One of the biggest challenges in transitioning kids to healthy eating is sweet treats or desserts. Having fed my *almost* 6 year old daughter a grain-free, processed-sugar free diet since birth, I have a few tricks up my sleeve for those looking to help their children eat healthier. Here are five tips and tricks for healthy kids:
1. Never use food as a reward.
If you want to give your kids a treat, never tie it to behavior. This means you should never reward kids with food, motivate kids with food, or try to make them feel better emotionally with food. Food should be treated as a way to nourish your body and your kids' bodies, simply put. As soon as you start to tie food to rewards, motivation, and emotional satisfaction, food becomes linked with those situations in their minds. It is extremely hard to disassociate food later on, so why not start them out on the right foot. After all, when they are feeling sad or upset, does the food actually make them any better in the long run?
2. Be the model for your kids.
If you want your kids to eat healthy, you must eat healthy first. It's a rare kid that will sit down excitedly to a plate of vegetables if they never see their parents and caregivers eating vegetables. The old adage, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," holds so true within your family. Do you want them to value and enjoy vegetables, meats and healthy fats? You must do so first.
3. Talk about food and it's role in the body with your kids.
You will be surprised at both how interested your kids are and how willing they are to do what's best for their bodies when they understand. If you just tell your kids "sugar is bad." They will not be informed enough to own the choice to stay away from added sugars. If you explain what sugar does to the human body, they will be in a much better position to make healthful choices as they grow up.
4. The occasional sweat treat "just because" is worth having.
I'm certainly not advocating going out and getting a donut on a Saturday morning, but there are healthier ways to incorporate treats into your kids' lives. The goal with feeding your children healthy food should be to promote their best health without using scare tactics. A child who is made to be afraid of sweets at a young age is probably more likely to rebel later when, for example, they realize that one piece of cake doesn't immediately and noticeably make them sick. They may feel lied to or manipulated into healthy eating and thus less likely to own it and continue it. We stick fast to a few rules around sweet treats in our family. Food based treats should be:
- processed sugar-free
- whole foods-based
- just because
- eaten only when healthy foods and supplements have already been consumed
5. Arm yourself with acceptable alternatives and recipes.
95% of the sweets we have are the following in order of most frequently made to least frequently made.
- Homemade whipped cream - eaten often, recipe below. The only downside to this is that it is a bit sweet, keeping that preference alive. Otherwise, it is 100% healthy fat, great for fast oxidizers, which most children are.
- Stevia sweetened, vanilla whole milk yogurt - eaten 1-2x/week, recipe below. We keep the serving size to a few ounces at most.
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of berries and other low GI fruits or less depending on age of children - eaten in season about 1-2x/month and generally picked ourselves
- Chocolate Chip Cookies (grain-free, egg-free) - eaten once every few months
Keeping these tips in mind will help you navigate the tricky world of treats with your children. There will of course be trying situations, like birthday parties and other gatherings. I always bring an alternative treat for my children, believing that the hostess should not have to accommodate our dietary preferences. This is usually a kids size Rx bar (available and cheapest at Target) or occasionally a plate of cookies to share. Sometimes, they will serve fruit, and because that is a treat for my kids, it is enough for them to feel included.
1. Homemade Whipped Cream
Whip all ingredients together with a hand mixer until desired texture.
- 32 oz grass-fed whole milk yogurt (check for additives)
- 1-1.5 dropper fulls stevia
- generous splash vanilla extract
Mix everything together in the yogurt container and enjoy.