Ask The Expert is a weekly column on Littlestomaks.com. The idea is to have a reader-submitted question answered by a nutrition expert or a pediatrician. Feel free to submit your question in the comments section below.
This week, Registered Dietitian Dina Lindquist offers a few suggestions on how you can tame your child’s sweet tooth.
|Dina Lindquist, RD
Question: How can I tame my child’s sweet tooth?
Being a role model to your child is one of the most important things you can do. Children learn by watching their parents and other family members. Spend time with your kids and set a good example by eating a variety of foods with them. If children have a well rounded, nutrient dense diet, then offering them a few sweet treats is fine. The most important thing to remember is portion control. Keep the sweet treats small.
I’ve found that labeling food choices as “good” or “bad” can put an inappropriate significance on food. Instead, help your child see how any food can fit into a healthy eating plan. Some parents have admitted to me that once they label a food as “forbidden” or “bad,” their children start focusing on the particular food and ask for it. Children are curious! Also, I’ve talked to some parents who have never offered sweets to their children. That can be easy until your child enters daycare, goes to a friend’s house or even to grandma’s house. Once they try that “forbidden” treat, they may want it more than anything. If children are already aware of sweet treats and are used to eating in moderation, it won’t have as much of an impact. I’ve found that this topic can be controversial at times, so I always leave the final decision to parents.
Now for some tips on how you can tame your child’s sweet tooth:
- Offer sweet treats as a dessert after a meal rather than as a snack. Snacks are an important part of a child’s diet and should be full of nutrients. Healthy snacks like celery with peanut butter, low fat yogurt with fruit, popcorn, dried fruit, hummus with veggies and whole wheat crackers with low fat cheese will keep your child focused and full of energy.
- Limit the amount of sugary treats you buy so that you won’t have too many options available. Instead, buy fresh fruit and leave a bowl on the table. Put a few small boxes of raisins or dried fruit there as well. If children have easy access to it, they will eventually grab a banana or apple to tame their sweet tooth. Also, introduce your children to exotic fruits like mangoes, kiwi and clementines. They are sweet and satisfying! Make sure your children brush their teeth regularly! Even healthy treats like raisins can cause cavities.
- If your child likes to drink sugary beverages such as soda, replace some of it with a healthier alternative like low fat milk, soy milk, water with lemon and sparkling water with a little 100% fruit juice. Just make sure to start with small, easy to achieve changes.
- If your child likes breakfast cereal that is high in sugar, try slowly replacing it with a whole grain cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber and no more than 25% of calories from sugar. Mix a little of the new, healthier cereal into the sugary cereal. After a while, they should get used to the new cereal.
- Many parents have told me that their children are more likely to eat foods they help prepare. Even toddlers can help out with food preparation! Have them wash fruit and veggies or put together small cracker sandwiches. They will feel accomplished and enjoy their healthy snacks even more. It’s like an adventure for them. Some may even forget about that bag of M&M’s in the cupboard.
- Reward your children with affection and attention, not food. Some studies show that using food as a reward or punishment may result in unhealthy food attitudes. Next time your child cries, offer them their favorite board game or read them a chapter from their favorite book.
Remember that all foods can be part of your child’s healthy eating plan, even sweet treats!
Here is an interesting article that discusses children and why they may love sweet-tasting foods:
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Disclaimer – Information provided in Ask The Expert column on Littlestomaks.com is intended to give you general guidance on a question related to toddler nutrition. It is not meant to be treated as medical advice. You are welcome to contact this expert for a detailed consultation on your specific situation to determine what actions, if any, you should take regarding nutrition and health of your toddlers. We do not recommend you to take any action based solely on the information presented in this column. Experts have agreed to provide their professional opinion on toddler nutrition related questions on a voluntary basis and no compensation is offered to them by Littlestomaks.com.