provide a protein-filled snack before social gatherings like a birthday party to help manage your child’s hunger level when the cupcakes are brought out. When children are “hangry,” they are more likely to over-indulge on sweets.

4. Allow some opportunities for your child to eat sweets without limitations on portions. This teaches children to listen to their own hunger and fullness cues without any external pressures.

If you are still struggling to find the right balance in your household, feel free to reach out to me for more support!

Happy eating!

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