I regularly talk to parents who are concerned about what their child is eating and how it may affect their health. In a bid to ensure a healthy diet, we often take control of children's diets. But this may not be the best approach- particularly in relation to sweets and treats.
I have noticed lots of "alternative"/ "healthy" Halloween ideas on social media recently, and have even heard of parents throwing away sweets that their children collect, replacing it with "healthy" treats. While this may sound like a great idea on the surface, I don't think it truly is.
When we forbid or ban a food, we put it on a pedestal.
As they say, we always want what we can't have. Banning a food, particularly one children know is tasty and that other people are allowed to eat (i.e. it is not the same as not allowing them to have alcohol!), makes them want it more. It seems better than other foods.
When we have foods on a pedestal that are restricted, we tend to binge when we are allowed to eat them.
You don't see many people unable to stop eating salad- because salad is a "healthy" food. It is never banned. People overeat foods that are "unhealthy"-the ones they have been trying to avoid on their diet. The same response occurs among children. If they are forced to avoid because their parents won't allow it, when they get access to it they will over-consume. The binge response is a normal one- they body has been craving that food and doesn't know when it will be allowed to have it again, so better eat it while it can.
Restricting a food doesn't teach your child how to feed their body properly.
Statements such as "sugar/sweets are bad for you" aren't helpful. Teaching them that some foods are bad at a young age can lead to feelings of guilt if they eat those foods, but can also lead to secret eating of those banned foods.
Children understand more than we give them credit for- have constructive conversations about food rather than laying down the law rigidly (more below).
Children will be exposed to sweets and treats when you aren't around.
Limiting their sugar/sweet intake in your presence will only spur them on to over-consume when they get the chance- birthday party, party at school, at a friends house, at Granny's house etc. You won't always be there to control their intake and as mentioned above, if they have been limited, they will over-consume.
So, better to teach them about balance and variety, and how to listen to their body to know when they are hungry or full.
What to do instead of limiting sweets this Halloween:
Make sure they have a nutritious meal before they go trick or treating- if they go hungry, you are guaranteed they will over-eat sweets. (Also, you will feel more relaxed knowing they have had something decent and not just sweets).
If they don't eat it, be sure to keep it in the fridge and let them know it is there if they want it later. Offer it after trick or treating too.
Let them eat sweets! When you get home, look through their haul with them. This is a great point to have a conversation about how much to eat. If you are very concerned about the amount they have eaten, allow them to choose 3 (or whatever is appropriate) more sweets to have now. If you do this, make sure they know where the rest of the sweets will be and that you will get them more tomorrow if they ask for it.
Helpful things to say:
You were very scary and collected lots of sweets, well done!
You got so many sweets you won't be able to eat them all now. Let's pick 3 sweets to have now and you can choose more tomorrow.
Do you feel hungry or full now? If you are very hungry, sweets won't fill you up. Maybe ?? (an apple, crackers and cheese, a yogurt etc) would fill you up more. If you are full, let's put the sweets away for later.
Eating too many sweets now will make your tummy sore. I'll put the sweets in the cupboard for later.
If they are continually asking for more sweets:
You must be hungry if you want more sweets. Since you've already had some and they didn't fill you up, let's try something else. What about an apple or a banana? (use any 2 acceptable snack options to you).
The sweets will still be available tomorrow or later on, you don't have to eat them all up now. (Can show them where they are so they are reassured you haven't gotten rid of them).
It could be because they are worried someone else in household will eat them- is there a parent or sibling that is prone to stealing food? Reassure them that that person won't eat them and you've put the sweets away so nobody will get them.
It can be scary letting go of the reigns a little, but being preoccupied with their sugar intake at special occasions isn't fun for anyone involved, so this is worth it.
Remember: Talk to them and teach them about food and nutrition. They learn through your actions and words.
If you have questions about childhood nutrition and implementing intuitive eating at home, get in touch to find out how I can help.
Little O x
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