A timeless question: How should you manage your toddler’s sugar cravings? It’s tempting to eliminate sugar entirely from your child’s diet, but today I’ll take you through a few steps on how to teach children to become a master of moderation.
Believe it or not, children naturally regulate the amount of energy they need from food intuitively.
Teach them about eating mindfully and they will enjoy a healthy relationship with food from the very start. You won’t even need to worry about your child sneaking candy.
A few top tips for mums by mums on how to give into toddler sugar cravings:
- Penny, an interior and kid’s photographer suggests picking a day in the week to enjoy sweets as a family (e.g. Fridays) and then letting children enjoy it. This helps children feel that they don’t need to worry about you withholding sweets.
- Louise, UK mum and dietitian advised that she offers sweets and puddings after meals. Offering a planned pudding as part of a meal allows children to become familiar with sweetened foods and helps them learn about reasonable portion sizes.
- Kate, Canadian dietitian and mum says don’t keep sweet foods at home. So sometimes fruit is the only sweet thing her kids will get to eat. Don’t forget, puddings don’t need to be elaborate either. Kate offers plain natural yoghurt with a touch of maple syrup.
- Holly, US dietitian and mum says to try not to make too big of a deal about it when they want something sweet, and why should you? Sweets can be part of a healthy balanced diet.
The effect of adverts
Children until the age of 2 or 3 will eat intuitively, but with the rise in child-targeted advertising on TV, the internet, and video and smartphone games, intuitive eating is a skill that can be lost if children don’t listen to their body’s natural hunger cues.
Children are now regularly exposed to treat foods with distorted portion sizes being broadcasted and presented in shops as the norm. As a result, can you blame children when they expect a ridiculously sized treat food frequently?
Even if you restrict screen time, foods such as candy, chocolates, sugared breakfast cereals and some brands of yoghurt are wrapped in cartoon characters and very cleverly positioned in supermarket aisles so that your children can easily see it and get to it.
Why the rant? The truth is, my nearly 3-year-old will eat vegetables, whole grains and just about anything I dish out to her with a bit of encouragement and praise.
Yet the power of deviously wrapped sweets is powerful for any child. You too may think that you have schooled positive and wholesome eating messages to your children, only to find that it somehow backfires when your child is presented with the option of having high sugar treats when they want it and in a quantity that is quite frankly, unreasonable as portion size.
If you are like me, maybe you prefer to avoid causing a scene and rather than battle with a screaming toddler who desperately wants the INSERT CARTOON CHARACTER themed chocolate wrapped sweet, you wish to avoid pandemonium, pick your battles and just let your child have the damn sweet.
So, how can you give in to toddler sugar cravings?
Before I answer this question, here’s a true story.
As I walked down the chocolate aisle, my toddler caught sight of a brightly wrapped chocolate on a stick with a picture of Peppa Pig and demanded that she wanted it.
I calmly explained to her that we were not going to take this item home today and that she needed to put the chocolate back on the shelf. I truly believed that the story would end here.
My ‘terrible two going on terrifying three’ daughter screamed back at me, sulked and refused to return the chocolate.
Do I have a problem instilling authority, I wondered? Am I risking becoming a weak parent if I don’t insist that she puts the chocolate back right this very second?
I knew it was getting close to dinner time and that she was running low on energy reserves after the big walk up to the supermarket. But there was no reasoning with the little girl who had her heart set on this item.
I eventually agreed to purchase the chocolate but asked her to keep it in her pocket to eat after dinner. I also purchased fruit to eat on the walk back home. So, we compromised. Drama solved. She ate her dinner plus the chocolate and we happily moved on.
How you can give into toddler sugar cravings at home
If your child is aware that there are treats tucked away in cupboards and demands sweet treats regularly, how do you deal with that?
I find conflictual episodes with my daughter draining. So, I prefer to have the fruit bowl topped up with her favourite fruit and bake it with a calculated amount of sugar that I choose to add to recipes.
This helps you remain in control when the cookie monster next plans to attack and avoid unnecessary post-sugar meltdowns.
You may also find that planning high sugar sweets or food into your child’s meal plan helps your child build positive relationships with food. As a parent, you choose when to offer the sweets and the quantity that is age appropriate.
If you are wondering when to introduce sweets to your toddler, most have exposure from around the age of two.
Celebrating birthdays is important and licks of ice cream on a hot day in the park are okay, but try to plan for this and don’t forget to pack fruit.
Remember that children under the age of one should not be offered foods prepared with added sugar.
Let them know that all foods are delicious
If you let them know that yes, everything is delicious but model that some foods are not eaten daily, children then gradually get accustomed to this and simply embrace this habit at home.
Obviously, my daughter still asks me “why is it too much, why mummy?” when I try to tame the greedy monster, so repeating my messages on suitable child-friendly portion sizes or offering alternative snacks if I suspect that she is hungry, always helps.
It is important to let your child enjoy treat foods but I worry that children often don’t understand limits until you set for them.
You don’t need to avoid high sugar foods, but you should teach children about ‘normal’ and age-appropriate portion sizes.
The recent National Diet and Nutrition Survey revealed that toddlers are eating more than twice the recommended allowance for sugar whilst 4-10-year olds are indulging in up to three times the cut-off.
So, no you are not being mean when you only give your toddler two squares of chocolate. You are just being normal.
As you can see it’s not about eradicating sugar from your toddler’s diet but if children are still hungry, remember to promptly offer them their scheduled snack or meal to avoid pigouts and demands for sweets and chocolates.
Here are five more top tips on how you can give in toddler sugar cravings
- Keep the fruit bowl well stocked and within easy reach so that children can help themselves when hungry.
- Mix up the presentation and type of fruit offered. For example, cut up tropical fruits one Sunday afternoon and prepare a dressing with lemon or mint to create a colourful and refreshing fruit salad that you can dish out over the next 1-2 days.
- Dark chocolate. Keep a bar of dark chocolate in the house which is lower in sugar. Sometimes it’s great to just say yes to sugar cravings. You can hand out a couple of squares of dark chocolate when children specifically ask for a chocolate fix.
- No added or reduced sugar home baking. Bake with children and use wholesome ingredients for flavour so that they start to appreciate what goes into the meals and snacks that they eat. If your child follows a milk-free diet, then dark chocolate with banana or other fruit makes a great combo as per this banana choc no added sugar muffin recipe on my blog.
- Fruit bread or bread rolls are fantastic as an afternoon snack. Satisfying when a sugar craving hits but also repletes low energy reserves the nourishing way. Here’s an easy fruit bread recipe to follow at home.
One big thing parents can get wrong when giving into toddler sugar cravings.
Here’s where parents can go wrong.
- Large portion sizes. Children have no limits and from birth have a natural preference for sweet flavours. If your child wants sweets or a high sugar treat you can give in, but do choose and portion the amount that is reasonable for your child.
- Remember two squares of chocolate or a couple of sweets from the bag can be plenty but if children ask for more, ask yourself, can they be equally satisfied with a bit of fruit? If you are celebrating then use wholesome ingredients and bake treat foods with the kids if you can. You might enjoy this delicious avocado and dark chocolate cake.
Remember, as a parent, you can say no and you should consistently remind children that all foods are equally delicious. Whole grains, fruit and vegetables are eaten daily, whilst pizzas might feature once a week as do high sugary foods.
That’s just the norm kids.
If you would like to watch me speak about this topic here’s my Facebook Live.
If you would like to chat with me a little more about your child’s diet, you can book to see me at one of my London private clinics.