Saturday, April 2, 2011

Kids and Sweets

Photo credit: Petr Kratochvil
Many children (mine including) are sweet-toothed. While parents feel uncomfortable watching them gulp one chocolate cake after another, hard restrictions are also not the solution. So how do you help your child establish healthy habits?
  • Offer tasty healthy food on a regular basis. Children generally need to see a certain food/dish many times before accepting and getting into the habit of eating it. Involving them in the preparation process makes them more interested in trying out the ready meal. Some younger children enjoy creatively shaped food: for example, a mountain of rice surrounded by a valley of broccoli, a baked potato turned into a boat, etc. 
  • Cook from scratch as much as you can. Ready meals often contain higher quantities of salt, hidden sugar, and preserving agents.
  • Practice what you preach. You have higher chances of raising your child as a healthy eater, if you are (or become) one yourself.
  • Praise them. If you are happy that they have eaten their greens, say it. You might even want to introduce a star chart and celebrate their increasing success.
  • Allow sweets only as dessert. Having eaten its main meal, the child is likely to have less of the sweets. What is more, the body deals with the sugar easier when slow carbohydrates are already in the stomach.
  • Make a deal in advance. I often find it helpful to let my 3-year-old know how much sweets she could have before giving them to her. Over the time we developed a three-sweets-at-a-time principle, which seems to work well for her. We keep the sweets in a box on the top of a cupboard, and she is allowed to chose any three of them. Chocolate is typically braked into pieces, so one piece is one sweet. Sometimes she would go for three pieces of chocolate, or three jelly bears, but more often she would mix and match. Once she has made her choice, the box goes back to its place. On Saturdays and at parties she has the jester's license to have as many sweets as she wants. However, we stick to the rule of having them as dessert only, so she still eats them in rather reasonable quantities.
  • Go for as healthier options as possible when buying sweets. The truth is that even chocolate from a health food store is not a healthy food. Nevertheless, the biscuits and sweets you will find there are more likely to be made with wholewheat flour and raw cane sugar rather than the processed white ones. In addition to that, they are usually devoid of preserving agents, artificial sweeteners and colourants.
  • Offer sweets only upon request. Mealtimes are not supposed to always end with a dessert. I never mention it myself, but typically let my daughter have her three sweets when she wants them.
  • Point out how yummy and sweet some natural products are. Bananas (and many other types of fruit), dry fruit and honey also satisfy the hunger for "something sweet".
  • Whenever it feels appropriate, talk to your children about the benefits and principles of healthy eating. While parents of young children can put the sweets out of reach, older kids go on a search for them - and mostly find them. We can only hope that our children will have the understanding of what is healthy for them when they are older and more independent. Talking about it doesn't need to be a boring lecture. The best way is to take the opportunities when they come. A few days ago my daughter saw me looking at a picture with recommended foods. She asked about it, and I explained that the foods in the green part of the circle were really good for our bodies, while the ones in the red part were OK, but it was better to have less of them. We spent the rest of the day checking the foods we were eating with the graphic.
Any other ideas? Please, share them as a comment to this post. 

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