Tame your child’s sweet tooth

You won’t win the battle against your child’s natural tendency to love sweets. Breastmilk is naturally sweet, and sweet foods such as fruit and honey were a concentrated form of energy for our ancestors, and something to be valued in times of food scarcity.

Of course most of us don’t live in times of food scarcity. How do you deal with sweet foods when they surround us, and teach your child moderation?

Here are five strategies that can help:

1  Beware of becoming a sugar-free household.

We’re told sugar is public enemy number one, so it’s tempting to ban sweet food from home entirely.

Willy Wonka from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory became so obsessed with chocolate largely because his parents wouldn’t let him near the stuff. And this isn’t just fiction. When kids feel restricted, this creates what feeding expert Ellyn Satter calls ‘scarcity’. In response, children will obsess and eat more whenever they can – birthday parties, Halloween, Christmas, and perhaps visits to grandparents and sleepovers.

2  But don’t allow unlimited access.

This doesn’t mean you allow unlimited access to sweets. Too many sweet and ‘discretionary’ foods erode appetite and displace healthier foods, and affect food preferences later in life.

You can keep them in the house out of sight, and have other naturally sweet and healthy food such as fresh fruit readily available.

I know that kids are remarkably clever at finding the cookies and lollies at the back of the cupboard. If this is the case, either only buy them occasionally, bake your own limited quantities, or become particularly creative with hiding spots.

3  Bake you own.

There are plenty of easy recipes for muffin, cakes and biscuits. Usually I find halving the quantity of sugar gives a very acceptable result, and this will help your child develop a desire for less sweet food without feeling deprived. Baking and freezing half for later means that you only have limited quantities on offer at a time.

4  Don’t reward with sweets and dessert.

When you reward eating veggies with dessert the message you’re giving your children is that ‘broccoli is so bad we need to reward eating it with ice cream, the best part of the meal’. And when sweets are used as a reward for other achievements, such as doing well at school, you’ll risk children associating sweets with rewarding themselves. This doesn’t mean you can’t offer a sweet treat after school, but combine it with other foods such as fruit, cheese, or soup.

5 Teach the 90/10 rule.

Sugar is not bad, it’s just that we’re eating and drinking too much of it. US paediatric dietitian Jill Castle recommends the 90/10 rule. Remind your children that 90% of what they eat is ‘good for you’ food, and 10% can be Fun Foods such as sweets, chips, cookies and cake.