Secrets of raising healthy eaters: what to do with all those sweet bunnies??

Posted by Janet Nezon on April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

I hope you’re spending this holiday celebrating in your own special way with family and friends.  If you read my earlier post, you’ll recall how the details of the holiday meal are less important than the fact that you are all sitting down together to enjoy it.  Stop trying to build a bird’s nest out of spun sugar, and just put together something simple, fresh and colourful. Your family will remember the warm feeling of being together, not the decorations on the cake!

If you have kids, the Easter celebration will likely involve some kind of sweet treats shaped like bunnies, eggs, or goodness knows what else.  Many people have managed to re-work old habits to include naturally dyed eggs and farm fresh carrots for the bunnies, but for the vast majority there will be candy and chocolate! The thrill of the hunt is often followed by a lasting feast of sweets and treats, and often by struggles over how to manage them.  So if you’re working at raising kids who are healthy eaters, what’s a parent to do ??

Well, for starters, RELAX!

Healthy eating means enjoying a wide variety of foods, and understanding the key concepts of balance, variety, and moderation. Kids need to learn that sweets can have a place in an otherwise healthy diet, and they need to learn how to manage and enjoy them independently.

Restricting access to certain foods, and labelling them as “bad” tends to imbue those foods with the emotional power of the “forbidden.”  Research has consistently shown that when children feel that food is scarce or limited, they tend to eat more, and will override their body’s natural cues to stop eating when full.  The same concept applies to candy and holiday sweets.

Face it; those treats are a part of the holiday celebration for your kids.  If you have managed to keep them to a minimum or replace them with healthier holiday symbols, that’s great.  Another idea is to keep the sweet treats to better quality chocolate or homemade candy.  Whatever you choose, accept that this is a once-a-year event, and can be handled as such within the framework of a healthy diet.

My family doesn’t celebrate Easter, so the best analogy I can give is how I always handled Halloween candy with my 3 children.  I always let the kids sort through and gloat over their candy after they had collected it.  Then, I allowed them to eat as much as they wanted that night!  Trust me – despite what you’re thinking, most kids have an amazing capacity to hit the “enough” button on their own, and will feel satisfied that they have been able to make that decision themselves.

After that, I always let my kids eat what they wanted from their stash, as long as they used it to accompany their healthier breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks (yes, even breakfast!).  What happened was that the candy became a sort of “dessert” option for a few days, and then eventually the thrill wore off, or the candy was finished.  You’d be surprised at how quickly this happens!

What you avoid with this approach is the power struggle and the emotional pull of “forbidden” sweets.  Your kids will come to view that candy as an occasional treat that accompanies all the other elements of a happy family celebration.  More importantly, you will help your kids to develop the skill of regulating their sweet intake themselves. That’s what raising healthy eaters is all about!

To book Janet as a speaker for your group or organization, or for more information about her consulting and coaching services, click here.

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