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The endless battle: how do you regulate kids and sweets?

kid with lollipopWhen blogger Melissa Langsam Braunstein was a child in an Upper West Side playgroup, one child earned an unfortunate nickname: Rice Cake. Whenever a hosting mom offered cookies around, the poor kid’s mother gave him a rice cake. Braunstein writes:

“I too pitied Rice Cake. His mother always sounded like a health food extremist. After all, why can’t a kid have a cookie? As someone with a strong sweet tooth, I always found that harsh. And yet, my perspective has completely changed since becoming a mother.”

Now that her own daughter is old enough to have her own preferences for food, she zooms right towards cookies and cake, lollipops and candy bars. The issue isn’t so much worry about weight gain: rather, Braunstein’s daughter has intense sugar highs and crashes, resulting in a very unhappy child when there’s sugar on hand.

However, I don’t think Rice Cake’s mom was handling things quite the way I would suggest, either: when I was a kid, junk food was a rare treat, and that led to me obsessing about what little candy and sugar I was allowed to an unhealthy degree (don’t get me started on Halloween candy!). And using junk food as a reward or punishment leads to kids overvaluing it, which sets them up for issues regulating their own eating later on in life.

So… what junk food approach will ensure that your kids eat enough good foods now, and have good eating habits as adults? It’s hard to say, because of course, every kid and every family is different. Certainly, I agree with this common-sense approach from WhatToExpect.com:

“Don’t ban sweets. This can backfire big time. As any frequent dieter knows — you always want what you can’t have, and usually you want it more than ever before! The same goes for toddlers. Forbid sugar completely, and you may create a sweets-starved demon who binges on candy whenever she gets the chance. So don’t deprive her completely. Let her have some high-octane sweets on special occasions.”

I also agree with them that soda and sports drinks should only be reserved for special occasions, and that fruit smoothies, frozen-fruit juice pops, and yogurt are all a good way to indulge their sweet tooth.

There are those who maintain that letting kids make their own eating choices will result in kids who can actually turn down sugar when offered. Deb Lewis writes:

“I don’t believe sugar is addictive. I believe some people naturally like sweets more than others and I believe our attitude about sugar, about any food, creates more problems than the food itself. I think one of the best things we can do to ensure a healthy attitude about foods for our kids is to not screw up their psychology with fear and guilt and dire warnings.”

The question remains, though: how to keep your child’s consumption of sugar reasonable WITHOUT creating the association with happy occasions, rewards, and good behavior? After all, even if you tailor the approach in your own home, kids will still encounter this attitude in school, at birthday parties, and among their peers. I, for one, am stumped. How do you handle this issue? Let us know in the comments!

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