How can sugar fiends be turned into healthy eaters?
The strategy that works will surprise you. Get ready to have your mind blown! Everything you thought you knew about feeding kids, especially overweight or obese children is about to be exploded!
Let’s start with a general observation. Overweight children are particularly challenging to feed.
They seem to want to eat only the “foods that are bad” for them. You try hard to both limit how much they eat and, get them to eat healthy foods at the same time. Sound familiar? Despite your resolve and your very best efforts, your kid(s) just won’t eat what’s healthy! They’re sugar fiends and the last thing you want is for them to eat is sugar, right?
The sensible approach is to restrict or forbid all sugary treats. If that’s too drastic, then lay down a law that says, “first eat your “healthy food,” then get your dessert reward! Does the sensible approach work? You know the answer.
Stop pushing the healthy food!
Give them some sugar! You read that right. Stop pushing healthy food and give them some sugar! Make dessert a side dish! Serve dessert at the same time you put the protein, grain, and vegetables in front of your kids!
How could front-loading dessert be a good idea? Isn’t dessert, at best, a reward for eating the healthy food children need to eat? Consider this, the more we tell kids they must wait to eat dessert and that eating dessert is “earned” the more desirable dessert becomes. Meanwhile, we are teaching kids that “healthy food isn’t tasty because we won’t let them have what they really want, until they eat the stuff they think they don’t want.”
How can a picky eater become an obese child?
Picky eaters should be skinny kids but many times well-meaning parents build an environment that makes obesity a natural byproduct.
Most picky eaters love sugary treats. They want what they love, and the more they must wait to get to that part of the meal, the harder it becomes to get them to eat anything else. Bartering with them to eat the “healthy food first” backfires in more than one way. The unwanted outcomes include:
- Tension at mealtimes
- Nutritious food unappetizing to the child
- Forces the child to eat too much in order to get to the dessert
- Reinforces the belief that food that is “good for me” doesn’t taste good
- Things keep getting worse – more fights, more weight gain, parental authority keeps sliding farther and farther away
The way to de-escalate a rapidly escalating sugary food fight that’s pushing a child to obesity, indeed, to turn it around completely, is for parent to back off and serve dessert first! Yes, back off, serve dessert first!
If you’re flipping out, let me clarify a few things.
I am not suggesting you serve dessert in lieu of nutritious food. I am not saying let your child tell you what food to buy.You have a responsibility to buy and serve nutritious food. It’s not your job to fight with your kids until they eat it and it’s a good thing because kids have all the power when it comes to what they’ll chew up and actually swallow.
Of course, dessert is linked with childhood obesity, but you may be surprised to find out why. Using dessert as a reward for eating dinner puts the overweight, picky eater at risk for going from overweight to obese. I’ve seen it with friends’ children. The child is a little heavy and displays a hearty appetite for all things made with added sugar and/or fat while rejecting most everything else.
So the conscientious mom does the thing she thinks is best. To get her picky eater to eat more, she restricts sweets, and only allows them as a reward for eating a healthy meal. In other words, she tries to manipulate the child to eat more than he wants at meals to get to the dessert. Since it’s Mom deciding how much a child should eat she is conditioning a child to ignore satiety signals. The child’s weight gain begins to accelerate at an above normal rate.
Kid-and-food expert Ellyn Satter‘s mantra “it’s the parents’ responsibility to decide what is served and where and how it is eaten, but the child’s sole responsibility to decide whether to eat and how much.” If dessert is part of the meal, then it’s up to the child to eat it as an appetizer, a side dish, or save the best until last.
Take a giant leap of faith and front load dessert with just one simple guideline.
There are no seconds on dessert. When it’s gone, it’s gone. When serving the meal, put a small serving of dessert at each place setting. Everybody is on their own to decide when to eat dessert during the course of the meal.
The sugar in dessert really isn’t as much of a problem as parents think it is.
The real problem is the hidden sugar that’s found in many processed foods. That is the place parents can really make a difference. Little changes can significantly reduce the amount of sugar your kids are eating and they won’t even notice it!
- Cutting back on processed foods
- reading labels to determine sugar content
- giving kids water when they’re thirsty
- feeding fruit to eat, instead of fruit juice to drink
Are you willing to give it a try? Think about what you’re doing now. Is it working? If you keep trying harder to make your strategy work and the result is bigger fights, more tears, anger, frustration and failure, is it logical to keep trying to achieve success with the strategy that’s already proven itself not to work?
Serve a little dessert with – not after – dinner tonight!