After the treat-filled sugar rush of holidays and birthdays, it can be hard to get back on track with eating healthy as a family. (What can I say, I love cake—and my kids do, too.) It’s totally okay to hold your boundary for sugar in your kid’s diet, no matter what that boundary is. And you can do it without being the bad guy.
Putting a positive spin on “the sugar issue” (letting kids know that they can have treats sometimes, but not all. the. time.) will help prevent sugar becoming an ongoing power struggle, which nobody wants.
Here are a few phrases that can help your kids eat less sugar, without creating a power struggle over treats:
1. “Holiday and birthday treats are so fun, but they’re not for every day.”
Acknowledge that all of the extra treats were fun (they were!). You can talk about how some foods are for special occasions and others are the ones we eat every day to have strong bodies and feel good.
2. “I feel so much better when I eat lots of fruits and vegetables.”
Instead of putting the emphasis on why sugar is bad, try focusing on all the good reasons to eat healthy foods. You can talk about how eating carrots gives us strong eyes, eating oranges keeps us from getting sniffles, or eating kale helps us feel good and have lots of energy for playing.
3. “Which fruit would you like to have with your lunch?”
Keep it fun by letting your child choose which healthy foods to eat. Two or three choices are fine. You can let them help pick at the grocery store or let them pick from the options you’ve selected—the important thing is to offer choice.
4. “Let’s see if we can make a rainbow on your plate!”
Who doesn’t love rainbows, especially among the under-six crowd? Use their universal appeal to your advantage and encourage kiddos to make their own edible rainbows.
Make it extra fun by writing a checklist with colored pencils, one checkbox for every rainbow color, and bringing it with you to the grocery store. Let your child choose one item from the produce section for every color.
5. “You can choose one treat with dinner, but candy isn’t a choice for snack today.”
Make sure kids know that they will still be able to enjoy treats sometimes. Instead of saying “candy makes you crazy,” or “sugar rots your teeth,” just let them know when you’re okay with them having a treat. It may be every night after dinner, only on Friday nights, or it may not be until Valentine’s Day, but having a clear boundary will help reduce the constant pleas for sweet treats.
6. “I think treats feel more special when we don’t have them every day.”
Talk to your child about how part of the fun of holiday treats is that they’re out of the ordinary. They are special traditions we get to enjoy each year and they help make the holidays feel magical. Just as it wouldn’t be as fun if we had a Christmas tree up all year or wore a Halloween costume every day, treats aren’t as fun if we eat them nonstop.
7. “I hear that you really want candy. I can’t let you have it right now, but it’s okay to be disappointed.”
Let your child know that you empathize with their feelings about not being able to eat what they want all of the time.
Sometimes children just need to be heard. It might be more important to them to know that you understand their feelings about treats than to actually get a treat.
8. “Let’s think of a healthy treat we could get at the grocery store next week.”
Brainstorm with your child and come up with a list of healthy treats you could bring home from your next grocery shopping trip. This might be a kind of fruit they haven’t had in a while, a granola bar you don’t usually buy, or the makings of a fun trail mix.
Part of the fun of treats is the ritual—you can still enjoy the sweetness without the extra sugar.
9. “Would you like to bake with me?”
Carry those fond memories of making Christmas cookies together into the new year to help wean kids off the holiday high of constant treats. Just find something you’re okay with your child eating regularly, like a healthy muffin recipe, baked oatmeal, or energy bites—whatever meets your own nutritional guidelines for your family!
10. “I noticed you didn’t sleep well when you ate those treats before nap time. Let’s think of a better time for treats together.”
You can explain the effects of sugar on the body without vilifying it. Sometimes just saying sugar is bad makes it all the more desirable or pits you against your child. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give them the facts. Just tell them plainly that sugar makes it harder for them to sleep well, makes it harder for them to concentrate, or whatever other effects you’ve seen.
Here’s to a healthy 2020—you’ve got this, mama!