In part 3 of the Dessert Dilemma series, I’m pleased to have this guest post from mom-of-two Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, who writes the great blog Raise Healthy Eaters. She explains how creating some structure–and keeping her cool–help her kids manage sweets:
by Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD
Most parents want to teach their kids how to eat sweets moderately. The million dollar questions is: How?
First, think about adults who eat sweets moderately. You know the type. They often turn down sweets simply because they’re not in the mood. And they also appear to have no guilt for enjoying such foods. In short: sweets are enjoyable part of their diet but not a big deal.
I believe the secret to teaching kids moderation is structure with eating and a neutral attitude.
Structure helps parents respond to children’s requests
In my family we eat meals and snacks at generally the same time — and do so at the table or take time to sit and eat when we are on the go. So when my 4 year old daughter asks for cookies or ice cream, her favorites, I have an organized way in which to respond.
Kid: “Can I have a cookie mama?”
Mom: “You know I don’t have that planned for this week’s meals, why don’t we have cookies for one of our snacks next week.”
Structure not only teaches her how to eat mindfully and manage her hunger — it allows me to respond to her many food requests. This is much more effective than saying “no,” as kids feel at ease when they know they will have their favorite treats again. I usually plan for them 2-3 times per week either as dessert or for a snack, considering there will be opportunities to eat sweets outside the home as well.
A neutral attitude makes sweets less of a big deal
When you match this structure with a neutral attitude, you have a winning combination. Research shows the attention we give such foods, especially using them as rewards or taking them away for punishment, makes them even more desirable to children.
Part of this neutral attitude is allowing kids to eat until they are satisfied (at the table and not grazing) and not making negative or positive comments. It may sound counterintuitive but a big part of learning moderation is knowing you can have more, if you want. This is makes them less of a “big deal.”
Marketers know this very well. When they create scarcity by saying, “Only 2 days left to get X product for a great price, ” it makes you want to act fast. But when you know something is going to be at a good price for a long time you’re in less of a hurry.
When we give kids regular access to sweets, don’t make a big deal about them and allow them to eat until satisfied, it increases the chance that they will grow up to be that person who annoys everyone — and says “no” because they really don’t want sweets.