As Halloween seems like a distant memory; and just when you think you are rid of the jellies, chocolates and lollies, along come the Christmas selection boxes and chocolate Santas!
For many parents, it can be a challenge to encourage their children to eat well along with managing the volume of sweet treats that are so accessible, whether in their own home or those of family or friends. If you feel like you are constantly saying ‘no’ to the children and resisting the temptation yourself, here are a few tips that may help to get you through the build-up to Christmas and the festive season!
When to say 'no'
As we know, every situation and scenario is different depending on what sweet treat is produced, and when. There is no right or wrong way when dealing with managing the biscuits, treat yoghurts, chocolate and jellies. If you are conscious about saying ‘no’ all the time, then take time to think about why it is important to have a balance of healthy foods, and how you can give your child a few treats every now and again. Have genuine reasons for giving treats - during an average week, when there are no major occasions happening, try to make a conscious decision of how many treats or sweets you will give to your child. You can then help create realistic expectations for the children of what’s consumed and when. I know it’s easier said than done, but we have to start somewhere!
In contrast to the everyday, and during the Christmas holidays, it’s important to keep everything in moderation. Some experts say that if we are too strict with sweet foods at home, children eat more high-calorie foods elsewhere. We need to be mindful that if we stay consistent with how we manage sweets, our children learn about what eating ‘in moderation’ feels like, and this allows them to practise it as they grow up and when they start making their own decisions about food intake.
Homemade sweet treats
The more we introduce home-produced foods, the more we know what’s in them and we can try to provide healthier, homemade sweet treats. Although some of us are not the Mary Berry’s of baking, the rest of us can try to make some healthy alternatives like fruit smoothies – some which have spinach and almond milk in them, where the children may not even know! Other options include healthy flapjacks, blueberry and chia muffins, fruit skewers dipped in dark chocolate - there are lots of healthy options! The great thing about baking at home is that you have complete control over the volumes of sugar and fat in the cooking, and by giving these options a go, our children learn to appreciate the tastiness of home cooking.
I do believe that we are all guilty from time to time of bribing our children with ‘something nice’, if it means one more bite of dinner! If it’s becoming a regular thing in your house, it’s really important that children don’t associate eating a healthy meal as a way of receiving sweets. It not only makes the sweet bigger and better than anything else, but children can learn that it is a means for control; ‘I will eat my dinner, but only if you give me those chocolates from the fridge’. Beware!
Doting family and treats
This comes up a lot over the holidays while visiting other people’s houses – concerns about doting grandparents, aunties and uncles, and sharing the love of sweets. It’s hard when treats are offered on a continuous basis, and you find it tricky to say ‘no’ there and then. We all know grandparents, especially, love to spoil their grandchildren - particularly when the child is not in their own home or regular routine. If it’s something that you feel you or your partner need to talk to them about, pick a time when you are one-to-one. Rather than asking them not to give your child sweets all the time, try to share with your friends and family that you are working really hard on limiting sweet treats and if they could help you on changing this. It’s worth a try.
Put the sweetness out of reach
Anyone who tries to limit grazing on the nice things will know that the more we have at home, the higher the chance that temptation will get the better of us! That’s why Christmas can be so hard! The same goes for our children, as when sugary drinks and bowls of sweets are more accessible at home, the more it becomes the norm and a regularl expectation. Don’t be afraid to put things away and out of reach. Instead, put a large bowl of varied fruit where the children can reach for a piece. Knowing it’s there and available is giving them the message that these healthy options are part of your everyday family life and it’s OK to nibble – all in moderation, of course!
Aoife Lee, Parent Coach for Giraffe Childcare