Written by: Cally Worden
If my son had his way you’d open his mouth to find a scene from Candy Crush. He just loves anything sweet. Always has. I like to think I’m a reasonably diligent parent. Weaning commenced with fruit and vegetable purees, lovingly prepared at home and frozen in little ice-cube trays. How I patted myself on the back. As he got older I tried to ensure he had a balanced diet and yes, that included some sweet stuff. Initially just yoghurt and fruit, but later I also introduced the delights of fruit juice, ice cream, chocolate, sweets, and the odd fizzy drink. All in (quite severe) moderation you understand.
This had worked with my now 7 year old daughter, who although she does love sweets also adores olives and regularly asks for salad too. Really. Savoury is not an issue for her – S’cuse me while I polish my halo! In a smug-Mummy haze I imagined that baby No.2 would also grow into a child who valued his balanced diet. How wrong could I be? Nature vs Nurture? Pah. The lad was born with a sweet tooth. End of. So what to do??
Keep it in Perspective
I toyed with the idea of banning all things sweet from my son’s diet in an attempt to re-train his taste buds. But making him watch his big sister eat a chocolate mousse seemed too cruel. In truth my lad does eat his savoury food. It’s just a BIG battle, every time. So I allow him pudding only when he’s eaten a healthy portion of his main meal. This is a boundary he understands, tests, and ultimately, grudgingly accepts.
I don’t hold with this idea that ‘he won’t eat anything but sweet stuff’. It’s nonsense. He will eat anything if he’s hungry and hard as it is sometimes, I know it’s my responsibility to ensure he doesn’t over-indulge on the sweet stuff. He doesn’t do the shopping, so what he puts in his mouth is solely my choice. It may be tough, but I’m not going to give up on him. That would be very very wrong.
Avoiding the Bribe
I know that experts recommend against making dessert the reward for eating other stuff, as it seems to elevate the pud to a position of higher importance than the meal. But the fact remains – eat your meal and then you have dessert. It’s the way you pitch it that matters I think. I don’t dangle the yoghurt from a fishing line in front of his face, like a proverbial carrot. It’s just the next part of the meal and stays out of sight until he’s ready. I am painfully neutral about its very existence. I work on the basis that if I’m not that excited about it, he won’t be. And you know what? Finally it’s working. The other day he climbed down from the table declaring he was full and no, he didn’t want pudding thanks. Hallelujah!
Limiting the Intake
When my son is in full-sweet-mode he would consume mountains of the white stuff on its own. On these days he will eat his meal and dessert, and them claim continued hunger in an attempt to acquire further sweet treats. The answer is simple. If you’re still hungry you eat something that will fill you up. Probably something wholegrain or brown carb-laden, and definitely not more sugar. When he buys this, I know he genuinely is hungry. When he rejects my offering I know he’s just trying it on. But he soon forgets about it.
Some kids, my son included, need to sit down to meals with an empty stomach if there is to be any chance of a healthy intake. The merest sniff of a mid-morning or afternoon snack is enough to curb his appetite on 7 out of 10 days. So I try to avoid filling him up in between meals. It’s simple really – if he’s properly hungry, he will happily eat the savoury food. I’m not starving the lad, just helping not to set him up for mealtime problems.
Can Sweet Be Nutritious?
Yes it can. Again, in moderation. Fresh fruit, smoothies, natural yoghurt with a spoon of jam, rice cakes with cream cheese and jam, porridge with a drizzle of maple syrup – all these and more can help to satisfy a sweet tooth while avoiding a sugar overload.
I think the bottom line is that sweet-toothed kids simply need a little more careful handling where food is concerned. It’s not rocket science. If you feed your child’s desire for sweet stuff you are fuelling their cravings for it. Not good. So stop. Aim for balance and set acceptable food boundaries for your child where sweet stuff is concerned. And stick to them. Your child will thank you later, and so will the NHS.