If you’re a parent and you read my blog, then you may worried about all the lollies and chocolates your child is going to be given over the silly season. Halloween, birthdays, end of year parties and Christmas all come with sugar filled gifts, lolly bags and desserts. With your child’s best interest in mind, you may be tempted to ration their lollies, avoid the parties all together, trade their haul for toys, eat them all yourself or bargain and negotiate with them to reduce their consumption.
I get it, we all want our kids to eat well, and grow up to be healthy. Most Australians are eating too much added sugar so of course we want to help them consume less. But research also shows that interfering too much by confiscating or prohibiting lollies and chocolates can backfire big time. So I have put together my top tips to reduce the stress associated with giving kids lollies and chocolates at Halloween, birthday parties and throughout the silly season.
How to handle kids and lollies
1. Don’t make a big deal of lollies and chocolates.
It can be hard to see yourself doing this, but try to avoid calling them “bad”, “naughty”, “junk” or saying they make you sick/stunt your growth/etc. Just call them by their name. That’s a lolly, some skittles, a chocolate. If we can downplay their power by removing the emotive language, then your child will learn that they are just another food. When you attach moral language and feelings to food, it’s more likely that your kid will feel a sense of shame or guilt when they eat the stuff. This can lead to stealing foods, secret eating & bingeing.
2. Banning the forbidden fruits will almost always, backfire.
If not now, it will when they’re teenagers. Habituation tell us the more we are exposed to a food, the less we crave and think about. If we’re restricted, it never loses its novelty and we feel deprived. So we keep craving it, we see it EVERYWHERE and then we do give ourselves permission, we go overboard. By lifting these bans and allowing sometimes foods, sometimes, we can ease the power of the desire.
3. Make healthy eating a priority most of the time.
Offer vegetables with most meals and snacks, eat as a family, involve your child in cooking and make healthy lunchboxes a priority. When children (and adults) eat well most of the time, there is room to enjoy and share sometimes foods, without any negative health consequences. Refer to this tip when you are struggling to relax at the sight of your child standing in front of a lolly buffet! Talk to your child about listening to their tummy voice and respect it when they tell you they’re full. We want children to be in tune with their bodies, no matter what kind of foods they are eating.
4. Kids decide what and when they eat.
The division of responsibility model of feeding kids shows us that parents get to decide the when, what and where a child eats and they chose if they eat something and how much. Perhaps your child comes home from school and asks for Halloween lollies, so you have some apple slices, cheese and wholegrain crackers ready to go WITH a fun-size Halloween chocolate. This way they learn to manage portion control and intuitive eating (you need to learn this by experience, not being told). Sure, they’ll probably eat the chocolate first but they’ll soon learn that it isn’t enough to fill them up or be as satisfying as a balanced snack or meal. Trust that your kids know how to feed themselves without coercion or bribery.
Remember this is a work in progress. They need to learn to listen to their needs and they can’t do that with external pressures. This helps them connect the dots in understanding their “tummy voice” and satiety. If they eat too many lollies and then get a stomach-ache, have a conversation about how eating too much of anything will give you a stomach-ache.
5. You are the role model, not the food gatekeeper.
Remember that you are a role model, so demonstrate what you want them to do. Show how you have small amounts of sometimes foods (and not that you’re on a diet), how you stop when you’ve had enough (instead of hiding in the pantry to finish the tim tams…). Actions speak louder than words, and if your child sees you enjoying a wide variety of different foods and letting your tummy voice decide when and what you eat then they’re going to learn to do that too (if not at this age, certainly as they get older). This may mean that you need to look inwards and consider what YOUR relationship with food looks like. If you struggle to moderate your intake of sometimes foods, or if you go through periods of dieting or restricting and then overeating – you (and your child) will benefit from some work on this. When we lift food restriction and allow ourselves to enjoy food (without guilt or shame) we give ourselves the opportunity to be satisfied with suitable portions. Feeling shame from eating leads to overeating because we never feel satisfied. If we can be present and mindful and ENJOY the moment of eating we can hear our body pleasantly telling us when we’ve had enough.
6. Offer choices with limits
Restricting sometimes foods (like hiding the Halloween stash) leads to eating in the absence of hunger and overeating. Even ‘covert’ restriction is problematic because your child will know what other kids are eating and could end up feeling deprived which can result in stealing and sneaking foods. Now that obviously doesn’t mean that you should let your child eat lollies all day long as they please. You can help them to understand that they need to have a balance of different foods without demonising treats. Offer choices within limits, for example, “we’ve already had some lollies today and we can have more tomorrow but how about some grapes or peanut butter and apple?”.
Of course if the treat giving is getting out of hand from all the extended family and relatives, encourage or provide gifts that encourage active play as well as the sugary treats. And remember, if we feed kids well most of the time, then there is room to share and enjoy sometimes foods. It really is that simple, so get out there and enjoy some sugary treats lollies with your child. Talk to them about listening to their tummy voice and tune in to yours too.
Sarah Moore is a mum, and university qualified Registered Nutritionist with a decade of experience working with families to improve their health and well-being. Sarah has a simplistic and practical approach to family nutrition and can help the overwhelm of eating and living well with private consultations, email Q&A and her school lunchbox ebook. You can also find her on Facebook and Instagram for more healthy tips and tricks.