My kids like all children love to eat treats. I want them to be healthy eating kids and to love healthy food. But part of healthy eating is to love eating treats in moderation. So how do you combine letting your kids eat treats with teaching them healthy eating habits?
Summer in Spain has begun. It’s as if someone has flicked a switch. Cold and cloudy one day, sticky, hot and exhausting the next. We walk past an ice cream shop, like we do every day. Today it is open. The ice creams, enticing delicious and sticky, are calling to my children.
The children clamour up and down, demanding a treat.
“Can we have ice cream? Can we have ice cream? Can we have ice cream?”
An after-thought to encourage me to say yes.
Children will be children. They will always hanker after treats, sweets, cookies and ice cream.
Treats is Part of Healthy Eating for Kids
- You don’t always have to let them have treats. Saying “NO” is a valid option.
- Look for healthy alternatives. I have a theory that there are different levels of treats. Firstly you have your “definitely treat” that includes shop-bought cakes, cookies, candy and shop bought ice cream. These are infrequent treats, perhaps once a week. Then there are “every day” treats. Fruit, (in any form), nuts and yoghurts. They are perfectly healthy but I don’t want my children to LIVE off them because I want them to learn to eat vegetables too. However, they can eat “healthy snack” kind of treat every day without any concern.
- Decant the big bag. This is a mistake that I see people making. Frequently. They pass around a large bag of crisps or biscuits. The bigger the bag, the more you are likely to eat. Decant the bag into a smaller bag, or a bowl. Give your children an appropriate portion rather than allowing them free range of treats.
- Offer healthy options first and with the treat. Image you’ve gone for a picnic lunch. You want to offer some treats to make it special. Your kids are starving. You offer them crips. They gobble them up because they are ravenous. Instead, offer them a healthy carrot, cucumber, whatever they like first. Let them fill up on something healthy to take the edge off. Then pull out the treats. Keep the healthy food there too.
- Give them a small plate. If your plate is small but full, it feels like you have much more than if you put the same portion on a large plate.
- Don’t encourage them to eat the unhealthy foods. I know it sounds obvious but sometimes us parents get our priorities muddled up. When you’ve just bought a large bottle of fizzy pop for your kids, you want to feel that you’ve got value for your money. Seriously, I have seen parents say things like “you’ll like it, it’s got sugar in it!” or “please can you finish that very large bottle of pop.” I want to scream “STOP!” Remember the priority is teaching your kids healthy eating habits. Please don’t encourage them to eat the unhealthy food.
- Offer healthy food too. Equally, you don’t want to encourage your kids to eat all those treats by making them the only thing available. Let them have access to water, fruit and vegetables. You’d be surprised, sometimes they prefer healthy over treat.
- Treats can be healthy too. My favourite treat is sushi, or a plate full of gleaming, salty oysters. I’m too selfish to even let my kids know such things exist but they do love “special fruit treats”. ‘Special’ because they’re expensive and not available all year around. Cherries, apricots, strawberries, grapes. All delicious and healthy and definitely an exciting treat.
- Portion Size. You don't need a massive giant ice cream to have a treat. A sensible portion is just as much fun. If your kids do eat too much, ask them how they feel. Learning that feeling sick because you've eaten a giant portion is a great step to listening to your tummy.
Like everything in life, treats are about finding balance. Of course we want our kids to enjoy the simple pleasures of licking an ice-cream but we don’t want them to only eat treats.
We want them to learn that treats are treats and should be eaten in moderation.
“Please, please, please!” they cry.
I look down at their grinning faces, their shining eyes and their grubby cheeks.
“How about homemade frozen yoghurt for snack?” I compromise. In their eyes my healthy frozen yoghurt is as good as the sugar laden ice cream the shop sells.
They jump up and down in excitement. We are all happy, not just because my kids have chosen a healthy option and I’ve also managed to save myself $20. I am also teaching my children that treats can be healthy.