Give kids a choice between broccoli and a cupcake, and they’ll probably choose the cupcake. But what happens if your child’s sweet tooth gets in the way of her choosing healthier foods?
Teaching your child moderation and how to curb her sugar cravings will help her make smarter food choices in the future.
But how do you deal with a toddler’s sweet tooth? And how do you stop sugar cravings in kids?
Table of Contents
- How to Deal with a Sweet Tooth (Aged 2 to 4)
- Know How Much is Too Much
- Offer Healthy Alternatives for Dessert
- Make Smart Decisions When Buying After-School Snacks
- Find Healthy Alternatives that Your Kids Love
- Stop Sugar Craving in Kids
- Don’t Make Sugar a Reward
- Take Stock of the Sugar in Your Home
- Stick to Simple Beverages
- Celebrate with Healthy Foods
- Find a Balance
- Try Homemade Versions of Treats
- Get an Early Start on Healthy Eating
- Keep Unhealthy Foods Out of Sight
- Schedule Meal Times
How to Deal with a Sweet Tooth (Aged 2 to 4)
No parent wants to do battle with a child who’s craving a cupcake or candy. What can you do to get a hold on your child’s sweet tooth?
Know How Much is Too Much
Give these treats occasionally, and make sure that you give them in child-sized portions. A preschooler should be eating a quarter to a half of an adult portion.
Here are some examples of child-sized portions:
- Two small cookies
- A mini candy bar
- A child-sized ice cream cone
If your child is eating half a sleeve of cookies or half the bag of candy bars, it may be time to put a limit on her intake of sweets.
Offer Healthy Alternatives for Dessert
If you’re feeding dessert, opt for a healthier option, like:
- Frozen fruit bars made with 100% juice
- A baked apple topped with nuts
Do not use dessert as a reward or punishment. Also, make sure that your child eats a nutritious meal before feeding dessert. Sugary foods release insulin, which sends a signal to the brain to eat more.
Be firm with your rules on dessert, too. Portion control is key. Even if your child pleads for more, stand your ground and don’t give in.
Make Smart Decisions When Buying After-School Snacks
If you take your child with you to the market after school, don’t deprive her of a snack. But instead of her usual sugary treat, try opting for something that is reasonably healthy.
If you can, try to shop after a meal so that she isn’t starving. Let her know that she can only pick out one item.
Remember that young children will have a difficult time choosing an item in an entire aisle of food (it can be hard for adults, too). Instead, give her two or three options at most. Pick items that you find acceptable and that you know that she likes.
For at-home snacks, keep it healthy. Stock up on healthy snacks, and only keep a few treats on hand.
Don’t be fooled by snacks that are masquerading as healthy. Granola bars laced with chocolate chips and fruit juice are both loaded with sugar. These foods can be just as unhealthy as candy or cupcakes.
Find Healthy Alternatives that Your Kids Love
Exposure to a wide range of foods will help your child develop a healthy palate and be more accepting of healthy foods. Find healthy alternatives to sweets that your child likes and try introducing these foods as early on as possible.
Here are some alternatives to try:
- Rice cakes or graham crackers with dark chocolate, peanut butter, or cream cheese.
- Smoothies made with yogurt or milk and frozen fruit.
- Dried or fresh fruits, like pears, apricots and apples.
- Whole grain toast with cinnamon and butter.
- Hot cereal with maple syrup or a pinch of brown sugar on top.
- Frozen yogurt with fresh berries or nuts on top.
Stop Sugar Craving in Kids
Sugar cravings can be difficult to handle. We get them as adults, but we know how to control them (hopefully), or at least how to handle the cravings. Toddlers aren’t quite at that level yet. They throw fits, they cry and they scream when they can’t get what they want – especially when they want sugar.
How do you break the cycle? Here are some tips:
Don’t Make Sugar a Reward
We often give kids a sugary treat for doing something good, like getting good grades or doing their chores. Some parents may “reward” kids for finishing their vegetables by giving them a cookie.
This reward system may work in the short-term, but it teaches kids bad habits and associations in the long-run. Eventually, kids expect a reward for behaving appropriately. But it also gives these sugary treats more importance over healthier foods.
Take Stock of the Sugar in Your Home
Go through your home and look at every boxed and prepared food you can find. Check to see how much sugar is really in these foods. You may be surprised to find that the granola bars you thought were healthy have as much sugar as a can of soda.
Also, keep in mind that the body converts carbohydrates into sugar. Foods like white bread, pasta and rice can also fuel your child’s cravings for sweets.
Consider getting rid of food items that are exceptionally high in sugar, or only feeding them on rare occasions.
Stick to Simple Beverages
Stick with water and milk when giving your child beverages. Some pediatricians say that it’s okay to give children 100% fruit juice, but make sure that you give it in appropriate portions.
Energy drinks, soda and other sugar-filled drinks will only fuel your child’s cravings.
Celebrate with Healthy Foods
We often celebrate holidays, birthdays and life milestones with sugary foods. That can make it more difficult to keep your kids’ sugar cravings in check.
Try starting new traditions with healthier foods. Whole fruits are a great option because they’re still sweet, but the fiber allows the body to break down the sugar over time.
Find a Balance
As with anything in life, it’s important to find balance. While you shouldn’t feed your child sweets every day, it’s also not a good idea to ban them outright. Doing so may only make your child’s sugar cravings even more intense.
Show your child that an occasional treat can be a part of a healthy diet. Teach your child the importance of moderation. This is a life skill that will follow her into adulthood and allow her to make healthier food choices.
Try Homemade Versions of Treats
When you do feed your child sweets, try to do it from your own kitchen. The sweets in the grocery store are highly processed and loaded with preservatives and extra sugars.
When you make your own treats at home, you can control how much sugar you add and all of the other ingredients. You can also try sugar alternatives, like:
- Monk fruit
- Fruit juice
Get your child involved in the process. It will not only teach your child to appreciate these foods, but also give her an opportunity to see what’s really in the sweets she loves so much.
Get an Early Start on Healthy Eating
One of the best ways to curb a child’s sweet tooth is to start exposing them to healthy foods early on.
Children who rarely (if ever) eat unhealthy, junk foods will associate good foods with feeling good. When they’re eventually exposed to junk food in the future, they will be less likely to overindulge. If they do, they will probably wind up with an upset stomach. That teaches the child to associate bad foods with bad feelings.
It’s never too early or too late to start feeding your child healthy foods.
Keep Unhealthy Foods Out of Sight
Keep unhealthy foods out of sight of children. If they can’t see it, they won’t want to eat it. Instead, keep healthy foods out in the open. Provide easily accessible fruits and vegetables (cut up, if possible), so smart snacking is easy.
When healthy foods are always around, kids will be more likely to crave those foods.
The concept gives a whole new meaning to “out of sight, out of mind.”
Schedule Meal Times
If your kids snack often and aren’t hungry at meal time, you may need to switch things up. Schedule your meal times, and make sure that your kids know that it’s time to eat. Limit snacking during the day so that kids have an appetite come lunch or dinner time.
Scheduled meal times helps you avoid filling in the gaps with highly processed, unhealthy foods.
And while you’re at it, don’t make dessert a regular part of meal time. While it’s okay to have dessert once in a while, avoid feeding it every single day.