Chocolate, cookies and cake, oh my! It’s important to remember that treats and desserts play an important part in your child’s life when it comes to a positive relationship with food.
My kids take after their mom – they love chocolate! For years, I’ve have a square or two of dark chocolate after lunch and supper. For me, chocolate is the perfect end to a meal–things don’t seem quite right without it. And over the years, I’ve learned how to enjoy it mindfully.
With Easter right around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to manage the chocolate and treats this year with my thee kids, and realized that how I deal with these foods year-round is really what matters most–not just around the holidays. Making sure that my kids know that treats aren’t forbidden, and that they are able to enjoy them in moderation regularly, is actually the most important step.
Here are 5 Steps to raising kids who eat sweets mindfully and in moderation:
1) Serve treats regularly:
If your kids are exposed to sweets and goodies consistently (in moderation), they will be calm around them, and less likely to binge on occasions where treats are plentiful (like at Easter or a birthday parties). Kids will still love them, and at times, over-indulge (like we all do), but they won’t feel an urgency to “get them in NOW”, because they know that there will be more opportunities to eat them soon enough.
2) Don’t put them on a pedestal:
When you stay calm and matter-of-fact when serving and talking about treat foods, it puts them on a level playing field with other foods, and takes the excitement down a notch. Treats shouldn’t be used as a reward or bribe, and they should be served randomly and with no strings attached. This will decrease the chances that your child will be sneaky with treats, hide them or eat them when you’re not watching. I let my kids have one or two treats a day (although I don’t call them treats, I call them what they are (eg. chocolate), and prefer to serve a small portion with a meal, or let them choose something that they love after a meal (whether they ate well not). Have you tried serving dessert WITH a meal yet? Here’s why I would recommend it!
3) Decide on an amount that feels right:
When it comes to treats, there’s no hard and fast rule about how often or how much — this is family-dependant. We serve desserts at various times; sometimes with or after a meal, and sometimes as a snack. We don’t give much warning, so that there’s no “saving up” or rushing through the meal to get to it quicker. What I personally suggest is making sure that nutrient-dense, whole foods fill precious tummy space first and foremost, and to serve treat portions that feel right to you. Ellyn Satter, childhood feeding expert and the mastermind behind the “Division of Responsibility in Feeding”, suggests serving treats once a week with no limitations on how much kids eat. For example, setting out a plateful of cookies as a snack (along with some fruit and milk, let’s say), and letting kids eat until they’re satisfied, as long as they stay at the table without any distractions, like screens or toys. This strategy will help them learn about self-regulation when it comes to dessert foods. Note: I suggest waiting until your child is over 24 months before serving treats with added sugar.
4) Stay cool and calm:
If you find that your child is being sneaky about foods, don’t react in a negative way. Remain calm and curious, asking (without judgement) why they felt like they needed to sneak around, and reassure them that they don’t have to be sneaky about it, and that there will always be opportunities to enjoy them. This is when you might want to re-evaluate how often treats happen, and maybe allow for a little bit more.
5) Enjoy them mindfully yourself:
When your kids see that you also enjoy birthday cake and homemade cookies now and then (without sneaking around, over-indulging or making a big deal out of it), they too will see this as normal and model after you. I encourage everyone to be “picky” when it comes to desserts and sweets–choose to indulge in treats that you absolutely love and leave the ones that are just “ok”. Make sure that you’re filling up on nutritious, whole foods most of the time, and treats are just a small part of your already satisfying and nutrient-dense diet.