Sweet Plan - Controlling Sugar in your Child’s Diet

25 October 2017

ideas for limiting sugar in child diet

As the holidays get nearer and nearer, you see sugar-filled sweets everywhere. So what’s a parent to do? Be a meanie and cut out all the candy, cakes and cookies? Or just give in to the holiday pressure and let them have at it? In fact, there are more realistic approaches to the issue of children and sweets. I’d like share simple ways to control sugary sweets in your child’s diet not just during the holidays, but all year long.

You're not alone, the issue of controlling sugar intake is a national one, addressed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In their program called My Plate, USDA nutritionists feel that young children should have half of their plate filled with fruits and vegetables. The other part of their plate should have whole grains and proteins, along with a glass of dairy. Notice there is no place for sweets! Nope, sugar is not a nutritional need for our young children.

So what can you do to balance things when special occasion treats abound? Here are 9 suggestions to encourage healthy eating:

  1. Limit sweet, sugary treats to special occasions. Yes, candy and cake are great once in awhile and in moderation. But, as the USDA advises, don’t make high-sugar foods part of your child’s everyday, nutritional plan. At this point in their lives, your preschooler is growing every moment, put the so put the focus on healthy foods that help them get big and strong. And don’t be afraid to say no to candies that are 100% pure sugar. And keep an eye out for sweet yet nutritious choices, things like nuts or other proteins, whenever possible.
  2. Serve small portions. It's not necessary to get rid of all sweets and desserts. Show your preschooler that a small amount of treats can go long way. For example when my daughter was little, she got to choose only one piece of halloween candy a day. She eventually forgot about it and I threw most of it out! You can also slice up your desserts into smaller portions. Your child can enjoy sharing a candy bar or cupcake. Plus, you can use smaller bowls and plates. Your preschool-sized desserts will look larger in smaller sized dishes.
  3. Give something other than sweets as rewards. By offering sweet foods as a reward for good behavior, children learn to think that some foods are better than other foods. Reward your child with your positive attention, kind words and great big, warm hugs. Or, give them small, non-food items, like stickers or an extra book to read at bedtime, to let them know they are special.
  4. Make fruit your everyday dessert.  Serve baked apples, pears, or enjoy a fruit salad. Or, serve yummy 100% juice frozen juice bars or fruit leather like this found on Amazon instead of high-calorie desserts like cookies, candies, or cake. You can try our Walking Apple Sandwiches or Fruit Kebabs to make a new, delicious, fresh fruit snacks, too.
  5. Make healthy food fun. There are so many advertisements, especially during children’s television programs, showing children happily eating “fun foods.” Take a second look, many of these “fun foods” are in fact sugary foods. You can make your own nutritious foods fun by preparing them with your child’s help and being creative together. Create a smiley face with sliced bananas and raisins. Cut fruit into fun and easy shapes with your cookie cutters. Our Eat It! activity collection has lots more fun and absolutely nutritious food recipes, like our imaginary yet delicious Celery Boats.
  6. Encourage your preschooler to invent new snacks. Give your little one a chance to be creative in their snacking. Try making your own snack mixes from dry whole-grain cereal, dried fruit, and unsalted nuts or seeds. Provide an assortment of ingredients like crackers, cream cheese, and bits of celery. Then, allow your little one to choose what they want in their “new” snack. I bet your preschooler will come up with tasty combinations you never imagined!
  7. Play detective in the cereal aisle. Combine your food choices with some math learning! For four-year old children and older, show them where and how to find the amount of total sugars on the Nutrition facts label. Challenge them to compare cereals they like and select the one with the lowest amount of sugar. 
  8. If your preschooler doesn’t eat her meal, she doesn’t need sweet extras.  Don't substitute sugary sweets for nutritious foods that are left uneaten at meal time. Remember, sugar contributes nothing to your child's balanced diet. Do your best to avoid establishing a bad nutritional habit in your child-- skip the treats and keep searching for healthy foods your little one can fill up on.
  9. Set the example for healthy eating. Last but certainly not least, model healthy eating yourself. To eat healthy during the holidays, I nibble on healthy snacks like whole-grain crackers, fruit or raw vegetables before a big feast. When you are at a party or having a holiday meal, drink a glass of water, look for the foods that are healthier and make sure to eat some of those. Wait 10 to 15 minutes before grabbing that second helping. It takes your brain some time to signal that you are full. Plus, remember that it’s not rude to say no to food. Never feel pressured to eat if you aren’t hungry.

So whether it’s the holiday season or not, I hope you can use these suggestions to promote your family’s healthy eating all year. Let us know-- What other sugar-free or holiday healthy tips do you have? You can give us your feedback and share your thoughts right here. 

And up next, I'll share how to have a relaxing holiday with your beloved preschooler ... in the meantime, find out more about meal-time social and math skills in my blog Learning Anywhere, Every Day - Meal Times.