Do your kids constantly beg you for snacks or ask you all day when they can have a treat? This reality has become so commonplace, that many parents believe it is unavoidable.
I used to be one of those parents. But, little by little, I have learned how to nearly eradicate this overwhelm and stress about sweets from my life as a parent.
Understanding proven tools and strategies was only the beginning.
What really helped me was putting them to practice over and over and over again. Day after day, week after week. At Halloween, at Christmas parties, birthday parties, play dates and Valentine’s Day.
Now, we’ve reached a new normal. And, families who follow the strategies I share below have, too. Their kids:
- Turn down s’mores because they’re full.
- Are more discerning at the dessert bar and only take what they really want.
- Fill their Yogurtland cup sky-high, but only eat a few bites.
My point is that it is truly possible to kick sweets off their pedestal so that kids will enjoy them. Love them. Savor them. But DON’T obsess over them.
But, the catch is that it only works if you give it the TIME and PATIENCE it requires.
Here are my top 3 strategies for neutralizing sweets in your home:
1. Serve dessert WITH the meal.
At some point, most kids become very focused on desserts (and how to get more of them!).
This usually happens when they learn that desserts are handled differently outside their own home.
Whether it is through the introduction of birthday treats at school, eating chocolate cake (instead of fruit) for dessert at a friend’s house, or even going for ice cream when grandma visits.
One surefire way to kick dessert off its pedestal is to neutralize it.
And, there is no better way to neutralize sweets than to serve it alongside the rest of the food on the table.
Do: Give your child a small dessert with their meal and tell them that they can eat it whenever they want to. But, no seconds on dessert.
Expect: At first, children will eat their dessert first. But, over time, they will often go back and forth between bites of their meal and dessert. And, sometimes they will save it until the end.
The Payoff: Kids will not overeat, just to get their dessert. Their dessert is now part of the meal, so when they’re done, they’re done.
2. Offer “treat” snacks.
It has been shown that all children can be trusted to learn to like the food their family serves and to eat however much they need to grow up with the bodies that are right for them.
This can only happen, though, when we parents fully trust our kids to do so, and when we give them permission to eat as much as they want from the food that we served.
At mealtime, however, we usually restrict desserts to one small portion because we believe that sugar provides an easy way out for children at mealtimes.
So, to counterbalance this restriction during meals, it is important that we give our children the opportunity to learn how to self-regulate their dessert-intake – when sweets are not competing with their regular meal.
Do: Once a week, during a regularly-scheduled snack time, put a big plate of cookies or candy at the center of the table. Make sure it’s enough so that you don’t “accidentally” run out.
Include milk, if you’d like. And, tell your children that they can eat as much as they want. Then bite your tongue and tell yourself it will all work out in the end (it will!).
Expect: At first, for weeks or more, children will eat A LOT. The more anxious you feel and the more you do not trust your kids to self-regulate, the more this will occur.
But, once you relax and trust that, even with sweets, your kids can be satisfied with just a few cookies, your kids will actually become satisfied with just a few.
But, YOU have to believe it first.
The Payoff: Overtime, your children will not be seduced by sweets and they will be satisfied with a moderate amount.
3. Treat parties like Vegas (what happens there, stays there!)
Parties are another opportunity to allow children to learn how to trust themselves with sweets.
Remember, it is our JOB as their parents to teach them how to trust themselves. When they are all grown up, we want them to approach birthday cake – or a dessert buffet – with ease and excitement.
Not feeling overstimulated and determined to eat 20 cupcakes.
Do: Tell your children before the party they they can eat and enjoy whatever they want to eat and however much they want to have of it. Do not try to restrict them in any way, shape or form. Let. Them. Loose.
Expect: At first, they will be ecstatic and will want to really experience this new-found freedom. They will also want to test your resolve (does Mom REALLY trust me?).
So, expect them to eat a lot of sweets. But, just like with treat snacks, the faster you get to the point of truly trusting them, the faster they will start listening to their natural internal cues of hunger and fullness.
But, it takes time, so we MUST be patient.
The Payoff: Your children will grow up excited about parties because of all the fun, friends and food. But, the food will be only part of their focus.