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How Should I Handle My Child’s Sugar Cravings?

 

“Every time I take my child to the grocery store, she begs and begs me for sugary cereal,” said Jennifer, a mom of two kids under the age of six. “I don’t want to go over-board with sweets and sugar, yet I don’t want to make them ‘forbidden fruit’ and contribute to her sugar cravings, either.”

How Do I Handle My Child's Sugar Cravings?

Do Cravings Equal Sugar Addiction?

Some parents find themselves in a quandary when it comes to sweets and other sugary foods. They are afraid their child has a sugar addiction. Parents see sugar cravings and worry sweet food and treats are playing too big a role in their child’s diet. They fret that the exposure to sugar is getting out of hand (some of which they have little control over).

Other families struggle to see the totality of eating sugar and excess sweet food in their children’s diets.

How Many Sweets Should Kids Have?

Questions surround the issue of eating sweets, partly because they are a prominent food source in many kids’ eating patterns.

Should they be tightly controlled? Can children have free rein and eat them until they’re satisfied?

And what constitutes a sweet food? 

Should sweets be tightly controlled? Should kids have free reign and eat as much as they want? Click To Tweet

Undoubtedly, American children have a love of sweets. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), young Americans are eating too much added sugar.

In other words, eating sweets is becoming an undesirable cornerstone of the American diet.

A 2012 study looking at the consumption patterns of added sugar in youth from 2005 to 2008, researchers found the following eating patterns among kids:

AgeAvg. daily calorie intake from added sugar in MalesAvg. daily calorie intake from added sugar in Females
2-5 year olds218 calories195 calories
6-11 year olds345 calories293 calories
12-18 year olds442 calories314 calories

Boys ate more sweet food than girls, and the types of sweets consumed were largely from food rather than drinks, and were mostly consumed at home.

How to Stop Sugar Cravings

Statements like “eat less,” or “eat sweets in moderation,” or even “avoid all sweets,” may confuse parents, leaving them wondering exactly what they should do.

Especially if they feel their child has a sugar addiction.

Some parents will fall into the ‘no sweets at all’ camp, eliminating every speck of sugar from the home. Their hope is to improve the situation and dull their child’s interest in them.

What often happens in this scenario is what Jennifer feared: a child who craves sugar and becomes overly focused, or even addicted to sweets.

Other parents may know their child eats too many sweets, but they don’t know what to do about it.

They’re stuck in an unhealthy and unproductive pattern that doesn’t serve their child’s health.

Just today in the grocery store, I saw a mom and her preschooler pick out chocolate pudding for a snack.

Chocolate pudding isn’t necessarily problematic in and of itself (read more about chocolate milk here), but I found myself wondering if she thought about balance and the totality of other foods eaten during the day.

How Do I Handle My Child's Sugar Cravings?

Handling Sweet Food and Sugar Addiction

For children under the age of two: 

For young toddlers, eating sugar shouldn’t be part of the regular diet at all. In fact, if you can hold off on introducing them until after age two, you’ll get a head start on helping your child develop taste buds and a preference for healthier food.

I do think it’s okay for young ones to have birthday cake—all of my kiddos did. The main point is to steer away from regularly offerings sweet foods in the first two years of life

For older kids and teens:

Staying away from eating sugar is really hard, especially as children get older. This is one reason you may get frustrated with them –they’re everywhere and trying to control them is impossible.

And it’s why you need a plan for sweets at home.

Adding to the confusion are the two different recommendations regarding sugar intake in children. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) states that the diet should be low in added sugar and calories from added sugar should be limited.

The term “limited” allows for wide interpretation that further confounds parents (in my opinion).

The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests no more than 5% of daily total calories should come from added sugar. Personally and professionally, I line up with the WHO, advising families to keep sweets to one or two items per day if the child is a healthy, normally growing, active child.

I based my 90/10 rule on the idea that 10% of calories in the daily diet come from sugary and fatty foods. You can read more about the 90/10 rule here and in my other books, as well.

Managing Sugar Cravings

Despite having an idea of how to balance foods so that children eat mostly healthy food with small amounts of sweets, you may need some additional guidelines. I’ve got some for you!

Keep a perspective on sweets

Kids are naturally drawn to sweets, so it isn’t their fault if they like to eat them. It’s not your fault either, unless you don’t have a strategy or policy in place to manage them well.

Don’t blame your child (or yourself) if his taste buds like sweets, rather accept it as a natural part of the childhood nutrition experience. That said, develop your sweets strategy!

Set your boundaries:

You can make sweets a part of your everyday life, or not. I always had a “no sweets during the school week” rule, and let my kids have more liberty with them on the weekends.

That worked well for us.

Some parents are more comfortable offering them everyday (which is ok), and others are not. Find your comfort zone where you can draw the line, giving consideration to what you can mentally and emotionally handle, and what is good for your child and the whole family.

Change the definition of sweet foods:

Sweets don’t always have to equal sugary foods. How about a bowlful of fruit with a dollop of vanilla yogurt? Or a piece of peanut butter toast with a few chocolate chips perched on top?

The point is, “dessert” doesn’t have to be drenched in sugar. And, even traditional sweet recipes can be scaled down to minimize the sugar rush.

How do you handle the sweet stuff in your house?

Need More Help?

Need help with getting your child to Try New Food? Check out my workbook, Try New Food. It takes you step-by-step through the process of helping your child try new food, no matter how picky he is.

Try New Food Workbook

 

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