We all want to raise kids who have a healthy relationship with food. In her new book, How to Raise a Mindful Eater: 8 Powerful Principles for Transforming Your Child’s Relationship with Food, my friend and fellow dietitian Maryann Jacobsen shows you how to raise “mindful eaters”–who eat when they’re hungry, stop when they’re full, and enjoy all kinds of foods in moderation. One of those eight principles is “Goodie Management”. Since I know many of you grapple with how to manage sweets and treats with your kids, I asked Maryann if I could share this excerpt from the book. I hope you like her smart and sane approach as much as I do!
By Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD
Providing a regular and consistent offering of goodies is what I call a flexible goodies policy (FGP). When the right offerings occur, children are calm around sweets. They still love them and may eat quite a bit at times, but they understand their role in the diet and that they will get them again. There’s no need to sneak, hide, or feel guilty for eating something so enjoyable.
There are two aspects to your goodies policy to consider: How often and how much. Unfortunately, research can’t tell us the best course of action for every family. How often will depend on your preferences as a family. International feeding expert Ellyn Satter recommends serving a small portion of dessert with dinner to level the playing field with other foods. The key is not to allow seconds and give children the freedom to eat the food in any order they want. Jill Castle, pediatric nutrition expert, recommends a 90:10 rule for older kids. “For most healthy kids, a good rule of thumb is to eat no more than one-to-two Fun Foods each day,” she said. “Kids can understand this concept — and the best part – allowing kids to choose which Fun Food they will eat.”
Mom Marci said she made tweaks along the way to her FGP based on what was and wasn’t working. For example, she tried to keep it to one treat a day but then she found her daughter would lie about having sweets outside the home, like a lollipop, so she let it go. She even stopped asking what her children ate outside the home. “The less I mention the sweets, the better they regulate,” she said.
After a blog post on the subject, one of my readers decided to end the dinnertime negotiations with her children (ages six and eight) by asking for their input. “What we came up with is that they can have dessert two nights a week whether or not they eat much dinner or how many veggies they eat.” When I checked in with her a year later, she said the treat solution was still working, with an extra weeknight dessert added for special occasions. “The treat night solution has cut out a great deal of dinner frustration for me since it eliminates the question did I eat enough to get a treat?” she said. Her kids do question it every once in a while but she is quick to point out how many outside treats they get throughout the week at school, church, and other places.
The how much is a little trickier. I personally believe it’s important to have times kids are allowed to eat goodies until they are satisfied as long as they pay attention and stay at the table. In addition to dessert with dinner, Satter recommends offering goodies once a week allowing kids to eat as much as they want. This freedom around sweets may be especially important for the child who is acting out due to previous restriction. “We have noticed big changes even in just one month,” said Andrea, explaining how her preschooler’s interest in candy decreased after about ten days without restriction. “The control over her food (specifically sugar) had become quite a stress in our lives and changing our ways was also a challenge.”
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In our family, we have a flexible once-a-day policy. We typically enjoy sweets like dark chocolate, baked goods, and ice cream daily, although on weekends it can be more and other days none. At parties and snack time, kids are free to eat as much as they want as long as they stay at the table. When dessert is after dinner, sometimes the amount is limited if it’s close to bedtime. Now that my kids are getting older (seven and ten), more often than not, they stop on their own. Some families may opt to offer sweets less often, and this can work out fine, too.
Your flexible goodies policy will be personal and something you feel is right for your family. Just be willing to change it if you sense it’s not working or if your child is fixating on food.
Signs it’s working: Children asking or whining for sweets at times is normal. Overall, you feel your child is satisfied with how often they get goodies and they don’t overly fixate on them. They may eat a lot of something they haven’t had in a while, but when they are done they stop thinking about it.
Signs it’s not working: A child that is constantly asking for sweets and never seems satisfied after eating them. He may even start sneaking or you see that he consistently goes crazy with sweets outside of the home. When this happens, it’s time to change things.
Find out how to troubleshoot the Flexible Goodies Policy, as well as learn the other principles of raising a mindful eater in Maryann’s book, How to Raise a Mindful Eater: 8 Powerful Principles for Transforming Your Child’s Relationship with Food.
Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, is an independent author, family nutrition expert, and author of the newly released book How to Raise a Mindful Eater: 8 Powerful Principles for Transforming Your Child’s Relationship with Food. She is also the author of What To Cook For Dinner With Kids and From Picky To Powerful. You can find out more about her books, blog, and podcast at MaryannJacobsen.com.
Disclosures: I received a free copy of Maryann’s book. This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through this link, your cost will be the same but I will receive a small commission to help with operating costs of this blog. Thanks for your support!