At Creative Nourish we're all about balanced nutrition and healthy eating habits for your babies and toddlers. And "healthy habits" does not mean never eating sugary snacks and sweets! A complete restriction of any kind of food inevitably leads to people (kids especially) wanting more of it.
But you don't want your kids eating sweets constantly either? So how do you encourage healthy habits that allow your child to effectively self regulate?
Forbidding Leads to Binging
A friend of mine has a 12-year-old and when he was a toddler, my friend was super strict about his nutrition – he wasn't even allowed anything to drink but plain water. When he went to his first birthday party, there was a table of juice boxes and he went around drinking from EACH AND EVERY one! That's how restricting any drink other than water affected him. When the opportunity arose, he binged.
And the same happens with sweets. Even for us adults. So how can we balance the fact that sweets are not restricted but on the other hand that they are not a part of an everyday diet?
A Healthy Relationship With Sweets
One crucial factor in building a healthy relationship with "unhealthy" food is by offering ourselves and our children the chance to choose.
This doesn't mean always listening to your emotional needs (cravings) at any particular moment, but if sometimes it does, then so what? That's completely normal.
It's better to avoid having your child binge behind your back, but rather having them be aware that sweets are not everyday food but something to be enjoyed once in a while.
If you restrict it or talk about it as "bad" food, it is much more likely to become an obsession later on. Labeling food as bad only builds intrigue after all.
Your child will go to birthday parties, school events, Halloween, etc where they will be offered candy. They need to be able to choose if they want to eat it or not without thinking that they have to make the most of this opportunity.
Don't Serve Sweets As A Treat
Telling your child that they can have a sweet dessert only if they eat the main meal puts the dessert on a pedestal. It leads to them seeing dessert as a treat, something with a higher value than their main meal, and something they can get only if they've been good.
It becomes the part of the meal that they fixate on, getting through the rest just to have what they really want afterward. This contributes to an unhealthy attitude towards it.
Serve Sweets As A Normal Part Of A Meal
Whether it is a cookie as a snack or ice cream for dessert you are the one who chooses when and how sweets will be served. And it should never be a big deal. Because it's not. Avoid placing too much importance on it yourself because then it makes it a big deal for your child.
Dessert can simply be a normal part of the meal. And then your kids will choose if they want to eat it. I am tempted to say "and let them choose how much" here but if you have an aversion to sweets and it is pretty hard for you to serve them and let your children eat them then for starters I would suggest that you serve the portion you feel comfortable with and put the rest away.
You Decide How Often To Serve Sweets
Where I come from, Sundays are traditionally dessert days. That means that most families are making at least one dessert for Sunday lunch. And sometimes leaving leftovers for the week.
I have seen people sticking to "I only eat dessert after Sunday lunch", and others enjoying the leftovers for the next few days... And I think it is good for everyone to choose what they are most comfortable with.
Personally, we normally don't have sweets at home and don't usually buy them. But, every once in a while someone comes and brings chocolates, grandmas bake cakes or we simply want to buy some kind of dessert. However, we tend to only buy the amount we need right now. This is something that we found works for us. Each family is unique and has their own idea of what's best for them.
Prepare Healthier Versions At Home
When you decide to prepare desserts and sweets at home, you can choose to prepare healthier options.
We know that white sugar is the one ingredient to really watch out for as it really doesn't have any nutritional value and is full of calories. Luckily it can easily be swapped for other sweeteners that might be a little better for the body. Things like maple, agave, honey, or even coconut sugar. Meanwhile, white flour can be substituted with oats or other flours (e.g. almond flour, wholegrain flour, etc) and fats with oils such as coconut or nut butters.
This way you are still serving desserts and sweet options but with a little more nutritional value and a good amount of micronutrients.
If I am baking for us at home, it's easy to make healthier versions so we aren't eating "empty" calories but also nourishing our bodies. But if I'm baking for guests or for gifts, I'll often use more "traditional" recipes. We have found that this way we have a balance between healthy and traditional. We don't feel "guilty" for eating white sugar and flour every once in a while but also don't feel like we have to refuse it.
If you were told that every choice you make is either good or bad for you, how would you feel? You may start to show aversions to certain things. Or second-guess a lot of your decisions, wondering if you've done the right thing based on what other people told you and not how you really felt.
This is much truer for your children.
They need to learn how they feel after eating sweets and they need to be able to decide for themselves that they want to limit them. Your children need to learn to listen to their bodies and enjoy the way they feel with a balanced diet.
But ultimately it's still your choice of what to serve and when, and it's up to you to demonstrate a healthy relationship with food for your children to copy.