Dealing with a Sweet Tooth
Approved by the BabyCentre Medical Advisory Board
It can be hard to set limits if your child pleads for sweets whenever she gets the chance. After all, you don't want to make the sugary stuff the forbidden food she will always want. But it's important to do this when she's young so she doesn't get into bad habits that will be harder to break later.
How much is too much?
Let your child have one sweet treat a day – preferably as part of her dessert. Here are some examples of reasonable portion sizes for a young child: a small fun-sized chocolate bar, two sweet biscuits, or a small portion ice cream. Offer these along with some fruit slices. If she whines for more, be firm and be consistent. Say she can have more tomorrow.
How should I handle dessert?
Always offer a nutritious dessert that contains fruit and one or more of the following ingredients: eggs, milk, yoghurt, flour. The best approach is not to make it dependent upon what your child eats or use it as a reward or punishment. That only elevates dessert to a higher level, making it more important than a meal in her eyes. Rather, let it be a normal part of your child's day, and treat it matter-of-factly by always offering a dessert after the savoury course at her two main meals.
How much dessert you offer might depend on how your child ate her main meal. If she eats only two bites of chicken and pushes aside the peas, then offer a small portion of dessert and do not offer a second helping. If she eats everything on her plate, then it's OK for her to have a slightly larger portion of desert. If your child asks for more sweets after she's had her dessert, explain that if she's still hungry, she can have extra fruit or bread, but no more treats.
How do I handle incidental or after-school snacks?
If you need to buy an on-the-spot snack, make it something reasonably nutritious. Try to shop after a meal, so she's not actually hungry and let her know she can choose only one item. Since small children are too young to choose from an entire aisle of food, pick out two or three items that you find acceptable and that you know she likes, such as rice crackers or a small banana, and let her choose which one she wants. In general, try to limit the number of treats that you keep at home to one or two types of biscuit and one flavour of ice cream, for example. And stock up on different healthy snacks. (Be aware, though, that some healthy-sounding snacks are full of sugar – for example, cereal bars contain a lot of sugar and many fruit juice drinks have added sugar or artificial sweetners.)
What are some nutritious alternatives to sweets?
- fresh or dried fruits such as apricots, apples or pears (dried fruit should always be given at meal times otherwise it may cause tooth decay)
- unsweetened yogurt mixed with fruit or a spoonful of jam
- smoothies made with real fruit juice, milk or yogurt, and fruit
- cinnamon toast – spread toasted bread lightly with butter or margarine, sprinkle with cinnamon and a dash of sugar
- rice cakes, spread with cream cheese and a little jam
- a bowl of hot cereal with brown sugar or maple syrup on top